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US Lawmakers, Students React to Nobel Peace Prize

By Dan Robinson
10 October 2009

In the U.S. Congress, there has been a mix of reaction to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama.

Majority Democrats were quick to praise the Nobel award, calling it a recognition of President Obama's efforts to reach out to the world through intensified diplomacy and engagement.

In congratulating the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mr. Obama is working to restore American leadership worldwide and build bonds of friendship across the globe. She said the award is a testament to his leadership and vision and a tribute to American values.

House of Representatives majority leader Steny Hoyer said President Obama has committed the U.S. to a course of renewed diplomacy and engagement.

The chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Democrat Representative Howard Berman, said the Nobel award validates the president's approach to tough trans-national challenges such as global warming and the spread of nuclear arms [and] celebrates his steady efforts to improve America's standing around the world.

Democrat Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy called the announcement of the award stunning, saying President Obama is reintroducing America to the rest of the world.

There was a notable absence of reaction from congressional Republican leaders, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and House minority leader John Boehner, whose web sites like those of many other Republicans did not post any responses to the Nobel award.

Some of President Obama's sharpest Republican critics who did respond echoed a statement by the Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who questioned the judgment of the Nobel Committee and repeated criticism of the president's economic policies.

Senator John McCain - who was President Obama's Republican opponent in the 2008 presidential race -- said Americans have reason to be proud when their president receives such a prestigious award. McCain told CNN Television that while he couldn't determine the intentions of the Nobel Committee, he is sure President Obama understands that now he has even more to live up to.

Meanwhile, a few kilometers from Capitol Hill, students at The American University offered up their own reactions.

Rahim, a political science student whose family came to the U.S. from Pakistan, says the award could make it easier for President Obama on the world stage, but also raised some questions about the Nobel Committee's motivations. "I think people are really excited about a sitting president getting a Nobel Peace Prize [because] it hasn't happened in a while [but] you also hear the conservatives, not [as] much here on campus but some of my friends who are conservatives, they are talking about how the Europeans are trying to give President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize to convince him to pull out of Afghanistan," he said.

Kennedy Nadler, a 19-year-old literature major from Massachusetts, doesn't see President Obama altering future decisions because of the award, such as those he faces on Afghanistan, but says he and others do wonder about why Mr. Obama received the prize so early in his presidency. "It seems to be kind of a speculative prize to him because he hasn't really accomplished quite as much as the other past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, such as say Mother Teresa, so there is certainly a sense of confusion," he said.

Anna Ayala, originally from Mexico and a first year graduate student in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at AU's School of International Service, says the Nobel Committee took a chance in awarding the prize to President Obama before his policy approaches bear fruit, but acted to recognize the president's foreign policy goals. "I really feel that they share this vision of supporting and promoting peace, and this is what President Obama based his [presidential] campaign on, diplomacy and dialogue," he said.

Kathleen Davey Mistry, a businesswoman attending a conference at the university, says she was a little surprised at the Nobel award to the president, but questions Republican and conservative criticism of the award. "I thought that it might be a little bit early, but that he did [make] some sincere efforts in trying to help us regain our stature. I think we lost a lot of stature overseas. I used to live in France and the French people really like Americans and I think they are actually over the moon [very happy] with this award," she said.

The reactions from students and others at The American University came a day before another Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, the Dalai Lama, who received the prize in 1989, was to deliver a speech on Buddhism at the university.

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