In a major surprise, even to the White House, President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today, making him the third sitting U.S. president to win the prestigious award.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who woke the president to tell him the news, said Obama was humbled.
The deadline for nominations is February 1, meaning Obama would’ve been nominated after being in office for just 11 days.
Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, told “Good Morning America” the decision was unanimous.
“President Obama has changed very dramatically international politics,” Lundestad told “GMA’s” Diane Sawyer today. “We feel he has emphasized multilateral diplomacy, he has addressed international institutions, dialogue negotiations. He has inspired the world with his vision of a world without nuclear arms. He has changed the U.S. policy dramatically. There’s a whole list.”
Two key White House aides were both convinced they were being punked when they heard the news, reported ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
“It’s not April 1, is it?” one said.
Upon being called by ABC News at 5:45 ET this morning, a White House aide said, “This better be good.”
When told by ABC News that the president had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the aide replied: “Oh, that is good.”
The award comes as the president deals with a vast array of international challenges, from deciding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, to how to deal with nuclear-ambitious Iran and North Korea.
Critics are sure to argue that Obama’s accomplishments have yet to rival those of previous winners.
Lundestad admitted that the committee knew the world would be surprised by the decision and is aware that the president faces many major decisions ahead in Afghanistan, but added that the committee has made its choice and Obama has “nothing to fear.”
“We knew the world would be positive, surprised and some would be stunned,” Lundestad said. “We have discussed the situation in Afghanistan. We understand the foreign policy of the United States has to be a very complex one with many different considerations. But we point particularly to the overall approach.”
The Nobel Peace Prize committee, in announcing its decision, lauded the president for his work on climate change and international diplomacy.
“Only very rarely has a person, to the same extent as Obama, captured the world’s attention and given his people hope for a better future,” the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, said in a statement.
“His diplomacy is founded in the concept of those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitude that are shared by the majority of the world’s population. For 108 years the Nobel Committee has sought precisely the international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The committee endorses Obama’s appeal that now is the time for all of us to take a share of responsibility for a global response for global challenges,” the statement said.
Obama will make a statement in the Rose Garden this morning, reacting to the Nobel Peace Prize award.
When the announcement was made, even those in the room gasped in surprise.
Jagland found himself on the defensive, however, amid some criticism that Obama’s work has yet to rival those of others who have won the award, considered an Olympic gold of international presidency.
“If you look at the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, we have on many occasions tried to enhance the stature of the winner,” he said.
The decision is sure to cause a ripple not just in the United States but around the world. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the reaction to the news was less than positive, with some people even calling on the president to decline the award.
In Washington, D.C., one local conservative host suggested it’s either April Fool’s Day or he woke up still drunk. The nomination process is kept a secret and it may be 50 years before the world finds out why the committee nominated Obama.
Many U.S. presidents have applied for and been denied the Nobel Peace Prize, among them William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower and foreign ministers Charles Hughes and John Foster Dulles.
The previous sitting U.S. presidents who won were Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Jimmy Carter won in 2002, after his presidency.
Obama senior advisor David Axelrod said on MSNBC this morning that he could not say if Obama would go to receive the award in person, saying it was “all news to us.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do with regards to that, I assume so,” he said. Asked if the Nobel prize was more a rejection of former President George W. Bush than an affirmation of Obama, Axelrod deferred judgment, saying he didn’t have any knowledge of the politics or the thinking behind these decisions.
“I read the citation and I accept the citation for what it is,” he said. “I think the president has worked hard to bring some issues to the floor internationally and to point the world in the direction of solving some very different problems and I think this is a recognition of that.”