Debate Over Obama's Nobel Award Continues

Since last week's announcement that President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, reaction to the news has been mixed. While the Nobel Committee is praising the president for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy," critics continue to debate whether or not Obama really deserves the award.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

And now, the Opinion Page. Many Americans were surprised to wake up Friday morning to news that President Barack Obama will receive the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace, and not surprisingly, a great deal has been written and said about whether or not he deserves the award. Today, we'll excerpts from a range of views. We also want to hear from you. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we're going to hear first from previous winners of the prize. The award announcement was praised by two past laureates: Mohamed ElBaradei, the general - director general of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, and Shimon Peres, the president of Israel.

ElBaradei wrote that he could not think of anyone today more deserving of this honor. In less than a year in office, President Obama has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindles hope for a world at peace with itself. Shimon Peres said that, quote, "Very few leaders, if at all, were able to change the mood in such a short while with such a profound impact."

Irish peace campaigner and 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Mairead Corrigan Maguire said she was very disappointed. They say this is for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples, yet he continues a policy of militarism and occupation of Afghanistan instead of dialogue and negotiations with all parties to the conflict. The Nobel Committee has not met the conditions of Alfred Nobel's will, where he stipulates it is to be awarded to those who work for an end to militarism and war and for disarmament. Now, that's from 1976 Nobel recipient Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Again, we want to hear from you: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

And we'll start with Melissa, Melissa calling us from St. Louis.

MELISSA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Melissa.

MELISSA: Okay. Basically, my opinion is I can't believe this is even a subject of a show. He won an award. It's great. I mean, if people like it or not, I don't see why people would be against him winning this award, whether he deserves or not? He said he didn't necessarily deserve it. It could be a call to action. Great. Let's just move on. I don't even understand why people would think he shouldn't have gotten this award.

CONAN: Well, let me read - this is Jonah Goldberg, editor of the National Review Online, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, occasional guest on this program, too - told his friends the news that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, said he could not contain himself and started laughing.

Goldberg said the award says vastly, vastly, more about the Nobel Committee than it does about Obama. All Obama has done is offer words the Nobel Committee likes to hear and an image of America they like to see. So who, in his estimation, should have gotten the prize instead? Goldberg said, there are real peace activists and dissidents out there whose dungeons will stay just as cold and dark for another year because of this. Indeed, the news comes during a year when the Iranian people rose up against tyranny and were crushed. Surely someone in Iran, maybe the Iranian protestors in general, could have benefited more from receiving the prize than a president who, so far, has done virtually nothing concrete for world peace.

MELISSA: Am I supposed to respond to that?

CONAN: Oh, well, I don't know. But you said…

MELISSA: Well…

CONAN: …why are people objecting? And there are so many objecting.

MELISSA: Right. I mean, I understand. I mean, I do understand why so many people have so many reasons to object. I just feel like we could be happy for him. Why can't we just be happy for him? Maybe they'll win it next time. I mean, he won it. He's a person. He deserves it as much as much as a lot of people do deserve it. And they said they don't think he does.

CONAN: Melissa…

MELISSA: That's all.

CONAN: …thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

MELISSA: Okay. Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next - this is Peter, Peter with us from Roanoke in Virginia.

PETER (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Peter. Go ahead, please.

PETER: Hi. I just think that in order to really see this in perspective, we have to think about where this country was before anybody heard of Barack Obama. I mean, we are in the middle of an abysmal national mentality. Everybody was gloomy, and he led us into a new state of hope. And as a super power, the tone of the nation is very important towards world peace and how we, as a people, look at our role in the world. And I think he's done a lot since the very beginning of his public life to kind of move us all in that direction of new hope and that - it had a global effect.

CONAN: So effectively you're saying - I don't mean to put words in your mouth - but the presidential campaign and his election, that alone justified the prize.

PETER: Oh, and look at the response from the world, how it was almost a joyous, you know, response from the rest of the world and how that affected the whole perspective. And now we're ranking as a country in global perspective has been elevated tremendously and our rapport with other countries has improved. And I think, you know, the amount of sway that the United States has in the world, it has to be very important, the mentality and the level of hope.

CONAN: What would you like to hear from him in his speech when he goes to receive the prize in Oslo?

PETER: Well, I think that he should, as he has, accept the prize in the name of the American people and the new - hopefully, the new tenor in the global perspective on peace.

CONAN: I think I made a mistake. I think it's Stockholm you go to go to get the prize. So, anyway, Peter, thanks very much.

PETER: Oh, you're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Greg Beals, a political analyst writing for The Root, also applauded the Nobel Committee for its decision, but he wrote: Should he be humbled? He'd better be. Quote, "He's no Martin Luther King, Jr. He's no Nelson Mandela. But as we count up the reasons for pessimism, let us also take time to celebrate what has been achieved." That's the political analyst Greg Beals writing for The Root.

