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Interview with U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon

Aired July 3, 2011 - 10:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We have a very special program today, a rare and exclusive conversation with the National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon, who many believe is the president's principal adviser on foreign policy. We'll talk about the whole range of foreign policy challenges confronting the United States and President Obama.

Next up, a country more politically divided than the United States? Really? "What in the World?"

Then, what's really behind the revolutions in the Arab world and who will be the driving force going forward? We'll take an in-depth look.

But first, here's my take.

Watching the return of the Greek crisis, many people in America are wondering, are we next? Will America face the same financial disaster that the Greek government faces, with a soaring deficit and debt, markets that have lost faith in it and a downward spiral of budget cuts that then further depress the economy?

It might, but let us understand something really important. America stands in a fundamentally different place than does Greece.

Greece has two problems. First, it has a big budget deficit and markets have lost faith that it can ever repay its loans. Second, it is an unproductive economy and cannot generate enough economic growth over the next few decades. In economies, Greece has a liquidity problem but also a solvency problem.

The United States, by contrast, does not have a solvency problem. The American economy remains one of the world's most competitive, with many of the fastest-growing companies in most of the advanced industries. It houses the best capital markets in the world, the greatest universities, the most dynamic society.

America is demographically vibrant, thanks to immigration. It will be the only rich country that will see its population grow over the next 25 years.

America could face a liquidity problem, that is it could have difficulty financing its debts and deficits if markets lose faith in it. But, again, let's be clear. This has not happened yet. In fact, right now, the world is lending to America more cheaply than ever before.

The most important difference between Greece and America is this -- America has many paths to solve its deficit problem. Were it to implement the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan, for example, it would instantly give America among the strongest public finances of any rich country.

Were Congress would simply allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, returning rates to where they were under Bill Clinton's presidency, when America created almost 25 million jobs. That one action would provide the federal government with $3.9 trillion in revenues over the next decade and basically solve the deficit problem. We would still face the long-term problem of entitlements, especially health care costs, like every other rich country, but the short and medium-term crisis would be over.

Please understand, Greece, Portugal, Ireland have no such economic answer to their problems. Europe is choosing between only terrible and dangerous options in resolving the Greek dilemma, massive unending bailouts or a default that could turn into a Lehman Brother- type event.

Now, America's economic problems might have a simple solution, but our political system seems utterly unable to get us to this solution. One party refuses to even think about tax increases, the other will not take seriously the problem of entitlement reform. The result -- paralysis.

And if we do end up losing the trust of markets, and it can happen, it will not be because they lost faith in America, in our economy and our society, but because they despaired at the country's selfish and self-defeating politicians. On July Fourth weekend, that's a pretty depressing thought.

For more on this, you can read my column in this week's "Time" magazine or at

Let's get started.


ZAKARIA: Thank you for doing this, Tom.

TOM DONILON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, thank you. Good to see you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Tom, when you look at administration strategy in Libya, there seems to be a hope that Gadhafi is planning an exit, but are there any actual indications that he is? In other words, we are planning for a post-Gadhafi Libya, but is he?

DONILON: Yes. I don't know the answer to that question. What I can tell you is this, is that we have done in Libya exactly what we said we were going to do. We had a humanitarian crisis, we put together an effort working with NATO and coalition partners to deal with that crisis through military force, and we were successful at doing that.

We have a longer-term policy goal of seeing Gadhafi go. The people of Libya wouldn't be safe and we wouldn't have a stable situation there by any means until he does go, and we have put together a -- a broad comprehensive set of pressure efforts to see him -- to pressure him to step down.

I think those efforts are succeeding, Fareed. You've seen increased success by the opposition leaders militarily as they move towards Tripoli. You've seen the standing up of the opposition group in the form of the TNC as an increasingly legitimate and critical and (INAUDIBLE) for the people of Libya. And there's almost an inevitability here, I think -- there is an inevitability here building as to what the -- as to what the ultimate result will be.

ZAKARIA: Why not recognize the opposition?

DONILON: Well, I think that's -- you know, that's a -- that's a complicated legal issue, frankly. We have said straight up that they are the -- the legitimate and credible representative of the Libyan people. We'll continue -- and we -- and they've, under that guise, have garnered a lot of support from around -- from around the world.

