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Zakaria: Obama speech idealistic and realistic

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fareed Zakaria: president's speech shows he's trying to balance idealism, world realities
  • He says he must ensure that moral case for war is matched by effective military mission
  • Nobel speech, Afghanistan speech are clearest statements of Obama's worldview, he says
  • More about the speech on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sunday, 1 and 5 p.m. ET

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.

New York (CNN) -- President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday by talking about war and the limits of nonviolence.

But he also praised the peacemakers of the past and said the world can and should still strive for peace.

"Let us reach for the world that ought to be," he told the 1,000-member audience at Oslo City Hall in Norway. "Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace."

The Nobel committee's choice of Obama as this year's laureate sparked debate, in part because he is a president waging two wars abroad. Obama said force is sometimes necessary, but said that is simply "a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Read a transcript of Obama's acceptance speech

Fareed Zakaria, author and host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria: GPS," spoke to CNN about the speech

CNN: What message was President Obama trying to send the world in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech?

Video: Obama on Afghan withdrawal
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Fareed Zakaria: The speech reflected his basic philosophy, which is why it worked so well. I think Obama is somebody who is a realist-idealist. He tries to balance idealism with the realities in the world.

He clearly believes in the idea of doing good in the world, but believes you have to be pragmatic and realizes the dangers of over-reaching.

CNN: Will the focus on the Afghanistan war being "just" be well received by world leaders?

Zakaria: Most of the world supports the war in Afghanistan. The UN approved it, and over 50 countries are participating one way or another, so countries won't react negatively. Obama wanted to remind people, including those in his own party here in the U.S., that the Afghanistan war has a morally legitimate basis and that there are occasions in history where force is necessary.

CNN: Are there any potential pitfalls to spending so much of the speech defending the war on moral grounds?

Zakaria: The great danger of moral certitude is that you get distracted from the practical issue of whether things are working. Are we creating a stable government? Are we being successful against the Taliban and al Qaeda? From Woodrow Wilson to Vietnam, the question of whether a military action is morally legitimate can overshadow whether it works.

CNN: Does the speech give us any window into how Obama might conduct U.S. foreign policy going forward?

Zakaria: The Afghanistan speech last week and the Nobel speech are the two clearest statements of his worldview. He isn't making a broad statement like President Bush, when he vowed to end tyranny in the world. Obama says the U.S. is a force for good, but is engaging with the world and is trying to avoid open-ended commitments.

Obama wants the U.S. to play a world role that is progressive and idealistic, but remains aware of the practical limitations inherent in trying to operate in a messy world.