Let's go next to Steven, Steven with us from Wellington in Florida.

STEVEN (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking the call.

CONAN: Sure. Thanks for calling.

STEVEN: I sort of echo what the last caller just said. I think this is a prize to the American people for finally turning their back on a long history of racism and electing a very bright and very talented and very articulate black man. I think that it's a vote for the kind of policies that we did not have for the last 10 years of engagement with the outer world and someone who is very interested in Israel, but is willing to -the president is willing to push Israel as much as he's willing to push the Palestinians. I think this man has turned our country 180 degrees, and we all have won this prize, and I couldn't be prouder.

CONAN: Who would you like see him acknowledge - and I guess I was right the first time. It is Oslo and not Stockholm.

STEVEN: It is Oslo. My wife and I were in Oslo two summers ago and visited the Nobel Peace Museum, and he will fit in very well. I think he should acknowledge those people who probably earned it a little bit more than he did, Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter and others who have really brought the world closer to peace. I think in the nine months that he's been president, he hasn't brought us to a place that we are all a little bit safer in this world.

CONAN: Steven, thanks very much for the call.

STEVEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Earl(ph) in Sycamore, Illinois. I sent an email to President Obama agreeing with him that he does not deserve this prize. I understand that only two weeks into the Obama presidency, the Nobel Committee started looking at him as a Nobel Peace recipient. President Obama ran on the promise of change in Washington, D.C. and the world. So far, I'm afraid this has been all rhetoric, both on a national and international level.

I sent an email to the Nobel Committee telling them in so many words that by giving President Obama this award, the credibility of the Nobel Committee and the prize itself has been cheapened.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation magazine, says we should, quote, "Think of this year's peace prize as the strategic Nobel. Its strategy is to strengthen Obama's resolve to work for a nuclear weapons-free world, strengthen his campaign promises to engage Iran and North Korea, and provide momentum to find a nonmilitary path to ending the war in Afghanistan." Again, that from Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation magazine.

Let's go next to Anne(ph), Anne with us from Ada, Michigan.

ANNE (Caller): Yeah, hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ANNE: I just wanted to comment that I think it's pretty ridiculous that he won because there are so many people who have literally risked their lives for the cause of peace. And I feel like it was given to him on speculation instead of on things that he's actually done.

CONAN: Not on accomplishment. Who did you have in mind, in particular?

ANNE: Well, not necessarily as a nominee for the prize, but I have a very good friend who's a peace activist. She's Cambodian. And she literally does risk her life on pretty much a daily basis, and she has testified against the regime in Cambodia and Josse(ph) is very active in the cause for peace and justice.

CONAN: And…

ANNE: And is proving it every day in, you know, in Cambodia.

CONAN: And that's - can be a difficult task.

ANNE: Very difficult task, and a very dangerous.

CONAN: Okay. Anne, well, we shouldn't underestimate the danger President Obama's in, though. He's very carefully protected.

ANNE: Right. Right, right. Yeah. Yeah, he certainly wouldn't want to deal with all that, but I just feel like it was given to him on speculation of things people hope he can do. And I just, you know, the way - when he was nominated, it was, what, two weeks - he was in office for two weeks when the nominations were due. And I just feel like, you know, it would've been good if they have given it to somebody, maybe a Chinese dissident even, Chinese children. I mean…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

ANNE: …there are so many people who literally risk their lives.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Anne.

ANNE: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

This from Stephanie in Lakewood, Colorado. I was a huge supporter of Obama during the campaign, but I was shocked to see that he won the Nobel Peace prize. Two wars doesn't equal peace, nor do I feel that he's done enough to deserve the award. Maybe in a few years, if he lives up to what he promised during the campaign.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times wrote on his blog: I'm nonplussed. I admire his efforts toward Middle East peace, but the prize seems very premature. What has he done? Obama's work on the Middle East, mostly through Senator Mitchell's efforts, are sensible, but haven't produced any results yet. He goes on to say the president's efforts on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation are important, but they are purely an aspiration.

In other areas, Kristof writes, Obama has done little. He's been largely absent on Sudan, Congo, Burma and global poverty and health issues and does not have a USAID administrator. I think he has the right instincts on these issues and expect him to get engaged, Kristof says, but shouldn't the Nobel Peace Prize have a higher bar than high expectations, especially when there are so many people who have worked for years and years on the frontlines, often in difficult situations to make a difference to the most voiceless people in the world? Again, that columnist Nicholas Kristof on his blog for the New York Times.

A round up - range of opinions on the Nobel Peace Prize going to Barack Obama, president of the United States, on the Opinion Page.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see, Valerie's on the line, Valerie from Tallahassee.

VALERIE (Caller): Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well. Thank you.

