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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
The Military-Like Tactics of ISIS; Interview with Sir Peter Westmacott. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired May 31, 2015 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:32] 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'll begin today's show with Iraq's battlefield failures and ISIS' military successes. Just how is a band of terrorists able to take entire Iraqi cities, and what can be done about a local army with no will to fight? We'll ask the experts.
And has the sun set on Britain as a global power? I told you last week that I thought so. Today you'll hear from the British ambassador to Washington who disagrees.
Next, we'll bring you some lessons after Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum. The real story is what it tells us about religion today.
Then California's drought is scary, but it might just be the beginning. Are full-on water wars between nations in our future? The United Nations' deputy secretary-general paints a scary picture of a world that is getting dry and angry. But we'll leave you with a little bit of hope, but it's way out there. I'll explain.
But first, here's "My Take." Secretary of Defense Ash Carter did misspeak last week with remarks that caused a firestorm in both Washington and Baghdad? He explained the takeover of the city of Ramadi by ISIS saying --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASH CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: He only forgot to complete the sentence by adding the words "for Iraq." It's clear there are many people willing to fight fiercely and bravely in that part of the world. Just look at the levels of violence. The Kurds fight ferociously for Kurdistan. The Shiites have been fighting doggedly for their people. The Sunnis and ISIS are killing and dying for their cause. But nobody seems willing to fight for Iraq.
The problem really is not that Iraq's army has collapsed. It's that Iraq has collapsed. ISIS is at heart an insurgency against the governments of Iraq and Syria. And so insurgency can thrive without some support from the local population. ISIS gets that support from the discontent of Sunnis in both countries who feel they are being persecuted by the Shiite and Alawite governments.
Munqith al-Dagher runs a polling firm in Iraq that has conducted more than a million interviews in the country over the last decade. He points out that the vast majority of Sunnis in Iraq despise ISIS. More than 90 percent of Iraqis in Sunni predominant areas regard it as a terrorist organization. But al-Dagher writes, "ISIS has been able to capitalize on the deep profound discontent Sunnis felt with the central Iraqi government.
The sectarian partitioning of Iraq with Shiites move to Shiite areas and Kurds and Sunnis doing the same began with the civil war in 2006, but it has accelerated dramatically. Today Sunnis cannot find towns in Iraq where they can resettle. We need to face the facts. Iraq today no longer exists.
In 2008, 80 percent of those polled said they were Iraqi above all. Today that number is 40 percent, according to "The Post's" al-Dagher. The Kurds have taken every opportunity to further enhance their already considerable autonomy. I recently asked a Kurdish politician how many Kurds would support independence for their provinces. He replied somewhere between 99 percent and 100 percent.
Twelve years after Saddam's fall, the Kurds and the Baghdad government still cannot agree on a lasting deal to share oil revenues. In June 2014, Brookings scholar Kenneth Pollack wrote an intelligent essay for "The Wall Street Journal" outlining seven specific laws and policies that Iraq needed to put in place to give non-Shiite communities, the Sunnis and Kurds, confidence and a stake in the country. He argued that American military aid should be conditioned on the enactment of those changes.
[10:05:07] Almost a year later, Iraq has fulfilled only one of those conditions. The sectarian divide goes beyond Iraq and feeds into it. Iran supports the Baghdad government and Shiite militias, and Sunni regimes like Saudi Arabia have been accused of funding Sunni militant groups in both Iraq and Syria and have declined to support the Baghdad government much, even in its struggle against ISIS.
After many announcements of Arab airstrikes, joint forces, and military aid, the reality remains that many of the Arab states around Iraq are more anti-Shiite than they are anti-ISIS.
Republicans urging that Americans join with an Arab force to fight ISIS might not have noticed, but there is no such Arab force. Washington can provide aid, training, arms, air power, even troops, but it cannot hold together a nation that is falling apart.
For more, go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. Let's get started.
You've just heard my political explanation for why ISIS has won some victories in Iraq. Let's try to understand this from a military perspective. I was struck by ISIS' taking of Ramadi just two weeks ago. The terror
group's final push began with a seize of car bombs said to be bigger than the bomb that fell the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. ISIS is also said to have dug tunnels to aid their assault and to have used a sandstorm to operate under cover.
