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Violence in the Middle East; Interview with Michael Lewis

Aired September 16, 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 have an important show for you today. We'll start with the protests, the violence and the killings in North Africa and the Middle East. We will talk to Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Wolfowitz, Bernard- Henri Levy and Tariq Ramadan.

Next up, Michael Lewis spent eight months in the White House with unprecedented access to President Obama. We'll talk about who Obama is and how he makes decisions.

Also, why is Israel trying to get the United States to commit to waging war when Israel itself isn't willing to do so?

And, finally, we'll take a look at these pictures. Do you think they were taken by NASA or the European Space Agency? No, a teenager with a second-hand camera.

But, first, here's my take. The images of the American embassy burning in Benghazi might have conjured up memories of Tehran in 1979, but the analogy is false.

In Libya, the government is not fomenting anti-Americanism; it is fighting it, openly declaring America an ally and friend. Libya is pro-American by a 2-to-1 margin, and the violence there appears to have been the work of small, extremist elements that lack much popular support. But the storm has spread from Libya.

Across the Middle East, there have been protests railing against the United States and the West in general. Even in these places, however, keep in mind that these crowds number in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, in countries with tens of millions of people. They make for vivid images, but they do not tell the whole story.

What can we say about these places and protests? First, in many of these countries, particularly those that have toppled dictatorships, the most important reality is not of bad government, but of weak government.

In Libya, Yemen and even Egypt, the state has lost its ability to control its public. In a sense this might be progress. Egypt didn't see protests like this before because Mubarak's regime would arrest, even shoot protesters. The current Egyptian president is an elected politician, and he is trying to pander, appease, direct and guide his people. I wish he were bolder and fought the extremist elements in his society head-on, but let's face it; he's behaving like an elected politician.

Second, what we are witnessing is indeed the consequence of the Arab Spring. Arab societies were locked down for 50 years. The lid has come off them and what we're seeing inside has some good elements, moderates, liberals, pragmatists and some very nasty elements, extremists, Islamic fundamentalists, jihadis.

Let us be honest, there is a cancer of extremism in the Arab world, one that was diagnosed extensively after 9/11 by many, including me. That cancer has not been cured; most of the forces that produced it still remain.

We should be honest that it exists; we should be honest that moderates in the region tend to be weak, often cowardly, but we should try to help them. If the United States pulls out, the crazies only get stronger.

The clash of civilizations exists, and it is within Islam, between those who want to burn American embassies and those who want to partner with us in building modern societies. We have a stake in who wins that struggle.

Let's get started.

Joining me now, the man who was National Security Advisor in 1979 when the U.S. embassy in Tehran was taking over, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Advisor.

Welcome, Zbig.


ZAKARIA: Do you see any analogy? Do you worry about some dramatic event like in the late 1970s taking place across the world?

BRZEZINSKI: Not really. I think the situation today is much more complex than then. At the time, the Muslim states in the area were relatively conservative, visibly controlled, internally stable, with the exception of Iran which eventually disintegrated.

But we didn't respond by plunging the region into a war and I think we have to think of that very hard these days because the entire region is very volatile, tremendous emotions have been unleashed.

And I think if we act unwisely or, for that matter, if Israel acts unwisely, we can plunge the entire region, put it in fire and create international consequences that would be menacing to everyone.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that there is some danger that this becomes some kind of snow-balling, kind of -- that this becomes a cascade or, as I say, is it possibly going to peter out? BRZEZINSKI: Well, it might peter out if nothing else happens and if no really incendiary acts are undertaken, but, you know, it's very hard to predict now because the situation is so volatile.

Who can predict what kind of violence might erupt here or there and with what consequences? My point is that, to the extent there are rational players involved, and I consider the United States to be a rational player, still.

I think we ought to exercise maximum caution and try to dampen the emotions, provide security to those who are worried about their security, but not engage in actions that are like putting a match to a canister full of gasoline?

ZAKARIA: Do you think it would be wise to, in some way, condition Egyptian aid on the president being willing to take a harder line on the extremist elements within his country?

BRZEZINSKI: I think it's perfectly appropriate for us to condition our aid to anyone in the Middle East on them being receptive also to our interests and to our views in the region.

I think that is the only way to conduct foreign policy. So I approve the message that the president has just sent to Egypt.

