Nobel Sentiments: Press Reacts to Obama's Surprise Win

By: Greg Mitchell Usually it's a bad thing when the White House is awakened in the middle of the night with big news. Not so today, when President Barack Obama received word that, in a surprise move, he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some in the media immediately suggested this was a sham, that Obama had accomplished little so far. Others pointed out that, well, Henry Kissinger had won one too, and the early award signaled the change in tone for U.S. dealing abroad -- the audacity of hope. There were even calls that he turn it down, especially in light of ongoing U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We'll collect some of the published media commentary here. First up, from The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, The Washington Post's David Ignatius and E.J. Dionne, and AP's White House chief, Jennifer Loven.

Also, E&P contributor Rob Tornoe is posting cartoons throughout the day from around the world in real time as cartoonists react to the news. Check those out here.



I truly hate to say this, but I wish the Nobel Committee had held off on giving President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course I am happy Obama has improved our country?s standing in the world and I do believe his approach to other nations is a big improvement on the eight years that came before him. That?s clearly the message the Nobel Committee was sending.

But our domestic politics are so rancid that I can imagine Obama?s foes using this against him, not only by emphasizing that he still has much to get done but also by trying to argue -- remember John McCain?s ?He?s the biggest celebrity in the world? ads? ? that we should be suspicious of Obama precisely because he is so popular overseas.

If some of Obama?s critics could cheer Chicago losing the Olympics, we know what they will do with this. Who?d have thought that the administration would have to do a strange version of damage control on what should be a happy moment for the president? (By the way, Obama was smart to say: ?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.?)


So what do you think of President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize? I?m nonplussed ? I admire his efforts toward Middle East peace, but the prize still seems very premature. What has he done?

Obama?s work on the Middle East, mostly through Senator Mitchell?s efforts, are sensible but haven?t produced any results yet. They certainly don?t match the intensive efforts that Bill Clinton made with his Middle East peace negotiations in the fall of 2000. Likewise, Obama?s efforts on nuclear disarmament/non-proliferation are important, but they are purely an aspiration. All the hard work is yet to come ? and trying to renegotiate the NPT will be very hard indeed.

In other areas, Obama has done little. He?s been largely absent on Sudan, Congo, Burma and global poverty and health issues, and doesn?t even have a USAID administrator. I think he has the right instincts on these issues and expect him to get engaged, but shouldn?t the Nobel Peace Prize have a higher bar than high expectations? Especially when there are so many people who have worked for years and years on the front lines, often in dangerous situations, to make a difference to the most voiceless people of the world? I think of Dr. Denis Mukwege at the Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo, or Jo and Lyn Lusi at the Heal Africa Hospital also in eastern Congo, or Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health for his tireless work in Haiti and Rwanda, or Greg Mortenson traipsing all over Pakistan and Afghanistan to build schools, or Dr. Catherine Hamlin working for half a century to fight obstetric fistula and maternal mortality in Ethiopia, or so many others. In the light of that competition, it seems to me that it might have made sense to wait and give Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in his eighth year in office, after he has actually made peace somewhere.


The Nobel Peace Prize award to Barack Obama seems so goofy -- even if you?re a fan, you have to admit that he hasn?t really done much yet as a peacemaker. But there?s an aspect of this prize that is real and important -- and that validates Obama?s strategy from the day he took office.

The Obama team came to the White House convinced that one of America?s biggest problems in the world was ?reflexive anti-Americanism,? as Obama put it in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago. They saw America?s unpopularity as a big national-security problem, and they were right.

So they set about winning hearts and minds (the Nobel judges among them) from Day One. Obama gave a series of speeches calculated to position him as the Un-Bush. He listed his achievements in that same U.N. speech -- halting torture, ordering the closure of Guantanamo, withdrawing from Iraq, backing negotiations on climate change, and paying America?s debts at the United Nations itself.

Europeans liked it, too, when the president picked a fight with Israel over settlements, and when he showed himself so determined to negotiate with Iran that he overlooked the fact that its government had stolen an election.

That?s what he?s being honored for, really: reconnecting America to the world and making us popular again.


For one of America's youngest presidents, in office less than nine months ? and only for 12 days before the Nobel nomination deadline last February ? it was an enormous honor.

The prize seems to be more for Obama's promise than for his performance. The Nobel committee cited as his key accomplishment "a new climate in international politics." The president has become "the world's leading spokesman" for its agenda, the committee said.

He has no standout moment of victory. Not surprising. Like most presidents in their first year, Obama's scorecard so far is largely an "incomplete," if he's being graded.

He banned torture and other extreme interrogation techniques for terrorists. But he also promised to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a source of much distaste for the U.S. around the world, a task with difficulties that have Obama headed to miss his own January 2010 deadline.

He said he would end the Iraq war. But he has been slow to bring the troops home and the real end of the U.S. military presence there won't come until at least 2012, and that's only if both the U.S. and Iraq stick to their current agreement about American troop withdrawals. Meantime, he's running a second war in the Muslim world, in Afghanistan ? and is seriously considering ramping that one up.

He has pushed for new efforts to make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. But he's received little cooperation from the two sides.

He said he wants a nuclear-free world. But it's one thing to telegraph the desire, in a speech in Prague in April, and quite another to unite other nations and U.S. lawmakers behind the web of treaties and agreements needed to make that reality.

He has said that battling climate change is a priority. But the U.S. seems likely to head into crucial international negotiations set for Copenhagen in December with Obama-backed legislation still stalled in Congress.

And what about Obama's global prestige? It seemed to take a big hit exactly a week ago when he jetted across the Atlantic to lobby for Chicago to get the 2016 Olympics ? and was rejected with a last-place finish.

Perhaps for the Nobel committee, merely altering the tone out of Washington toward the rest of the world is enough. Obama got much attention for his speech from Cairo reaching out a U.S. hand to the world's Muslims. His remarks at the U.N. General Assembly last month set down new markers for the way the U.S. works with the world.


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