I want to understand why this gang of terrorists seems to be operating like a real military. To do that, I have two terrific guests. Retired U.S. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling once commanded all of northern Iraq and worked extensively with the Kurds during the surge. Hertling served three years in Iraq in all and is a CNN military analyst. And Michael O'Hanlon is one of the best military analysts in the business. He's the co-director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings.
Mark, let me begin by asking you, what did you learn from watching the fall of Ramadi or reading about it? I read about this and I thought to myself, this is being run by Saddam's former army. Was that -- you know, did that occur to you?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It certainly did, Fareed. And a couple of things struck me as I watched it. First of all, the adaptability of the army of ISIS, if you will. The way they're doing things now is very differently than -- very different than what they did a year ago. They are using formations differently. They are hiding better among the people. They're using the so-called human shields. They're using different tactics.
The use of massive amounts of suicide bombs in cars, the ability to conduct intelligence against their enemies, in this case, the various factors of the Iraqi Security Forces. Their ability to conduct reconnaissance in force to get a lot of information on an army that they're countering, which frankly is doing things the same in many manners. They are fighting hard, but they're doing things the same way.
ZAKARIA: Michael, what was -- what struck you about this recent phase of ISIS military strategy?
MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS: Hi, Fareed. Well, I was struck also, the sort of extrapolation of previous tactics of simultaneity. So it was the 10 car bombs that were huge that also went off more or less at the same time. And of course part of what you're trying to achieve with that is a military effect. But part of it is a psychological effect. And it reinforces I think some of your earlier political analysis, that it's a combination of playing with people's minds as well as achieving specific physical effects at bases or check points. And so I think you create a climate of fear and inevitability.
ZAKARIA: One of the things that many people have argued about ISIS is that behind this Islamist facade or behind this Islamist organization is a military backbone that is colonels and generals from Saddam's former army.
If that's the case, Mark, it's going to be much harder to defeat -- to take back these cities because presumably they know these cities.
HERTLING: They do, and that's what's been fascinating about it. You know, we look at some of the maps that we see on the various media, it looks like they had this big amoeba of lands they occupy. That's not true. They're, in fact, very focused on pinpointing their occupation and they use the tactics of infiltrating, assassinating, and then intimidating.
And the combination of that in some of the big cities and even some of the smaller towns, will allow them to get a support structure where they will continue to flow their logistics which supports their operations, and, frankly, that's something that's stymieing the current Iraqi forces.
[10:15:09] ZAKARIA: Michael, when you look at these 10 car bombs that you talked about, which were really in some cases truck bombs, each one the size of the Oklahoma City bombing, and of course these were suicide bombers. These were people who gave up their lives for this advance action.
Does it seem that in a situation like this the most fanatical guys win? That is, the people who are willing to really go out there and die for their cause are going to win and that's ISIS and not the Iraqi army.
O'HANLON: You know, I think that's true, Fareed. And I agree with what Mark Hertling said a minute ago, but I also think we have to underscore some vulnerabilities this organization has. For one thing, they are trying to hold territory that they're trying to govern. That's much different than what al Qaeda in Iraq was doing during the time of the surge. So in other words, they have to hold certain fixed locations. Government facilities, other places that we can target, or I should say the Iraqi army can target, and we try to help.
I think one big issue here is, should American special forces be involved, not only in advising, but even in participating in some of the raids that would be used to take back a city because there are a lot of predictable locations. And if we can work with Iraqi Special Forces to hit hard and fairly simultaneously ourselves at a number of these locations, I think there's some real vulnerabilities that ISIL has trying to act as a government.
ZAKARIA: Mark, let me ask you about a controversial piece here, which is the support of Shia militias, the people who are battling ISIS very ferociously are the Kurdish militias and the Shia militias. The Kurdish militias we do support. The Shia militias, we've been a little more wary because many of them are Iranian backed and financed. Should we recognize at the end of the day that they're the guys fighting ISIS and give them the air power that they need?
