President Obama responded to the news of his Nobel Peace Prize the right way. He said he was humbled, acknowledged that the efforts for which he was honored are only beginning and pledged to see them through, not on his own but in concert with other nations.
There cannot have been unbridled joy in the White House early Friday. Mr. Obama’s aides had to expect a barrage of churlish reaction, and they got it. The left denounced the Nobel committee for giving the prize to a wartime president. The right proclaimed that Mr. Obama sold out the United States by engaging in diplomacy. Members of the dwindling band of George W. Bush loyalists also sneered — with absolutely no recognition of their own culpability — that Mr. Obama has not yet ended the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
Certainly, the prize is a (barely) implicit condemnation of Mr. Bush’s presidency. But countering the ill will Mr. Bush created around the world is one of Mr. Obama’s great achievements in less than nine months in office. Mr. Obama’s willingness to respect and work with other nations is another.
Mr. Obama has bolstered this country’s global standing by renouncing torture, this time with credibility; by pledging to close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; by rejoining the effort to combat climate change and to rid the world of nuclear weapons; by recommitting himself to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and by offering to engage Iran while also insisting that it abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Obama did not seek the prize. It is a reminder of the extraordinarily high expectations for any American president — and does bring into sharp focus all that he has left to do to make the world, and this country, safer.
In Iraq, Mr. Obama is still a long way from managing an orderly withdrawal that does not leave a power vacuum and inflame a volatile region. He must decide, soon, on a strategy for Afghanistan that will do what Mr. Bush failed to do — defeat Al Qaeda and contain the Taliban — without miring American and allied troops in an endless unwinnable conflict.
To make real progress toward Mr. Obama’s declared goal of a world without nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia must both agree to deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals. If, as we suspect, Iran refuses to give up its illicit nuclear activities, Mr. Obama will have to press the rest of the world’s big powers to impose tough sanctions. He must come up with a more effective strategy to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program.
While he has made an excellent start on climate change with new regulations that finally begin to grapple with carbon emissions, the United States has to lead the way to a global agreement.
Mr. Obama is going to have to overcome narrow-minded opposition in Congress to keep his promise to close Guantánamo and deal with its inmates in a way consistent with the Constitution and American values. He has much more to do to erase the worst excesses of Mr. Bush in detaining prisoners without charges and flouting the Geneva Conventions.
Americans elected Mr. Obama because they wanted him to restore American values and leadership — and because they believed he could. The Nobel Prize, and the broad endorsement that followed, shows how many people around the world want the same thing.