We have a -- have a representative in Benghazi who works with the -- with the opposition group, the TNC.

ZAKARIA: Would you be willing to arm them the way the French now publicly are announcing that they are?

DONILON: We have -- we have at this point provided a broad range of non-lethal supplies to the -- to the TNC, and we haven't made a decision with respect to -- with respect to lethal assistance.

ZAKARIA: You're not ruling it out?

DONILON: Well, we haven't made a decision on that at this point.

ZAKARIA: Syria. You have in Syria a situation where a very brutal dictator is engaging in a crackdown that in many ways seems very similar to Moammar Gadhafi's, and yet the administration will not publicly call for President Assad to resign. Why?

DONILON: Well, what we have called for is a -- is a stop to the violence. We have worked with the international community and unilaterally to put increased pressure on him through sanctions and -- and other means. We have indicated to the -- to the Syrians that it's important for him to either move to some sort of reform agenda or transition or get out of the -- or get out of the way.

That's essentially the strategy that we've undertaken at -- at this point.

ZAKARIA: But why are you stopping short of asking him to -- to resign when you did ask Mubarak to resign?

DONILON: Well -- well, with respect to -- with respect to -- well, there's different -- there are different circumstances, right? And they are -- they are different circumstances at this point.

We continue to press the -- the Syrian leader, Assad, who has made terrible mistakes and really has, I think, really misserved his people, and obviously abused his people through the violent -- violent actions against them as they were engaged in peaceful and peaceful protests.

You know, we'll continue to put pressure on him to have a -- to move towards a more represented and responsive government.

ZAKARIA: What kind of pressure?

DONILON: Well, as I said -- as I laid out, I think Syria is increasingly isolated in the world. We have been working with Syria's neighbors to continue to put pressure on him. The Turks have put public pressure on -- on President Assad and the person of -- of Prime Minister Erdogan who has -- said -- been very vocal about this. We have put the kind of pressure that I've talked about in terms of sanctions on the -- on the Syrians.

They are increasingly, increasingly isolated on this, and I think you see some results of the pressure and that President Assad has indicated that he wants to move towards a national political dialogue and some change. Now, we have, I think, good reason to be skeptical about that, given the choices he's made to date. But this is the -- this is the path that we're on at this point, continued pressure, continued isolation, to force him towards a set of decisions toward a more representative, responsive government.

ZAKARIA: The president said in his speech on the Arab spring that there were some points at which our interests and our values might collide or might be in tension. It seems to me nowhere is that more true than in Saudi Arabia. If there were significant street protests in Saudi Arabia, would the administration side with the Saudi government or the Saudi people?

DONILON: If it -- well, if there were significant protests, it would -- it would depend on the circumstances, right? You know, that's a hypothetical -- hypothetical. I wouldn't really want to address -- it wouldn't be responsible for me in my position to address that.

I can tell you this, though, is that the United States and Saudi Arabia have a set of very important shared interests. We have a shared interest in seeing that no country or force in the region seeks or try to achieve dominance. We have a very important shared interest in seeing restrictions on weapons of mass destruction proliferation in the region.

We have a shared interest in counterterrorism cooperation. We have a shared interest in the pursuit of peace. We have a shared interest in an -- a stable supply of energy, and in a healthy global economy. And that's the basis on which we work with the Saudis.

Now, we also have, as the president has laid out, a view, and a view that we press -- that we press repeatedly throughout the region, enforce throughout the region, on reform.

ZAKARIA: Is Saudi Arabia doing enough on political reform?

DONILON: Well, they have -- these nations have to move forward, you know, at their -- you know, in their -- in a way that's consistent with their circumstances. And we obviously have a view that in fact moving towards more representative and responsive government is a -- is the healthiest and most stable way to go over the long term.

ZAKARIA: You went to Saudi Arabia --


ZAKARIA: -- you spent two hours with the king. The reports are, he is very unhappy with the United States and with our policy toward the Arab spring.

DONILON: Yes. I think coming out of the beginnings of the Arab spring, so much uproar, so much turmoil, and, Fareed, so much change, that we did have some scratchy periods with -- with some partners in the region who were wrestling with this and trying to work through their own views on this. And I -- and I would be, again, less than candid with you if I didn't say that we didn't have some points of friction or disagreement with some of our partners in the region.

