Return to Transcripts main page


Super Tuesday Preview; Will Israel Attack Iran?; Interview with Bruce Bartlett

Aired March 4, 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.

First up, on a great show today, we'll tackle politics. Tuesday in America is not just any Tuesday. It's Super Tuesday, when one- fifth of the states in the union will go to the primary polls.

We have a great political panel. Later in the show: will Israel attack Iran? My guest says yes. He is a very well connected Israeli reporter. You'll want to hear what he has to say.

Then the U.S. tax code is 70,000 pages long. Do either President Obama or Mitt Romney have good ideas for reforming it? Nope. That's what a long-time Republican says. I'll talk to him.

Also, China's growth is fueling a fair portion of the global economy. What happens if that growth slows down? We'll explore.

But first, here's my take. The controversy over the desecration of copies of the Koran in Afghanistan and the murder of Americans that followed is, at one level, one moment in a long, complicated war. But it also highlights the difficult and ultimately unsustainable aspect of America's Afghan policy.

President Obama wants to draw down U.S. troops, but his strategy remains to transition power and authority to an Afghan national army and police force, as well as to the government in Kabul, which would run the country and its economy.

This is a fantasy. We must recognize that and pursue a more realistic alternative. The United States tends to enter wars in developing countries with a simple idea: modernize the country and you will solve the national security problem. An articulation of that approach came from none other than Newt Gingrich during a 2010 speech.


FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact that we have been in this country for seven years, almost eight years, and we have not flooded the country with highways, we haven't guaranteed that every Afghan has a cell phone, we haven't undertaken the logical steps towards fundamentally modernizing this society?


ZAKARIA: Now, assuming that every Afghan got a cell phone and could travel on great highways, here is what would not change. The Afghan national government does not have the support of a large segment of its population: the Pashtuns. The national army is regarded as an army of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazarahs, the old northern alliance that battled the Pashtuns throughout the 1990s.

And, simply put, Afghanistan's economy cannot support a large national government with a huge army. The budget for Afghan security forces today is around $12 billion, paid for by the U.S., of course. That is eight times the amount of the Afghan government's total annual revenues.

As America has discovered in countless places over the past five decades, there are problems with this nation-building approach. First, it is extremely difficult to modernize a country in a few years. Second, even if this were possible, the fundamental characteristics of that society, its ethnicity, religion, national and geopolitical orientation persist, despite modernization.

Accepting reality rather than wishing for some fantasy change in Afghanistan would not leave America without options there. We could have a smaller true presence, but we could still pursue robust counterterrorism operations.

The alternative is that we maintain our current approach, which is to bet on the success of not one, but two very large nation- building projects. We have to create an effective national government in Kabul that is loved and respected by all Afghans, whatever their ethnicity.

We have to expand the Afghan economy so that a large national army and police force are sustainable for the long run.

But to succeed, we also have to alter Pakistan's basic character, create a civilian-dominated state that could shift the strategic orientation of the Islamabad government, so that it shuts down the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and starts fighting the very militant groups that it created and supported for the last three decades.

Does anyone really think this is going to happen? Let's get started.


ZAKARIA: And we are coming straight to our super panel to talk about Super Tuesday and all other things swirling around American politics.

Joe Klein is "Time" magazine's political columnist.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editor of "The Nation".

Chrystia Freeland is the editor of Thompson Reuters Digital.

And Reihan Salam writes about politics for "The Daily" and "The National Review Online."

Joe, it looked like Romney has sort of wrapped it up one more time, sort of. But you, in your column in "Time," say he's still not doing what he needs to do.

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, it was something of a turning point this week for Romney. We finally find out that there was something that Mitt Romney wouldn't do to win the nomination. He said he wouldn't set his hair on fire by making outrageous comments about Barack Obama, which is nice. But it really points out a major deficit in his campaign so far.

If he's running as the electable one -- by the way, electability is a concept that you should never tout but should also always prove by winning elections. But, you know, if -- if you're running as the electable one, you have to show your appeal to moderates and independents.

Bill Clinton did this in 1992 by pushing for welfare reform, which the base of his party didn't want. George W. Bush did this with compassionate conservatism in 2000.

Up until this point, Mitt Romney has given nothing to moderates and independents in the electorate. He has tilted way to the right. And what we may have seen this past week is the beginnings of his attempt to come back to somewhere near the middle.

