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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Discussion of Dynamic Scoring in Economic Calculations; Joshua Green Talks about the Split in the White House; China Consolidates Global Power. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired July 30, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria, coming to you live from New York.
Today, on the show, the White House in disarray, warring with attorney general, leakers and senators. What does all this mean for policy from Russia, to healthcare, to gender issues in the military? And what does the work make of this circus. I have a great panel to talk about it all.
And America's new nationalism. Ronald Reagan's Republican Party was all about free markets, free trade and open arms to immigrants. No more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we have taken historic steps to secure our border, impose needed immigration control like you've never seen before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Journalist Joshua Green on Steve Bannon and the new American nationalism.
Also, America closes itself and China is opening itself up, forging alliances and rising. I will talk about the eastward shift of global power with the "FT's" Gideon Rachman.
Finally, summer on the French Riviera. Instead of hot parties this year, unfortunately, all the talk is of scorching fires. I'll explain.
But first, here's my take. In London last week, I met a Nigerian man who succinctly expressed the reaction of much of the world to America these days. Your country has gone crazy, he said, with a mixture of outrage and amusement. I'm from Africa. I know crazy, but I didn't ever think I would see this in America.
The world has gone through bouts of anti-Americanism before, but this one feels very different. First, there is the sheer shock at what is going on. The bizarre candidacy of Donald Trump, which has been followed by utterly chaotic presidency. The chaos is at such a fever pitch that one stalwart Republican, Karl Rove, described the president this week as vindictive, impulsive and shortsighted and his public shaming of the attorney general as unfair, unjustified, unseemly and stupid.
Another Republican, Kenneth Starr, the one-time grand inquisitor of Bill Clinton, went further, calling Trump's treatment of Jeff Sessions one of the most outrageous and profoundly misguided courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation's capital.
But there's a larger aspect of the fall in respect for America. According to a recent Pew Research Center study of 37 countries, people around the world increasingly believe that they can make do without America.
Trump's presidency has made the US something worse than we feared or derided. It is becoming irrelevant. The most fascinating finding of the Pew Survey was not that Trump is deeply unpopular, 22 percent approval compared to Obama's 64 percent at the end of his presidency. That was to be expected, but that there are now alternatives.
On the question of confidence in various leaders to do the right thing regarding world affairs, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin got slightly higher marks than Trump, but Angela Merkel got almost twice as much support as Trump.
Even in the United States, more respondents expressed confidence in the German Chancellor than Trump. This says a lot about Trump, but it says as much about Merkel's reputation and how far Germany has come since 1945.
Trump has managed to do something that fear of Putin could not. He has unified Europe. Facing the challenges of Trump, Brexit, populism, a funny thing has happened on the continent. Support for Europe among its residents has risen and plans for deeper European integration are underway.
If the Trump administration perceives as it has promised and initiates protectionist measures against Europe, the continent's resolve will only strengthen.
Under the combined leadership of Merkel and the new French President Emmanuel Macron, Europe will adopt a more activist foreign policy. Its economy has rebounded and is not growing as fast as that of the United States.
Countries from Canada to China have in various ways announced that since Washington cannot be relied on to shape the global agenda anymore, others will step in its place.
The most dismaying aspect of Pew's findings is that the drop in regard for America goes well beyond Trump. Sixty-four percent of the people surveyed expressed a favorable view of America at the end of the Obama presidency. That has now fallen to 49 percent. Even when American foreign policy was unpopular, people around the world still believed in America, the place, the idea. This is less true today.
[10:05:09] In 2008, I wrote a book about the emerging post-American world, which was - I noted at the start - not about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of the rest.
Amidst the parochialism, ineptitude and sheer disarray of the Trump presidency, the post-American world is coming to fruition much faster than I ever expected.
For more, go to CNN.com/Fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
OK. You heard my take. Let's bring in a great panel to discuss these issues and more. Joining me here in New York are Tim Naftali, a CNN presidential historian and the former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library; Julian Zelizer, political historian at Princeton and a CNN political analyst.
In DC, Robin Wright joins us. She writes for the "New Yorker" and is a joint fellow at the US Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center. And David Frum joins us from LA. He is the senior editor at "The Atlantic" and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
Julian, I want to start with you because it feels to me like we are at a very important moment in terms of congressional reaction to Donald Trump. Republican reaction. When the Sessions thing broke, you saw senior Republicans like Mitch McConnell publicly disagreeing with Trump in absolutely flat out terms.
