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President Barack Obama (January 2009), recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to U.S. President Barack Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the award on October 9, 2009, citing Obama's promotion of nuclear nonproliferation and a "new climate" in international relations fostered by Obama, especially in reaching out to the Muslim world.

Obama is the fourth U.S. President to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, after Theodore Roosevelt (1906) and Woodrow Wilson (1919)—both of whom received the award during their terms—and Jimmy Carter (2002), who received the award 21 years after leaving office. In addition, then-sitting Vice President Charles Dawes was a co-winner with Austen Chamberlain (1925), and former Vice President Al Gore was a co-winner with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007)

Obama is the first U.S. president to receive the award during his first year in office (at eight and a half months), although several other world leaders were awarded in the year following their election to national office, including Óscar Arias (1987) and Aung San Suu Kyi (1991); the situation also would have applied to nominee Morgan Tsvangirai.

The White Housemarker announced Obama would travel to Oslomarker in December to accept the prize. Obama plans to donate the full 10 million Swedish kronor (about US$1.4 million) monetary award to charity.

Nomination and announcement

The winner is selected by the Norwegian Nobel Committee from nominations by others. There were 205 nominations for the 2009 award, which included civil rights activists in Chinamarker and Afghanistanmarker and African politicians. Colombianmarker Senator Piedad Córdoba, Afghanistan's Sima Samar, Chinese dissident Hu Jia and Prime Minister of Zimbabwemarker Morgan Tsvangirai had been speculated to be favorites for the award.

The five members of the Nobel Committee are appointed by the Norwegian Parliamentmarker to roughly reflect the party makeup of that body. The 2009 Committee comprised two members of the Norwegian Labor Party, one from the Socialist Left Party, one from the Conservative Party of Norway and one from the right-wing Progress Party. The chairman of the Committee was Thorbjørn Jagland, former Norwegian Labor Party prime minister and Secretary General of the Council of Europe since September 29, 2009. The panel met six or seven times in 2009, beginning several weeks after the February 1 nomination deadline. The winner was chosen unanimously on October 5. but was initially opposed by the Socialist Left, Conservative and Progress Party members until strongly persuaded by Jagland.

Jagland said "We have not given the prize for what may happen in the future. We are awarding Obama for what he has done in the past year. And we are hoping this may contribute a little bit for what he is trying to do," noting that he hoped the award would assist Obama's foreign policy efforts. Jagland said the committee was influenced by a speech Obama gave about Islam in Cairomarker in June 2009, the president's efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and climate change, and Obama's support for using established international bodies such as the United Nations to pursue foreign policy goals. The New York Times reported that Jagland shrugged off the question of whether "the committee feared being labeled naïve for accepting a young politician’s promises at face value", stating that "no one could deny that 'the international climate' had suddenly improved, and that Mr. Obama was the main reason...'We want to embrace the message that he stands for.'"


Barack Obama

Obama said he was "surprised" and "deeply humbled" by the award. He stated that he does not feel he deserved the award, saying that he did not feel worthy of the company the award would place him in. In remarks given at the White House Rose Gardenmarker on the day of the announcement, Obama stated, "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

"Throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes," Obama said. "And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action — a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century." He said those common challenges included the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons (which he said might not occur in his lifetime), nuclear proliferation, climate change, tolerance "among people of different faiths and races and religions", peace between and security for Israelis and Palestinians, better social conditions for the world's poor, including "the ability to get an education and make a decent living; the security that you won't have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future". The United States, he said, is "a country that's responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies".

The award, he said, "must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity — for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace." He did not take questions from reporters after giving his statement.

In the United States

Obama's winning of the peace prize was largely unanticipated and called a "stunning surprise" by The New York Times, though major oddsmaker Centrebet had in fact put him at 7–1 odds of winning, with Piedad Córdoba and Sima Samar at 6–1 and Morgan Tsvangirai at 7–1.The award drew initial criticism that it was undeserved or premature due to a perceived lack of significant accomplishments on Obama's part so far and his role in conflicts abroad. However, opinions were divided.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll conducted October 16-19 with a margin of error of +/-3%, 61% of American adults polled responded that they thought Obama did not deserve to win the prize while 34% responded that he did. As USA Today reports, "When asked if they were personally glad that Obama won the award, 46% said they were and 47% said they were not glad."

