October is Nobel Peace Prize time. Even when peace is far off in the horizon, the Swedish Academy still doles out the prizes, often using the opportunity to make political commentary. This year, two awards raised eyebrows.
For the literature prize, the committee smiled upon V.S. Naipaul, a Trinidadian author of Hindu parentage who has written powerfully about the "calamitous effect" of Islam. By giving the award to Naipaul, an unapologetic advocate of Western values, the committee made a statement about what civilization means and what it means to be civilized.
While conservatives cheered the Naipaul selection, the decision to award U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Ghana its centennial peace prize elicited groans across the political spectrum.
Even that British barometer of lefty weather, the Manchester Guardian, thought it was too much: "Kofi Annan, the career bureaucrat, has given up nothing. He has been rewarded for doing as he is told, while nobly submitting to a gigantic salary and bottomless expense account." On this side of the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal was no less harsh, noting that "Today, Iraq looms as a much larger threat -- politically, economically and militarily -- than it did before Mr. Annan's visit."
While the bombs still are raining on Afghanistan, there's a lot of talk in Washington -- and at U.N. headquarters in New York City as well as the European Union seat in Brussels, Belgium -- about a "Marshall Plan" to rebuild Afghanistan and a U.N. role in that effort. At the same time that friends and enemies of the United Nations are drawing their familiar lines in the sand, a new alliance may be emerging: an alliance set in motion by the "Bush Doctrine" that countries either are with the United States or with the terrorists.
"The public and the media haven't awakened yet to what the president has said. This isn't like saying `no new taxes.' The constituency is entirely different," says Gen. William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency and now a scholar at the Hudson Institute.
But, as President George W. Bush erects a new diplomatic architecture, the question of how to rebuild former terrorist states will not go away. Even proponents of a strong U.N.-led rebuilding effort are aware of the looming difficulties. "You need to address a number of issues: political justice, economic stability and cultural problems," says Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. "You can't just do this in a year, maybe five years, or much longer. We'll probably have to put down troops in the region for it to work."
Odom agrees that "any sort of Marshall Plan comes with troops," but he's skeptical of this kind of thinking. In fact, he argues that analogies to the Marshall Plan are misleading: "They are based on all sorts of fallacious assumptions" because in Germany "we were rebuilding a country with existing structures. In Afghanistan there have never been any."
Not wanting to waste any time, the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank in Washington, sponsored a forum on "America Strikes Back: What Comes Next?" during the first week of the bombing. And Bush also has made it clear that in his view the United States cannot "simply leave after a military objective has been achieved." Something must be done, the president has insisted, "to work for a stable Afghanistan."
To many U.N. advocates the president's pledge rang hollow; they fret that not enough "post-bombing" planning is being done to put the internationalists in charge with a huge budget. There is a fear that the U.S.-led coalition will lose interest once Afghanistan is freed from the Taliban. "We need to be doing much, much more right now," says Jamie Metzl, a National Security Council adviser in the Clinton administration. But the task, according to Metzl and other advocates of U.N. nation-building, is a difficult one.
Indeed, the United Nations' track record on cobbling together governments is not a glorious one, say both its proponents and skeptics. …