WASHINGTON – 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 honor 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 them 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.
Meanwhile, there is no hiding the contrast of war and peace.
The memory is only days’ old of Obama’s address at West Point, where he told cadets and the rest of the world that he was escalating the war in Afghanistan so he could stabilize it and then try to end it. Under his watch, the number of U.S. 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 percent of Americans did not believe he deserved it. People were split along partisan lines on whether they were happy for him.
This could be end up being a moment of true American pride, but restraint has defined the White House reaction.
Obama will be in and out of Oslo in about a day.
It’s no coincidence that Obama’s schedule ahead of his trip is packed with events to show he is grounded in economic reality: a jobs summit one day, a pep talk in Pennsylvania the next and a speech on his latest jobs-creation plan just one day before he leaves.
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.
Since then, the prize has receive scant mention by a White House intent on keeping the focus on its sprawling agenda.
But the Nobel committee says the award is, in fact, about Obama.
The reaction was so loud in so many ways – joyous, critical, bewildered – that panel members broke their usual silence to defend their unanimous selection.
“Alfred Nobel wrote that the prize should go to the person who has contributed most to the development of peace in the previous year,” said the committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland. “Who has done more for that than Barack Obama?”
In choosing Obama, the panel cited his work toward a world free of nuclear weapons; for a more engaged U.S. role in combating global warming; for his support of the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy; and for broadly capturing the attention of the world and giving its people “hope.”
Clearly, the award meant to promote those efforts as much to reward them. Obama was in office a mere 12 days when the nomination deadline hit for this year’s award hit. He had been in office for less than nine months when he was named a Nobel laureate.
With so many enormous, inherited problems remaining far from resolution – nuclear standoffs in Iran and North Korea, clashes in the Mideast, a binding world deal on climate change – many observers eager for tangible progress came away stunned.
Obama put it this way: “I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments.”
Since the tradition began in 1901, 90 Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded, sometimes shared among people and organizations.
Many have been distinguished peace leaders or groups not famously known. Some Nobel winners have ended conflicts, reshaped how people view the world and become revered for courage and change, such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.
These days, U.S. presidents are associated with honoring Nobel winners, not becoming them. It has been 90 years since a sitting U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson, won the honor in 1919. Theodore Roosevelt was the only other sitting U.S. president to get the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1906.
Yet former President Jimmy Carter in 2002, former Vice President Al Gore in 2007 and now Obama – all Democrats – have won the award this decade alone for their various efforts. When the committee said Obama won for creating a “new climate in international politics,” that was largely seen as a swipe by the Nobel committee at former President George W. Bush, a Republican.
Obama is expected to be accompanied in Oslo by some family and close friends.
On Thursday, when he accepts the award at the City Hall in Oslo, he will have his own chance to tell the world what it means to him.
In a time of war and recession.
AP News Researcher Julie Reed contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Nobel background: http://nobelprize.org/
By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 5, 5:28 pm ET
– Obama: ‘I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.’
Murray asserts that the primary motivation for US and British military involvement in central Asia has to do with large natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As evidence, he points to the plans to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan that would allow Western oil companies to avoid Russia and Iran when transporting natural gas out of the region.
Murray alleged that in the late 1990s the Uzbek ambassador to the US met with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to discuss a pipeline for the region, and out of that meeting came agreements that would see Texas-based Enron gain the rights to Uzbekistan’s natural gas deposits, while oil company Unocal worked on developing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline.
“The consultant who was organizing this for Unocal was a certain Mr. Karzai, who is now president of Afghanistan,” Murray noted.
“There are designs of this pipeline, and if you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, as against other NATO country forces in Afghanistan, you’ll see that undoubtedly the US forces are positioned to guard the pipeline route. It’s what it’s about. It’s about money, it’s about oil, it’s not about democracy.”
“I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan,” he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department’s head of personnel. “I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”
“I’m not much for this war. I’m not sure it’s worth all those lives lost,” said Sergeant Christian Richardson as we walked across corn fields that will soon be ploughed up to plant a spring crop of opium poppy.
Opium production rate has soared to 6,900 tons in Afghanistan in the past 10 years ‘despite‘ the presence of 100,000 foreign troops in the country for nearly eight years.
A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said on Wednesday that Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world’s opium that has devastating global consequences.
The UN report also noted that Afghanistan’s illegal opium production is worth 65 billion dollars.
The heroin and opium market feeds 15 million addicts, with Europe, Russia and Iran consuming half the supply, UNODC reported.
– Top US commander in Afghanistan: The Taliban have gained the upper hand:
The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency’s spiritual home. Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)