The Duck of Minerva

“Oslo Beats Copenhagen”: President Obama Awarded Peace Prize

9 October 2009

President Obama couldn’t convince the Inernational Olympic Committee to let Chicago hold the next summer Olympics, but Nobel Committee decided he’s a skilled enough diplomat to receive a Nobel Peace Prize – only months into his Presidency. This is not lost on commentators and twitterers, some of who are referring to this as a “consolation prize” for losing the Olympics bid. ChicagoBlog writes:

“Barack Obama couldn’t convince the IOC to award Chicago the 2016 Olympics but somehow managed to sway the Nobel Committee to declare our freshman president deserving of the most distinguished peace prize in the world. Wow.

This isn’t as contradictory as it looks. It’s partly Obama’s humility – which I suspect his trip to Copenhagen was calculated to demonstrate on a low-stakes issue – that makes him an inspirational leader and diplomat. And it is his behavior as a model for the type of attitudes the Nobel Committee wishes to promote – not his effectiveness at any particular initiative – that was the basis for the Committee’s decision.

“Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, 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.

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. 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.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses 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.”

UPDATE: Heather Hamilton provides a healthy response to the cynicism at Connect US Fund Blog.

UPDATE: In the NYTimes today, Ross Douthat asks whether the correct response would have been for Obama to politely decline the prize. I think he has a point.