ZAKARIA: Reihan, what -- what do you think of that, I mean as our resident right-winger?


ZAKARIA: Do -- isn't it fair to say that, at some point, he's got to start pivoting to the center on some substantive policy issues? Doesn't Romney have to provide something that makes moderates feel, oh, he's one of us -- or independents feel he's one of us, not one of the Tea Party?

REIHAN SALAM, "THE DAILY": Fareed, you made a wonderful point by saying it's about what people feel. It's about affect. And I think that you're right, that in a primary process, the affect that one must project is an affect that resonates with base voters. And that's always going to be complicated, regardless of the political coalition that you're a part of.

And I think that's something that, as he racks up victories -- assuming he racks up victories -- he'll be able to do.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, "THE NATION": You know, 2012 is not 2008, in terms of what this primary -- long, messy primary did. In the Democratic campaign, I think it elevated, amplified candidates.

We're seeing all of these candidates, with the exception, perhaps, of Ron Paul, diminished, dirtied, tainted. And Mitt Romney has been losing independents and moderates with every breath and step he takes. But it seems to me there is a bias of sorts in the mainstream coverage, that associates extremism solely, almost solely, with social issues, like abortion and gay marriage, when, in fact, there is an extremism of economic policy.

And I would argue Mitt Romney has now moved very far, partly because of the base of a party, that sees economic policy almost as a cultural war. And his policies, tax policies, for example, are evidence of an extremist for the privileged, an extremist in pinstripes. And he is perceived more as the moderate because of the landscape, you could argue, the bareness of the landscape around him --

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, THOMPSON REUTERS DIGITAL: You know, I think, Fareed, you ask exactly the right question. And the big question and the challenge for Mitt Romney, if he gets the nomination, which he will have done partly by catering to the extremes in his party -- is he going to be able to pivot?

And, you know, he -- I think there is an argument that his weaknesses in the primary, the voters' suspicion that, really, he is a moderate pretending not to be, could be a strength in the general election.

But he's said so many things now, that he'll be doing his triple flops.

ZAKARIA: But let me ask you, Joe, say whatever you want, but I also want your answer to my question, which is you -- because you've covered these so much.

What I'm struck by is that if you still add up all the non-Romney votes, everywhere they beat him.

Is that normal? Or I mean, at some point, shouldn't he be getting a majority somewhere, as opposed to a plurality?

KLEIN: Well, it's becoming normal because the process has changed and you have a proportional representation. If these were all winner-take-all primaries, you might see a different effect --


ZAKARIA: -- would drop out?

KLEIN: He's about to have a tough, tough couple of weeks. You know, Super Tuesday is not going to be a picnic for him.

ZAKARIA: Do you think Gingrich will take some of the South?

KLEIN: I think Gingrich will take Georgia. Santorum is way ahead in places like Tennessee and Oklahoma.

ZAKARIA: And Ohio. KLEIN: He's ahead in Ohio, but that will be competitive. Romney's successes have been limited to New England and that stripe of Mormon states just inside the Pacific Coast.

SALAM: And Florida.



KLEIN: But, you know, but I think that it may well be that New York State turns out to be his firewall in late April.

But the other thing I wanted to point out about Romney is that Katrina was limited in her description of his extremism. He has been an extremist on foreign policy.

He has willfully misrepresented the president's position on Israel. He keeps on saying that the president believes in a return to the 1967 borders, but he never includes the words which -- with mutually agreed-upon swaps.

And he is an extremist when it comes to immigration, and that is a big deal because I don't know whether Latinos are going to believe it if he -- if he tilts to the center.

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, I think the moderates...


ZAKARIA: Let me ask you...

VANDEN HEUVEL: -- I think the GOP is staring down its demographic extinction in that context -- no, really, in terms of what it is doing on immigration policy as it --

ZAKARIA: It's scaring Latinos.

VANDEN HEUVEL: -- faces its own numbers, its own numbers. I mean in 2020, the electorate will be one-third non-white. And this is a changing country. And this party is, at the moment, not trying to educate Americans.

Maybe that's not the role for campaigns anymore, but in terms of the decline of their role in America -- but it's playing to their fears and grievances -- I'd argue Rick Santorum most stridently, in the long lineage of --

ZAKARIA: OK, but let me ask --

VANDEN HEUVEL: -- right-wing demagogues...

