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Interview with Jon Meacham, Robert Caro; Interview with Robert Kaplan

Aired November 25, 2012 - 10:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN 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 a great show for you today. First, a rare treat. Two great historians on what makes for a successful second term. Jon Meacham and Robert Caro talk about their subjects, Thomas Jefferson and Lyndon Johnson, and a bit about Barack Obama as well.

Then, the conflict in Gaza yet again reminds us forget about globalization and the information revolution. If you want to understand the world, look at geography. "Nations are still bound by it," says Robert Kaplan, who uses maps to show us what to worry about. You won't want to miss this.

And the middle class is rising. No, not here in the United States, but right next door in Latin American and it will have huge consequences for the western hemisphere and the world.

Also, if you thought Black Friday was crazy, check out the sales in Europe. I'll explain.

But, first, here's my take. It's Thanksgiving week in America, time to reflect on our good fortune. It's also a time that most Americans think about the unusual origins of the United States, a land of immigrants.

We see ourselves as special in this way and we are except that we're not quite as exceptional as we think anymore. Something fascinating has happened over the last two decades.

Other countries have been transforming themselves into immigrant societies, adopting many of America's best ideas, even improving on them.

If you watched our immigration special back in June or read my piece in Time Magazine, you would know that Canada and Australia both have a higher percentage of people who are foreign born, compared to the United States.

In fact, on this dimension, America, which once led the world, looks like most western countries. Germany and France, for example, have about the same percent of foreign-born people as America.

One important difference is that many of these countries have managed to take in immigrants mostly based on skills giving a big boost to their economies.

It's not as if America doesn't need these people. American companies are struggling to fill 3.6 million job openings, many of them in science-related fields. Meanwhile, foreign students receive half of all doctorates in such fields and almost all of them will head home after graduation.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg calls America's current immigrations policy, "The single biggest problem facing the economy," and argues that our current approach is "national suicide."

The good news is we may finally be on the road to a solution. Immigration reform has been a taboo topic for the last few years as large and vocal voices within the Republican Party, with considerable public support, have blocked any mention of reform.

They words they've wanted to hear are "border fence" and "deportation." That's why Mitt Romney advocated a policy of self- deportation during the presidential campaign and that's why he lost the Hispanic vote and the Asian vote to President Obama by a landslide.

President Obama seems emboldened and the Republicans chastened so we have an opening for a deal. What should it look like? Well, it should look like the bipartisan bill sponsored in 2005 by John McCain and Ted Kennedy and strongly supported by then President George W. Bush.

That one did not even get to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote. The right hated it because it provided a legal path for undocumented workers, the left because it reduced family unification and the unions opposed the temporary worker provisions.

In an earlier era, the fact that the two wings of the parties disliked the bill might actually have made passage easier because the energy was in the center. Today, power has shifted to the wings of the political parties who control their political agendas.

John McCain, the original sponsor of the bill, now denounces his own handiwork. Let's hope in the post election atmosphere this dynamic has changed and McCain, for one, can proudly support his own very good bill.

Let me close by noting that I actually do think America remains exceptional. It is the global melting pot, the place where a universal nation is being created.

We may not do immigration better than anyone anymore, but we do assimilation better than anyone. People from all over the world come to this country and almost magically become real Americans.

But part of the being a real America is urging the country to look at its flaws and change them. Let's get started.

As President Obama readies for a second term, I wondered who could best shed light on the challenges he faces and how to deal with them. The president is an avid student of American history so I thought it was fitting to ask two, great, Pulitzer Prize-winning historians to sit down with me.

Robert Caro has written four volumes of his monumental biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson. And Jon Meacham has a new book out on a twice-elected president. The book is called, "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power."

Listen in on my conversation with them.

ZAKARIA: Gentleman, thank you for joining me.

Second terms, Jon, what can -- is there a historical pattern we can learn about second terms?

JON MEACHAM, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, RANDOM HOUSE: Well, they tend to end semi- badly as most things do in history, which I think is one of the -- key thing to remember.

People get tired. Staffers leave and so you lose some institutional memory. And, as the clock -- second term presidents and their Congresses have two different clocks.

And the president's clock is now moving toward history and the longer view and he can take more risks. The congressional clock is still going according to the next election.

