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The Nobel Peace Prize: Why did Obama win?

President Obama himself acknowledged that he didn’t feel he deserved to be in the same company as such “transformative figures” as Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.

In a mindless spasm of fawning, the Nobel Peace Prize committee has turned the world’s most prestigious award into “a laughingstock,” said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. The committee’s “embarrassing” decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama, nine accomplishment-free months into his presidency, both cheapens the award and puts “the young president in a terrible place.” He was chosen for one reason: He’s not George W. Bush. Obama himself acknowledged the sheer weirdness of his selection, saying he didn’t feel he deserved to be in the same company as such “transformative figures” as Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. That’s why Obama should have turned down the prize, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. Saying no thanks would have offended no one but the five silly Norwegians who selected him. And it would have signaled that he wanted no part of the “messianic hoo-hah” that has so far accompanied—and impeded—his presidency.

Actually, it’s possible this award is both “premature and thoroughly deserved,” said Andrew Sullivan in TheAtlantic.com. Though his efforts have yet “to bear real fruit,” Obama has opened a new dialogue with the Muslim world, and replaced Bush’s unilateral belligerence with a foreign policy of diplomatic engagement that respects the interests and views of other nations. In so doing, our first African-American president has already given literally billions of people new hope. In the past, the Nobel Committee has often given the prize as an encouragement rather than as a reward, said Lanny Davis in The Washington Times. In 1973 it went to Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho to encourage their truce negotiations. In 1994, it went to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat to preserve momentum in the Middle East peace process. How sad that “Obama-haters” on the extreme Right refuse to understand that.

Obama deserves credit for taking a new “tone,” said Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com, but you shouldn’t get a Nobel for making speeches. This so-called man of peace is still authorizing airstrikes that kill Afghan and Pakistani civilians, and has yet to shut down Bush’s system of secret prisons, in which hundreds of souls languish in misery. Obama will only earn his Nobel when he stops acting like Bush. That’s clearly what the Nobel Committee was hoping, said Jonah Goldberg in National Review Online. As well as being “at least partly a slap at pre-Obama America,” the award is “probably also an attempt to avert war with Iran,” by inflating Obama’s image of himself as a Gandhi-like peacemaker who chooses nonviolence at every turn.

If so, the plan may backfire, said Ronald Krebs in The Washington Post. At home, the Nobel actually hurts Obama, adding to a growing number of Americans’ suspicions that he is “an ultra-liberal” who cares “more deeply about global causes than vital U.S. interests.” To allay these fears, Obama may actually pursue a more muscular and hawkish foreign policy. He shouldn’t overcompensate, said Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. But Obama should use this opportunity to remind the Nobel Committee, and the world in general, of how peace has historically been achieved and maintained. When he ascends the podium in Oslo in December, he should refuse to accept the peace prize on his own behalf, but “accept it on behalf of the most important peace­keepers in the world for the last century—the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.”

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