He’s the Nobel Peace Prize winner who just ordered 30,000 more troops to war. He’s the laureate who says he doesn’t deserve the award. He’s not quite 11 months on the job and already in the company of Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. This is President Barack Obama’s Nobel moment, an immense honour shadowed by awkward timing.
When Obama leaves for Oslo, Norway, on Wednesday to be lauded for his style of international diplomacy, he goes
knowing that the American people are more concerned about something else: peace of mind.
The economy has left millions of Americans hurting. The mood of the country is dispirited — more people than not think the nation is going in the wrong direction — and soothing news is tough to find. Unemployment is in double digits even as the bleeding of jobs has slowed.
There is also no hiding the contrast of war and peace. The memory is only days’ old of Obama's address at the US Military Academy at West Point, where he told cadets and the rest of the world that he was escalating the war in Afghanistan so he could stabilise it and then try to end it. Under his watch, the number of US troops in Afghanistan has grown from 34,000 to around 70,000, and now, is on its way to about 100,000.
All that is the backdrop for the imagery the world is about see: an American president to be toasted for peace, awarded a storied Nobel medal, treated to a torch-lit procession and feted at a five-course banquet filled with people in tuxedos and gowns.
Never in the 108-year history of one of the world’s most prestigious awards has it gone to a chief executive anywhere so early in his tenure.
The reaction back home could be delicate. A Gallup poll shortly after Obama won the award in October found 61 per cent of Americans did not believe he deserved it.
This could end up being a moment of true American pride, but restraint has defined the White House reaction.
As for the award, Obama says it’s not really about him. On the morning eight weeks ago when the news caught the world by surprise, Obama called it an affirmation of American leadership “on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations”. He said he viewed it as a call to action for every country to take on big challenges together.