October 12th, 2009
11:18 AM ET

When Nobel Prize rewarded failure

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/europe/10/09/nobel.peace.prize/art.obama.npp.cnn.jpg caption="President Obama, speaking last Friday, said the award was an affirmation of American leadership."]

Julian E. Zelizer

Did President Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? That debate will likely continue for weeks to come. But the more interesting question may be about what impact the prize will have on President Obama himself and the key decisions he must make about national security.

The case of Woodrow Wilson, the last sitting president to be awarded the prize, offers some useful lessons.

On December 10, 1920, Albert Schmedeman, the American Minister to Norway, accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of President Wilson, who was being honored for his work in creating the League of Nations. The president had first been nominated in 1918, but strong internal disagreement within the committee delayed his receiving the prize. It was his actual campaign to gain ratification for the League of Nations agreement in 1919 that persuaded the committee he had earned the recognition.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Julian E. Zelizer
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