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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Interview with Larry Summers; Interview with Tom Donilon; Examining US Prison System; Military Personnel in the Trump White House; History of the Syria Conflict. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired April 8, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:13] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on show, the tussle over trade.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a problem with China.
ZAKARIA: Will the tit-for-tat between Beijing and Washington devolve into a trade war? Former Treasury secretary Larry Summers.
Then what to expect from John Bolton, the president's new National Security adviser, who reports for duty on Monday. I'll talk about it with Obama National Security adviser Tom Donilon.
And Bolton's predecessor was a general. So are true of his new colleagues. What does it mean to have so many military men in civilian posts? I'll talk to another former military man, Admiral Mike Mullen.
Also the Netherlands known for weed, windmills and prison reform. Why the Dutch have closed up many prisons and may shutter many more.
ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. Amidst the noise and turmoil coming out of the White House this week, including the crazy tweets about Amazon and Mexico, let's be honest. On one big fundamental point, Donald Trump is right. China is a trade cheat.
Many of the administration's economic documents have been laughably sketchy and amateurish, but the U.S. Trade representative's report to Congress on China's compliance with global trading rules is an exception worth reading. In measured prose and great detail it lays out the many ways that China has failed to enact promised economic reforms, backtracked on others and used formal and informal means to block foreign firms from competing in China's market.
All of which directly contradicts Beijing's commitments when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Washington approached China's entry into the world trading system no differently but with other countries that joined in the mid-20th Century. As countries were admitted into the system, the free world especially the U.S. opened up its markets to the new entrants, and those countries in turn lowered barriers to their markets.
That's how it went with kin nations such as Japan and South Korea. But there were two notable factors about these countries. They were relatively small compared with the size of the global economy and they also lead under the American security umbrella. Both factors meant that Washington and the West had leverage over new entrants.
South Korea had 30 million under GDP of $41 billion when it draw in the debt, the precursor to the WTO. Japan was larger with $90 million people and a GDP of under $800 billion. And then came China with 1.3 billion people and a GDP of $2.4 trillion when it joined the WTO in 2001.
The Chinese seemed to recognize that once they were in the system, the size of their market would ensure that every country would vie for access and that this would give them the ability to cheat without much fear of reprisal.
The scale and speed of China's integration into the world trading system was a seismic event. Economist David Autor has studied the impact of the so-called China shock and concludes that about a quarter of all manufacturing jobs lost in America between 1990 and 2007 could be explained by the deluge of Chinese imports.
Nothing on this scale has happened before. Look at the Chinese economy today. It has managed to block or curb the world's most advanced and successful technology companies from Google to Facebook to Amazon. Foreign banks often have to operate with local partners who had zero value. It's essentially a tax on foreign companies. Foreign manufacturers are forced to share their technology with local partners who then systematically reverse engineer some of the same products and compete against their partners.
And then there is cyber theft. The most extensive cyber warfare waged by a foreign power against in the United States is not done by Russia but by China. The targets are American companies whose secrets and intellectual property are then shared with Chinese competitors.
The Trump administration may not have chosen the wisest course forward, focusing on steel, slapping on tariffs, alienating key allies, working outside the WTO, but its frustration is understandable. Previous administrations exerted pressure privately, worked within the system and tried to get allies on board, all with limited results.
Getting tough on China is a case where I'm willing to give Trump's unconventional methods a try. Nothing else has really worked.
For more go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
[10:05:12] You heard what I have to say, now let's hear from someone who is an actual expert who played a central role in China's entry in to the world trading system.
Larry Summers was the 71st Treasury secretary of the United States, serving under President Clinton. He headed the National Economic Council for President Obama. He has also been president of Harvard University.
Welcome back, Larry.
LARRY SUMMERS, FORMER SECRETARY OF TREASURY 1999-2001: Good to be with you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: So isn't it fair to say that China has been taking advantage of the world trading system, been mercantilist, been protectionist, favored its own companies? Isn't that basic critique right?
