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President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

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President Barack Obama responds to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday morning at The White House.

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By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 10, 2009

President Obama on Friday won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, bringing the relatively novice leader a new measure of prestige on the world stage but also potential complications in carrying out a foreign policy that includes managing two wars.

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In making Obama the third sitting U.S. president to win the prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the president's cooperative approach to global issues, a clear rebuke of the Bush administration's aversion to international organizations and treaties.

The prize comes after Obama has been in office less than nine months, and as he decides whether to send additional combat troops to Afghanistan for a war effort that will now be measured against the principles of the award. His selection from 205 nominees inflamed U.S. conservatives and drew criticism abroad across a political spectrum ranging from the Afghan insurgents he is fighting to Israeli hawks he is trying to bring to the peace table with Palestinians.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden a few hours after being awakened with the news at 6 a.m., Obama said he did not view the prize as an affirmation of his accomplishments.

"To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who have inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace," he said.

And yet, he said: "I 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."

Obama is pushing to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, stop Iran's nuclear enrichment program, pass legislation to slow global warming, and strengthen international nuclear nonproliferation protocols -- all of which require broad international cooperation. In some respects, the prize could make his approach more difficult on issues as diverse as climate change and Afghanistan, where Obama has largely failed to secure significant new resources from NATO allies eight years into the war.

"Not only will he be judged in the future against this exacting standard, but also it may complicate some decisions, such as the one he must soon make concerning Afghanistan," said William A. Galston, a Clinton administration adviser now at the Brookings Institution.

Obama is weighing whether to send as many as 40,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, potentially exposing himself to criticism that he is not living up to the ideals embodied by the prize. "While I hope that such considerations will not influence his decisions, they don't make his life any easier," Galston said.

White House aides disputed the notion that the prize will be a political liability. They said Obama was not aware he had been nominated and never lobbied for the honor, which carries a $1.4 million cash award. David Axelrod, a senior adviser, said Obama has told his staff he wants to give the money to charity "in a way that promotes the ideals he is talking about and that that prize committee honored today."

The prize announcement came a week after the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen rejected Obama's personal appeal to award the 2016 Games to his adopted home town of Chicago. In awarding the prize, the Nobel Committee highlighted Obama's call for a world free of nuclear weapons, which he first made in an April speech in Prague.

Outreach to the World

Largely unknown outside the United States before beginning his presidential campaign nearly three years ago, Obama began his administration by outlawing torture in interrogations and by pledging to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by Jan. 22, 2010. He has called those Bush-era policies mistakes that have undermined the U.S. image abroad.


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