October 9, 2009 / 8:00 PM / 10 years ago

Q+A: Is it the Nobel "Peace" or "Political" prize?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday to President Barack Obama, the third prominent U.S. Democrat to win recently, only seemed to reinforce an impression the prize can be as much about politics as about peace.

Some observers interpreted the Nobel less than nine months into Obama’s presidency, before he had had time to pursue much peace policy, as a last dagger from Europe tossed at Obama’s Republican predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who was unpopular there.

Here are some questions and answers about the prize and U.S. politics.

WHICH DEMOCRATS HAVE WON THE PRIZE RECENTLY?

Former President Jimmy Carter won in 2002 for “his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

In 2007, former Democratic Vice President Al Gore shared the award with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for highlighting the risks of global warming. In 2000, he lost one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history to Bush.

IS THERE A POLITICAL MESSAGE TO THE AWARD?

Obama has been widely credited with improving America’s global image after the eight-year presidency of Bush, who alienated friends and foes with policies that often aroused international ire like the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The Peace Prize committee’s announcement seemed to draw a contrast. “Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics,” it said. “Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”

HOW DO POLITICIANS USE THE AWARD?

Democrats trumpeted the Nobel as a vindication of their party’s positions.

“It validates the president’s approach to tough trans-national challenges such as global warming and the spread of nuclear arms,” said Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “And it celebrates his steady efforts to improve America’s standing around the world.”

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, used the award to underscore the party’s contention that Obama lacks substance and trades on his charisma.

“It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working toward peace and human rights,” Steele said in a statement.

DO REPUBLICANS EVER WIN THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE?

Recent winners have been Democrats, but several of the first U.S. peace prize laureates were Republican politicians, including President Theodore Roosevelt, who won the 1906 prize while in office for his role in ending the bloody 1905 war between Japan and Russia.

Elihu Root, the 1912 winner, was a former Republican secretary of state, as was the 1929 winner, Frank Billings Kellogg. A former Republican vice president, Charles Gates Dawes, shared the prize in 1925.

WILL THE PRIZE HELP OBAMA POLITICALLY?

It might or might not.

Even Obama’s supporters were surprised he had won the prize so early in his presidency.

Some observers said it gave him added credibility on the world stage, but others said it would give him even more to live up to, as he wrestles with a range of problems including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a sputtering economy and rising unemployment, climate change and his effort to reform the U.S. healthcare system.

“The prize signals that America is definitively back in the world’s good graces and the president deserves full credit for that,” said Martin Indyk, vice president and director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

“Now comes the hard part: turning goodwill into concrete results that can heal the wounds of a very troubled world. If Obama can do that, he’ll deserve another Nobel.”

Editing by Peter Cooney

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