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.