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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
U.S. Conducts Air Drops, Air Strikes in Iraq; Will the Latest Cease-Fire in the Israel-Gaza Conflict Hold?; Interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson
Aired August 10, 2014 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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.
The Middle East on fire. In Iraq the United States conducts air drops and airstrikes. Does this mark a return to war?
In Israel and Gaza, on again/off again cease-fires. We will take you live to the region and then bring in a great panel to ask where does this all end.
Also, a few reasons to be optimistic about the state of the world, really. I'll explain.
Then, caught in the middle of the new cold war between the west and Russia. Is the U.S. space program which, believe it or not, relies on Russia for transportation. Neil deGrasse Tyson on unintended consequences.
But, first, here's my take. The situation in Iraq today is perilous but also chaotic and confusing. Should the United States do more to help the communities under threat of destruction? If it does intervene for humanitarian reasons here, then why not in a place like Syria, which has seen many terrible atrocities and massacres as well? How to think through the issue.
I have been cautious about getting the United States back into Iraq, but I believe that in the current circumstances the Obama administration should intervene more forcefully and ambitiously, use air power, offer training, support and weaponry if needed.
Why? The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq is terrible enough, but sometimes as in Syria it is unclear whether U.S. military intervention could really help matters, whether there is a clear plan that would work.
In Iraq now there is such a path, one that also offers the strategic rationale for U.S. action. What is now at stake in Iraq is crucial to U.S. interests, the survival of the Kurdish region in that country.
Since 1991, for 23 years the United States has protected the Kurds of Iraq from being attacked and destroyed as a community. In that period the Kurds have built up a modern, increasingly liberal pro western, pro American oasis in the Middle East. The largely autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq has become an open, cosmopolitan forward looking place with a booming economy. Construction cranes, car dealerships and fast food chains sprout up every day.
The American University in Soleimani (ph) is a place marked by a modern educational outlook and open dialogue.
Kurdish leaders have been responsible in their efforts to secure their future, not declaring independence, working to end Kurdish terrorism in Turkey, supporting humanitarian efforts for Syrian refugees.
They have been a force for stability in a region in chaos. One of the lessons of American foreign policy over the last six decades has been that interventions work when the locals are led by popular legitimate leaders and they wants to fight for their cause. Think of South Korea. They don't work when the locals simply will not fight. Think of South Vietnam.
The Kurds want to fight for their freedom, for their independence. They have a strong, well-framed army. Their leaders are popular and legitimate. They have been close allies of the United States. Now they urgently need America's help.
The Obama administration should answer their call.
Let's get started.
First, let's get a sense of what is going on on the ground. Joining me now from Erbil, Iraq, is CNN's Anna Coren.
Anna, is the United States' humanitarian aid working?
ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fareed, it's certainly effective. We understand there's aid drops of food and water in the last few days. The British have delivered aid. The French foreign minister has arrived who will be overseeing France's contribution to the humanitarian effort
But there is a crisis at Mount Sinjar, that's where 40,000 Yazidis, this religious minority who ISIS considers to be devil worshippers, have fled to this mountain. And they have been there for days without food, without water, without shelter.
And as you know, the heat here is absolutely excruciating. You know, dozens if not hundreds have perished.
So we know that this aid is getting to them, we're hearing that from the U.S. military. These airstrikes also have been very effective insofar as taking out certain ISIS positions. We also understand that the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, have been allowed to move in to Mount Sinjar because of these airstrikes and open up a safe passage, however, that is only to one side of the mountain.
To the other side, the south, it is still a dire situation. But these airstrikes, they are welcomed by the Kurdish
government. We just sat down with the chief of staff with Kurdistan's president. And he said that they welcome the airstrikes, but they need more help. They have the troops and forces to fight ISIS, but they need the weapons. They're calling on the international community to provide those weapons so that the Peshmerga can fight ISIS.
They say they're not just fighting an army, but they are fighting a state in a very well-resourced, very well-equipped state. So they need that assistance and they need it very soon -- Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Thank you, Anna.
It must be very hard to watch that humanitarian nightmare. Thank you for your reporting.
Let's dig deeper into the military strategy. Joining me now from Washington, D.C. is David Kilcullen, one of the country's leading counterinsurgency experts.
Kilcullen served as an advisor to General David Petraeus and was one of the leading architects of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq.
