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Foreign Perspectives on U.S. Presidential Election; Events in War on Terror Zones

Aired September 7, 2008 - 13:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE: Welcome to the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE, to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
So, we're going to talk this week about the U.S. elections, of course, because everyone has to do that. But we are going to talk about it with people from outside the United States.

We'll talk about the U.S. elections, but we'll also talk about some other things, because there are other things going on in the world. We're going to talk about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq.

And we're going to talk to Nic Robertson, CNN's own senior international correspondent. And we're going to meet a fascinating British diplomat turned adventurer, turned writer -- a guy called Rory Stewart.

So, stick around. It's going to be a great show.

We've talked on this program before about the troubling situation in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation that often appears unstable and chaotic. You will recall that President Pervez Musharraf resigned a few weeks ago. This weekend, the Pakistani parliament and provincial assemblies elect a new president.

That may sound encouraging, like democracy in action, but the facts are more complicated.

Joining me now from Islamabad is CNN's senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson.

Thank you for doing this, Nic.


ZAKARIA: Nic, let me ask you, before we talk about the president, the new president, what do we make of this assassination attempt on the new prime minister that took place? Do we know anything about why and where, and what we can make of it?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think the bigger picture here is that the country is unstable. And for government officials, and particularly for ministers at this time, they're targets for the Taliban.

And the Taliban claimed responsibility for this attack. It was on a stretch of highway linking the capital with the airport, which politicians regularly use to fly around the country here, so they have to travel that road.

But they are taking the war to the Taliban in the tribal regions, and the Taliban, they're taking the war right back to the cities here. And I think it's indicative of the lack of security that pervades this country now, and the sort of unknowing but likelihood that an attack or a suicide bombing or shooting can happen almost anywhere, any time now.

ZAKARIA: Is part of the problem, Nic, that you've had this kind of political circus -- of the collapse of Musharraf's regime, the rise of an unstable democratic coalition, it's unclear who's, you know, what's happening to the judges -- and in the midst of all this, no one is really conducting a coherent political and military operation against the forces of terrorism?

ROBERTSON: And everyone in the country knows it. I mean, they're looking at the economy tanking at the same time, so they're worried about what's happening to their pocketbooks, to their livelihoods. And they know that there's this increased -- they have an increased fear of terrorism.

And they do look to the government, to this coalition that's essentially fallen apart, stagnating for right now, that's not able, not yet tackling this very, very big problem of the growth of the Taliban along the border regions. And this is the reality.

The government here wants to -- they tell us, sell the message to the people that the fight against the Taliban is not the United States' war on terrorism. This is how President Musharraf sold it to the people of Pakistan, and why there wasn't a lot of support for it.

But the new government wants to explain to people that this is a problem for them, that this is Pakistan's problem, that the Taliban are a threat to stability and security for all people here in Pakistan, and through this means build support for the fight that they're taking to the Taliban.

But until they have that support, it's going to be a very, very difficult fight to take on. They're taking on sort of entrenched views in the tribal areas. Much of those areas doesn't fall under full government, written control.

And many of the leaders there don't want to relinquish the power that they have. So, this is a generational struggle for the government, as well.

ZAKARIA: Tell us about the new president -- Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower -- a man very controversial in and outside Pakistan, because of ties and charges of corruption.

Is he the boss, because he is the leader of Pakistan's largest political party?

ROBERTSON: You know, his position and his popularity among the people is weakened by these past charges of corruption.

And when you talk to government officials here about it, they say, look. He spent eleven-and-a-half years in jail in Pakistan. He could have cut deals to get out, but he didn't, because he believed in his innocence, that these were politically motivated charges. He's served his time, and let's wipe the slate clean of this media trial.

That's how politicians here in the Pakistan People's Party, his party, explain it away now. So, he is weak by virtue of this legacy of allegations of corruption.

But the party, the Pakistan People's Party, came out ahead in the elections in February. Their party itself is, in relative terms here, relatively strong.

But what has perhaps been surprising is that he was able to sort of build the political consensus to win the election and become president. And that, if one is an optimist here, perhaps is a reason to think that he can be successful going forward dealing with the big issues here in Pakistan -- the terrorism, the tanking economy.

