Why the Prize Is Premature

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the economy at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y.

The Nobel committee awarded the 2009 Peace Prize to President Barack Obama Friday, Oct. 9, in a prospective, premature accolade normally reserved for those who have accomplished considerable, tangible results in the pursuit of peace.

To be sure, Obama has tried to advance the cause of peace. His speech in Cairo in June attempted to address the shortcomings of both the Muslim world and America and was viewed as a first step towards reconciliation. Obama has committed his Administration to advancing Arab-Israeli peace from his first days in office. One can argue that he has tried to end a war, as he has begun to draw down combat troops from Iraq. And as the Nobel committee noted particularly, he has attempted to reinvigorate international agreements limiting nuclear weapons.

So far, that last effort is the only one that has produced lasting, tangible results. Last month at the U.N., after months of negotiation, the Security Council approved a resolution reinvigorating the compact between the nuclear and nonnuclear powers that aims for an eventual full elimination of nuclear weapons, an end to nuclear tests and a ban of the production of fissile material. The resolution is an overlooked part of what has allowed Obama to make tentative progress in trying to curtail Iran's nuclear program and is, the Administration says, its best hope for doing the same with North Korea. It is also a clear commitment by the U.S. to multilateral institutions after years of snubs from the Bush Administration.

But the Nobel is Obama's for effort only, at best. The Arab-Israeli peace process is in disarray: after eight months of concerted effort by the U.S., talks have yet to begin, as both sides are stuck on whether Israel will freeze its expansion settlements in occupied Palestinian territory (so far, it has said it won't). Relations with the Muslim world have improved, at least by the measure of international poll numbers, but they have not advanced peace (or American interests) yet: Arab states are still resisting recognizing Israel, contributing to the problems besetting peace talks there.

And as for ending wars, Obama's first relevant act as the 2009 Nobel laureate for peace may well be deciding to send an additional 10,000 to 40,000 American troops to Afghanistan in hopes of conquering the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That is not an overtly peaceful move; in any case, it offsets any peacemaking argument that can be made with regard to the drawdown in Iraq.

Even the singular tangible accomplishment, the U.N. resolution, may not fully come to pass, as elements must be ratified by member states. The last time the U.S. tried to pass the nuclear-test-ban treaty, under President Bill Clinton, the then obscure junior Senator from Arizona, Jon Kyl, launched a successful effort to undermine passage. Now Kyl is the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and more powerful than ever.