August, 2006, in Nairobi, Kenya: Then Sen. Barack Obama, wife Michelle, daughters Sasha, Malia and other children help plant tree with 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. (Photo by Lynn Sweet)
WASHINGTON--How can this great honor given to President Obama on Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize, be seen through American lenses as anything but premature? Obama gets the prize less than nine months into his presidency, on the very day he is meeting with his war cabinet--his national security team--to wrestle with ongoing battles in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama said throughout his campaign that the very fact of his election would restore America's image in the world. The United State standing as a superpower was destroyed by President Bush's invasion of Iraq, disbelief about climate change and criticism of the role of the United Nations.
In other words, Obama was not Bush, and the Norweigan Nobel Peace Prize Committee (the Swedes decide the other Nobel winners) must have been particularly dazzled by Obama's promise. Nominations for the prize closed on Feb. 1 and Obama was sworn into office on Jan. 20.
It's just astounding to consider that Obama, with less than two weeks in office, was nominated for the prize and went on to win it with so little yet accomplished. It's also a message to naysayers to who said that Obama's trip to Copenhagen a week ago today to pitch Chicago's 2016 bid for the Olympic summer games diminished his international standing because his hometown city came in last.
Obama travels to Oslo in December to accept the prize.
A surprise loss with the Olympics. A stunning win with the Nobel prize.
Obama's incredible rise--five years ago today Obama was still an Illinois state senator--has been blessed by people projecting their expectations on him. He has been a magnet for true believers who pinned their aspirations, hopes and dreams on him. When Obama was a freshman U.S. senator, he joked during his 2006 keynote to a Gridiron Club dinner, "When I actually do something, we'll let you know."
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee justified the 108-year-old prize because the panel said in a statement it "attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.
"Obama has as President 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.
"Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, 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.
"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."
Domestically, winning the Nobel prize just gives Obama critics ammunition.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement, "The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?' 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."
Obama won the prize senior advisor David Axelrod said he did not seek. But he has the Nobel Peace Prize. Now he has to live up to it.