And so the sooner you get things done in second terms, the better, because, more and more, the people who are also stakeholders in the systems will be working according to a different set of imperatives.

ZAKARIA: What was Jefferson's second term like?

MEACHAM: It was an unhappy experience. Now, it's hard to top doubling the size of the country, which is what he did in his first term.


MEACHAM: So to be fair ...

ZAKARIA: The Louisiana Purchase.

MEACHAM: The Louisiana Purchase. So he had a very good first term. The tensions with Britain were enormously important in terms of, as ever, the foreign policy of the country had domestic, political implications.

He had a fairly disastrous economic embargo against Britain. My view is that it was the least bad option before him. Jefferson's sometimes seen as an overly dreamy pacifist, which I don't think is true.

I think he was a pragmatist who didn't think the country was ready for war and so wanted to buy time to get ready. Sadly, of course, that would not be the last time we were in a situation where we were unprepared for a foreign challenge.

ZAKARIA: Bob, the guy you study so carefully probably has the greatest swing in terms of where his second term started and where it ended.


ZAKARIA: Why do you think that -- what was it like when he -- when Johnson was elected? This is -- I mean he had a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate and he was reelected or elected in a landslide.

It's not really his second term because he didn't have two elections ...

CARO: Right.

ZAKARIA: But it was the second term of the Kennedy-Johnson administration.

CARO: Yes and you feel that he had a sense -- you know when you're running -- when you are in the second term, you have nothing left to run for except a place in history.

You're not -- and you feel Johnson knows what he wants to do with the country domestically. He starts the War on Poverty right at the beginning in his really, what you would say, his second term if you say the first year is after Kennedy.

He -- all of his life he's wanted to end poverty in America. He starts the War on Poverty. He launches so many Great Society programs, Medicare. So the first year, let's say, 1965, or let's say the first seven months, you say this is a man who's going to leave his mark on history.

You know they say, "The moral arc of the universe bends slowly, but it bends toward justice." I didn't say that. Martin Luther King said that, but you really feel Johnson is trying to bend it.

ZAKARIA: But what I'm struck by, in those first seven months that you were talking about, Bob, is when you watch some of the old footage, the language Johnson used was a kind of language almost no American president had ever used.

It is so filled with idealism. It is about ending poverty, lifting up every American, providing everyone with education. I mean it is the most expansive domestic, you know, idealism that I can recall any president ever having.

CARO: You know and people working with him could hardly believe it like Richard Goodwin, who was a speech writer for Kennedy and then Johnson brings him on board, asks him basically what about civil rights, you know, when he -- and Johnson says, you know, referring to the time he was 20 years old and he was teaching the Mexican-American kids down in a little town called Cotulla in south Texas.

He says to Goodwin, "You know, I promised myself then that if I ever had the power to help these kids, I was going to do it." He says, "Now, I'm going to tell you a secret. I have the power and I'm going to use it."

MEACHAM: I think one of the things that Bob writes so brilliantly about is about Johnson's appetite and his -- he was always in a hurry.

CARO: Right.

MEACHAM: And he always got sick in times of crisis because he would drive himself so hard.

CARO: Yes.

MEACHAM: One of things -- a slight antecedent you see in that is Jefferson always wanted to project an image of calm. You know that was part of the equanimity of the time, the 18th century virtues of that.

But one of the things he learned from a failure, Johnson learned from teaching those kids, what Jefferson learned from being a very unsuccessful wartime governor of Virginia, was to always seize the opportunity and that time ran quickly.

And so Louisiana, when the opportunity came, he did not hesitate. He, at first, thought that he would have to get a constitutional amendment. H didn't think he had the authority to do it.

And, then, got a letter saying that Napoleon was rethinking it and, suddenly, the constitutional scruples went out the window.


MEACHAM: He immediately did it. And I just think what marks great leaders is that ability to know how the clock is moving, how the game is moving.

ZAKARIA: And the clock is ticking even outside of Vietnam. And I want to get to foreign policy challenges later. But, even as he's trying this great expansion of the Great Society, there is beginning to be an opposition to it.

CARO: Oh, you know what he tells his staff? He says, "We've got 100 days." You know, Johnson has studied power. He studied and, in an intuitive way, he understands Congress.

