THERE'LL BE as many as 5,000 anti-war protesters chanting outside a hotel window in Oslo, with peace activists at home printing an open letter denouncing our Afghanistan policies, while a poll found that just 26 percent of Americans think that this whole thing is a good idea.

Is this any way to get a Nobel Peace Prize?

The world will find out at 7 a.m. today, Philadelphia time, when President Obama accepts the 2009 prize, a symbol of his worldwide popularity amid dropping poll numbers at home and growing questions about giving a peace award to a man sending more troops to war.

Indeed, White House officials say that Obama's acceptance speech will seek to lay out the delicate balance between his pursuit of peace with his decision to expand warfare in Afghanistan - a juxtaposition that even some Obama backers find troubling.

James Hilty, a Temple University presidential historian, concedes the irony in Obama's receiving the award just nine days after announcing that he is sending more than 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers into combat in South Asia.

"What I hear them saying there," said Hilty, referring to the Norwegian Nobel selection committee, "is they're hoping to see a change in American foreign policy. This is wishful anticipation."

So, what is the deal, exactly, with Obama and the Nobel? Let's break it down.

Q. One word, why?

A. Officially? In announcing in October the award to Obama, the Nobel committee said that the new American president "created a new climate in international politics," based on negotiation and diplomacy, with an eye toward reducing the world's nuclear weapons while hitting the reset button on U.S.-Muslim relations.

Q. No, really . . . why?

A. Really? OK, he's not George Bush or Dick Cheney. Ever since the middle of this decade, when the United States invaded Iraq and opened the prison camp at Guantanamo, the Nobel committee has gone out of its way to praise any Bush counterweight.

Thus, Nobel Peace Prizes have gone in recent years to ex-President Jimmy Carter, a harsh critic of Bush policies (2002); to Mohamed El-Baradei (2005), the regulator who did not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war; and to Al Gore, Bush's 2000 election opponent (2007).

Q. Who are these people who give out the Nobel Peace Prize, then?

A. The prize is funded from the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of - among other things - dynamite. Nobel's will in 1895 stated that the prize would be administered in neighboring Norway, which had a reputation as a peace-seeking land, by five people to be elected by the Norwegian Legislature.

The current five panelists reflect the competing political parties in Norway, including a Conservative Party, but tilt strongly to the left, reflecting the reigning politics in the Scandinavian nation.

Q. Is it true that the award was based on the first 11 days of Obama's presidency.

A. Not exactly. The deadline for Nobel nominations was indeed Feb. 1, just after Obama's inauguration - and a record 205 nominations were submitted - but the committee's actual deliberations took place in the early months of Obama's presidency.

Q. So what are the objections, exactly?

A. Although there are some critics, the choice remains popular overseas. But many Americans - even Obama supporters - thought that the award was just too soon; conservatives called it an epic case of Obama overhype, and now some liberals are worried that the award has given Obama cover for his escalation in Afghanistan and the slow pace of closing Gitmo.

"He has created a false choice between having to speak out forcefully on human rights or being pragmatic and getting results on other issues," Larry Cox, head of Amnesty International, which won the peace prize in 1977, told Reuters.

Q. If Obama didn't get the award, who would have?

A. According to news accounts, some of the other serious candidates included Ingred Betancourt, the woman held hostage in Colombia for six years; Afghan woman's rights activist Sima Samar; and several dissidents against the Chinese government.

Q. But what exactly is the harm in Obama getting the award?

A. It could hurt Obama politically, for now. Conservatives have been using the controversy as one more piece of evidence to sway swing voters - going into the 2010 midterm elections - that the president is more about style than substance.

Nina Tannenwald, associate professor at Brown University's Watson Center for International Studies, has said that honoring Obama prematurely could diminish the prize and its 109-year history, although arguably there have been far more controversial selections (see sidebar, Page 4). She also noted that the early award unnecessarily removes an incentive for Obama to seek peaceful solutions.

"What does he have to look forward to?" Tannenwald asked. "If he does achieve a global-warming treaty or peace in the Middle East, there's nothing left to acknowledge him with."