ZAKARIA: Does this whole -- these recent protests make you reconsider the Arab Spring and make you wonder whether the Arab Spring has gone bad?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, Fareed, when the Arab Spring was being hailed by everyone here as democracy, I think I was one of the very few people, maybe you were one of them too, who publicly warned that we should confuse populism with democracy.

Populism is a first phase of political awakening of the masses. But that isn't necessarily a commitment to democracy. I think many of our journalists were making all sorts of loose comparisons with the spring in Eastern Europe in 1989, solidarity, democracy and all of that.

And I pointed out that those movements in Central Europe were derivative of earlier European experience like the Spring of Nations in 1848. There was a legitimate and real commitment to democracy on the part of the movement and of their leaders, notably Havel, (inaudible) and others.

That is not the case in the Middle East. Populism is still very, very young, immature, not really connected with constitutional traditions, recognition of the rule of law and is being driven, and this is very important, by an increasingly radicalized, historical narrative in which the year of colonialism and imperialism is becoming more and more associated with us, not just with the British and French, but with us.

ZAKARIA: Zbigniew Brzezinski, always a pleasure to have you one. Thanks for joining us. BRZEZINSKI: Well, it's a pleasure, but it's a tough situation these days. I value your program.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, sir.

We're going to be back with more on this. Paul Wolfowitz, Bernard-Henri Levy and Tariq Ramadan when we come back.


ZAKARIA: Let's turn now to Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher who was instrumental in getting the world to intervene in Libya in March of last year. He spent a lot of time in Benghazi and was a friend of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Paul Wolfowitz was the Deputy Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush and also the president of the World Bank.

And Tariq Ramadan is an Islamic scholar of Egyptian descent. He is the author of "Islam and the Arab awakening." Ramadan's grandfather was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bernard, tell you what you can tell us about Libya. Do these events mean that Libya has gone seriously awry?

BERNARD-HENRI LEVY, AUTHOR: I would like, first of all, Fareed, to tell you what I know and what I remember about Ambassador Stevens. He was a great guy, a great fellow, a great ambassador and a great American.

He was the embodiment of the values of the best of America and his death is a terrible loss for all of us and a loss for Libya. What the imbecile who killed him probably did not know is that he was one of the best friends of Libya all around the world.

The dictatorship of Gadhafi fell. It is due, in a big part, to Ambassador Chris Stevens and I want to pay him homage today before anything else.

ZAKARIA: Well, what does it tell you about Libya? Have the extremist elements become so strong in that country?

LEVY: What it tells me about Libya is what, of course, we all knew. There is a political fight inside Libya between Democrats and between fanatics, between those who believe in the process, which began with the fall of Gadhafi, and those who want to stop the process.

The guys who are still a minority in Libya, who did that, this terrible criminal act, they want to freeze Arab Spring. So the question today is should we help them to switch off the flame of democracy or should we continue to believe in the flame of democracy. I believe the second.

I believe that we have more than ever to help those who are, after Ambassador Stevens, the victims of these stupid and criminal guys, who are the Democrats in Libya and all (inaudible).

ZAKARIA: Paul Wolfowitz, you have been consistently in favor of democracy and openness in the Arab world. You have criticized Arab dictatorships. Many people think you were the brains, if the not the brain behind George W. Bush's freedom agenda.

Many conservatives, many of your fellow conservatives were and are very critical and really believe that the Arab Spring has really been a terrible thing for the United States, for our interests, for Israel. How do you look at what has just happened.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER WORLD BANK PRESIDENT: Fareed, I think -- first of all, I've said many times the Arab Spring could easily be followed by an Arab Winter and the seasonal terms don't help very much.

It's a massive upheaval that's not the product of something George Bush did, it's the product of decades of suppression and repression by these dictatorships that didn't even allow the modicum of civil society develop as it did develop, for example, in Indonesia or I think is happening in Morocco; that's the key ingredient here.

But, to turn to Libya, I think what we're seeing there -- and the only thing I would absolutely agree with what Bernard-Henri Levy said about Ambassador Stevens. He was a fantastic man who really was advancing American interests and Libyan interests and his death is an enormous loss.

I would just disagree the people who killed him weren't imbeciles. They were doing it very deliberately, precisely to damage Libya. We don't really know yet who was behind it, but I think it's very clear these are some combination of forces that want to disrupt the progress Libya has made.

Your viewers should understand, because very few Americans do, that in the elections in July, the Muslim Brotherhood came in at a distance second and the Salafis, who are responsible for much of this violence, didn't even show.