HERTLING: They are going to be players on the scene, Fareed. And they're certainly neighbors of Iraq, so they are -- they are going to want to contribute to this fight. We have got to work around their actions in one way or another without supporting them. Remember, these Shia militias, many of them were the same ones that we were fighting when we were there. The adviser from Iran is a guy that pledged himself to kill as many
Americans as possible and also contributed to our troubles that we had for quite a few years in terms of getting a representative government within Iraq. So all of that is part of the very strong complexity of this situation. Yes, we're going to have to work somehow with them but not work with them, if you can understand what I'm saying.
ZAKARIA: Mark Hertling, Michael O'Hanlon, thank you so much.
O'HANLON: Thanks, Fareed.
HERTLING: Thank you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, I told you last week that I thought Britain was retreating from its global role. That caused quite a stir in London. The British ambassador to the United States will join me in just a moment to tell me that I was wrong. Politely, of course. He is after all British.
[10:17:37] ZAKARIA: Last week in my take here on GPS and my "Washington Post" column, I said that after 300 years, Britain had resigned its role as a global power.
Here's some of the examples of what I offered as evidence. The shrinking of Britain's army. The possibility that in the future it could have the same amount of manpower as the New York police department. The fact that Britannia can no longer rule the waves since it currently has no aircraft carriers, though it does have two under construction. The 25 percent cuts in the Foreign Ministry in David Cameron's first term, and cuts in the BBC World Service, its public diplomacy arm.
Well, as you might imagine, my article generated strong feelings. Some Brits, especially David Cameron's fellow conservatives, thought I had maligned their great nation. Other Brits, especially opposition labor rights, said hear, hear, which today means multiple re-tweets.
One of the parties who begged to differ with me was her majesty's ambassador to the United States of America, Sir Peter Westmacott, Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. He joins me now.
Peter, pleasure to have you on.
SIR PETER WESTMACOTT, BRITAIN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Fareed. Good to see you.
ZAKARIA: I had a chance to get my views across. Tell me why I'm wrong.
WESTMACOTT: I think this talk of strategic shrinkage or Britain withdrawing from the world is seriously overstated. If you look at the reality of life, it is different. Yes, you're right. the Foreign office has had to take its cuts. But then the British government has had to make savings. We had a major deficit problem. We had to get our public spending under control. We've come a long way in that direction. There's more to do, but we've come a long way.
And yet at the same time we've got more diplomatic posts open around the world. We're in 160 different countries. We got 270 different posts. We are very active. And if you look at the capabilities, you look at what we do with our armed services and our diplomacy around the world, it is still a pretty remarkable story. The stuff that we're doing, for example, in Iraq, where we're providing an ISR capabilities, precision strikes, air tanking, delivery of munitions to the Kurds to help them fight back against ISIL and so on.
We are doing a lot in different parts of the world. I think the U.K. is still very much in business. And if you look ahead at the fact that we're going to spend 250 billion pounds over the next 10 years on new equipment, building those aircraft carriers that you mentioned, buying the F-35s to put on it, replacing our nuclear deterrent submarines, we're doing a great deal of things in the future. So I think this talk is a little overdone.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that there is a -- you know, the danger that if Britain detaches from Europe, if the referendum goes awry, you know, I look at a Britain that has lost its special relationship with the United States for complicated reasons. Asia has become important. You know, the United States is not as focused on Europe because Europe is -- you know, it doesn't -- it is not in as much crisis as perhaps it was during the Cold War.
[10:20:24] But for whatever reason, you don't have that role. You don't have a central role in Europe. What are you then, a kind of small island off the coast of Europe with no special relationship with anyone?
WESTMACOTT: When David Cameron was here a couple of months ago, I remember the president of the United States -- I was there in the White House -- describing him as a great friend and one of my closest and most trusted partners in the world. That sounds to me like a pretty special relationship.
When I was with the British Defense secretary Ash Carter a few weeks after that, I heard Ash Carter say that the special relationship with the United Kingdom was the cornerstone of the national security of both of our countries.
I think if you look at the detail of what we are doing, the military cooperation, the interoperability, the way which our intelligence services work closely together to counter terrorism, organized criminals and so on, I would not agree with your premise that there's not a special relationship which has died or doesn't exist anymore. I think it does. I hear it regularly from the people that I talk to.
