The news Friday that President Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was met with widespread incredulity and skepticism. "For what?" was the most uttered phrase of the day. The almost universal sense of disbelief was reinforced when word spread that the deadline for nominations had been Feb. 1, less than two weeks after Mr. Obama entered office. By rights, the nomination should have been diagnosed as a symptom of an extreme case of Obamamania and quietly discarded.
Certainly there have been less deserved awards of the Nobel Peace Prize, such as the 1994 award to Palestinian terrorist Yasser Arafat, or the 2007 nod to former Vice President Al Gore for his big, scary science-fiction movie. However, Mr. Obama stands out as history's only recipient who even the Nobel Committee admitted won more for what he hopes to do than anything substantive he actually has done.
Mr. Obama stands on the shoulders of giants. Other presidents who have won the award - Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter - received recognition for concluding major peace agreements. Comparison to major human rights champions such as South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi and India's Mother Teresa diminish Mr. Obama even further. A record 205 nominees were considered for the 2009 prize, among them Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has risked more, suffered more and done more for peace than Mr. Obama, and the Cluster Munitions Coalition, which was nominated for persuading nearly 100 countries to sign a multilateral treaty banning cluster bombs. We await a similar success from our president.
This award was so disproportionate to Mr. Obama's achievements that it weakens him; it casts a glaring spotlight on his utter lack of accomplishments. The timing is awkward, coming on the heels of Mr. Obama's embarrassing failure to bring home Chicago's 2016 Olympics bid and coinciding with tense debate over the escalation of the war effort in Afghanistan. The White House lamely spun the award as a "call to action," but this message ironically reinforces the sense that Mr. Obama has been largely inactive in office.
The president should decline the award in favor of a more deserving recipient. That would show leadership and strength of character. It also would demonstrate faith in himself and his presidency that some day he actually will do something worthy of the award. There is more to making history than simply voting present.