Obama's Nobel Peace Prize raises stakes for agenda

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize comes as the president faces a crucial decision on increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. Obama said Friday he accepts the award as a 'call to action.'

Jon-Michael Josefsen, Scanpix/AP
Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, announces in Oslo Friday that US President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, announced Friday to widespread surprise, raises the stakes on virtually every aspect of the president’s agenda.

On foreign policy, Mr. Obama now faces heightened expectations first and foremost on the war in Afghanistan, where he sits at a critical juncture in his decisionmaking on US strategy and troop strength. The timing of the award’s announcement is ironic: Friday afternoon, Obama holds the latest meeting of his national security team on Afghanistan, and it’s possible the issue of troop strength will be discussed for the first time. Ultimately, Obama may well decide to add troops to the effort, after having already escalated US presence there this year.

Other areas of unfinished business in the foreign arena include the promised closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, Middle East peace, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the Iraq war. In all of these areas, the question will be whether Obama’s Nobel Prize affects his own perceptions of how he needs to proceed, as well as how he is judged by others.

On domestic affairs, Obama’s new moniker – “Nobel laureate” – could either heighten his stature at a time when he is being lampooned for accomplishing little or it could spark a backlash, as conservative pundits push the perception that the prize is undeserved.

In remarks Friday morning, Obama himself voiced the notion that he did not deserve the prize.

“I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel committee,” the president said from the Rose Garden. “Let me be clear. I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”

He said he would accept the award “as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.”

In its statement, the Norwegian Nobel Committee signaled that it had selected Obama not so much for concrete accomplishments as for creating “a new climate” in international politics.

“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,” the committee wrote.

The committee also drew not-so-subtle contrasts with Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, without mentioning him by name. “Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position…,” the committee said. In recent years, the committee has awarded the peace prize to other Bush critics, including former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Al Gore, and economist Paul Krugman.

Conservatives jumped on the news immediately and with derision. Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh called it “a greater embarrassment” than losing the Olympics a week ago in Copenhagen.

"This fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama," Mr. Limbaugh told Politico.com in an e-mail. "And with this 'award' the elites of the world are urging Obama, THE MAN OF PEACE, to not do the surge in Afghanistan, not take action against Iran and its nuclear program, and to basically continue his intentions to emasculate the United States."

----The European view

Click here to read about how the choice of President Obama for the peace prize reflects European appreciation for his vision of diplomacy.


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