Presidential Historian: Nobel Boosts Obama's Status

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President Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for international diplomacy efforts. Steve Inskeep talks with writer and presidential historian Robert Dallek for his analysis of the announcement.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's talk some more now about President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. The news came from the Nobel committee in Oslo, Norway this morning. And Robert Dallek is one of many who woke to that news. He's a presidential historian and has written biographies of five presidents. He's on the line.

Good morning, sir.

Dr. ROBERT DALLEK (Boston University): Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do you think this award means for Obama's presidency?

Dr. DALLEK: Well, I think it certainly gives a significant boost to his prestige. After all, he's the third sitting president to have ever won the award. But Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, who won it during their terms of office, had significant accomplishments when they were awarded the prize. Theodore Roosevelt had mediated the Russo-Japanese War and Woodrow Wilson had established the - driven to establish the League of Nations.

So it's somewhat surprising, but the award, as I understand it, says it's being given to him for rekindling hope in the world that there can be international peace. His speech in Cairo, Egypt and his...

INSKEEP: About reaching out to the Muslim world, right.

Dr. DALLEK: Yes. And his renewed efforts to try and promote nuclear disarmament, I think, turned the head of the committee.

And also I would say it clearly is a kind of poke in the eye to the George W. Bush administration because what it's saying is, well, America is back on the scene after eight years of Bush, back on the scene as a nation that is in the forefront promoting world peace.

But I think it gives him a lot of standing here at home...

INSKEEP: Well, I want to ask about that because when you talk about standing here at home, just a few hours ago we would have described this man as a president with a slipping approval rating, with his domestic agenda under attack, and incidentally, with tough decisions still to come over a war in Afghanistan, and suddenly he's on this different plane where we're making comparisons with Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and seeing how he stands up.

Dr. DALLEK: Yes, exactly. And so it does give him a kind of cache at home - political cache - that he may be able to turn to his advantage and has, unlikely as it may seem, in the fight to win passage of a major national health care reform bill.

INSKEEP: Mr. Dallek, we just got a few seconds. But I want to ask one other thing because people are raising the question: Come on, what's he done? It's his first year in office. But I'm reminded of a line years ago in Time magazine, which every year picks a Man of the Year, Woman of the Year, Person of the Year.

And Time magazine said in passing, in some sense no matter who we name, the president of the United States is actually the Man of the Year.

I wonder if this Nobel Prize simply underlines the dominant role that that job still plays in the world today, no matter how America's role changes on the world stage.

Dr. DALLEK: Yes, I think it's a very good point. But also what I would add to it is, remember, Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural said, Where there is no vision the people perish. And Obama is offering the world a vision of peace, hope for peace. And I think the Nobel committee is responding to that.

INSKEEP: Mr. Dallek, thanks very much.

Dr. DALLEK: Very good.

INSKEEP: Robert Dallek is a presidential historian. His next book is "The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope," which examines mistakes made by leadership around the world around the time of World War II and afterward.

And again, the news this morning is that President Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. We have that word from the Norwegian Nobel Committee this morning, and they cite his efforts for world peace. They cite his efforts for nuclear disarmament. And they cite his efforts to rekindle hope for people around the world and listen to what they describe as a majority of the world's people.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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