And he tells his aides as he -- as this legislation is being written, "Hurry up. I've got 100 days. We've got 100 days and, then, the momentum of my election is going to start running out."

ZAKARIA: And we're going to talk about foreign policy crises and also President Obama's style, whether that needs to change coming right up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And we are back with Robert Caro and Jon Meacham, two of America's great, great historians.

Jon, foreign policy crises always spring up.


ZAKARIA: And, you know, we look at President Obama and you think you know what's going to happen.


ZAKARIA: But you could imagine something with Iran, something with Syria, something with China and ...

MEACHAM: Something with someone we don't know.

ZAKARIA: Something with -- the unknown unknown, as Donald Rumsfeld would say.


MEACHAM: That's right. Right.

ZAKARIA: Is there any way to prepare for them? What does history tell us?

MEACHAM: No is the short answer except that you prepare for leadership and, hopefully, you learn all the way along. I think President Kennedy's the great example of that.

I think the conventional historical wisdom about learning from the Bay of Pigs in a way that paid off in the Cuban Missile Crisis is true. He was able to understand that the generals weren't always right and to wait.

And to always put yourself in the other guy's shoes, which is a hugely important lesson and something that all these great presidents understood.

And so, in the sense that you prepare for crisis, you prepare to deal with competing forces and, also, incoming and seemingly contradictory information.

Even in this era, where the President of the United States is watching in real-time the operation to take out bin Laden, even with that, there is a fog of war.

There is a fog of information. And a president is paid to make sure that when he's acting, he's acting on facts. And I think where president's get in trouble is, as President Bush did, I think particularly in the first term, was acting on information -- acting on convictions that were not supported by the data coming in. ZAKARIA: When Johnson was what a foreign policy situation was doing to his Great Society, did he realize then what you are saying now which is that the whole Great Society was buried under the mountain that was called Vietnam?

CARO: Well, he actually says that. He says this -- I forget the actual phrase, but this bitch of a war is going to kill the woman I loved, which is the Great Society.

So you have to say and I have to write about it and figure out, why exactly did he go -- you know you read the notes of some of these meetings and you say oh, all the arguments you see here, they're going to de-escalate.

But, time after time, he makes the decision to escalate until finally, you know, we're up to 586,000. I mean we talk about Iraq and Afghanistan today. We had 586,000 mean in the jungles of Vietnam. Why is he going forward?

You know, in the White House, then Pennsylvania Avenue was not cordoned off so the protestors could come right up to the White House gates. You can hear, in parts of the White House, what they're chanting.

They're chanting, "Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?" He can hear it. His wife can hear it. His daughters can hear it. Yet, he goes on.

I mean it's one of the -- on human terms, why? You have to say what is the human reason for this?

ZAKARIA: Right. And I think of Obama, Jon, as somebody who seems to have that internal discipline not to do that, to kind of send -- throw good money after bad.

If you look at Iraq, if you look at Afghanistan, he's quite unsentimental.


ZAKARIA: And is willing to pull back despite the fact that his Defense Secretary Gates, General Petraeus, General McChrystal were all against the drawdown in Iraq.

I have a feeling that he has a certain kind of discipline that is going to make him cautious about doing that kind of escalation.

MEACHAM: I think the first term, with the exception of the Afghan surge, would totally support that. I think that he ...

ZAKARIA: And there, as you know, what happens is the generals kind of outfox him by leaking to the media that they have made a recommendation that ...

MEACHAM: Right. And I think, historically, that's the one thing in the first term, in terms of foreign policy, that's going to be problematic so far for him.

Otherwise, I think unsentimental is a wonderful term for him. I think the drone campaign, I think the steady shift from counterinsurgency to counterterror in Afghanistan is hugely important.

I think, you know, his approach -- you and I have talked about this before. His approach to Iran, which the right wing in American wants to see as soft, I just -- my sense of him, as a person and also based on what he's done on the war on terror, is I wouldn't cross him.

You know there is a steeliness there that I just think he is data-driven, in the way we talked about his opponent this year being so much of a fact guy.

But I do think that the person has proven his toughness so he has less to prove in a sense of he does not need to go escalate something in order to prove his manhood. He's done that.

And so I think that he has more in common with Kennedy probably than Johnson in that sense.

ZAKARIA: When historians write about Obama, so far, I think what we can say is most presidents get two lines about them. And one will be health care and, then, I think the second is the line that hasn't been written.