David, describe what the effect in strategic terms would be if, as President Obama suggested, these airstrikes will just continue for weeks, perhaps even longer.
DAVID KILCULLEN, COUNTERINSURGENCY EXPERT: Well, I think the most important strategic effect is that it changes the calculus for ISIS. If we think about how the predecessor group to ISIS, al Qaeda in Iraq operated during the Iraq War, it was covert, it was underground, sort of a guerrilla warfare strategy, civilian clothes, civilian vehicles operating by night, bombings, and kidnappings and so on.
That couldn't be more different from how ISIS has been operating in the blitzkrieg that it's been running in Iraq for the last several months. It's operating in the daylight with heavy weapons, with tanks, these even rumors of helicopters, people swarming across the desert in what we call technicals, you know pickup trucks with heavy weapons. It's operating in a much more conventional state-like sort of light cavalry tactical framework.
And that works when there's no air threat. But as soon as you introduce the risk of precision airstrikes into the mix as the president has done in the last 48 hours or so that has to fundamentally change the calculus for a group like ISIS. And it really leaves them with two options. One is to drop back to the guerrilla approach and go covert again.
The other would be to try to take cover in the cities. And obviously either of those are going to slow down their ability to expand, which could have very significant strategic consequences for ISIS, because one of the reasons why people support them is because of the military success. And if there's a break in that military success, you may find that support beginning to fracture.
ZAKARIA: David, if the airstrikes have the effect you're describing, which is to destroy ISIS's current strategy, which is out in the open, heavy and light armor, frontal assaults, presumably the Iraqi army should then be able to finish the job in a sense.
One puzzle I think for most people, is the Iraqi army is several hundred thousand strong, ISIS is perhaps 20,000 strong, the Iraqi army has tens of billions of dollars of weaponry provided by the United States. Why can it not defeat ISIS.
KILCULLEN: A number of reasons go into that. But I think the fundamental one is that we've seen a very stark, deprofessionalization of the Iraqi army since U.S. forces left in 2011 so that we now have commanders who are appointed on the basis of political loyalty to Shia sectarian regime, we have people who don't trust their commanders, a lot of maintenance and logistics and training problems and a lot of the best commanders being dismissed, not only in the military but also in the police.
And so it's -- an army is not just a matter of equipment, it's also a matter of fighting spirit, tactical cohesion and battle experience and those three things are sharply lacking in the Iraqi military right now.
More importantly, of course, there's no consensus at the top in terms of the future of Iraqi politics and that's in part I think why Washington has been insisting that any expansion or continuation of these strikes is going to retire significant political change in Baghdad, which I think is the right call.
ZAKARIA: David Kilcullen, always a pleasure to have you on.
Next on GPS, much more on the politics of this crisis, the ethnic and religious struggles. We'll talk to some great experts when we come back.
ZAKARIA: The battle in Iraq is a humanitarian tragedy, of course. But as a battle, it is essentially between ISIS and the Kurdish Army, the Peshmerga.
So we're going to try and delve deeper into that.
Ambassador Peter Galbraith is one of America's most distinguished diplomats. He's the author of "The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End." Over the past two decades, he has helped Iraq's Kurdish leaders carve out that autonomous republic.
We're also joined by Fawaz Gerges from Berlin. Gerges is the chair of contemporary Middle Eastern studies and international relations at the London School of Economics.
Thank you both.
Peter, first explain to us, we thought the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, were really tough and strong.
Why did they collapse?
AMB. PETER GALBRAITH, FORMER ADVISER TO KURDISTAN REGIONAL GOVERNMENT: First, they didn't collapse. They were not able to hold positions in the border lands between what the Kurdistan region and what had been Iraq. And there are a number of reasons for it.
But perhaps most important is, they didn't have the arms that matched ISIS. ISIS was actually armed by the United States through the Iraqi Army. And so they have -- they have armored American Humvees. When you're using small arms against these Humvees, they're pretty ineffective. So that -- that's a major reason.
But they -- the units didn't collapse, as the Iraqi Army did. They withdrew. They are intact. They didn't give up their arms. And it's why now, with air strikes, the Peshmerga can continue to be an effective fighting force.
ZAKARIA: And one of the reasons they don't have arms is there is an arms embargo on giving arms directly to the Peshmerga, because it's seen as a violation of Iraq's sovereignty. Presumably, that could change.