But it is a very fragile situation. The dynamic here is not how it was a few years ago. The dynamic is one that's relatively unstable and could -- one wouldn't want to say spiral downwards out of control -- but it is far less stable than it was a few years ago.

ZAKARIA: Nic, finally, what do these new people in power in Pakistan want from the United States? What would a new president be confronting when he looks at Pakistan?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think he's certainly going to have one of the toughest foreign policy challenges anywhere in the world on his hands. The fact that the border regions here are home to Taliban, who seem to have relatively free rein to train, encamp, recruit inside Pakistan, and cross the border and attack and kill U.S. troops inside Afghanistan -- that's a major headache.

How do you tackle it? Do you work with the Pakistan government? Can -- who do you trust? Them, the army here? How do you help the Pakistan government here? Because over-support for any government here in Pakistan, over-support from the United States can backfire against the government here.

There is a real feeling over the past few years that the country has been suffering, because of the United States' war on terrorism, that there's an invasion, if you will, of Muslim lands and a destruction by the West of Muslim culture. And this is a very conservative country.

So, how will a U.S. president empower, build support, build strength in Pakistan, such that the government can defeat the Taliban, such that this regional war that's growing across the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan can be stabilized? Because without a stable Pakistan, you will not get a stable Afghanistan. And of course, a huge amount of investment is going, and going to go further, into stabilizing Afghanistan. It's a very, very large problem, and I think is going to be walking a political and a military tightrope as well here.

ZAKARIA: It's very well put, Nic. It's always struck me, this is a place with no easy answers. And anyone who wants to take cheap shots at anyone for, you know, prosecuting this relationship with Pakistan should be careful. There isn't a simple solution.

But we thank you very much for your insights.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we'll be back.


ZAKARIA: Unless you've been asleep for the last month, the chances are you've watched at least part of the political conventions. We've all gotten used to this political theater, with the funny hats and the dancing and the balloons.

But what does the rest of the world make of our strange ritual? I've gathered a panel of journalists from around the world to help us see ourselves the way other countries are seeing us.

Joining me now from Nairobi, Charles Onyango-Obbo, the managing editor and columnist at "The Nation," a widely read daily newspaper in Kenya.

From Hamburg, Josef Joffe, the editor and publisher of the influential German weekly, "Die Zeit."

And from St. Paul, Yoshihisa Komori, the editor-at-large for "Sankei Shimbun," which is a Japanese version of the "Wall Street Journal."

Welcome, gentlemen.

Let me ask you about Sarah Palin, Jo, because many people say that she is the kind of candidate who plays well in America, but that the rest of the world dislikes -- you know, gun-loving, hunting, pro- life, socially conservative. This is the sort of thing that sets the rest of the world on edge.

Is that right?

JOSEF JOFFE, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "DIE ZEIT": Let me tell you one dramatic figure. If Germans could vote in the election, 74 percent of them would vote Obama, only 11 percent would vote for McCain. So, that gives a kind of a skewed picture.

And of course, you're absolutely right, some are (unintelligible) Sarah Palin. If they pay attention to her -- which I don't that (ph) much -- in general I would say, vice presidential candidates get a lot less attention here in Europe -- and I assume in the rest of the world -- than they do in the United States right now. But you're right. Here's a woman who represents what Europeans heartily dislike and despise America -- all kinds of virtues, which our post-heroic, secular societies no longer cherish.

As far as Germany is concerned -- you know, I'm talking from Germany -- the pro-Obama opinions here are almost of a religious kind. I mean, I have to repeat again, three-quarters of the population would vote Obama.

It is almost like a -- it is almost like a religious phenomenon, where these people regard Obama as a savior and redeemer, which, of course, they will be vastly disappointed, because Obama, if elected president, will still be an American president, the president of a superpower, with very different interests.

And so, we stand before a kind of religious phenomenon of redemption and a savior, which is beyond politics. This question is beyond politics and rational understanding.

ZAKARIA: Komori-san, what do you make of what's going on? You're in St. Paul right now, are you not?


ZAKARIA: What does it look like? Does it look like a strange, foreign ritual for even a seasoned American observer like you?