There was widespread criticism of the Nobel Committee's decision from commentators and editorial writers across the political spectrum. Today host Matt Lauer said, “We’re less than a year into the first term of this president and there are no—I'm not trying to be, you know, rude here—no major foreign policy achievements, to date." Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast called the decision a "farce", said, "(Obama)'s done nothing to deserve the prize." Jonah Goldberg of the National Review said, "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."Nobel laureate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore called the award "extremely well deserved", while in CounterPunch political journalist Alexander Cockburn compared historical contexts in which other former U.S. Presidents won the Nobel Peace Prize with Obama, stating that with respect to Obama it "represents a radical break in tradition, since he's only had slightly less than nine months to discharge his imperial duties."

Among elected officials, Obama not only received congratulations from allies such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but kind words (if not approval) from some Republican officeholders, including Senator John McCain, who said, "I think Americans are always pleased when their president is recognized by something on this order". Support came from The New York Times, which said in an editorial that although Obama was rightly "humble" about the prize, "Certainly, the prize is a (barely) implicit condemnation of Mr. Bush’s presidency. But countering the ill will Mr. Bush created around the world is one of Mr. Obama’s great achievements in less than nine months in office. Mr. Obama’s willingness to respect and work with other nations is another." (Among those agreeing that the award was a criticism of the Bush administration were the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, as well as Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times foreign-affairs columnist,.) Rachel Maddow, a political commentator on MSNBC, suggested that Obama received the award for, amongst other things, his efforts to improve cooperation between nations.

Conservatives were sharply critical of the Nobel Committee. A Wall Street Journal editorial, noting Obama's comment that the world's problems "can't be met by any one leader or any one nation", opined, "What this suggests to us — and to the Norwegians — is the end of what has been called 'American exceptionalism'. This is the view that U.S. values have universal application and should be promoted without apology, and defended with military force when necessary. Put in this context, we wonder if most Americans will count this peace-of-the-future prize as a compliment." Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote, that the committee members "have forfeited any claim to seriousness. Peace — the kind of peace that keeps people from being killed and oppressed — is an achievement, not a sentiment. [...] Intending to honor Obama, the committee has actually embarrassed him."Commentary magazine's Peter Wehner wrote that the award, with past awards that seemed aimed at criticizing the Bush administration, showed the Nobel Committee "long ago ceased to be a serious entity; this choice merely confirms that judgment." RNC chairman Michael Steele discussed his disapproval of the award in a fund-raising letter, writing, "the Democrats and their international leftist allies want America made subservient to the agenda of global redistribution and control."

According to The Washington Post news analyst Dan Balz, "[E]ven among his supporters there was a sense of surprise and even shock on Friday [the day of the announcement], a belief that the award was premature, a disservice and a potential liability." An editorial in The Washington Post began, "It's an odd Nobel Peace Prize that almost makes you embarrassed for the honoree", and compared the Nobel Committee's statement that Obama had "created a new climate in international politics" to a recent satirical skit on television. A Los Angeles Times editorial said the committee "didn't just embarrass Obama, it diminished the credibility of the prize itself".Friedman, of The New York Times, wrote, "It dismays me that the most important prize in the world has been devalued in this way". Much of the commentary across the political spectrum involved describing the award as something risible, with the humor focusing on Obama's getting the award without having accomplished much. According to an analysis in The New York Times, "it [...] [is] striking how so many people seemed to greet the Nobel news with shock followed by laughter," On the morning of the announcement, several of The Washington Post's opinion-page columnists, posting at the newspaper's "Post Partisan" blog, characterized the award as laughable or directly satirized it, including such supportive columnists as Ruth Marcus ("ridiculous — embarrassing, even"), Richard Cohen (who satirized the award), and foreign-affairs columnist David Ignatius ("goofy" and "weird"), and Michael Kinsley (whose satirical response came the next day). Other prominent commentators who often supported Obama but responded with ridicule included Peter Beinart and Ann Althouse.

A Wall Street Journal editorial compared the award to the 1994 episode "Sideshow Bob Roberts" of television cartoon The Simpsons, quoting the character Sideshow Bob as saying, "Convicted of a crime I didn't even commit. Hah! Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel prize for attempted chemistry?" The editorial compared that to a 2009 Associated Press article about Obama's award, which stated, "Rather than recognizing concrete achievement, the 2009 [Nobel Peace] prize appeared intended to support initiatives that have yet to bear fruit."