GALBRAITH: Well, that -- that was the situation. So the U.S. was arming the Iraqi Army. Those arms ended up going to ISIS. We were not arming the Peshmerga. Now, the U.S. is directly arming the Peshmerga.
ZAKARIA: Should the Peshmer -- should the Kurdish leaders declare independence?
GALBRAITH: Yes. And they will. President Barzani has announced that there will be a referendum. The parliament will set a date. When that vote is taken, it will be nearly unanimous. I've been involved with the Kurds for 30 years. I've never met one who preferred Iraq to having an independent state.
There were three impediments to independence.
First, the disputed territories. That's over. The Kurds are now in control. They'll have a vote there. The people will vote to be part of Kurdistan.
The second was financial. They've developed their own oil resources. And they're able to export through Turkey. So that gives them the resources for independence.
And finally, Turkey. Turkey had been totally opposed to Kurdish independence, or even autonomy, a decade ago. Now they have excellent relations with the Kurdistan government. They may not recognize an independent Kurdistan, but they have said very clearly, they understand that's the reality.
The truth is, you cannot keep people who unanimously don't want to be part of a country in a country. That's the experience we've had in Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and it's the experience in Iraq. The Kurds don't want to be part of that country.
ZAKARIA: And the United States should recognize that republic?
GALBRAITH: Of course. It is democratic. It is pro-American. It's tolerant. And that's a really important point now. This is a place whose culture prides itself on its tolerance and diversity. The Kurdistan government includes Yazidi and Christian people in the government. They've -- they've been using government funding to build churches, not to build mosques. They've been protecting the Yazidis.
And, you know, I've talked to my Kurdish friends. They are appalled at what has happened to both the Yazidi and Christian communities, and, frankly, disappointed that they weren't better able to better protect them.
ZAKARIA: Let's go to Fawaz Gerges to get an even broader perspective.
Fawaz, you understand all the various communities here.
One of the questions I think a lot of people have is how has ISIS become so strong?
We understand the military side, they got a hold of American arms. They're -- they're well trained.
Do they have a political base?
FAWAZ GERGES, AUTHOR, "THE NEW MIDDLE EAST": Well, as you know, Fareed, we keep comparing the Islamic State or ISIS to al Qaeda. And that's a terribly mistaken comparison. This is a different beast.
I mean think, when you talk about ISIS or the Islamic State or Da'ash (ph) in Arabic, it's battling on multiple fronts. It's battling the Iraqi Army. It's battling the Syrian Army. It's battling the Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. It's battling tribes in Syria and Arzul (ph). And it's battling, also, fellow militant Islamists.
And guess what?
It's winning on almost every front, not only against the famed Kurdish forces, it's winning against the Syrian Army and the Iraqi Army.
And this tells you that what we are talking about here, we're talking about a different beast. It has been able to create a social constituents to embed itself with local communities, to portray itself as the spearhead, the persecuted Sunnis against a sectarian-based government. It has command and control. We talk about the Kurds and the motivation. In fact, if you're talking about motivation and ideology, the reason why the Islamic State is winning battles, this is high inspiration, high motivation, leadership assets.
It's not just about arms. You're talking about, really, the numbers of ISIS are between 10,000 and 15,000. But you're talking about -- in terms of power, you're talking about 100,000, in terms of military prowess, without basically driving a wedge between ISIS or the Islamic State and local communities, this will take years, years to basically dislodge ISIS from various communities, not just in Iraq, in Syria. You and I and all of us talk about Iraq. The headquarters of ISIS is in Syria. The nerve center of the Islamic State is in Syria...
GERGES: And the (INAUDIBLE)...
ZAKARIA: Can I interrupt you for a second?
Can I interrupt you?
I want to ask you very quickly, the Obama administration says we will not provide full, unqualified support to the Iraqi government until it broadens itself and opens itself up to true national unity government with Sunnis.
Is that the right strategy?
What does a unity government mean?
It means basically taking the fight to ISIS. It means bringing in disaffected communities into the political process. And basically, once you drive a wedge between the local community and ISIS, the battle basically would be won in a few months.
And this is the way to proceed, as opposed to American air power. American air power cannot defeat ISIS because it's deeply -- it has deeply infiltrated and penetrated local communities, both in Iraq and Syria.
ZAKARIA: Fawaz Gerges, thank you so much.
Stay with us.
Peter Galbraith, a great pleasure to have you on, as always.