VALERIE: Thank you. I just wanted to give my opinion. Basically, I think that regardless of what he's already done, he has won the award. But one thing that I think giving him the award has done, I guess, with the Nobel Committee in what their goals are for encouraging world peace, is that it's basically kind of going to be something that holds him accountable. Because of the fact that he has won this award, I think that he's really going to have to consider very, very deeply, any military action that he takes…

CONAN: Well, right…

VALERIE: …even more so than he would have before.

CONAN: He's in the process of deciding whether to meet General McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional soldiers for Afghanistan. Is that that kind of decision you're talking about?

VALERIE: Exactly. That is exactly what I'm thinking about. And when I consider the fact that this is what the Nobel Committee is lobbying and what they're really, you know, hoping for is world peace, when you consider the fact that he's - in his hand, he has the opportunity to make such a decision. And giving him that kind of award at this time, to me, it just seems incredibly strategic on their behalf.

CONAN: So they hope to push him in a certain direction.

VALERIE: I think that that definitely is an observation that should be…

(Soundbite of laughter)

VALERIE: …considered, yes.

CONAN: Valerie, thanks very much for the call.

VALERIE: Thank you. Bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Email from Karen in Rock Springs, Wyoming. I wish those criticizing President Obama's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize would go back and read the statement of the Nobel Committee. The critics are saying Obama has accomplished nothing yet, no jobs creation, no health care reform yet. But the Nobel Committee praised his efforts to bring the world together with a new attitude towards diplomacy, a new openness toward other nations, a backing away from unilateral decision making of the past. These efforts are real and recognized around the world, if not at home. Of course he deserves the Nobel Prize.

And let's go next to Nancy, Nancy with us from Fort Myers.

NANCY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Nancy.

NANCY: I wanted to say that he's done a lot for world peace. He did what he promised. He started bringing the troops home from Iraq. He travels around the world all the time to many nations trying to work for peace. He's already done that in spite of the other things that he has to get done. And he is setting the United States up as a model now for what a peaceful nation could be by bringing together blacks and whites and other races and other ethnic groups, basically, to work together to solve some of our domestic problems.

And we have to solve the domestic problems in order to solve the problems worldwide.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

NANCY: I think he's doing a great job. And I'm afraid that a lot of the people that are speaking now is - they lost the election. They're bitter about that. They don't have power now. The only thing they have the power to do is to call up and badmouth Obama and to say that he doesn't deserve the prize that he won I think is hateful and mean. And they have the right to say what they say and to feel what they feel, but that's just what I feel.

CONAN: All right, Nancy. Thanks very much.

NANCY: Okay.

CONAN: Let's go see if we get one more caller in. Let's go to Sam, Sam with us from Traverse City in Michigan.

SAM (Caller): Hey, there.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

SAM: Yeah. I was going to say, my personal opinion is that I feel good for Obama and whatnot. Of course, he hasn't accomplished a whole lot, but he is not the first recipient of the prize only there for having a plan. I'm thinking of specifically Oscar Arias…

CONAN: Yeah…

SAM: …the president of Costa Rica. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for having a plan for peace that, you know, didn't really come to fruition.

CONAN: And indeed, the one person ever to turn the prize down, Le Duc Tho of then North Vietnam, said he was - could not accept the prize for negotiating a ceasefire that he said was being violated.

SAM: Yeah. So my personal opinion is that, yes, it should be based on the merit of your accomplishments, but not the overarching philosophy (unintelligible).

CONAN: All right. We're losing you, Sam. But thanks very much for the call.

Here's a tweet from Lord Gursh(ph). Probably doesn't deserve it yet, but he also doesn't deserve to be criticized as if he was trying to get it. It's a win for the U.S.

And this last comment from Marc Ambinder, an associate editor at the Atlantic, who wrote: The prize can't hurt. He argues the prize gives him room on Afghanistan. By the end of the day, I'm sure Limbaugh and Hannity and the right chorus will have made fun of Obama for the win, cited it as proof of his European socialist tendencies, but there are many Americans who are going to feel offended that he's in the company of Teddy Roosevelt.

But are there many Americans going to feel offended that he's in the company of Teddy Roosevelt, who won for negotiating an end to the Sino-Russian conflict in 1905? Would any Americans feel embarrassed? Not really. Ambinder goes on to say he thinks the prize will give the president, quote, "more of a he-knows-what-he's-doing cred when it comes to Afghanistan."

At some level, Ambinder writes, I think it gives him the political space to sell whatever he comes up with. It gives him the space to say, tacitly: The world respects what I do. I can move mountains. Trust me.

That Marc Ambinder, senior editor of the Atlantic. We thank all of you who called and emailed and tweeted. We're sorry we couldn't get to all of your comments in this segment. This is the Opinion Page.

And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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