ZAKARIA: -- let me ask Reihan, what do you think of Mitt Romney? Is he, to your mind, you know, is he the center of the Republican Party? Is he on the right? Is he -- because he ran in -- just four years ago, as the right wing alternative to John McCain. But he's now seen as a moderate. Hasn't the party shifted?

SALAM: Well, Fareed, here's what I think happened. Between 2002 and 2008, there were many close elections, gubernatorial elections, in the United States, in which the Republican lost narrowly. So had a few more of those elections gone a different way, we'd be looking at an entirely different set of candidates.

So what I'm saying is that politics is extremely contingent. We try to draw out these larger lessons, you know, this person, a moderate, so it all depends on what are the things, what are the controversies that happen to blow up at a given time. Mitt Romney tried to offer a very minimal plan on taxes, but then he saw that, well, this isn't good enough, I have to move the needle.

And that actually is a very awkward situation when you're actually governing.

ZAKARIA: All right. We will talk about all this and more, if this -- if economics isn't sexy enough, we'll talk about religion and sex, I suppose, when we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Joe Klein, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Reihan Salam and Chrystia Freeland.

Chrystia, you wrote a piece. It's talking about this book by Theda Skocpol, which basically says that -- I mean I'm caricaturing, probably -- that the Tea Party may seem as though it's animated by economic issues, but really, at the heart, there's a lot of social conservatism and a lot of religious fundamentalism, right?

FREELAND: Yes. I mean that was her assertion. And the other thing that she found was, you know, really talking to Tea Party activists, that they were driven less by a coherent ideology and more by a set of very specific issues.

So on economic issues, she said they were actually very concerned about keeping their entitlements for themselves and the way -- but the way they saw it was it's a question of who is working hard and who earned it. It was a lot of retired people who felt we've worked for a living, we've worked for our savings, we earned all of these Social Security payments and medical support, with --

ZAKARIA: Which is, of course, factually, entirely untrue --


FREELAND: OK. But still, you know, that --

ZAKARIA: -- the amount you pay into the system --

FREELAND: -- she found that to be the mind set.

ZAKARIA: -- is much less than you draw out.

FREELAND: -- versus a perception of now inhabiting this nation of free riders.

And what she found very interesting was the free riders sometimes included their own grandchildren.

So there was this sense of, I worked really hard and there's my grandkid, who's still on the couch, doesn't have a job yet --


KLEIN: In fact, they're kind of freaked by their grandchildren.


KLEIN: You know, one thing I find, I -- and I spend a lot of time out in the middle of the country -- is that people who are the Republican Party base and the heart of the Tea Party, who are white, tending toward elderly and so on, are kind of worried about the fact that this is not the country they grew up in.

You know, you go to a town in Arkansas and you find all the convenience stores are run by South Asians and there are Mexicans all over the place. And people talk to you about their grandson, who has just become gay, and their granddaughter, who is dating a Japanese guy.

And the President of the United States doesn't even have the good sense to be either black or white and his middle name is Hussein. They are scared about this. And the economy, I think, does ramify it.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But this is what I was talking about, the tectonic shifts in this country.

This is a period of change. And one can approach that change with fear, or playing to the electorates, the Tea Party's grievances and resentments, which I do think we see in all of these candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul.

But I do think we're living in a time where government is misunderstood by those who need its benefits. Tax cuts do not revive auto industries. That's why the Republicans are going to lose Michigan --


SALAM: Well, they can --

VANDEN HEUVEL: -- and Ohio --


ZAKARIA: So we've got to -- we've got to --

SALAM: They can.

ZAKARIA: -- we've got to get Reihan in so --

SALAM: How splendid that we have such consensus around the table, Fareed.

I would argue that tax expenditures are a very big part of the transfer state in this country. If you look at tax expenditures, there's $600 billion, according to one estimate, of tax expenditures a year.

We have a state, a transfer state, that is at least as large as what you see in Northern Europe. And the trouble with our transfer state is that, unlike those that you see in other parts of the world, it skews toward people who are middle income and people who are affluent. That is a genuine problem.

ZAKARIA: Yes, but answer the -- I want you to answer the point that all three have made, which is --

SALAM: Well, Fareed, but I'm trying to say that actually --

ZAKARIA: No, no, no --

SALAM: -- this way of exercising government policy is a way of making the exercise of government policy relatively less visible --

ZAKARIA: I understand.

