Obama Wins The Nobel Peace Prize

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 9, 2009 10:56 am

The President has been recognized for the creation of a ‘new climate in international politics’ and his work on nuclear disarmament. What are your reactions?

MORE ABOUT: Nobel, Obama

Comments (52)

  1. It would have been more economical and made the same point if the Nobel committee had just given a “War Prize” to Bush.

  2. peter

    Now you apparently get a Noble for just not being as bad as the previous guy in charge.
    Talk about devaluation.

  3. Brad Hallisey

    I like Obama and support many of his initiatives but this makes me go “Huh?”

  4. Guy

    It’s premature.

    It is going to drive people like Beck and Limbaugh even nuttier so in that way it’s a good thing.

  5. Sorbet

    I like Obama as much as anyone else but this is absurd and extremely premature. You don’t give out prizes for intentions, visions and “effort”. Obama may have deserved a prize later but for now both Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, among many others, are more worthy recipients.

  6. John Kotcher

    Anyone else think this is an attempt to get Obama to attend COP15 in Copenhagen? The climate conference is Dec 7-18 and the Nobel awards ceremony is Dec 10 in Oslo. I *guess* he might as well stop in for the party in Copenhagen while he is in the neighborhood receiving an award for his achievements in international diplomacy…

    We already know from 2007 that climate change is super important to the Nobel committee.

  7. r00b

    One one side I’d say this is not fair for scientists and peace activists whom work/struggle for years (and get results) before getting the prize. On the other one I see this as message to the world that something is taking different shape and direction. I was surprised though.

  8. Tuatara

    I love it and hate it at the same time. Obama is truly an extraordinary individual and he has huge potential, not to mention a ton of accomplishments (Stimulus, environmental policy changes, Sonia Sotomayor, re-engaging the UN and the world, huge increases to science/innovation funding…) in a short time. Still, this is surreal.

    More generally, I have come to see the Nobel prizes as being more and more irrelevant. This is especially true for the science prizes, which no longer reflect the most important fields of inquiry. Science by it’s very nature changes over time and awards that inspire the next generation of scientists should try to keep up.

  9. @8 Tuatara

    Obama is truly an extraordinary individual and he has huge potential, not to mention a ton of accomplishments (Stimulus, environmental policy changes, Sonia Sotomayor, re-engaging the UN and the world, huge increases to science/innovation funding…) in a short time. Still, this is surreal.

    I agree.

  10. Linda

    The essence of his campaign was one of hope, change and peace. I still believe this, but he has not had a long enough time to really follow through… a bit premature.

  11. Eamon

    This Briton thinks it’s just too soon to award Prez. Obama the Peace Prize. Wait a few years and see would have been the best option.

  12. Anthony McCarthy

    I don’t belong to the body that voted to honor President Obama, I’m not going to second guess them. I think this is a huge sigh of relief after the past eight years of one of the worst administrations in the history of the country.

  13. Sorbet

    – This is especially true for the science prizes
    I think this is especially true for the economics, literature and peace prizes. I don’t see ubiquitination, the ribosome structure, telomerase or QED being fundamentally changed any time soon.

  14. Gadfly

    Peace is more often than not acheived by having a backbone. Something this president lacks. Reagan defeated communism. No one with half a brain can deny that. He ended the cold war. Millions of lives were bettered by the defeat of communism. He did not get the prize. Senior Bush saved Kuwait from Hussein by driving him back out after a brutal invasion. He did not get the prize. Clinton stood up to genocide in Bosnia and helped put a stop to it. He did not get the prize. Junior Bush defeated regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq that supported terrorism. I know you liberals love to hate him but he kept us safe for 8 years. (oh, by the way, did any of you intellectual types notice that when the Patriot Act came up for renewal more than 90% of Bush’s policies were retained? Including rolling wiretaps? Most of the “evil” things Obama raved about in the campaign he’s continuing to do. About the only thing he actually stopped was waterboarding — I guess Bush wasn’t so bad after all?)
    Now, let’s review. The nomination period for the prize ended on February 1. That’s 12 days after Obama was sworn in. In 12 days he did what? Signed an order to close Gitmo. Signed an order to fund overseas abortions. Had a Superbowl party.
    Gosh, what was I thinking? He certainly deserves the Nobel Prize.

