The List

The IgNobels

The seven most dubious Nobel Peace Prize winners.



Won it for: His "efforts to create peace in the Middle East"

Why it was a bad call: Arafat, seen as the father of the Palestinian struggle for statehood by his supporters and an unrepentant terrorist by his detractors, has a controversial legacy. What is clear is that throughout most of his career on the public stage, Arafat was a staunch supporter of the use of violence to achieve political goals. Or as he put it after the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO): "Armed revolution in all parts of our Palestinian territory to make of it a war of liberation. We reject all political settlements."

Fatah -- Arafat's faction within the PLO -- was implicated in numerous armed attacks against civilians, both in Israel and abroad, including the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. He maintained close personal relationships with dictators including Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin.

Arafat recognized Israel in 1988 and signed a number of peace agreements, including the 1993 Oslo Accords, for which he shared the Nobel with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. But he rejected a proposed settlement at the 2000 Camp David Summit, raising questions about whether he was ever truly interested in peace at all. In the last years of his life, Arafat is believed by many to have helped plan the Second Intifada, a violent uprising against the Israeli occupation.

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Won it for: Negotiating the Paris Peace Accords

Why it was a bad call: The 1973 award was one of the most controversial in history, with two Nobel Committee members resigning in protest. Le Duc Tho, Kissinger's co-recipient, declined the honor on the grounds that peace was not yet achieved in Vietnam. In any event, the accords had little practical impact on the war. The ceasefire was continually broken and the fighting didn't end until North Vietnamese forces overran Saigon in 1975.

Kissinger was a key player in some of the most controversial U.S. actions of the Cold War era. As Richard Nixon's national security advisor, he supported the covert U.S. bombing campaign in Cambodia, which many blame for the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. He backed military coups against leftist governments in Chile and Argentina. In a recently released Nixon White House recording, Kissinger, who fled Nazi persecution in Germany as a child, argued against pressing the Soviet leaders on their treatment of Jews, saying, "If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern."

Kissinger has notched some notable diplomatic victories as well -- his role in negotiating an end to the Yom Kippur war, for instance -- but even if you don't share the assessment of some that Kissinger should be tried for war crimes, his record as a peacemaker is decidedly mixed.

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Won it for: Negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese war in 1905

Why it was a bad call: Roosevelt is known for advising that American leaders "speak softly and carry a big stick," but the Bull Moose was getting America into wars before he was even elected president. Following the explosion of the warship Maine on Feb. 15, 1898, the famously pugnacious Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy, took advantage of the fact that his boss was out of the office for the day to order U.S. naval forces around the word to prepare for battle and ask Congress to authorize a draft -- effectively putting the country on a war footing without the consent of President William McKinley. When war did break out, Roosevelt resigned his post to personally take part in the fighting as a member of the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry regiment.

Then came "gunboat diplomacy": As president, Roosevelt issued a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine authorizing the United States to intervene in order the stabilize the economic affairs of small states that were unable to pay their international debts. The Roosevelt Corollary was used to justify later U.S. military interventions.

In his post-presidency, he was a leading advocate of U.S. involvement in World War I.




Won it for: Helping to found the League of Nations

Why it was a bad call: Wilson campaigned in 1916 on a "He Kept Us Out of War" platform, and then promptly got the United States into the war a year later. As for the League of Nations, his signature achievement, Wilson was not able to win approval for the organization in his own country, nor was the league able to prevent an even more brutal world war than the one that led to its creation.

Roosevelt and Wilson were political rivals throughout their careers, but Wilson followed his predecessor's lead in Latin America, launching interventions in Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, and Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Wilson even ordered a little-remembered U.S. military intervention in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution.

Back at home, Wilson was hardly a voice for social justice. During his term, Congress passed a law banning interracial marriage in the District of Colombia and Wilson himself ordered the segregation of several federal agencies. Wilson justified a new policy requiring applicants to federal jobs to present photographs, saying the hiring of African-Americans in the federal government could cause "friction."

"It is as far as possible from being a movement against the Negroes. I sincerely believe it to be in their interest," he said.

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Won it for: "Their work for a better organized and more peaceful world"

Why it was a bad call: The Nobel Committee cites Annan's work in strengthening the U.N.'s partnerships with civil society, its renewed emphasis on development, and his advocacy for the founding of the Global Aids and Health Fund.

But Annan's record also has a few notable black marks. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Annan was the director of U.N. peacekeeping missions. Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the U.N. peacekeeping mission at the time, has accused Annan of holding back U.N. troops from intervening to stop the killing and watering down Dallaire's reports to New York. Annan's role was criticized in an internal U.N. review and he has apologized for failing to act more forcefully during the conflict.

A U.N. appointed panel also blasted Annan in 2005 for his mismanagement of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program, which ended up funneling $1.7 billion in kickbacks into the coffers of Saddam Hussein. The report also suggested that Annan's son, an employee of a Swiss oil company, had benefited from his father's position to obtain lucrative Iraqi oil contracts, though no evidence was found that Annan personally intervened on his son's behalf.  




Won it for: "their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way"

Why it was a bad call: The IAEA's award was seen by many as a rebuke of the George W. Bush administration' s invasion of Iraq. ElBaradei and his agency had pushed for continuing the inspections process of Saddam Hussein's weapons program.

Despite the organization's noble intentions, it has not proven particularly effective at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Since its founding in 1956, five countries have gotten the bomb -- India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and South Africa, which shuttered its weapons program voluntarily -- and Syria and Iran are believed to have made significant progress toward gaining them. Highlighting the ineffectiveness of the IAEA's agenda, three of those countries -- India, Pakistan, and Israel -- are members in good standing of the organization.