And I the think the way in which the United States and the United Kingdom continue to work together across the board whether it's cultural, it's business, or investment or commerce, promoting free trade in the world through the transatlantic trade negotiations at the moment and in diplomacy and where necessary the use of muscular force, I still think we are significant and major players and that is what I hear from my friends here.
If we are to change our relationship with the European Union, then we're in a different place. But let me just be very clear about this. The prime minister's intention, and that's why he's begun going around European capitals as we speak, is to ensure that we can get improvements in the way the European Union works. There are a number of changes that we need to negotiate.
But the strategy of the prime minister is to go to his colleagues, and to seek those improvements, and to then go back to the British people in a referendum with a strong enough package of improvements that the British people will conclude that their future lies in the European Union. So that's the game. That's the strategy. And that's my prime minister's plan.
ZAKARIA: But the mood of the country has changed. It's not just the government. If you look at the vote on Syria, the United States threatened force -- the use of force against Syria, drew this famous red line. And one of the reasons, perhaps the principal reason Barack Obama changed his mind in an extremely embarrassing way, was the British parliament refused to support any U.S. military action.
I think this is the first time the British parliament has done that, certainly in my memory. Isn't that a sign that Britain is unwilling to act like a global power?
WESTMACOTT: If you look at what we're doing now, I think the evidence says the opposite. Yes, that vote took place during the holiday season in August at short notice. If you look at what we are doing now in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, it is really very significant what we're doing in Iraq. We're also active in Syria. We're not taking part in air strikes in Syria. That is indeed the case. But we are very engaged in the campaign to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. We're engaged with our partners to try to --
ZAKARIA: He's still around.
WESTMACOTT: -- reinvigorate the political track but we're also involved in training and equipping the Syrian opposition. We're helping with ISR facilities in Iraq. And we're doing a great deal with air tanking, with precision bombing, with trade and equip, with counter IEDs especially support to the Iraqi armed forces.
We are significant players. So I think you should judge us by what's going on, by our action, and also by our very substantial investment programs for the future of our military capability.
ZAKARIA: Well, my experience in dealing with the British intelligence officers, British diplomats is that they are of extremely high quality. I just wish they had more to do.
WESTMACOTT: I'm not short of things to do, Fareed. Thank you for having me.
Next on GPS, the Catholic Church could not keep the people of Ireland from voting for same-sex marriage. We'll dig into the immense implications this has for our understanding of power or lack thereof of religion in the modern world when we come back.
[10:28:02] ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. Ireland's resounding approval of same-sex marriage has led to some serious soul searching in the Catholic Church. The referendum in one of Catholicism's traditional strongholds was an unmitigated disaster, said the Association of Catholic Priests, and it illustrated the gap between the church and its people. The archbishop of Dublin said the church needs to take a reality check.
According to "The Week," almost 90 percent of Catholics in Ireland attended mass every week in 1984. In 2011, only 18 percent of them did. It got us thinking, if religious attitudes in historically pious Ireland are changing so dramatically, what does the future hold for religion around the world?
If you look at recent trends in the United States, the most Christian nation in the world, religion is on the wane. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, self-described Christians dropped from 78.4 percent of the population to 70.6 percent of the population. A nearly eight-point drop in just seven years. The religiously unaffiliated, like atheists and agnostics, increased from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent over that time.
What's more, the decline in Christians is happening across the board among the young and the old. Blacks, whites, and Latinos and people with different levels of education. Even geography isn't a difference maker, Pew points out. The southern Bible belt has seen a decline that's just as big as other regions of the country.
Pew has another impressive report that looks at religion around the world, revealing some fascinating predictions. By 2050, Christians in several developed countries, like the United Kingdom and Australia, will see big declines and even lose their majority status. In France and New Zealand, the religiously unaffiliated will be the largest segment of the population.
[10:25:09] The U.S. will still be a majority Christian nation but Christianity share of the population will decline and the number of non-religious Americans will increase to more than one in four.
So does all of this mean that religion will eventually be a thing of the past? No, because worldwide the numbers tell a different story. Christians and Muslims will increase in numbers overall, keeping up with population growth or better, while the non-religious will see their share of the population decline. That's because religion will thrive in developing parts of the world, like sub-Saharan Africa, where birthrates are high.
