Now that he’s Nobel laureate Barack Obama, will he find smoother sailing for his plans to rid the world of nuclear weapons, to forge Mideast peace and stabilize Afghanistan, to halt climate change?
The Nobel committee members made no bones about it: Helping Obama achieve ambitious peacemaking goals was their goal in awarding the prize Friday to an as-yet mostly unaccomplished U.S. president.
But while the prestige could give Obama and his efforts a boost, nations steer their courses according to their own interests and little else. U.S. lawmakers, too, aren’t going to be influenced in politically difficult votes on climate change legislation or nuclear-reduction treaties by the Nobel Peace Prize, no matter who wins it.
That’s not to say it wasn’t an impressive achievement.
At just 48 years old and not even nine months in office, Obama became only the third sitting U.S. president to win the prize.
The widespread reaction, however, when the stunning news hit the nation was: For what?
Obama said so himself. “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize,” he said hours after being awakened — and surprised — by spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Comments from Nobel committee members revealed that they fully intended to encourage, not reward. Consider this: The nomination deadline was only 12 days after Obama first entered the Oval Office. It’s an enduring myth that the prize is only about accomplishment — it actually was created as much to supply momentum for peace as to celebrate it.
Indeed, with a leftist slant, the five-member committee was applauding Obama as much for what he’s not — his predecessor. Former President George W. Bush was much reviled overseas for “cowboy diplomacy,” the Iraq war and his snubbing of European priorities such as global warming.
So some cheerleading probably can’t hurt, as Obama presses forward on efforts to repair America’s relations with Muslims, bring Israelis and Palestinians into fruitful negotiations and turn back climate change. The committee especially singled out Obama’s aims to create a nuclear weapons-free world and to set out a new, more cooperative diplomatic doctrine.
“I hope it will help him,” Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said of the award. “Obama is the right man at the right time, and that’s why we want to enhance his efforts.”
“I will accept this award as a call to action,” Obama said. “This award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity.”
Still, Obama’s efforts are at far earlier stages than past winners’.
— He and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have set negotiators working toward an agreement to significantly reduce nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles. But getting to zero nuclear weapons across the globe — something Obama acknowledged “may not be completed in my lifetime” — means corralling both friend and foe abroad and lawmakers at home behind a mind-bendingly thorny web of treaties and agreements.
— Obama said he would end the Iraq war. But he launches deadly anti-terror strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere and is running a second war, in Afghanistan, that he has already escalated once and is considering ramping up again while trying to persuade mostly reluctant NATO allies to contribute more.
— He has pushed for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. But there’s been little cooperation so far from them.
— His administration is talking to U.S. foes, like Iran, North Korea and Cuba. But there’s not much to show from that, either.
— He pledged to take the lead against climate change. But the U.S. seems likely to head into December’s crucial international negotiations in Copenhagen with legislation still stalled in Congress and nations crucial to global agreement, including China and India, showing reluctance to come on board.
With many seeing the award as premature, there’s the chance it could provoke a small backlash that makes Obama’s work harder.
So, no doubt the news of the prize brought trepidation along with joy. As Obama’s former foe for the White House, Republican Sen. John McCain, said: “He now has even more to live up to.”
Perhaps one reason there was no public celebrating at the White House on Friday.
Matt Moore in Oslo contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Jennifer Loven is the AP’s chief White House correspondent.
Jennifer Loven/The Associated Press