Fred Greenstein, presidential historian and author and professor of politics emeritus at Princeton Universitymarker, told that giving President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize is a "premature canonization" and an "embarrassment to the Nobel process." Slate magazine blogger Mickey Kaus, New York Times columnist David Brooks and George W. Bush's U.N. ambassador John Bolton amongst others, called for Obama to not accept the award, while Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus and pundit Michael Crowley argued that it wouldn't help Obama, with Crowley speculating that it was a "mixed blessing".

In Norway

A poll conducted by Synovate for the newspaper Dagbladet showed that 43% of the Norwegian population believed giving Obama the prize was right, while 38% believed it was wrong. 19% had no opinion. The poll showed a sharp divide between younger and older people; of those over 60 years of age 58% were for and only 31% against it. Of those between 18 and 29 years of age, only 25% approved of the decision, while 42% disapproved.

The award divided opinion among politicians. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg congratulated Obama for a "well-deserved prize". Siv Jensen, leader of the opposition Progress Party, said that while Obama had taken several good initiatives the committee should have waited to see their results. Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party, also said that the prize came early and increased pressure on Obama to live up to the expectation. Torstein Dahle, the leader of the leftist party Red, called the award a scandal, citing the fact that Obama was the commander-in-chief of a country at war in Iraqmarker and Afghanistanmarker.

Other reactions

The response from U.S. allies was generally positive; reactions around the world have been mixed but mostly congratulatory:

Several Nobel Laureates have commented. Former Sovietmarker leader Mikhail Gorbachev (winner 1990), gave his congratulations, Bangladeshimarker Economist Muhammad Yunus, (co-winner 2006 prize), said the committee's award was "an endorsement of [Obama] and the direction he is taking." South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, (1984), said the award to Obama "anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all." Mairead Corrigan, (co-winner 1976), expressed her disappointment, stating, "[g]iving this award to the leader of the most militarized country in the world, which has taken the human family against its will to war, will be rightly seen by many people around the world as a reward for his country's aggression and domination." Lech Wałęsa, (1983) cofounder of the Solidarity trade union, said the award was premature. "He has not yet made a real input." The Dalai Lama, (1989), head of the Tibetan government-in-exile congratulated Obama.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the Nobel Committee's choice. "We are entering an era of renewed multilateralism [...] President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world's biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges."

In Europe, Frenchmarker President Nicolas Sarkozy said the award would reinforce Obama's determination to work for justice and peace. He added that the award "finally confirms the return of America in the hearts of all the peoples of the world". Russianmarker president Dmitry Medvedev said the award will encourage warmer U.S.–Russian relations, and he hoped it would "serve as an additional incentive" for both governments to foster a better "climate in world politics". British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent a private message of congratulations to President Obama. Hope that the prize would assist Obama's efforts toward nuclear disarmament was also a part of congratulatory statements from Irelandmarker's Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Germanmarker Chancellor Angela Merkel. Vaticanmarker spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said the Vatican "appreciated" the nomination. Kosovarmarker President Fatmir Sejdiu congratulated Obama by saying, "This award is testimony to your success as a leader of a free country aimed at creating a safer and more peaceful world."

In Australia, former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that the selection was "a political decision of gross stupidity", laying the blame for on the selection committee for a "hideous display of cynical politics". Stuart Rees, director of the Sydney Peace Foundation in Australia, questioned the award. "Perhaps the Nobel organisation wants to give him a magic wand. I think the guy is full of promise, but I don't think the promise has been realised yet particularly in regards the Middle East."

In Asia and the Middle East: Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said that Obama was the "appropriate" person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. "His hard work and his new vision on global relations, his will and efforts for creating friendly and good relations at global level and global peace make him the appropriate recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize," said Siamak Hirai, a spokesman for Karzai. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the decision was ridiculous, saying, "The Nobel prize for peace? Obama should have won the 'Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians.'"Indonesiamarker's, Masdar Mas'udi, deputy head of the Islamic organisation Nahdatul Ulama, praised Obama’s policy towards his country as confirmation of his worthiness as a Nobel laureate. "I think it's appropriate because he is the only American president who has reached out to us in peace," he said. "On the issues of race, religion, skin colour, he has an open attitude.".Japanesemarker Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, upon being told of the news of Obama’s Nobel Prize, said, “I want to congratulate him from the bottom of my heart.”Indianmarker President Pratibha Patil and Israelimarker President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres sent congratulatory messages to Obama, but Iranianmarker Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters that "the decision was taken hastily and the award was [too] early."

