Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize
President Obama was awakened before 6 a.m. today with good news on the international front: He'd won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The surprise announcement came as Obama, whose achievements during his first nine months in the White House have been largely domestic, is wrestling with perhaps his biggest foreign policy challenge: Afghanistan.
Obama has yet to achieve any breakthroughs on the many international efforts he has undertaken: drawing down U.S. involvement in Iraq and beefing it up in Afghanistan, reaching peace in the Middle East, forcing Iran to forego its nuclear program, resetting relations with Russia, improving relations with the Muslim world or reducing the world's supply of nuclear arms.
Yet the Norwegian Nobel Committee picked the 48-year-old president from 205 nominees for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." The committee praised Obama's creation of "a new climate in international politics" and said he had returned multilateral diplomacy and institutions like the United Nations to the center of the world stage.
Obama becomes the fourth current or former U.S. president to win the prize, after Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and Jimmy Carter in 2002, long after his presidency had ended. Obama got the news by phone from press secretary Robert Gibbs shortly before 6 a.m. and felt "humbled," the White House said.
Since taking office, Obama has juggled many things at once — from wars abroad to recession at home. Under his belt so far, Obama has won from Congress a bailout of the financial industry and a $787 billion economic stimulus package, undertaken in the winter to help the nation recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Since then, much of his attention has been on other domestic policies, particularly health care, energy and education. But he has mixed in trips to Canada and Mexico, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. He is due to travel to China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore next month.
His biggest setback on the international scene so far came last week, when Chicago lost the 2016 Summer Olympics to Rio de Janeiro — despite Obama's last-minute trip to Copenhagen to lobby for his home town.
Obama came to office pledging to substitute diplomacy for military might when possible. He was a critic of former President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, and he said he would refocus the Pentagon on the war in Afghanistan.
He appointed his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary of state. The two of them in turn named special envoys to key hot spots around the world, notably the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama's most dramatic moment on the world scene came while he was still a candidate: a speech in Berlin which drew an estimated 200,000 people. His crowds overseas have been smaller as president, but he has impressed foreigners from Prague to Cairo with calls for nuclear disarmament and a new relationship with the Muslim world.
Perhaps the biggest change Obama brought to the White House after the Bush administration was a willingness to work through international organizations such as the U.N., International Monetary Fund and World Bank to solve world problems. Bush was disdained by many overseas, including the Nobel committee, for preferring to go it alone.
A Pew Research Poll released in July showed that the image of the U.S. "improved markedly in most parts of the world," largely because of confidence and trust abroad in Obama..
Most of Obama's work came after nominations for the Nobel prize were closed, however. To be considered, he had to be nominated by Feb. 1, less than two weeks after taking office.
The plaudit appeared to be a slap at Bush from a committee that harshly criticized him for resorting to largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The committee chairman said after awarding the 2002 prize to former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, for his mediation in international conflicts, that it should be seen as a "kick in the leg" to the Bush administration's hard line in the buildup to the Iraq war.
Five years later, the committee honored Bush's adversary in the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore, for his campaign to raise awareness about global warming.
Rather than recognizing concrete achievement, the 2009 prize appeared intended to support initiatives that have yet to bear fruit: reducing the world stock of nuclear arms, easing American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthening the U.S. role in combating climate change.
"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," Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee said. "In the past year Obama has been a key person for important initiatives in the U.N. for nuclear disarmament and to set a completely new agenda for the Muslim world and East-West relations."
He added that the committee endorsed "Obama's appeal that 'Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.'"
The Nelson Mandela Foundation welcomed the award on behalf of its founder Nelson Mandela, who shared the 1993 Peace Prize with then-South African President F.W. DeKlerk for their efforts at ending years of apartheid and laying the groundwork for a democratic country.
"We trust that this award will strengthen his commitment, as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, to continue promoting peace and the eradication of poverty," the foundation said.
In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go "to 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."
Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, which are awarded by Swedish institutions, he said the peace prize should be given out by a five-member committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament. Sweden and Norway were united under the same crown at the time of Nobel's death.
The committee has taken a wide interpretation of Nobel's guidelines, expanding the prize beyond peace mediation to include efforts to combat poverty, disease and climate change.
There are so many flaws in this that I don't even know where to begin.