Today, Barack Obama became the third sitting U.S. President to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Obama for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The announcement, which came as a surprise to many, drew both warm praise and sharp criticism. Later today, we’ll gauge international reaction to the announcement, and The World’s Jeb Sharp will put it into historical perspective. What do you think about Obama’s win? Leave a comment below.
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KATY CLARK: I’m Katy Clark. This is The World. Surprised and deeply humbled. That’s how President Obama described how he felt when he heard he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Here’s more of what the president had to say this morning at the White House.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement. It’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes, and that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st Century.
CLARK: Only two other U.S. presidents were awarded the Peace Prize while in office. They were Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Jimmy Carter won it when he was already a former president. The World’s Jeb Sharp begins our coverage.
JEB SHARP: Even those who support President Obama’s policies were skeptical. Charles Grant directs the Center for European Reform in London. He was chairing a conference this morning with experts and dignitaries from all over Europe. He said when the news broke people were stunned.
CHARLES GRANT: This is in a room of people who are generally sympathetic to Obama. They like his multilateralism. They like the fact that he doesn’t talk in a unilateralist way as George Bush did, and yet the feeling was, and it’s my feeling too, how strange to award a prize to someone before they have achieved anything. It has to be said, in terms of peace Obama has great ambitions, but has not achieved anything yet as far as we can see.
SHARP: President Obama seemed to acknowledge as much himself.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize. Men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace. But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build.
THOMAS KNOCK: This does seem to be a prize that is more prospective than retrospective.
SHARP: That’s historian Thomas Knock, an authority on Woodrow Wilson, the last sitting U.S. president to win the prize.
KNOCK: I think to encourage a certain kind of initiative and a certain kind of thinking about international relations and I think that’s a good idea. I think a lot of people will debate whether or not this was a deserved prize, and I think Obama deserves tremendous credit, should get credit, for saying that he himself wonders whether or not he deserved this.
SHARP: The prize usually, but not always, goes to someone with a considerable peace-related achievement under their belt. Someone like Woodrow Wilson.
KNOCK: Well, Woodrow Wilson is regarded as the father of internationalism in a sense, the founder and creator of the League of Nations, which was established at the end of the First World War to lessen the possibility of another catastrophe like the First World War.
SHARP: The League was a failure in the end, not least because Congress balked and the United States never joined. But in the sense that it was a precursor to the United Nations, the idea eventually prevailed. Theodore Roosevelt was the other president who won a Nobel Peace Prize while in office; in his case for mediating an end to the Russian-Japanese war of 1905. Roosevelt, of course, is famous for his line “speak softly and carry a big stick.” For all the talk of peace, President Obama finds himself using a big stick, not least in Afghanistan. The irony of giving a Peace Prize to a man prosecuting two wars was not lost today. For The World, I’m Jeb Sharp
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