On the Russia sanctions, they are passing a bill that the White House did not want. On healthcare, three Republican senators voted against, but I want to read you a - "Washington Post" had this wonderful story where he tells that Lisa Murkowski, very conservative Senator, is called by the Secretary of Interior threatening that they will no longer support projects of her in Alaska.
She responds by essentially dissing the White House and the Department of Interior, voting against the healthcare bill and then postponing all hearings on Interior Department jobs and on its 2018 budget. This feels like a Republican revolt against Donald Trump.
JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's beginning. I think we often hear a lot about the importance of the base to President Trump and how he crafts most of his strategy around the base. But really, it's the Republican Party that protects him and it's the Republican Party upon which he depends broadly defined.
And this week, all the events you've talked about, I think, are some cumulative evidence that the firewall of the Republican Congress is starting to weaken, if not fall apart. And this is very significant. He can't afford this. And with the story of Attorney General Sessions, for example, we've seen ongoing pushback, which is making it difficult for him to do what seems to be the move he's looking for, so that he can go after the special prosecutor.
ZAKARIA: David, let me read you from your old place of employment. You were an editorial writer at "The Wall Street Journal." "The Journal", part of Rupert Murdoch's empire, has generally been very supportive of Trump and very critical of his opponents.
So, let me read you what "The Journal" has said this week about Trump's Sessions abuse. "He is harming himself, alienating allies and crossing dangerous legal and political lines. If Trump wants to blame someone for the existence of Special Counsel Mueller, he can pick up a mirror."
On the healthcare bill, "he never tried to sell the policy to the American public, in part because he knows nothing about healthcare and couldn't bother to learn.
On Priebus, "the shuffling of the staff furniture won't matter unless Mr. Trump accepts that the White House's problem isn't Mr. Priebus, it's him."
Now, in the past, conservative intellectuals, like yourself, denouncing Trump have not made much difference. Are we seeing something new?
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": We are seeing something new because "The Wall Street Journal" does speak with and for Paul Ryan.
The challenge for the Republican Party as an institution is that, while President Trump is a severe problem, so also is the editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal".
What a Republican president elected in 2016 needed to do was to lead the party out of the cul-de-sac into which it had backed itself on healthcare. The Republican Party had taken an unsustainably radical position on total repeal of Obamacare, return to prior status quo that would not make good on the guarantee of near universal coverage that's been in place now for almost seven years.
As we saw in the vote, Republican senators and Republican members of the House themselves did not believe in that commitment, but they backed into it.
[10:10:03] Where leadership serves is by taking a party that has put itself into someplace unsustainable and the president then says, I'm going to offer a new vision, I'm going to offer something that is sustainable, that is relevant to the country that does suit a larger part of America than just my tiny little base and I will give you all cover to do something responsible, to do something that will save you from yourself.
Instead Donald Trump, as "The Journal" said, he knew so little about healthcare that he believed "The Wall Street Journal." And that's a bad place to be.
ZAKARIA: Tim Naftali, is this all going to be solved by the appointment of a military man as chief of staff? I ask you. Somehow, the world keeps coming back to your area of specialty, Richard Nixon, because the last military man to be chief of staff was, of course, Alexander Haig appointed in the turmoil of Nixon's second term.
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN AND FORMER DIRECTOR, RICHARD NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM: The modern chief of staff, the institution of the chief of staff, is only a little over 40 years old.
Many presidents have always wanted to be at the center of the wheel and then all the spokes would lead to them. That's disaster.
Richard Nixon allowed Bob Haldeman, his chief of staff, to be the gatekeeper. The problem with Haldeman and Nixon is that it didn't always work and Nixon would go around Haldeman and Haldeman also had some ethical personal problems.
But the strong chief of staff is the Haldeman model. When presidents leave that model, as we've Trump, they only encounter troubles.
Trump's problem is he lets other people talk to him besides his tweeting. His problem is Bannon has direct access, Kushner has direct access -
ZAKARIA: Scaramucci -
NAFTALI: Scaramucci has direct access.
In order for a chief of staff, whether he's a general or not, to be successful he has to be the gatekeeper. He has to not only control the president's time, he has to be able to tell people, no, you can't see the president.
