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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Tom Friedman Interview; Discussing Israel, Iran and Russia
Aired September 14, 2008 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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.
Now, forget the nonsense you're hearing on the campaign trail about energy and climate change, and listen to the real thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM FRIEDMAN: Well, I always love when people say we're having a green revolution. I say, "Oh, really? Really? Us, a green revolution?"
Have you ever been to a revolution, Fareed, where no one got hurt? That's the green revolution.
In the green revolution, everyone's a winner. Exxon's green. GM's green. They've got a little cap now, a yellow cap on those flex fuel cars that they're making for 10 years -- never told anybody, so they could make more Hummers.
Yes, everybody's green now. But when everyone's green, Fareed, that's not a revolution. That's a party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: It's a great interview. And then, my panel of experts has some fascinating insights on Israel, Iran and Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IRSHAD MANJI: Every crisis in democracy does not need to have America's hands-on involvement to come up with a solution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: I hope you'll stay with us. Let's get started.
Tom Friedman is very smart. Yes, he has three Pulitzer Prizes to his credit, and his last book sold three million copies in the United States.
But what I like about him is that he is often right and always makes me think.
We're going to talk about his new book, but first, a little current affairs, since we have you here, Tom. TOM FRIEDMAN, AUTHOR AND COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Great to be here.
ZAKARIA: Were you surprised by Russia's attack on Georgia?
FRIEDMAN: The event itself took me by surprise, Fareed. But as I learned about the whole story, it all kind of fit into a template.
For me, as someone who opposed NATO expansion at the time, because I felt that it was basically saying to the Russians, look, the Cold War is over for you, but not for us. We're going to keep pushing our alliance in your face.
At the time they were weak. And at the time, you know, the administration told us, oh, don't worry. The Russians -- they'll accept it. They'll get used to it.
Well, guess what. They got strong, and they were never used to it. It was a humiliation. And so, it doesn't surprise me to see what Putin is doing today.
It's not an excuse. Putin's got to get out of Georgia. I think the market's actually going to punish him a lot more than he realizes and a lot of others realize.
But I'm very worried, Fareed, that we're kind of drifting into another cold war with Russia.
And, you know, we spent 50 years trying to win the Cold War. And when we did, we enjoyed this huge peace dividend. I don't want to spend the next 50 years fighting another cold war, if we can at all avoid it.
ZAKARIA: Can we avoid it? I mean, is there something we are doing that's forcing the issue?
FRIEDMAN: Well, I think there's two ways to avoid it. One is that we've got to weaken Putinism, OK. And what is Putinism?
Putinism is really a resurgent Russia based on one thing, Fareed: the price of oil.
Why Putin hasn't found a better way to educate his people -- you know, you've seen that list of the 500 best universities in the world. There are only two in Russia -- a country of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn -- just Moscow University and St. Petersburg University.
He's not making microchips. This is all based on drilling for oil and gas. And so, it's another reason we need an energy policy that will weaken that from one side.
But on the other side, I think we need to -- we should have had this conversation long ago -- but literally talking about what is your sphere of influence, what is your red line. How can we reassure our Eastern Europe states -- who, by the way, you know, were occupied by you, have legitimate fears, you know, our Eastern European allies. We've never really had that conversation. We've simply said, we're expanding NATO, and you're going to like it.
And they didn't like it. And now, they have a chance to push back.
ZAKARIA: But now, the administration, John McCain say we need to expand NATO more -- we need to add Georgia, Ukraine. What do you think of that?
FRIEDMAN: I think it's madness. I think it's sheer madness.
First of all, if you're actually worried about the security of Ukraine, I think there are other ways to ensure their security.
I mean, you could have all kinds of U.S.-Ukrainian, you know, joint maneuvers occasionally. You work it out with the Russians. You said, we're going to -- we're doing this as a way of reassuring them that we are not going to be moving our forces around you. We're not surrounding you.
I mean, the worst thing about this story, Fareed, is that you have to kind of defend Putin's Russia, which you really don't want to do.
But how would we feel if Russia were striking a deal with Mexico to extend the old Warsaw Pact to the U.S.-Mexico border? I mean, you know, why don't we understand that maybe from Moscow that looks a little unnerving.
But I don't want to be in the position of defending Putin. I want to be in the position of defending two things: one, a rational energy policy that weakens Putinism -- you know, this idea of really an aggressive Russia in your face -- but also, an American policy that engages Putin, and basically says -- why was I against NATO expansion? For a very simple reason.
