Why Obama Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

In issuing the prize to Obama, the committee decided to take a chance and do something relevant: Hope for peace.

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Why is it so hard to acknowledge that President Barack Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize?

When I went online today, I could feel the cynicism oozing from my computer. “Premature ejaculation in Stockholm,” a Slate editor wrote on Twitter, perhaps not realizing that the prize is given out in Oslo, Norway and not the Swedish capital.

Online, the GOP (along with such peace-loving groups as Hamas and the Taliban) issued a response that was as predictable as it was pathetic: Obama and the Nobel Prize Committee were both to be condemned.

Let’s get something straight: When Alfred Nobel, a Swedish arms manufacturer and inventor of dynamite, bequeathed his considerable estate to establish, among other things, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1895, it was established for “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” According to the rules, the prize is awarded, not for lifelong achievement, but to the one who has done the most to create an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation over the past year.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., you don’t have to wait a lifetime to win. King was the youngest person ever to win the prize in 1964, the year after his “I Have a Dream,” speech. At that time, the peace associated with the civil rights movement was far from being achieved. The committee could have easily argued that King needed more experience. If they had done so, he would likely have won the award posthumously.

Using those standards, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres would not have won in 1994 for attempting to advance peace in the Middle East. Rigoberta Menchú Tum wouldn’t have won for her efforts at justice and reconciliation in post-civil war Guatemala. Aung San Suu Kyi would still be waiting for her prize since democracy and human rights would remain illusive in Burma.

It’s like Archbishop Desmond Tutu said when he congratulated Obama today: “It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama’s message of hope.”

So what hope did the committee glean from Obama over the past year? They rightly saw more movement on the Iran nuclear issue through dialogue than there has been achieved over the past eight years of the Bush administration. They saw U.S.-led efforts to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty—something that Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei noted when he said that Obama “has done in nine months what many people would take a generation to do.”