KOMORI: Oh, I've been to some of -- a number of conventions before, so it didn't really -- the whole thing doesn't really strike me as something strange.

But I remind you, that the American presidential election is a long campaign and process, including primaries, have been thoroughly reported on by my colleagues, Japanese newspapers, Japanese television. So, you'd be surprised to find how much people walking on the street of Ginza -- that's downtown Tokyo -- know about the nitty- gritties of the American politics and their elections.

ZAKARIA: And in general...

KOMORI: For instance...

ZAKARIA: And in general, are they, like the Europeans, Obama crazy?

KOMORI: I don't think so. I think people who do business with the United States or business with the rest of the world, I think they prefer Republicans in general, because, right or wrong, they perceive Republican leadership more of a free trade, more free investment and free flow of goods and money.

And also, in terms of security, I remind you, the United States of America is the only ally of Japan, that Japan really relies on security-wise and defense-wise. And we live in sort of a dangerous neighborhood, beginning with the North Korean nuclear weapon program and all that, and the Chinese military expansion. So, again, with regard to security issues, I think people who pay attention to the international situation in Japan, I think much prefer Mr. McCain than Mr. Obama.

ZAKARIA: Charles in Kenya, what does the Republican convention look to you like?

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO, MANAGING EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, "THE NATION": Well, I think -- I think for starters, one of the most surprising things is that it really has not made the headlines here. You know, Obama was on the cover, literally every other day of the Democratic convention.

I think, you know, in Africa, the attraction to the American election -- and Obama, in particular -- there are two phases of it. There is the symbolic, the fact that he's a person of color, what that means to Africans and all that.

But there's a smaller group of people who wait (ph) for a relationship with the U.S. which is based on a broader range of issues, unlike the Bushie (ph) elsewhere (ph). It was primarily around this whole anti-terrorism campaign. Whether you're part of it or not part of it, a lot of national (ph) isolation (ph) and action that the U.S. was pushing, was based around those issues.

So, I mean, very many people rightly feel that that was too narrow an area, you know, for a country like the U.S. to base its relationship with a whole lot of countries.

ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back.

Komori-san, let me ask you, how is Japan reacting to what Russia is doing? Because, of course, in a sense, Russia is your neighbor as well. Does it make you feel as though you now are in a more dangerous world, a world in which geopolitics is rising in importance again?

KOMORI: Yes. Of course, Russia is Japan's neighbor, but not only that. Japan has a longstanding territorial dispute with Russia. The four islands which are adjacent to the most northern part of mainland Japan -- or the northern part of Japan -- have been occupied by Russia.

And so, what the Russians are doing, or seem to be doing with regard to Georgia, may be the beginning of this renewed hegemony that the new Russian leadership would seek. And that could have a very negative impact on this territorial issue, dispute between Russia and Japan.

It means that, I think Japanese concern has been increasing that Russia may be even more reluctant to even discuss this territorial issue with Japan. So, yes. Georgia itself is geographically distant from Japan. But this whole Russian possible change of outlook to the outside world, or on the continent, I think is a really serious source of concern now.

ZAKARIA: Charles, let me ask you. In Africa, is there a fear that there will be a kind of new geopolitical cold war, and Africa's concerns will be forgotten again, or will be subsumed by great power rivalries?

CHARLES: Well, I think one of the things that is happening in Africa, I think Africa is more interested in what happens to China and, to some extent, India right now.

So, as long as I think China is stable, because that business and trading relationship is growing, I think the African countries will not worry.

What has happened with Russia, you know, going into South Ossetia is that, if you see a lot of intellectuals across Africa, when they saw the U.S. go into Iraq, they were kind of wishing for a world where there could be some restraints on a superpower like the U.S. acting as a unilateral (unintelligible).

ZAKARIA: Jo, are there people in Europe celebrating quietly a kind of return to a multi-polar world, or a sense that, you know, this is the new reality, that the United States can't get its way on everything, that it will have to take into account the rise of new powers?

JOFFE: Well, I'm certainly not celebrating it, because I don't want another rogue power in the system that goes around grabbing territory and tries to restore its old empire with these rather crude ways that the Russians are displaying.