Pew predicts the demographics will also contribute to a significant shift in the relative popularity of certain religions. In 2010, Christianity was the most popular faith with Islam ranking second. In 2050, Islam will almost tie Christianity because Muslims who are younger and have high fertility rates will increase their numbers by 73 percent, over twice as much as any other religion. One point, lots of people claim and believe that Europe is going to turn Muslim in a few decades. Eurabia, they call it. Well, the Pew report shows that even in 2050, only ten percent of Europe's population will be Muslim. In the U.S., the number will be much lower still, though Muslims will outnumber Jews by a considerable margin.
Over the years, some have thought that religion would die away as populations became more affluent. That may be true in Europe, Pew points out, and to a certain extent, even in the United States. But in other parts of the world, Pew says, economic development has not contributed to a drop in the faithful. So it looks like faith will remain alive and well in the 21st century.
Next on "GPS," from water shortages to water crises to water wars. What the earth has in store for us over the next few decades. A scary picture from the deputy secretary general of the United Nations.
ZAKARIA: California's historic drought has led the governor to impose the state's first ever mandatory water restriction. One indication of just how bad it's gotten, in southern California they have allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to pay people to pull up their lawns as "The L.A. Times" reported. But the problem is hardly restricted to America's West Coast. Look at the Aral Sea in Central Asia, once the fourth largest lake in the world. The eastern basin has completely dried out for the first time in 600 years. And the future looks even worse.
Water use has been rising at double the rate of population growth, according to the United Nations. As water becomes more and more scarce, competition will increase, and that will lead to conflict, argues my next guest, even leading to full-on wars over water. He says ISIS is now using water as a weapon, and he has a unique perch from which to view the world. Jan Eliasson is the deputy secretary general of the United Nations. Thanks for joining me, sir.
JAN ELIASSON, U.N. DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL: Thank you very much.
ZAKARIA: Are you exaggerating? I mean when we think about wars, we don't think of them as being driven by water. Is this really a danger?
ELIASSON: I think we should see this as an early sign of things to come. And if we don't move in the direction of cooperating and sharing resources and water primarily, then we risk more and more by the years that we now see ahead of us to see these turning into conflicts.
ZAKARIA: Where do you -- give me a couple of places where you really worry where this is happening. ELIASSON: Well, I'll give you an example from my time when I was mediating in the Darfur crisis. We saw certain areas of northern Darfur where the militias had thrown a dead dog in the village water, in the well, and by that forced the population to move to the camps.
ZAKARIA: Because it was the only place they could get water and it was now all contaminated.
ELIASSON: Exactly. What help did they have from that? It was a lose/lose proposition. So they destroyed the water, but nobody could take over that village. So, that was one example. Then ISIL using water floods as a way of - (INAUDIBLE) the villages' detrition (ph) and threatening -- flooding villages. And then, of course, there's the growing problems of border rivers that effect two countries. One country needs electricity building a dam. Another needs to protect its agriculture. You see it in the Nile, Egypt, Ethiopia. You see it in between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It hasn't reached the proportion of conflict, open conflict, but it's certainly a threat. And if this resource now becomes more and more scarce, we will be faced with a choice of either cooperating or fighting about it. And the fighting about it is definitely a lose/lose proposition.
ZAKARIA: And the two big forces that seem to be at work here are the increasing demand, as people are moving out of poverty in large parts of the world, they want and need more water. And the second is global warming in some form or the other, which is drying up parts of the world, right?
ELIASSON: Yeah, well, you have population growth. Then you have the force of urbanization. Cities that demand enormous amounts of water and also collective solutions. Not so easy if you have poor people moving into poor countries, urban areas, creating slums. So actually the challenge for clean water is bigger for developing countries and also bigger than in the rural areas.
ZAKARIA: Now, look at the scale of this demand. So, this is global water demand in 2000 and 2015. That's just the BRIC countries. You know, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, China, India, South Africa. The yellow one is the world at large. By 2015, it goes up only - looks like 50 percent. And then the world at large, you see the chart again. It seems like a 40 percent increase. And is part of it that we don't charge people for water? That people use this extravagantly because there's no cost to using it extravagantly?