But they were able, last month, in Tripoli to destroy mosques that they considered heretical under the protection of security forces. So part of what we're seeing in Libya, I believe, is the failure of the West having done half the right thing, the failure of the United States and France and Great Britain, to equip the new Libyan Security Forces.

And, instead, we left that to countries like Qatar and that's part of the result that we're seeing, incompetent and deceitful -- disgracefully deceitful security forces in Libya.

ZAKARIA: But, Paul, what do you say to people who look at these protests and look at the Egyptian president waffling and say, look, what we've unleashed here is kind of a tidal wave of anti-Americanism.

WOLFOWITZ: Well, we didn't unleash it. Again, it was a pot that was going to burst. I believe that you said is also exactly true, earlier, this is not just -- this isn't the Muslim world against the West. This is a fight within the Muslim world.

And you're also absolutely right that it's very much in our interest to help the people who believe in a modern Islam and modernity for Muslims to win in this fight.

I think we should have been absolutely clear from the beginning. The President of the United States should have said it's unacceptable the way Egyptian security forces allowed that embassy to be sacked.

It's unacceptable that the President of Egypt hadn't, at that point yet, even condemned the protests and the destruction of the American embassy in Egypt.

We should make very clear what behavior we expect from these new governments. Whether they're democratically elected or not, there will be consequences if they don't live up to standards that are important to us.

ZAKARIA: Tariq Ramadan, when you look at the Muslim Brotherhood in power, this is the moment where these protest movements have actually been given responsibility to modernize and run their societies.

The first test, they seem to be coming out not so well in Egypt. Wouldn't you agree?

TARIQ RAMADAN, AUTHOR AND PROFRESSOR OF ISLAMIC STUDIES: We should say, quite clearly, that the great majority of the Libyans and the Egyptians and the Tunisians and the Yemeni people are completely against what was done against the embassies, the killing of the ambassador.

This is unacceptable. It is anti-Islamic and the great majority of the Muslims don't follow the tiny minority of people, who exactly -- and Paul Wolfowitz on this is right, they exactly want this. They want the clash. They want to -- the rapture (inaudible) the West and getting religious credibility by being against the West.

Now, what is happening in Egypt is a struggle for the religious credibility. So the Muslim Brotherhood are in charge and it's true that the first thing that should have been said it is unacceptable and unjustifiable to attack an embassy and to kill people.

This is not acceptable. This is not the right answer. Even though, at the same time, it's legitimate for the people to say that the people who are behind the movie and what they are trying to do, the populists on both sides are dangerous.

And we have to be clear. Freedom of expression should be protected everywhere, but we can't use freedom of expression to promote racism, bigotry and hatred.

ZAKARIA: But, Tariq, let me ask you about this struggle. When you see this struggle in the Muslim world, and you're probably right, this is a tiny minority that are causing the extremism, somehow the majority, the moderates, cower in fear. They don't come out and openly denounce it. They fear that they will be regarded as bad Muslims. Why is it so difficult for moderates in the Muslim world, particularly the Arab world, to denounce this kind of violence in the name of Islam?

RAMADAN: Because there is a double struggle. And you are right. We need to have intellectuals and scholar be clear on the fact that this is not only not Islamic, it's anti-Islamic and we don't accept that and we have to stand up for some principles and so no to this kind of behavior.

At the end of the day, some Muslims are doing things that are not acceptable. Stand up and say it and have the courage to face your own society.

And, at the same time, to be critical toward the American policy because this is legitimate to be critical and they are issues to be critical about as to what is done in the Middle East.

ZAKARIA: Bernard-Henri Levy, do you think that -- when you watch what's going on, does this make you less hopeful for the future of Libya and other Arab countries?

LEVY: Less hopeful, I would not say. I believe -- like Paul Wolfowitz said before, I believe that it is a wrong path. He said that it should not be compared with what happened in Eastern Europe. Yes and no.

In Eastern Europe, we had a democratic spring. Twenty years after -- 25 years after, look at what happens in Hungary, for example, Hungary, Budapest. We have a nearly fascist regime who is now on stage.

So spring, winter, spring again, it is a long process. French Revolution, you know the story as well as me. It was, again, a long process. Democracy takes time.

And another thing, what we see today is the result of 42 years, in the case of Libya, more in the case of the Egypt, of dictatorship, of democratic coma, you know, a sort of mental coma.

How can we hope freedom to come completely, perfectly and out of the nest after such a long time of darkness?

