Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The committee voted for Obama just twelve days after he took office, so their decision was not influenced by the work he has done since becoming president. It was made because of such things as his stance on international cooperation, promoting democracy abroad, closing Guantanamo Bay, commitment to addressing both the Israeli and Palestinian concerns, increased global discussion on climate change, de-escalating the Iraq war, the looming threat of Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s ever-defiant behavior, and numerous promises to making America respected in the world community.
The Nobel Peace Prize is not simply a blue ribbon to show that you came in first place at the fair. It’s not a gold medal to show you were the strongest or the fastest. And it’s not a certificate that shows you’ve completed a course in Peaceology. Think of it more as a scholarship. Aside from the financial benefit, scholarships are a declaration that the individual has the support of other people. More importantly, it’s a form of social contract that says the individual now has a responsibility to use the privilege appropriately.
It’s mostly symbolic, like the olive branch, but it’s important. Winning this award does not declare that the winner has saved humanity from its woes; it says that the winner has committed to attempting to save humanity from its woes. In Obama’s case, it is the Nobel Committee’s way of saying, “Dear America, we realize you allowed yourselves to be hijacked by fundamentalism and fear for the past few years, and we appreciate you taking the steps to correct it. Now do something about it!”