President Obama Wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize : NPR

President Obama in the Rose Garden

Enlarge Gerald Herbert/AP

President Obama made his way from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden to deliver remarks on health care reform Monday in Washington, D.C.

President Obama in the Rose Garden
Gerald Herbert/AP

President Obama made his way from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden to deliver remarks on health care reform Monday in Washington, D.C.

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October 9, 2009

President Obama on Friday won the Nobel Peace Prize, a stunning choice of an official who had been in office for less than two weeks before this year’s nomination deadline.

Obama won the prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced, saying it had “attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama woke up to the news a little before 6 a.m. EDT. The White House had no immediate comment on the announcement, which took the administration by surprise.

Obama becomes the third sitting president — and the first since Woodrow Wilson in 1919 — to win the prize. Theodore Roosevelt won the award in 1906. Former President Jimmy Carter won in 2002, and former Vice President Al Gore won in 2007.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee said. “In the past year Obama has been a key person for important initiatives in the U.N. for nuclear disarmament and to set a completely new agenda for the Muslim world and East-West relations.”

He added that the committee endorsed “Obama’s appeal that ‘Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.'”

The Nobel committee received a record 205 nominations for this year’s prize though it was not immediately apparent who nominated Obama.

“The exciting and important thing about this prize is that it’s given to someone … who has the power to contribute to peace,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.

Commanders In Peace: The White House Laureates

The list of Nobel Peace Prize laureates now includes three sitting U.S. presidents and one former president. The Norwegian Nobel Committee also has recognized one sitting vice president and one former vice president.

2009: President Barack Obama, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

2007: Former Vice President Al Gore, shared with the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

2002: Former President Jimmy Carter, “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

1925: Vice President Charles Gates Dawes, for his work as chairman of a League of Nations commission that made recommendations in 1924 on how to handle questions about German reparations after World War I (the “Dawes Plan”). Dawes shared the 1925 prize with British Foriegn Secretary Austen Chamberlain, who was honored for efforts to promote Franco-German reconciliation through the Locarno Pact of 1925.

1919: President Woodrow Wilson, for founding the League of Nations.

1906: President Teddy Roosevelt, for his work on various various peace treaties.

Source: The Nobel Foundation

Wilson and Roosevelt had “significant accomplishments in office when they won the prize,” presidential historian Robert Dallek told NPR’s Morning Edition. He noted that Roosevelt had mediated the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, while Wilson was instrumental in the establishment of the League of Nations after World War I.

The Nobel committee’s action also “clearly is a kind of poke in the eye to the George W. Bush administration, because what it is saying is America is back on the scene after eight years of Bush, back on the scene as a nation that is on the forefront of promoting world peace,” Dallek said.

“In this case, the prize will add, or increase, his moral authority,” political activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said of Obama. Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

“I confess to surprise” at the news, Wiesel told NPR. He joked that he would now have to refer to Obama as “my fellow Nobel laureate.”

“The Nobel Prize committee has its own rules and they may decide anything they want. They may decide that encouragement is part of the experiment,” Wiesel said, noting Obama’s short tenure as president.

“So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act,” said former Polish President Lech Walesa, a 1983 Nobel Peace laureate, of Obama.

“This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let’s see if he perseveres. Let’s give him time to act,” Walesa said.

Nobel nominators include former laureates; current and former members of the committee and their staff; members of national governments and legislatures; university professors of law, theology, social sciences, history and philosophy; leaders of peace research and foreign affairs institutes; and members of international courts of law.

Until seconds before the award, speculation had focused on a wide variety of candidates besides Obama: Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a Colombian senator, a Chinese dissident and an Afghan woman’s rights activist, among others.

Former Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said Obama has already provided outstanding leadership in the effort to prevent nuclear proliferation.

“In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself,” ElBaradei said. “He has shown an unshakeable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts.”

Obama also has attempted to restart stalled talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, but just a day after Obama hosted the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in New York, Israeli officials boasted that they had fended off U.S. pressure to halt settlement construction. Moderate Palestinians said they felt undermined by Obama’s failure to back up his demand for a freeze.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation welcomed the award on behalf of its founder Nelson Mandela, who shared the 1993 Peace Prize with then-South African President F.W. DeKlerk for their efforts at ending years of apartheid and laying the groundwork for a democratic country.

“We trust that this award will strengthen his commitment, as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, to continue promoting peace and the eradication of poverty,” the foundation said.

In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”

Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, which are awarded by Swedish institutions, he said the peace prize should be given out by a five-member committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament. Sweden and Norway were united under the same crown at the time of Nobel’s death.

The committee has taken a wide interpretation of Nobel’s guidelines, expanding the prize beyond peace mediation to include efforts to combat poverty, disease and climate change.

The award comes at a sensitive time for the administration. Obama meets Friday with his top advisers on the Afghan war to consider a request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan as the U.S war there enters its ninth year.

Obama ordered 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan earlier this year and has continued the use of unmanned drones for attacks on militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a strategy devised by the Bush administration. The attacks often kill or injure civilians living in the area.

The White House said the president will make a statement on having won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

I am so proud to be an American!


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