US President and Nobel laureate

October 9, 2009 12:00 am

, STOCKHOLM, Oct 9 – President Barack Obama’s shock Nobel Peace Prize, captured after only nine months in office, offers instant vindication for a key campaign vow — to transform the image of the United States abroad.

Coming so early in Obama’s term, it also reflects the lightning political ascent of a leader who rocketed from obscurity to the pinnacle of US power in just four years, and made history as the first US African American president.

The Nobel committee saluted Obama’s work to bring people together with "extraordinary" diplomatic efforts and for setting out on the long road to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Yet the young president’s foreign policy, though a sharp turn from the swaggering US unilateralism of the early years of the century, has yet to yield any major results, other than mending the US image on the world stage.

Obama, 48, has vowed to talk to US enemies, though not necessarily to make concessions to them, and has set out to engage Iran, and North Korea, both of which are testing the world with their nuclear crusades.

He has vowed to end the US war in Iraq, and is currently immersed in an exhaustive policy review on whether to escalate the eight-year US war in Afghanistan, launched after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

The president has also launched a fresh US drive for peace in the Middle East, but his personality has so far been unable to make any breakthroughs in the deep distrust that lingers between Israelis and Palestinians.

Obama’s political style is rooted in his own cosmopolitan personality, as the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, who grew up mostly off the US mainland in Hawaii and Indonesia.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," Obama said at his inauguration on January 20.

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

When Obama launched what he called his "improbable quest" for the White House on the steps of the old state capitol in Springfield, Illinois, in February 2007, he was seen as the rank outsider.

Then he was still just a little-known Chicago politician with a ready smile, who had wowed the 2004 Democratic convention with a dazzling appeal for American unity and the need to overcome entrenched political divides.

"He is the luckiest politician I have ever come across. He seems to be blessed by Gods," his biographer David Mendell told AFP.

"He’s really dropped at a moment in history when his philosophy coincides with what a lot of experts are calling for: a government that is more proactive in trying to jumpstart the economy."

In defying the odds to win the November 2008 election, Obama overturned the perception that America was not ready to vote for a black president.

He was born in ethnically diverse Hawaii on August 4, 1961.

His Kenyan father left when he was just two, and the young Obama later moved to Indonesia with his mother, Ann, when she re-married.

The young boy known as "Barry" spent several years in Jakarta, before returning to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents when he was in his teens.

After attending Columbia University in New York, Obama went to the elite Harvard Law School, where he was the first black American to be president of the influential Harvard Law Review.

It was while working at a Chicago law firm that he met and then married Michelle, a fellow lawyer, in 1992. The couple have two young daughters, Malia and Sasha.


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