Next on GPS, we will delve into the U.S. strategy, both in Iraq and Israel and Gaza, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: And we are back.
And now we're going to talk about, is this all Barack Obama's fault?
I am joined once again by the LSE's Fawaz Gerges in Berlin, here in New York, Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for "The Wall Street Journal" and Peter Beinart, a CNN political commentator and the columnist for "Haaretz." Thanks, all.
So is there something, Bret, here that ties these two things that are happening simultaneously, Iraq and Israel/Gaza, together, in your view, in terms of how the Obama administration is handling things?
BRET STEPHENS, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Look, when Obama became president, he very clearly told Americans he wanted to pivot away from the Middle East. There was a view that the Middle East was a place where nothing good could happen with American interests. And the less we intervened, the less we were involved, generally speaking, the better.
We're now seeing something of the consequences of that world view playing out.
ZAKARIA: It's true, nothing good is coming out of the Middle East.
STEPHENS: Well, much worse things are coming out of the Middle East. And you see this in the plight of desperate people in Northern Iraq, facing a terrorist regime, a state now, really, in Northern Iraq, that is simultaneously threatening the Kurds, as you pointed out earlier in the segment, the very existence of the State of Iraq, Syria. ISIS is moving in -- moving into Lebanon.
And so the president has been playing this game in which he says I want to be as little involved in this region, and as reluctantly involved. And, as a result, American policy has consistently been a matter of too little too late...
ZAKARIA: But then in Israel -- with Israel, you feel like he pushed Bibi Netanyahu too much, I assume?
STEPHENS: Well, yes. That's -- it is true that he was -- I think that Kerry made a grave mistake by insisting on putting Israel/Palestine, the peace process, at the center of the beginning of his concerns as secretary of State.
But his biggest mistake, really, quite frankly, with -- in the case of Israel, is not remembering Machiavelli's old dictum, which is, you need to be seen in political affairs as a true friend and a thorough foe.
The way the Obama administration has been playing this war has been to act as a kind of soccer referee handing out yellow cards to Israelis for this strike or to Gazans to the other strike.
The administration had to realize clear -- clearly, early on, that Israel is its friend, Egypt is its friend, Saudi Arabia is its friend. And to pursue or to back their interests as clearly as possible against a terrorist entity trying to start another Middle East war.
ZAKARIA: Peter, how do you grade Obama on all this? PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think, actually, on
-- on Iraq, there are some significant problems. And I agree with part of what Bret has said, believe it or not. I think that the Obama administration wanted to allow Maliki to be in power and didn't want to hear about Iraq. And as a result, Maliki was becoming more and more sectarian. People were telling the Obama administration he's alienating the Sunnis. And that's going to make it easy for another jihadist threat to emerge.
Now, it's not clear how much leverage we have over Maliki, because, as well, now he wanted us to go. It's not like he wanted us to go so he could be more sectarian.
Still, I think it's striking that the Obama administration never even spoke out about his growing sectarianism.
So on that front, yes, I think there's some criticism.
On Israel, Obama -- look, let's be honest. Obama threw in the towel on Israel as early as 2010, because he's never wanted the domestic political consequences of a struggle with an Israeli prime minister who is basically hostile to a two-state solution. That's the bottom line.
ZAKARIA: You point out that in the course of this conflict, Bibi Netanyahu has said something very significant, which suggests that he really does not contemplate a two-state solution.
BEINART: Three weeks ago, Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will require permanent, or at least indefinite military control of the West Bank. That means there will be no independent Palestinian state. In fact, that's consistent with what we know about what he said in the private negotiations under Kerry.
This may be the most significant outcome of this war, because if you have no conceivable path toward a two-state solution, you have no political strategy against Hamas. You have destroyed, politically, Mahmoud Abbas and any other Palestinians who offer an alternative path.
STEPHENS: Look, every -- first of all, just earlier in this show, we were praising the Kurds for the restraint they've shown in developing the institutions of statehood without actually pressing the statehood button. And the Kurds actually would be an excellent model for the way the Palestinian political culture should have developed.
Remember, in 2009, just when he returned to the office as prime minister, Bibi gave a speech at a right of center Bar-Ilan University, known as a right of center university, saying we need to accept the fact that there is -- that we -- that there should be a two-state solution. This was a radical step for a Likud-nik like Bibi to take.