ELIASSON: Yeah. No, I think we have to seriously look at the price of water. We have taken water for granted. In my country, Sweden, we use five or six liters every time we use the toilet, and we don't even think about it. But now this issue is a global issue. A global crisis. We need to have solutions both for developed countries, who are now struck also by floods and drought. Look at your own country. Look at the United States. But also see that this glass of clean water is a luxury, a dream for 748 million people. I took this from the tap water outside your studio, Fareed. This is the cause of -- the lack of this water is the cause of 1,000 children under the age of five dying every day because of lack of water and lack of sanitation. And this problem is a matter of health, but it is also a matter of scarce resources that turn slowly into causes of conflict or cooperation.
If we do it right, we can really see this as bringing nations together. Two countries affected by the same river, sharing it the right way. Israelis in the West Bank, settlers, if they were to share the water fairly and share fairly in the way that would make the Palestinians take care of their olive trees well enough, that could be a tremendous confidence-building measure. So you can go all across the field where you can have the model of cooperation. But if you don't do that, you will risk landing in conflicts about resources, and water is the most critical one.
ZAKARIA: So instead of lose/lose, you could end up with win/win.
ELIASSON: Definitely win/win.
ZAKARIA: Pleasure to have you on, sir.
ELIASSON: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Up next, as if our terrestrial problems weren't enough, we will talk about the dangers from up above. A bird, a plane? No, an asteroid. Is one coming to a city near you? My next guest says maybe.
ZAKARIA: A few weeks ago when I was in Seattle, I was invited to visit the working laboratory of Nathan Myhrvold. Myhrvold was the long-time chief technology officer at Microsoft, trained in physics by Stephen Hawking, and is a true polymath with interests ranging from physics to food and everything in between. He and his team at Intellectual Ventures work on everything from nuclear power to stopping pandemics to studying dinosaurs to stopping asteroids from hitting the earth. Those last two are connected, of course. It's commonly believed that asteroids wiped off the dinosaurs, but Myhrvold says asteroid impacts are not just ancient history. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: You don't think we pay enough attention to the problem of asteroids.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD, FORMER CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, MICROSOFT: So in 1908, an asteroid hit in Siberia. It devastated hundreds of square miles. It was hundreds of megatons. It was bigger than the largest atomic explosion ever on earth. But as luck would have it, it strikes the middle of Siberia, in an area where there's only a few reindeer herders. Now, if that asteroid was an hour earlier or later, if it had hit in Europe, the United States, even if it had hit in the middle of the ocean, we would have grown up with the whole 20th century shaped by this horrific event. Imagine if it had hit London or New York or even the countryside of some place. We would have grown up thinking, oh, my god, there's death from the skies. We would have been focused on it. As it happens, it wasn't until really the '60s that people started thinking about it.
ZAKARIA: And it was sheer luck that it hit Siberia.
MYHRVOLD: Sheer luck. Now, it happens another asteroid two years ago hit also in Russia in a place called Chelyabinsk. And there we were lucky that the asteroid came in only 18 degrees above the horizon, that's about this much. So, it's a very glancing blow. It exploded in the upper atmosphere as a result. It broke a million windows and caused about 1,500 injuries. But if instead it had come in 18 degrees, if it coming like this, it would have killed a million people. That would have been a wake-up call.
ZAKARIA: So, what do we do about it?
MYHRVOLD: Well, there's two things you have to do. First of all, you have to find the asteroids. And that's not difficult in principle, but we've put very little resources towards it. And there are several different scientific projects that are aiming to try to find them. One is a giant telescope that's being built in Chile on the top of a mountain. There's also several proposed space missions that would send a space telescope up to look for these asteroids.
ZAKARIA: And when - can we then deflect it? Can we ...
MYHRVOLD: It depends on how far out it is. With luck, we'll find the asteroid where it's still many years away from hitting. Could be as much as 50 or 100 years away. It could be shorter. Now, if you find it - and it's only a week out, party.
