Analysis: Nobel Peace Prize Doesn't Help Obama

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The Nobel Peace Prize committee wanted to help President Obama by awarding him the prestigious, $1.4 million award. Instead they've done the opposite.

The shocking decision by the five-person Norwegian committee to give the award to a young president isn't simply an affront to many of the accomplished and deserving candidates who were up for the award – among them embattled opposition leaders, womens right's activists, and dissidents who have faced imprisonment and torture – though it certainly is that. It is also a boon to the president's critics who have a new talking point in their efforts to derail Mr. Obama's ambitious domestic agenda.

There's a reason that John McCain's team cast then-candidate Obama as an international celebrity during the presidential campaign last year – it fed their preferred narrative that while Mr. Obama may have established a worldwide cult of personality, he did not necessarily prioritize the needs of his own countrymen. While McCain was pointedly portrayed as putting "country first" at the Republican National Convention, Mr. Obama was cast by McCain's camp as a Paris Hilton-like figure adored by Europeans and unconcerned with the challenges faced by everyday Americans.

Now those Europeans have awarded Mr. Obama, who has been in office less than one year, a prize that seems, at the very least, premature. The Nobel committee has said they chose the president in an effort to "contribute a little bit to enhance what he is trying to do." And while their intensions might be good, the decision reflects a startling lack of understanding by committee members of political reality.

What the president is trying to do, at the moment, is pass contentious health care legislation. Giving him a prize that many will see as underserved – and that aligns him with European elites instead of average Americans – isn't going to help that effort. At the conservative National Review, they're already joking the president will next get Major League Baseball's Cy Young award.

And then there's the fact that awarding the prize to Mr. Obama will likely have little positive impact. The prize can be a real boon to recipients – it may be the reason that imprisoned Burmese pro-democracy activist and politician Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded it in 1991, is alive today. And it has been used in the past to push an agenda, with some degree of success – see Al Gore's 2007 win, a boost to his efforts to draw attention to climate change issues.

But it's no secret that the president is popular and respected around the world. Giving the prize to, say, Chinese dissidents Hu Kia or Wei Jingsheng would have put a spotlight on China's human rights record on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre; giving it to Zimbabwean opposition leader and prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai could have aided his effort to finally wrest power away from the disastrous Robert Mugabe.

As for Mr. Obama, however – well, presumably it'll look good above the White House fireplace. There are already calls for the president to politely turn down the award, and in doing so spare himself the mockery sure to come if he travels to Norway to accept it and give another speech on the international stage.

Former Norwegian Nobel Committee Geir Lundestad once asked why the world takes "such an interest in what a committee of five internationally relatively unknown Norwegians may decide about who has done the most for peace."

After today, we can expect to hear that question asked with increasing regularity.

More CBSNews.com Coverage of the Nobel Peace Prize:

President Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize
Obama: Nobel Prize a "Call To Action"
Analysis: Nobel Prize Doesn't Help Obama
Mark Phillips: The Audacity of the Nobel Committee
Mark Knoller: Nobel Peace Prize an Unprecedented Honor for Obama
List of Past U.S. Winners
World Reaction to the Award
Read Excerpts from the Nobel Citation
Common Nobel Prize myths debunked
What's Your Opinion?
Watch video of Nobel award ceremony from AP Television
Watch a shocked Bob Schieffer's analysis
Watch Mark Phillips' report on the Prize

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