But the second point I would like to make -- and since you used that word "multi-polar" -- I think what's happening now is not a multi-polar world. If anything, it's a return to a bipolar world, in the sense that both the United States and the Russians are now fixated again on each other.

I mean, certainly, the Russians are fixated in almost an obsessive way on the Americans. Everything they do is justified in terms of what American might have done, how America might have humiliated them.

I mean, it's behaving like a -- you know, like an authoritarian, almost proto-fascist or neo-imperial nation. And it doesn't even have what the Soviets used to have -- some ideology, which, with a universal appeal, at least for many, many nations in the Third World for a long time.

There is no ideological, no ideal appeal here. It's just, you know, some thugs which are behaving like thugs.

ZAKARIA: Komori-san, let me ask you -- before we leave, I have to ask you about the turnover in your government. You've lost one prime minister. It seems like you're gaining another one.

We're all in the outside, frankly, getting a little weary of these changes in Japan, because they seem to amount to nothing. The policies don't change.

Is there anything to tell us, to tell the world about what this means, you will have a new prime minister?

KOMORI: I think they have some cause for being wary of the situation, domestic political situation in Japan. I think the Japanese -- Japanese observers are also concerned.

I think that we...

ZAKARIA: Concerned in what sense?

KOMORI: Concerned, because it would have a very negative impact on Japan's dealing with the outside world, beginning with the trade and investment, and other economic activities. I think for more -- specifically, some foreign investors may pull out their money out of Tokyo stock market, and we may see another round of sort of the stock market's downturn.

ZAKARIA: We'll have to leave it at that, Komori-san.

Thank you very much, Komori-san, Dr. Joffe, and Charles in Kenya.

We'll be right back.


ZAKARIA: My next guest is an unusual character -- part diplomat, part human rights worker, part writer and part Indiana Jones.

Rory Stewart is a Scotsman, who was appointed a provincial official in Iraq. He has literally walked across Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India, and written two bestselling books about it all.

And he has set up a charitable foundation whose goal is to save Afghan culture.

Rory Stewart, thank you for joining us.


ZAKARIA: Now, one issue on which both presidential candidates agree is that there should be more troops sent to Afghanistan. You are argue in a cover story in TIME Magazine, that this is precisely the wrong thing to do.

Why shouldn't we send more troops to Afghanistan?

STEWART: I think it's very dangerous, because Afghans themselves are going to feel increasingly resentful. They already perceive many of our troops as foreign occupiers. We've made very little progress in key areas in the last six-and-a-half years.

I'd rather see us focus on the things we do well -- health, education, finance, infrastructure -- rather than trying to do things which, frankly, I don't think we can do.

ZAKARIA: But if you look at the rise of the Taliban, you see these -- there's movement gaining force. You see terrorist gangs being trained. You see attacks on Pakistani army facilities. You see attacks on the Afghan government.

What do we do? I mean, shouldn't we go after them?

STEWART: I think the question is, what can we do, not what ought we to do?

Of course, there are many very problematic aspects of Afghanistan. You're right. This is an unstable country -- threats of terrorism, threats to the whole region.

But I don't think we have a clear plan. And I'm pretty convinced that putting 20,000 more soldiers on the ground is not going to be able to resolve that.

ZAKARIA: Because it will breed a greater sense of kind of nationalist opposition to these forces?

STEWART: In the very best case scenario, I think it would be a waste of our money, and a waste of our troops. In the worst case scenario, I think it will actively make things worse.

ZAKARIA: So, how do we gain some measure of security? I mean, if there is a lesson from Iraq, surely it is that you need -- the population needs some degree of security before you can eliminate extremism.

STEWART: That's absolutely right. But even with another 20,000 troops on the ground, we'll still have approximately only half the number that we have in Iraq.

And Afghanistan is a much more difficult country than Iraq to control, in terms of its landscape -- it's very mountainous -- in terms of its borders with Pakistan, and in terms of the history of fighting and resentment over the last 25 years.

I simply don't think we have the commitment or the will or the resources to occupy Afghanistan.

What I think can happen is, the Afghan government itself can slowly begin to sort its country out. And we should do all we can to try to manage that, contain that, encourage the Afghan government in that process.

