Sending a strong repudiation of the Bush doctrine, the Nobel Peace Committee has awarded this year’s Peace Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” He follows Dr. Ralph Bunche and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to become the third Black American to be awarded the prestigious international award.
Though just nine months into his office, the Nobel Committee suggested its awarding President Obama the Peace Prize was due to his work to change the tone and climate of international relations, and that Mr. Obama’s work was consistent with the ideals of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. The decision to award President Obama the Peace Prize was unanimous among members of the selection committee. The award comes as President Obama struggles to define U.S. policy in Afghanistan, pressure Iran to curb its development of nuclear weapons, and find common ground to settle the long standing conflict in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians.
In many ways the decision to award President Obama the Peace Prize was as much about his predecessor than it was about the current occupant of the Oval Office. The award can be seen as a repudiation of the so-called “Bush Doctrine” or military preemption that was advanced under the administration of President George W. Bush, and pushed by former Vice President Dick Cheney. During the Bush years the image and perception of the United States eroded internationally as a result of the administration’s decision to invade Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and perceived anti-Muslim bias in U.S. foreign policy. One of the primary achievements of Mr. Obama’s first term has been the reversal of international opinion of the United States and the thawing of relations with some long-standing adversaries.
On the domestic front, the Peace Prize award strengthens Mr. Obama’s hand as he is engaged in tense debates over health care reform and has endured personal attacks, laced with racist vitriol, from critics on the right. It is significant that the last American President to win the Peace Prize, Jimmy Carter, recently called out critics of Mr. Obama for what President Carter charged was blatantly racist attacks. The White House disagreed with Mr. Carter but the fact that a Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke forcefully and publicly on a subject that was focus of much backroom chatter carried significant weight. Though Mr. Obama has seen a small drop in public support for his specific policy initiatives, the President remains very popular at home and abroad, and the Nobel Peace Prize only adds to the image of him as a change agent.