WASHINGTON — The gold medallion given to recipients of the Nobel Prize doesn’t come with a ribbon, but the award could still end up being a weight around President Barack Obama’s neck.
Intended to honor how Obama has altered the nation’s diplomatic direction, the award is likely to call attention to how much of the administration’s agenda — from closing Guantanamo Bay to winding down the war in Iraq — remains undone.
The prize also poses political risks for a president routinely depicted by Republicans as more focused on seeking international approval than defending the security interests of the United States.
That criticism could be compounded if Obama rejects the military’s request for an additional 40,000 troops in Afghanistan. Obama has recently struggled over how to proceed in that conflict, and just hours after learning he had won the award met with senior members of his war cabinet.
Mindful of such perils, the president sought to downplay the significance of the Nobel, describing it as a “means to give momentum” to causes that others also embrace, and saying, “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve” it.
The award undoubtedly carries benefits. Democrats basked in the latest accolade bestowed on their party’s brightest star. And winning the Nobel might strengthen Obama’s diplomatic hand as he enters negotiations with nuclear rogues such as North Korea and Iran.
“We think that this gives us a sense of momentum when the United (States) has accolades tossed its way rather than shoes,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, recalling the reception that former President George W. Bush got last year in Baghdad.
But some in Obama’s own party saw dangers. Underscoring concern that the award might fuel criticism that Obama is too accommodating, the Democratic National Committee issued a news release designed to show that the president is still reviled by America’s foes.
It showcased comments from the Taliban condemning the award as “unjust” and from Hamas calling it “too early.” If Obama failed to make headway on his agenda, some Democrats said, the award could also come to be seen as the equivalent of the “Mission Accomplished” banner that dogged Bush.
Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist, said the prize would have little political impact if Obama reignited the economy. But if the job market remains sour, he expects to see the Nobel medallion featured prominently in GOP attack ads with such lines as: “He got a Nobel Prize. What did you get? A pink slip.”
“Either the economy is going, and this won’t matter, or this will be another tool in the Republicans’ arsenal to accuse the president of not doing enough,” Trippi said.
“Maybe if he won the Nobel Prize for economic recovery and created hundreds of thousands of new jobs, this would be a good thing for him politically,” Trippi quipped.
In announcing the prize, the Nobel panel credited Obama with creating “a new climate in international politics” and said that, through his efforts, “multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position” in world affairs.