In a surprise move, Barack Obama, who made “hope” the cornerstone of his campaign to become America’s first African-American president, was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
"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 Norwegian Nobel Committee said in praising the U.S. president. "His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."
More on Obama's Prize: Pamela on Politics
The Associated Press reported that when Obama’s name was announced in Oslo, Norway, a roomful of reporters there gasped in surprise.
But given Obama’s whirlwind of activities during his very short tenure as president, the selection was a good one, sayformer award recipients and others.
When Obama was elected president, he inherited a host of daunting hurdles – including the worst U.S. economy in memorable history, the constant threat of terrorism and two unpopular wars in the Iraq and Afghanistan – and he has been a leading voice on such issues as Mideast peace and the need for the United States to aggressively confront global warming. He has also been the catalyst behind America’s push for universal health care health care.
In recent weeks, Obama even headed to Denmark, hoping to land the 2016 Olympics for Chicago, which could use a boost in revenues – and image, considering the current spotlight on youth violence in the Windy City. In its final analysis, the Nobel Committee agreed that Obama had not only “created a new climate in international politics,” but he made “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international politics.”
Ironically, many of Obama’s harshest critics in the United States have blasted him for being so involved on so many different fronts, arguing that he has been unable to focus on the main domestic issue: the economy. During his trip to Denmark, some conservative commentators unabashedly announced their desire to see Obama fail in his attempt to bring the Olympics to his hometown.
But for those praying that such a “failure” would dull his national and international appeal, their hopes were dashed with today’s announcement.
"I see this as an important encouragement," former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, last year's Peace Prize laureate, told AP.
Wangari Muta Maathai, the Kenyan who won the 2004 Peace Prize, agreed. "I think it is extraordinary," she said. "It will be even greater inspiration for the world. He has shown how we can probably come together, work together in a cooperative way."
Mohamed ElBaradei, the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said Obama deserved to win for his efforts to bring Iran to the table for direct nuclear talks with the United States. "I could not think of anybody who is more deserving," said ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, known for his efforts to keep nations from using nuclear energy for military means.
Obama became the third sitting U.S. president bestowed with the prestigious award, which includes a prize of about $1.4 million. Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906, and Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Jimmy Carter also won the award in 2002, but he had been out of office for many years.
Obama was chosen from among 172 nominees and 33 organizations.