The Nobel Prize Committee has made a gross miscalculation in awarding the Nobel Prize to President Obama. Speaking to reporters, Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said "We would hope [the Nobel Prize] will enhance what he is trying to do." However, in awarding the Prize to the president, the Committee has risked undermining much of the president's momentum on a number of fronts by focusing supporters and detractors alike not on what he has done, but on what he hasn't. President Obama has only been in office since January, and has been tackling, for better or for worse, the economy, health care, Iran's increasingly aggressive stance, tough decisions about troop levels in Afghanistan, and the worsening situation in Pakistan. While it is true that he has reached out to the Muslim world in unprecedented ways, reengaged our allies, helped the U.S. reach a tremendous milestone in race relations, and spoken out on nuclear disarmament, he has yet had the chance to solidify gains on any major policy issue or really have the opportunity to turn his attention to issues of peace. In fact, as Afghanistan becomes increasingly discussed in many quarters as a war of choice, Obama has had to focus his attention not on peace and diplomacy, but on calculations of conflict.
Because of the selection of the Nobel Prize Committee, today many around the world are questioning whether Obama's accomplishments during his short time are deserving of this great honor. And, at a time when some are feeling disappointed that Obama's promises of change are not being fulfilled fast enough, this award may not actually be helpful to the president in the way that the Nobel Committee hopes. Rather, it may shine a spotlight on a lack of accomplishment, even for those who support the president. For those who wish to undermine him, this award will prove a fertile talking point for raising questions about whether the President will prove to be more about optics or substance. (Fox News will certainly be having an early Christmas because of this announcement.) So, in addition to having to live up to the hopes that his campaign and election raised at home and around the world, President Obama will have to earn, in the minds of many, this prematurely bestowed award.
So far, the White House has had little response to the announcement. However, if President Obama wants to assure the world that he is focused and grounded, it might benefit him to recognize that his accomplishments in fostering peace do not match up to those of prior recipients, and take the opportunity to talk about the work being done by others, and the long distance we still have to go in achieving the goal of peace. Otherwise, Obama may face a growing number of skeptics who worry that he will accept words over actions in this important arena. The Nobel Prize Committee ultimately may have given fodder to Obama's detractors, but the president can still seize this moment to demonstrate that he recognizes the difference between rhetoric and actual change.