By Sydelle Moore, Sam Youngman and Emily Goodin - 10/09/09 06:20 PM EDT
Hours after the Nobel Committee shocked the world by announcing Obama had won the prestigious prize, Obama sounded a deferential note, even questioning whether he deserved the award.
He joked that after finding out that he had won early Friday morning, his daughters reminded him that Friday is also their dog Bo’s birthday and they are on the eve of a three-day holiday weekend.
“It's good to have kids to keep things in perspective,” Obama said.
The Nobel Committee said Obama was being honored for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” It gave him the award less than a year into his presidency.
Obama said he viewed the award as “a call to action” to continue to confront global issues like climate change, nuclear proliferation and the ongoing strife between Israelis and Palestinians.
As for the $1.4 million awarded to Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Obama has announced that he will donate the money to an as yet unknown charity.
Obama acknowledged that his win is likely the result of his intentions, and many of his critics agreed.
“I think part of their decision-making was expectations,” said 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). “And I'm sure the president understands that he now has even more to live up to.”
McCain, who told CNN's John King in an interview set to air Sunday that he was “surprised” by the committee's decision, nonetheless said that “Americans are always pleased when their president is recognized by something on this order.”
Other Republicans were not as gracious.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) issued a statement questioning the committee's decision and asking what accomplishments Obama was being recognized for.
“It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights,” RNC Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement.
That prompted the Democratic National Committee to compare the RNC’s reaction to that of the Taliban and Hamas, who were also critical.
Obama is the third sitting U.S. president to win the award. President Theodore Roosevelt won the award in 1906 and President Woodrow Wilson won in 1919. Obama is scheduled to travel to Oslo, Norway in December to accept the award.
Obama’s name had been mentioned early on by speculators, but was dismissed because Obama was inaugurated less than two weeks before the deadline for the 2009 award.
He is honored as his administration engages in a debate over whether to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been mired in an increasingly bloody fight for eight years. Military leaders have recommended that Obama send more troops, but Democrats in Congress along with some advisers have cautioned against a troop surge.
The announcement comes one week to the day that the president was dealt an embarrassing blow on the global stage when a last-minute trip to Copenhagen, Denmark failed to secure the 2016 Olympics for Chicago. Obama’s adopted home town lost in the first round of balloting.
Obama was elected in 2008 after he campaigned against the Iraq war, which was unpopular with Europe and the Nobel Committee. He also criticized the placement of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and vowed to close the camp by the end of the year, a deadline that now looks unlikely to be met.
As a result, the award to Obama was already being cast Friday morning as another rebuke of former President George W. Bush's foreign policy.
When the Nobel Committee awarded the prize to former Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 2002 for his mediation efforts, one committee member was quoted as saying that year's award should be seen as "a kick in the leg" to the Bush administration.
In its statement explaining its decision, the Nobel Committee focused on Obama’s diplomacy. The president has said the U.S. should be willing to engage with allies and opponents, and he was criticized during the 2008 campaign for saying he would meet with the leaders of nations such as Iran and Cuba.
“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the committee said. “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.”
The committee mentioned Obama's vision of “a world without nuclear weapons” and cited his support for solving problems through the United Nations and other international institutions.
“Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play,” it said.
“Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”
The committee also wrote of the U.S. now playing a “more constructive role” in the climate change debate.
Former Bush opponent Al Gore also won the prize in 2007 for raising awareness about global warming.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the prize celebrates Obama's effort to improve America's standing around the world.
“I'm delighted at this recognition of President Obama's work to strengthen international cooperation,” Berman said in a statement. “It validates the president's approach to tough transnational challenges such as global warming and the spread of nuclear arms.”
But at least one Republican, vulnerable Rep. Joseph Cao (La.), was quick to congratulate Obama for being “selected for such a prestigious honor.”
Cao, who represents a majority-minority district that overwhelmingly supported Obama in the 2008 election said, “America applauds his efforts to promote worldwide diplomacy and to ease tensions with the Muslim community."
Other contenders for the Nobel Peace prize included: Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, an Afghan women's rights activist, a Colombian senator and a Chinese political activist.
The Nobel committee received a record 205 nominations for this year's prize. It is not clear who nominated Obama.