Why now? Only a few months into office, President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Even the White House was stunned by the announcement.
Two other sitting presidents have won the prize. But Theodore Roosevelt had to broker a peace agreement to end a war between Russia and Japan to get his, and Woodrow Wilson had to create the League of Nations. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won his Nobel Peace Prize for his dream of an America that ended racial discrimination.
Like King, Obama got his for a dream -- a vision for a world living in peace. In his speeches outlining his foreign agenda, Obama committed himself to working to end terrorism, eliminate nuclear weapons, bring peace to the Middle East, promote democracy and encourage economic development. Here's my dream, he said, I will do my part, but I need your help. And like King, Obama's vision has captivated the world, even if it still is a work in progress.
The Nobel committee wants Americans to know that the world loves that dream.
The Nobel committee is saying the United States again is the leader of the world, holds the bully pulpit, and it wants other world leaders to help him and win future Nobel peace prizes for helping him.
The committee also is awarding the American people, who overcame centuries of slavery and racism to fulfill the ideals of the Declaration of Independence to elect the first African-American president.
From his first day in office, Obama established an ambitious agenda to bring affordable health care to all Americans while salvaging the nation's financial systems and stimulating the economy.
But he did not ignore international issues. Obama's speeches to the Muslim world in Ankara and Cairo were truly historic. Never before had a U.S. president spoken directly to the Muslim people in the capital of an Islamic country. He displayed a sensitivity to Islam and its central role to Muslim countries that no other president had acknowledged.
I can tell you from my travels around the Muslim world in the last few months, I have been told that every Muslim leader wants to work with President Obama -- even Iran's president. He sent his foreign minister to Washington, the first trip of a high Iranian official in decades.
That's a major change
The announcement comes just as Obama must decide what to do about Afghanistan. The president is not rushing to add more troops. He recognizes that a large part of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's strategy calls for engaging the Afghans within their own culture and religion to win their hearts and minds. Peace in Afghanistan can only come this way.
Obama recognizes that even with the combined power of NATO the U.S. cannot resolve the Afghanistan conflict. My hopeful expectation is that Obama will invite other Muslim leaders, who understand the underlying cultural and religious issues, to help resolve Afghanistan.
In choosing Obama for the Nobel Prize, the committee chose hope over despair. They chose the ideals of the United States over cynicism. And they chose to support a young, visionary leader at a crucial moment in world history when so much can be gained or so much can be lost.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations. (www.cordobainitiative.org) He is the author of "What's Right with Islam is What's Right With America."