Upon being awarded the 2009 Peace Prize by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, only months after he was sworn into office based on promises he hasn’t had time to deliver, sitting U.S. President Barack Obama claimed he was “surprised and deeply humbled” by the decision, which shocked his supporters and detractors in equal measure.
Explaining what appeared to be both a inspirational and premature award to a novice on the world stage, despite his instant stature, the committee said it chose Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Obama himself, apparently caught off guard, visibly both honored and humbled, was forced to defend his acceptance of the controversial decision, designating the prize less as a recognition of his own accomplishments and more of what he described as “a call to action.” Indeed, the United States’ standing in the world, which diminished to historic lows under the unilateral approach of the Bush Administration, immediately improved simply because someone of Obama’s background – along with his more inclusive, globally-conscious rhetoric – was elected.
Still, with two wars waging simultaneously, and Obama continuing many of the unpopular policies of his predecessor, critics – and comics – were quick to pounce. Saturday Night Live lampooned the decision in its opening skit, with Obama announcing he had won the award simply “for not being Bush.” Jay Leno cracked on The Tonight Show, “That’s pretty amazing, Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Ironically, his biggest accomplishment as president so far: winning the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Though Obama vowed to donate the 1.4 million dollars award money to charity, there were many calls, from both the right and the left, to decline the prize on principal. Obama accepted the prize as a gesture of responsibility to live up to his own promise.
Reaction to the award was not universally negative, however. Former Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who received the honor in 1984, said the decision showed that momentous strides are universally anticipated, and expected, under Obama ‘s leadership, and lauded this “wonderful recognition” of his effort to reach out to the Arab world and beyond. Obama still has time to live up to the prize, even if it was putting the cart before the horse.