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Historian: Obama Peace Prize More an ‘Aspirational’ Award

BY Larisa Epatko  October 9, 2009 at 4:30 PM EST

President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Photo: Wikipedia commons

President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize Friday — a surprising nod considering it came during the first year of his term. Historian Peniel Joseph describes it as more of an “aspirational award” than a reward for a foreign policy feat.

“The Obama administration in the last eight months has really reversed course and at least given an image of robust coalition-building in all aspects of foreign policy,” said Peniel, a history professor at Tufts University.

Some examples include the overtures President Obama has made toward the Middle East and Africa, and choosing to talk to Iran rather than responding in kind to the regime’s bellicose rhetoric, Peniel said.

Two past sitting presidents have won the peace prize: Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for helping negotiate a treaty between Japan and Russia, and Woodrow Wilson in 1919 for establishing the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations. And former President Jimmy Carter won the prize in 2002, 21 years after he left office.

During the time of earlier presidential recipients, the award didn’t have quite the cache that it has now — not to mention the $1.4 million cash reward — or the means of reverberating through society in a 24-hour news cycle, Peniel noted.