US President Barack Obama arrived in the Norwegian capital today to accept his Nobel Peace Prize amid criticism he does not deserve the accolade because of his Afghan war build-up and few foreign policy successes.
Obama is the third sitting US president, after Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, to win the prize. Jimmy Carter was honoured two decades after he left office.
Other prominent Nobel peace laureates include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa.
Obama will accept the prize just nine days after ordering 30 000 more US troops to Afghanistan to break the momentum of the Taliban. The troop announcement, so shortly before the Nobel ceremony, was an “interesting coincidence of history” not lost on the president, a senior administration official said.
He is due to receive the award at a ceremony in Oslo City Hall starting at 1200 GMT (7 am EST) after flying overnight from Washington. Aides said Obama, known for his soaring rhetoric, was still working on the estimated 20- to 25-minute speech in the hours before his journey.
Some polls show that while many Americans are proud Obama is receiving the award, a majority feel it is undeserved. Americans remain anxious about the economy, nudging Obama’s approval ratings down to 50% or below and potentially hurting his Democratic Party in congressional elections next year.
Many people were stunned, including some in the White House, when the Nobel committee announced in October it was awarding the peace prize to Obama for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” and cited his push for nuclear disarmament.
Critics called the decision premature, given that Obama, who took office in January, had achieved few tangible gains as he grapples with challenges ranging from the war in Afghanistan and nuclear stand-offs with Iran and North Korea to climate change.
Obama is due to join scores of other world leaders in Copenhagen next week at the climax of a UN conference on climate change, though legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions is stuck in the US Congress.
Eco-activists in Oslo intend to keep pressure on Obama during the Nobel celebrations to sign a deal in Copenhagen.
The administration official said Obama would not shy away from the Afghanistan war in his speech in Oslo and would address the apparent contradiction of a president whose country is involved in two wars receiving a peace prize.
“Right now, he has a range of foreign policy and national security initiatives, all of which are designed toward achieving greater peace and security in the world,” the official said.
“He feels in many ways that he has not fully earned the award yet. He is at the beginning of his presidency and in many ways at the beginning of his work on behalf of peace.”
Obama has been widely credited with improving America’s global image after the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush, who alienated allies with his mostly unilateral policies, like the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.