President Barak Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, an award that drew both warm praise and sharp criticism. In awarding the prize to the President, the Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Obama for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The administration itself was both humbled and stunned by the announcement early Friday morning. The award was particularly stunning given the nomination deadline of February 1, less than two weeks after the Obama presidency began. President Obama joins a variety of past recipients, including former Vice President Al Gore, President Jimmy Carter, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr.
The committee said it attached “special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons,” saying he had “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,” it said, and the United States was playing a more constructive role in tackling climate change.
President Obama is negotiating arms cuts with Russia, and last month dropped plans to base elements of a U.S. anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. He is also deliberating whether to send more troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, and is still searching for breakthroughs on Iran’s disputed nuclear program and on Middle East peace.
But many critics, particularly in parts of the Arab and Muslim world, called the decision premature. Issam al-Khazraji, a day laborer in Baghdad, said “He doesn’t deserve this prize. All these problems — Iraq, Afghanistan — have not been solved…The man of ‘change’ hasn’t changed anything yet.”
Liaqat Baluch, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative religious party in Pakistan, called the award an embarrassing “joke.”
Israel’s foreign minister said on Thursday there was no chance of a peace deal for many years. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters: “The Nobel prize for peace? Obama should have won ‘the Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians’.”
At home his efforts have been met with vigorous debate as to whether he is advancing America’s standing with the rest of the world or severely weakening US defenses.
While certainly to be congratulated, was the award of this prize to a President not yet ten months into his first term deserved? Is it acknowledgement of his attempts at peaceful negotiations and changes in America’s engagement with the rest of the world since January, or of his frequent apologies on the world stage for America’s past behavior which many view as both embarrassing and humiliating? And what would be the best use of the $1.4 million prize?