A Little Soon for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Maybe it was because I saw the headline early this morning not on the N.Y. Times‘s website or the Wall Street Journal‘s, but rather on Google News. I instantly assumed that the Onion had successfully landed a story on the home page of that fine aggregator. “Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize,” the headline said. I chuckled, silently congratulated the Onion on its clever idea, and clicked the link.

But it wasn’t the Onion at all. He actually won it.

It took Jimmy Carter more than 20 years after leaving the presidency to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Al Gore, who shared the Prize two years ago with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had spent years banging the drum on global warming and other environmental dilemmas. True, there have been some — ahem — premature Prizes in the recent past, as when Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin shared the award in 1994 for bringing the Oslo Accords home to Israel. But Obama has been given the award after just a few months as president. Yes, he has loudly declared his intentions to tamp down any number of global standoffs and conflicts, but is a declaration of intentions sufficient to win such a prize?

This is an interesting question for those who study signaling theory. (Aside: see the new book Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate for a fascinating discussion of signaling among gangsters.) First, Obama has strongly signaled his plans for the future to many other world leaders. Second, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has signaled its belief in Obama’s follow-through skills. If he were a stock future, he would have quadrupled in price, split a few times, and quadrupled again, all overnight. If he were a horse, his odds would have been extraordinarily steep. See this article for a look at the predicted Peace Prize favorites; Obama’s name does not appear at all. The favorites were Seema Samar, Piedad Cordoba, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, Hu Jia, and Morgan Tsvangirai.

Congratulations to Barack Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It appears he is the first sitting president to do so since Woodrow Wilson, in 1919. And it’s a pretty swell booby prize for losing out on the Olympics.


Will paddypower tell the world if anyone made big bets on Obama? And out of curiosity.. who took the other side of that bet?

Insider trading on the Nobel.. good times.

Wilbur Post

Gee, Barry and Jimmy just have more and more in common as the days pass, huh?

As I said prior to the 2008 election: If you liked Jimmy Carter, you will LOVE Barack Obama.

science minded

The point is--before it's too late.


Nominations at to be in By Feb 1st. This means that Obama was in office no more than 9 days when he was nominated for the prize.

The is obviously purely a shot at the former president. The Nobel prize just lost a great deal of the credibility it had created over the past 100 years or so.


I voted for Obama, and even I find this shocking and idiotic. The Noble Peace Prize should be used to make a political statement ("Take that, Bush! We gave the Peace Prize to Obama...who's different than you!)

And who nominated him before the Feb. 1 deadline anyway?


I think it is mostly for things he has done so far in his life... not as president.

And, worst case, if it is simply for his promises... well, that's a heck of a commitment device, right?


Just FYI, the deadline for Nobel Peace Prize nominations was February 1st.

So the prize is based on Obama's first 12 days in office.

Bizarre is the only word to describe it.

Ken Arromdee

A baseball umpire is not supposed to declare that a move to first base is a home run, and justify it because he's sending a signal that he's confident the guy will get to home plate in the future. It's not what we all understand his job to be. Dwelling on the signalling theory is really dwelling on the least significant part.

Fred Jones

Seems more likely that his Nobel Prize was actually a "Prize" for a category for which currently does not exist, as opposed to a Peace Prize. I will leave figuring out the actual category as an exercise for the reader.


Like Barry Bonds' homerun achievement, this particular recognition of Obama will always have an asterisk beside it. For it was won, NOT FOR ACHIEVEMENT, BUT FOR POTENTIAL.

I have yet to see a horse be awarded the Triple Crown based soley on potential. No, the races had to be run and won! And what Obama has or will accomplish has yet to be seen.

If we are going to award this prize based on potential, well, I'd have to guess that it ought to be awarded only to children, since they have the most potential of anyone.

The Nobel Committee has made themselves the laughing stock of reasonable men everywhere. They have demonstrated that the Nobel Peace Prize--never before won on mere promise or potential--is really just a political prize for NOT being George Bush.

I think most of us--even us conservative Republicans (maybe ESPECIALLY us conservative Republicans)--are glad that George Bush is now retired. Yes, we wanted change. But when we stoop to an almost "worshipful" demeanor toward Obama just because we really, really like him, we have lost what made the Nobel Peace Prize truly meaningful. It has become an award for "Thinking Along the Same Lines We Do--and Not Being George Bush."

Most people seem to agree that Ronald Reagan played a big part in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Where is his Peace Prize? Oh, well, I guess he'll have to be content for actually DOING SOMETHING, rather than just talking about it.

I wish Obama well, but this feels utterly obsequious!


David Barclay

Bad news for Obama and the Democrats. Americans like their war-machine; its part of the collective ego. Its also one of the few industries that hasn't been totally out-sourced.


The continuing degradation of a formerly meaningful honor has reached an astonishing new low. From the highest honor given in the world, to "Norway's favorite leftist politician".

Arafat in '94 was bad enough, but at least I could understand the reasoning.

But Carter in 2002, Gore in 2007... Sigh.

At least we have this to look forward to: Whenever the Nobel committee attempts to influence American politics, it's usually the end of the political career for the favored party.


The bar for nominations is very low. So the fact that he was only in office for a few days is not really applicable.
The more interesting question is whether his track record as Barack Obama (no as president) warrants this. That I'm not sure.

However, mostly for strategic reasons, I think he should decline. I'd be interested in hearing intelligent comments on that here: http://bit.ly/eljyy.

Very interesting debate this has spurred.


It strikes me that perhaps the Nobel prize isn't what it used to be. Rather than awarding accomplishment, several of the prizes this year seem to be awarding expected accomplishments.

This seems to be the case not only with Obama, but also with the prize for economics, which went to an unpublished, first-year grad student. Apparently he had one heck of an application essay.

Christopher K.

I also did a double take, initially. But after thinking about it, their decision makes much more sense to me. I find the incredulous reaction towards the decision equally fascinating: in this country we're so primed to frame things with the metaphor of competitive sports. It's almost difficult for many of us not to see the peace prize as the "Gold Medal" for Peace --your mention of the Olympics was very apropos to my point-- which goes to the one person or organization who created the most peace in the last however-many years. But surely that's not how the Nobel committee sees it; their goal is to promote peace, not provide a glorified pension fund for elder statesmen. They actively and unapologetically use the prize to help the cause of people who are in a position to promote peace now and in the future. This makes the most sense, freakenomically: put the prize capital where it has the chance to do the most good. I can find no fault with that. Of course it does mean that some of the prizes turn out to be duds, in hindsight, when the investment fails to pay off.



"I think it is mostly for things he has done so far in his life… not as president."

Barack Obama: bringing peace to the Illinois State Legislature.

science minded

Curiously- I have a student now. She is raising a child on her own (no husband) and wants to go to grad school and perhaps the whole nine yards. She owes me a paper. I told her what I told myself- get the work done and you will get the grade that you deserve. I must take my own advice. Move on!


Reminds me of Homer's award for outstanding performance in the pursuit of excellence. Love Obama or not.....this was a cosmic joke.

Imad Qureshi

I really like Obama and support him most of the time but this is too early.


I wonder if he will give the Blame to President Bush administration LOL