I looked at the world and I said, is there any problem in the world that we can solve without Russia? Any big problem, whether it's Iran, Iraq -- is there any problem we could solve without Russia? So, why would we trade Russia for the Czech navy, when the Czechs don't even have a navy?
And the second reason I was against it was because, Fareed, didn't we fight the Cold War so Russian democrats could also be free and part of a united Europe? The Russia of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov and their kids?
Why was it only Eastern Europeans got to be free and reassured? Why not young Russians? Why do we kind of take this view that you can never change, you will always be an aggressive, imperialist, expansionist power?
Didn't we hear that about Japan and Germany after the world war? Didn't people tell us that about -- why is Russia any more irredeemably an essentially expansionist, aggressive power, but Japan and Germany could change?
So, where is the conversation about this? We haven't had that conversation.
ZAKARIA: What is the conversation we've had on the campaign trail? I mean, we have -- people say this is the most important election in a generation. I don't hear a lot of serious talk on the campaign.
FRIEDMAN: Well, if you're interested in whether or not you should have an abortion, this is the campaign for you. But, you know, I've kind of made up my mind on that issue.
And I don't feel -- you know, I'm hearing snippets in the campaign and in the conventions, but I'm not hearing people talk about, this is what I think should be the issue and what I think is on people's minds, even if they haven't articulated it.
And I think the issue for most Americans, Fareed, is nation- building at home. Americans want nation-building in America -- not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, or not only in Iraq, not only in Afghanistan.
This isn't a commentary on the war or the surge, when we should finish them or not. Let's leave that over there. Let's try to finish these wars the best way we can, as quickly as we can, because we need nation-building in America.
We're not who we think we are. You know, we're going around thinking, "Oh, Georgia needs a billion dollars. Here you go, Georgia, a billion dollars. Let's stick Putin in the eye." We don't have -- we don't have these billions of dollars to toss around anymore.
You know, we're going to talk about my book, but one of my favorite quotes in the book is from Rob Watson -- great environmentalist, innovator. And Rob says, "You know, Tom, if you jump out of an 80-story building, from the 80th floor, for 79 stories you can think you're flying. It's just the sudden stop at the end that gets you."
And that's what I'm worried about. We're going to have a sudden stop at the end.
And I just don't think -- I think we need to get back to building up our strength as a country again -- our infrastructure, our education -- because in a flat world, in a post-American world, where other people can compete with us now with the same technologies, if we don't build up our strength, soon or later our standard of living -- the chance of your kids and mine having the same standard of living we had, it's just not going to be there.
ZAKARIA: And we will be right back with Tom Friedman. We'll talk about his new book.
ZAKARIA: And we're back with Tom Friedman.
Tom, you were writing fervently and eloquently about 9/11, and now you're writing about energy and global warming.
What made you change?
FRIEDMAN: What's going on in the world -- in a sense, what my book is about -- is we're leaving an era, Fareed, of the Industrial Revolution that really grew us to the standard of living we have today, in which the energy we use, fossil fuels, were three things, we thought: inexpensive, inexhaustible and benign.
And the big transition I think we're in the middle of today is understanding that those fossil fuels, which powered our growth for so long, are expensive, exhaustible and toxic. Toxic in terms of the air we breath, toxic in terms of our climate -- and toxic in terms of geopolitics, in terms of the regimes they are now strengthening around the world. So, I think that's the big transition we're in.
And so, for me, as someone who is writing about foreign affairs, as you are, I felt that that's something that's really setting a frame, now around the whole world. And therefore, I really had to zero in on that nexus of issues, of energy/environment/geopolitics.
ZAKARIA: But when you look at the world, is it really conceivable that we're going to be able to get off fossil fuels, when India and China are building a coal-fired power plant every week -- in some cases, two a week?
So, we can do all the nice stuff we want to do, put those nice light bulbs in, drive hybrids. The reality is that China and India's growth is going to consume so much in terms of fossil fuels, that the world is going to get polluted, the price of oil is going to stay high.
Is this hopeless in a sense?
FRIEDMAN: I do not believe it's hopeless, but I do think it needs, for the reasons you have described, Fareed, innovation at a level and a pace that we haven't been doing.
But I do believe innovation -- this problem is only going to be answered by the engineers, not the regulators. So, we're not going to get people to voluntarily, I think, reduce their carbon emissions.
I'll tell you what I say to young Chinese. I was just in China a couple of weeks ago and had this conversation. Young Chinese, whenever I go there, say to me, "Mr. Friedman, you know, you guys got to grow dirty for 150 years. Now it's our turn."
To which I say to them, "Absolutely. You're absolutely right. It's your turn. Grow as dirty as you want, for as long as you want.
