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Nobel Prize: Placing a Wager on Peace

The Nobel Peace Prize is generally given as a reward for achieving a major goal. This year's award falls in the category of placing a bet on a more peaceful future. Chalk one up for optimism.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to President Barack Obama, as the committee noted in its statement, said that the president "captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."

In a statement he made in the White House Rose Garden, the president said he was to be so honored but considered it not "recognition of my own accomplishments" so much as for the goals he has put forward.

As far back as the campaign for the presidency many abroad and especially in Europe openly displayed a fondness both for Barack Obama the man and his policies. It is no secret that officials of many governments around the world considered him a breath of fresh air after eight years of dealing with President George W. Bush.

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As much as the committee clearly likes Mr. Obama's style, his rhetoric and at least the promise of his ideas, what is also apparent from the announcement is just how much the policies and persona of Mr. Bush grated on many in the international arena. It is all the more glaring because the nomination for the award had to be made less than a month after Mr. Obama's inauguration, before he launched many of his initiatives.

"Obama has created a new climate in international politics, "the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. It praised the new American leader for his willingness to use multilateral diplomacy including the United Nations and it highlighted the emphasis he has placed on disarmament. A "constructive" role on climate change was mentioned.

It is a fact that the Obama administration has changed the way America is viewed in many foreign capitals. Moscow is happy Washington has moved away from the missile defense system of the previous administration and is now in negotiations over the future of nuclear stockpiles. The Arab and Muslim world is pleased with overtures made by the new president in their direction. Efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians were placed high on the agenda from the first week of the administration and there is a new diplomatic initiative to get Iran to back away from its nuclear ambitions.

Notwithstanding the honor of the award, however, not all is so rosy. Mr. Obama is weighing a decision to send more U.S. troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and he is beset with a troubled economic picture at home. There is also an ongoing battle over the future of health care legislation which has huge implications on the domestic political agenda.

Upon hearing the announcement the Republican National Committee's Chairman, Michael Steele, said "The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?' No one should be looking for this to heal an already gaping partisan divide.

"The prize signals that America is definitively back in the world's good graces and the President deserves full credit for that," wrote Martin Indyk, the Vice President and Director for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. "Now comes the hard part: turning goodwill into concrete results that can heal wounds of a very troubled world. If Obama can do that he'll deserve another Nobel."

For now the best thing President Obama can do is "pocket" the award, even if he does it with a look of surprise on his face, and keep pressing to complete the initiatives he's already launched.

What's your opinion? Charles Wolfson welcomes comments from readers of Diplomatic Dispatch and can be reached at