Will trump allow Kelly to do that? We've seen Trump delegate to Mattis. But Trump is delegating things he doesn't really understand, military operations. Will he delegate to Kelly? That's the key. And we'll see.
ZAKARIA: The one thing I think we can say about Kelly, military people generally have a code of honor. And the one thing, I think, you will see if Trump asks John Kelly to do something he thinks is illegal or unconstitutional, he won't do it just as Al Haig.
NAFTALI: All Haig, yes, absolutely.
ZAKARIA: (INAUDIBLE) destroy the tapes.
NAFTALI: President Nixon asked Alexander Haig to destroy the tapes. And Haig said, oh, no, don't ask me, ask your valet Manolo Sanchez, don't ask me to do it. He was thinking about his family. He was thinking - and said no.
ZAKARIA: All right. We are going to come back and go straight to Robin Wright who has been to North Korea many times. And we will ask her about the crisis in North Korea, perhaps in Iran, and I wonder whether these crises will serve as a way for the president to distract from these deep domestic troubles.
[10:17:23] ZAKARIA: And we're back with Tim Naftali, Julian Zelizer, Robin Wright, and David Frum.
Robin, you traveled to North Korea at what was the highest level of contact between the United States government and the North Korean government really ever in its history. What do you make of what is going on in North Korea and Trump's response to it, which seems a kind of a series of random tweets about the Chinese?
ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, it's very dangerous actually. We're now at a point where the North Korean capabilities are so sophisticated they have a range now of over 6,000 miles for their intercontinental ballistic missiles.
We are at a point also where the window for diplomacy is beginning to close. And the president, rather than working this issue, as he is preoccupied with his war at home, is not taking the kind of steps that will get us closer to resolution that will diminish the threat.
He is treating the president of China the same way he's treating Jeff Sessions. He's belittling President Xi Jinping in tweets. He's saying that the Chinese are doing nothing for us.
This is not the way to deal with the most populous nation on earth, the only nation on earth that can really help us with - whether it's imposing sanctions on North Korea or engaging in some kind of diplomatic resolution.
The reality is that North Korea is reaching the point that it's going to be a nuclear power and there's very little the United States can do about it, except try to diminish the dangers of North Korea using it.
And so, President Trump has put us in a very vulnerable position by not dealing more thoughtfully and diplomatically with this fundamental challenge, the one that may well define his foreign policy legacy.
ZAKARIA: Robin, let me ask you about another one because you're so knowledgeable about Iran. There are reports that Donald Trump - more than reports. He's essentially publicly said he wants to find them in non-compliance with the Iran deal even though the IAEA, the agency appointed to look at it, has several times certified that they are in compliance.
What would happen if the United States, in essence, unilaterally disagreeing with international - the inspectors on the ground would say, we believe that Iran is in non-compliance?
WRIGHT: Well, the Trump administration clearly wants to force Iran to walk away from the deal, to nudge them in - or confront them in any number of ways, not just on the nuclear deal. Yes, through inspections possibly, demanding inspection of sites that are not on the list or not suspected of having been involved in a nuclear program, but also in ways, whether it's imposing sanctions, opening fire on Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf, imposing sanctions because of the detention of Americans, there a lot of ways that we're moving toward, I think, a position that the United States looks like it is supporting regime change.
And I saw, as you did too, the Iranian foreign minister - and I think the idea that the Iranians are going to walk away from this is unlikely. And that puts us in the position of what is our policy.
We are now split with the Europeans. Forty years we've been together in trying to pressure Iran on its nuclear program and other issues, and now the Europeans are going ahead and doing business with them, putting their ambassadors back in Tehran.
And so, this is where the lacks the kind of sophisticated knowledge of the world. It was reflected this week when he stood next to the Lebanese prime minister and said that Lebanon was on the frontline of fighting ISIS, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.
And Hezbollah, of course, is a major part of the Lebanese government and it's fighting alongside the Lebanese army today against ISIS and Al Qaeda in Eastern Lebanon. It's really disheartening when you understand that President Trump knows so little about the world.
ZAKARIA: But, Julian, do you think these crises are an opportunity or a challenge?
ZELIZER: I think they're a challenge. I think the same problems we've seen play out with domestic policy will re-create themselves on foreign policy. So, all of the presidential behavior that we've seen, threatening allies and opponents, tweeting randomly and distracting, not the public from what he's doing, but his own party from what they need to be doing and lacking some real sense of policy and a vision, as Robin is talking about, in terms of where this all goes, all of those will be problematic as this turns to the international stage.
