Before Barack Obama, only three other U.S. Presidents had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which began in 1901. The list is worth a look, because it does not contain whom you might expect.
1906 – Theodore Roosevelt
Most lauded for his establishment of the U.S. National Park system, Teddy was equally famous for his heavy handed foreign policy. His famous phrase, “speak softly and carry a big stick,” became his administration’s mantra in its relations with Latin America. It was Roosevelt’s involvement in negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War that earned him the Nobel Prize.
1919 – Woodrow Wilson
At the end of World War I, Wilson fought very hard for the establishment of the League of Nations, which some consider the precursor to the United Nations. However, others consider the League to have been a dismal failure because the U.S. never joined, the Republican-dominated Senate at the time refusing to sign on. Still, Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts his efforts to establish the world’s first collaborative multinational governing body.
2002 – Jimmy Carter
Carter was awarded the prize long after his presidential term had ended, in recognition of his life-long commitment “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” The delay in his award may have been the result of his tumultuous last year in office, which saw the hostage crisis in Iran and the 1979 fuel shortages.
In contrast, Obama appears to be the only U.S. President so far to receive the award “up front,” at the very beginning of his term. The Nobel Committee appears to be rewarding his efforts thus far to change the diplomatic role of the U.S. in the world by drastically shifting the rhetoric, and some policies, of the Bush era. Also it is likely that the prize is designed to remind the President not to take his commitments lightly. As the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg put it somewhat ominously:
“This is a surprising, an exciting prize. It remains to be seen if [Obama] will succeed with reconciliation, peace and nuclear disarmament.”
Update: Obama’s remarks on winning the prize were measured and highly appropriate:
“I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”
Posted by Mary Tharin