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Nobel panel defends Obama Peace Prize award

Sandy Smith's picture

The Norwegian panel that awards the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday issued a spirited defense of their decision to award the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama.

The defense was a response to widespread criticism of the award, both in the United States and around the world. Most of the critics have argued that Obama has not accomplished enough to deserve the prize, and the President himself suggested as much in his White House press conference the day the prize was announced.

But, he said at the time, "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. ...And I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes."

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, reinforced this view in remarks he has made in defending the pick.

In remarks in Oslo, Jagland said the committee was "not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future but for what [Obama] has done in the previous year," but then went on to say, "We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do." Jagland also noted that the Peace Prize has been awarded in the past to recognize opportunities created rather than achievements: In an editorial supporting the award, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in the President's native state noted that West German Chancellor Willy Brandt received the prize for opening up channels of communication with the East. "Brandt hadn't achieved much when he got the prize," Jagland said, "but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall."

Not all such "aspirational" Peace Prizes have turned out to be prescient, though: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains intractable in part because of actions taken by 1994 co-recipient Yasir Arafat, then head of the Palestinian Authority, after signing the Oslo peace accords that earned him, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres the prize.

Meanwhile, in The Huffington Post, Cornell law professor Menachem Z. Rosensaft, Founding Chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, offered an example of a concrete achievement of Obama's - the achievement of normalized relations between Turkey and Armenia, breaking through more than a century of hostility exacerbated by the elimination of anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman troops in 1915, an event many, including Obama, consider genocide -- a term to which the Turks still object.

Written by Sandy Smith

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