ZAKARIA: Bernard-Henri Levy, Tariq Ramadan, and Paul Wolfowitz, thank you very much.

Up next, "What in the World?" Is American on autopilot heading toward a war against Iran? We'll explore.


ZAKARIA: Now, for our "What in the World?" segment. There are growing signs coming out of Israel that we are moving toward another war in the Middle East.

Listen to how Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu tells it.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The world tells us Israel, wait, there's still time. And I say wait for what, wait until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.


Last month, an Israeli decision-maker, widely reported to be Defense Minister Ehud Barak, gave a revealing interview in Haaretz in which he implied that Israel could not wait for the United States to act and might not be able to wait until next spring before taking matters into its own hands.

The "decision-maker" made the point that Israel might find itself more hamstrung if Mitt Romney were elected in November. "History shows that presidents do not undertake dramatic operations in their first year in office unless forced to," he said.

Unless something dramatic changes its course, Israel seems to be on a path to strike Iran's nuclear facilities in the next six to nine months.

The Obama administration has brought together a global coalition, put into place the toughest sanctions ever, worked with Israel on a series of covert programs and given Israel military hardware it has long wanted.

In addition, the administration has strongly implied that it would be willing to use force as a final resort. But to go further and define a red line in advance would commit the United States to a certain path to war.

Notice that while Netanyahu assails the international community, by which he really means, President Obama, for refusing to draw a clear line, he himself hasn't done so.

Israel has not specified an activity or enrichment level it would consider a threshold for war. The reason is obvious. Doing so would restrict Israel's options and signal its actions and timetable to Iran. So if it doesn't make sense for Israel to do this, why would it make sense for the United States?

Many Israelis, particularly in the military and intelligence establishment, understand that an Israeli strike would delay, not destroy, Iran's program. The program could be rebuilt, probably quickly and with greater determination.

Colin Kahl is one among several scholars who have documented how, contrary to conventional wisdom, Israel's 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor actually accelerated Saddam Hussein's determination to build nuclear weapons. Remember, when United Nations inspectors went into Iraq after the Persian Gulf War in 1991, they were stunned at how quickly and secretly Hussein had rebuilt his program.

The Obama administration is trying to assure Israel that Israel does not need to act. But in doing so, it will have to be careful not to lock itself onto a path that makes American military action inevitable.

We should have a national debate before the United States of American finds itself going to war in the Middle East, again, on autopilot.

For more on this, read my piece in the Washington Post. We have a link on our website, We'll be right back. Up next, Michael Lewis, he's had unprecedented access to President Obama this summer. What did he learn. Stay with us.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington . Fareed Zakaria GPS returns shortly, but first the check of today's top stories.

Four U.S. soldiers were killed today in southern Afghanistan by men believed to be Afghan police. The incident comes one day after an Afghan police officer killed two British troops in the country's Helmand Province. On Friday, insurgents disguised in U.S. Army uniforms ambushed a joint American-British air base in the same region killing two U.S. Marines. The Taliban is claiming responsibility for that attack.

Chicago's public school teachers will vote today on whether to end a week-long strike. The city's teachers' union and school board reached the tentative agreement Friday on a new contract. The strike closed schools for up to 400,000 students. The teachers vote to end the walkout, classes could begin as early as tomorrow.

Multiple arrests were made in New York this weekend as demonstrators marked the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. At least a dozen people were taken into custody on charges ranging from disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, to felony assault. Demonstrations are also planned for tomorrow, the official anniversary of the Occupy movement, which began to protest economic disparity. And those are your top stories. "Reliable Sources" is at the top of the hour. Now back to "Fareed Zakaria, GPS."

ZAKARIA: Michael Lewis enters into a world and writes vividly about it. Whether it's the bond trading rooms of Salomon Brothers for his best selling "Liar's Poker" or the locker rooms of the Oakland A's for "Moneyball." This time he entered an even more rarefied world. Flying on Air Force One sitting in the Oval Office, getting a tour of the White House private resident and playing basketball with the president of the United States. The result published in this month's "Vanity Fair" is a unique and fascinating account of the day-to-day life of a sitting president. Thanks for joining me, Michael. MICHAEL LEWIS, AUTHOR: Good to see you again.

ZAKARIA: So tell me, first of all you wrote this article while you had this mug with you, correct?