But I think this, and based on my direct conversations with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, about the kinds of common strategic interests we have that I laid out earlier in the conversation, I think that our relationship is -- is in pretty good shape.

Our conversations with our partners in the region, including the Saudis, I think, have become very constructive and productive. And I can tell you that from personal conversations with King Abdullah.

ZAKARIA: The president campaigned on the idea that he would try to negotiate with Iran.


ZAKARIA: And you came to office, I would argue, making overtures. Those overtures seemed to be rebuffed by the Iranian leadership, then you had the Green Movement, and now it seems to me a little unclear where we are.

So my question to you would be, does the administration still want to negotiate with the current Iranian leadership and get a deal on the nuclear issue?

DONILON: Fareed, we offered the Iranian government, quite directly, a bona fide offer of engagement. The Iranian government, the leaders of Iran, have chosen not to take that up. And I think that the -- their ability to engage that decision really deteriorated after the June 2009 elections, when it became clear that that government was having a very difficult time making that kind of fundamental decision.

That path remains open to the Iranians, to come to the table and deal with the nuclear issues, increasingly serious nuclear issues, but not just the United States but the entire world community -- world community sees.

There was always associated, though, with our openness to a -- in a bona fide offer of engagement, there was always an associated pressure track, and that pressure track is the track that we've been pursuing during the last period of time. And, indeed, we put additional sanctions on Iran just in the last week or so.

Iran is now subject, through their own behavior, to the most severe sanctions in the world. They can't do business with legitimate banks. They can't do business in euros or dollars. By our account, $60 billion of investment have -- has either gone away or not been pursued -- pursued in the energy and oil industry where they desperately need investment to kind of get their antiquate fields and refineries up to -- up to speed.

Essentially, the leaders in Iran are leading them down a path here where a great society is becoming an isolated state, becoming a state where -- that can't interact with the rest of the world in the most basic ways. And they're really not doing a very good service for their -- for their people.

So the pressure track, unfortunately, I think is where we are -- where we are today. Again, with the opportunity for the Iranians, if they're willing to take it, to have a conversation with us and the world community about their nuclear program.

I will say this about the Iranians, they were not the cause of the Arab spring, although some claimed that. But they've tried to take advantage of it. In Syria, right, in Bahrain and other places around the -- around the region.

I think that that's going to fail. I think that the -- one of the attributes of the Arab spring, I think, has been to draw a sharp contrast between what's happened and what really is kind of a desire for basic freedom and democracy, a sharp contrast between that narrative and the al Qaeda narrative of undifferentiated, violent opposition, right, with no affirmative plan and the Iranian narrative. And I think, over the long haul, this is a further isolating set of events for the Iranians and not something where they're going to have an advantage.

ZAKARIA: When we come back, I'll ask Tom Donilon, the National Security Adviser, whether we're drawing down in Afghanistan too fast.



(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAKARIA: We are back with Tom Donilon, National Security Adviser to President Obama.

Apparently General Petraeus was urging a slower withdrawal to consolidate the gains of the surge. Isn't there a risk that in drawing down too fast you allow the violence to return to Afghanistan? And it -- there are some indications it's already happening.

DONILON: Yes. Well, the decision in Afghanistan was made against a -- a real record of achievement here and from a position of strength. And the drawdown, as you know, is not at all precipitous. The drawdown is a -- is a sound, paced withdrawal between now and the end of next summer.

When I say that the decision was made against -- from a position of strength, I mean it's against the goals that we laid out, which was done very precisely by President Obama, and those goals essentially were two. One is to dismantle, disrupt and ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and we are on the way to doing that through the work that we've done the last two and a half years. And the second was to prevent the Afghan government, the Kabul government, from falling so that it would become a safe haven for al Qaeda or an associated group again, and we're on the way to giving the Afghans the capability to do that.

Remember, our time horizon here is between now and 2014. Ten thousand troops this year, after the end of this fighting season; another 23,000 troops by the end of next summer. At that point we'll still have 68,000 troops focused on the mission. It's against the backdrop, as I said, of some -- of some success, of progress. It's a responsible, steady way to -- to go about this and end our work on the schedule that we've laid -- that we've laid out.

