President Barack Obama today won the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first sitting American president to win the award since Woodrow Wilson. As day broke across the United States, the International Nobel Committee announced the decision in Oslo, Norway—taking both foreign policy watchers and ordinary citizens by surprise.
The Nobel citation emphasized Obama’s efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament and reach out to the Muslim world:
The 108th annual award, which comes with a cash prize of $1.3 million, puts Obama in the company of diverse historical figures including Wilson, Anwar Sadat, Hugo Chavez, Henry Kissinger, Martin Luther King Jr., Yasser Arafat, Itzhak Rabin, former President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Al Gore. The Washington Post has a full list here.
The committee said Obama, a former state senator from Illinois, has made a remarkable leap to global prominence as the first African-American president of the United States–and has moved swiftly to establish his own brand of government and diplomacy in his first year in office.
Part of the surprise at the news stems from the domestic focus of Obama’s political agenda for 2009–notably his ambitious stimulus package and plan to overhaul health care delivery in the US–and slowness to act on matters of international cooperation such as climate change. Still, hıs achıevements on nuclear securıty ıssues and engagement wıth Muslıms abroad in his dual speeches from Ankara, Turkey and Cairo, Egypt, have been well-receıved by the ınternatıonal communıty.
Nevertheless, just eight months into the Obama presidency, the honor may seem premature to some–including the White House, reportedly stunned when the news was delivered today.
Nobel Committee chair Thorbjoern Jagland said Friday: “We have not given the prize for what may happen in the future. We are awarding Obama for what he has done in the past year. And we are hoping this may contribute a little bit for what he is trying to do.”