In 2009 then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reportedly laid into the Norwegian ambassador to the United States, Wegger Christian Strømmen, after it was announced that President Obama was awarded that year's Nobel Peace Prize. Strømmen's colleague, Morten Wetland, says that the White House was angry about the award, which immediately proved controversial. Obama's prize has taken center stage in the debate about re-appointments to the Norwegian Nobel Committee this year.
"Many people thought awarding Obama the Peace Prize was pretty embarrassing," Wetland tells Dagens Næringsliv, a Norwegian business newspaper. Wetland was the Norwegian ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the award. "An American president would like to set his own agenda. In this case he was forced into a role that he did not seek. Besides, it was only one year into his first presidential term. It can seem as if someone did this to get Barack Obama to visit their country."
The former official says that was the most embarrassing day he had on the job as an ambassador to the U.N. "My coworker in Washington got a tongue-lashing from Obama's chief of staff," Wetland says. "Getting yelled at is a big part of an ambassador's job. They [Obama's people] probably went after the first person they could get their hands on, and Emanuel is known for being profane and direct. The word 'fawning' was used."
As Reason reported at the time, the awarding of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was all about Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland seeking press for his organization by stroking the new American president. His "grand thinking," as commentators put it, was that such an award would be impossible to ignore. In public statements, Jagland made it sound as if the prize was the international community's endorsement of the president's electoral victory.
Wetland's op-ed about Emanuel's conversation with Ambassador Strømmen was spurred by upcoming decisions about the membership of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. Several of the members of the Nobel Committee are up for re-appointment this fall. There are bound to be changes, as the majority in the Storting, the Norwegian Parliament with the power to select members, changed during the elections last fall. Many are arguing that Jagland should not be re-appointed, and the prize that was given to Obama is among the foremost arguments.
Wetland is among the people arguing that the next round of appointments should include candidates from outside Norway, such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan or Carl Bildt, the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs and former prime minister with several international diplomatic appointments under his belt. The Committee has never had foreign members before.
Wetland says that most people considered the award as very strange at the time. "We must ensure prevention of the impression that we here in Norway can get 'starstruck' and appreciate fancy state visits. Even if this has not been the case so far, there is cause to be aware of the issue."