LEWIS: I did. I had the GPS official mug that I stole the last time I was on the show on my desk and I drank my coffee out of it. Because I thought I was running kind of -- whenever I want to feel kind of global and important I use your mug.

ZAKARIA: Well, I've got to tell you, it worked. The inspiration ...

LEWIS: Did it?

ZAKARIA: So, first tell me about basketball. What did you learn in playing basketball with the president? The moment I liked was when you realized that he was ordering up his mouth guard.

LEWIS: Yes. Well, so the general idea is I want to get to know this guy and the office and the best way to do it is just do things with him and I asked him to play the basketball game. He did not tell me what the basketball game was like. And the first hint of it was when we were meeting in the White House in the morning you can drive over to the court and he's screaming to the doctor who follows him everywhere he goes, where's my mouth guard? And I say, what do you need a mouth guard for? Because, you know, he starts showing me the teeth that got knocked out in previous basketball games that he'd gotten 14 stitches in his lip. I said, oh, my God, what kind of basketball game is this. He said, you'll see. And we get to the court. And it's -- I mean it looks like a good -- a really good college basketball game. He is -- all of these guys he plays with are former college players, big time, in some cases, some of them play pro.

ZAKARIA: And 20 years younger than him.

LEWIS: Most of them. Most of them. Arne Duncan plays in the game. He's not 20 years younger, but he is captain of the Harvard basketball team. I was so out of my depth. And I'd assumed that he would be too. So there is now way he would play in such a game. He not only plays in it, he can sort of function in it. He's not that -- he may be the weakest player on the court, it's close, but he's good enough. Really kind of function in it. And what it tells you -- what the game told me about him, couple of things, one was nobody defers to him. He refuses to let that happen. So he gets abused just as much as he should be abused given his ability levels. He'll be wide open for a shot, and he won't get the ball because someone else is a better shooter. So, you wouldn't know who was president watching the game. And that's riveting to me, because it tells you the kind of relationships he wants. He seeks out these relationships, where they are not -- where even if we're obviously not equal, he wants to feel like it's a relationship of equal, and ...

ZAKARIA: Is he very competitive? LEWIS: That's the other thing. It's not a game. I mean, it is a game, it's fun, but it's a game -- he really cares who wins. And so the first thing -- the first thing he said to me after he just saw shoot (inaudible), he says, we'll just sit you for a while until we get a lead, and he benched me. I kind of was joking. And, you know, I was coming to play basketball with you and you're going to bench me? And he benched me. He benched me because he didn't want to lose. He put me on his team, and he didn't want to lose.

And he -- so he was -- yes, and I've got -- I think I must have gotten a little passive aggressive about the whole thing, because I got a little ticked off that, one, I hadn't been warned what this game was like, and two, I was on the bench. So when I got in, I kind of jacked up a couple of shots the minute I had a chance, and he started screaming at me. You know, he said, don't be throwing up shots like that without getting back to play defense. Get back and play defense. He was so -- so, in the end, the president's game -- the president's team won these games. And if a sports analyst was watching this game, they would say the president's team was probably a little less talented than the other team, in part because the president was on it. But the president's team won because the president's team didn't take as many stupid shots, and the reason was that if you took a stupid shot on the president's team, the president of the United States screamed at you. So ...

ZAKARIA: But that's revealing, right? So, he's not -- he's not a guy who tries a lot of Hail Mary passes. I mean, he wants you to play kind of a conservative game that doesn't take too many risks.

LEWIS: He plays -- he wants -- it's an efficiency game. He plays a very efficient game. He moves. The spaces (ph) the court very well. We played six games. He took five shots in six games, which for me is not that much fun. If I was the president, I would be jacking it up. And he made all but one of the shots, because they were all -- it was precisely calculated. You know, I saw that. I watched him do a number of things. I thought, he'd be an excellent sniper in the Army. He sort of his look -- he looks for his moment, and then when he has his moment, he pulls the trigger.

ZAKARIA: It's like a poker player who gets out of the game unless he really has the cards.

LEWIS: That's exactly how you play poker. That's right. He'd ante, ante, ante, he'd fold, fold, fold, and then we have -- that's exactly how we play poker.

ZAKARIA: Interesting. Now, I was -- I was just shocked by something else. He shows you his private office, that little cubbyhole, and there are a lot of books in it, which, you know, we know he's a reading president. But there's a novel on top, Julian Barnes. And we know from a couple of other things that you think -- I mean, he must be the most -- the most writerly president -- a person to have become president in a long, long time. Because it's not just about reading, I mean, lots of them read, but he's reading novels.

