Nobel shock and awe as Obama gets the Peace Prize after only nine months in office

07:51 by Editor · 0 Post a comment on AAWR

Worldwide astonishment greeted the decision yesterday to give Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize.

The U.S. President has been in office for less than nine months, has yet to score a major foreign policy success and is overseeing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He had not even known he was among the record 205 nominations.

The deadline for submitting candidates had come just 12 days after he entered the White House.

There were gasps of amazement from the audience when the decision was announced in Oslo.

But the prize committee highlighted Mr Obama’s efforts to support international bodies, build ties with the Muslim world, promote nuclear disarmament and fight climate change.

Surprise at the award reached to the heart of the White House.

Mr Obama was not given the normal one-hour advance warning of the announcement – ‘waking up a president in the middle of the night, this isn’t really something you do,’ said Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland.

Many of the president’s top aides learned the news when they were woken by calls from the media. ‘It’s not April 1, is it?’ said one aide.

The shock decision of the five-member committee drew both praise and criticism from former Nobel laureates and people in the world’s troublespots.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who was awarded the peace prize in 1990, said: ‘In these hard times people who are capable of taking responsibility, who have a vision, commitment and political will should be supported.’

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency – awarded the prize in 2005 – said: ‘I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honour.

'In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself.’

But former Polish President Lech Walesa, a 1983 Nobel Peace laureate, declared: ‘So soon? Too early.

'He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act.’

But he added: 'This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let's see if he perseveres. Let's give him time to act.'

Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won the prize in 1976 with fellow Belfast peace campaigner Betty Williams – they mobilised tens of thousands of on ‘Peace People’ marches demanding an end to terrorist violence – echoed his concerns.

She said: ‘President Obama has yet to prove that he will move seriously on the Middle East, that he will end the war in Afghanistan and many other issues.’

The Taliban mocked the award, saying Mr Obama should get a Nobel prize for violence instead.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said it was absurd to give a peace award to a man who had sent 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to escalate a war.

'The Nobel prize for peace? Obama should have won the “Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians,”' he said.

Liaqat Baluch, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative religious party in Pakistan, called the award an embarrassing ‘joke’.

Mr Obama himself said he was ‘surprised and deeply humbled.’

He added: ‘I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honoured by this prize.

‘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.’

He said he accepted the prize as a call to action for nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century.

His spokesman said later he would donate the award’s £880,000 prize money to charity.

The Nobel Committee said Mr Obama had won for ‘his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples’.

It praised his creation of ‘a new climate in international politics’ and added: ‘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.’

Mr Jagland admitted: ‘Some people say, and I understand it, isn’t it premature? Too early? Well, I’d say that it could be too late to respond three years from now. It is now that we have the opportunity to respond – all of us.’

Many observers saw the award as an indirect attack on Mr Obama’s predecessor George Bush. The Nobel committee had harshly criticised him in the past for resorting to largely unilateral military action after the September 11 terror attacks.

Just two sitting American presidents have previously won the prize - Theodore Roosevelt won the award in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

Mr Roosevelt won the award for mediating in the Russo-Japanese war.

The 26th U.S. President was also famous for his favourite proverb: 'Speak softly and carry a big stick'.

Mr Wilson was the first to rubbish America's 'go-it-alone' policy, bringing the U.S. into World War I in 1917.

At the close of the war he fought so passionately for the Versailles Treaty and a lasting peace that he collapsed from a stroke and nearly died, only being nursed back to health by his wife.

He also founded the League of Nations, the precursor to the UN.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was nominated for the prize in 1998 for his efforts to protect world peace and promote democracy, particularly in Yugoslavia - but did not receive the award.

Another former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, received the award in 2002 - 21 years after he left office - for his mediation in international conflicts.

At that time, the Nobel Committee said that it should be seen as a 'kick in the leg' to the Bush administration's hard line in the build-up to the Iraq war.

Some have already interpreted the decision to give this year's award to Mr Obama as more condemnation of George Bush and his foreign policies.

Top contenders for the prize this year had included French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The Nobel committee received a record 205 nominations for this year's prize.

Mr Carter said Mr Obama’s win showed the hope he had inspired globally.

'It shows the hope his administration represents not only to our nation but to people around the world,' he said.

But mere hope was not enough for rival Republicans.

‘The real question Americans are asking is, “What has President Obama actually accomplished?” said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

'It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights.

‘One thing is certain: President Obama won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.'

And Right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh said: ‘Obama gives speeches trashing his own country and he gets a prize for it.’ continues here

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