Is this why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize?

September 11, 2013

In December 2009 the world was treated to the unexpected news that President Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Among those most surprised was Obama himself. Not many sitting American presidents have won the award. In fact, Obama was only the third.

Now, as Obama stumbles his way through a proposed military strike on the Syrian government, it seems the president has not paid nearly enough attention to the history of world leaders who have won this international honor. The list of Peace Prize winners impresses: Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross; American social reformer Jane Addams; George Marshall, the architect of peaceful post-World War Two Europe; Martin Luther King Jr.; Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nelson Mandela.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to win a Nobel Peace Prize. The 26th president earned it the old fashioned way — with effort. Roosevelt’s journey to winning the 1906 prize began with his decision to put some teeth into the Court of Arbitration at The Hague, so that it would begin to serve its purpose of peacefully settling international disputes. The United States and Mexico submitted a dispute to the Court of Arbitration as an example to the world.

As other nations began to go seek resolution at the court, Roosevelt used this as an opportunity to call nations together to expand the ideals upon which it was founded. Russia, however, refused to participate — it was in the middle of a rather hot war with Japan.

Roosevelt wanted both nations to take part in strengthening the court, so he decided to do what many thought he could not: End the Russo-Japanese war himself. Roosevelt invited officials from both nations to the U.S. and served as mediator for peace talks. Within weeks, he negotiated a treaty that ended the war.

That is why he was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize.

Roosevelt was himself a noted military officer — he had gained national fame leading the Rough Riders in the Battle of San Juan Hill, the key battle of the Spanish-American War. He had been through combat, and used his time as president to help avoid armed conflict. And he did it with the type of leadership — American leadership — that would define the following century.

More than a century after Roosevelt accepted his peace prize, Obama accepted his. It was the beginning of his presidential term, but the Nobel committee had determined the new president demonstrated “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Was that sentiment premature? After what we have seen these past few weeks in relation to Syria, some have concluded it was. It is hard to argue against this.

The president said Tuesday in his address to the nation that the Syrians left him with no choice but to prepare to launch this military strike because he had exhausted all other diplomatic options. But was that really the case when Syria’s government leapt at the opportunity to avoid internationalizing its civil war after Russia — the center of what President Ronald Reagan rightly called the “Evil Empire” — submitted a simple, logical compromise to avoid a U.S. strike?

Did Obama allow a Russian regime, not known as an international peacemaker or peacekeeper, to pick up the mantle of Rooseveltian mediation? Did he allow Russian President Vladimir Putin the opportunity to become the savior who avoided international military conflict?

Some say “yes” — and that it was far from a highlight of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday showed 64 percent of Americans oppose a strike — even one the Obama administration designated as “limited.” One article citing that poll called the administration’s message on Syria “muddled.” That was a euphemistic way of describing how this proposed action in the Middle East had been presented to the American people.

We have been witness to a shocking lack of leadership as we found ourselves at the doorstep of military action. That is never the way an American president should lead the nation to the brink of war.

Obama won the presidency partly by campaigning against his predecessor for doing the exact same thing — essentially promising the nation a “splendid little war,” which instead seemed bound to either fail or turn into a decade-long slog.

Obama distinguished himself from Hillary Clinton, his chief rival for the Democratic nomination in 2008, using the same rationale. This was high among my reasons for endorsing him early and vigorously campaigning for him across the nation.

For Obama, past was becoming prologue before another nation — an incongruous peacemaking nation — stepped in to do what our president found himself incapable of doing.

That is not the American way known since the days of TR.

I have followed my country’s standard into battle, and on occasion have had others follow my lead. War should never be taken lightly. Generals don’t fight wars; they plan them for others to fight. Politicians neither plan nor fight, they merely authorize the tax dollars used for attack. The people fight the wars — the great common American man and woman who have shed so much blood protecting this globe for so long.

No one in Washington should forget that — least of all, this president.


PHOTO (Top): President Barack Obama addresses the nation about the situation in Syria from the East Room at the White House in Washington, September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/POOL

PHOTO (Insert 1):  Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt as Rough Rider in upper hall at Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt House. Courtesy of LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

PHOTO (Insert 2): Cadet shaking hands with President Theodore Roosevelt after receiving his diploma, 1902. Courtesy of LIBRARY OF CONGRESS



We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Even Obama’s biggest supporters know he got the Peace prize just for NOT being George Bush Junior. At the time, we all thought it a shame that the Nobel committee seemed to be downgrading the prize in this way.

Having said that, I don’t think it’s a sign of leadership to use the patriotic hard sell just to get the public to rally around a drape of fabric and yearn to bomb other humans out of existence to prove our country is great. I can see Obama has been trying to explain the difficulties of the situation and the pros & cons of action. And I can see that he’s intellectually gifted enough to look for alternatives to killing more innocents. I much prefer this to a simple-minded ‘Gung-ho, let’s kill ’em Joe’ his predecessor was.

Posted by euro-yank | Report as abusive

So much for Obama thinking he couldn’t ‘lose’ by kicking the Syria decision to Congress.. Russia outsmarted him again. and Congress handed it right back to him.. London Telegraph called it true..
The Prez has lost significant political capital on this debacle and it doesn’t bode well for the next act of his 3 ring circus – GFY 14 Budgets & Fed debt ceiling negotiation.. Can’t wait to see the ‘ultimatum’ he issues to Congress this time.. wonder if there will be a ‘red line’ involved?..
WSJ was right on target today with the Laurel and Hardy comparison. 2016 can’t come soon enough..

Posted by willich6 | Report as abusive

Disappointing though Obama has been, we have at least been able to say up to this point that at least he isn’t GWB. We can no longer say this. There is no clearer sign of the decline of America than the sorry state of its so-called leadership. The media and the screen-addled public deserve much of the blame.

Posted by Sanity-Monger | Report as abusive

Obama won the Nobel peace prize for not being George W. Bush, and he still isn’t George W. Bush so everything is in order.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

A comment was made “I can see that he’s intellectually gifted”. I disagree, Just because someone can read a prompter and has “gifted” writers does not make him intellectually gifted at all. In fact it’s the opposite because Obama has proven himself to be completely inept as a leader in many ways.

Posted by seanyboy | Report as abusive