LEWIS: If he had time, he'd likely be writing them, too. That's the interesting thing to me. I think that he's as literary a president as we ever had, and more literary than probably anybody since Lincoln anyway. In that he lives -- the written word means a lot to him, and he -- and you know, this isn't in the piece, but I can remember talking to him about this a bit. Because he was an indifferent student in high school up to toward the end, and he had a very late awakening as -- in his mind. And I kind of identify with this, because I was a very late bloomer in high school, and I had the same sort of experience with books. He was -- I said he was like passing by a church yard sale in Hawaii when he was a junior in high school and he saw all these novels. And they were available for a nickel apiece. It was "Moby Dick", it was Dostoyevsky, it was Saul Bellow. He thought, a nickel? You know, I'll get these books. And he took them, and he took them, and he started reading them and just in a kind of innocent way he got very absorbed. And his first, in a way, a writer learns -- I mean he just kind of blended with the books.

And when he got out of school, the first thing he started to do is write short stories. And I don't know if anybody -- I don't know if anybody knows that. I didn't put this in the piece, but he tried to submit short stories to literary magazines, and they're very literary short stories, so that's -- it's an unusual trait in political -- in someone who ends up being a political person. That's right.

ZAKARIA: All right. We will be back with more with Michael Lewis talking about Barack Obama.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Michael Lewis, the author of a great new "Vanity Fair" piece on President Obama. So let's talk about Obama as president. We talked about him really as a man. How does he make decisions? One of the things he says to you, which struck me was, you'll notice I only wear blue and gray suits.

LEWIS: Yes, because he -- because -- and his point was that the simple act of making a decision degrades your ability to make future decisions. Anybody who's gone -- like wandered into a Costco without knowing exactly what they wanted, knows -- you come out kind of shattered. You're exhausted and you wonder why I'm tired. And it's actually because you made all these little trivial decision. So he's constructed his environment to minimize the number of trivial decisions he has to make like what he wears, so he got rid of all suits except for the blue and gray suits. He doesn't think about what, you know, what he's going to eat. It's decided for him. The structure of his day is largely decided in advance. So he takes that all off the table, so that the energy is there for the big decisions.

ZAKARIA: And what is the nature of the decision-making? Would you describe it as kind of gut, analytic, calculating? How does he make decisions?

LEWIS: This is a really good question. Not to flatter you, but he -- it is -- it's some -- it's a curious combination, because he's by nature a very "Moneyball" like guy ...

ZAKARIA: Yeah. LEWIS: Very analytical. Very -- very aware when he goes into a room full of advisers, what their biases might be, how they might be putting their finger on the scale, very interested in -- you'd think -- I'll tell you what he is. He thinks probabilistically. Very aware that every decision he makes, 45 percent chance it's going to go wrong, the reason is it comes to him, there is that -- there's a 45 percent chance no matter what you do, it's going to be the wrong decision. That they are inherently on certain matters. And he's going to have to pretend to be certain about inherently uncertain things, because no one likes their leaders to seem uncertain.

So, he's thinking probabilistically, but the business of when you pull the trigger, when you are the sniper, in the end it's always -- it's a gut call. You can't -- It's not a science. Never a science. No what -- you never know if you know the true probabilities. So he has great faith in his instincts, great faith in his instincts, extremely self- confident. It can be a vice and a virtue, but he really has a confidence, and at so it's -- it's what you see in little things he does.

So in the last campaign, someone like tossed him a basketball and the cameras were on him, and he could have just tossed it back. Instead he turns and takes a three-point shot. It was nothing but net, but that's someone who's confident. He bowls, right, he was terrible, but he had the confidence to do it. You know, so he has -- he's not afraid. And so there's some -- it's sort of some -- at some point the analytics and the dry clear thinking ends and he says -- and he has a feel.

ZAKARIA: There's one piece, a part where he says something to you which strikes me as a tough thing for a president, which is he says I can't fake emotion, I don't like doing it. But the president is often placed in situations where you assume he has to, you know, as people used to always say about Bill Clinton, he has to show that he cares.