It could be a foreign policy thing. It could be he put the United States on stable fiscal footing or, you know, and it depends on one's political persuasion in a way as what you think that second line will be.

CARO: You know, you're running for that line. You're running for a place in history. You look at the -- don't you think that a president in the second term just has to, in human terms, look at things differently7?

MEACHAM: Absolutely. I think it's that different clock.

CARO: Yes.

MEACHAM: And I think it's also, you know, there's this myth of the second term curse is a powerful one and yes there are many terrible examples.

But it's also in the second term that Reagan went to Geneva and went to Reykjavik and went to Moscow. And so there is a kind of -- there's a liberation.

The question is can the liberation of the president be synced up with the constraints of everyone else in the system who do face another election. And I think that's -- the greatest politicians are the ones who can make those two things sync up.

ZAKARIA: Jon Meacham, Robert Caro, pleasure to have you on.

Up next, What in the World. In recent years societies around the world have become more unequal. The gap between the rich and poor is increasing. Well, one region is bucking that trend and it has important consequences. That story up next.


ZAKARIA: Now, for our What in the World segment. With President Obama's visit to Asia and war in Gaza, Washington's foreign policy energies have been focused this week on the Far East and the Middle East.

But let's not forget the surprising developments in a region we share a 2,000 mile border with, Latin America. I just read a new World Bank report. Yes, that is what I do in my spare time.

And it has some important findings. Between the years of 2003 and 2009, nearly 50 million people joined Latin America's middle class. That's twice the entire population of the State of Texas and a sixth of America's population as a whole.

In those six years, the size of the region's middle class expanded by 50 percent. The proportion of people in poverty fell sharply from 44 percent to 30 percent.

And as the rest o the world became more unequal, Latin America was the only region to decrease the gap between rich and poor. The findings have important consequences locally, but also for the world.

When China lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the 1980s, it set out on a path towards increased consumption and growing global clout.

Is Latin America headed the same way? Let's take a look. The World Bank cites a number of reasons behind the region's rise. Seventy million women joined the labor market in recent years contributing to a reduction in extreme poverty.

Education also boosted opportunities. Children now spend three extra years in school, compared with a decade ago thanks to targeted government initiatives.

And, of course, there's been a rise in exports. Brazil enjoyed the region's fastest growth fueled largely by a boom in commodities. The question is whether the rise is sustainable.

The World Bank cautions that class remains a major obstacle to opportunity in Latin America. You are likely to spend the same number of years at school as your parents.

And simply getting children into school is not enough. The Economist points out that, "The different in the quality of schools attended by those at the top and bottom income groups is bigger than anywhere else in the world."

The growth of a Latin American middle class is obviously good news, but there's reason to worry about its economic future. We recently reported on Brazil's growth rate closely tracked commodity prices.

If those prices drop as a result of a slowdown in China and Europe, as many economists expect, Brazil and Latin America's growth will stall. That could mean new entrants to the middle class may slip back into poverty.

These economies need to be diversified. Schools and health services need more investment. The many closed sectors and markets across the region need to open up further and foster competition.

But how will these governments raise money? This is where Latin American is different from China in the 1980s. Too many entitlements and subsidies have been doled out.

Argentina, for example, has put in place a noncontributory pension scheme, essentially free support for the elderly. What happens when it's time to pay up?

Apart from Brazil and Argentina, taxes are low across the region. How do you increase them? As we all know here in the United States, entitlements, once given, are difficult to take back.

It's heartening to read about the millions of people who have climbed out of poverty, but Latin America's leaders face a major challenge to sustain these gains.

Otherwise, we could look back on this period as a peak from which it fell.

Up next, we tend to think of international politics as a complicated science. My next guest says it's actually quite simple and it pertains to a subject we've all been taught about in school. I'll explain.


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Dana Bash in Washington with a check of the headlines. Protesters and security forces clashed again today in Tahrir Square as resentment grows over what protesters say is a power grab by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Morsi announced late last week that Egyptian courts could not overturn any law he has issued since taking power in June. Opposition protesters have called for a sit-in in Tahrir Square while the Muslim Brotherhood has said they will stage nationwide demonstrations in support of Morsi's plans.