Now, from General Petraeus' perspective, commanders are -- and he has said this publicly -- are always going to want more troops for longer. But we really do believe here from the perspective of our national priorities, our global resource allocations, that this is a very sound way to approach this, again, from a position of strength.

ZAKARIA: So a crucial part to allowing Afghanistan to end up more stable even if there are fewer troops is some kind of deal that involves some elements of the Taliban coming back into the political system. Ahmed Rashid in "The Financial Times" details the -- the negotiations that have been taking place between the United States and the Taliban, and there seem to have been several for hours and hours, the Germans as intermediaries.

Nothing seems to have come of it. Why is it proving so difficult to, in some way, bring the Taliban into the tent?

DONILON: Well, for a couple -- a couple of things I'd say about that, without commenting on the specifics of -- of the piece in "The Financial Times" that you referenced.

At the end of the day, this will not -- this will have to be settled in a -- in a political settlement. I think that's -- I think that's clear. Why is it hard? There's been a conflict there for a number of years. The Taliban is not an entity where it's at a -- works at a specific address. You have to get these things to a point where you can have a set -- a set of reasonable conversations.

What we've said, though, quite clearly, and the Secretary of State said this in her Asian Society speech earlier this year, is that the United States is prepared to work with the Afghans, with the Afghans in the lead, to work towards a political settlement here and to bring the parties to the table without precondition.

Now, ultimately, as the president said in his speech the other day, reconciliation will require the Taliban or anybody else who comes to the table to agree to renounce violence, renounce al Qaeda and agree to the constitution. But we're -- it's an interactive process, if you will, Fareed, and I think we've got all the elements of that process underway here.

ZAKARIA: Are you hopeful that you will see some results in the next few months?

DONILON: I can't predict that at this point. What I can tell you is this, is that we've put in place the lines of work, the pieces of strategy that we think can bring this war in Afghanistan to a -- to a close and bring it to the point where the United States and its coalition partners can turn security over to the Afghans, where we would remain in a smaller, enduring presence with the partnership with the Afghans, and provide the opportunity, if you will, for a political settlement. Those pieces are in place.

We've indicated support, straight up support, for a political process with the Afghans, Afghans in the lead, and we're pushing the transition process forward. So I think we've put in place the pieces of a strategy towards a political settlement, but I can't sit here and tell you today as to what timescale which that could work.

ZAKARIA: One of the reasons al Qaeda is under so much pressure is that the United States has used unique assets, as John Brennan recently said, by which everyone generally accepts, this means drone attacks. The Pakistani military has just announced, the defense minister said, they will not allow the United States to use the Shamsi Base anymore. They seem to be indicating they do not want the United States to be conducting drone attacks.

Have you been told by the Pakistanis that the United States has to curtail or limit its military operations in Pakistan?

DONILON: Let me tell you -- say a couple of things about that.

Number one, from the outset of the administration, we determined that we would launch an aggressive, focused, relentless effort on al Qaeda and associated groups to dismantle, disrupt and ultimately defeat them, and we've been doing that successfully. With respect to the al Qaeda's leadership ranks, they've been decimated, as John Brennan said yesterday in his (INAUDIBLE) in his -- in his speech in Afghanistan. And we're going to continue these efforts, and these efforts are focused on al Qaeda Central and South Asia, but also focused on affiliates around the world, number one.

Number two, we have the capability to continue this, and without commenting on the story that you have outlined here, I have every confidence that we can continue this, that we will continue this effort at a pace, in an intensity that will allow to us put al Qaeda -- continue to put al Qaeda on the road to -- to defeat with respect to the Pakistanis.

The Pakistanis, Fareed, and the United States have a complicated relationship, as you know, and there are going to be frustrations, and there are going to be disagreements. We remained engaged with the Pakistanis for a number, I think, of very important reasons related to our national security and I think ultimately their security. They are very important counterterrorism partners for the United States.

The Pakistanis have lost thousands of military and civilians to the -- to the hands of extremists. More extremist groups and individuals have been attacked and taken down in -- in Pakistan than any place else in the world. They are very important partners of ours and, again, we -- we will have frustrations and indeed we've obviously had, you know, an important set of conversations, difficult conversations with the Pakistanis since the raid on the Osama Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But we're committed to working through these issues because we believe it's in our national interest to do so.