ZAKARIA: Is it doing that right now? I mean, is your sense that Karzai is doing well? You know, there are many people who feel otherwise. Obama has said it seems as though Karzai is losing control of his country. STEWART: I think the Afghan government has got a lot of problems. They've done quite well in things like education and health. So, you'll hear people say again and again, six million more children back in school.

The police, on the other hand, is a catastrophe. It's a predatory force. Most Afghans are almost more frightened of the police in some areas than they are of the Taliban.

So, it's an enormous way to go. But this is a country which literally has been torn apart, which was never very well run, where many, many civil servants don't even have a high school education. A quarter of the teachers are illiterate.

It's going to be lucky if it reaches the stage of a country like Bangladesh or Pakistan in 20 years' time. We can't imagine that we're going to be able to create stability, simply by bringing in more troops.

ZAKARIA: But meanwhile, does Islamic radicalism rise? I mean, you go there. You watch it. What is the state of Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan, particularly?

STEWART: Well, I think it's very difficult to generalize. The people that I work with in Kabul, 350 people working with us in the old city, are fed up with the Taliban. They don't want to see them.

They see them essentially as a joke. They think they're weak. They don't believe the Taliban are ever going to be able to take a major city.

On the other hand, clearly in the south and on the Pakistani border, the Taliban are pretty terrifying. They're crossing the border. They're killing villagers, and they're causing a lot of problems.

Clearly, there is no solution to Afghanistan without a solution to Pakistan. And I think it's a distraction to imagine that just putting more troops into Afghanistan, when the majority of these people are crossing the borders from Pakistan, is going to solve anything.

So, what I'd really like to see from the United States, what I'd really like to see from Senator Obama, is some credible plan about what we do about Pakistan, rather than imagining that somehow, by putting more troops into Afghanistan, we'll resolve this problem.

ZAKARIA: And so, what do we do in Pakistan? Because it's the same problem in a way. It's the same -- it's the same phenomenon socially. It's Pashtuns who feel disenfranchised by the central government, whether in Pakistan or in Afghanistan.

Would you fight them militarily in Pakistan? Or would you fight them politically? And if the latter, how?

STEWART: I think we need to contain and manage the situation. I don't think there's a solution. There's no silver bullet out there.

There's no plan which you can produce, which in five years' time can say, Pakistan is going to be a stable, settled place.

We have to try to work with the best that we can find in the Pakistani government, because they're the people who have the legitimacy. They're the only people who have the kind of consent and support.

If we start rampaging around and trying to implement our own aggressive military policies, or even very independent political policies, we'll stir up huge resentment.

A recent poll in Pakistan suggested that ranking the U.S. embassy, al Qaeda and the Taliban, that they were ranking Taliban top, al Qaeda middle and the U.S. embassy bottom in a popular poll.

ZAKARIA: In terms of favorability.

STEWART: In terms of favorability, right. This is terrifying. And that has a strong lesson for us, which is that, in that kind of country we can't imagine that we, as foreigners, really have the wherewithal to turn it around.

ZAKARIA: When you look at this region of Pakistan -- again, never really been ruled by the central government -- there are many people -- the last time I talked to Musharraf about this, he said there isn't a military solution.

There is a political solution, and it basically -- what he was suggesting was, you have to accommodate yourself to the structures of power there, the tribal elders, and work with them -- even if many of them seem to be Islamic fundamentalists.

In other words, try to divide the good fundamentalists from the bad fundamentalists, the ones who are really violent and extreme.

Is that the solution?

STEWART: I guess it's probably the best solution you've got. You can describe it in different ways. You can describe it as working with the grain of society. But essentially, you find the people who are powerful, effective, representative, and you try to work with the best of them.

What you can't do is try to remodel a whole society and imagine those people don't exist.

ZAKARIA: But people say, when that kind of advice is given, you know -- I've heard people say, Rory Stewart just wants to work with the tribes as they exist.

But this is working with the most anti-modern, reactionary forces in society. You're not going to build a new Afghanistan or Pakistan by working with, you know, medieval warlords. STEWART: That's certainly true. And another problem, of course, is the tribes themselves are collapsing. New forms of radical Islam are emerging.