"Because I think in about five years, by then I'll have invented all the clean power technologies you're going to need as you choke to death. And then we're going to clean your clock in the next great global industry -- ET, energy technology, clean power."
That's when I see the headsets adjusting. And they understand -- do I understand why China and India, in particular, Fareed, think it's unfair? What did we do? We ate the hors d'oeuvres. We ate the entree. We ate the dessert. We invited them for tea and coffee afterwards and said, let's split the bill. OK. I understand why they feel late to the party and really, really disadvantaged.
But at the same time what I'm saying to them is, in a world that's hot, flat and crowded, OK, ET, energy technology has to be the next great global industry.
I mean, you can sit around and complain about how unfair it is. Or you can try to leapfrog it, and own that industry.
And so, I find when I go to China, they're really wrestling with this. Part of them wants to sit back and say it's unfair, we're going to grow as dirty as we want. Part of them says, geez, this is the -- and we could be at the lead. And if we just impose the -- and so, they're on the fence, Fareed.
And you know who moves them off the fence? We do.
If we leap ahead on this -- because we still define modernity for them in so many ways. If we move -- because right now, they're hiding behind us. Those who don't want to move, they say, look at the Americans. Why should we move?
If we move, they are going to move. And then we'll have what I think we need, which is not a space race that we had with the Soviets during the Cold War, but an Earth race with China. The space race was about who could put the first man on the moon. The Earth race will be about who can create the technologies so man and women can still live on Earth.
ZAKARIA: Aren't we already going green? I mean, every magazine you read nowadays gives you 10 ways to go green. The (inaudible) of merit (ph) have these initiatives. Schwarzenegger in California has it.
It feels like we're in the middle of something.
FRIEDMAN: Well, I always love when people say we're having a green revolution. I say, "Oh, really? Really? Us, a green revolution?"
Have you ever been to a revolution, Fareed, where no one got hurt? That's the green revolution.
In the green revolution, everyone's a winner. Exxon's green. GM's green. They've got a little cap now, a yellow cap on those flex fuel cars they've been making for 10 years -- never told anybody, so they could make more Hummers.
Yes, everybody's green now. But when everyone's green, Fareed, that's not a revolution. That's a party. We're having a green party. And I've got to tell you, it's so much fun, because I get invited to all the parties.
But it has nothing to do with a revolution, because a revolution -- you'll know it's a revolution. I wrote a book about the IT revolution, OK. And in that book, I really learned one thing about the IT revolution. There was just one rule in that revolution: change or die. OK.
There are a whole group of companies -- Burroughs, NCR, DEC, Data General. Fareed, they're not with us anymore, those IT companies. They're in the great IT heaven in the sky, because that revolution was change or die.
You'll know this is a revolution, the green revolution, when you see companies on the side of the road with a bullet in their head. Oh, I don't want to see anyone hurt, and no one wants to be physically hurt. What I mean is, only when you basically change the rules of the game, and companies either have to innovate around green, or they can't survive, then you'll have a real green revolution.
ZAKARIA: When I look at the companies in this new space, energy technology, a surprising number of them are European.
ZAKARIA: And what I'm struck by is, when thinking about this race, if there is an Earth race, I wonder how we'll do. We're doing great in biotech. We're doing great in nanotechnology.
The one area where we're actually behind -- substantially behind in some areas, wind, solar -- is energy technology. And it's because the European Union and Japan have mandated.
So, is government policy the answer?
FRIEDMAN: It does not happen without government policy. Why not, Fareed? I'll give you a really quick example that my friend, Nate Lewis, at Cal Tech gives.
You know, let's say I invented the first cell phone. I come to you, Fareed. I've got a phone you can carry in your pocket.
You say, "Tom, a phone I could carry in my pocket? That would change my life. I'll take 10."
I say, "Wait a minute, Fareed. The phones cost $1,000 each."
You say, "No problem, Tom. That would change my life."
I sell you 10 phones. To him, her. I come back six months later, you know what happens, Fareed.
I say, "Fareed, remember that phone I sold you for $1,000, OK? You took 10. It's now only $500."
Six months later it's only $300, OK. Now, I come to you with another bargain a year later. I say, "Fareed, remember that phone I sold you? It changed your life, right?"
You say, "Yes, Tom. That was great."
"I've got another deal for you. You see that light up there? We're going to power it with solar energy, but it's going to cost you $125 more a month."
You'd say, "Wait a minute, Tom. Remember that phone you sold me? Now, that changed my life. It gave me whole new functions. In case you haven't notice, Tom, I've already got light. And I really don't care where the electrons come from."