SALAM: And I think that that's a real problem.

ZAKARIA: But I want to -- I want to hear --

SALAM: So I think that it's not quite --

ZAKARIA: -- I want to hear --

SALAM: -- oh, these people, don't -- they don't realize that they're on the take. Ha, ha, ha.


KLEIN: No, actually, there's a reason they don't realize that.

ZAKARIA: Right. But I want to ask you to...

KLEIN: But I'd love to hear the question.

ZAKARIA: -- to specifically...


ZAKARIA: -- address this issue that you have a lot of fear of social change. I mean there was the point Joe was making, this is the point -- you reviewed the Theda Skocpol book in "Foreign Affairs" --

SALAM: Fareed, in 1970 --

ZAKARIA: So what's wrong with it?

SALAM: -- the United States was 3.8 percent foreign born. Right now, the United States is 11 percent foreign born. And another 12 percent has at least one foreign born parent. I happen to be in that latter category.

Now, when you think about that, in the space of 40 years, you've had that extraordinary change, OK?

Now, when you think about the level of social peace and civic amity that we have in this society, given that extraordinary demographic change, I think that a lot of the nostalgia that you see on both sides, both on the left and the right, think about the nostalgia on the left, the idea that the mid-century economy in the United States is the way that an economy should always be, that model of New Deal social democracy is a way that an economy should be.

It happened in a world where there were no Thai restaurants, Fareed. The country was 3.8 percent foreign born.


SALAM: And when you have those changes, it actually accelerates, intensifies and exacerbates certain kinds of structural differences and inequality --

KLEIN: Could I just make a quick point?


SALAM: No, but I think the question is what do you do with that? And do you actually --

KLEIN: I think you celebrate --


FREELAND: -- think in talking about the social issues, I think we're missing what is actually driving this, which I think Reihan was approaching. You know, the Thai restaurant is not a point. It might be the easiest thing to latch onto, but the big transformation and the painful --


KLEIN: -- latch onto something more difficult.

FREELAND: -- and the really painful transformation is the stagnation of middle class wages.

VANDEN HEUVEL: That's right.

FREELAND: And the polar raise -- polarization of income in the United States.

VANDEN HEUVEL: That's right.

FREELAND: Those middle class jobs that those retirees used to have, their grandkid is on the couch, not because the grandkid is lazy or has tattoos --


SALAM: -- Canadian immigrants contribute to inequality there --

FREELAND: We do. (Inaudible) the jobs aren't there.

ZAKARIA: Guys, guys, I promised the viewers sex. We have to get to it.

Joe, is it -- it seems clear that the raising of issues like contraception, Obama's -- you know, the issue with regard to the -- what Catholic charities could or could not provide, net-net, that is helping the Democrats, because it's making a lot of independent women say, wait a minute, we don't want people telling us what contraceptives we can use.

KLEIN: Net-net, it's helping the Democrats. But I think Reihan is going to faint when I say that I think that the strongest case that the Republicans have that's been obscured by all of this craziness is that the regulatory state has gotten out of control.

And so that when you bring it down to contraception, you ask yourself, why, in a country where we don't require employers to provide health insurance, should we require them to -- those who do provide health insurance, to provide contraception?

Now, I'm all in favor of contraception, but I think that this is a major overstepping of the state's role.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Could I pick on thing up? And, Joe, we were talking earlier, simple things instead of the big regulatory state, which I would argue, is overstated a little bit. You could just have a restoration of Glass-Steagall -- restoration -- this is conservatism -- and a financial -- a small financial transaction tax, which is appreciated by Angela Merkel, the conservative leader of Germany.

SALAM: Sex in religion. And ergo we go straight to the financial transaction tax --


SALAM: -- Joe's point, I just want to say that I see it somewhat differently. I see an effort to make certain aspects of government policymaking as opaque as possible.

And why do we make them as opaque as possible?

If you had a universal health law, that was based on taxes and transfers in a very transparent way, as they do it in Canada, it would have been really unpopular. Do it for a mandate. Do it through regulation. Do it through all these ways in which the costs become invisible rather than visible, then maybe we can get it through.

And then later on, when we discover this jury-rigged structure doesn't work, well, then we make it transparent later, well, it's impossible --


ZAKARIA: That's the last word.

FREELAND: Well, here I'm going to agree with Reihan. I think that American progressives really need to bite the bullet and they need to say, let's bring our country into the 21st century and have a universal single payer health care system.

