Topic A: What Does the Nobel Peace Prize Mean for Obama?

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Friday, October 9, 2009; 10:08 AM

The Post asked political experts what receiving the Nobel Peace Prize will mean for President Obama. Below are contributions from Tony Fratto, Donna F. Edwards, Robert Shrum, Robert Reich, Lisa Schiffren, Douglas E. Schoen and Ed Rogers.

TONY FRATTO

Deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and deputy press secretary from September 2006 to January 2009

Well, those Norwegians were up to their tricks again this morning. Just when you forgot that they were up there, what with autumnal darkness descending on the northern region, they send up a flair to announce their presence by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a U.S. president who, while espousing "hope" for peace, has demonstrated little in the acquiring of "actual" peace. As if to inconveniently punctuate the silliness, NASA today bombed the moon.

In the president's defense, he's had precious little time for actual achievement, being barely nine months into his term. But never mind that. The Nobel committee was fairly explicit that Obama's hope of achieving peace was all that was required, presumably making countless Miss Universe contestants equally eligible. Oh, they mentioned plans for nuclear weapons reductions as well, but of course the smart people would have quickly noted that President George W. Bush reduced stockpiles by nearly 4000 weapons from 6000, making new reductions of a few hundred relatively inconsequential. No, as with all things Obama, it's far better to bet on a hopeful vision than to wait around for what are inevitably becoming disappointing results.

Here's the irony: in the Nobel committee's over-reach, rather than honor the U.S. president, they've instead awarded an albatross around his neck and opened him up to mockery. As an American, I'm happy for the president's recognition, but my hope is that over time his record shows him to be deserving -- not for his hopeful quest, but for actual achievement.

REP. DONNA F. EDWARDS

Democratic member of Congress from Maryland

When the Nobel committee announced President Obama as the Peace Prize recipient, thus began the sarcasm, second-guessing and chatter. Some opined that selecting President Obama is either a repudiation of our former president or premature for this one. Perhaps it is neither. Perhaps the international community is reaffirming our promise as practitioners of peace and diplomacy and protectors of human rights? Perhaps the Nobel committee sees the work undone and acknowledges at once both our imperfection and our desire to keep working?

Obama has spoken with clarity about the quest for nuclear nonproliferation, dialogue and engagement in the Middle East, the aspirations of women in the Arab world, and the alleviation of disease and hunger in Africa and in this hemisphere. He began the difficult task of turning words into action for peace and justice, artfully balancing grit and diplomacy with Iran, North Korea, and in the Sudan.

Our president is being recognized as a peacemaker and an inspiration for millions around the globe. But, this honor for the president is not just about the individual. We chose Obama as our face, our handshake extended to the world. In this peace prize, the world is expressing its gratitude for peace to come.

ROBERT SHRUM

Democratic strategist and senior fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service

Obama's winning the Nobel less than a year into his term shows how much the world values and welcomes affirmative and inspiring leadership from the president of the United States. On my plane Friday leaving Frankfurt for the Middle East, passengers were congratulating me as an American for this tribute to Obama -- and his proof that we are once again the America they hope for.

All of us should take heart and pride from this. Despite the jeers about the Nobel from those who cheered our loss of the Olympics, what the prize represents is a powerful asset in the arsenal of our democracy. The way FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan enlarged and conveyed the idea of America strengthened our influence and ideals around the globe, both while they were in office and long afterwards. In Obama, we have a president who commands such heights, not one who is disdained or despised -- and we are better for it.

This was an extraordinary moment in a young presidency of high purpose that is renewing our country's international standing. But this is also a hard and unrelenting time, and Obama will have to re-earn his Nobel Prize everyday -- from North Korea to Iran and Iraq, and, in the coming weeks especially, Afghanistan. The prize doesn't tell him what decisions to make; it does tell us that we have a president with a new chance to lead in the world instead of going it alone. This Nobel is not premature; it comes at just the right time. Instead of simply witnessing history already made, it can help Obama bend history in the direction of our best hopes.

ROBERT REICH

Secretary of labor from 1993 to 1997; professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley

President Obama's only real diplomatic accomplishment so far has been to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy from unilateral bullying to multilateral listening and cooperating. That's important, to be sure, but it's not nearly enough. Had the world not suffered eight years of George W. Bush, Obama would not have won the prize at this early stage of his presidency. I'd rather he had won it after Congress agreed to substantial cuts in greenhouse gases comparable to what Europe is proposing, after he brought Palestinians and Israelis together to accept a two-state solution, after he got the United States out of Afghanistan and reduced the nuclear arms threat between Pakistan and India, or after he was well on the way to eliminating the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons. Perhaps the Nobel committee can give him only half the prize now and withhold the other half until he accomplishes one or more of these crucial missions.

LISA SCHIFFREN

Speechwriter to Vice President Dan Quayle; contributor to National Review Online's "The Corner" blog

After the incredulity and snickering at a Nobel Prize for significant achievement in international affairs going to a promulgator of vaporous "hope," with no foreign policy accomplishments, at time of multiple crises, the White House must respond delicately.

Unfortunately, this is another instance for Obama of excessive reward for mere potential. He should be offended. Even the worst frauds on the past recipient list had to work a lot harder for their prizes.

So aides owe the president a dose of reality. Otherwise, the prize may exacerbate his vanity and narcissism, which are his most visible flaws, and inflate his cult of personality, which won't create jobs or end wars.

One hopes our president understands that the award is a bribe to continue apologizing for America, going soft on rogue nations and despots with nuclear goals, and backing away from the non-peaceful challenges of Afghanistan and Islamic extremism. If not, he'll learn when Americans next vote.

The moment requires a nuanced, non-political performance. Obama must be able to convey genuine modesty. If that isn't in his repertoire, handlers should hire the best Broadway acting coach they can get.

Oh, and donate the million bucks to a soup kitchen -- times being not so hopeful here at home.

DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

Every American has to be proud that President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And there is, of course, an enormous amount that the president has done to end the United States' estrangement from the world community.

But that being said, the prize was necessarily awarded more for what Obama has said he wants to accomplish than for any concrete achievements.

Moreover, many of the tough decisions the president faces going forward involve the possible use of force -- in Afghanistan imminently, as well as potentially in Iran and even in North Korea if circumstances should require a change in approach in both regions.

The most immediate impact of the prize is that it will burnish the president's image and stature, which have both been somewhat tarnished given the intractable challenges he is facing at home and abroad. The hope has to be that the president's enhanced image will make it easier to negotiate constructive settlements to ongoing conflicts as well as to begin to put in place a process to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict.

At the same time, the president must remain resolute in his pursuit of America's interests around the world. That the Nobel Committee called Obama "the world's leading spokesman for its agenda" should not in any way obscure the fact that the president, no doubt, will have to make some very challenging decisions involving U.S. troops and the possible use of force in the weeks and months to come.

ED ROGERS

White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of BGR Group

I'm trying to be proud that my president has won the Nobel Peace Prize. But I have no idea what his accomplishment could be that deserves this or any other award. Shouldn't there be some positive contribution toward peace in a place where there is conflict? I think we should all be more embarrassed than proud.

I assume Obama did not apply, but surely he could have quietly told the committee, "thanks, but no thanks" prior to a public announcement. But, if Ed McMahon just shows up at your door with balloons and the Nobel Prize, what are you supposed to do? Say no?

I don't think the Nobel committee has done Obama any favors. Americans will see this as contrived and undeserved. It will breed resentment, and, for the first time, Obama may face every politicians' worst nightmare: ridicule.


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