So, unless, for the reasons you said, the government comes in and says, Fareed, from now on, that light's going to cost you $150 more a month, because you're going to have to pay for the solution, the CO2 and protecting the oil from the Persian Gulf, then Fareed, you're not going to get that light.
And that's why government...
ZAKARIA: So, the market isn't going to solve this problem.
FRIEDMAN: The market won't solve it, because the market is not a level playing field. But more deep than that, Fareed, because unlike the IT revolution, unlike nanotech and unlike biotech, with energy, you're replacing a technology that already exists and is already cheaper.
It would be as if somebody came to you, Fareed -- this is Nate's point -- and said, Fareed, I want to do a moon shot, but Southwest Airlines already flew to the moon and gave away free peanuts, do you think we ever would have had NASA, if Southwest Airlines flew to the moon?
Well, we're not going to have clean tech, as long as you can get a cheap light, and the government doesn't come in and say, Fareed, you're going to have to pay the full cost of that light -- the pollution, the CO2 and the troops in the Persian Gulf.
And because government's not doing that, we're not going to get the innovation.
ZAKARIA: So, close this out with a thought on the campaign. You're passionate about this issue of energy.
Who's the candidate who's serious about it in this race?
FRIEDMAN: Well, I can only say what I've written, which is I thought we were going to have two green candidates in this election. That's what really excited me. John McCain had co-sponsored a bill on climate change and had said a lot of good things on this.
We don't -- we really only have one green candidate now. His name's Barack Obama.
McCain came out for lifting the gasoline tax during the summer holiday -- a total giveaway that only would have increased driving, more pollution and more gasoline consumption.
He didn't show up for any of the votes on alternative energy, to renewal -- the production and solar credits for renewable fuel. He missed all eight votes last year, and the bill still hasn't passed.
And worst of all, you know, that convention has been basically chanting, "Drill, baby, drill," that that is the solution to our energy problems.
And our solution to our energy problem in my view is "Invent, baby, invent."
I think to myself, when I hear "Drill, baby, drill," and I think Fareed, we are on the eve of the ET revolution. Other countries are already seizing these energy technologies.
It's as if, on the eve of the IT revolution, on the eve of inventing PCs and the Internet, someone was out there demanding more IBM Selectric typewriters and carbon paper. "Carbon paper, baby, carbon paper!"
Oh, that's really how we're going to get to the 21st century. That is a bridge to the 19th century.
ZAKARIA: On that note, Tom Friedman, thank you very much.
FRIEDMAN: Appreciate it.
ZAKARIA: And we'll be right back.
ZAKARIA: As the American elections grow closer and hotter, there are also rumblings about potential October surprises overseas. Meanwhile, questions mount about how these candidates will handle the most troubled corners of the globe.
Joining me now, some smart observers about the world: Irshad Manji, the author of "The Trouble with Islam Today"; Bret Stephens, foreign policy columnist of the "Wall Street Journal"; and Gideon Rose, managing editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine.
Let me start with you, Bret. I'm hearing more and more talk about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran.
I would have said six months ago that the chance was, I don't know, two percent. But a number of people I talk to who seem to follow this closely say, no, the Israelis are getting very serious about this, and they feel that they might well have to act.
What are you hearing? You used to be the editor of the "Jerusalem Post." I assume you're still talking to people in Israel. BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN POLICY COLUMNIST, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, it won't be an October surprise. It may be a November surprise.
I think a great deal hinges on Israel's perception of what the United States is going to do. And that, in turn, hinges on who wins the election the first Tuesday in November.
I think the sense is that an Obama -- the sense among Israelis, that is -- is that an Obama administration would ultimately accommodate itself to a nuclear Iran without taking preemptive military strikes; a McCain administration would not.
So, if Obama does win in November, that, I think, is where we enter into a sort of zone of risk. Because the Israeli view will be that they have a three-month window in which they have a friendly administration in Washington -- that is, the outgoing Bush administration -- and they have that period in which they might seriously consider military strikes. But I would be very surprised to see any kind of surprise happening between now and the election.
ZAKARIA: Gideon, when you listen to this, what do you think?
GIDEON ROSE, MANAGING EDITOR, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MAGAZINE, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, like you, I've been surprised to hear serious people mention the increased risk of this, because, while I think I understand what the Israelis see in it, I can't understand why Washington wouldn't simply shut this down, if it decided that a preemptive counter-proliferation strike wasn't a prudent idea.
