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Mitt Romney and the Post-American World; GPS Panel on American Politics and the World; Has Egypt's "People Power" Failed the People?; Interview With Lee Hsien Loong

Aired February 5, 2012 - 10:00   ET


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

We've got a great show for you today. To start, a true all-star panel on American politics and the world. Joining me at the roundtable today David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, David Remnick, Chrystia Freeland.

Then, would you like to meet a man who runs a nation with a two percent unemployment rate? It's arguably the best run state in the world. It is Singapore, and its prime minister is Lee Hsien Loong. You'll want to hear what he has to say.

Also, I'll explain why we should stop worrying so much about the stumbling revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and around the Arab world.

But first, here's my take. Now that Mitt Romney is once again the frontrunner, his campaign focus is returning to President Obama, and he's probably going to start repeating a line that he's used often in the past.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a president who fundamentally believes that - that this next century is a post- American century.


ZAKARIA: Now, I leave it to the president to describe what he believes, but as the author of the book "The Post-American World," I'd like to clarify the phrase. At the very beginning of the book, I note, "This is a book not about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else."

Throughout the book, I'm optimistic about America and I'm convinced it can prosper in this new world and remain the most powerful country on the planet. But I argue that the age of America's singular dominance, its unipolarity, has ended. For a quarter-century after the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, the United States dominated the world with no real political or economic competitors. Mitt, we are in a different world now.

In 1990, China represented two percent of global gross domestic product. It has quadrupled, to eight percent, and it's rising. By most estimates, China's economy will become the world's largest between 2016 and 2018. And this is not simply an economic story. China's military capacity and reach are also expanding. Beijing's defense spending is likely to surpass America's by 2025.

It's not just China that's rising. Emerging powers on every continent have achieved political stability and economic growth and are becoming active on the global stage. Let's do a then and now. Twenty years ago, Turkey was a fragile democracy, dominated by its army, constantly in need of Western economic bailouts. Today, Turkey has a trillion-dollar economy that grew 6.6 percent last year. Since April 2009, Turkey has created 3.4 million jobs - that's more than the entire European Union, Russia and South Africa put together.

Look in this hemisphere: In 1990, Brazil was emerging from decades of dictatorship and was wracked by inflation rates that reached 3,000 percent. Today, Brazil is a stable democracy, steadily growing with foreign-exchange reserves of $350 billion.

I could go on, Mitt.

Barack Obama has succeeded in preserving and even enhancing U.S. influence in this world precisely because he has recognized these new forces at work. He's traveled to the emerging nations and spoken admiringly of their rise. He replaced the old Western club and made the Group of 20, the central decision-making forum for global economic affairs.

By emphasizing multilateral organizations, alliance structures and international legitimacy, he got results. It was Chinese and Russian cooperation that produced tougher sanctions against Iran. It was the Arab League's formal request last year that made Western intervention in Libya uncontroversial.

Mitt, by and large you have ridiculed this approach to foreign policy, arguing that you would instead expand the military, act unilaterally and talk unapologetically. But chest-thumping triumphalism won't help you secure America's interests or ideals in a world populated by powerful new players.

You can call this new century whatever you like, but it won't change reality. After all, just because we call it the World Series doesn't actually make it one.

Let's get started.


ZAKARIA: Let's get right to it with today's terrific panel. To start, two Davids. David Brooks is the columnist for "The New York Times." David Remnick is the editor of "The New Yorker." Peggy Noonan, not a David, is a columnist for "The Wall Street Journal; and Chrystia Freeland is the editor of Thomson Reuters Digital.

Welcome, all.

So, if Mitt Romney gets the nomination, what happens to the conservative base? Will it reluctantly accepted - will it feel like, as John Stewart said, you know, that's the box - that's the chocolate in the chocolate box nobody ever wanted to eat but eventually they'll eat it and like it?

DAVID BROOKS, AUTHOR, "THE SOCIAL ANIMAL": They'll like it. You know, when Obama ran against Clinton, you could get polls saying 40 percent of Democrats wouldn't support the other. That all vanishes. That's always going to vanish.