But, look, reality changes. Facts on the ground have changed in a very significant way. And it's impossible for the prime minister of the Israeli state not to take that into account. When Israel was shut off from international air travel because a rocket managed to go from Gaza to close to the only international airport in Israel, Bibi had to take that into account. What's at issue here is Palestinian political culture and if Hamas is allowed to survive in Gaza, if it's seen as coming out with some kind of victory, the ultimate cause of the Palestinian state, a decent state that can live at peace with itself and its neighbors is going to be set back.
ZAKARIA: All right, I have got to go. Fawaz, what would destroy Hamas in your view? You've studied the Palestinians for decades.
GERGES: Fareed, the alternative to Hamas is the Islamic state, which we have been talking about just a few minutes ago. In fact, I'm going to say something very shocking to your guests. Hamas has come much further than the right in Israel in terms of its acceptance of a two-state solution. Of course, it has been demonized in the United States. And of course, it's not my cup of tea. I would like the Palestinians a more progressive political movement. But the reality is, Hamas is the other side of the coin, of the right in Israel itself. But let me - let me just say a few words about American foreign policy and Israel and Palestine. If the establishment of a Palestinian state serves American national security interests as the foreign policy and security establishment has so, then Barack Obama must act more boldly, and take political risks and not allow the tail to wag the dog as Benjamin Netanyahu has been doing. Benjamin Netanyahu has been creating facts on the ground. He has been playing for time. He never believed in a two-state solution. A state, Palestinian state, viable independent Palestinian state. And the reality is Barack Obama has proven to be a politician who accepts basically the dysfunctional American political system when it comes to Israel and Palestine.
ZAKARIA: Very quickly, gentlemen, 15 seconds each, will the situation in Gaza result in the destruction of Hamas as a political entity?
STEPHENS: If Hamas chooses a war of attrition, ultimately it will. Hamas has been massively weakened by the war. Its military resources aren't infinite, and the political patience of Palestinians, I suspect, isn't infinite either.
GERGES: No, Hamas is not going away, unfortunately. The question is can you politically weaken Hamas by showing Palestinians that nonviolence and mutual recognition gets somewhere. When you more - further and further subsidize Israeli settlement growth to destroy a Palestinian prime minister who's accepted Israel, then you strengthen Hamas.
ZAKARIA: Gentlemen, I will have to let you go. Fascinating conversation. Of course, we will have more of it.
Next on "GPS" despite all the turmoil in the Middle East, I see some reasons to be optimistic about the state of global affairs. I am not kidding. I will explain to you when I come back.
ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. Wherever you look these days the world seems like it's on fire.
New hot spots like Russia and Ukraine are competing with the old ones like Gaza and festering conflicts like those in Syria and Iraq, especially Iraq are getting much worse. Even Afghanistan, which seemed in better shape than the other places had a setback this week. So is there any good news out there? In fact, there is. Some of the most important countries in the world are making remarkable progress affecting at least 1.5 billion people. Let's start with Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. It has more Muslims than Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf States put together. Only ten years ago the great fear was that Islamic militants were taking over the country, that it was an economic mess and an unreliable crisis spot in the region. The country has defied all skeptics and last month it took a big step forward. The election of Joko Widodo marks a consolidation of Indonesia's democracy. Jokowi, as he's always referred to at home, defeated an iconic member of Indonesia's old guard, Prabowo Subianto, a former general, former son-in-law of President Suharto and entirely enmeshed in the ways of the past.
Prabowo is contesting the result. Jokowi ran on a platform of economic development with virtually no references to populism, nationalism or religion. His first steps have been encouraging, tackling a taboo right at the start, the country's huge fuel subsidies which are inefficient to start the market and are a crippling burden on the national budget.
The other encouraging election this year has been in the world's second most populist country. India. India's elections could mark a turning point for the country and beyond. The country has been mired in deadlock and paralysis for years because of a weak coalition government, ineffectual leadership and an obstructionist opposition. So people voted for a single party to take power for the first time in 30 years and gave the new prime minister Narendra Modi, a mandate. Modi campaigned brilliantly and effectively and his message was unrelenting, development, development, development.