SUMMERS: There are some truth in it. Certainly the rules in China that I very much like to see changed, but if you ask, have we benefited enormously from trade with China, the answer is yes. America -- we always talk about the real wages of American workers. All kinds of products are at much lower prices and that raises the spending power of American workers because of our ability to trade with China.
ZAKARIA: And --
SUMMERS: Large numbers of jobs have been created because of the opportunity to export to China. We have, with all the problems, had a much healthier diplomatic relationship with China because of the tremendous integration that has come because of trade. So the right way for us to be dealing with this is through global institutions, acting globally, because the kinds of issues that are legitimate are issues that the Europeans have, are issues the people in other parts of Asia have, and that's the approach we should be taking to China, not an approach of discarding all the world's mechanisms for dealing with trade disputes and making our own unilateral threats.
ZAKARIA: But people say those things take too long, they won't get the Chinese attention. You know, these kinds of things have been tried in the past.
SUMMERS: Don't be confused. China had a global trade surplus of 10 percent -- nearly 10 percent of GDP. They were exporting far, far more than they were importing five years ago. The world said that was a problem and that trade surplus is down by more than 80 percent.
The world said China had the wrong currency. China has spent a trillion dollars propping up its currency. Does that mean there are no problems left? Of course not. There are plenty of problems that need to be addressed. But the right way to address them is with the rest of the world having our back rather than driving the rest of the world to be on China's side, which makes it so much easier for China to resist us.
We have no evidence that this strategy as yet is going to produce results. What we know is that the tariffs that China is likely to impose will cost jobs of people who would otherwise have been involved in exporting to China, and probably even more important, what we know is that we're shooting ourselves in the foot because the China sells are inputs to American producers. Steel, for example. And when those input prices go up for America, and they don't go up for the rest of the world because we're taking a unilateral approach, the American producers are all at a disadvantage all over the world.
So this is a strategy that you see it in the reactions in the markets, that is hurting American producers in total and reducing their prospects and ultimately will reduce American jobs as well as profits. So yes, let's address world problems, but let's not do it alone with threats that we're already backing off of only a few days after having issued them.
ZAKARIA: I've got to ask you before I let you go about another stock market related thing. The president of the United States going after Amazon. First of all, is he right on the substance, and what do you think of the president singling out a company like Amazon as he has done with others in the past?
SUMMERS: Look, whenever a company is as large as Amazon, antitrust authorities should be paying attention. I have no reason to think that there's been an abuse, but I certainly haven't done an investigation and it's certainly the job to look for predatory pricing, to look for a variety of kinds of misbehavior. I have no evidence that those exist, but I have no proof that they do not exist. That's the job of serious technocrats to investigate.
What is not the job of the president of the United States is to go on a jihad against a company because he does not like the activities of a newspaper that is privately owned by its CEO.
[10:10:15] That is the kind of thing that happened in Mussolini's Italy. That is the kind of thing that happens in totalitarian countries. That is not the kind of thing that happens in the American democracy, and it is something that should be deeply concerning to business people everywhere because one company can be singled out in one moment and another company can be singled out at another moment.
The essence of the most successful countries in the world economically almost without exception is that they are governed by the rule of law. And if you look at the less successful companies, they are governed by the rule of deals, who can make a deal which is ever in power at the particular moment. And perhaps the most distressing, long run economic trend of the Trump administration is the shift in approach from the rule of law to the rule of deals. And that's what's behind this Amazon attack, that's what's behind a variety of the ad hoc tweets with respect to particular companies, and I think over time, that's a very serious thing.
ZAKARIA: Larry Summers, pleasure to have you on, as always.
SUMMERS: Good to be with you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, the president's new National Security adviser starts tomorrow. What can we expect from John Bolton? We will ask a former National Security adviser.
[10:16:04] ZAKARIA: He's been in office fewer than 450 days, but President Trump is about to welcome his third National Security adviser. First there was Michael Flynn, then H.R. McMaster, and now McMaster is gone, and on Monday John Bolton is supposed to begin.
