Yes, it's unusual for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded early in someone's career, as is the case with President Barack Obama. But these are unusual times.
In making the award, the Nobel Committee emphasized Obama's leadership in creating a new international climate, and they particularly called out his role in the areas of nuclear proliferation and climate change.
These two are not just any issues. If nuclear weapons spread around the world, or if climate change accelerates into run-away mode, all of human civilization is in danger. This simply isn't the case with most other issues of our time.
In the case of both climate change and nuclear proliferation, we still have time to avert disaster -- but not a lot of time. Either one could reach dangerous thresholds relatively soon.
In both cases, the U.S. has a large responsibility for the impending crisis. We were, until recently, the largest source of greenhouse gases. We developed the first atom bombs, currently stockpile the most, and we have failed to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which requires the nuclear powers to reduce and eventually eliminate their weapons stockpiles. But we are also central to the solutions.
The people of the world have everything at stake in these two issues. It's no wonder that the Nobel Peace Committee would want to encourage an embattled U.S. president who is trying to do the right thing. After eight years of neocon recklessness, there's a lot of catch-up to do. President Obama has the goodwill of most of the world (with the notable exception of the Taliban, Rush Limbaugh, and a few others, who would defeat the U.S. president no matter what the cost).
When I see this move on the part of the Nobel Committee, I see a world willing to give the U.S. a chance to be great--a world that's actually desperate for real U.S. leadership on the crises that threaten us all.
"Maybe [the Nobel Peace Prize] can represent some sort of encouragement and bring some added support to his cause," said Geir Lundestad, Norwegian Nobel Committee secretary in a video release.
In unusual times, we need all the encouragement for peace that we can get.