Peace Prize Politics: 6 Key Questions

By Jacqueline Klingebiel

Oct 9, 2009 12:48pm

The big one, of course, WILL IT BACKFIRE ON OBAMA?  The President played good defense in the Rose Garden, deftly deflecting the critics by agreeing with them: “I do not feel I deserve to be in the company” of other Nobel winners.  Perfect pitch.  The President not only had to say he was humbled, he had to appear to mean it.   His body language this morning certainly conveyed that sense.  He appeared almost embarrassed by the honor.  That will help focus more of the criticism on the Nobel Committee than the White House.

WILL NOBEL COMMITTEE GET ITS WISH?  ie. A strengthened US diplomatic hand with Iran, North Korea over their nuclear programs. WH aides hope and expect that it will help by further isolating Iran and North Korea.  It’s likely to make IAEA director Mohammed El-Baradei’s job easier for at least a few weeks, and it should also encourage our European partners.  But will it move Putin? Unlikely.  China?  Not at all.

DOES PRIZE TIP BALANCE EITHER WAY ON AFGHANISTAN?  If the truly hasn’t made up his mind, will it be a little harder for him to resist Petraeus and McChrystal?   Might he feel a subtle pull to counter praise from the dovish Nobel Committee by accepting the hawkish recommendations of his military commanders?  Or does this reinforce his wariness to double down on this war?  My guess is that any Nobel effect is marginal at most.  Some middle ground still seems most likely.

HOW ABOUT HEALTH CARE?  Our pollster Gary Langer points out that Nobel prizes for political figures aren’t usually met by broad public support.   But the prize is likely to encourage Obama supporters who’ve lost some of last year’s enthusiasm as the health care debate grinds on, and it may give him an extra point or two of job approval.  All that helps a bit, especially in the crunch when the President has to convince loyal House Democrats to swallow that excise tax on insurance policies or a conference report without the public option they crave.  What it won’t do: stop the insurance companies, hospitals and Catholic Bishops from declaring war if their problems with the Committee bills aren’t fixed.

WILL CONSERVATIVE CRITICS STRIKE A CHORD OR SEEM PETULANT?  I’m torn on this one.  As my friend Keith Appell has shown the Nobel jokes write themselves.   Limbaugh’s having more fun today than he did last Friday. It could work. But I think John McCain created the template for the GOP with his more considered response: simultaneously skeptical and patriotic.

SWELLED HEAD FOR PRESIDENT? As noted above, no public sign of that yet.  But he had plenty of confidence to spare before today – and last week’s trip to Copenhagen displayed more than a touch of hubris. Hard to blame the guy if this went to his head.  He’ll just have to be careful about showing it.

- George Stephanopoulos

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