  15. Walker

    The fact that he has preserved Bush’s pro-torture policies should alone disqualify him for this prize.

  16. Colin

    Obama took office on 1/20 and nominations were due by 2/3. That’s 14 days in office as president. His cabinet hadn’t even been filled yet.

    I don’t disagree with their reasoning laid out in the press release but it just seems…too soon.

  17. Sorbet

    -Reagan defeated communism
    No, he didn’t. He certainly played an important role but it was Gorbachev and the people of Eastern Europe who defeated communism. And Gorbachev did win the peace prize.

  18. Gadfly

    sorbet, you’re dreaming. You think Gorby would have done anything towards removing himself from power without the political and economic pressure exerted by Reagan?

  19. Sorbet

    Gadfly, who was it that brought large scale reforms in the Soviet Union? Who was it who advocated perestroika and glasnost? And there is historical consensus that Gorby would have done all of this even if someone else had been president. By the early 80s the system had become untenable and Gorby saw that. Plus the people of Eastern Europe through movements like Solidarity were making it very hard for the Soviets to exercise control. But as for the peace prize, I do agree that it would have been a good idea to award it to Ronny and Gorby both.

  20. Maybe the committee is trying to influence his further decisions. holding his feet to the fire, as it were.

    Some question What has Obama done for peace?

    I would ask What has Obama yet done for peace?

  21. Doug

    I was dumbfounded when I heard this. Obama joins people like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lech Walesa, etc, as a Nobel Laureate, and yet his list of accomplishments to this point equals… well, I’m not really sure. I think it’s far, far too early to view his accomplishments as worthy of global and lasting recognition. This feels roughly analogous to inducting an athlete into the hall of fame during their rookie season.

    All that being said, kudos to the global media for the amazing job they’ve done of Lionising, maybe even Canonizing, an individual who hasn’t done much of anything for the past year.

  22. magistramorous

    @ Benjamin S. Nelson: Yes, and the “war prize” could be a lump of coal! I hope this doesn’t harm Obama’s presidency.

  23. Gadfly Says: “I know you liberals love to hate him but he kept us safe for 8 years.”

    I think you are forgetting something that happened in the year 2001.

  24. Walker

    Brad Hallisey: I think you are forgetting something that happened in the year 2001.

    And the anthrax after that.

    The problem is that Republicans will lump you in with the truthers if you point out (correctly) that Bush’s gutting of Clinton’s counterterrorism team went a long way to making 9/11 possible (even though this was not Bush’s intention).

  25. Davo

    Clinton was also responsible for slacking off on Al Qaeda. I would recommend a very interesting book by former CIA official Michael Scheuer, “Marching Toward Hell”, that indicates this. Also, Bush may have kept the country safe for 7 years after 9/11 but with his actions he has stirred up enough resentment in the Islamic world to possibly make us less safe in the long run.

  26. I’ve already blogged my suspicions that this is all politically motivated. People want the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the best global version of peer pressure.

  27. Tuatara

    And Clinton was distracted from Al Qeada by that impeachment jazz…which begs the question as to what Obama is being distracted from dealing with by all the “I hope [America] will fail” Glenn Beck/Town Hall style tirades.

  28. Anything that causes rightwing wingnuts to burst an artery or two can’t be all bad!… clearly the Nobel Committee was sending a message, and hopefully over the next 7 years he’ll earn it.

  29. Mag, only in America could winning a Nobel prize be dreamt of as a negative. So it goes.

    I’m with cyberthrush on this one. Make ’em squirm.

    I also agree with Gadfly’s first sentence of his first post, which latches onto an insight that is easy to overlook. Quite obviously whatever sensitivity you need in order to do morals and science, you have to add to with balls and ambition. Otherwise it’s playing hockey with a team full of goalies. I’m not sure what Obama has done, except expose the racism of the most immoral and ignorant ranks of Republicans. If he keeps doing that, then he can have as many prizes he can carry.