As the truce holds between Hamas and Israel for the fourth day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he is confident ahead of a big Thursday at the United Nations seeking status as a non-member observer state. Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah are supporting the effort, but the U.S. and Israel oppose the bid arguing it will complicate any future peace negotiations.

And finally, Lotto fever. Lottery officials say there was no winner in last night's Powerball drawing. Pushing this Wednesday's jackpot to about $425 million. That's the largest jackpot ever for the game. Those are your top stories. Now back to Fareed Zakaria GPS.

ZAKARIA: We live in a borderless world, right, where globalization, interdependence, and economics are reshaping the way countries and companies cooperate. Well, not quite, says Robert Kaplan. He's written a book called "The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts And The Battle Against Fate." Kaplan is currently the chief political strategist for Stratfor. He joins me now.

You have this terrific book out. Explain what the premise is. I mean, I tried to very briefly do it.

ROBERT KAPLAN, AUTHOR, "THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY": Yes, the premise is that in all the journals of opinion, al the op-ed pages, it's all about what we can do. We can intervene here. We can change interest rates there. There's human agency. There's nothing that human beings can't overcome if only we had the right policy. This book takes the other 50 percent of reality. It's about constraints. It about what we cannot do. It's about the parameters inside which we have to operate. And a good part of those parameters are geographical.

ZAKARIA: So, let's take -- let's do this practically. Let's take a look at a map. And you tell me what you see. When we look at Europe, we tend to think of this big global economy, borderless societies, and you look at this map and you look at Europe and Russia.

KAPLAN: Yes. Europe is not just a debt crisis. You know, we've been narcissistically focusing on a debt crisis. Europe is the western extremity of the Eurasian supercontinent and most changes in Europe over the millennia have come from the east. They've come from the influx of peoples throughout the east. And we thought we had defeated that with the end of the Cold War, that Russia was out of it. But that's not the case. Precisely because this belt of countries from Estonia to Bulgaria are right next door to Russia. Russia will continue to be a factor in Europe's evolution. If you look at Russia, it's half the longitudes of the world, but it's got less people than Bangladesh. It has -- it's been invaded by Poles, Lithuanians, Swedes, French, Germans over these centuries. So Russia still requires buffer zones in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Vladimir Putin is not the totalitarian evil giant the western media paints him at. He is a normal Russian autocrat, whose neo-imperialism is a function of his deep geographical insecurity. Poland, here in blue, may emerge as the real pivot state because, again, there's geography. Poland has a lot of shale gas underground. Poland may emerge as a many energy giant in the 21st century, which will give it leverage against Germany and Russia.

ZAKARIA: All right, let's move to the Indian subcontinent. Here, explain to us, why is it that Afghanistan is proving so difficult to deal with? Why is the U.S., you know, a decade into this war unable to go on patrols with Afghans?

KAPLAN: Well, one of the reasons is geographical. If you look at this relief map here, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is very artificial. I've crossed this border many times. Every time illegally. And the mountains that descend from the high table land of Central Asia to the steamy in this river valley, it's a very gradual descent. It's the same Indo-Islamic civilization, Pashtun civilization on both sides of the border. So the idea that the U.S. military and diplomatic core is going to make two separate well functioning states out of it is somewhat adverse to geography.

ZAKARIA: So, what's really going on in Afghanistan, we think we are going into good guys and bad guys but really, there are guys that Pakistan supports, the guys that traditionally India has supported ...


ZAKARIA: The Russians have tended to support the same people ...

KAPLAN: And India is a big player here, Fareed. Because if you look through Indian history from the Guptas, the Mullrans (ph), the Moguls, the Nanda dynasty, others, what you see is for many periods of Indian history or subcontinent history, the same empire that controlled the northern third of India also controlled most of Pakistan and half of Afghanistan, so Afghanistan is not foreign to India. It's part of the sub-continental conflict system. So we can leave Afghanistan, the U.S. can. But India can't -- you will always have deep equities there and if we desert Afghanistan precipitously, you might see India moving closer diplomatically to Russia in order to contain things there, in order to make sure that Afghanistan does not become just our radical Islamic extension of Pakistani ISI control.

ZAKARIA: So, we are on track in the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan over the next two years. Tell us what -- what emerges as we withdraw?

