WASHINGTON -- The Nobel Prize committee has taken another slap at the Bush administration for its war in Iraq.
The committee awarded the prestigious 2005 peace prize to Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency, past nemesis of President Bush.
ElBaradei -- along with Hans Blix, former U.N. chief weapons inspector -- had urged the United States to give the inspectors more time to hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before invading. But Bush ignored them and gave the order to attack because of his determination to have a "regime change" in Iraq.
In his final report on March 7, 2003, after inspections of 141 sites in Iraq, ElBaradei told the U.N. Security Council there was no plausible evidence of a nuclear program. U.S. forces invaded two weeks later.
After the successful invasion, two U.S. task forces searched Iraq for unconventional weapons. Months and millions of dollars later, the U.S. weapons hunters came to the same conclusion that the United Nations had arrived at: There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The Bush administration tried to oust ElBaradei from the IAEA leadership but his backing in the United Nations was too strong for the U.S. to unseat him.
When he was undersecretary of state for arms control, John Bolton, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, lobbied against a third term for ElBaradei. But when Bolton could not persuade U.S. allies to dump him, the United States dropped its opposition and ElBaradei was reappointed director unanimously.
It was a case of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called ElBaradei to congratulate him for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, telling him that the award was "a well-deserved honor."
The Nobel committee insisted that the award to ElBaradei was not an anti-war jab at the Bush administration. Ole Danbolt Mjos, chairman of the Nobel committee, was quoted as telling reporters: "This is not a kick in the legs to any country."
Mjos said that ElBaradei stood out because the agency's work is of incalculable importance "at a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role."
ElBaradei is a strong champion of the peaceful use of nuclear energy and has been trying to dissuade countries from developing nuclear weapons.
In 2002, the committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to former President Jimmy Carter after he strongly criticized the Bush administration for its plans to oust Saddam Hussein by force. At that time, the Nobel committee contrasted Carter's Camp David diplomacy in seeking a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel to Bush's militant foreign policy.
There's new tension between the United States and ElBaradei because he refuses to support the American claim that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. At the same time, ElBaradei acknowledges that Iran has hidden for years a series of nuclear programs from IAEA inspectors.
ElBaradei has resisted asking the U.N. Security Council for sanctions against Iran, preferring diplomacy to bring Tehran around. "It is suspicious" he has said, "but I try to explain to my friends in the Bush administration that suspicions are different from conclusive evidence."
The United States should support U.N. diplomatic efforts to persuade nations not to pursue nuclear arms. Unfortunately, America has a double standard.
The administration closes its eyes when some friendly nations build vast arsenals of unconventional weapons. It selectively threatens economic sanctions against so-called "rogue nations," such as North Korea and Iran, hoping to keep them from going nuclear.
Meanwhile, the United States takes a softer approach to India, Pakistan and Israel -- all of which have refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The United States has a golden chance to throw its weight behind U.N. efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear arms. It could take the high ground if it abandoned its own plans to adapt a new generation of nukes for the battlefield.
But the way things are going in this administration, don't get your hopes up.