Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Sparks Controversy

![President Obama and his Nobel Peace Prize face scrutiny from both sides. AP](/content/images/Obama_AP.jpg "President Obama")
President Obama and his Nobel Peace Prize face scrutiny from both sides. AP
On October 9th, after less than a year in office, President Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. According to Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, the committee chose Mr. Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Jagland cited Mr. Obama’s work on nuclear disarmament and increasing global diplomatic dialogue as main factors in the decision.

However, 54% of persons polled on Nobelprize.org answered that they did not “know about Barack Obama’s efforts for a nuclear weapon free world.” Overall, the award has inspired more puzzlement than praise, more ire than enthusiasm. While some have argued that we ought to give Obama a chance, many have lamented his paltry record and achievements. Indeed, Mr. Obama was nominated for the award only eleven days after he took office in January.

Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton suggested that Obama “decline it and then ask to be considered again in three or four years when he has a record.” He added that “the Nobel Peace Prize should be for achievement, not effort.” Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele similarly, albeit more bluntly, lambasted the president’s record: “What has Barack Obama actually accomplished?”

The New York Times reported that “even some Democrats privately questioned whether he deserved” the award. But despite widespread criticism, Mr. Obama has chosen to accept the prize. Henry Kissinger’s 1973 co-nominee, the Vietnamese revolutionary and leader Le Duc Tho, is the only nominated laureate ever to have declined the Peace Prize.

Mr. Obama said, “I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations…. I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century.” He responded to his critics’ arguments that he was unqualified by saying that “throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.”

The Nobel committee—constituted of five persons recommended by the Norwegian Parliament—includes members of the Conservative, Progress, Labour, and Socialist parties. Chairman Jagland was particularly bullish on Mr. Obama’s penchant for diplomatic negotiation. He did not add “unlike Bush” because that sentiment was clear.

The Nobel Prize committee’s agenda and history of nominations suggests a recurring kick to Republicans. The most recent Republicans to be awarded the Peace Prize were Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 for his work ending the Russo-Japanese war; former Secretary of State Elihu Root in 1912 for his impressive arbitrage record; and after a long Republican dry spell, Henry Kissinger in 1973.

Criticism of the Nobel committee’s choice of awardees is not a recent development. The winner is perennially questioned—someone better was overlooked (many are still upset that Reagan never won for his work in ending the Cold War), the recipient is undeserving, the committee is pushing an agenda. Yet, “despite fantastic omissions and dubious awards, the luster of the Nobel Prizes has remained absolutely undimmed as the most glittering recognition of intellect that can come to a man or woman,” wrote the late Professor Donald Fleming of Harvard.

The prize is contentious because it is still so highly regarded. This makes the mistakes in awardee selections especially deleterious. Regarding the recent awardees—Yasser Arafat in 1994, Jimmy Carter in 2002, Al Gore in 2007—Jed Babbin of Human Events writes, “Mr. President…you stand on the shoulders of three who have done much to harm America and reduce its influence and standing in the world. Their trio is now a quartet.”

There are those who argue that not only is Mr. Obama a poor choice for the prize, but that the prize is a poor choice for him. “The Nobel Committee was not rewarding Obama. It was attempting to geld him,” wrote David Frum. Similarly, writer William Jelani Cobb worried that “coming as [Obama] weighs his options for Afghanistan this may be, or at least seem, like an attempt to influence policy […] How does a Nobel Peace Prize winner order more troops into war?”

Still, more are upset over the belief that the prize was unwarranted than are worried that the prize will force Obama to be extra soft on foreign policy: Kevin Sullivan of Real Clear World asks “Did the Nobel Prize change Kissinger? How about that champion of peace, Yasser Arafat? Enough said.”

But there are also those who genuinely support Obama’s winning the prize. Professor Paul Rahe of Hillsdale College writes that Mr. Obama “deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. […] He is a global leader who clearly saw the gains that could be made in changing ‘the optics’ of the global order, upgrading the level of respect between the United States and other nations, making a point of listening to other leaders.”

Others defend Obama not by offering reasons why he should have won, but by berating those who offer reasons why he should not have. Communications director of the Democratic National Committee, Brad Woodhouse, harshly contended that the president’s critics are unpatriotic: “the Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists—the Taliban and Hamas this morning—in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize.” Still, columnists such as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius can still contend that “even if you’re a fan, you have to admit that he hasn’t really done much yet as a peacemaker.” Nobel laureate Lech Walesa said simply: “Who? What? So fast?”

Very high praise of the Mr. Obama’s award has come from few, though among Obama’s vocal fans is Fidel Castro, who praised Obama’s award in his column, “Reflections of Comrade Fidel.” According to Reuters, Castro contends that “the prize made up for the blow Obama suffered last week when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro after Obama had flown to Copenhagen to pitch for Chicago.” Castro also took this as an opportunity to chastise former presidents, saying, “We prefer to see in the decision, more than a prize for the president of the United States, a criticism of the genocidal policies that not a few presidents of that country have followed.”

Mr. Obama will travel to Oslo in December to accept the award. On crafting his acceptance speech, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jack Danforth says, “He sure doesn’t need my advice. . . . He’s the orator of all orators. I’m sure it will be fabulous oratory, and yet another example of telling Europe what it wants to hear.”

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