ZAKARIA: David Frum, another seeming distraction, or at least some people would regard as a distraction, was the transgender issue. What do you think Trump was doing there? And I'm assuming it's an attempt to play the sort of culture war card and force Democrats have to defend these very small minority that many people would regard as odd. I don't. But will it work?
FRUM: It's a culture war that actually turned into a culture skirmish because, as you said, there just isn't enough excitement about this issue, one side or the other. And it is a sign of how the president has a tendency to start his wars without allies and without preparation.
And that is a very ominous warning for the larger and non-metaphorical wars that may lie ahead of him. It is really worrying, as Julian was just saying now, United States is stumbling without plans, often without friends, into confrontations it doesn't seriously intend to make good on, but that may be real.
One of the clever things that people say in Washington is what happens if these guys ever encounter a crisis that is not of their own making, what happens when they face a true international crisis?
But the situation is much worse than that because this team is an international crisis. This is itself - this government is the greatest threat to America's national security we've seen maybe since the end of the Cold War. We are careening - we're going to end up in some kind of confrontation and we're going to probably end up there alone.
ZAKARIA: Tim Naftali, when you look at the way this administration is handling itself, something that Richard Haass said to me, the present of the Council on Foreign Relations.
He said, looking at Scaramucci, looking at so much, he said nobody seems to care about the dignity of the office that they hold, and that starts with the president, but it goes down throughout the White House. There is no sense that these offices are kind of national treasures.
NAFTALI: No, there's no sense of that. And that has an effect. It has a corrosive in three different ways. One, imagine the morale of the people in that building. Imagine them having watched Priebus be publicly humiliated, with apparently no consequence other than Priebus loses his job.
Two, how do you recruit new people. This is an understaffed administration. You need more people.
And three, the effect on our international reputation. If we're going to stare down foreign adversaries, they have to believe that we are not only unified, but professional. So, I think the Scaramucci show that we saw this week isn't amusing at all.
It would be amusing if it were reality television, but you know what, the US presidency is not reality television. No matter what the president thinks, that's not the way we can run this country. We're a superpower.
ZAKARIA: On that note, we have to end. Next on GPS, a case of a missing $3.4 trillion. The strange math in the president's budget and what it highlights. The GOP's abandonment of facts, science and analysis, when we come back.
[10:29:06] ZAKARIA: Now, for our What in the World segment. The number I want to focus on is $3.4 trillion.
At the end of May, the Trump administration released details of its proposed budget for the next fiscal year. And on July 13, the non- partisan Congressional Budget Office released their analysis of President Trump's budget. The CBO says the president's budget underestimated the loss in federal tax revenues caused by its proposed tax cuts by a whopping $3.4 trillion.
How could the smart Goldman Sachs guys on Trump's economic team Gary Cohn, Steve Mnuchin make such a big basic math error.
Actually, they did it intentionally. The administration assumed that because of its tax cuts, the American economy would grow by 3 percent a year for the next decade. The CBO instead says the president's plan would increase GDP growth to 1.9 percent, which most economists agree is the sensible assumption.
ZAKARIA: Note that the American economy has grown on average just 1.8 percent over the last 15 years, no more.
This method of fudging the numbers is called "dynamic scoring." Common sense would tell you that, if the government cuts taxes, it will get less money in tax revenues. But sprinkle the magic pixie dust of dynamic scoring and you can project much higher growth rates, and then the revenue numbers soar upwards, in theory.
The story of dynamic scoring is the story of the Republican Party's abandonment of facts, science and analysis in favor of ideology. Decades ago, Republicans were advocates of fiscal restraint. They were the party of green eye-shades, conservative assumptions and careful accounting. They did not believe in wide-eyed assumptions and in counting chickens before they were hatched.
In fact, when Ronald Reagan proposed tax cuts that he claimed would pay for themselves, his traditionalist Republican rival, George Bush, Sr., derided his approach as "voodoo economics." But with the Reagan revolution came a new mantra. Tax cuts were the answer to every problem and the economics could be bent to make it all work out, in theory. In fact, the national debt tripled under Ronald Reagan.