Often, the old tribal chief, who 20 years ago was able to decide what happened in his area, now doesn't have any power anymore. Some young, much more radical person has emerged, and nobody's listening to him. So, there's certainly no blueprint of that kind.

But I don't believe in the alternative. I don't believe that there are a huge number of gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, centralized state-loving democrats in these areas, who just need to be given the opportunity to take over.

I think these are very poor rural areas, and they're very conservative -- conservative in the way that rural areas, even in the United States are, but 100 times more.

Working in those areas, you have to work with a different kind of politics. I don't mean that cynically. I think that Afghanistan can be more prosperous, more humane, more stable in 20 years' time than it is today. I think Pakistan can improve, and will continue to improve.

But I don't think there's any alternative to working with the people who actually live in those areas.

ZAKARIA: We'll be back in a second.


ZAKARIA: We're back with Rory Stewart.

You were a British Foreign Service officer before you took that extraordinary walk across Afghanistan and Pakistan. And then, when you were done, you were appointed a regional officer -- you're a kind of governor of a part of Iraq.

What was your dominant impression of Iraq when you got there?

STEWART: My first impression was, I was struck by how opposed people were to our presence. I had worked in the Balkans. I'd worked in Afghanistan. I'd worked in Indonesia in East Timor.

And generally speaking, I arrived and I found people were quite friendly. The first day I walked through the market in Baghdad, I had people spitting at me. I had an enormous amount of hostility.

And from that moment onwards, I began to realize that one of the fundamental problems was that people simply did not like us. And...


STEWART: I think it was a much, much stronger sense of nationalist resentment. And in the areas where I was working, in Amariya and Nasiriya, a strong sense of religious resentment to foreign occupations. ZAKARIA: Was this Sunni resentment? Was it Iraqi resentment? Or was it, you know, some kind of anti-foreign resentment?

STEWART: I think, somehow, over the 35 years of Saddam and probably before, iraqis had developed a very strong sense of themselves as opposed to the West.

And so, what I found -- I was dealing with Shia communities in the south -- is that people would arrive with huge banners at the gate saying, what have the Coalition ever done for us? And we'd say, oh, we've repaired 240 out of 400 schools, or we've repaired all the clinics and hospitals.

And that wouldn't satisfy people, because there was still something they couldn't quite express, which was a sense of, what on earth are you doing in my country? Why on earth are you telling us what to do?

And even when, as was often the case, there were people who were well disposed towards us, who were excited by the prospects of human rights or democracy, they turned out not to have the power. They didn't have the votes. They didn't have the support.

ZAKARIA: It turned out that power lay with, to put it simply, kind of religious theocrats in many cases, or many thugs.

STEWART: Exactly. In southern Iraq, the power basically lay either with Iranian-backed Islamist parties or with the Sadrists, who are a more nationalist-based Islamist party -- but in either case, similar kinds of people.

I was dealing with generally young men in their late 20s, many of whom had had an education as clerics, who wanted to impose a certain vision of Sharia law, who were very conservative in their views of the world, and who didn't really like foreigners.

ZAKARIA: And what kind of headway were you able to make?

STEWART: Very difficult, because, of course, you know, I was trying to implement exactly those kinds of things we've been talking about. In other words, we were trying to deal with tribal groups, trying to see what we could do to work with the grain of societies.

I spent time traveling around the marshes, visiting tribal sheikhs in their houses, holding huge, big town hall meetings. And I realized that it wasn't really the job of a diplomat or a soldier or a development worker.

It was more like the job of a 1920s Chicago ward politician. But the difference was, I wasn't in Chicago, and the people I was dealing with weren't from Chicago.

ZAKARIA: And when you look at the success of the surge, do you regard it as about the rise of the -- the Sunnis deciding to switch sides? Is it about more troops providing just more basic security? Or is it a genuine turn in Iraq's future? STEWART: I think it's bewildering and surprising. I don't think people are really going to understand how this operated another five or 10 years. I don't think we can make sense of (unintelligible).

But certainly, a large ingredient of it is that we're working with people that we refused to work with in 2003. That was an option available to us. But I remember when...