I think what - what the Tea Party people should be asking ourselves, we had this -

ZAKARIA: When you say "ourselves" you mean -

BROOKS: They should be asking themselves -

ZAKARIA: OK, I just wanted to -


BROOKS: -- thank you.

ZAKARIA: On this show you outed yourself as a Tea Partier.

BROOKS: I've always been partial. It's been obvious.

And they should say, listen, we have all this energy, all these ideas, we've mobilized so many people, and we produce Mitt Romney. Why couldn't they produce a leader? Why couldn't they really change the party?

If Romney wins, the head of the Republican Party, the most - three most important people in Washington will be Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Mitt Romney. That's the Republican main street establishment. The Tea Party will have a pretty limited effect.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, GLOBAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THOMSON REUTERS: Doesn't the Tea Party have an answer, though, David? I mean, isn't the Tea Party's answer that, as usual, the vile (ph) elites still control the political process and are not letting us in?

BROOKS: Yes, well my definition of the Republican elite is that anybody who knows what Newt Gingrich is really like. So the - the people who worked with him, those are the so-called Republican establishment, and they want anybody but him.

DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER: Doesn't this debate period wear away at - at the image of Romney? Is it all disappearing?

This debate period is pretty hideous, because so many of them, the incidents are so bad, the gaps are so frequent, the cruelty so cruel, in fact? Doesn't that wear away?

PEGGY NOONAN, COLUMNIST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Everybody's negatives are going up. It's true. It will take some time, I think, to be able to look back at these debates and figure out if they were a net plus or a net minus.

I think at the moment they look a little bit net minus-y because of the - the clown-car Indy 500 aspect, you know, but there's also the sense, I think, that, first of all, they're really learning how to debate. One of these guys is going to go up against Obama, and he's not going to bend to - to the rodeo for the first time.

Second of all, they're all - all of these candidates are asked really serious questions just about half the time in these debates, and - and that's a good thing, and I think people will be able to contrast that somewhat with the inevitable approach of a press corps towards a president who is always more protected and less available to them and gets a lot less tough questions.

I also think it's interesting that while the Republicans are killing each other, the president's numbers - I hate to fall back on words like numbers, but the president's numbers are not going up as you might expect as the Republicans look more and more like a clown car.

ZAKARIA: What I noticed, the - you know, when we talk about the gaffs in the debates and the campaign, the one - I think Romney has this new gaff of, you know, the comment about the poor. I feel as though in some ways the guy can't get a break, because if you look at the previous gaff where he talked about I liked to fire people, he wasn't talking about firing people. He was talking about firing insurance companies, and it's absolutely clear. And here he says I'm not so concerned about the poor. They have a safety net. If it's - if it has holes, I'll repair it.

I feel as though the media here has sort of said, yes, yes, but if we take this entirely out of context, it really sounds like he's being very mean to the poor. Am I - it just feels like, yes, but you just took it entirely out of context.

REMNICK: You're giving Mitt Romney a safety net here.

I - it's true that the comment was more extensive than the - than the cartoon of the comment. There's no question. But if Mitt Romney has spent five minutes on the campaign trail discussing poverty, it will be a lot. I think it's emblematic of - of his attitude toward it.

FREELAND: And I think emblematic of the kind of person he is. I mean, I think what it gets back to, which it will be interesting to see how it plays in the general election if he's the candidate, is that old Huckabee comment, right? He's more like the guy who's going to fire you than the guy that you would be working with.

And I think that that's going to be the big question for him. Can he persuade people that his CEO and managerial strengths outweigh that, you know, lack of common touch and common experience?

BROOKS: I would say he has a money problem. First of all, I haven't heard too many Democrats talk about poverty either.

REMNICK: Absolutely. Including Obama. You're absolutely right, which is shameful.

BROOKS: Right, and so that probably won't be an issue.

I noticed all his faux pas have to do with money. You know, he has a sort of Victorian - as the Victorians were to sex, he is to money, and he has trouble just talking about it.

NOONAN: Which is company guilt (ph).

BROOKS: Well, I don't know.

FREELAND: It's not - it's not guilt. I don't think -

REMNICK: I think he's guilt-free - I think he's guilt-free where money is (INAUDIBLE).