And after George W. Bush cut taxes, the national debt increased again. Bill Clinton, by contrast, actually raised taxes and ushered in stronger growth and higher tax revenues. But the mountains of evidence have not stopped Republicans from using dynamic scoring.
In 2010 Kansas Governor Sam Brownback rode a Tea Party wave to power, and he soon slashed taxes across the board, predicting that there would be a boost to the Kansas economy and thousands of new jobs would be created -- except the promised growth never materialized.
Instead, between 2013 and 2014, the state's budget of $6 billion was butchered as tax revenues fell by a massive $713 million. This year there was a $280 million budget shortfall, forcing state legislators to pass tax hikes despite Brownback's opposition. In 2015, the GDP of the state grew by an anemic 0.2 percent, while the rest of the nation grew at 1.6 percent. Job growth since the cuts dropped to a dismal 3.5 percent, while the rest of the nation experienced a rate of 7.6 percent.
Sam Brownback has been rewarded for his failure by being nominated this week to be the State Department's ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom by Donald Trump. Bruce Bartlett, who was a senior policy adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr., says that dynamic scoring is not about honest revenue estimating; it's about using smoke and mirrors to institutionalize Republican ideology into the budget process.
Steve Mnuchin, Garry Cohn and others in the administration know better. Instead of smoke and mirrors, they should use facts and figures, economics and analysis on a subject as serious as the nation's economic outlook.
Next on "GPS," the proposed wall on the Mexican border is just the start of the nationalism and isolationism that could be coming to this new America. The man behind it all, Steve Bannon -- we'll go inside his brain, when we come back -- really.
ZAKARIA: Conventional wisdom has it that there are two competing camps in the White House, the globalists, led by people like Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council; and then there are the nationalists, led by one man, really, Steve Bannon.
If you look at the major initiatives of the administration, from the Muslim travel ban to the Mexican border wall to pulling out of Paris, it would appear that the nationalists are the ones winning. Add to that the president's strongly nationalistic speech in Warsaw earlier this month, and it is quite obvious that Steve Bannon's side has the president's attention, at least for the moment.
My next guest, Joshua Green, has written a book explaining the rise of Bannon and how the president's chief strategist came to his worldview.
GREEN: It's good to be with you.
ZAKARIA: So the first question is, Bannon's worldview, as I see it, seems to dominate, even with the transgender ban. But Bannon has disappeared. Is that part of a strategy? I assume he recognized that the one thing you can't do in this administration is be more prominent or even anywhere close as prominent as the president.
GREEN: Exactly right. And I think he learned that the hard way because, in the early days of the administration, he was portrayed in popular culture and media as being this dark mastermind, this puppet- master, or "President Bannon," as "Saturday Night Live" called him. And as a White House adviser told me, Trump does not want to have a co-star, and especially not one who's believed to be pulling his puppet strings. So Bannon lost a bit of his influence then and I think understands that you can exert more influence and survive longer in Trump's circle if you're behind the scenes whispering in his ear instead of on TV at the White House podium trying to explain Trump's ever-evolving policies. ZAKARIA: So there's so much in the book, but I want to focus on one
piece, which is really this transformation, ideologically. The Republican Party used to be the party of free markets, free trade, openness. That was Reaganism; that was the kind of formula.
And Trump and Bannon, both in their various ways, realized that the base of the Republican Party was in a very different place. Do you think that Bannon came to his nationalist, protectionist, populist views slowly, suddenly?
What happened? This was a Goldman Sachs banker.
GREEN: I trace two strains in the book that I think led Bannon to his worldview. The first is that he had a deeply traditional Catholic upbringing. He went to a right-wing Catholic military academy, became fascinated with traditionalist intellectuals, including some of the nationalist thinkers of the 1930s and the 1940s, who tended to believe that the world was in decline, that the Western world was under assault by the forces of Islam, by the rise of secular modernity.
And I think the other thing is Bannon's own personal experience. He served in the Navy in the Persian Gulf during the failed rescue mission to rescue the American hostages. And Bannon...
ZAKARIA: This was under the Carter presidency?
GREEN: This was under Jimmy Carter's presidency. And Bannon was raised in a working-class, Irish Catholic, Democratic, pro-Kennedy family. So Bannon at the time was ostensibly a Democrat, but he described to me in interviews getting off the ship, taking shore leave in Pakistan and being horrified and worried by what he described as these teeming masses of young anti-American Muslims. And then watching the hostage crisis, he described the Middle East to me as being "primeval." He said it was like stepping back into the fifth century. And so I think that was the beginning, the roots of the Islamophobia that has characterized his politics and Trump's.
