Some Question Obama’s Nobel Prize Win
President Obama accepted his surprising Nobel Peace Prize on Friday as a challenge to make good on his bold goals: peace in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, climate change, nuclear disarmament and a renewed U.S. partnership with the world.
As foreign policy experts questioned the wisdom of the Nobel committee's decision, Obama used the announcement as an opportunity to extend his reach around the world and define his ambitions.
"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," Obama said in a brief speech. "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize.
"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."
A "humbled" president had been awakened with the news before 6 a.m. today by press secretary Robert Gibbs. It came on a day when his biggest international challenge — devising a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan — was once again dominating his schedule.
Obama has yet to achieve any major 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 forgo its nuclear program, resetting relations with Russia, improving diplomacy with the Muslim world and reducing the world's supply of nuclear arms.
Shen Dingli, an international relations expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, saw undue haste in Oslo's award. "They have the patience to wait 50 years for a natural science award, but no patience to wait three years" for Obama's first term to conclude, he said. "He may not deserve it, and he may destroy the Nobel Peace Prize's importance."
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," Thorbjorn 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.' "
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.