LEWIS: Right. I think Obama has decided he's -- that he's just a very bad actor, that there's no point in even trying to fake what he doesn't feel. He feels a lot of emotion, but not faking - he can't fake. So anger. A lot of people wanted him to show a lot more anger than he has, and this is how we stumbled into this topic. He says, I just -- you know, it's pointless. It's as foolish, you know. There's -- not only am I bad at faking the emotion, but there's a cost, because there is a strength in authenticity. If I actually only express what I feel, there will be some benefit to that. I lose that for nothing if I went about trying to fake these emotions that people seem to want me to exhibit.

ZAKARIA: He doesn't shmooze John Boehner, he doesn't pal around with Congress, he is not, you know, which is, partly a kind of faking of ...

LEWIS: Right.

ZAKARIA: -- bonhomie and things like that. Do you see that? LEWIS: Yeah. I tell you what I see, and this is -- this was -- this is -- this is a -- it's a light, it's a personality trait, but it's a pretty natural one. It's not a grotesque one. It's not something really weird about him, but it is noticeable. He's very sensitive to the difference between a transactional relationship and the non-transactional relationship. Several times he said to me, he enjoyed this interaction with some person, because nobody wanted anything. They didn't want anything from me, and I didn't want anything from them. It was just -- we liked each other, or we, you know, and he definitely puts that in a different category from transactional relationships.

And on top of that, he himself doesn't -- he's not needy. He doesn't need you to say nice things about him. He just doesn't care. So I think it doesn't occur to him that you might need him to say nice things about you. The interaction I had with him, if you backed away from it, this is very strange. I've met a lot of politicians, I've written about politicians, and invariably, the first thing they say to me, is I love your writing, I love your books, you're a genius of an author.

ZAKARIA: First, they're trying to flatter you and soften you up.

LEWIS: But that's a -- They want to have that interaction, so we are loving each other, and it is very often I can tell they haven't read a word I've written, they're just saying that. So this man, this president lets me into his life, lets me get to know him and never once does he indicate, even though I'm an author, really. I mean, he does know I'm an author, but he doesn't ever say--

ZAKARIA: He doesn't ever say I read "Moneyball." And ...

LEWIS: I happen to know he did read a book or two of mine, but he didn't offer that. And never -- there was never an attempt to flatter me. And I thought that's kind of extraordinary. I mean, it could have been just natural. Maybe he doesn't like what I write, but I kind of think I wouldn't have been there if he didn't like what I wrote. So he just -- he doesn't go there quickly. So, that's a very noticeable, and that's while in real life it's a delightful quality because it's just -- he's not phony, right? But in Washington culture, he's crossways to the culture. There's no question. It's a culture of flattery.

ZAKARIA: Michael Lewis, pleasure as always.

LEWIS: Good to see you.

ZAKARIA: Up next, how much does it cost to get to outer space? How about if I told you $320 would do the trick? I'll give you the details right after this.


ZAKARIA: The killing of ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi this week made me think back to the last time such a sad event took place and it brings me to my question of the week. 1979 was the year the last U.S. ambassador was killed in an attack. What was the country it happened in? Is it, a, Egypt, b, Iran, c, Iraq, or d, Afghanistan. We'll tell you the correct answer in just a moment. Go to for more of the "GPS Challenge" and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Also if you miss a show or a special, they're on iTunes, the audio podcast is free or you can buy the video version.

Monday marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam where more than 20,000 soldiers were killed or injured in just 12 hours of fighting. This week's book of the week is one of the finest books written on the civil war. "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War" by the eminent historian Drew Faust who also happens to be president of Harvard University. It is a profound moving book on how the civil war changed our understanding of death. There's a PBS documentary based on the book that's out this week as well.

And now for the last look. These photos caught my eye this week. They look like stunning photographs taken out of one of NASA's multi- million-dollar satellites, except these images weren't taken by a satellite or a NASA creation of any kind. They were the product of a student's science project, one that cost the grand total of $320. That bought British teenager Adam Cudworth the parts for his spaceship, a styrofoam box, a helium balloon, a parachute, a second- hand camera from eBay and a GPS tracker. En route to almost 21 miles an altitude, HABE 5, that is High Altitude Balloon Experiment number five, took these incredible photos, then came back down in a farmer's field where Adam retrieved it. It reminds us all of the incredible technological revolution that is changing our lives, and, by the way, the industry of television, news, and reporting. Getting pictures like this used to cost a fortune. Cudworth says this whole space thing is a hobby on the side. He wants to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Hopefully he'll be able to get a visa to come to America. The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge" question was D. The United States ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs was killed in Kabul in February 1979 after being kidnapped by militants. In December of that year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

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