- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

ANALYSIS:

Five Norwegian politicians sent a surprising but unambiguous message Friday, bestowing one of the world’s most coveted honors on President Obama as a signal of the Western world’s repudiation of the presidency of George W. Bush and its embrace of a softer but still untested American foreign policy.

As word of the stunning Nobel Peace Prize selection began to take hold Friday, Americans struggled to digest the news that some first mistook for a prank and others saw as an overreach, given that the president had been in office only 12 days when he was nominated for the award.

The award was “a sigh of collective relief that George Bush is no longer here,” said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Middle East issues to six presidents. More than any concrete contribution Mr. Obama has made to world peace, the prize embodies “the international community’s love affair” with a young, charismatic president who “listens, not lectures,” he added.

Caught off guard by the award, the White House scrambled Friday morning to strike the right tone in accepting the honor. Mr. Obama tried to appear grounded in reality, explaining that after being awakened with news of the honor, he was immediately confronted with more immediate family concerns, including the news of his dog’s birthday and a daughter’s observation that they were on the cusp of a three-day weekend.

“It’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective,” he chuckled.

Despite some early speculation that perhaps the president would politely decline the honor, Mr. Obama sent an e-mail to supporters explaining his decision to accept it.

“To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many … transformative figures,” he wrote.

“But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes,” he said, describing the award as “a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of ch value\="226 128 147"/=

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the 21st century.”

After his embarrassment at the hands of the International Olympic Committee, which rejected Mr. Obama’s personal pitch for Chicago as an Olympic host, the Nobel award represents a clear return to the prevailing narrative of Mr. Obama’s campaign for the White House and the central theme of his early presidency - that he is attempting to “re-set” relations with the rest of the world after an icy eight years under Mr. Bush.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country’s bitter opposition to the Iraq war came to embody the diplomatic breakdown between the U.S. and Europe under Mr. Bush, was among the first to explain how the award was being viewed overseas. The Obama choice, he explained, “sets the seal on America’s return to the heart of all the world’s peoples.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed that the Nobel announcement represented a symbolic welcoming of the new American approach.

“President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world’s biggest problems - climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges,” he said.

The president’s political supporters welcomed such sentiments as a sign that Mr. Obama was delivering on his promise to rekindle relations between the U.S. and its top allies. To others, though, the shock of the announcement came in seeing so esteemed an award handed out before Mr. Obama even had time to build a tangible record of accomplishment that might justify it.

Mark Salter, an author and longtime adviser to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, called the decision “morally reprehensible,” even if Mr. Obama himself was not at fault.

“No president’s statecraft, whether you agree with its direction or not, can be expected to bear fruit in less than nine months,” Mr. Salter said. “I think the morally correct and politically shrewd response from the White House would have been to refuse the honor.”

What struck an especially ironic chord with some Republicans was the Nobel committee’s suggestion that Mr. Obama’s call for a nuclear weapons-free world “has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations.” It was Mr. Bush, they said, who persevered with dramatic reductions in the world’s nuclear arms stockpiles begun under President Clinton.

From 1992 to 2000 the world’s nuclear arms stockpiles fell from nearly 53,000 to about 31,500, according to the Clinton Presidential Library. Nuclear stockpiles fell another 8,000, to 23,375 during Mr. Bush’s eight years in office, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

The basis for the Nobel committee’s praise was likely Mr. Obama’s speech in Prague earlier this year, where he began to lay out his vision for eliminating nuclear arms. He is also working to beat an end-of-year deadline to write a new arms control agreement with Russia.

Non-proliferation groups said those negotiations led Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to refocus the world on a real problem.

“This award reflects a new international consensus that whatever stability nuclear arsenals may have provided during the Cold War is now outweighed by the growing risks of proliferation and nuclear terrorism and that the only way in the long term to eliminate the nuclear threat is to eliminate all nuclear weapons,” said former Ambassador Richard Burt, the chief U.S. negotiator for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

But the praise for Mr. Obama’s efforts struck many as premature at best.

Denver talk-radio host Mike Rosen compared the honor to awarding Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player to a promising rookie after he draws a walk in his first game. He suspected this was the Nobel committee’s way of thanking Mr. Obama for ousting the Republican Party from the White House.

“It’s obviously a slap in the face to George W. Bush,” Mr. Rosen said.

John R. Bolton, Mr. Bush’s ambassador to the U.N. and before that the Bush administration official on nuclear arms proliferation, said at the very least it was tough to make the case that Mr. Obama had already earned the award.

“Ronald Reagan also called for a world without nuclear weapons - where was his Nobel Peace Prize?” Mr. Bolton said. “The problem on the proliferation side is the same with the problem, I think, more generally, and that is we have traditionally understood the Nobel Peace Prize to be a record of accomplishment, and there isn’t a record of accomplishment here yet.”

Mr. Bolton, who was among those calling on Mr. Obama to decline the prize, said he found the president appropriately “gracious and modest” in the way he accepted it. But he also found it striking that the committee has recognized former President Carter, former Vice President Al Gore and now Mr. Obama, but not Mr. Clinton.

“They want to reward a particular kind of American - an American who thinks like Europeans do,” he said.

Jon Ward, Valerie Richardson and Joseph Weber contributed to this article.


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