5 Things to Understand About Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

Why he couldn't decline, what Bill Clinton is thinking, and more

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The Nobel Committee this morning announced President Obama would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, nine months into his first term in office. The news prompted controversy and immediate calls for Obama to decline the prize. But there are many dimensions to this story and even more repercussions. Here are the five most important things to know about the award, which Obama is set to make a statement about at 10:30 this morning.

  • Prize Problematic, But Obama Can't Decline  Marc Ambinder explains the objections and why Obama can't really heed them.. "Another objection -- one that I'm hearing from smart folks from all ideological corners --  is less about politics and more about the prize: there are hundreds of human rights activists -- thousands -- who are more deserving the prize. It isn't just the prize of Arafat and Carter. Its the prize of Sakharov and Walesa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ang San Suu Kyi and Shirin Ebadi -- people who risked their very lives for the sake of human dignity," he writes. "On the other hand, turning it down, even meant as gesture of humility, will not be interpreted as humility. Obama will probably say that he hopes that America lives up to the promise of the word."
  • What Bill Clinton Is Thinking  Matt Cooper says Clinton "is so pissed" for having not won himself. "After everything Clinton did to promote peace in Ireland, the Balkans and especially the Middle East. After his global initiative to save lives, can he not be kicking himself this morning?" he writes. "Nick Kristof thought it an odd choice. I bet Clinton, um, feels the same way. And since they're unlikely to give it to another American anytime soon, let alone another American president, the odds of Clinton ever getting the Nobel just got a lot dimmer. Forget about Hillary."
  • Past Nobel Winners Endorse  Previous Nobel Peace Prize winners are, perhaps unsurprisingly, diplomatic and encouraging. Mikhail Gorbachev urges support, "In these hard times people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported." Shimon Peres congratulates, "Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact." Desmond Tutu says, "It's an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all. [...] It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope."
  • Nobel Committee Should Have Waited  Nick Kristof shakes his head at the "premature" award. "Obama's work on the Middle East, mostly through Senator Mitchell’s efforts, are sensible but haven't produced any results yet. They certainly don’t match the intensive efforts that Bill Clinton made with his Middle East peace negotiations in the fall of 2000. Likewise, Obama’s efforts on nuclear disarmament/non-proliferation are important, but they are purely an aspiration. All the hard work is yet to come," he writes. "In other areas, Obama has done little. He’s been largely absent on Sudan, Congo, Burma and global poverty and health issues, and doesn’t even have a USAID administrator. I think he has the right instincts on these issues and expect him to get engaged, but shouldn’t the Nobel Peace Prize have a higher bar than high expectations?" Kristof concludes, "In the light of that competition, it seems to me that it might have made sense to wait and give Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in his eighth year in office, after he has actually made peace somewhere."
  • Tarnishes Nobel Peace Prize  Jonah Goldberg chides the Nobel committee. "All he's done is offer words the Nobel committee likes to hear and an image of America they like to see. This says vastly, vastly, more about the Nobel committee than it does about Obama," he writes. "Meanwhile, there are real peace activists and dissidents out there whose dungeons will stay just as cold and dark for another year because of this. Indeed, this news comes during a year when the Iranian people rose up against tyranny and were crushed. Surely someone in Iran — or maybe the Iranian protestors generally — could have benefitted more from receiving the prize than a president who, so far, has done virtually nothing concrete for world peace."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.