Peace now

October 13, 2002

IT'S NO secret that Jimmy Carter had had hopes of winning the Nobel Peace Prize for years. He should have won in 1978, when he brokered the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt -- the most enduring and successful of Mideast peace pacts -- but wasn't nominated until after the deadline. This year it finally happened; the Norwegian committee that administers the prize appears to have given considerable weight to the contrast between Mr. Carter's approach to conflict resolution and that of the current occupant of the White House.

That was fine, if what was needed was a political statement. The Nobel committee is entirely within its rights if it wants to cast President Bush in a poor light as he pushes the world toward a war in Iraq. If the members' intent was to send a message against an urgent and ill-explained rush to war, it's one that Washington and the rest of the world would do well to consider.

And yet there's something just slightly unfortunate about this. As tempting as it must have been to take a potshot at Mr. Bush, it leaves the award looking a lot more political and a little less genuine than it ought to. Let's not lose sight of Mr. Carter's very real accomplishments.

Over the past 20 years he has defused acute crises in North Korea and Haiti, and monitored sometimes troubled elections in Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua, Venezuela and East Timor. Everywhere he has been a champion of democracy and human rights -- not only political rights but rights to adequate health care, shelter, food and economic opportunity.

His earnest approach to life rubs some people the wrong way. Republican successors, even as they cozied up to Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and others of that ilk, mocked his belief that human rights are more important than strategic alliances with cruel and backward regimes. Those jibes seem pretty sour now.

Earlier this year, Mr. Carter went to Cuba. Some grumbled about his appearing on the same stage with Fidel Castro. But it was only because of him that most Cubans learned of the democratic movement -- called the Varela Project -- that has taken root on their island despite the hostility of the Castro regime.

And, yes, there was a political moment there, as well, when Mr. Carter took a slap at the Florida elections fiasco that brought George Bush to power. So maybe Peace and Politics are just natural bedfellows, and maybe the Norwegian committee was right to mix the two.

There's no quibble here about one thing -- Jimmy Carter's Nobel is well-deserved.

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