FREELAND: Yes. No, no, it's - I mean, it's not about guilt, is it, Peggy? It's just that he lives in a really different universe from most Americans, and - and that's where he finds it hard.

And that's why the $10,000 wager was such an issue or the I didn't make that much money on speeches.

BROOKS: I have a sort of different psychoanalysis - psychology of him, which is he looks like a wasp, so we project on him, 1920s the villain from "The Great Gatsby." But, in fact, he's a Jew. He's a - he's has - the Mormons have an Exodus story. His family has a story in which he is - they have perpetual poverty from which they are perpetually climbing out of it, that breeds - even up to his father's era, a sense of we just have to work hard and make it.

And I think he has that sort of drive and immigrant experience. He just - out of the Mormon experience, which he cannot talk about because it involves Mormonism and polygamy.

REMNICK: I want to know what he really believes. I think this is an important thing in - in voters and their relationship to candidates, and then this has always been the problem with - with Romney. And, yes, it's made into more of a cartoon because he's so handsome. He's just comically handsome in a certain kind of way.

ZAKARIA: Rugged good looks -

REMNICK: Yes, but what does he really believe?

When you - when you hear it come out of his mouth, is there an instant where you think, ah, this is - this is the core of his conviction? When you hear him talking about Obama and foreign policy as in retreat and somehow like Neville Chamberlain, you know that he doesn't believe a word of it. Not a word of it. When you hear him talk about safety nets and the poor, he doesn't care a bit about it. And when you look at his real record, in his one political success in his term as governor of Massachusetts, his single achievement, he is running away from it, and everybody sees that.

So yes, it's true that - that everybody to the right of a certain point is - is going to vote against Obama, but will they come out in droves to do so is another question.

ZAKARIA: All right. We've got to take a break. When we come right back we will talk about American politics and a little bit about what's going on around the world, when we come back.




ZAKARIA: And we are back about with our all-star panel - David Brooks, David Remnick, Peggy Noonan, Chrystia Freeland.

Peggy, let's talk about the - what Obama - what the Obama administration, HHS did, on this issue relating to contraception and post-abortion pills. And you think this is going to be a big problem for the president.

NOONAN: Yes. I think it's - it's a complicated story, and it's also abstract, and so it hasn't captured people's attention in a big way. Certainly in the political class, but I feel like it is a bomb that went off in the past week that the political class in America has not noted.

The Catholic Church has been told by the Obama administration that it must understand the regulations of Obama's health care initiative to mean that the churches, affiliated institutions, Catholic charities, the hospitals, the schools must in their new health care insurance provide and pay for services that the Church itself feels are morally abhorrent, from contraceptives to abortion- inducing drugs to - to some -

ZAKARIA: Morning after pill.

NOONAN: To some - to sterilization procedures.

The Church finds it unacceptable. The Church says it will not do this. The Church is left either with the choice of closing down its great institutions, or if the Church defies the directive, being fined ruinous fees in the millions of dollars, which Catholic charities can hardly afford and Catholic hospitals.

The administration, I think, thinks only conservative Catholics will be offended by this, and conservative Catholics we don't have anyway. They are misreading the Catholic Church. Leftist Catholics are offended by this, Catholics in the middle. There are 77.7 million Catholics in America. They all heard last Sunday, or, rather, about 75 percent of them heard last Sunday, a speaking from their priest during the mass against this Obama directive.

I think it is huge, period.

ZAKARIA: Is this - is it worth noting, though, just - I mean, to move slightly beyond what you're talking about, the - the nature of Conservatism and Catholicism in America today has - have become so intertwined. I mean, the fact that you have the five Supreme Court justices, who are conservatives on the - on the court, are all Catholics.

What does that tell us? Is it an appropriate question to ask?

NOONAN: Oh, sure.

BROOKS: Well, I think it's a great, good news story. So I'm covering the South Carolina primary, and there are no Protestants among the - I mean, among the top three. We have two Catholics, a Mormon, and I guess Ron Paul is Protestant, but among the top three. And it's not an issue.