During the George W. Bush administration, Bolton was undersecretary of State for arms control and then served as ambassador to the U.N. as a recess appointee. In recent years he has been a FOX News analyst. Through it all, he has a record and reputation of being excitedly hawkish. Now he will have the president's ear on all matters related to national security.
Bolton's new job is the same one my next guest held under President Obama. Tom Donilon was National Security adviser from 2010 to 2013.
Tom, you know the job better than almost anyone. What is it, do you think, that is driving these changes? What is -- what is Donald Trump unhappy about that he thinks changing this pivotal person, really the first person he talks to about National Security and the last person he talks to every day? Why is he doing it?
TOM DONILON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER 2010-2013: Fareed, there's been really unprecedented changeover during the first year- plus of the Trump administration. I think the turnover among senior jobs is about 50 percent. That's about three times the turnover in the Obama first year, year and a half, and many times the similar in terms of the previous administrations.
I think it seems to be a matter of his management style and the atmosphere in the White House. I don't think this level of instability is constructive. We're now having to start all over again with the National Security adviser's job. But I think it seems to be the president's approach to the job. But you do have a really unprecedented level of instability and turnover in these jobs more generally, not just the National Security adviser.
ZAKARIA: What makes a successful National Security adviser? How does he prevent himself from being kicked out of the job in the next few months?
DONILON: Yes. And I think it's very important for Ambassador Bolton to really consciously consider how he's going to approach the job. It's a key job in the government. It's not confirmed by the Senate. It's one of the most powerful jobs in the government. This person spends as much time with the president each day as anybody or any adviser in the government does.
The model, Fareed, I think that most have really followed in the last 25 or 30 years has been the model put in place by General Brent Scowcroft and Bob Gates as his deputy during the Bush 41 administration, and that model really is to view the National Security adviser as an adviser, a principal adviser to the president but also an honest broker and manager of an effective process and system within the government.
Your colleagues need to see the system as even as on the level, you as even-handed. You're aiming to get the president timely and well- informed decisions and options. And I'll tell you, as Dwight Eisenhower once said that a good process won't guarantee you a great outcome but a bad process almost will guarantee you a bad -- a bad outcome and indeed if you look at history, some of the biggest mistakes a government has made has been because this process really hasn't worked well.
The Iraq war I think is a good example. The swiftest job isn't, by the way, it isn't a policy advocate job in the public, it's not a television talking head job. It really is a job that brings together a team in the most coherent, effective way for the president.
ZAKARIA: So I look at some of the -- when I look at this almost bizarre incompetence of the administration, I wonder do you think a better process would have helped? So for example, they roll out a travel ban than then gets almost predictably wheeled back, limited by courts. Or they decide they want to go after China, which I think is a good idea, and then they go for steel tariffs, but it turns out of course that most of the steel importers -- we import from our allies, so they have to give exemptions to two-thirds of the people exporting steel to the United States. That's Canada, Mexico, Germany, South Korea.
[10:20:06] Wouldn't this have been predicted? I mean, couldn't they have thought this through before -- you know, every time they wheel something out, it gets some kind of predictable reaction, either legal or -- and then they wheel it back. Is that the sort of thing good process can avoid?
DONILON: That's exactly right. It was predictable you'd have issues there. The role of the National Security adviser and the role of the National Security process which was put in place beginning in 1947 with the National Security Act is to avoid exactly the kind of outcome, Fareed, that you're talking about.
It is meant to ensure that our president, before he makes a decision, as he's making a decision, has all the appropriate inputs into that decision, all the appropriate agencies, the perspectives. If you do it in a coherent way, if you're trying to anticipate problems, and most importantly, most importantly, and I would say this to my staff all the time. About 30 percent of the job is getting the right policy decision, about 70 percent of it is implementation, most importantly that you have an implementation plan.