SALAM: Well, bring it to the 1960s in Canada, yes.

FREELAND: And then these debates would be -- happen in --


FREELAND: Well, get your (inaudible) to do it, then.

VANDEN HEUVEL: We tried. That's part of what we do.

SALAM: Get him to acknowledge that middle class tax increases are essential --


ZAKARIA: And we have to --


ZAKARIA: All right. We have to acknowledge that time is up.

Joe Klein, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Reihan Salam, Chrystia Freeland, thanks for joining us.

Up next, "What in the World?" Where could the next crash come from?

Hint -- it won't be Europe.

Back in a moment.


ZAKARIA: For you for our "What in the World?" segment. We've gotten used to the rise and rise of China. Every year for the last three decades it has had growth at staggering rates, almost 10 percent a year. We've almost become used to the idea of a permanent China boom.

Now, what if that were to change? What if China were to hit a big speed bump? That's what a new World Bank report worries about this week. It's called China 2030, and it warns that unless Beijing puts in place a number of structural reforms, it will be doomed to what it's calling a middle income trap of slow growth.

That's what happens when the factors that lead a poor country to high growth, cheap labor, for example, disappear once it becomes a mid-tier economy, and its growth rate slumps.

To avoid that fate, the World Bank makes a series of recommendations from letting the market play a role in setting interest rates to decreasing the role of the state in business.

Now, these are smart ideas, but they're not new. Economists have been saying this kind of thing for years. So what's the fuss? Well, it turns out the report was co-authored by a top Chinese think tank, which often advises the Chinese government.

This is important because, for the first time, it gives a World Bank study a semi-official stamp of approval.

Perhaps this Chinese dissident didn't know that as he interrupted the report's unveiling to call the World Bank's prescriptions poison. He was, of course, led away. But his demonstration of nationalist pride is a sign of a debate going on in Beijing at the highest levels.

On the one hand, you have some pragmatic economic minds who acknowledge that for China to become the world power it aspires to be, it must allow the world and the market in more.

Foreign banks, for example, manage less than 2 percent of the Chinese financial system. On the other hand, China's state-driven economy has served it well. It's been barely impacted by the recent financial crisis. It was also insulated from the Asian financial crisis 15 years ago. That kind of resilience allows conservatives within Beijing's top echelons to oppose any major changes or reforms.

What's clear to me is that this is a year of waiting and watching in China. In a year where 70 percent of the country's leaders will change over, no senior official will take the kind of risk that would jeopardize his or her career. But that only increases the risk of a slump in a few years if nothing is done now.

The "Financial Times" columnist Martin Wolf points out that the next global financial crisis will likely come from China, simply because of its scope and size. That's not a farfetched assumption. Remember, also, that very few countries have avoided financial crises after reforms and global integration.

Martin Wolf points out, as examples, the U.S. in the 1930s, Japan and Sweden in the 1990s, or the Eurozone right now. China is on course to become the world's biggest economy, even if and when it slows down as per the World Bank's projections.

But it will need to make major structural reforms to have its growth be sustainable and to make it more harmonious with the global economy. There's a danger to rushing into reform. That's what is keeping China cautious right now. They've handled things well so far.

But one of the lessons of the financial crisis surely is that nothing goes up in a straight line forever.

Up next, will Israel attack Iran? My guest is a well connected Israeli journalist who says it's only a matter of time. Stay with us for that and much more.


CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. FAREED ZAKARIA GPS will be back in 60 seconds. But, first, a check of the top stories. At least 39 people are confirmed dead from tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and the southeastern United States over the weekend. National Guard troops have been sent to Indiana and Kentucky.

President Obama is offering federal assistance to storm damaged states. About 17 million people have been affected by the tornadoes.

Rescuers in southern Poland search for survivors overnight after two passenger trains collided, killing at least 16 people. One American is among the dead. The crash left at least 60 others injured. Poland's prime minister says it's too soon to say what caused the accident.

Russians are going to the polls today in an election that looks likely to return Vladimir Putin to the country's presidency. Putin is the country's current prime minister. Russia's election has been marked by large protests challenging Putin's leadership and calling for democratic reforms.

North Korean soldiers and civilians protested at a rally today against South Korea's joint military exercises with the U.S. North Korea recently agreed to suspend its nuclear program.