ZAKARIA: You saw "The New York Times" article that detailed using cell phone conversations, what seemed pretty clear evidence that the Pakistani military, some elements of the Pakistani military, must have known that Osama Bin Laden was holed up in Abbottabad. Do you -- does your intelligence confirm that?

DONILON: I've not seen any evidence that the Pakistani leadership elements, neither in the -- the army, military, the intelligence or the -- or the political leadership, had foreknowledge of Osama Bin Laden's operating in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

ZAKARIA: As you're saying, leadership.

DONILON: But I can't speak -- I don't -- I don't -- I can't confirm or deny what you -- what you laid out here, but I haven't seen any evidence that the leadership knew.

But I can state the fact, right? The fact is that Osama Bin Laden operated out of Abbottabad, Pakistan for six years or so, in an operational role, leading al Qaeda, in a town 35 miles from Islamabad.

It is clear that he had some sort of support mechanism there. I don't think at this point we know all the elements of that support mechanism, and we're still obviously working through that.

We have a tremendous amount of information that we recovered from the -- from the Abbottabad compound where Osama Bin Laden operated. We continue to work through that. But, at this point, I don't -- I don't have any evidence that's been shown to me which would indicate that the Pakistani leadership and the political, the military and the intelligence services had foreknowledge here.

But, the fact is that he did operate there for an extended period of time, and that raises a lot of questions, and those questions are being asked in Pakistan.

ZAKARIA: When we come back, I'm going to ask Tom Donilon, the National Security Adviser, if there is an Obama doctrine, and does it involve leading from behind?




ZAKARIA: And we are back with Tom Donilon, National Security Adviser to President Obama.

Tom, is there an Obama doctrine?

DONILON: Well, I think -- well, here's how I would answer that question. What we have been about since the outset of the administration is to restore United States influence, prestige and power in the world.

It went through a period of diminution. Now, this is not a partisan comment. I think it's a statement of fact, and there were a lot of reasons for it -- tremendous investment in Iraq, the financial crisis, and some classical international dynamics as other countries rose in the world. For this reason, the United States went through a pretty serious period of diminution of its authority, prestige and power in the world. And we've kind -- we can go off this determined to pursue a restoration attempt (ph) so that we can pursue our interest in the world.

And we have done this along three or four lines of work -- renewing alliances both in Asia and in Europe; engaging in positive, constructive relationships through purposeful work with great powers as a platform from which we can operate; engaging and developing deeper relationships with emerging powers like India, Brazil and others; and rebalancing our efforts in the world, which is an absolutely critical thing for us to pursue.

ZAKARIA: Explain what rebalancing means.

DONILON: It means that essentially that we looked at where the United States footprint was, where the United States face to the world was when we came into office in January of 2009 and we asked ourselves where are we underweighted, where are we overweighted, where are we not taking advantage of in putting real work into the challenges of the future. And we came to a set of conclusion and we've been acting on those conclusions.

We needed to finish our work in Iraq, our military work, right? And we're on track to do that by the end of this year 2011 to have what is almost 150,000 troops fully out of Iraq by the end. We saw ourselves as having -- needing more strategic direction intent and being focused on the counterterrorism area. And we did that in terms of the intensification against al Qaeda and associated -- associated groups.

We really considered ourselves, Fareed, underweighted in Asia. As we looked at the world, we looked at our interests. We looked at the future. We concluded that, in fact, we did not have the mind share, the diplomatic effort, the resources and presence in Asia, given what we had at stake in Asia. It wasn't a mistake by the way or an accident -- it wasn't an accident that Secretary Clinton took her first trip to Asia, the first Secretary of State to do that since Dean Rusk in 1961.

And most importantly -- or very importantly working with China as part of our -- as part of our Asia strategy and through a very intensive engagement, which includes engaging directly with them intensively, integrating them into international institutions and norms of dispute resolution and solving problems. And very importantly, setting the regional context through our work to do what we can to ensure a peaceful rise of China in an economically and secure Asia.

ZAKARIA: Finally, let me ask you, the "New Yorker" had a long article about the Obama administration's foreign policy, has a quote from an administration official saying we're leading from behind and this has become something of a controversial quote.