And this is actually one of the great civil rights stories of a generation. I think it's great (ph), but even -


ZAKARIA: But it's also that the Catholics - the Catholics attract evangelical - they're seen as - Santorum is seen as the candidate, in some ways -

BROOKS: There used to be a lot of anti-Catholic prejudice, and in part - in part because people like Jerry Falwell, to be honest, a lot of that was driven away.

ZAKARIA: David, do you agree with something Peggy said earlier, which was that Obama's numbers are not moving up? I thought that in the head-to-head match-ups, he is now in places like Ohio beating all the Republicans.

BROOKS: There's - there has definitely been a move in the last six months. There's definitely been a move up to about parity. That's determined - dependent on a couple of things.

First, the oppositions are making fools out of themselves. Secondly, the economy has been churning up. If you look at the projections for next year from CBO, which takes an aggregate, that's not expected to continue. There's expected - who knows if they know what they're talking about. But unemployment will shoot back up in the higher eights or even nine, maybe.

And so I think Obama would be foolish, given what's happening in Iran or in Greece and Europe, to assume that he can just coast on a rising economy, and I don't think the campaign really expects that either.

ZAKARIA: Before we go, since we have you David, I want to ask you about Russia. It feels like - I mean, it seemed as though there was no question that Putin was assured victory, that things were going to go smoothly, that there was a few interesting dissents here and there. But they - you're hearing more and more of them.

Is there - is there anything going on in Russia that makes you think that you could actually see the beginnings of social -


REMNICK: Chrystia, who was also there for a long period, and I think we'll agree that - that Putin will rough it out and win. And, to me, the question is to what degree does he come back into office, if he ever left it, as president in a spirit of vengeance or the recognition of the need for reform?

Because there are a lot of liberals around who are on the streets who are fearing that, in fact, they might go to a more Chinese root where it comes to freedom of expression, for example. Right now the Internet is more or less free, as opposed to China. There aren't tens of thousands of people shutting down, monitoring, filtering out the Internet, which is the field of play, the really important national field of play in terms of the press and communications.

Will Putin come back in and take vengeance on it, or will he recognize that in order to survive he needs to be a bit less Putin-ish in years to come? I don't know.

ZAKARIA: What do you think?

FREELAND: I agree with David.

The only extra thing I would say is they have an election coming up, right? And so the protest movement and the awakening of the affluent middle class has happened at exactly the wrong time for them, right? It didn't happen during the election, it happened a few months beforehand.

People are organizing, people are thinking, and the big question for me is how much cheating is there going to be during the election, and how much are people going to catch them cheating?

And that, you know, there is a transformation that - the transformation within the elite is very important. I totally agree with David. But their - civil society really is waking up in Russia and that, personally, I think is fantastic, but the consequences are very hard to predict.

ZAKARIA: One of the things I've been wondering about is the - Syria, the Russian role in it comes in play, but I ask this question openly because I don't think anyone has any special expertise here. But here you have this regime that seems to be, you know, facing all these challenges, and it has responded, unlike many of the regimes with no concessions, no bribery, just brutal repression. So far it's managed to hang on.

My sense is, you know Tiananmen Square worked - you know, this kind of brutal brutality works better than people think, and maybe we'll be having this conversation six months from now.

BROOKS: Yes, well the paradox is the worst the dictator, the more secure they tend to be, in part because they've carved out all civil society and opposition, and then they can just kill people. And then we've all covered this when they lose self-confidence, that's when they fall, and there's been no sign of that so far in Syria.

ZAKARIA: The only question is will they run out of money? I mean, that - they're not an oil rich state. Can they keep doing this?

But the Russians are their one supporter.

REMNICK: The Russians are stalwart in their support for the worst kind of autocracy. Yet again.

FREELAND: The dictator's (INAUDIBLE), right? And they're worried. They're worried about what you've just been saying.

You know, I think Putin is really scared, and - and they're scared about what happens if they have to try to shoot. And for them there's a lot of money that they're worried about.

REMNICK: Putin was first scared when he witnessed what happened in Ukraine, and again and again and again the pattern of rhetoric is out of fear for this kind of thing happening on Red Square. And they see what's happening in the Middle East, and they're scared as hell yet again.