I think in both the cases that you outlined, the travel ban at the beginning of the administration, and certainly a number of these decisions which have been taken with respect to China and economics, by the way, where there are real structural important issues, would have most assuredly been better decisions and implemented better and we would have had, you know, better achievement of U.S. interests.
ZAKARIA: You've written, Tom, about one particular issue which is Russia. And you point out, as many people do, that, you know, at the start of it, maybe at the heart of it, the president has to acknowledge that the Russians did interfere in our election process. But you point out there is actually a much bigger policy challenge, which is to make sure that the Russians don't do it again and that this is not going to be easy.
Outline very briefly what would it take to get -- you know, in some way to ensure, either deter or counter the 2018 interference?
DONILON: Yes. Fareed, I think that one of the most inexplicable parts of President Trump's foreign policy at this point is the refusal to acknowledge and criticize Russian hostile activity towards to the United States. The bottom line here is that we are now in an actively hostile posture with Russia. Russia is behaving contrary and directly attacking U.S. interests across the board. It is brazenly engaging in illegal activity and it can do the list from Crimea to Ukraine to really aiding and abetting war crimes in Syria, the poisoning some in the U.K., aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan.
We can go through the whole list, including election interference not just in the United States but also in Europe and maybe even in Mexico where we really do have an ideological contest under way, an effort by the Russians to really undermine the confidence of the West including the United States.
It needs a comprehensive approach. And there have been some steps taken, some sanctions, some that will go into effect this week, and with respect to additional oligarchs and members of the Russian government, it is not nearly enough, in my judgment, in order to deter Putin. I think you need to do at least the following things. We need to ensure that our election security, steps that we know we need to take, we allocated about $700 million for this in the last budget go- round, needs to be implemented.
We need to, I think, take additional sanctions in terms of sections of the Russian economy. The last NATO summit we had last year didn't even discuss Russia because I think our allies were afraid of offending President Trump. The principal goal of the July NATO summit needs to be Russia, and in my judgment, this is a broader discussion that we could have, I think we need to understand we're in an ideological competitive stage right here and we need to look very carefully I think at our civics education in the United States to understand and appreciate what this democracy means and why it needs to be protected.
ZAKARIA: We will get back to that. That is a big issue and we'll have you on to talk about it again. For now, Ted Donilon, pleasure to have you on.
DONILON: Thanks, Fareed. Nice to see you. Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, what the United States can learn from the Dutch about prison. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to lock more people up while Holland has so few inmates it is shutting down many of its prisons. "Global Lessons" when we return.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:28:05] ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. If you think the Trump administration is totally dysfunctional, think again. There are areas where it has been amazingly effective in implementing its agenda, nowhere more so than the criminal justice system.
Now you may recall that in recent years, many American politicians on both sides of the aisle have tried to reform America's criminal justice system with good reason. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 2.2 million locked up. Tens upon tens of thousands of them for relatively long periods for minor, nonviolent drug offenses.
On the left and right, most experts agree that the decades-old war on crime has failed abysmally creating a dysfunctional system that recently costs the country $80 billion in a single year. But not Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In fact, Sessions is introducing sentencing and drug directives that harken back to the worst days of the war on crime. He's even outmaneuvered the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner who has tried to push for criminal justice reform in the White House, the "New York Times" reports.
As the U.S. moves to lock people up, it might be worth looking at another rich country that has so few inmates, it is actually closing prisons. The government in the Netherlands closed 19 of nearly 60 prisons in the past several years, according to the "New York Times." 3,000 prison cells are expected to lie empty by 2021. The prison population decreased by half in a decade, going from a peak of more than 20,000 in 2006 to just over 10,000 in 2016.
So why is this happening? Well, embedded in the Dutch legal system is a deep pragmatism, says Rene van Swaaningen, a criminologist in Rotterdam, in an interview. No one wants to deal with the expense and the inconvenience of a ballooning prison population.
