By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The award of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday to U.S. President Barack Obama had many puzzled Americans scratching their heads.
“It would be wonderful if I could think why he won,” said Claire Sprague, 82, a retired English professor as she walked her dog in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “They wanted to give him an honor I guess but I can’t think what for.”
Itya Silverio, 33, of Brooklyn, was also surprised. “My first opinion is that he got it because he’s black,” she said. “What did he do that was so great? He hasn’t even finished office yet.”
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who won the peace prize himself in 2002, said Obama’s win showed the hope he had inspired worldwide.
“It is a bold statement of international support for his vision and commitment to peace and harmony in international relations,” Carter said in a statement.
When told of Obama’s win Robert Schultz, 62, a retired civil servant and Vietnam veteran, asked: “For doing what?
“The guy hasn’t solved any conflict anywhere so how can he win the peace prize? But if we don’t reelect him the next go around we will all look like idiots because the world has anointed him,” said Schultz, who lives in a suburb of Dallas.
Some said the choice could damage the Nobel committee’s credibility and that of the award.
“It looks less like an objective award than it does a political endorsement,” said William Jelani Cobb, a history professor at Spelman College in Atlanta and author of a forthcoming book on Obama.
“Guantanamo is not closed yet and it makes it difficult for him to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the U.S. prison in Cuba where some detainees have been held for years without trial.
Haag Sherman, director of Houston-based investment firm Salient Partners, said it politicizes the award.
“Largely left leaning U.S. leaders have been recent recipients of that award. It will clearly be viewed as political by the right,” he said. “It illustrates that the U.S. is still the prevalent power in the world and that the world really is seeking engagement with the United States.”
Opera singer Carissa March, 30, said she was surprised but the win might help Obama achieve some of what he had started.
“Although he’s trying to open up talks with nations we haven’t spoken with we haven’t had enough time to see if it’s worked,” she said.
“Sometimes when things like this happen it forces people to view things more positively so hopefully other leaders around the world will take (the talks) a little more seriously and open up more.”
In Chicago, retiree June Latrobe, 68, was also nonplused. “In all candor he hasn’t done anything yet,” he said.
Many seemed happy even if they weren’t sure why Obama won.
“How wonderful, I think that’s fantastic,” said David Spierer, 48, from New York who works in medical sales. “I know what he’s doing but what has he done? Change is coming but you don’t win a Nobel Peace Prize for the future.”
“Obama won? Really? Wow,” said David Hassan, 43, of Pine Brook, New Jersey. “He deserves it I guess, he’s the president. He’s a smart guy and I guess he’s into peace.”