ZAKARIA: And imagine Facebook, once it has $100 billion.

But we have to leave it there. David Brooks, David Remnick, Peggy Noonan, Chrystia Freeland, thank you.

Up next, one year on from the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt gets its bloodiest outbreak of violence. Is democracy doomed to fail there? "What in the World?" is right back after this break.



ZAKARIA: Dozens of Egyptians were killed in a soccer stadium brawl this past week. This was the deadliest outbreak of violence since Hosni Mubarak was ousted exactly one year ago. And the violence didn't stop at the stadium, and it begs the question, what has Egypt gained since its revolution?

Take a step back and ask, what has the Arab Spring achieved in the last year? Has people power failed the people? What in the world is going on?

In Egypt, the military might be more entrenched than before. Meanwhile, a quarter of the seats in Parliament have gone to a group of ultra conservative Islamists. Only two percent have gone to women.

Or consider Libya is veering towards anarchy. The local militias that helped topple Muammar Gadhafi have reneged on a pledge to give up their arms.

Look at Tunisia. You'll remember that a fruit vendor there sparked the Arab Spring by setting himself on fire. Well, now there are reports of many more such incidents of self-emulation.

From Tunisia, to Egypt, to Libya, democracy has unleashed turmoil and long suppressed expressions of Islamic fundamentalism. Perhaps some will say the Arab World didn't fully understand what it was getting into. Perhaps others will argue after years of living under tyranny, Arabs just don't know how to rule themselves. I say, let's look at some history.

Democracy has never been easy. Consider what so many democratic revolutions looked like a year or two after they started.

Take America. After the Revolutionary War, the country was in economic, political and social turmoil. By 1779, inflation was at close to 400 percent. Per capita income had halved between 1774 and 1790. Remember the Armed Shays' Rebellion of 1786? It was seen by many as evidence that people power would go awry and up-end the union.

Or consider France. After the onset of the French Revolution, things got really bad. The symbol of the revolution became not liberte, egalite and fraternite, but the guillotine.

Or look at India, the world's largest democracy. It welcomed freedom in 1947 after centuries of foreign rule. And yet, the ensuing months brought with it mass riots over partition, the deaths of millions of Hindus and Muslims. Five months after freedom the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated.

In Indonesia, in the 1990s, a year after Suharto fell, a hapless man, BJ Habibie, became president amidst economic collapse and rising Islamic radicalism. His presidency lasted exactly 17 months.

Now, we remember the Eastern European Revolutions of 1989, but those are really the exceptions that proved a much more messy rule. The process of becoming democratic has always been chaotic. Mistakes are made, lives are lost, and in the most dire moments, people have always doubted that there would be a good outcome.

We need to keep that in mind when we assess the Arab Spring. Democracy might be messy. It's certainly complicated. It takes a while to consolidate. But for the first time in perhaps a millennium, the Arab people are taking charge of their own affairs. So let's cut them some slack. It's only been a year.

And we'll be right back. Up next, a fascinating world view from the East, my interview with Singapore's Prime Minister. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS will be back in less than 90 seconds, but first a check of the top stories.

This just in. The Washington Post sites the Egyptian State media in a report that the government intends to prosecute at least 40 people, including some American citizens, as part of an investigation into non-government organizations that receive foreign funding.

The Libyan Interior Minister tells CNN that Saif Gadhafi, son of Libya's deceased leader Muammar Gadhafi could go on trial within a few weeks.

In Cairo, Egypt, demonstrators clashed with police outside the country's Interior Ministry building. Protests have rocked Egypt's capital since riots erupted at a soccer match last week and left more than 80 people dead.

Heavy snow has forced London's Heathrow Airport to cancel about half its flights today. London is the latest European capital to be hit by winter storms across the continent.

Military helicopters have been dispatched to evacuate thousands of residents stranded by rising floodwaters in Queensland, Australia. Heavy rains in recent weeks have swollen rivers beyond their banks in several Australian communities. Officials are expecting a record- breaking flood.

And those are your top stories. "RELIABLE SOURCES" at the top of the hour. Now back to FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS.