MYHRVOLD: That's about all you can do. If - unless you figure - if you figure out where it is and it's a small one, you can evacuate the area, of course. But if it's further out, in fact, we do have the technology, or we could develop the technology, to go out there and nudge it. And when it's very far away, nudging it by a tiny amount is enough to make it miss earth. And so I think it's super important. So I'm working very actively on a scientific paper on this. Lots of other people work on it too, but it's one of the areas I've decided to jump in with both feet.
ZAKARIA: So, when you look out at the world, the things that worry you are not, you know, ISIS and al Qaeda so much, but bioterrorism, pandemics, asteroids, climate change. Fair to say?
MYHRVOLD: Well, there's very little value in me getting worried about the stuff that everybody else is already worried about. So if you take ISIS or some of these other big political thorny problems, there's lots of folks already working on it. I could add my voice, but I would have very little to contribute. Whereas, if you look at the areas where society isn't worried, where we've shrugged it off, those are the areas where you might actually make a difference. So it's important, whether it's inventing technology for people that no one else seems to care about enough to invent technology for, or threats from rare, but potentially very significant things like new epidemics or bioterror, it's in those area that you can really add value by paying some attention, by focusing on it, and a little bit being a gadfly and bothering people and saying, hey, pay attention.
ZAKARIA: Nathan Myhrvold, pleasure to have you on.
MYHRVOLD: OK. Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," we will stay extraterrestrial, but this story may have a happy ending. Why science is excited about a moon many millions of miles away. I'll explain when we come back.
ZAKARIA: June 1ST is the seventh anniversary of this show and the 35th anniversary of CNN. The big guest on our first show here on "GPS" was Tony Blair, envoy to the Middle East quartet, a post he announced he would resign this week. Many of the trouble spots that we covered today we covered in our first show with him. In fact, many of the trouble spots we covered today, CNN was covering when it first began broadcasting on June 1st, 1980. It brings me to my question. Which of the following did not occur in 1980, the year CNN began broadcasting? Iraq invades Iran, Syria's Hafez al-Assad survives an assassination attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood, Robert Mugabe becomes prime minister of the newly independent Zimbabwe, the first recognized case of what became known as AIDS is reported. Which of these didn't happen in 1980? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
This week's book is inspired by the World Science Festival taking place in New York this weekend. An amazing multimedia exploration of science and technology. Take your kids if you're in New York. I'm reading "The Upright Thinkers" by Leonard Mlodinow. It tells us how humans started standing upright and then over time discovered more and more fascinating ways to move ahead. If you want to understand the history of human progress, the path to creative thinking, the foundations of scientific breakthroughs, read this wonderful book. And now for "The Last Look." When Galileo Galilei peered through his telescope in 1610 and saw Jupiter's four large moons, that discovery advanced the world's understanding of the solar system, providing evidence that not all celestial bodies rotated around the Earth. For centuries, human beings have looked at the stars and wondered if life exists beyond our atmosphere. Well, this week NASA took a bold new step in answering these questions with a mission to one of the very moons Galileo observed 405 years ago.
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JOHN M. GRUNSFELD, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR SCIENCE MISSION DIRECTORATE, NASA: We're trying to answer the big questions. Where did we come from? Where are we going? And are we alone?
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ZAKARIA: Data gathered by NASA's Galileo spacecraft suggests Jupiter's moon Europa has a saltwater ocean beneath an icy crust. It may even contain twice as much water as we have here on Earth. Scientists believe the moon contains the ingredients that make it the most likely place to find life beyond planet earth. And this week they selected nine instruments to send aboard a solar-powered probe, which will depart for Europa in the next decade or so. NASA has said the instruments are not life detectors, per se, however, they hope to begin to discern whether this moon of Jupiter is habitable. To quote Galileo, measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.
The correct answer to the "GPS" challenge question is "D." In 1981, not 1980, the CDC published a report describing an unusual lung infection in five young men. This was the first official reporting of what became known as the AIDS epidemic according to aids.gov. As for the other events that did occur in 1980, well, the Iraqi army is still fighting a war, but now with Iran on its side. There's still an Assad in power in Syria, battling Sunni militants. And Mugabe transitioned from prime minister to president, but remains in power. Let's hope 35 years from now, this is actually history. Thank you for being a part of my program this week, and for the last seven years. I will see you next week.