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October 9th, 2009
03:39 PM ET

Obama's Nobel Prize: an unorthodox move

Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee Thorbjorn Jagland holds a picture of President Obama.
Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee Thorbjorn Jagland holds a picture of President Obama.

David Gergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Political Analyst

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama is so unorthodox that it almost leaves one speechless. Even so, a few thoughts seem in order:

First, all Americans should join in celebrating this award to our president and congratulate him for the way he has inspired millions of citizens across the globe. Whatever one may think about Obama’s policies and politics, it is a special occasion when the Nobel Prize Committee recognizes the work and the dream of an American. We celebrate Americans who win prizes in medicine, science, and economics, and so too should we celebrate those who win for peace. It is churlish for some to attack the President and the Nobel Prize Committee today.

Second, it is clear that Barack Obama has not yet climbed the mountains that his predecessors had when they won their Peace Prizes. A Nobel was awarded to Martin Luther King, Jr. after the March on Washington, not before. Both of the two sitting presidents who won the Nobel Peace Prize previously, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, were recognized after they had achieved substantial accomplishments. It is widely understood in the United States, even in the Obama White House, that his major accomplishments remain ahead, not behind. Just last weekend, Saturday Night Live stirred politicos with its parody of Obama, claiming he has accomplished nothing. That went too far, but it was suggestive of the country’s mood.

Third, a critical question will be how this award influences President Obama’s leadership in international affairs in the years ahead. His critics should recognize that it will strengthen his diplomatic hand, and that could be a distinct benefit for US foreign policy. Soft power, as we have learned, is often as potent as hard power in today’s world. By equal measures, the President’s supporters should recognize that there is a possible downside to this award. As much as we want a president who is a peacemaker, we also want someone who is tough enough to stand up for American interests in a dangerous world. As the President makes decisions on critical issues like Afghanistan, he may be tempted to play to some of the peacenik tendencies that we have sometimes seen in Western Europe and elsewhere. This would be wrong. He has a larger and more serious set of responsibilities in keeping America and the world safe. It is worth remembering that the American Eagle, which is embedded in the Presidential seal, holds a branch of peace in one talon but carries a fistful of arrows in the other.

soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Maureen

    Wow. Where have all the adults gone? While many of the comments here are very thoughtful, I find it difficult to see (& feel) all the negativity around what should be a very proud moment for America. Obama has opened the door for America to once again be respected in the world. It's not about the US or Republicans or Democrats, it's about PEACE. America can't continue to be the "bully on the playground" and expect to get things done. Respect is earned, not given. He has earned it. I feel much safer and welcomed traveling internationally today due to our President's leadership in his short time in office.

    Congratulations Mr. President.

    October 9, 2009 at 9:13 pm |
  2. Lee Mcbride

    The Nobel "Peace Prize" was forever diminished when it was awarded to the master terrorist Yasser Arafat in 1994. Since then it has become more of a political pinata than an award given to those whose efforts have truly made the world a better place to live in. Shame on the the Nobel committee for overlooking MUCH more deserving candidates just in order to make another political statement.

    October 9, 2009 at 8:42 pm |
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