ZAKARIA: Singapore, the tiny nation state at the southern tip of Malaysia may not be at the top of your mind, but it should be. Consider this. It is according to the World Bank, the easiest place in the world to do business.

Did you know it is on the verge of beating Las Vegas against the odds perhaps to become the second biggest gambling market in the world? Fifteen percent of its households have more than a million dollars in assets, the highest percentage in the world.

And it is a long-time friend of the United States, but it has to maintain close relations with China as well, a complicated balancing act that it does well. It is, in short, the little nation that could. And we could all learn a lot from Singapore.

I had a chance to do just that when I sat down with the nation's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Davos.


ZAKARIA: It is a great pleasure to have with us Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore. Welcome, Prime Minister.

LEE HSIEN LOONG, PRIME MINISTER OF SINGAPORE: Hello. ZAKARIA: You have always been a careful watcher of the Chinese economy. So I want to start by asking you, one of the great concerns people have looking out this year is that the Chinese economy is going to slow down, that it has built in certain excesses that in order to get out of the financial crisis, the government over spent, over lent, and that these excesses are now going to bring some kind of a tough landing if not a hard landing in China. What do you think?

LEE: I'm an optimist on this fundamentally. I can't say that there will be no bumps in the short-term, but I think in the long- term, the trend will be up. They have built a lot of infrastructure. They have built a lot of capacity in many industries - autos, some of their electronics industries.

But it's an economy which is growing very rapidly. Urbanizing very rapidly. Needing a lot of facilities where there is roads, hospitals, schools, houses by the millions. And every year one percent of the population is moving into cities, which means 13 million people needing all this infrastructure.

So I think that there may be a rough landing, but they will get through it.

ZAKARIA: Let's talk about the other super power in the Pacific, the United States. The United States had went through a flurry of diplomatic activity - political activity over the last three months. The Station Summit, ASEAN, the proposal for this new trade area.

LEE: The Transpacific Partnership.

ZAKARIA: And the Transpacific Partnership. And a kind of military cooperation arrangement that could be described as a military base in Australia. Now, the Philippines is talking about perhaps having American troops back. Do you think these moves are stabilizing the Asia-Pacific Region?

LEE: We fundamentally think it's good that America is interested in Asia and in the Asia-Pacific Region and that their presence since the Second World War has been a tremendous benign influence. It's provided - generated peace, stability, predictability, and enabled all the countries to prosper, including China.

And I think it's good that America continues to take a close interest in the region. Not just on security issues, but also economic issues and cultural and on a broad range of areas, but it cannot be for a few months at a time in a spasmodic style. It has to be sustained over a long period of time, really over many administrations and decades.

And America has got many preoccupations around the world, so we hope on your busy plate, Asia doesn't fall off the edge. But we are naturally very happy that President Obama and Hillary Clinton have made the effort and have put Asia quite high on their agenda. We hope it will be sustained.

ZAKARIA: Is there any prospect of American troops in Singapore? LEE: Well, we don't have - well, we actually have American - we actually host facilities in Singapore and American ships and aircraft stop from time to time and use those facilities. That's different from having a Naval Base.

ZAKARIA: And a Naval Base would be a bridge too far?

LEE: A Naval Base would be twice as big as Singapore. It can't be done.

ZAKARIA: You've reclaimed lots of land to build casinos. You could probably build a naval base.

But let me ask you about the Chinese reaction. The Chinese reaction to this same flurry of diplomacy and these new agreements has been somewhat cautious and in some cases hostile.

LEE: The official position is that they are very happy to have more members join the East Asia Summit, and America is welcome to join, and Russia is welcome to join, and Europe is welcome to join as well, and the more the merrier.

ZAKARIA: That's the official position.

LEE: The private position probably is a wariness, they're watching. They think there will be people in America who are not quite happy that China is prospering and would like to hinder that process, and they don't - they will not want to let those people succeed. So I think that there is cooperation, but there's also watchfulness on both sides.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that Barack Obama has pursued a successful foreign policy in the part of the world you care about?