And I find it hard to believe -- since everybody will think that the Americans backed such a strike anyway -- if Washington didn't want such a strike to occur, I find it impossible to believe that they would allow it to occur.
IRSHAD MANJI, DIRECTOR, MORAL COURAGE PROJECT, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: I think that it would be a huge strategic mistake vis-a- vis the Muslim world, to be attacking Iran while the Bush administration is still in power, because it will carry, such an attack, either an implicit or, more likely, overt imprint of approval from Bush. And that, in fact, is what the bigger problem here is, not an attack itself.
And I'll tell you why I say that. You know, a couple of years ago, I was on my way home from the World Economic Forum, and managed to overhear a private conversation -- now, not so private -- between Mohammed ElBaradei and John McCain. And John McCain had taken a thrashing at the forum for being a U.S. politician.
Mohammed ElBaradei said to him, very, very apologetically, "Please, senator, you know that this is not about America. We love the American people. This is about the Bush administration."
And by the way, ElBaradei is a huge New York Knicks fan. So, I have to believe he's sincere when he suggests he's not anti-American.
McCain looked at him so saddened and said, "I know. It's OK. I know."
And it seems to me that, in this very spontaneous and, you know, again, seemingly private moment, that McCain was acknowledging that America needs the world as much as the world needs America.
And so, I think that, you know, it's going to be a real problem for any American administration to see an attack on Iran as long as Bush remains in the White House.
STEPHENS: I think it will be a real problem for either an Obama administration, an outgoing Bush administration or a McCain administration to stand consciously in the way of an Israeli strike on Iran. All candidates have made it clear that an Iranian bomb is unacceptable. And all candidates have made Israel's security a centerpiece of their foreign policies.
There will be consequences, without question, on the Arab or Muslim street in the event of an Israeli strike. But an American politician, an American president is also going to have to take seriously the consequences of actively blocking Israel from pursuing what, for it, is an existential issue.
For the United States, it's not. But...
ROSE: I'm not sure whether I'm talking with Bret Stephens or John Mearsheimer.
The idea here is that the reason the U.S. is going to take this course is because it's afraid of domestic political pressure of pro- Israel forces in the U.S. I find that appalling, if it's actually true.
I think -- we were just talking about the crisis in Georgia, which was a crisis started, or at least provoked, by a feisty little ally who basically didn't listen to the warnings from Washington about not annoying their large, powerful, authoritarian neighbors.
And it seems to me that, if Washington allowed this to happen twice in one year, you know, as Oscar Wilde once said, the first time can be excused, the second time begins to look like incompetence.
ZAKARIA: Bret, what is the theory behind which the Israelis would do it? Maybe it delays the program by a couple of years. It will cause enormous complications for Israel, not just for the United States.
Wouldn't that give real pause to any serious Israeli strategist's thinking about this?
STEPHENS: Well, you're absolutely right. And Shimon Peres, the president of Israel -- it's a ceremonial post, but he's an important politician -- last week said that an Israeli strike would be a bad idea.
But I think that there are not only strategic issues at play here, there are psychological issues at play. There is a real sense among Israelis that Iran poses a unique threat to their security and their existence, in a way that none of the other Arab regimes that have threatened it or been at war with it in its history do.
They take very seriously the utterances of Ahmadinejad and previous leaders, like Rafsanjani, who said that a single bomb on Israel would wipe the country out. Several Israeli bombs on Iran would not wipe the Iranian or the Muslim nation, so to speak, out. And that weighs very heavily in the psychological profile.
You know, we have before us...
ZAKARIA: But forget the rhetoric. What has Iran done that has suggested a kind of weird, irrational foreign policy? I look at them and they're very smart.
They're very -- I mean, they seem to be pursuing a pretty canny foreign policy. They fund Hezbollah. They fund Shiite militias in Iraq. This is all very clever, because it's difficult to counter.
They don't go in for the kind of overt blunderbuss kind of stuff like the Russians, say, in Georgia.
I mean, I'm struck, actually, by the rationality of Iranian foreign policy.
STEPHENS: Well, there's a very troubling millenarian aspect to Iranian rhetoric. And that's particularly...
ZAKARIA: Rhetoric, not reality, is all I would say.
STEPHENS: Well, rhetoric is sometimes a reflection of actual intent. And obviously, for the Jewish state, that is a very signal concern. I mean, you can say certain kinds of leaders are blusterers, or they're employing rhetoric for domestic political purposes, and some of them mean it very much in earnest.