In Latin America, Fidel Castro, Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and former President, called the award "positive" and said the prize should be seen as a criticism to the "genocidal policy" carried out by past U.S. presidents. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said the award was a surprise and perhaps premature. "As President Hugo Chávez said at the United Nations, (the Obama administration) is a government that has raised expectations and hopes in many people in the world, amid great contradictions."

In Africa, the news of the Obama Nobel Peace Prize was positively received. Kenyanmarker President Mwai Kibaki issued a statement saying that the prize was a "recognition of the contribution [Obama is] making for the well being of humanity." In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma used Ubuntu—the Zulu term for “the importance of community"—in his congratulatory message, saying that the U.S. president’s "leadership reflects the true spirit of Ubuntu because your approach celebrates our common humanity." Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who was touted as a possible Nobel laureate, said Obama deserved the honor.

See also


  1. Kahn, Huma; Yunji de Nies and Karen Travers, "Obama on Nobel Prize Win: 'This Is Not How I Expected to Wake up This Morning'", ABC News, 9 October 2009; retrieved same day.
  2. Gibbs, Walter, "Picking the Most Visible of 205 Names", article, The New York Times, October 10, 2009 edition, retrieved same day
  3. Dagbladet, " - Nobel-flertallet argumenterte mot Obama"
  4. Wilgoren, Debbie, Scott Wilson and William Branigin, "Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize", news article, The Washington Post, October 10, 2009 edition. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  5. "Remarks by the President on Winning the Nobel Peace Prize", October 9, 2009, retrieved same day
  9. "The Peace Prize", editorial, New York Times, October 9, 2009, retrieved October 11, 2009
  12. "Another Slap at Bush — But He Can Take It."
  13. Balz, Dan, "A Weighty Prize", "44 The Obama Presidency" column, October 9, 2009, retrieved same day
  14. The editorial stated the committee's statement was "about as realistic as last week's "Saturday Night Live" parody skewering the president for failing to deliver, already, on a series of campaign promises"; "Our Laureate: Neda of Iran: President Obama has won the Nobel Prize for Peace — but that's not his fault.", editorial, The Washington Post, October 10, 2009, retrieved October 11, 2009
  15. "Obama and the Nobel: He loses by winning: Giving the Peace Prize to the president so soon in his term embarrasses him and diminishes the honor.", editorial, Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2009 edition. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  16. "The Peace (Keepers) Prize", opinion column, October 11, 2009, retrieved October 11, 2009
  17. "Another Fine Mess: Comics Whack Obama", analysis article, The New York Times, "Week in Review" section, October 11, 2009 issue (appeared October 10 on the Times website), retrieved same day
  21. "Obama Wins Booker Prize", post at "Post Partisan" blog, The Washington Post website, October 10, 2009, retrieved October 11, 2009
  22. [1], Bienart, a columnist at The Daily Beast website, formerly was editor of The New Republic
  23. [2]; in addition to being a blogger, Althouse has guest blogged at, The Volokh Conspiracy blog and has written for The New York Times Op-Ed page and the newspapers website; Her comment: "Riddle: Why didn't Barack Obama win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Answer: He wrote 2 books."
  24. Most Embarrassing Moment: Life Imitates 'The Simpsons', The Wall St. Journal, October 9, 2009
  26. "Kosovo President congratulates Obama" 10-10-09 Link retrieved 14-10-09
  27. Obama the right man to win Nobel Peace Prize: Karzai, AFP (via AsiaOne), October 9, 2009.
  28. Israelis, Palestinians wary of Obama the Nobelist Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2009
  29. The Bells are Tolling for the Dollar Fidel Castro, ACN Cuban News Agency, October 9, 2009
  30. " Kenyans Express Joy, Urgency, at President Obama's Nobel Peace Award" Voice of America 09-10-09 Link retrieved 15 October 2009
  31. " GOP mocks Obama's peace prize, Russians praise it" Associated Press 11-10-09 Link retrieved 15 October 2009
  32. Tsvangirai congratulates 'deserving' Obama" The Times Online 09-10-09 Link retrieved 15 October 2009

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