LEE: I think he has put a lot of attention on it, and the outcome has been constructive. These are areas - these are issues which need long-term management, and the most important item to be managed is America's relationship with China, and it hasn't come to blows, although there have been tensions and there's a positive - that's a positive.

ZAKARIA: Do you think China will be trusted as the dominant power in Asia? If you look at the last year where China made these pushes in the South China Sea, with Japan, with that episode with the ship, it seemed like it provoked a very strong backlash in Asia.

LEE: Well, every super power or big country has to be looked on with a certain careful respect by others not quite so huge, even the United States. But the United States after 60-plus years in the Pacific since the war is still welcomed and still considered benign. And that's really a good example for the Chinese to seek to emulate.

ZAKARIA: What keeps you up at night?

LEE: Well, I think Asia will move. There will be ups and downs. We will be affected by Europe, if Europe goes bump in the night. But if it doesn't, well, there's a certain momentum in the countries in China and India and Southeast Asia which will help to carry us forward.

What worries us in Singapore is not that the world will not prosper, but in the ups and downs of the world, a small boat like Singapore with not very much room to maneuver, can you make sure that every time you catch a wave head on and you are not flipped over because once you're flipped over, that's it.


ZAKARIA: As captain of the good ship Singapore, Prime Minister Lee did something virtually unheard amongst world leaders. He took a pay cut shaving off more than a third of his salary. Why? We'll talk about that and much more when we come back.


ZAKARIA: Singapore is one of the least corrupt nations in the world. Why? Well, many say one of the chief reasons is that the nation's political and bureaucratic leaders are paid salaries commensurate with similar work in the private sector.

Last year, for example, Prime Minister Lee made around $2.5 million. He just took a pay cut, and this year he will make around $1.75 million. That's about four times what President Obama makes.

Even with his new salary, Prime Minister Lee is still the highest paid elected official in the world. That made him a perfect person to discuss the topic on everyone's mind in Davos, inequality.


ZAKARIA: The World Economic Forum has this list of global risks, and I was struck by the fact that the number one risk on its list is rising inequality, and it's happening, of course, in the United States where there's this big debate -

LEE: All over the world.

ZAKARIA: But it's happening everywhere. And I was wondering if you would reflect on what it means and what you can do about it because you yourself have had to deal with this in Singapore where you have had to cut the salaries of public sector employees, including your own.

LEE: No, no. Only of the ministers. Not of the civil servants.

ZAKARIA: So why did you do it?

LEE: Well, there was - it became an issue during the elections. There are reasons for needing to pay people well, pay people properly is well established because you must pay commensurate with a responsibility of the job and commensurate with the quality of the person you're looking for to do that job. And the job is vital because if you make a wrong decision, it's billions of dollars, and you put a wrong man in, that's a disaster. And anybody who comes in must make a calculation, must think what are the financial implications, not just for him, but for his wife and children, or spouse and children.

But when you're talking about salaries, which are $1 million or $2 million to the man in the street earning a few thousand dollars a month, it's an incomprehensible sum. I mean, it's defensible. But he cannot wrap his mind around it.

So it became an issue in the elections, and after the elections, I appointed a committee to review it and look at it dispassionately, and they decided that the principles were sound. You have to treat - you have to pay competitively, but they recommended a different benchmark and a different number, and we've accepted that.

I don't think it will be the last word on the matter, but it's a very difficult issue because it is important to get the right quality of people into government.

ZAKARIA: What do you do about inequality in Singapore? You have your top people, are world class, they make millions and millions of dollars. At the bottom, your workers are facing pressures from India, China or Bangladesh.

LEE: It is a problem like it is in India and China, like it is in every other country. First of all, we make sure that everybody gets very good education. So no matter which school you go to, you get a first class education, and if you are bright and able, you have every chance of rising all the way to the top. Never mind what your background is.

Secondly, through our public housing programs, through our other public subsidies, particularly on health care and education, we make sure that everybody starts with some chips in life. You don't start with zero down and out. So if you're poor in Singapore, it's no fun, but I think you are less badly off than if you're poor nearly anywhere else in the world, including in the United States.

Thirdly, I think that we have to encourage people to try their best to not be satisfied with where they are, but to upgrade themselves. Not just in school or while studying, but all their lives.