For years Dutch courts have done whatever they could to avoid prison sentences. The Vera Institute for Justice noted in a 2013 report that just 10 percent of convicts were sent to prison in the Netherlands in 2004. The rest had some combination of community service, probation and fines, which in the U.S. is often tacked onto prison sentences rather than offered in lieu of them.
Dutch courts also do whatever they can to avoid long sentences. In the U.S. federal prisoners, on average, stay more than three years. In the Netherlands inmates stay an average of just over three months. And unlike American prisons that seem designed to exact vengeance and destruction on their inmates, the Dutch system is built around bringing convicts back into society. That's why just 33 people are currently serving life sentences in Dutch prisons. That's 0.3 percent of the country's inmates, compared to 7 percent of U.S. inmates serving life sentences.
And none of this translated to an increase in crime. From 2007 to 2017 crime in the Netherlands reduced by nearly 39 percent. There's some evidence that this pragmatism was catching on. Forty years into America's failed approach to crime, the country seemed to be learning from its mistakes. During the Obama administration, prosecutors were encouraged to pursue lenient sentencing. For the first time in decades, the federal prison population went down. But Sessions speedily reversed the Obama-era guidance.
In a recent speech to police chiefs in Nashville, he complained about the slight reduction in the federal prison population.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: I mean, it's a factor, I think, in crime in our country. We've got some space to put some people, I've got to say to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: America has less than 5 percent of the world's population and more than 20 percent of the world's prisoners. The goal should not be to fill prisons but, in a responsible way, to empty them.
Next on "GPS," the generals in the people's house: what to make of all the military men in the Trump administration. I'll talk to an admiral about it, none other than Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: General Kelly.
(UNKNOWN): General John Kelly.
(UNKNOWN): General Kelly.
FOX NEWS ANCHOR CHRIS WALLACE: Retired Marine General John Kelly.
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: General John Kelly.
ZAKARIA (voice over): General Kelly, otherwise known as John Kelly, a retired Marine general and current White House chief of staff. Over at the Pentagon, there's James Mattis, a recently retired Marine general as well. U.S. law prohibits a military man from taking the job when in uniform or soon after retiring. The only other example was George Marshall 70 years ago, almost. Marshall was granted a specific congressional waiver, as was James Mattis.
And H.R. McMaster was a sitting lieutenant general of the U.S. Army during his brief tenure as the president's national security adviser. McMaster was, of course, preceded by Michael Flynn, also a retired lieutenant general.
So is this too many military men in the people's house? I asked retired admiral Michael Mullen. He was the U.S. military's
highest-ranking officer when he served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
(on camera): Admiral, there are a lot of people who look at the number of senior military people in the current administration and worry, not out of any dislike or disregard of the military, but it just feels like, you know, in a democracy one of the key cardinal features has always been civilian control of the military. Is there -- do you, as a military person, worry about this?
MULLEN: I worry a lot about it. And I think -- an untold number of people who have come up to me and told -- and basically said how comfortable they were with Secretary Mattis, with General Kelly, with General McMaster, you know, with this administration. I don't share that comfort. I -- and I think Jim Mattis has been extraordinary in terms of his ability to lead the Pentagon and certainly lead in what is a very chaotic administration in very, very challenging and dangerous times.
That said, what I worry about, over time, is that we -- to the degree we are active on the political side, if you will, without being a politician, without running for office, we actually undermine the institutions we care the most about, you know, the military that we all grew up in.
So I've worried about this for some time. One of the ways I've described it, I've been in countries where the generals and the admirals give the people, you know, great comfort, and those are not countries that -- that Americans would want to grow up on -- grow up in. It's much more a strong man's country than it is a democratic, open, free country, if you will. So it's something I've been extremely concerned about since the Trump administration came in.
ZAKARIA: So, and as you say, the core issue, it seems to me, is what you're (inaudible) about is military people who are meant to be really professional, impartial, becoming political actors. And you see that more than with anyone with General Kelly, who has -- who is not only his chief -- the present chief of staff but has played a political role in jumping into political disputes with Democratic congresswomen, things like that. That must have been particularly jarring for you?