Do you think it accurately characterizes Obama's foreign policy? Do you wish that senior administration official had not said that to the "New Yorker"?

DONILON: I don't think it has anything to do with the Obama administration foreign policy or the way in which President Obama has approached his job as president of the United States.

I have -- well, it's president's way (ph), part of my job is to brief the president every morning. And I think I've -- I think I'm now up to 450 of these briefings. That doesn't reflect anything that I've ever heard from President Obama. And I don't know how that person, whoever he or she was, could call themselves a, yes, an adviser to the president. It's clearly an adviser who has never been in a serious conversation with him.

ZAKARIA: David Brooks says that Obama has a leadership style that is about convening and delegating and says that sometimes he seems -- he seems passive. Does that strike you as correct?

DONILON: It doesn't strike me as correct. I read -- I read Brooks' column and had a -- and had following reaction to it. It doesn't strike me as correct at all with respect to foreign policy.

We have from the outset, as I described earlier, undertaken a very serious effort to rebalance America's look and activities in the world. It's a president who made decisions at the outset in Iraq. It's a president who made a decision with respect to Afghanistan that in fact we were under resourced and didn't have strategy and direction and tripled the number of troops there through a surge we're now seeing, again, from a position of success being able to take down the numbers of.

It's a president who has had the United States in the lead in terms of counterterrorism. It's a president who in Europe, for example, we had a summit last November where the president led the effort on missile defense, on getting a common way forward in Afghanistan, on a new concept for Europe and NATO's work there. It's a president who took the lead on taking the G-20 and making it the premiere and principle financial management, global financial management organization in the world.

Time after time I've seen the president come into the Situation Room and I've been there hundreds of times and sit down and make -- and make these kinds of decisions where America is -- is leading and, again, the entire effort here is to have America restore its influence, power and authority in the world.

And, of course, I also had the privilege of working very closely with this president as he made exceedingly difficult decisions leading up to the final decision. To go after Osama Bin Laden, and what was a quintessential presidential moment.

So my experience with President Obama -- and I'm not, you know, Fareed, you know me well enough, I'm not prone to hyperbole and I -- I work, you know, on complicated problems every day and I don't see a lot of upsides most of the days. But with respect to President Obama's leadership, that -- that quote in the "New Yorker" piece couldn't be more inaccurate.

ZAKARIA: On that note, Tom Donilon, thank you very much.

DONILON: Thank you for having me. Great to see you.



T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everybody. I'm T.J. Holmes from the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Give you a quick look at some of the stories making headlines.

This morning, the Casey Anthony murder trial just going to recess. Yes, they are in session on a Sunday. This was moments ago that the prosecution wrapped up its closing arguments. It took up about 90 minutes. Casey Anthony, as you know, is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. She's charged with capital murder, which could mean the death penalty if she's found guilty.

When they get back from recess, the defense will be up to give its closing. The jury is then expected to get the case.

Also, Rhode Island has now legalized same-sex civil unions. Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law yesterday. This will gave same-sex couples a lot of new state tax breaks, health care benefits and other legal perks. But some people still were critical of this law because it did not go far enough and did not grant same- sex couple's marriage.

Well, that's it for me. "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" continues for you right after the break.



ZAKARIA: Time now for our "What in the World" segment.

Here in the United States, our politicians seem unable to agree on anything. Well, there's one country that's more divided than we are, so divided in fact its people can't even decide on who should run it.

Belgium has now gone through some 385 days without a functional government. Listen to its story. There might be some lessons in it for us. When Belgium last went to the polls, now more than a year ago, the party that won the most seats was called the New Flemish Alliance. The alliance's main aim is to split the country in two, not politically but physically.

You see a slight majority of Belgium's population, the Flemish, speaks Dutch and lives in the north of the country in Flanders. A minority of the country speaks French and lives in the south of the nation in Wallonia. And the winning party wants to take their majority and split into an independent nation.

Already the country is divided at every level, almost every public service you can think of, schools, hospitals and they are split along the lines of language. There are French schools and Flemish schools, Flemish hospitals and French hospitals and so on.

Then Brussels, it is the capital of Belgium and the Flanders, but Brussels is French speaking, which is why it is also the capital of the European Union. So if you partition the country, the French- speaking capital would end up in the Dutch-speaking Flanders. All clear?