KAPLAN: What emerges is that Iran will have much greater influence in western Afghanistan. It's already supplying the western part of the country with electricity. The Iranian rial (ph) circulates as a normal currency in western Afghanistan. It's becoming a part of greater Iran. You would expect to see greater Pakistani influence. Remember, groups like the Haqqani group are just -- they're basically like the groups that did trade in earlier times. You know, they're based in the demographic inkblot of Pakistan, which, you know, which is very populated. And it extends its lines of communications and influence out through the valleys all the way up to Soviet -- former Soviet Central Asia. So, all the Iranians, the Haqqani group, the Pakistanis and the Indians, all try to exert influence there.

ZAKARIA: That was a look at how geography plays a crucial role in Europe and South Asia. When we come back, it gets even more interesting. Insights into the Middle East and even the United States of America. Right back.


ZAKARIA: I want to take you back now to my conversation with Robert Kaplan, the author of "The Revenge of Geography." We like to think we are world citizens in a borderless world. Well, the reality is quite different. Listen in and look at these maps.

All right. Now we're going to go -- now we're going to look at the Middle East.


ZAKARIA: And you're going to explain to me why Iran really is the pivot of the Middle East in your opinion?

KAPLAN: Yes. Persia was the world's first super power, remember, in antiquity whereas in Saudi Arabia you have a kingdom ruled by a family that is not synonymous with the Arabian Peninsula, it doesn't include Yemen and all of these other state. It's more tenure. As Syria, as we know, is a potential Yugoslav style confection of sectarian and ethnic interests. Egypt does have geographical logic, because of the Nile Valley. Libya is a vague geographical expression between Tripolitania in the northwest that has always been oriented toward greater cartage and Tunisia and Benghazi or a Cyrenaica (ph) in the north east, which has always been oriented towards Alexandria.


KAPLAN: But Iran has always been -- and because Iran is natural as a state, it's developed rich institutions and bureaucracies over the centuries, and therefore it can project power. There will always be an Iranian state. Syria can collapse, Libya can collapse. Iran may go through regime change, but they'll always be a strong Persian state.

ZAKARIA: What does that tell you about U.S. policy toward Iran?

KAPLAN: What it tells me is that our grand strategy has to be how do we engage in a dialogue with Iran. What is the path toward that. Is it -- is it fighting a war with them over nuclear weapons? Is it not fighting a war with them? But the endgame is a dialogue with what is probably the most significant state in the Middle East where we have a lot of interests to discuss.

ZAKARIA: So the woods -- the Middle East you're describing is really one where the states that are real and enduring, Iran, Egypt.

KAPLAN: Tunisia.

ZAKARIA: Turkey to a certain extent.

KAPLAN: Yeah, oh, absolutely, Turkey. Yes.

ZAKARIA: And those ones are almost the six pivots of the ...

KAPLAN: Because they're age-old clusters of civilization with natural borders. Countries like Algeria, Libya, Syria, Jordan were never really thought of as states up until the 20th century.

ZAKARIA: Somebody once described them as tribes with flags. KAPLAN: Yes. Yes. But -- and I would include Saudi Arabia and Yemen is a mixed bag, because Yemen is an age-old cluster of civilization. However, it's always had six or seven different empires within it throughout history. Because of the way it's divided up by mountains and (ph) valleys. Even the Turks and the British, though they nominally controlled Yemen, were never able to spread their influence deep into the interior.

ZAKARIA: All right. Let's look at a place where we should know more about the geography, but we don't, which is Mexico and the United States.


ZAKARIA: When you look at this map, what do you think?

KAPLAN: What I see is that the United States is a virtual island. Atlantic, Pacific, Canadian Arctic to the north, Canada is just a thin band of middle class civilization. 33 million people living within 100 miles of the U.S. border. The United States' real geographic challenge is to the south, where much of the border is artificial. Where south of the border, you have a country that's so much poorer than the U.S. that the difference in living standards is one of the greatest in the world, you know, except for maybe that between North and South Korea or something. Mexico is a country with a much higher rate of population growth. The average Mexican is in his mid 20s, the average American is in his late 30s. So you have Latin history demographically moving north.

ZAKARIA: And that is something ...

KAPLAN: That's the real drama that's going on in the United States.

ZAKARIA: But you said something which I thought was interesting. A weak and artificial border between the U.S. and Mexico.