ZAKARIA: Trump seems to have understood, like a good salesman, during the campaign, that what people wanted to hear out in the -- on the hustings, the Republican base -- they didn't want to hear about Milton Friedman economics and free trade and, you know, entitlement reform, the kind of stuff Paul Ryan talks about. They wanted to hear about Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese people. So does he buy into the Bannon vision or is this just a convenient kind of a marriage of expediency?
GREEN: I think he does to an extent, but I think what -- what Trump sees in the Bannon vision is not a philosophy or an intellectual underpinning for Trump's own ideas. I think what he sees is a powerful and effective campaign slogan, the idea of America-first nationalism. Well, who could be against that?
And Trump, with his salesman skills, was able to distinguish himself from what Bannon, what Trump would consider the globalist, pro-free- trade, hawkish, orthodox Republicanism that characterized the views of the other 16 candidates, more or less, in the GOP election. I think what Trump did, and Bannon certainly helped this, was to
practice a kind of political arbitrage. He understood that the policies being offered and pushed by the Republican party leaders no longer met the needs of the party's white, working-class, increasingly rural and isolationist base, and took advantage of that in a way that exposed just how vulnerable the Republican Party really was.
ZAKARIA: What's striking to me about it is, you know, there's -- there's a few slogans about American elections. People often say the taller candidate always wins, which apparently is mostly true. But the other one is that the more optimistic candidate always wins.
And what Bannon's view of the world, whatever you may think of it, it's a very dark, pessimistic view of the word, as you say, a world in decline, a West in decline, you know, a kind of "you're surrounded; you're fighting to preserve the soul of -- of America." Is that where half the country now is?
GREEN: I think it is. And I -- I credit Bannon for being a shrewder analyst of both Democratic and Republican politics than anybody in Washington, certainly anybody in either of the major parties. He understood this kind of roiling anxiety and dissatisfaction that I think was masked by the booming stock market, by the fact that urban areas are doing very well, by the fact that an entire political and media class -- and I include myself in this indictment -- did not believe that Donald Trump could actually win the presidency and therefore didn't take it seriously until election night.
ZAKARIA: Josh Green, pleasure to have you on.
GREEN: Up next, from America's turn in to China's turn out, how Beijing is consolidating global power and influence as Washington loses it.
ZAKARIA: For thousands of years the world's most powerful and influential civilizations were not from the West but from the East. The East was where the money and the military might was. Now, after two centuries of Western military, economic and cultural domination, is the pendulum of global power swinging the other way?
That is the question that Gideon Rachman set out to answer in his fascinating book "Easternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline from Obama to Trump and Beyond." The author is the FT's chief foreign affairs columnist, and he sat down with me recently to discuss China and an Eastern renaissance.
ZAKARIA: Gideon, welcome.
ZAKARIA: What you do in the book is you describe how already, on the ground, foreign policy is changing; international politics is changing. And in particular, the rise of China has really transformed international politics, which used to be, for the last 20 or 30 years, you know, single-pole -- unipolar -- the United States running everything. China is now increasingly assertive, right?
RACHMAN: Yeah. I think it's -- it's both a phenomenon mainly in Asia, but also it has global ramifications. I mean, in Asia itself, particularly with the coming of Xi Jinping to power in 2012, you definitely get a more assertive China, a China that most obviously has started building these islands in the South China Sea to reinforce its very controversial claims there.
And this slightly confused reaction of the U.S. of how much can they push back told you something. China has got away with something, and everyone had, sort of, noted that.
But also, I found in my travels around the world -- because I've got this, sort of, global politics job, that people are beginning to, sort of, factor the rise of Asia, the rise of China, into their thinking.
So just to give you a couple of examples, in Turkey, which is a country which, for 100 years, has just seen its destiny as Europe, essentially -- they've begun to, sort of, re-think the way they look at the world and say, "Well, maybe Europe's not where it's at; maybe Asia is where it's at."
And even Russia, in their post-Crimea break with the West -- you talk to Russian intellectuals after that, they would say, "You know, maybe it was a mistake to think that we would converge with the West; we're in some ways an Asian nation as well." And they're looking to build a special relationship with a resurgent China.