You wouldn't normally compare Belgium with Iraq, but that's the country with the previous longest record without a government, for 249 days the Iraqi Parliament could not decide how to form a government and then it took another 40 days for that government to actually assume power. Iraq's democratic experiment was much maligned at the time. It was falling down while taking its baby steps of democracy.

But the Belgians have had a bit more practice. The country gained its independence and started its current form of government in 1830. So you think we are divided? Well, now you know about the Belgians, but they're still surviving. How? Well, the people of Belgium seem to do is grin and bear it. Some Belgians quite literally did that, stripping down in the cold winter to make a point.

On February 17th, the day when by some counts Belgium overtook Iraq as the country with the most days without a government, Belgians marked it in style. Street parties, deejays tuning out music, funky costumes, they had it all and there were some political messages. In Dutch-speaking Flanders, locals handed out free French fries while in French-speaking Wallonia, you could swig some free beer. Some went as far as to create a fake government website. It had this message, "Government not found, the requested government was not found in this country, please come back, well, later."

We live in an era of unrest and political uncertainty in many parts of the world. So you have to hand it to the people of Belgium. They're taking it in their stride with an admirable sense of humor.

And we will be right back.




ZAKARIA: This weekend in America, we celebrate our revolution, but this year, the world has watched the Arab revolutions in awe and wonder and sometimes horror. Perhaps the biggest questions surrounding the Arab Spring are what incited it, what will become of it?

My next guest, Bruce Feiler, says that one billion Muslims around the world under 30 years of age are the key drivers. In his new book he describes what he calls "Generation Freedom" as plentiful, plugged in and proactive. Feiler has been on "The New York Times" best-seller list with five books on religion and faith. He joins me now.

Bruce, good to have you.

BRUCE FEILER, AUTHOR, "GENERATION FREEDOM": Fareed, nice to have me. Nice to be here. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: You spent a lot of time during the -- the Arab Spring with the young people.


ZAKARIA: So is there any simple characterization one can make of them?

FEILER: I think and you just mentioned a bit in your introduction, I think we can look at them as being four things. First of all, they are plentiful, as you mentioned two-thirds of the Muslim world in general is under 30. That's a billion people around the world, 100 million people in the Middle East alone. So they are plentiful.

They're also pinched (ph), meaning they're much more educated I think than we give them credit. This term "Arab Street" has become very popular in the West, but that's inaccurate. Literacy rates are now 91 percent. We're seeing school attendance and the numbers we haven't seen since the Asian tigers of the 1980s. So there's a lot of them. They're better educated. They're coming out, there's no opportunity.

Enter the Internet. They're very plugged in. And particularly for women, the Internet has been this opportunity to enter society, enter the fray in a way they don't normally have.

But I think that most important thing, the "Generation Freedom" is -- is the last one and that is they are proactive. OK? So you've got their parents were largely passive recipients of this sort of deal that the dictators did, right?


FEILER: We'll subsidize your -- your food and your jobs and you wouldn't question our authority. Well, they don't have the jobs and they're saying, well, where's our end of the deal? And so they're pushing back.

I met this young woman I write about in my book. She's 23 years old. She tweets more than anybody I know. She wears a veil. She's written two books about Islam and she was on a reality TV show based on Donald Trump's "Apprentice."

And she said if I would put one word to our generation it would be "awakening." So they are standing up. And think about it. What is the word "Muslim" mean? It means one who submits. Now, we have a generation of Muslims who are proactive, who are pushing back. I mean, that's the core of the change.

ZAKARIA: And when you talk to them, do you have a sense as to what it is they want? Is it freedom? Is it jobs? Is it dignity?

FEILER: Certainly, in the -- in the Egyptian revolution, you would hear dignity was a huge word, social justice, freedom. But I think that what it is they want is some sort of sense that they are active participants in creating a better life for themselves. They are no longer prepared to be passive. I think that's what we saw -- we see in these revolutions is that there is action on their part.