This is -- this is, when we're talking about Iran, we're talking about a theocratic regime that came to power in this kind of, you know, the tidal wave that sort of swept in Khomeini. They have in Hezbollah a very powerful ally that is able to, we saw in 2006, inflict very serious strategic blows to Israel.
And even if the Iranians were not to employ the bomb, mere possession would make Israel's strategic position in the region, in the long term, unlivable.
ZAKARIA: OK. Exit the question. We've got a -- all right. Go, go.
ROSE: Israel has 200 nuclear weapons of its own. Why has that not made Iran's strategic position untenable?
STEPHENS: Because Israel is not threatening Iran as in the open, aggressive way. No Israeli leader has called for Iran to be wiped off the map or erased from the pages of time, depending on your interpretation. And finally, Israel is a country the size of New Jersey with a population of about seven million. It is a small and much more vulnerable country than Iran is. Iran is always going to be with us. It's not clear whether Israel will be.
MANJI: And we haven't even talked about the, you know, politics leading to the next -- who the next leader of Israel is going to be and what she or he may need to do in order to prove him or herself as a tough steward of the Israeli people.
So, that will play a part, as well.
ZAKARIA: And we're going to have to take a break. We'll be right back.
ZAKARIA: Once more, I'm joined by our panel -- Bret Stephens, Irshad Manji and Gideon Rose.
Gideon, you mentioned when we were talking earlier, the Russian- Georgian affair. There seem to be persistent administration leaks about the fact that the Georgians acted rashly and foolishly. There was a piece in the "Washington Post" by Jackson Diehl, who has very good sources in the administration, saying that they are seething.
Is that appropriate?
ROSE: Well, it seems to me that the -- it's appropriate -- it's not appropriate to leak that. And after these things happen, you always want to make sure that everyone knows we wanted exactly things to play out this way. But it might be useful if that keeps everybody on a better playbook for the next crisis.
And it seems to me that the problem with Georgia was that they -- or one of the problems with Georgia, aside from Russia being a complete thug -- was that the administration sent mixed signals. Some people were telling the Georgians don't do this. But Saakashvili understood that he had a lot of support in a lot of segments of the administration.
And there was the moral hazard question. He felt he could get away with doing something reckless, that he might not have done, if he really were told that everybody in Washington would be furious with him and wouldn't stand by him, if he actually did it.
And it seems to me that somebody in the administration right now, if they don't want to strike Iran, should be telling the Israelis, do not do this, because you will really suffer. Now, they don't have to do it publicly -- and if that leaks out, there will be political consequences like Bret was talking about.
But it seems to me that that's the kind of thing that a wise, prudent leader of the U.S. would be telling the Israelis now, unless we want to deal with the blowback from a strike on Iran. ZAKARIA: Bret, you look at alliance management, and I look at the way the Bush people have handled Taiwan. And it seems to me a somewhat similar situation.
What they've told the Taiwanese is, we love you, we support you. If there's a real crisis, we'll come to your assistance, but don't provoke it. If you do something unilateral, like declare independence, you're on your own.
Shouldn't there have been some kind of similar, coherent message sent to the Georgians?
STEPHENS: I think there's no question that Saakashvili blundered. I think -- I don't know exactly what was or was not said. I find it hard to believe that the administration actually said, yes, go ahead.
But there seems to have been neglect on the part of the United States in managing the Saakashvili relationship.
Clearly, the administration got a great wakeup call. And it has to think clearly what it's going to do with Georgia, and especially what it's going to do over Crimea.
MANJI: But you know, what it's going to do with these various parts of the world, for me almost misses the point about, you know, the cease-fire agreement that Nicolas Sarkozy has managed to broker, in that this is a made-in-Europe cease-fire plan. This is a very important message to send, even to the American people.
What it suggests is that every crisis in democracy does not need to have America's hands-on involvement to come up with a solution.
Now, it's important to have American support, as Georgia is getting through a $1 billion aid package from Washington. But to have the Europeans take the lead and, in fact, take the vast majority of the responsibility in helping to solve this problem, is, I would suggest, a huge relief -- or should be, at least -- to the United States.
ROSE: In fact, it gets even more complicated, because -- we were just talking about Iran. Well, one of the reasons the choices on Iran are so difficult for the United States is that the real people who would have to be brought into it in order to put economic pressure on Iran and keep a real tight containment, would be China and Russia. And if we're getting annoyed at Russia because of Georgia, and we're pulling back, that reduces our ability to get Russian cooperation in helping to contain Iran.
And so, all the pieces of the puzzle start fitting together. And if you're at war with everybody, or on bad terms with everybody, you're not going to be able to solve any of the problems, let alone the ones that are the most important to you.