MULLEN: It was. It was a hugely -- I guess jarring is a great way to describe it. Jim Mattis and John Kelly and H.R. McMaster are not politicians, but they're operating in this political world inside the White House, where I spent four years with two presidents. And it is a tough, difficult, political environment. And it is -- it can be very toxic, and it can destroy people. And we've seen that.
But to see John Kelly, and I'll be very specific, politicize, you know, the death of his son to support the political outcome for the president was very, very distressing to me but speaks to the -- speaks to the power of that environment, and quite frankly, to the lack of understanding that any of us in the military have about that environment until we get in it and have to operate in it. ZAKARIA: I have heard other senior military officers say the same thing about General Kelly. Do you -- do you think that -- I mean, should he really resign rather than play this role?
From your point of view, for the good of the institution of the military, do you think it really doesn't make sense to have a general as chief of staff? Because that's inherently a political position. He can't really play it without being political.
MULLEN: Yeah, I -- you know, I'm loath to give, you know, John Kelly advice. I honestly -- I know John Kelly well enough to know I honestly believe he really took this job for the good of the country. And while I haven't spoken with him in a long time, if I asked that question, I am certain that he would respond in the same way. He's doing this for the good of the country, and that's why he took it. And that's why he's still there.
I worry a great deal about, you know, his indirectly undermining us as a military, because I understand that environment. I understand that world. And it isn't -- and we are apolitical. And I get that, when we take our uniform off, we're citizens, but I think most people in America -- you know, he's referred to as General Kelly, not Mr. Kelly, for a reason, and he always will be and he should be. And there is a mix there of military and political that I think really starts to blur that line and undo the apolitical aspect of who we are as a military.
ZAKARIA: Admiral, pleasure to have you on.
MULLEN: Fareed, good to be with you.
ZAKARIA: Up next, seven years of war, more than 400,000 people dead, 12 million people displaced internally or externally, death and destruction everywhere. Now President Trump says he wants U.S. troops out of Syria, and he's asking the allies to pick up the slack. Will the war ever end? A haunting conversation, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And by the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: That was President Trump last week on Syria. He was said to have surprised his advisers by making the statement, but this week the administration doubled down, saying that U.S. military involvement in the war-torn nation is coming to a rapid end. What does that mean for the future of Syria and the region?
Joining me now is a brave reporter who was there from the start. Rania Abouzeid covered one of the first protests in Damascus all the way back in February 2011, before it was a war, and she hasn't stopped reporting. Her terrific new book is "No Turning Back: Life, Loss and Hope in Wartime Syria."
ABOUZEID: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: So tell me what is your sense of what would happen if the United States were to withdraw rapidly from Syria?
ABOUZEID: Well, to start with, it's a rather small contingent, only about 2,000 personnel. However, in terms of President Trump's assessment that he thinks that just because you have uprooted the Islamic State from the territory that it once controlled that somehow you have defeated the group, history tells us otherwise. This is not the first time that we have seen this group. It is, of course, the latest incarnation of a group that was formed in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003.
And history tells us that to uproot it isn't enough. You have to do more than clear it. You have to hold the territory, stabilize it and then try and build. So leaving after step one doesn't sound like a recipe to destroy the group.
ZAKARIA: And yet -- and yet we can't stay there forever, right? What do you say to an American who would listen to Donald Trump and say, "Look, he's right, I mean, you know, ultimately we can't just be there for -- indefinitely."
ABOUZEID: And to be fair, the Middle East is generally not a place that wants the U.S. to be in its neighborhood forever, either. However, his own U.S. -- the CENTCOM chief said -- I think he said, quote, "The hardest part is yet to come."
So, I mean, for people here in the Middle East, we're hearing very different messages out of -- from senior U.S. officials.
