Norwegians who gave Obama the Nobel Prize
The odd Norwegian committee has given the Peace prize to a controversial American before
The naming today of President Barack Obama as 2009's Nobel Peace Prize winner has raised eyebrows around the world. Comments - see below - range from "premature" to "preposterous" with only a smattering of warm congratulations.
So who made the decision to award Obama the prize for what he might achieve rather than anything he has done?
The committee responsible for choosing the Peace Prize winner is the odd one out of the Nobel range of awarding bodies. Alfred Nobel, the Swede who founded the prizes, stipulated in his will that while Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Literature should be selected by the relevant Swedish academic institutions, Peace should be awarded by a committee selected by the Norwegian storting (parliament).
The reason for this oddity is unknown, but it could be because Norway was at the time of Nobel's death the junior partner in a union with Sweden. Nobel might have thought a less powerful actor on the world stage would be more inclined to offer a neutral verdict.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee (chairman, Thorbjoen Jagland, pictured above) normally chooses the person or organisation who in the past year has done the "most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".
By these criteria, most would have thought Obama probably less deserving than the favourites, Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Chinese dissident Hu Jia - particularly since the president has just sent 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
But Obama isn't the first American Nobel Peace Prize winner to cause controversy. In 1973, the presentation of the award to then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Le Duc Tho for negotiating the Vietnam peace accord was widely questioned.
Two members of the Nobel committee resigned, while the song-writer Tom Lehrer famously said that the award showed that satire had become obsolete. Perhaps showing a slightly larger capacity for shame than his counterpart, Le Duc Tho refused his share of the prize on the grounds that a true peace did not yet exist.
But perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised at such anomalies, bearing in mind the remarkably democratic nature of the nominations process.
Besides former Nobel winners, any member of a national parliament can nominate someone for the Peace Prize - as can university professors of history, philosophy, political science, law and theology.
Unsurprisingly this arrangement has thrown up some truly shocking nominees, including Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler - whose nomination by a member of the Swedish parliament was retracted after a few days.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:Michael Binyon, the Times: "The prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronising in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace."
Lech Walesa, former Polish president and winner of the 1983 peace prize: "Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast - he hasn't had the time to do anything yet. For the time being Obama's just making proposals. But sometimes the Nobel Committee awards the prize to encourage responsible action. Let's give Obama a chance."
Michael Tomasky, the Guardian: "I would begin by suggesting to the president that he demur altogether. That he tell the committee that while he's deeply touched, he does not in fact feel that he has yet done the work to earn this award. He should then recommend to the committee that it give the prize to Hu Jia, the Chinese dissident who was considered a frontrunner, or someone else whose life's cause could actually benefit from winning the prize."
ASH Smyth, The First Post: "He hasn't founded a bank for the poor or ended any major conflicts - and even Richard Nixon managed that. Sure, he says he doesn't want the West to
be at war with Islam, and would like to see a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons. But who wouldn't?"
Shimon Peres, President of Israel and winner of the 1994 peace prize: "Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact. You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth. Under your leadership, peace became a real and original agenda."
Michael Russnow, the Huffington Post: "Few American presidents have received it and of those who have it was bestowed after they'd been engaged in something special... It is enormously premature for Obama to be getting this great tribute, which to a certain extent cheapens the prior recipients and the work all of them performed over so many years."
Ellen Ratner, Fox News: "This morning's announcement is even more shocking on the eve of the president's important decision about whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. In fact, he is scheduled to meet with his war council later today! Perhaps the Nobel committee wanted to nudge him in the direction of adding more schools and hospitals to the region rather than more troops."
Peter Beinart, the Daily Beast: "Perhaps next they'll start giving Oscars not to the people who have made the best movies of last year, but to the people who have the best chance of making the best movies next year." ·
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