  30. John Kwok

    I think far more deserving candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize this year were Nicholas Sarkozy or Angela Merkel. I concur completely with Sorbet’s observation (@ 5) that “this is absurd and extremely premature. You don’t give out prizes for intentions, visions and ‘effort’. Obama may have deserved a prize later but for now both Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, among many others, are more worthy recipients.”

    Well said, Sorbet. Well said.

  31. Scott

    I think it was a poor decision. He has not accomplished anything yet and there is no guarantee he will and indeed every chance that nothing he attempts will have a lasting contribution to world peace. I always thought awards were supposed to be given for actual accomplishments, not wishful thinking.

  32. It seems premature but I approve purely on the grounds that it will drive the Far Right neocons nuts.

  33. Sorbet

    Thanks John. I agree that even Merkel or Sarkozy were more deserving right now.

  34. @J0hn Kwok: I think French people would be much more flabbergasted if Sarkozy won the Nobel Peace Prize than Americans are with Obama.

    To all who says that this Nobel prize is premature: you are missing the point because contrary to science Nobel prizes, the Peace Prize does rarely go for past realizations (from decades ago). It goes to hopes, good intentions, glimmer of changes…

    Yes, as we all know, frequently, hopes are dashed in the years to follow, but that’s not the point here.

  35. ponderingfool

    It goes to hopes, good intentions, glimmer of changes…
    Yes, as we all know, frequently, hopes are dashed in the years to follow, but that’s not the point here.
    All true. Wish people were focussing on the fact President Obama is leading the US armed forces who are wagging war. It is a very strange juxtaposition especially while he is considering sending even more troops into combat. President Obama was far from being an anti-war candidate. Many in the anti-war camp did support him but I know many who have been active in organizing demonstrations over the last few years and they can’t believe the Peace Prize went to President Obama. They are going to use this to try and rally more in opposition to Obama’s policies.

  36. John Kwok

    @ Pascal –

    I’ve never taken the Nobel Peace Prize seriously ever since Henry Kissinger and his North Vietnamese counterpart received theirs for “ending” the Vietnam War. And if you think that is absurd, then how about Arafat getting it too? As for your fellow French citoyens, I am sure they would have been delighted if Sarkozy won.

  37. Erasmussimo

    Scanning through the comments, it is apparent to me that many people do not appreciate how geopolitics works. You don’t measure progress in geopolitics by the number of treaties signed or the number of nuclear warheads disabled. You spend years and years laying the groundwork; the actual treaty signatures come only at the last moment. What people have difficulty realizing is that Mr. Bush poisoned the geopolitical scene, destroying vast amounts of goodwill. Before Mr. Obama was sworn in, my guess was that it would take at least a decade of careful diplomatic work to get the USA back to the position it was in around October 2001 — and that was assuming that everything was done right. I feared that, had we gotten an inept President in the White House, it might take twenty years to repair all the diplomatic damage — and perhaps it would never happen. I am astounded by how successful Mr. Obama has been in turning around a diplomatic situation that looked hopeless just 12 months ago. It’s not just the speeches — Mr. Obama has taken a great many small steps in restoring international confidence in the USA. He has installed a better class of ambassadors, and in Hillary Clinton he has set up a powerful and really effective Secretary of State. His initiatives regarding nuclear weapons have brilliantly thought out.

    I am immensely impressed with the progress that this guy has made in just nine months. The effects are not yet visible in screaming headlines, but they’re coming. Mr. Obama “gets” geopolitics, and for the first time in a long time, we’re seeing the USA handling geopolitics better than China is. That’s saying quite a lot.

  38. gmdbqvgdggr

    Why can’t we at least get to a place where people can say they don’t want a black guy running the country? He’s Muslim! He’s foreign!
    He’s an abortionist! and on and on.

    Our country is being flushed down the toilet as congress neuters every bill because of this anti Obama resentment. The town hall fiasco screwed our chance for health care reform because big Pharma was able to manipulate the masses so easily. News coverage shifted from issues to the extremists.

    You’d think by all the clamor that Obama lobbied for the Nobel. At least Mandella and Tuttu were blacks that preceeded him there..