KAPLAN: Well, there's the Rio Grande during part of it. It's very narrow actually. And here, these were just lines drawn in the sand. And remember what Toinbee said. You have an artificial border between a very well developed civilization and one that's relatively less developed. It doesn't stay static. The border situation will always evolve in the weaker society's favor because the weaker society will eventually overcome the stronger one through immigration, through just population movements. And so the fate of Mexico is as important to the U.S. as U.S. bilateral relations with China as whatever happens in the greater Middle East. It's on -- it's in the same category of importance.

ZAKARIA: So, what should we do?

KAPLAN: What we should do is we have, first of all. we have to revise our immigration laws. You know, that's number one. Number two, our top policy makers have to spend more time on the problem. To think of more creative ways to help the Mexicans. Because Mexico, on one hand, it's a very dynamic economy. It's grown, I think, four percent in the last year, it's becoming one of the top dozen or so world economies or 15 or so. On the other hand, the northern third of it is increasingly controlled by drug cartels. There's 50,000 people have been killed in Mexico since 2006 and the reason the violence rate has dropped recently is only because the cartels are consolidating their geographic hold. So what we have to do is come up with more creative ways to help the Mexicans because we cannot do it overtly because our history with Mexico with invading it and such is that the sensitivities are incredible. So it has to be very, very subtle. And, you know, our policy makers care about China, they care about the greater Middle East and all, but Mexico is relegated by the knowledge elite in the Northeast coast to a minor problem and what I'm arguing in this book is that it's not. It's a major problem.

ZAKARIA: And you're saying if we don't help Mexico essentially come up to roughly the standards of an (inaudible) society.

KAPLAN: That has to be our goal, to make Mexico as rich as we are.

ZAKARIA: Because otherwise ...

KAPLAN: Right. And it's not that we can save Mexico. Mexico can save, you know, can help itself, but there are things we can do.

ZAKARIA: Robert Kaplan, pleasure as always.

KAPLAN: Thank you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.


ZAKARIA: The week began with volleys of rockets and missiles going back and force between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas operatives in Gaza. That brings me to my question of the week. What is Hamas an acronym for when translated from Arabic? Is it A, The Army of the Righteous? B, Islamic Society of Gaza, C, The Army Against Infidels or D, Islamic Resistance Movement? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer. Go to for more of the GPS Challenge and lots of insight and analysis. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Remember, if you miss a show, go to You can get the audio pod cast for free or you can buy the video version.

This week's book of the week is "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power" by my guest today Jon Meacham. Meacham takes Jefferson off his pedestal as a great thinker and statesman and presents him as the politician that he was: artful, ruthless, manipulative. It's an admiring portrait of a politician, not a saint, and as always with Meacham, wonderfully written.

And now for the "Last Look." Judging by the bewildering buying spree on Black Friday, I think it's safe to say that the U.S. economy is moving forward, but the Eurozone is officially in a double-dip recession, and therefore is a victim of falling tax revenues. So governments need to find new sources of revenue. What to do. Sell stuff. In Italy they were selling everything but the church. Now they are selling the church, sort of. For about $125,000, you can have your name engraved on one of the 135 splendid spires of Milan's Main Cathedral. In Spain you may soon be able to buy a residency permit. If you've had your eye on that beach house in Marbeio (ph) or a Piadeterra in Barcelona, good news. Under a new plan, if you pony up $200,000 or more to buy real estate in the country, residency will come gratis. And if proposed legislation passes in Hungary, you can do one better there. The plan is for citizenship and an E.U. passport to be given to anyone who buys Hungarian bonds worth $325,000 or more. An E.U. passport, Europe's fire-sale is putting Black Friday to shame.

The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge" question was D. Hamas stands for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Ironically in its early years Israeli military and intelligence tolerated and even encouraged Hamas because they saw it as a counterweight to what was then their real enemy, the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization. Today, Israel battles it and the U.S. labels it an FTO, foreign terrorist organization. Another FTO, Lashkar e-Taibba is the group responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. These attacks are the focus of a documentary I was proud to be a part of. It's called "Terror in Mumbai." It was originally done for HBO. But it will air Sunday night right here on CNN, 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Don't miss it. Thanks for all of you for being part of my program this week. I'll see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."