What's great about Obama's Nobel win

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My first reaction on hearing that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize today was: "What for?" (I'm not the only one who wondered, as my colleague Melly Alazraki posted this morning.) But after learning more about why he won, I'm absolutely delighted. He won for three reasons: his ethnicity, his actions, and how much he differs from his predecessor. And I think all these reasons are great.

Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, suggested to WBUR this morning that the very fact that the son of an African man and a white American woman won the U.S. presidency is a source of inspiration to millions around the world. As much as it dismays those who are still fighting the Civil War, Obama's election in a country marred by its history of slavery goes a little way towards bringing closure to the differences from which that war sprang.

Furthermore, Obama has taken steps that signal his fundamental goodness as a person, and a leader of what many believe is the most powerful country in the world. His efforts to work with international organizations to try to limit nuclear weapons and his willingness to initiate a dialog with the Muslim world offer hope for addressing two very serious threats to world peace.

Finally, Obama's attitude towards the rest of the world stands in stark contrast to that of the 43rd U.S. president. Rather than unilaterally reject the opinion of others in the world, as President George W. Bush did when it came to invading Iraq or withdrawing from a treaty to limit greenhouse gases, Obama believes that global decision-making organizations with multilateral intent can help the world.

In that sense, Obama is continuing the tradition started by the last sitting U.S. president to win the Nobel -- Woodrow S. Wilson. That former Princeton University president won the Nobel Prize in 1919 for his advocacy in creating the League of Nations, which ultimately became the United Nations. Obama's Nobel win is in part due to his respect for bodies like the U.N.

While Obama has yet to notch many concrete achievements on his path to a more peaceful world, the Nobel committee's award was a stroke of genius when it comes to giving a booster shot to the world's best hope for achieving the noble goal of peace.

Update. A fourth great thing about Obama's Nobel: He's giving the $1.4 million prize to charity.

Peter Cohan is a management consultant, Babson professor and author of nine books including, Capital Rising (due in June 2010). Follow him on Twitter.

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