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Is Winning Nobel Peace Prize Good Or Bad For Obama?

  • Andrew Tully

U.S. President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama has acknowledged winning the Nobel Peace Prize with words of great humility.

Speaking outside the White House, Obama noted that he's been president for too short a time to have justifiably received so great an honor.

"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.

Michael Steele, the chairman of the opposition Republican National Committee, agreed -- sarcastically. He expressed scorn that what he called Obama's "star power" has eclipsed the work of real peacemakers.

Given such criticism, Allan Lichtman, a professor of U.S. political history at American University in Washington, says the award would pose a challenge for any president who's just beginning his term, as Obama is.

Lichtman says the two previous sitting U.S. presidents who won the award both could point to specific achievements. Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the prize in 1906 after negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War, and Woodrow Wilson won in 1919 for his peacemaking efforts during World War I.

Lichtman notes that in both cases, those two presidents were "well into their terms, and I'm not sure it's a good idea to give it to a sitting president at the beginning of the presidency."

"I think it puts too much pressure on a beginning president, and there [are] not enough accomplishments -- solid accomplishments -- that are going to be achieved in a very brief time of a presidency," Lichtman adds.

Influence On Policy?

Further, Lichtman says, Obama's political opposition may complain that the Peace Prize is influencing Obama's foreign policy, including whether he commits more troops to the Afghan war or opts for a smaller U.S. presence there.

"I think you may hear a deeper criticism from the right that this may well be a foreign attempt to interfere with American foreign policy to influence the course of the Obama administration," Lichtman says.

"And it comes at a very interesting time, of course, in that he's got some very big decisions to make about Afghanistan right now. And receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize at this moment could well be a factor in influencing his decision," he adds. "This is both an enormous honor, but also a political headache for him."

Stephen Hess is less concerned. Hess -- who specializes in government studies at the Brookings Institution, a private policy-research center in Washington -- dismisses any idea that the Peace Prize may influence Obama's foreign-policy decisions.

Yet Hess agrees with Lichtman that it's unusual to award the prize based not on what the president has already accomplished, but on what the Nobel Committee hopes Obama will accomplish.

Hess even likened this year's Peace Prize to Obama's autobiography, "The Audacity of Hope," calling it "The Committee's Audacity of Hope."

"Here they are hoping that this president will have an impact based on his acceptance around the world, which is clear; and his attitudinal change on what American foreign policy should be in terms of more multilateralism, in terms of more emphasis on the UN, in terms meeting with foreign leaders with whom we have very profound disagreements," Hess says.

Hess also concedes that the award has what he calls "possibly strange consequences" for Obama, including prematurely raising hopes for peace around the world.

No Pressure

What about the pressure it puts on Obama and attacks that have already begun because of the award?

Hess says any head of state should be prepared to withstand the criticism of his or her opponents -- merely an occupational hazard for a president.

"I don't really think it's going to affect [Obama]. I don't think he himself feels greater pressure. There's pressure enough simply being president of the United States," Hess says.

"That the opposition would turn it to their advantage is true of that [winning the Peace Prize] and anything else that comes along in our system. I would be surprised if the chairman of the Republican National Committee hadn't made a statement like he made today."

Hess says that, in a way, he's encouraged to see Americans being leery of Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Some countries, he says, might declare a holiday if their leader received such an honor.

Americans, he says, take note of the award, and then expect their president to get back to work.

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