Those are your top stories. We are waiting for President Obama's address to APAC. We'll bring you that when it happens. Now back to FAREED ZAKARIA GPS.

ZAKARIA: Will Israel strike Iran in 2012?

It's a simple question, but with extremely complicated answers. Everyone you ask has a different opinion. But most people don't have sources like my next guest, Ronen Bergman, the senior political and military analyst for Israel's most widely read daily newspaper. He joins us from Tel Aviv.

Welcome, Ronen.

RONEN BERGMAN, "YEDIOTH AHRONOTH": Hi, Fareed. Thank you for inviting me.

STOSSEL: Let's start with the bottom line. You believe that it is likely that there will be an Israeli strike on Iran?

BERGMAN: Yes. After speaking with many of the Israeli leaders and chiefs of the intelligence and the military, I have come to the conclusion that there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran during 2012, because Iran is getting too close to what was coined by Minister of Defense Ehud Barak as the zone of immunity.

This is this specific point on the timeline, after which Iran nuclear sites are going to become immune to an Israeli strike. According to Israeli latest intelligence assessment, Iran is something like nine months away from entering this so-called zone of immunity.

Therefore, there are many in Israel who believe that Israel should take the initiative and strike before, because sanctions do not yield the results that Israel hoped they would result in.

And the covert action that did cause some delays to the Iranian nuclear project have exceeded or exhausted their ability, and Iran is accelerating toward its ability to produce the first nuclear weapon device.

ZAKARIA: There is -- at least looking at it from America, another window that would -- that perhaps is closing. And I'm wondering whether that has been part of the Israeli discussion, again, with your sources at the highest levels, and that is this.

You have a window until November. Until the elections are over in the United States, it would be very difficult for an American president to criticize Israel or to do anything but support it unconditionally.

Do you think that that is a factor, that people know that, until November, you -have the guaranteed support of the American president?

BERGMAN: Yes, Fareed, I think this is the U.S.-Israeli relation, the complex, the strategic alliance between these countries, and especially when it comes to the Iranian issue, are a central factor in the Israeli decision-making process.

And as you said, the coming U.S. election is also a factor. You can look at from one side, a guaranteed U.S. support. And you can look at from the other, because the current U.S. president, maybe the next U.S. president, President Obama, has asked Israel -- requested not to strike in Iran.

And therefore, an Israeli strike before the election, a strike that can complex things for President Obama, might be interpreted by President Obama as sort of a defiance to his request.

Therefore, you can look at it from both sides. However, at the end of the day, the Minister of Defense Barak, told me -- and he is the -- writing the Israeli doctrine when it comes to a possible Israeli strike on Iran -- he said, all options are on the table, indeed, he says.

But from our point of view, there is one option that is not on the table. This is the C option, containment.

Israel, he says, will never contain a nuclear Iran. There is no possibility that we are going to accept such a country holding such a weapon.

ZAKARIA: So take us now into the -- into the Israeli decision- making process, because one of the things we hear is that the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus is not as keen on this idea as Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak, that they believe that the gains, which would be probably an 18-month delay in Iran's program, are not worth the costs, which are, of course, you know, the regional instability, the possibility of Iran retaliating.

Is that true?

BERGMAN: There's a difference of opinion. And as you correctly said, Fareed, people in the military and the defense and the intelligence establishment, who object to strike because, they say, it would not yield the sufficient required delay of only 18 months up to three years.

And the inevitable day-after consequences, including a rain of rockets coming from Iran, from Hamas in the Gaza Strip, from Hezbollah in the north of Israel, are going to be intolerable by the Israeli public.

When I asked the Minister of Defense Barak about this, he said, I am supportive of difference of opinion. I support the debate.

But, he says, when the chiefs of the military looks up -- look up, they see the prime minister and the minister of defense. When we, the prime minister, Netanyahu, and myself, look up, we see nothing but the sky. We have the responsibility, he says, for the continuation of the -- for the fate of the Jewish state, for the fate of the Jewish people. Therefore, we have to make a strike.

There are, Fareed, numerous reasons why not to take such a -- such an action, why this could inflame a new war in the Middle East.

But the mind set that I get from these people, especially from the political leaders, for the political level, is that, for the first time, I hear that they feel a sense of urgency and they feel that, unless something, I would say, unpredicted -- which seems impossible, like the Iranians give up their complete nuclear project.