So it's affecting the whole of global politics.
ZAKARIA: And you point out that even Western countries are much more aware of their Eastern destinies, so that Germany -- the largest trading partner for Germany now is not the United States but China.
RACHMAN: Absolutely. And I think that, you know, Merkel spends a lot of time going to China, cultivating that relationship. And what's happened in my own country, Brexit, with the decision to leave the E.U., was in a way justified by those arguing for it by saying, "Look, the idea that Europe's where it's at, that's over now. If we're going to make our destiny in the world economically, we're going to have to look to Asia and we're going to have to build special relationships with India and China because these are the markers of the future.
And there may be an element of delusion in that, but it's changing foreign policy. So the British are very reluctant to offend the Chinese. They literally laid out the red carpet for Xi Jinping. It's an -- it's an interesting inversion of the relationship because China dates its center of humiliation, which began in 1840, to a British invasion. And now it's the Brits who are having to, kind of, cultivate the Chinese.
ZAKARIA: Now, when somebody hears this against the backdrop of the Syrian strikes, the American strikes on Syria, will people say, "Well, wait a minute, but it certainly seems like the United States is still running the world"?
You point out that, you know, the United States can act in this completely unilateral fashion in the Middle East, and I think you were -- by implication you were wondering, could they do the same in Asia?
And I think we all wonder, were there to be an issue like this in North Korea, could the United States really act the way it did in Syria in North Korea? I wonder.
RACHMAN: Well, technically, of course, they could, but...
ZAKARIA: But, politically, would there be...
RACHMAN: I think, politically, not. And I think that, you know, we all say, "Well, of course America can't tolerate this; they might have to take out the North Korean nuclear program." I mean, even if that's technically militarily possible, there would be a problem with South Korea because one thinks instinctively of course the South Koreans would want that, but actually they don't because they're completely in the firing line for North Koreans to basically level the South Korean capital, Seoul.
And do you say to your ally, where you've got 35,000 troops on their soil, "Well, sorry, we've decided to get you into a war with your northern neighbor."
That would be difficult. And I'm not even sure the Japanese would want it, because they too are within range of North Korea's missiles already.
ZAKARIA: What does America look like in a world of Easternization?
RACHMAN: Well, you know, it's, I think, almost the single biggest question facing American strategically, particularly China. Do they say that we cannot tolerate another power dominating the Asia-Pacific; we never have and we never will, and we're prepared to risk a confrontation with China over that?
Or do they say tacitly, "Well, maybe, you know, we're dominant in our backyard; China can be dominant in their backyard, and we've got to come to some kind of great power accommodation." I don't think the Americans have decided that really. And maybe it will take some big international crisis to tell us which way America is going to go.
ZAKARIA: Pleasure to have you on.
RACHMAN: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: In the more than six months since he took office, President Trump could not have been more visible, dominating headlines just about every day. One country has had the opposite problem in recent months, and it brings me to my question. Which country's head of state has not set foot in his homeland in over two months: Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Nigeria or Syria? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
I don't have a book of the week today, but I do have something very exciting to tell you about, my latest documentary called "Why Trump Won." It will premier right here on CNN on Monday night at 10 p.m. Eastern on CNN and CNN International.
ZAKARIA (voice over): Trump's victory shocked the world, including me. So how did we all miss the signals?
(UNKNOWN): It is a collective failure...
(UNKNOWN): ... the most unbelievable thing that...
(UNKNOWN): The media were dead wrong.
(UNKNOWN): ... the numbers wrong; we didn't see this coming.
ZAKARIA: How in the world did he win? That's what I dig deep into in this new program, "Why Trump Won," 10 p.m. Eastern, Monday night, on CNN and CNN International.
The correct answer to my "GPS" challenge question is C. After entrusting his presidential powers to his deputy, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari left for London in May to seek treatment for an undisclosed medical condition. Last Sunday the Nigerian president's Twitter account published the first in a series of photographs of a smiling Buhari holding meetings in Britain's capital.
But those are the first official photos of the ailing leader in months. The president's health is a focus of intense speculation back home, and understandably so. As courts pointed out, a former Nigerian president died in office in 2010, shortly after taking months of medical leave in Saudi Arabia. His illness triggered a crisis over the transfer of power.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.