World Affairs

What Does a Nobel Do for U.S. Leaders?

October 9, 2009  • Walter Isaacson

When Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, it prompted one former Harvard colleague to say it proved that the Norwegians did, in fact, have a sense of humor. The prize, which was for negotiating the end to American involvement in the Vietnam War, was supposed to be shared with his counterpart Le Duc Tho, who promptly rejected it saying, “peace has not yet been established.” Kissinger himself offered to return the prize when Saigon fell to Communist forces two years later, an offer that was declined, and he donated the money to charity.

In President Obama’s case, I think that the reason for some of the surprise, especially at home, is that the administration has not articulated clearly enough his new policy of engagement. Like the policy of containment articulated by Kennan and others in the late 1940s, which formed the basis for a generation of bipartisan support for confronting Soviet expansionism, engagement is more than merely a tactic or strategy.

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