And this some -- unless something like this is happening, Israel would need to make a call and would probably go for a strike.

ZAKARIA: What do you think Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to tell President Obama at the Oval Office on Monday?

BERGMAN: I would assume that the Israeli prime minister would ask President Obama to give Israel assurances on what exactly does it mean when he says that the U.S. is determined to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.

Is the U.S. -- is willing to guarantee Israel that if Israel doesn't strike, the U.S., when time comes and the Iranian Supreme Leader orders its -- his scientists to start producing the first bomb, then the U.S. would strike.

I would assume that, on that specific issue, the president -- the president of the United States would be very cautious from making promises and obliging himself to restricted military actions. And on the other hand, I assume that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to use the same vague language as he used before, when the president will ask him to refrain from attacking.

He would say something like, Israel reserves itself the right to defend itself and will not promise the president not to strike or to give the U.S. a heads-up, a prior warning, before a strike takes place.

ZAKARIA: Ronen Bergman, a fascinating perspective, very important reporting. Thank you so much.

Coming up after the break, how to fix the unfixable -- America's system of taxes. We'll be right back.


ZAKARIA: Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have ideas for fixing the U.S. tax code. Will any of it work? My next guest says no.

Bruce Bartlett has served as an economic advisor to two Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He has a terrific new book out, "The Benefit and the Burden."

Welcome, Bruce.


ZAKARIA: First, you make a distinction between Obama and Romney's plan. What do you think the big difference is?

BARTLETT: Well, the big difference is that Romney's plan is a huge tax cut, especially for the rich, and it's really written, primarily, not really to be enacted into law, but to appeal to the Republican electorate.

I think Obama's plan is more of the -- of an opening bid in a -- in terms of doing something substantial, at least, on the corporate side. Where I think that two sides are relatively close, close enough to deal.

But I think the real problem with Obama's plan is that he talks about evening the playing field, but at the same time, he wants an extra special low rate for manufacturing companies. And I think that, in a way, he's kind of going in opposite directions simultaneously.2

ZAKARIA: When you look at the U.S. tax code and its incredible complexity and you compare it to other countries, the thing that stands out is what is called tax expenditures. And these are kind of tax breaks that cost the government money, just as surely as if we were spending it. And there are hundreds, thousands of these tax expenditures.

When did they develop? Why do they exist? BARTLETT: Oh, they've always been there. But it wasn't until the 1960s that we started to create a list. And the reason they started creating a list is because nobody knew.

And I think everybody was quite astounded, once they went through the tax code systematically to try to figure out these things, because it was felt, at the time, that there was a lack of transparency, that if you could get a special deal into the tax code, it was sort of there forever. And if it was small enough, you -- nobody would really know it.

ZAKARIA: But say that again. That's very interesting, right, that you have a tax expenditure that, once you put it in, it's there forever; whereas when you -- when the government affirmatively spends money, that spending request has to be renewed every year and is scrutinized; whereas the money that it spends, in effect, through the tax code, you do it once and it's there for 50 years.

BARTLETT: Pretty much. There's a real lack of transparency. And part of the problem is, well, as you said, there are so many of these things. And, of course, we talk a lot about the really big ones, such as the exclusion for health insurance and the mortgage interest deduction. But there are hundreds and hundreds of others that the revenue loss is only in the low millions and --

ZAKARIA: What's the total cost to the -- to the federal government of all these tax expenditures?

BARTLETT: The number that I've heard is $1.1 trillion. But they're not really additive --


BARTLETT: You can't add them quite the way you do spending. But it's certainly a very, very substantial number.

But so many of them are just a few million dollars. And they're worth a lot to the particular industry or group that benefits. But -- and it's not a large enough sum of money to really bother going after, unless you're going to go after everybody, and which is really what we need to do.

We need to kind of get a lot of these small ones and go after them all at once so that it adds up to some real money and you can do some significant simplification in the process.

ZAKARIA: How would you reform the tax code? Would you get rid of all these tax expenditures?

BARTLETT: I -- well, yes, I would, if I could, but I think that that's just such pie-in-the-sky hopelessness. I think what we could do is meaningful simplification for the vast majority of people by changing -- getting rid of the income tax and replacing it with a value-added tax, and we'll just pay our taxes as we -- as we buy things. And this could be done very easily. But the problem is that there's a very strong segment of the conservative community that is just adamantly opposed to a value-added tax, and will fight to the death against it.

