The Truth About Obama’s Nobel Prize

President Barack Obama speaks to business leaders at the quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ANDREW HARNIK
President Barack Obama speaks to business leaders at the quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ANDREW HARNIK

The world was largely surprised when President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The prize was thought to be preemptive and encouraging for a leader who had ambitious global plans for scaling down a militaristic American foreign policy.

Six years later, even many of Obama’s supporters might question whether the award was deserved. In a recent memoir, Geir Lundestad, the non-voting Director of the Nobel Institute until he retired last year, wrote that awarding the prize to Obama “was only partially correct.”

“Many of Obama’s supporters believed it was a mistake,” he wrote. “As such, it did not achieve what the committee had hoped for.”

Earlier in the week, some media outlets reported that Lundestad wrote that he regretted awarding Obama the prize. The reported claim went viral and was picked up by mainstream news organizations, as well as many on the right. The retired director, however, said he was misinterpreted.


“Several of you have written that I believe the prize to Obama a mistake, but then you cannot have read the book,” Lundestad said according to Norwegian news outlet VG.

Lundestad said that the award had placed pressure on Obama and it quickly became clear he wouldn’t be able to achieve what the committee had hoped of him.

Obama’s drone program is regularly criticized for a lack of transparency and accountability, especially considering incomplete intelligence means officials are often unsure about who will die.

“[M]ost individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names,” Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations told the New York Times.”

He’s also been unable to fulfil a campaign promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and is often blamed for a failure to act decisively with regard to the Syrian crisis.


Obama has still achieved some successes though while in office. His securing of the Iranian nuclear deal, while widely opposed by Republicans, has been praised by experts in security, diplomacy, and nuclear power. He’s also wound down the war in Afghanistan and withdrawn most American troops from Iraq — though the latter action is also mired in controversy.

“With ISIS on the march and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defiant, it is tempting to think the current administration could have done something different to keep Iraq from reaching this precipice,” Jason Brownlee, an associate professor of government and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in the Washington Post. “History, however, provides no evidence that a longer U.S. troop presence would have made the difference between state cohesion and state collapse.”

Speaking on Obama’s legacy Nikhil Singh, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, told NY Mag in January:

Obama also put the leash back on overt U.S. military action just as it approached its breaking point under George W. Bush. That he did so in the interests of relegitimation rather than transformation (for example, releasing the torture memos but failing to prosecute the torturers) sets us up for an uncertain future or, worse, a new round of dirty wars. But this ambivalence might be regarded as a kind of achievement — one that is not always understood by an analysis that sees Obama’s national-security approach as simply an extension of Bush-Cheney.

Obama’s legacy isn’t yet written in stone, though it will be one delineated by peace and war.