MANJI: Yes. You won't have any political capital. ZAKARIA: McCain says we should be -- we should have kicked Russia out of the G-8 a long time ago, we should presumably be doing lots of tough things against them.
What do we then do when we need the Russians on Iran, on North Korea, on nonproliferation in general?
STEPHENS: Well, I think that argument would play better with me if the Russians had previously been more cooperative with, say, over Iran than they have been so far. We've been able to eek out three very weak resolutions at the U.N. Security Council that have done -- seemingly done nothing to deter Iran's nuclear program, whether it's a military one or not.
And I think we have -- I think there's something illusory about the notion that we are going to have to rely or depend on China and Russia to reach a non-military solution to our problems with the Iranians. The Chinese have huge gas deals with Iran. They have huge energy needs, as well. They're not going to forfeit them. And I think Russia likes to play, as we've seen, the opportunistic spoiler.
ROSE: I think that energy policy, which is often discussed separate from foreign policy, actually is one of the most crucial tools that we actually have in our possession.
If the next president were to seriously address various aspects of energy policy, so that we would reduce -- you know, the right used to have a slogan when we were in college: defund the left. If we could defund the bad guys -- and frankly, the oil revenues go mostly these days to the bad guys -- if we could defund the bad guys through a successful energy policy, things might actually look a lot better.
And so, domestic energy policy becomes part of your overall foreign policy.
ZAKARIA: And looking at the campaign, Irshad, do you think all this helps McCain, it makes him look like a tough guy? I mean, just the language of campaigns, it's easier to be tough than to be smart...
ZAKARIA: ... whether it's right or not.
MANJI: Right. McCain, I believe, can't afford to look too tough. He's now already got Sarah Palin, the pit bull with lipstick, on side. And she's there to shore up his base. She's the one who can act tough.
What he needs to do, if he's actually going to win the next election, is bring on, you know, the independents and the more moderate Democrats, who, frankly, don't want him singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," you know. He is needing to have much more nuance, much more thought, much more reflection in his foreign policy.
And that's going to be, I think, not just a challenge for him in the sense of being able to shift mental gears in that direction, but I actually think that's where he's at. And he needs to feel the sense of permission over the next three or four weeks in order to go there.
STEPHENS: That being said, I would say that the McCain candidacy profits politically from foreign policy crises. I mean, it was no accident that Joe Biden's selection came at the height of the Georgian crisis. There is a perception that's reflected in polls that McCain is a stronger, more effective or more knowledgeable leader on foreign policy crises.
And if there are foreign policy crises, some other October surprise between now and the election, that is going to help McCain's candidacy in a big way. And it should.
ZAKARIA: On that note, Gideon Rose, Irshad Manji, Bret Stephens, many thanks.
And we will be right back.
ZAKARIA: So, how does a teacher from Montana end up fighting the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan?
Greg Mortenson tells his fascinating story in the book "Three Cups of Tea," which became a sleeper bestseller.
We've talked on this program about dealing with the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in the borderlands between. You literally stumbled into those lands.
GREG MORTENSON, AUTHOR, "THREE CUPS OF TEA": I went to K-2 in '93, spent 78 days on the mountain.
ZAKARIA: And K-2 is...
MORTENSON: It's the world's second-highest mountain in Pakistan, on the Pakistan-Chinese border.
Coming off the mountain, it was very difficult, dangerous. Several people died that year.
I ended up walking five days, stumbling into a village. And I was weak, exhausted, emaciated. I had no...
ZAKARIA: At this point, you were just literally looking for someplace to sleep and eat.
MORTENSON: I was so touched by their hospitality -- a very poor, impoverished area. I went behind the village one day. I saw 84 children sitting in the dirt doing their school lessons with sticks in the sand.
So, when a young girl, Chocho, came up to me and asked me to help her build a school, I made a promise to help them build a school.
We figured out I'd need $12,000. I came back to the States. I had no clue how to fund raise. So, I hand-typed 580 letters to celebrities and movie stars. It took me 10 weeks. I only got one check back from Tom Brokaw. Then I...
ZAKARIA: For how much?
MORTENSON: A hundred dollars.
And then I wrote -- I sold my car. I sold my climbing gear. By spring I had only raised $2,400.
And my mother, who was a principal in an elementary school in Wisconsin, invited me to come and talk to the kids in early '94. And a young fourth grader named Jeffrey said, "I have a piggy bank at home, and I'm going to help you."
I didn't think much of it. And in six weeks they raised 62,340 pennies. So, that's what really got the ball rolling. And then adults, obviously, started responding.