Despite his party's roots in Hindu fundamentalism, he chose to appeal to the country's hunger for economic growth. If Modi can maintain that focus, it's sure the Hindu nationalist agenda, take difficult decisions on cutting subsidies and encouraging competition, he will likely return India to a path of high growth, thus, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Halfway around the world from India, Mexico took a big, bold step this week. The Mexican congress passed an ambitious energy reform proposal of President Enrique Pena Nieto, ending 75 years of state control of the energy sector. It has the potential to be a game changer bringing investment, new technology and hundreds of thousands of jobs to Mexico. If Pena Nieto continues to have the courage to keep enacting major reforms as he has, Mexico will slowly, but surely be transformed into a middle class country.
The result will be a sea change in its relations with the United States, which will finally see Mexico not as a problem, but as a partner. It's already happening on the ground. For example, between 2005 and 2010 there was no net migration from Mexico into the United States. Perceptions take a while to change, especially in Washington, but once they do, North America, America, Mexico and Canada will become the world's most important vibrant and interdependent economic unit. So that is what's actually happening in the world while the news about rockets, bombs, assassinations and terrorism takes up the front pages. For more go to cnn.com/Fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week.
Next on "GPS" the Moon, the stars, and Mars and the unintended consequences of the strife between the United States and Russia. A conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson when we come back.
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ZAKARIA: Three years and one month ago, the space shuttle Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center.
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ZAKARIA: And with those words, the space shuttle program ended, and with it America's ability to get to space on its own. For now the U.S. is reliant on, guess who, Russia, to get its astronauts to the International Space Station, which might have sounded like a good idea until this. And this. Now U.S. and Russian relations have all but broken down, so what happens to our space program, our astronauts?
Joining me now is one of my favorite guests, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He is of course an astrophysicist, the host of "Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey," and the director of the Hayden Planetarium. Pleasure to have you on.
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, DIRECTOR, HAYDEN PLANETARIUM: Thanks for having me back. More like a regular now.
ZAKARIA: What does happen with our astronauts and that ability to do something routine and regular in space?
TYSON: NASA is working on a sling shot.
TYSON: I have no idea. One of the great challenges -- there's the great koombaya moment that we all feel when we say let's all go into space together. And typically, when you conceive of such a plan, different countries and different organizations would be responsible for different links in the chain of getting from earth's surface to wherever you will go. And on the surface, that sounds great. The costs are shared; it
promotes international relations. But wisdom derived from human conduct tells us that this is not always a harmonious world, and politics can force you to behave in ways that maybe you don't want to behave because you have other interests and other agendas.
We want to go into space. And something is happening on the ground that's somehow going to tell me who I can be friends with and who I can't in space? That's just embarrassing.
ZAKARIA: And we don't have the kind of funding in place to do this by ourselves by a long shot, right?
TYSON: Well, no, not -- well, I mean, there's talk of getting private enterprise to serve our needs getting back and forth to station.
ZAKARIA: What do you think of that idea?
TYSON: I think it's great. It should have been going on decades ago.
ZAKARIA: But will it serve the research function?
TYSON: So what you do is, if you have research needs, you would say, okay, the research funds will then get the access to space. So you rely on a private carrier, who can do it efficiently and effectively, and on time, and then you worry about the frontier. And that frontier doesn't always have a capital market valuation.
TYSON: And so governments take those first steps.
ZAKARIA: And that's Mars?
TYSON: Anywhere in space. I can think of -- look at the resources sitting there doing nothing, other than threatening us being -- as colliders -- on asteroids. Asteroids are nothing but natural resources. There's a set of elements on earth that we call rare earth elements. They're called that because they're rare on earth.
ZAKARIA: They're not rare--
TYSON: Yes, there are places where you can hand-pick some asteroids where this stuff is quite common. I can see a business case, ultimately, to withdraw minerals and resources from asteroids and use it for other space-based needs as you expand your frontier, but somebody has got to do it first. And that's typically expensive, and you don't know what the return will be, so government investments are typically how that goes.
ZAKARIA: What is the Orion spacecraft that NASA is talking about building? TYSON: Right. All these efforts are trying to get us back into
space on the -- on the -- with the goal of possibly sending humans to the Mars system, Mars and the moons and the like. And if you have that capacity, then you have the capacity to go many other places. You could visit comets, you could go to the moon easily once you've configured that.
So these are the things that have been discussed, but I don't see it happening in a real tangible way. In the 1960s, we were going to the moon, and every couple of months you saw the next spacecraft ready on the launch pad.