  39. John Kwok

    At least Mandela (and Tutu, if he won too) deserved his award for forging a peaceful transition from an apartheid regime to a multiracial democratic state. What has Obama accomplished? Zilch. Zero. Nothing.

  40. Erasmussimo

    John Kwok, the fact that you are unable to perceive Mr. Obama’s achievements does not mean that Mr. Obama has none. Geopolitics is not like a videogame in which one has a score prominently displayed on the screen. Geopolitics is not a football with cheerleaders, marching bands, and touchdowns. Effective geopolitics almost never takes place in front of the cameras. By the time geopolitical progress is obvious to the mainstream media, all the hard work has long since been completed. The truly big achievements in geopolitics are never palpable; they manifest themselves as a change in the tone of international dialog, a shift in style that encourages a more constructive discussion among nations.

    Here’s an example of what I mean: do you realize how much China has been whupping our behinds over the last five to ten years? They have been quietly moving forward on every front, laying the groundwork for China’s emergence as a superpower. Their next big move, which will probably come in about five years, will be the replacement of the US dollar as the international currency of account with a basket of currencies including the yuan. This will cost the USA about 1% in annual GDP growth. Sometime in the next ten years they’ll formally annex the Spratleys or one of the other disputed islets — not for any real strategic gain, but to demonstrate to the rest of the world that “China has arrived”. They’re building a blue ocean navy. They’re setting up economic ties with countries all over the world.

    Back in the 1970s, Henry Kissinger was conversing with Chou En-lai about history. They fell to discussing the French Revolution. Kissinger asked Chou what he thought of the long-term geopolitical consequences of the French Revolution. Chou thought for a moment and then said, “It’s too early to tell.”

    Americans who think that plane crashes and sex scandals are news will never see it coming until it’s way too late.

  41. John Kwok

    @ Erasmussimo –

    If it wasn’t for Mao Zedong, I wouldn’t be replying to you now. My grandfather was an entertainer with the rank of colonel in the Republic of China army, fleeing to Hong Kong along with my dad when the Communists took over (And my dad spent most of his youth enduring a harsh, often brutal, Japanese occupation of Northern China. If you thought the muddy lanes of Limerick depicted by my high school teacher Frank McCourt in his bestselling memoir “Angela’s Ashes” were terrible, then you have no idea what my father had to contend with growing up. And not only him, but I have an uncle – who would marry one of my mom’s sisters – who survived the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam in hiding.).

    I’ve been trying to read as much as I can with regards to ongoing and potential future mischief from the People’s Republic of China. By merely mentioning it here, you are merely reinforcing my point that Obama is clearly out of his league. With any luck, either Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney will replace Obama as the occupant of the Oval Office on January 20, 2013.

    Appreciatively yours,


  42. Erasmussimo

    On what possible basis do you claim that Mr. Obama is out of his league? I challenge you to cite his foreign policy decisions that you think are mistakes — and specify what he should have done instead. I doubt that you can come up with anything significant. All his major decisions have been spot-on, as have many of his minor decisions.

  43. John Kwok


    Have heard more bellicose statements from French President Sarkozy about Iran than I have heard from the latest USA president to win the Nobel Peace Prize while in office (At least Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were worthy recipients.), and not just bellicose statements for the heck of it, but to emphasize the dire threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. Obsma is still interested in “talk”, but Sarkozy has warned that the time for talk has passed.

    And yes, Obama is out of his league with regards to foreign policy experience, unlike his French counterpart who seems to have a very good sense as to what the most important threats to the Western Democracies are (Sarkozy has visited the USA in the past frequently. I know from a cousin that he is on the board of directors of a NYC-based foundation created to honor the memory of one of the 9/11 victims, apparently a French national who was working at the World Trade Center.).

    Find it fascinating that you’re more fixated on my negative appraisal of Obama than my observation that I too am aware of the potential problems which we may have with an expansionist People’s Republic of China.