The IAEA also has a mixed record at promoting the safe use of nuclear technology. Following this year's meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the IAEA's response was criticized as "sluggish and sometimes confusing."




Won it for: "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples"

Why it was a bad call: The awards committee raised eyebrows by giving the prize to Obama, a former one-term senator who had taken the oath of office just a few weeks before nominations were due. The new president himself acknowledged that "Compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight." Obama also surprised many by devoting much of his Nobel lecture to a defense of the legitimate use of force.

Indeed, the Nobel seems to have been given to candidate Obama -- the one defined by his opposition to the war in Iraq, promise to close Guantánamo, and pledge to foster dialogue with hostile governments -- rather than President Obama, better known for the Afghan surge, a massively expanded drone war, military intervention in Libya, and the extrajudicial killings of Anwar al-Awlaki and Osama bin Laden. Not to mention that Gitmo's still open and there's been little progress made on Middle East peace.

These actions may all be justifiable, but they're likely not what the committee had in mind.


The List

Watching Wall Street

The world's media react to America's newest political phenomenon.

After a year of protests throughout the Middle East toppled dictators who were once America's buddies, the world's media are understandably captivated by the sight of people taking to the streets and occupying a square in downtown Manhattan. But what does it all mean? As they did with the Tea Party, some countries seem eager to pounce on Occupy Wall Street to highlight that the United States has its own internal dissent to contend with. But, as it turns out, there are a lot of differing opinions.


The Islamic Republic has been the most active in its coverage of Occupy Wall Street. State-run, English-language Press TV, in particular, has had extensive commentary on the movement. As one of its commentators put it, America is "living under a horrendous propaganda system."

Meanwhile, the Fars News Agency was largely critical of President Barack Obama's approach to the financial crisis:

And God knows, Americans missed the rendezvous they were supposed to have with democratic politics in January 2009. With a newly-elected president who gave great hopes for change in words, politics failed the Americans in that first phase of the crisis. Barack Obama installed a Wall Street-friendly team that resisted fundamental changes in the financial model that caused the collapse and the deep recession that followed.

In another article published by Fars, Wall Street was characterized as more than just a bastion of corruption; it was "the financial Gomorrah of America."

Meanwhile, the Tehran Times, with little apparent sense of irony, emphasized the police brutality toward protesters in Manhattan. The same article also characterized the demonstrations as a statement against "excessive force and the unfair treatment of minorities."


According to the pro-government international television station Russia Today, the protests are more than just a movement against corporate interests: They are the beginning of a "potentially violent revolution" in America. Voice of Russia and Russia Today had pieces referring to the movement as the beginnings of a widespread class revolt within America, with Russia Today stating:

A new season in a different nation: the Arab Spring has become America's Autumn. 

And on Saturday, New York's Brooklyn Bridge reminded many of a scene from Egypt's Tahrir Square.

The U.S. mainstream media was roundly criticized by Pravda, which described the press coverage as a "total media blackout" against the protesters. Russia Today took a shot at Obama, describing the protests as being against "four more years of Bush," while it called the arrest of protesters an example of "heavy-handed policing."


The state-controlled Chinese media picked up on the Occupy Wall Street movement only this past week, when demonstrations finally grew. But they're not ignoring it now. Xinhua has run slide shows showcasing the diversity of the protesters. The articles, on the other hand, tend to highlight the prospect that Wall Street's greed will take down America's financial empire.

Xinhua editorialized:

American citizens and politicians alike love to talk about how Wall Street never seems to receive a harsh enough penalty for its actions. They say that if the capital of the financial world wishes to regain the trust of the public, it needs to reflect on current practices and amend its ways.

The Chinese media have also noted the protesters' indignation with the role that money has in politics. Perhaps wary of encouraging a resurgence of the recent anti-corruption protests in China, the official media's coverage of the Wall Street protests tends to take the "it's-worse-over-there" line, highlighting America as a more decadent society permeated by government corruption.


In India, which recently saw its own wave of massive anti-corruption protests, coverage has been mixed. Online news site has editorialized in favor of the protesters, with one article comparing the movement to Anna Hazare's hunger strike in August. The Times of India played off the Arab Spring, referring to the protests as the American Fall while harkening back to Gandhi:

Some commentators have rubbished the movement, describing it as a minor "mob uprising" that will not have legs. Others see it expanding with some labor groups and unions ready to join the protests . Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 gave the movement a small bump.

"Today is Gandhi's birthday . What better day for each of us 2 commit ourselves 2 the OccupyWallStreet movement ? If not now, when?" the film maker Michael Moore tweeted.


Coverage of the protests has been sparse around the Arab world, which is still undergoing its own social upheaval. Granted, after what has happened in Libya and Egypt, a few hundred protesters in Manhattan is small potatoes. Most news sources have been relying solely on wire reports.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which gave life and voice to the Middle East uprisings and has an increasingly large U.S. following, writes that "major aspects of Occupy Wall Street remained undefined. The group has not issued any set of demands, and has prided itself in bringing people together over an issue rather than a goal."

The channel has also featured some discussion of the role of social media and technology in both Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring.

The editorials have been, for the most part, sympathetic to the goals of the protesters:

What disgusts some, inspires others, and that event is now firmly embedded in the legacy of the US left, which may have changed its character, but not its dislike of America's Mecca of money and symbol of greed.

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