Hang on to that Nobel Appeasement Prize, Mr. President

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com

Looks like Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is safe for now. He won’t have to return the bauble he received in 2009 for doing his utmost to curb “nuclear proliferation” and talk nice to Muslims.

He can keep the money too. Not too trivial a sum — about $1.2 million.

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) holds his Nobel Peace Prize next to Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland.  /AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama (right) holds his Nobel Peace Prize next to Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland. /AFP/Getty Images

And if the idea of bombing the hell out of Syrian airfields and ammo dumps and chemical labs blows up in the smoke and hot air of a sclerotic Congress, maybe John Kerry will also be in for a Nobel.

That’s because Kerry has a remarkable record of looking one way and going the other way. Schizophrenic? Look at the history.

He went to Vietnam as a hotshot young Navy officer in the riverine force, scouring the Mekong delta in a Swift boat chasing bad guys. Got wounded a few times too, though at least one of the wounds was more like a bruise, and he wangled both a bronze star and a silver star for heroism before leaving for home to recover from his wounds.

Fine so far, but then after he signed on to Vietnam Veterans Against the War, joined demos outside the White House and is said to have thrown his medals over the fence — though that story may be apocryphal. He’s still got all the medals.

As a senator, as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, Kerry has cast himself as a realist, not afraid to be tough but opposed to U.S. involvement in needless wars.

He had no trouble voting “yes” in 2002 to the request of George W. Bush, as president, to send troops into Iraq but then a year later voted against funding U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, he made his opposition to war a centerpiece of his presidential campaign against Bush for his second term.

So there’s really no telling where Kerry will go despite his strong words, and we can’t be too sure what Obama will wind up doing either. That may not seem too much of a problem for Korea, so far removed from the Middle East, but the pieces of the puzzle fit together when you consider that Iran supports the Assad regime and Iran and North Korea deal in missiles and nuclear technology.

The reason that the U.S. seems poised on the precipice of the abyss of another Middle East war is those heart-rending, awful pictures of victims of Syrian sarin gas attacks.

In a bygone era, we would not have seen the pictures so soon and might have been able to look the other way more easily. Eventually the word would have gotten out, but did Americans, or Koreans, really think too much about the gas attacks on Kurds as perpetrated by “Chemical Ali,” Saddam Hussein’s right-hand man in the old days in Iraq?

Nor are Americans, Koreans, all that carried away by the miseries of hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, 200,000 of them consigned to a gulag system from which there is no escape. Yes, a lot has been written about them, but so far there’ve been no really convincing pictures.

Out of sight, out of mind. Nobody’s about to fire cruise missiles to persuade the North Koreans to open the camp doors. If we’re so worried about the war in Syria spreading into a regional conflict, we know we would have much more to fear if we did a thing to relieve the suffering of North Koreans.

On second thought, though, history has a way of darkening the images of those who ignore its lessons. President Clinton has never lived down the failure to stop the slaughter in Rwanda in which Hutus killed half a million Tutsis — names unknown to the rest of the world.

We can elevate the guilt of doing nothing to much higher proportions. Why did the U.S. and its allies do nothing to stop the murder of millions of Jews and others in concentration camps in World War II after word got out as to what was going on?

Why not reach further back in the quest for failed compromisers? Think of those American presidents in the 1850s who appeased the South with double talk on slavery. Franklin Pierce? Millard Filmore?

In the end, the U.S., under Abraham Lincoln, had to fight a civil war that cost more than 600,000 lives.

Now Obama, and Kerry, have to balance the pluses of appeasement, which the Nobel Prize-givers in Oslo would love, against the risks of a wider war in which many more might die. Isn’t that the same issue that South Korea has faced since the Korean War ended in 60 years ago?