Obama to Accept Nobel Peace Prize as War President, Address Afghanistan Troop Surge

Trip to Norway reignites the debate over Obama's qualifications for the award.

ByKaren Travers
December 08, 2009, 6:38 PM

Dec. 9, 2009— -- There is a bit of irony in that just 10 days after announcing the deployment of 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, President Obama will accept the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Thursday in Oslo, Norway.

The award, which the Nobel committee said was for Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," comes as he presides over wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and faces an American public that is increasingly skeptical about the U.S.-led efforts there.

Obama will walk a delicate line in his acceptance speech, and the White House said he will acknowledge that he accepts the peace prize as a war president.

Aides said he will address Afghanistan and the decision to add troops there and present it in the overall context of the award he is accepting. Senior administration officials said that Obama will discuss what the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq mean in the context of peace and his role as president and the role of the United States.

The president is likely to note that while the United States will never be able to avoid war entirely, that fact redoubles the U.S. commitment to finding peace wherever it can.

"We'll address directly the notion, I think, that many have wondered, which is the juxtaposition of the timing for the Nobel Peace Prize and his commitment to add more troops into Afghanistan," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "That's obviously something that he will address."

The award was seen internationally, and at the White House, as a mixed blessing -- given for the promise of what an Obama presidency could do across the globe and an acknowledgement of what his election represented, but also carrying with it the added pressure to produce tangible results.

Obama is just the third sitting U.S. president to win the prestigious award, and the first to win it in his first year in office. The previous sitting U.S. presidents who won were Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

The peace prize sparked considerable debate over Obama's qualifications: Was his resume too thin? Was the committee actually rewarding the United States for its election of Obama? Was the award more for what Obama represents than what he has accomplished?

Obama provided a preview of the humble tone he is likely to strike in Oslo when he spoke at the White House the day the award was announced.

"To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize," Obama said in brief remarks Oct. 9. "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

The president sees the award as less a recognition of what he has done in office than an affirmation of the desire for American leadership.

The White House views the prize as a boost of momentum for the key issues the president has outlined in his foreign policy agenda, including climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, strengthening international institutions and mechanisms to avoid war, closing the gulf in opportunity in countries where a lack of opportunity can breed conflict, human rights and building bridges of understanding with Muslim world.

Ceremony Reignites Debate Over Obama's Qualifications for Nobel Prize

The award again opens up the debate over whether Obama deserved the Nobel Prize after less than a year in office. The deadline for nominations was Feb. 1, meaning the president was nominated after being in office for just 11 days.

Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said that Obama needs to accept the award with humility, given his thin resume so far in office.

"I think the best thing he can do is to take the prize and accept it in the name of those who the Nobel committee apparently didn't want to consider and who really are deserving," Pletka said, citing the Iranian people and Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress as examples of others who she thinks have done more in the last year to advance world peace.

Republican strategist Kevin Madden said the fact that Obama accepts the prize as the commander in chief of a military engaged in two wars is "the elephant in the room. They're going to have to acknowledge it."

"What you're going to see is the White House project an image that says, 'This isn't about me, and this is about the people who actually have done something. This is a shared reward, a shared responsibility,'" Madden said on "ABC News Now's Top Line." "And sort of deflect away from his most recent actions, which was to essentially increase troop movement in Afghanistan."

The news that Obama was awarded the prize came as a surprise even to the White House back in October. Press aides said they had heard from news reports that the president had been nominated for the peace prize, but they do not believe Obama himself even knew of his nomination.

The Nobel committee apparently took a forward approach with the prize, citing the "hope" that Obama's presidency brings to the global community.

"Obama has, as president, created a new climate in international politics," the citation from the Nobel committee read. "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."

The director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute said this fall that the decision to award Obama with the peace prize was unanimous.

"President Obama has changed, very dramatically, international politics," Geir Lundestad told "GMA's" Diane Sawyer Oct. 9. "We feel he has emphasized multilateral diplomacy, he has addressed international institutions, dialogue negotiations. He has inspired the world with his vision of a world without nuclear arms. He has changed the U.S. policy dramatically. There's a whole list."

Michael Worek, author of "Nobel: A Century of Prize Winners," said Obama's win was "extraordinarily unprecedented."

"It's like giving an Oscar award halfway through the movie when you haven't seen how it ends," Worek said. "We're saying, 'Well, Obama has just started, we don't know if he's going to be successful.' Yes, he's said good things, but is it going to work?

"I think in America we feel he's been given his Oscar too early."

But Worek said the award was given not for what Obama has done but what the international community expects he will do.

"It's rewarding hope and they use that word in their release, they use vision twice and hope once," Worek said of the Nobel committee's citation. "It says Obama has captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."

"I will applaud President Obama if he one day does something that earns him the Nobel Peace Prize, but he hasn't done that yet, and if they want to honor this symbolically, let them honor the people of America that elected Barack Obama," Pletka said.

Obama Will Donate Prize Money to Charity

Obama will be joined in Oslo by his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and his brother-in-law, Conrad Ng, who will attend the Nobel ceremony.

The White House said this week it is likely his other sister, Auma Obama, would meet him there as well.

The award comes with a $1.4 million prize, which the Obamas will donate to charity. Gibbs said that while "a series of charities are being looked at," no final decision has been made.

The nomination process is kept secret, and it may be 50 years before the world finds out who nominated Obama.

Many U.S. presidents have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but never won, among them presidents William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and foreign ministers Charles Hughes and John Foster Dulles.

Jimmy Carter won in 2002, after his presidency.

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