US President Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Even though he's only been in office for eight and a half months, and has failed in that time to bring peace to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, the Nobel committee praised his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy." The decision was a big surprise. Most observers had expected Zimbabwe's long-time opposition leader and now Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, to win.
Even Mr Obama himself must be embarrassed. He has made domestic matters the main focus of his short presidency so far, and has yet to achieve anything like a major foreign policy success. But then the decision has nothing to do with making peace, and everything to do with politics. The Nobel committee is trying too hard to appear right-on, and has rewarded Mr Obama for little more than some encouraging speeches. Sadly, it further erodes the credibility of the prize, which suffered two years ago when Al Gore won for similar reasons.
It's interesting to draw a contrast with last year's winner of the prize, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. He's spent years in different parts of the world carrying out the dull, frustrating, unglamorous work of peacemaking, in places such as Kosovo, Indonesia and even Northern Ireland. Getting once-bitter enemies to agree on contentious issues is a skill he has often demonstrated, and it is that skill which offered genuine hope to the people of those troubled areas.
Mr Obama often talks about hope, and there's no doubt his charisma and rhetoric has inspired folks around the world. But if he's going to prove himself a worthy winner of the Nobel Prize, just talking about hope isn't going to cut it. He needs to follow the example of Mr Ahtisaari. And if President Obama goes along with the advice of his generals and sends an extra 40,000 troops to Afghanistan in the coming weeks, the decision to give him the Nobel Peace Prize so prematurely will look even more ridiculous.