  44. Erasmussimo

    I challenged you to provide an example of a foreign policy mistake on Mr. Obama’s part and you responded by referring to his lack of bellicose statements regarding Iran. I therefore conclude that you believe that Mr. Obama should not have made a peaceful overture to Iran and should have made more bellicose statements. That is very poor geopolitical judgement. Bellicose statements will not alter Iranian policy. Mr. Bush has provided plenty of bellicose statements and accomplished nothing whatsoever with Iran. Indeed, bellicose statements serve only to provide a very good reason for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. If somebody is threatening you, it would be useful to have some nukes to rattle.

    In just the last month, we have seen the biggest advance in the conflict over Iranian nuclear efforts. The Iranians have agreed to accept Russian nuclear fuel. This is a step that we have been pursuing for more than ten years. Mr. Clinton failed to accomplish it. Mr. Bush failed to accomplish it. Mr. Obama succeeded. There is still a great deal more work to be done, but this is solid progress.

    And you call it a mistake.

  45. John Kwok

    @ Eramussimo –

    Mere window dressing IMHO. When the UN inspectors are there day and night to look over all of Iran’s nuclear program, then that would constitute as major progress. This doesn’t.

  46. Erasmussimo

    I don’t think you understand the significance of the Iranian agreement to accept Russian fuel. If they honor their agreement, then they have no need for fuel enrichment facilities of their own. This forces them to either 1) shut down their centrifuges; or 2) admit that they’re building a bomb. That’s why it’s a big step forward. If they accept Russian fuel for their reactors and retain a single centrifuge, that’s proof that they’re building a bomb.

  47. John Kwok

    Erasmussimo –

    I think the Iranian fascist mullahcracy regards the treaty as a mere scrap of paper to be violated at will. Moreover, I believe both Medvedev and Putin would rather look the other way, in much the same fashion that Stalin found it inconceivable that his “buddy” Adolf would order the Nazi Wehrmacht to implement “Operation Barbarossa” in June, 1941.

  48. Erasmussimo

    John, there was no treaty; the Iranian government simply agreed in principle to accept Russian nuclear fuel in lieu of making its own fuel. If they choose to violate that agreement, that will become obvious instantly. What all this means is that it will become obvious to everybody if Iran reverses course and resumes enriching uranium.

    There are plenty of countries with nuclear reactors that obtain their fuel supplies elsewhere. The nuclear fuel cycle is easy to track; when countries follow this path, there are plenty of safeguards.

  49. Erasmussimo

    Here’s an example of the slow, steady progress that most Americans pay little heed to:


    Sure, there are no explosions, no mangled bodies, nothing dramatic at all, but it’s still news — and news that really counts. Russia has been dragging its feet regarding pressuring Iran to eliminate its nuclear program. The Russian policy is based on sound calculations of geopolitical advantage. However, the transformation in America’s geopolitical strategy has altered the nature of the Russian calculations of self-interest, and the Russian government is now altering its own policy in response to the American shift in policy. The announcement in the above story doesn’t constitute anything definitive — no treaties or grand promises. But it’s another positive step that will likely lead to something solid. And when that happens, Americans will blink and say, “Gosh, that sure was a good thing” without ever appreciating all the work that went into making it happen.

  50. John Kwok


    I don’t share your optimism. A classic example of why my doubts with regards to the Iranian theocratic fascist dictatorship’s honesty is the recent announcement by them of its nuclear fuel processing plant near the Shi’a holy city of Qom. That should lead not only me, but others to wonder as to what else the Iranians are hiding.

  51. Erasmussimo

    Of course they’re dishonest! We expect that. And BTW, they announced the plant only after we revealed it to the world. The Russians were particularly peeved when they learned about it from us, because they had believed the Iranians and now they realize that the Iranians are lying to them, too. That was one factor in the shift in Russian strategy over the last week.

    So the strategy is to come up with arrangements that work even if the Iranians are lying through their teeth. This fuel supply scheme does that.

  52. John Kwok

    @ Erasmussimo –

    Which is exactly why you, me, and everyone else should be supporting Iranian dissents who want a truly free and democratic Iran. Only a democratic Iran will abide willingly and honestly with requests for inspections of its nuclear facilities from the UN IAEA and other international organizations and governments.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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