For the third time in its history, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded its Peace Prize to an American president in office.
The committee chose President Obama from 205 candidates (172 individuals, 33 organizations) whose names had been submitted as part of the committee’s annual process.
The choice of Obama surprised most Americans, as well as the international reporters in Oslo, Norway, where the announcement was made.
Obama took office in January, only two weeks before the deadline for submitting nominees. In the short time that followed, it appears, the Nobel committee was impressed with his efforts to improve diplomacy and eliminate nuclear arsenals. They must have considered his efforts to build understanding between America and the Muslim world in a Cairo speech, and his United Nations speech urging greater global unity. They also would have known that this peace candidate was waging war in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The committee did not have to name a winner. Between 1901 and the present, the committee has refused the prize in 19 years.
President Theodore Roosevelt won the Peace Prize in 1906 for brokering a peace between Russia and Japan, which was threatening to destabilize Asia and possibly the Russian government.
Woodrow Wilson won the prize in 1919 for his efforts to end World War I and build a global League of Nations, which he believed would prohibit future wars.
In 2002 the committee gave its award to ex-president Jimmy Carter for his efforts, both in and out of office, to support peace and help struggling nations. And in 2007, former vice president Al Gore was the recipient for his international efforts on behalf of the environment.
The list of past winners is long and includes many now-obscure names. Many, though, should be familiar to us: Albert Schweitzer, George C. Marshall, Dag Hammarskjöld, Linus Pauling, Martin Luther King Jr., the International Red Cross, Anwar Al-Sadat, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Nelson Mandela.
But the Peace Prize doesn’t always come with a supply of peace. The choices in the past have been controversial. Many were angered when the committee gave the award to Henry Kissinger in 1973, and even more were disappointed that it was never given to Mahatma Gandhi.