ZAKARIA: This is the Sunni militants...


ZAKARIA: ... and we didn't do it, because there was a feeling that they were somehow Baathists or Saddamists.

STEWART: Yes. And when they came in to see us in 2003, and said we'd like to work with you, we'd say, oh, we didn't come here to bring back Saddam's Iraq. We're not dealing with a bunch of gangsters, criminal thugs, ex-Baathists.

That's not to say that I disagree with General Petraeus. I think, actually, this policy is the only one he could have pursued. It's been successful. It was the best option available to him.

ZAKARIA: Do you think it was a mistake not to have worked -- was it a mistake to have given the Sunni population, in 2003, the idea that they were going to be dispossessed in the new Iraq?

STEWART: I think, in retrospect, we probably should have pursued that kind of policy much earlier. But it would have been politically very, very controversial and difficult.

ZAKARIA: To reach out to the Sunnis.

STEWART: Yes. If we, in 2003, at the height of all our aspirations and talk about democracy and liberty, started arming 80,000 Sunni militiamen under people who were tied to gangster groups, we would have found ourselves in a very embarrassing situation.

ZAKARIA: Now, looking forward, we have -- we are now working with the Sunni militias. What's going to happen? As we draw down, will the Shia incorporate these Sunnis into the new power structure? And if they don't, won't this battle start up again between the Sunnis and the Shias?

STEWART: Predicting what happens in Iraq, I think, as we all know, is almost impossible. But if I had to guess, my guess would be that Iraqis are much cannier, much more competent, much more capable that we acknowledge, that amongst the Arab Iraqi population there's a strong sense of Iraqi nationalism.

And my belief is that, Shia and Sunni leaders can resolve their differences.

ZAKARIA: So, you expect that things will be stable, if we draw down. STEWART: My best guess is that things will get better, were we to leave.

ZAKARIA: Do you think Senator Obama is right to want a rather expeditious timetable for withdrawal?

STEWART: Yes, I do believe he's correct. I think there's a real limit to how long we can remain.

The problem for Senator Obama is he's a politician. He's not me. He can't say, "I don't really know what's going to happen when we leave. Things could get worse. Things could get better. Nevertheless, we still have to leave."

He has to claim that he's confident that things are going to go better. Nobody can be confident of that.

ZAKARIA: When you were in Iraq, did you sense that Iranian influence was very high?

STEWART: Incredibly high. The people I was working with in southern Iraq from 2003 onwards, most of them had spent 20 years in Iran. Their families were still living in Iran. I could speak to them in Farsi.

Their links to the Revolutionary Guard were quite apparent.

ZAKARIA: And what does it mean? So, Iran has these ties? Does it mean that Iran, the foreign policy -- that the foreign minister of Iran can pick up the phone and something happens in Iraq?

STEWART: No, absolutely not, because, of course, the problem for the Iranians is, as soon as somebody returns to Iraq, they're no longer really under your control. They may have spent 20 years living in Iran, but now they're an independent person. They're a governor. They're a police chief. They've got their own people.

And at that point, Iraqi nationalism kicks in. And I think it's a very strong force. And many of these people said, "I was humiliated during my 20 years in Iran."

And I suppose you could say they feel no more affection for Iranians than maybe many of the Afghans I work with, who have lived in Pakistan for 10 or 15 years, feel affection for Pakistan. In fact, they often feel exploited and abused, and are keen now to prove that they're independent.

ZAKARIA: Another part of Senator Obama's proposal is, of course, that we draw down to a very, very small force. It's not clear what it means, but it seems as though he wants to get down to maybe the 20,000 range, 30,000 range.

Is that viable?

STEWART: I think it's very tough. But part of that claim is that our main objective there should be counterterrorism, not state- building.

In making that claim, essentially what Senator Obama is saying -- and you can make the same point about Afghanistan -- is we're just going to keep enough troops there to stop al Qaeda from using it as a base to attack the United States.

It's clearly not sufficient troops to be able to talk about creating governance, rule of law, security or anything humanitarian. It's very much an argument based on national defense.

