Friday, October 9, 2009

A bit premature? President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel committee sent a message to the world, in particular about Middle East peace in awarding the peace prize to Barack Obama.  They were perhaps a bit hasty in awarding the prize, which has an unfortunate tradition: Previous winners included Ralph Bunche, who already made peace in the Middle East back in 1949, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, who made "peace" in Vietnam, and Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, who made "peace" between Israel and the Palestinians. In each case, but especially in Vietnam, it was shown that dialogue and negotiations are not always the route to peace. Of the recipients,
By Scott Wilson and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 9, 2009 6:23 AM
President Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for his work to improve international diplomacy and rid the world of nuclear weapons -- a stunning decision to celebrate a figure virtually unknown in the world before he launched his presidential campaign nearly three years ago.
The announcement, which drew gasps of surprise from the audience in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, praised Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" during his nine months in office.
The committee singled out for special recognition Obama's call for a world free of nuclear weapons, which he first made in an April speech in Prague.
"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 said. "His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."
Obama, 48, is the third sitting U.S. president--and the first in 90 years--to win the prestigious peace prize. His predecessors won during their second White House terms, and after significant achievements in their diplomacy. Woodrow Wilson was awarded the price in 1919, after helping to found the League of Nations and shaping the Treatise of Versailles; and Theodore Roosevelt was the recipient in 1906 for his work to negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese war.
The committee's decision to chose Obama from among 205 nominees appears in part to be a rebuke to the Bush administration's unilateral approach to world bodies and alliances, most notably in its decision to go to war in Iraq without U.N. approval. It sparked immediate questions from reporters in Oslo, who noted that Obama so far has made little concrete progress in achieving his lofty and ambitious agenda.
Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the five-member Nobel committee, said committee members were hopeful that the prize would add momentum to Obama's efforts as he considers whether to expand the war in Afghanistan, prepares to withdraw from Iraq, and struggles to build momentum to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and assemble an international effort to stop Iran's nuclear program.
At the same time, 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."
Jagland specifically cited Obama's speech about Islam in Cairo last spring, as well as his efforts to address nuclear proliferation and climate change, and to use established international bodies such as the United Nations to pursue his goals. The prize "is a clear signal to the world that we want to advocate the same as he has done to promote international diplomacy," Jagland said.
"Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics," the committee said. "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play."
The committee did not mention Obama's status as the first black U.S. president.
Jagland told reporters that the U.S. president had not been notified of the award in advance of the announcement, which was made at 11 a.m. in Oslo (5 a.m. in Washington). There was no immediate comment from the White House 0fficials, who also appeared to be surprised by the decision.
Friday's announcement came a week after the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen rejected Obama's personal appeal to award the 2016 Games to his hometown of Chicago.
Obama and his advisers have described the tenets of his foreign policy as one emphasizing "mutual interest and mutual respect" and the idea that global diplomacy functions on the principles of "rights and responsibilities" of sovereign nations.
"Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts," the committee said in its statement. ". . . the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened."
Former President Jimmy Carter won the 2002 award more than two decades after leaving the presidency, during which he helped negotiate peace between Israel and Egypt, the first Arab nation to recognize the Jewish state. Vice President Al Gore won the 2007 prize along with the United Nations panel on climate change.

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