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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.