PRESIDENT OBAMA WINS NOBEL PEACE PRIZE…. I didn’t even know he’d been nominated.

In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced Friday that it had awarded its annual peace prize to President Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” less than nine months after he took office.

“He has created a new international climate,” the committee said in its announcement. With American forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama’s name had not figured in speculation about the winner until minutes before the prize was announced here. […]

[T]he committee said it wanted to enhance Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts so far rather than reward him for events in the future.

Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and a former prime minister of Norway, told reporters that Mr. Obama had already contributed enough to world diplomacy and understanding to deserve the prize.

A week ago, some of the president’s detractors suggested some of Obama’s international stature has waned. It looks like that’s no longer the case.

The announcement will no doubt generate considerable criticism, some from conservatives who simply oppose the president reflexively, and some from those who believe the honor is premature given Obama’s fairly brief tenure. An intellectually honest approach suggests the latter’s concerns are not unreasonable.

But the accolade is nevertheless defensible. The Nobel Peace Prize, as I understand it, is awarded to the person (or persons) who’ve shown great leadership in advancing the cause of international peace. President Obama has invested consider energy and political capital in doing just that — promoting counter-proliferation, reversing policies on torture, embracing a new approach to international engagement, and recommitting the U.S. to the Middle East peace process.

Thorbjorn Jagland, noting the president’s efforts, added, “We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.” I hope the same thing. If nothing else, if the prize helps give the administration the high ground in international settings, the honor may have a meaningful, and positive, impact.

The full citation, released this morning:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the United States is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.