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A prize deserved?

Mark Mardell | 20:59 UK time, Friday, 9 October 2009

Why did he win?

The question seems to be on many lips: why did President Obama win the Nobel Peace Prize just nine months into his presidency? "What achievement is this about?" some ask. The nominations closed only two weeks after he came to power. "What had he done by then?" people ask.

I think it is pretty obvious. As so often, the mystery clears up if you bother to read the text, in this case the citation. The committee praises him for intentions that were key to his whole campaign. It singles out working through the United Nations, for putting the emphasis on negotiations, international diplomacy and co-operation, for creating a new climate in international politics. In other words, because he's not President George W Bush and has steered American foreign policy, or at least its strategy if not its aims, in an opposite direction.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are furious. John Bolton, Bush's ambassador to the UN, has just told the BBC that it is no coincidence that Jimmy Carter and Al Gore also got the prize, but, not say, Ronald Reagan. He says the committee is "preaching at America, saying 'do you Americans get the point yet?'".

Do you agree that the prize is a tool of those making a political point, and does that cheapen it, or make it more potent?

By the way, apologies to Lord Trimble who won the peace prize in 1998 for his efforts in Northern Ireland and is of course British. (He won it jointly with John Hume, who as the former leader of a nationalist party presumably regards himself as Irish but would be entitled to a British passport were he to want one.) Yes, "reaching out" is an Americanism: we Brits might reach out for some crisps (chips) but not to another person, unless with lewd intent.


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