ZAKARIA: Let me close by asking you a couple of questions that are slightly more personal. You are the son of a Prime Minister, and the son of really the founder of your nation. What is it like to follow in his footsteps?

I realize it was not an immediate succession, but still, what is it like to have that legacy or shadow?

LEE: Well, I don't know. I have never not had it. It's tough enough, but you get to live with it. ZAKARIA: Well, I have had the honor of meeting your father many, many times. He has been on this program several times. He would strike me as an extraordinary leader, maybe a tough dad. Was he somebody who was strict disciplinarian?

LEE: He had expectations, but he left me to do my own thing, and he didn't push me into this. And neither would it have worked had he done so. I mean I had to make up my mind whether I wanted to go this way or not. My siblings didn't decide to go this way. I did.

ZAKARIA: Do you think your children are likely to go into politics?

LEE: They will have to decide, but if you ask me now, I think the odds are not on it. It's a different generation. It's a new world. There are so many opportunities, opportunities in Singapore, opportunities abroad.

For the talented, the whole world is the oyster. If you are in an Ivy League university in your first year you're already talent spotted. In your first vocation, you're already offered internships. After your internship, you are offered more or less here you are, when you graduate, please call this telephone number.

And if you're working in Wall Street or in Silicone Valley or in any of the start-ups, you feel like you are the cat's whiskers because ice cream, any time of the day is the least of the perks. They need talent, they treat talent well. And Singaporeans have been well educated, and completely comfortable in this world going in significant numbers in these directions.

We have many students studying in America in the best institutions. We have many students on the Oxbridge, some on the continent, and I'm sure many of them will be tempted by these opportunities.

ZAKARIA: And you -

LEE: And it is a great challenge for Singapore in this situation to make sure that enough decide that despite this we will be in Singapore and we'll make the system work.

ZAKARIA: And with your children, do you still maintain the high expectations?

LEE: They have to find their own path in life.

ZAKARIA: Prime Minister, pleasure. Thank you so much.

LEE: Thank you very much.



ZAKARIA: The Super Bowl is the all-American game, right? Well, it's becoming less so. In this year's edition, there are five, count them, five foreign-born players. That brings me to my question of the week. Which of the following countries is not fielding a player in Super Bowl XLVI? Is it, A) Canada; B) Romania; C) Jamaica; or, D) Germany?

Stay tuned. We'll tell you the correct answer. Make sure you go to for 10 more questions. While you're there, check out the rest of the offerings on our Global Public Square website. There's always fresh content, insight and analysis about what's going on in the world around you.

Don't forget, you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook. And, remember, if you ever miss a show or love an episode so much you want to keep it forever, you can now find full video episode of GPS for sale on the iTunes TV Store. Go directly there by typing into your browser.

Now for the "Book of the Week," it's called "The Unquiet American." A compilation of essays by and on the late Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke was a force of nature, ambitious, aggressive, but always determined to have an impact as he did when he made peace in Bosnia almost single-handedly.

This mix of his writings and personal reminiscences, reflections by others adds up to a smart moving portrait of a fascinating, larger than life American diplomat who was working during what was certainly the American Century.

And now for "The Last Look." Thirty-three years ago this week, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from exile in Paris to pay homage to the auspicious event, the Iranian Army held a reenactment on Wednesday. Of course, the ayatollah has long departed his earthly robe so he couldn't attend. What to do?

As you can see here, the Iranians made a big cardboard cut-out of his upper body and had it carried by a couple of big sunglass-wearing Iranian Army men. Off the plane, down the steps to review the troops and to a waiting truck where a smaller Ayatollah substituted for the first Ayatollah stand-in. This one could barely see over the dashboard.

Two interesting things I noticed. The plane from which the Ayatollah emerged both back in 1979 and today a Boeing. The truck in which he was transported then and now a GMC, an all-American arrival ceremony.

The correct answer to our GPS Challenge Question was, A, Canada has no players in the Super Bowl this year, but Great Britain has two, and Jamaica, Romania, and Germany each have Super Bowl-bound footballers.

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