You led off with the ending of the shuttle program. For many people that was sad, and it should not have been sad, because had the cards been played right, on the next launch pad would have been the next vehicle to continue this adventure in space. And you say, okay, it served us well, mothball it, but here's what's next. No one was sad at the end of the Mercury program because the Gemini rockets were ready right there on the launch pad. And no one was sad when Gemini ended because the mighty Saturn 5 was ready to go.
ZAKARIA: But we've fallen out of love with space in that sense?
TYSON: Perhaps. I think it's because the -- when you stop moving a frontier, you forget what's on the other side of that frontier that could titillate explorers, the explorer gene built within us. But on top of that, that can actually transform how we live and what we know of the physical world. And it's the fact that we have explored since we've left the cave that has enabled civilization to be what it is.
The people talking on their cell phone and following GPS instructions to where grandma's house is saying I don't need space -- excuse me, that's how you know where grandma lives, and when to make the left turn. There's DirecTV, there is satellite radio, there's all these things that involve space, and you're going to say now that we don't need anymore space? There's nothing else I need?
There's a whole universe! And I as an astrophysicist, see the universe, feel the universe, smell the universe every day. Every day. And for people to say, I'm cool, I'm right here, it's all I need. Now let's live. I say that's how to die. That's not how to live.
ZAKARIA: Since I have you, I have to ask you. You were recently on the cover of the National Review.
TYSON: Was that me or is that a caricature of me? I don't know -- the National Review, founded by William Buckley.
ZAKARIA: It quotes you as saying, this is on another television network, "my great fear is that we have in fact been visited by intelligent aliens but they chose not to make contact on the conclusion that there is no sign of intelligent life on earth."
(LAUGHTER) TYSON: Yes. I mean, if there's a higher intelligent species out
there, we would surely look like dribbling fools in their presence. And it's an easy way to come to this conclusion. What is the next, quote, intelligent species after humans? Maybe the chimp? We have 99 percent DNA in common with the chimp. But what does the most brilliant chimp do? It can stack boxes and reach for a banana, maybe some rudimentary sign language, and maybe do some finger painting, like our toddlers can do. Our toddlers do what the smartest chimps can do.
So I said, well, suppose there's another species 1 percent beyond us in the intelligence scale, just as we are beyond the chimp. How smart would they be relative to us? And I joke about this. They would roll Stephen Hawking forward, and say this one is slightly more smarter than the rest, because he can do astrophysics calculations in his head. Like little Timmy over here who just came back from middle school, in their alien -- in their alien school system.
So it was a very real comment on our species. Not on -- the -- the article in the profile with me on the cover of National Review. But the author wanted to believe that I made that comment referencing some other people, and somehow I wouldn't be included in that. I'm so included in it. Everybody is included in it. Stephen Hawking is in it. But he had to say it because he had an agenda -- an article agenda that he had to fulfill.
ZAKARIA: Pleasure having you on, Neil, as always.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, the intersection of art and science makes something rather, well, striking. I'll explain when we come back.
ZAKARIA: This summer marks 100 years since the beginning of World War I. August 1914 was a critical time in World War I. It was during that month that Germany declared war on Russia and France and Britain declared war on Germany. It brings me to my "GPS Challenge" question of the week, which military weapon was first developed in World War I, the machine gun, napalm, pilotless drones or Agent Orange? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
This week's book of the week is "Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life" by William Deresiewicz. This is a powerful book. It argues that we are teaching our youth today to value a narrow kind of achievement: grades, resumes, college acceptances instead of things that are much more important like intellectual curiosity and character. It's written in a spirited, passionate style by someone who spent years teaching at Yale.
And now for the last look. Take a look at these images. This looks like interesting modern art hanging in a gallery, right? Well, it is that, but how that art was created might be the most interesting part of all. These paintings were created using something that you wouldn't normally associate with beauty or whimsy. They were painted by a drone. Maybe the future of drones isn't all scary. Let's just hope this drone artist keeps to the canvass. The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge" question is, C, the pilotless drone. We're on a drone kick here. On March 6th, 1918, the Curtiss-Sperry flying bomb flew unmanned for 1,000 yards over Long Island. Developed by inventors Elma Sperry and Peter Hewitt for the U.S. Navy, it was the first successful pilotless plane in history. The U.S. Army simultaneously developed an unmanned aerial bomb but the war ended before either of these models saw any action. I bet the inventors didn't think a century later their concept would be used to make arts, spy on your neighbors and perhaps even deliver pizza. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.