And I think that, you know, to me, I look at this whole thing -- they -- they don't like the term Facebook revolution because they find Facebook as a western technology. They say, look, they use the fax in Tiananmen Square. No one calls that the fax revolution. All right. They used the telegraph back in Russia. No one calls that the telegraph revolution. We don't like to call it the Facebook revolution because it doesn't show that it was our creativity, initiative and efforts that really made it.

But within that, I actually think the whole thing is almost like a Facebook friend request. This is them reaching out to the West and saying we want to be friends. And as we know it, you don't have to be that close to your Facebook friends. But I think the question now is back on us, in that way that Facebook gives you the just, confirm or not now, the choice is ours and what do we want to do.

ZAKARIA: But do they want to be friends? Because, I mean, they sound quite anti-American. They feel like America supported these dictators. They're, you know -- in general, the attitude seems to be one of a great deal of defiance and hostility toward the West.

FEILER: I think that they don't want to be passive, submissive to the West. They certainly are concerned about the way we supported the dictators and even in the revolutions we've been very on the fence.

But I would draw distinction as we used to do back in the '80s between the foreign policy dimension of government-to-government, as we saw in the Soviet Union and the kind of people-to-people, governments aren't going to solve this. So we've been involved in four wars, as you know, far better than I. We've got the war in Iraq, muddled ending, war in Afghanistan, muddled ending. Iraq -- excuse me -- Libya, muddled middle. War on terror, muddled impact.

Guns are not going to solve this problem. The days of the Marshall Plan, the idea we're going to pour hundreds or millions or billions of dollars into growth, also not going to happen. It's going to take a different model here and I think it's going to be ultimately, as I say in my book, a kind of G to G movement, a generation to generation movement, realizing that there's change going on there. We're going to engage on a different level.

ZAKARIA: You think that what is going on here is the Arab world is catching up with the rest of the world? It's joining the modern world?

FEILER: I think that there is -- there's a lot of evidence that this is the beginning of that process. And I have ever since 9/11 been in the middle of this conversation about can we get along? And in every one of those conversations people say, where are the Muslim moderates? I don't hear that. Here they are. This is a group of people standing up.

It doesn't say that the fundamentalists -- I'm not saying the fundamentalists have gone away, because clearly they have not. They're in control of Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Wahhabis are still out there exporting (ph). But what we're seeing for the first time is the rise of this other story. And it's going to give people a clear choice.

ZAKARIA: Bruce Feiler, a pleasure to have you.

FEILER: Thank you, Fareed. Always -- always good to see you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.




ZAKARIA: This is, of course, Independence Day Weekend in the United States. And that brings to us our "GPS Question of the Week."

It might seem like an easy one, but watch out. The question is what happened on July 4, 1776? Was it A) Congress voted for independence; B) the Revolutionary war started; C) the Declaration of Independence was approved; or D) the Declaration of Independence was signed?

Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer. Make sure you go to for 10 more questions. And while you're there, make sure you check out our website, the Global Public Square. You'll find smart interviews and takes by some of our favorite experts plus me. And don't forget you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This week's "Book of the Week" is "Founding Brothers" by Joseph Ellis. It was written a while ago, but in my opinion it is really one of the best set of stories of the people at the heart of the American Revolution.

We spent a lot of time in recent weeks debating whether or not we need to amend the Constitution. Some of you are angry of me for even talking about it. To which I say have you heard of the first amendment. But whichever side you're on, I'm sure you'll find these essays fascinating.

Now for "The Last Look," how do you get a Picasso into a war zone? Very, very carefully. You're looking at the $7 million "Buste de Femme" in what will be its home for a month, a tiny art museum in Ramallah. The West Bank isn't exactly the safest place in the world, so the security precautions to bring it in this week were extraordinary.

The journey from the Netherlands to the West Bank took 24 hours and entailed a lot of arms and armor. Museum officials went so far as to ask journalists to accompany the painting on its journey. They figured cameras might better deter an ambush.

I wondered why the people of Ramallah wanted to display a 68- year-old piece of art in the first place. The apparent answer, to prove that they could do it. I like that.

The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge Question" is C, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. July 2nd is when the Independence was actually declared by the Congress and many say that is the day we should actually be celebrating.

And when was it signed? Well, John Hancock was the first to put his, well, John Hancock on the document and that wasn't until August 2, 1776.

Thanks to all of you for being part of our program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "RELIABLE SOURCES."