ZAKARIA: And when you look at it from your perspective, as somebody who's working to try to do nation-building, do you think that's fair, because these troops aren't going to actually build a new Iraqi nation, or a new Afghan nation anyway.

STEWART: I do feel that. I'm working down in the old city of Kabul, 350 employees. We've just cleared 10,000 trucks of garbage out of the old city. We don't see any foreign troops at all.

We're operating relatively freely. The security is OK. And we've got a community who is pleased to work with us.

And we feel, day-to-day, we can make a lot of progress. We can install sewerage systems, repair buildings, set up primary schools, clinics. A lot of that can take place without this big military footprint.

Now, I'm not to say that things will not deteriorate in the south if the military footprint were to leave. But I don't think there's a necessary connection between doing humanitarian work in a place like Afghanistan and keeping 90,000 foreign troops there.

ZAKARIA: When you look at Iraq and you hear Senator McCain talk about Iraq being an American ally on the model of South Korea, given what you were describing about Iraqi nationalism and, frankly, anti- Americanism, do you think Iraq will be an American ally 25 years from now?

STEWART: I don't believe that Iraq will be Korea, unfortunately. I think Iraq is likely to be like many other countries in the Middle East. It's likely to resemble its neighbors. It doesn't seem to me plausible that it should be the great exception.

I think we've been guided by the way that Iran or Syria or Kuwait or Saudi Arabia perceives the United States as a guide for roughly how Iraq is going to perceive the United States.

ZAKARIA: On that troubling note, Rory Stewart, thank you.

STEWART: Thank you very much.


ZAKARIA: Sixty-nine years ago marked the start of one of history's greatest and most gruesome events. Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, and thus began World War II. Now, some pundits believe that last month marked a similar turning point in history. They argue that Russia's attack on Georgia is the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of a new cold war.

It shows, they say, that ultimately, for all the talk of globalization and integration, politics has trumped economics.

But this is all overheated analysis that will not stand the test of time.

Consider one striking sign. The week that that conflict began, oil prices dropped. If concerns over a new cold war were real, prices should have spiked. After all, Russia is the world's second-largest oil exporter.

But as tensions between the West and Russia have grown in recent weeks, oil prices have continued to drop. Three months ago, oil was spiking over $130 a barrel. This week, it's down near $100.

As conservatives often remind us, correctly, markets tend to embody the collective wisdom and judgment of tens of thousands of participants.

So, what are they telling us? That this is not the end of the world, but an exercise of Russian power in an area close to its border, where it has historically been dominant. And the ham-handed way in which Moscow has acted -- a brutal and overt military attack -- has triggered a countervailing response in the region and from the West.

From Caucasian countries like Azerbaijan, to Poland and Ukraine, to the Baltic republics, everyone has been rattled by Russia's behavior, and now seek stronger ties with the West. Europe and the United States are more united than at any point in two decades. And outside the West, no country in the world has followed Russia and recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Moscow must be looking at all this and realizing that it has racked up huge costs for little benefit.

If there were to be another cold war, the outcome is preordained. The combined GDP of the West is now $30 trillion. Russia, meanwhile, has an economy that is just under $2 trillion, and that, too, artificially inflated by high oil prices.

A calm and deliberate policy toward Moscow is what the world needs, not hysterical overreactions.

And that's it for GPS this week.

But before we go, I owe you the answers to a couple of questions. Last month, I asked about your summer reading, the best book you had read recently.

I'm delighted to report that among your top choices was a book called "Three Cups of Tea," the unique story of Greg Mortenson. He's fighting terrorism in some of the most dangerous places in the world with a unique and powerful weapon -- building schools in the villages of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Greg Mortenson will be my guest here in the Global Public Square in the coming weeks.

Last week I asked a very different and difficult question. There are many people -- you could call them ethnic groups around the globe -- without a state to call their own. I gave you two examples -- the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, and the Scots, closer to home in Great Britain.

And I asked what group you think most deserves a country to all their own.

The most popular choice was the Kurds. Even more voted for them than for the Palestinians.

No question for this week. We'll have one again next Sunday.

Thank you for all your e-mails. Please keep them coming. You can e-mail me at You can also visit our Web site,, for highlights from this program. And you can always find our weekly podcast on the Web site.