I went back in '95. Six weeks later the school got built.
ZAKARIA: So, you built this one school. And then what happens? You go away and you think that's the end of it?
MORTENSON: No. I decided in '96 to dedicate my life to mostly promoting literacy and education for girls in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. And I had seen what the lack of education can do. And being that my mother and my parents or grandparents are all educators, I made a commitment to build more schools.
And we focus on -- our priority is not numbers of schools, but schools -- areas where there is no education due to religious extremism, areas of conflict and war or physical isolation. And we work with the communities. They have to provide free manual labor, free land, free resources. So, we leverage to get...
ZAKARIA: So, they have to participate. And they have to...
ZAKARIA: They have to have some ownership of the process.
MORTENSON: Fifty percent, basically, sweat equity and free land.
ZAKARIA: How many schools have you built?
MORTENSON: Seventy-eight. And we're running about 40 -- four dozen others, and...
ZAKARIA: So, tell me. You look -- these are literally the areas where the Taliban is rising and is gaining strength. What's your insight into why is it that Islamic fundamentalism is growing in these areas?
MORTENSON: Impoverishment, illiteracy. But also -- I have studied the Holy Quran. The first word of the revelation to Muhammad the Prophet is the word "ikra." And in Arabic, ikra means read. The first two chapters implore that all people have a quest for knowledge.
I think it's important to focus on the girls. Obviously, the boys are important, too. But in Africa there's a proverb. If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a community. It's often girls who are deprived of education.
ZAKARIA: But you see these girls, and you see these boys. Do any of them start becoming more fundamentalist, religious? I mean, when you see something like that happen, just looking at it on the ground, why does it happen? Why does a young man decide to join the Taliban?
MORTENSON: Well, it doesn't take much. In areas we work, Taliban or recruiters come in. They'll give maybe $50 a year per son.
If there is no secular education, there's much more aspiration to go -- they feel -- they don't know really what education is, and they'll end up going into an extremist madrassa. About four million, mostly young boys, are in those schools.
And I think the real reason, I've learned is -- we have four former Taliban who are now teaching in our girls' schools out of about 540 teachers.
ZAKARIA: And what do they -- what do they say about this? Why were they in the Taliban?
MORTENSON: Well, they said they didn't realize at the time -- they went originally to formal school, but then they went to an extremist madrassa. And they felt that what their imam or the mullah was telling them is that the real light is through, you know, extremist, radical Islam.
ZAKARIA: And through violence...
MORTENSON: Through violence.
But what they told me is, which I've learned recently, is that in the Holy Quran, when someone goes on jihad -- and jihad can also be a noble quest -- but they have to get permission blessings from their mother. If they don't do that, it's very shameful or disgraceful.
And all four of these men got out of the Taliban, because their mothers told them what they're doing is not in the name of Islam. And they were -- they persuaded their son to get out of the Taliban.
And they're kind of like an ex-smoker now. They're our biggest advocates for girls' education.
ZAKARIA: Greg Mortenson, thank you very much.
And we'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: This is, of course, the week that changed America.
Seven years ago on September 11, 2001, America was attacked in a cruel and cowardly terrorist plot that killed just under 3,000 civilians of all races, castes and creeds.
When it happened, almost everyone predicted that we were entering a new world of terrorism, jihad and suicide bombings. Except it hasn't really happened.
Certainly, there have been terror attacks in many countries, but few of them have been of any size and scale. In recent years, even these small attacks have decreased in number substantially.
About 18 months after 9/11, I began writing in columns for Newsweek that the danger from al Qaeda was being overblown, that the organization had been badly beaten, and the fact that governments everywhere were tracking people, money, goods, information, for suspicious activities, had made large-scale terror much more difficult to do.
While the administration and governments everywhere deserve credit for counterterrorism efforts, which are more police work than military strategy, the broader reason for this trend is simple. Al Qaeda and its message is unpopular in the Muslim world and increasingly so.
As its sympathizers have sponsored attacks in Riyadh, Istanbul, Casa Blanca, Amman and Cairo, the locals -- local Muslims -- have recoiled in horror. No one wants to live under the Taliban. And in elections in every Muslim country from Indonesia to Turkey, you see that. They never vote for those parties.
So, while we rightly worry about terror groups in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan and devise strategies to fight them, let's also keep in mind, on this week, that there is now seven years of evidence that al Qaeda is not the inevitable future of the Muslim world, but an evil spasm that, if properly handled will one day soon be history.
That's it for GPS this week.
Our question is simple. Do you think Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities before the next president takes office? Yes or no.
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