He Wasn’t Expecting It Either: Barack Obama Wins The Nobel Peace Prize
Monday, October 9, 2017
On October 9, 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to U.S. President Barack Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. Try answering these trivia questions about the controversial decision…
What Was the Reaction to His Win?
Obama’s win came as such a surprise that he had to make last-minute arrangements to squeeze in the trip to accept the award. Photo credit: Utenriksdepartementet UD/Flickr.
“Surprise” is often used to describe the worldwide reaction, and for good reason: It was a surprise. Even the White House was taken aback because no one had known of the nomination. Obama had been in office only 12 days when the nominations were due, so no one was even thinking about the award. It’s true that Obama had been trying to restore the U.S.’ global reputation after the long Iraq war, that he had been trying to address climate issues that faced both the nation and the world, and that he had been trying to find more peaceful solutions to issues such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But given that he was so new on the world stage, even in October, people had trouble pointing to specific accomplishments that, in the popular eye, would equate with a Peace Prize. Many of Obama’s supporters were baffled, and some even thought it was the wrong decision — the surprise wasn’t based on a political division such as conservative/liberal– and there was outright anger from other quarters. One Afghan official, for example, was aghast at the award, claiming U.S. troops were still killing Afghan citizens daily.
What Did Obama Do With the Prize Money?
Part of the prize money went to rebuilding efforts in Haiti after the devastating quake in early 2010. Photo credit: RIBI Image Library/Flickr. Obama immediately said he wanted to donate the hefty $1.4 million award to charity, and he did, releasing a list in March 2010. Recipients included organizations offering scholarships to underserved groups like Hispanics and people in the Appalachian region; the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund for rebuilding after the massive Haiti earthquake in January 2010; groups helping veterans, girls’ education, and high school students from non-traditional-college backgrounds; and the United Negro College Fund, among many others. Part of the money also went to the charity Three Cups of Tea, which was unfortunately the subject of a scandal that discredited the charity in 2011.
What Did the Peace Prize Committee’s Former Secretary Say About the Win Several Years Later? In 2015, Geir Lundestad, the former committee secretary released a memoir that included a section on Obama’s award. His opinion was that the award ended up being only partly appropriate. The memoir created a brief stir when some media outlets used the word “regret” instead, but Lundestad quickly fired back, claiming that the award didn’t have the intended effect. The committee had hoped the prize would give Obama more clout and respect as he tried to work internationally, but it did not bring about the desired results. It added too much pressure, and it still did not prevent controversial moves later on, such as the drone program.
Which Other U.S. Presidents Have Won the Nobel Prize?
Other U.S. presidents have won the Peace Prize: Jimmy Carter won in 2002 for his dedication to peace processes and human rights; he almost won in 1978 for the Camp David Peace Accords. Woodrow Wilson won the prize in 1919 for his work on the League of Nations after World War I, and Theodore Roosevelt won in 1905 after he took the reins in ending the Russo-Japanese War. Interestingly, no U.S. president has won another type of Nobel, but Winston Churchill won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1953 for his extensive written works.
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