ZAKARIA: And the argument, I mean, because a value-added tax is much more efficient, there's much less cheating, it actually reduces the thing that we worry about in America, which is too much consumption.

But the argument is -- that I've heard on the right is, well, this would give the government -- it's almost the fear that it is too efficient at raising money --

BARTLETT: You're exactly correct -- they're afraid of it because it's too good at what it does. I mean they really have an extraordinarily simplistic argument. To listen, just yesterday, I was arguing with Dan Mitchell from the CATO Institute about this.

To hear him tell it, all of Europe is a giant gulag. You're just a slave if you live in Europe because you pay such ridiculously high taxes and it's all because of the VAT.

Well, you know, I've been to Europe. Germany doesn't look like a slave camp to me. It's just gross exaggeration is really -- fuels a lot of this, and just fear of the unknown.

But the -- a VAT could clean up so many of our problems in our tax code. We can get about $50 billion per percentage point if you did it just as a tax reform. You could use that money to fix an enormous number of problems in our tax code and get us on to a better track.

ZAKARIA: How do you get the Republican Party -- I mean you come from it. You've worked for Republican presidents. Right now, we are taxing at about 16 percent. We're spending at about 24 percent of GDP. So you -- it's not just tax reform. You're going to have to raise more revenues --


ZAKARIA: -- and yet it seems as though this is -- I mean every Republican candidate in these primary debates said that they wouldn't raise a dollar of new revenues.

BARTLETT: Well, I think that, you know, they go around telling people, well, we just need to cut 7 or 8 percent of GDP, as if, you know, just wave their hand. It's just utterly ridiculous. And they simply won't deal seriously with the problem of entitlements and the problems of the elderly and the and the costs of health care. They just delude themselves.

ZAKARIA: Are you -- have you been excommunicated on the Right for saying all this?

BARTLETT: Yes. They're -- there are certain things you're just not allowed to say and saying that we need to raise taxes is, unfortunately, one of them.

But I think that's, you know, ostrich-head-in-the-sand kind of attitude. And I think it's going to create a lot of unnecessary economic problems in the future.

ZAKARIA: Bruce Bartlett, thanks so much for joining us.

BARTLETT: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back. Up next, how a scene that looks like something out of "Kill Bill" or an Asian James Bond is actually geopolitics in action. I'll explain.


ZAKARIA: Wednesday was Leap Day. That means this year we'll have 366 days, of course. It got me thinking about how it all started, and that brings me to my question this week from "The GPS Challenge."

Who invented the concept of the leap year? Was it, A, Aristotle; B, Julius Caesar; C, Galileo; or, D, Pope Gregory XIII? Stay tuned, and we'll tell you the correct answer. Go to for more of "The GPS Challenge" and lots of insight and analysis. And you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

And, remember, if you miss a show, go to iTunes. You can get the audio podcast for free or you can buy the video version. Go there -- go directly there by typing into your browser.

This week's book of the week is for those of you avidly watching the American elections. Theodore White's Pulitzer prize-winning "The Making of the President 1960." It is the original political campaign book. It's probably not the first, but certainly it is the model that many have followed.

White's vivid look inside the 1960 presidential race -- John f. Kennedy versus Richard Nixon -- is wonderfully written and in many ways just as relevant today.

And now for "The Last Look." I have a riddle for you.

What do you get when you put 40 heads of state 30 miles away from a rogue nuclear nation? The answer, nervous heads of state. The solution? A little showing off. Sartorially splendid tough guys rappelling down the front of a building with guns drawn. Black tie tough girls taking out the enemy with a swift kick to the face.

No, this isn't some Asian James bond film. This is real life, or at least a drill. So South Korea is just a hop, skip and a jump from the DMZ, and that nation's version of the White House, called the Blue House, will host the 2012 nuclear security summit at the end of the month.

And this week their presidential security service was on display, showing their derring-do and their ability to take out a bad guy -- and fast -- just in case anybody tries to pull anything. The response from the government of young Mr. Kim across the border? They think the whole summit is a childish farce.

The correct answer to our GPS challenge question was, B, we have Julius Caesar to thank for the extra day this week, but Caesar's version, essentially adding a day every four years, was imperfect. It made things off kilter by about three days every 400 years.

So in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII devised the Gregorian calendar, which adds a day almost every four years with some exceptions.

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