Opinion: Obama faces the downside of winning Nobel Peace Prize


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Earth bombed the moon this morning, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee dropped its own bomb, awarding the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama.

You would think everything is perfect after receiving such a surprising honor and that Obama could joyously take a victory lap. But in its own way, the peace prize makes a slew of domestic and international political problems worse for the president, who has been in office for less than nine months.


The award emphasizes the gulf Obama must bridge in his two sometimes conflicting roles: president of the United States, who must act out of national self-interest, and his role as the moral beacon for international affairs around the globe.

For example, Obama has been meeting with his national security team to decide what to do about Afghanistan. The military is seeking an additional 40,000 U.S. troops on top of the 68,000 already committed (and the 40,000 NATO has there). Being a peace prize winner who sends more troops to war is something he will have to explain if he decides in that direction. If he doesn’t send more troops, he will have to explain that action to an already hostile GOP and furious conservatives.

Talk show host Rush Limbaugh lost no time calling Obama’s victory a ‘greater embarrassment’ than losing the Olympics.

“This fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama,’ Limbaugh told Politico in an e-mail published on its website. “And with this ‘award’ the elites of the world are urging Obama, THE MAN OF PEACE, to not do the surge in Afghanistan, not take action against Iran and its nuclear program and to basically continue his intentions to emasculate the United States.’

For other Republicans like party Chairman Michael Steele, the win allowed them to return to a frequent GOP trope from the campaign: that Obama can play on his unmerited star power rather than meaningful accomplishments.

“The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?’” Steele said. “It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain: President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.”


The Republican and conservative comments may sound like sour grapes, but it could harden an already unhappy group against a president who has argued for political bipartisanship.

The Nobel committee acknowledged it had moved quickly, but insisted speed was important.

“He got the prize because he has been able to change the international climate,” Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said. “Some people say, and I understand it, isn’t it premature? Too early? Well, I’d say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now. It is now that we have the opportunity to respond — all of us.”

It is that feeling of hope and change that the committee wanted to foster. It is, of course, also a slap at President Bush and his administration’s insistence on going it alone.

Obama has played on his experience as community organizer to call for greater cooperation in the international and domestic arenas. It will take that skill to deal with the fallout from the award.

-- Michael Muskal

Here is the text of Obama’s comments on the Nobel Peace Prize as provided by White House:

Good morning. Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning. After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, ‘Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo’s birthday!’ And then Sasha added, ‘Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up.’ So it’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.


To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize -- men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build -- a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know 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. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

These challenges can’t be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that’s why my administration has worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek. We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people. And that’s why we’ve begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions.
We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever damage the world that we pass on to our children -- sowing conflict and famine; destroying coastlines and emptying cities. And that’s why all nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the way that we use energy.

We can’t allow the differences between peoples to define the way that we see one another, and that’s why we must pursue a new beginning among people of different faiths and races and religions; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.

And we must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years, and that effort must include an unwavering commitment that finally realizes that the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own.

We can’t accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity and dignity that all people yearn for -- the ability to get an education and make a decent living; the security that you won’t have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.

And even as we strive to seek a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully and prosperity is widely shared, we have to confront the world as we know it today. I am the Commander-in-Chief of a country that’s responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies. I’m also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for work. These are concerns that I confront every day on behalf of the American people.


Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone. This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration -- it’s about the courageous efforts of people around the world.

And that’s why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity -- for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace.

That has always been the cause of America. That’s why the world has always looked to America. And that’s why I believe America will continue to lead.

Thank you very much.

President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to deliver remarks after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., USA, 09 October 2009. The surprise choice of President Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize was praised by much of the world. EPA/SHAWN THEW