Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize
President Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for his work to improve international diplomacy and rid the world of nuclear weapons -- a stunning decision to celebrate a figure virtually unknown in the world before he launched his campaign for the White House nearly three years ago.
In awarding the coveted prize to Obama, 48, the Norwegian Nobel Committee echoed a global embrace of the U.S. president that has seen his popularity overseas often exceed his support at home. Though Obama's name surfaced early among contenders, the announcement stunned observers -- and drew gasps from the audience in Oslo -- in part because Obama assumed office less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 deadline for nominations.
The committee praised Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" during his nine months in office and singled out for special recognition Obama's call for a world free of nuclear weapons, which he first made in an April speech in Prague.
Heralding Obama as a transformative figure in U.S. and international diplomacy, the committee said: "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."
Obama is the third sitting U.S. president--and the first in 90 years--to win the prestigious peace prize. His predecessors won during their second White House terms, however, and after significant achievements in their diplomacy. Woodrow Wilson was awarded the price in 1919, after helping to found the League of Nations and shaping the Treatise of Versailles; and Theodore Roosevelt was the recipient in 1906 for his work to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese war.
In contrast, Obama is struggling over whether to expand the war in Afghanistan, preparing to withdraw from Iraq, and searching for ways to build momentum to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and assemble an international effort to stop Iran's nuclear program.
The committee's choice of Obama from among 205 nominees appears in part to be a continued rebuke to the Bush administration's go-it-alone approach to world bodies and alliances, including its decision to go to war in Iraq without U.N. approval. In 2007, for example, former Vice President Al Gore received the prize for raising awareness on global warming after the Bush administration abandoned the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions, arguing it would take too great a toll on the U.S. economy.
In response to questions from reporters in Oslo, who noted that Obama so far has made little concrete progress in achieving his lofty and ambitious agenda, committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said he hoped the prize would add momentum to Obama's efforts.
At the same time, Jagland said, "We have not given the prize for what may happen in the future. We are awarding Obama for what he has done in the past year. And we are hoping this may contribute a little bit for what he is trying to do."
Jagland specifically cited Obama's speech about Islam in Cairo last spring, as well as his efforts to address nuclear proliferation and climate change, and to use established international bodies such as the United Nations to pursue his goals. The prize "is a clear signal to the world that we want to advocate the same as he has done to promote international diplomacy," Jagland said.
The committee -- made up of luminaries selected by the Norwegian government -- noted a profound shift in American policy under Obama and said he had "created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play." The committee did not mention Obama's status as the first black U.S. president.
Jagland told reporters that the U.S. president had not been notified of the award in advance of the announcement, which was made at 11 a.m. in Oslo (5 a.m. in Washington). There was no immediate comment from the White House 0fficials, who also appeared to be surprised by the decision.
Friday's announcement came a week after the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen rejected Obama's personal appeal to award the 2016 Games to his hometown of Chicago.
Obama and his advisers have described the tenets of his foreign policy as one emphasizing "mutual interest and mutual respect" and the idea that global diplomacy functions on the principles of "rights and responsibilities" of sovereign nations. "Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts," the committee said in its statement. ". . . the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened."
After recent years that saw the prize go environmentalists like Gore, as well as luminaries in the fight against poverty, the committee's rationale for selecting Obama seemed to strike closer to prize's original mandate.
In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel, founder of the award, had directed committees selected by the Swedish president to reward "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."
The only other U.S. president to win the peace prize was Jimmy Carter, who won 22 years after leaving office, in 2002, for his work negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt. Link