ZAKARIA: For all -- for all of us as well over here. Let me ask you, though, about the, sort of, the tragedy of Syria, which is, I mean, you talk in your book about how the extraordinary reality at some point that the United Nations simply stopped counting the dead. It was -- there were so many, it was so difficult.
ZAKARIA: How -- you know, at some level there is a kind of fatigue, almost, at the -- at the tragedy and the trauma, but how bad is it? Give us a sense of what things look like now.
ABOUZEID: Well, the U.N. stopped counting in mid-2013, and the figure that's often cited is at least half a million people, half a million deaths. But that figure has been static for years now. And just imagine that, in a country of 23 million people. Half a million people means half a million families, and every family is part of a community. It's a massive ripple effect across the country. Half of Syria -- half of the population of Syria has been displaced, either internally or externally. It is a -- a humanitarian crisis that is difficult to fathom.
ZAKARIA: You tell in your book a story of a nine-year-old girl. I want you to tell it briefly and get us up to date. Where is she now?
ABOUZEID: Readers first encounter the little girl -- her name is Ruha -- she was nine years old in 2011, and they first see her opening the door to a dawn military raid on her family home because the -- Assad's forces are storming the house looking for her father, who was a protester. And you see the raid and everything that happens in six years after that through the eyes of this little girl and her family. And you see how even children came to learn the sounds and the vocabulary of war, and how a little girl like Ruha absorbed what was happening around her and tried to understand it in her own way.
Ruha continues to live in Syria. She and her family were exiled for a number of years, but the draw to return to their hometown, return to their family, to return to their community, to return to a place that is so integral to their identity was such that her family returned in 2016 and they remain in their hometown in Idlib province.
ZAKARIA: Rania, pleasure to have you on.
ABOUZEID: Thank you so much.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," we'll look at an alarming trend, why many countries around the world are tearing up term limits and allowing their top officials to be "forever leaders," pushed out of office perhaps only by death. What you need to know about this, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Declining fertility rates in America have been making headlines in recent years, but some countries are in a far more dire situation when it comes to population renewal. And it brings me to my question. What country's fertility rate has declined to an all-time low of roughly one child per woman on average: Italy, Japan, South Korea or Portugal?
Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
My book of the week is Benjamin Carter Hett's "The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic." People forget that Weimar Germany was probably the world's most advanced country. How we went from there to the Nazis is a fascinating story that Hett tells, and it does have real lessons for today about the elites who either assisted or were complacent as Hitler destroyed German democracy.
And now for the last look. Last week some 20 million Egyptians came out to re-elect President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. This came just days after Russia's popular President Putin surprised no one with a landslide victory. In the end, Egyptian election officials say Sisi walked away with 97
percent of the vote to Putin's mere 77 percent. And now Sisi supporters will seek to change Egypt's constitution to allow him to remain in power past the current eight-year limit, as The Wall Street Journal reports.
Of course, abolishing term limits is hardly new. China did it just last month. And while some governments like Zimbabwe have added term limits, at least a dozen countries since the turn of the century have eliminated such laws to essentially grant their rulers lifetime leadership. Even democratic nations are experiencing a growth in support for, well, less than democratic institutions. Growing numbers of German, French and British voters, for instance, would approve of a strong-man leader unburdened by other politicians or elections.
But there is a bit of good news. Around the world, there are signs that people will reject such autocratic trends. Low turnout in Egypt was probably, in part, a protest over the conditions of democracy there. Uzbekistan, after decades as a brutal police state, released dozens of political prisoners and loosened press restrictions. And here at home it is strangely heartening to hear that the number of Americans who pine for a strong leader declined last year, after years of increases. But, according to the Voter Study Group, this trend, like many ideas in the U.S., divides strongly along partisan lines.
The answer to the "GPS" challenge question is C. South Korea's total fertility rate, the number of children a typical woman is projected to have in her lifetime nose-dived last year by over 10 percent, falling to 1.05. Deaths in South Korea outpaced births for the first time ever in December. The nation has a ministry dedicated in part to try to reverse the problem.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week, and I will see you next week.