Peace prize questioned after Obama award
The surprising decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama, less than a year into his first term, has raised questions about the meaning of one of the world’s most sought-after honors.
“It demeans the prize,” said David Almasi, head of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank. “They’re giving the prize to him for what he might do, not for what he has accomplished.”
Both critics and allies were quick to question the motivations of the Nobel committee that named Obama the world’s premiere peacemaker on Friday, suggesting it was more about politics than his actual record.
The five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee voted on the prize in February, just weeks into Obama’s presidency.
The committee cited Obama’s “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” and his administration’s emphasis on diplomacy and curbing nuclear weapons.
But many believe the honor was more a swipe at the previous administration, whose frequent disdain for international institutions rankled many in Europe and elsewhere.
“The reason, in the end, simply boils down to the fact that he’s not George W. Bush,” Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University, said. “They wanted to basically give Obama a boost.”
Some argued the committee was trying to discourage Obama from escalating the war in Afghanistan.
In New York, where Obama remains extremely popular, even some of his supporters said they were puzzled.
“I like Obama, but I’m not really sure what he’s done to deserve this,” said Russel Stopek, 38, of Manhattan.
Joe Scalafina, 49, also of Manhattan, said the prize has been “diminished.”
“If you look back through history at the people who have gotten it, they really did something,” he said. “He’s been a decent president but I don’t see why he would get a Nobel Prize.”
The chairman of the Nobel committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, defended the choice, saying no one has done more in the past year for peace.
“Some people say — and I understand it — 'Isn't it premature? Too early?' Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now," he told the Associated Press.
Obama himself appeared a bit puzzled, saying he was “deeply humbled.”
“To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize,” he said last week.
Republicans were already seeking to make political hay out of the award, saying the president was honored more for speeches and aspirations that reality, a familiar knock on Obama.
In a fund–raising letter sent out after the announcement, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called the prize “meaningless” and the Nobel committee “international leftist allies” of the Democratic Party.