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Zakaria: Nobel rewards Obama's 'big, bold gambit'

  • Story Highlights
  • Zakaria says prize is reward to America for "rejoining the world"
  • World relieved to have a more engaged, less bullying America, he says
  • Zakaria says Obama trying to show that engagement doesn't make U.S. weak
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Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is an author and foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN on Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m. ET.

Fareed Zakaria says President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is an award to the U.S. for "rejoining the world."

Fareed Zakaria says President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is an award to the U.S. for "rejoining the world."

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a stunning decision that comes just eight months into his presidency.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it honored Obama for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

The decision appeared to catch most observers by surprise. The president had not been mentioned as among front-runners for the prize, and the roomful of reporters gasped when Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee, uttered Obama's name.

Fareed Zakaria, author and host of "Fareed Zakaria:GPS" spoke to CNN about Obama's Nobel Prize.

CNN: What do you think of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize win?

Fareed Zakaria: It is great news. But I think it's more an award to America for rejoining the world than recognition of President Obama per se. People here underestimate how relieved the world is to have a more engaged, less bullying America.

Fareed Zakaria: GPS
What are President Obama's options in Afghanistan? Fareed speaks with an expert panel and the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. on this week's "GPS."
1 p.m. ET Sunday

CNN: What has President Obama done specifically to deserve the award?

Zakaria: Quite a bit, in fact. He ended many "war on terror" practices that made people (both inside and outside the country) see America as betraying its ideals; he reached out to the Muslim world in a way that hasn't been done before; he made proposals to reduce the world's nuclear arsenals; he re-engaged on the Israeli-Palestinian issue; he started winding down the Iraq war.

All this collectively adds up to a changed American profile in the world -- as is evident in President Obama being awarded the prize today.

CNN: Do you think that President Obama needs this encouragement?

Zakaria: He may not need it but I think it gives him legitimacy.

Regardless, the American right-wing will react predictably (and already are). Just take a look at the reaction to President Obama's United Nations speech last month to get a feel for what's to come in the aftermath of the Nobel Peace Prize announcement.

After that remarkable speech to the UN General Assembly, many in the arch-conservative camp were livid. For Michelle Malkin, the speech was evidence that President Obama was "the great appeaser." For Rush Limbaugh, the president's speech was "basically a coup against America."

At the National Review's Web site, a debate broke out -- an entirely serious debate among serious people -- as to whether the speech proved that President Obama actually wanted the world's tyrants to win, in the tradition of past intellectuals who admired Mussolini and Hitler.

This was because he urged global cooperation to combat nuclear proliferation, climate change and other problems that go beyond the borders of any one country.

The speech was well received all over the world, except one place: America.

CNN: Will the award make a difference?

Zakaria: It may not influence the far right, but it may make clear for many other undecided Americans what President Obama hopes to achieve. Obama's outreach to the world is an experiment: He wants to demonstrate at home that engagement does not make America weak.

For decades, it's been thought deadly for an American politician to be seen as seeking international cooperation. Denouncing, demeaning and insulting other countries was a cheap and easy way to seem strong. In the battle of images, tough and stupid always seemed to win.

President Obama is gambling that America is now mature enough to understand that machismo is not foreign policy, and that grandstanding on the global stage just won't succeed. In a new world, with other countries more powerful and confident, America's success -- its security, its prosperity -- depends on working with others. It's a big, bold gambit.

The Nobel committee wanted to encourage this sentiment. I hope Americans will see that and encourage the path President Obama is taking.

All About Nobel Peace PrizeMichelle MalkinBarack Obama

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