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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS

US-Japan and Trump-Abe Relations Examined; Report on Poverty in America; Trump Brings America First to NATO, UK Meetings. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired July 15, 2018 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:17] 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.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: Today on the show, Mr. Trump goes to Europe. How did he do? First we'll tackle the NATO summit.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think what we have seen --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. You're just making Russia richer.

ZAKARIA: And the visits with the Queen and Prime Minister May. What did he accomplish? What did he disrupt?

Then Trump's next big meeting with Russian President Putin. What can we expect? Will the president get an artful deal or a bad one? I'll talk about it all with a terrific panel.

Also this week, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., wrote a scathing response to a United Nations report about poverty in America. Haley called the report patently ridiculous. I will talk to the author of that report, Phillip Alston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: But first here's my take. President Trump's trip to Europe has been portrayed by both him and his critics as revolutionary. He tells us that single handily and miraculously he got members of NATO to increase their defense spending sharply. His critics claim that single handedly he wrecked the Western alliance by sowing doubt and discord among America's closest supporters.

Neither assertion is really true. Trump's demands are in fact familiar American demands. President Obama routinely asked the same of NATO allies. Trump's loud charge against German this week that it has become too dependent on Russian natural gas does actually have considerable merit. The Germans have eagerly signed up for an energy relationship with Russia that is strategically dangerous.

Trump gets some of the dynamics wrong. It's not so much that by importing large amounts of natural gas from Russia, Berlin can be blackmailed. The Russians are equally dependent on German cash. But the new pipelines being built could allow Russia to threaten eastern European countries by withholding energy supplies or jacking up prices, and Moscow has used and abused this energy card in the past.

But again, Trump's complaint was often voiced by the Obama administration. And in neither of these cases is there any indication that Donald Trump's crude and aggressive approach has produced any results. The real revolution, however, in what Donald Trump is doing with his foreign policy, lies at home.

He is continuing with his project, by intent or instinct, to remake the Republican Party. His foreign policy appears to be designed to create a new Republican foreign policy that is actually much closer to the party's historical roots. Distrustful of foreigners, alliances, treaties, and in many senses, flatly isolationist.

In his rallies, Trump describes America's closest allies as our worst enemies and says they kill us on both security and trade.

Jonathan Chait writes in "New York" magazine that Trump is training his base to hate NATO and like Putin. Trump has been remarkably successful, 51 percent of Republicans now believe that the United States shouldn't defend NATO allies unless they increase defense spending. Even more astonishingly, Trump seems to have reversed Republican attitudes towards Russia completely and towards its dictator Vladimir Putin.

At a recent rally, Trump said --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know what, Putin's fine. He's fine. We're all fine. We're people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Republicans are now twice as likely as Democrats to express a favorable opinion of Putin. And 56 percent want to cooperate and engage more with Russia.

The Republican Party has proved remarkably malleable ideologically. The party of law and order now has deep distrust for the FBI. The party of free trade is now far more solidly behind protectionism than the Democrats. The party that celebrated Ronald Reagan's optimism about immigrants now contains a majority that supports separating families at the border and criminally prosecuting undocumented immigrants.

Trump's political genius continues to be that he recognizes that the base of the Republican Party is ripe for this ideological revolution, that while the old Reaganite formulas may still be subscribed to by Republican elites in Washington and New York, it is not embraced out there in the grassroots.

[10:05:03] Five years ago, one establishment Republican wrote, "The specter of isolationism is stalking the Republican Party. It is hardly certain that isolationist sentiment will prevail. But it is critical that national security Republicans can answer the questions being raised, restore a coherent party platform, and thereby thwart the new isolationism."

Those words were written by John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser. It seems that even the most stalwart national security Republicans have an accommodated themselves to the Trump revolution.

For more, go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column for this week. And let's get started.

Let's get right into the discussion of Trump's trip to NATO and the UK. Joining me now are a Brit, a Frenchman, a German, and an American. John Micklethwait is the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg. Bernard-Henri Levy is a French writer and philosopher. Tanit Koch is a former editor-in-chief of Bild, the German newspaper, and Anne Applebaum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post."

Anne, let me start with you. You're an American who spent many, many years in London and has a house in Poland. What do you think -- you know, what's the headline from Trump's European tour so far?

ANNE APPLEBAUM, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: I think the headline is this is a president who confuses Europeans and leaves them with a very weird choice. Should they believe that the reason he's talking about increasing their spending on defense is that because he cares about their defense, or is he creating chaos around NATO and around other Western institutions with the desire to break them up?

Increasingly most people here, and by here I mean in Poland but also in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, feel that he's acting like a wrecking ball. He's seeking to wreck NATO, he's seeking to wreck the European Union. In Britain he's seeking to wreck the old American special relationship with the UK. He doesn't seem to have anything positive to contribute to Europe. All of his actions and all of his speech, and all of his body language is negative. And that's left people really scrambling to figure out what they're going to be doing next.

ZAKARIA: Bernard-Henri Levy, when you listen to that, Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, thought he had found a way to kind of manage Donald Trump, to flatter him. So did Theresa May, for that matter. Does it feel like -- does it feel to you like that hasn't quite worked?

BERNARD-HENRI LEVY, PHILOSOPHER, WRITER AND FILMMAKER: I think it was. Really Emmanuel Macron dreamt that. It was a mistake. You cannot drive and cultivate such a big baby as the one which was in the sky of London. Very difficult to do that.

No, what happens today is very sad for America, number one, that is losing part of its credibility, when you have an ally and when you say to the rest of the world that this alliance might be worth nothing, is bad for you, America, is very bad for the West in general, which is losing consistency and substance.

What we used to call a few years ago still, the West, is collapsing. And it is good for Mr. Putin and a few other autocrats in the world who are -- who feel so reinforced in their dream to crush and to destroy and to destabilize Europe and the West. So you can consider it the way you want. It's a pure disaster.

ZAKARIA: Tanit, let me ask you about the Germans, because President Trump had some very tough words directed at Germany, at Angela Merkel, at the pipeline deal with Russia. How did Germany take that? I notice the foreign minister bristled and said we are not a vassal of Russia but neither are we a vassal of the United States.

You know, it sort of suggested that when you push like this, you're going to get some pushback from European countries.

TANIT KOCH, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BILD: Definitely. And you see Germany has a feeling that it's constantly being picked on by the United States, especially by Donald Trump, for trade. You remember he's constantly talking about German cars on American streets, apparently forgetting that BMW has the biggest plant worldwide, the biggest factory for cars in South Carolina.

[10:10:02] So there is a growing sort of sentiment of being bullied. And it's quite obvious that he's trying to cater to his own electorate, his own voters. But he's not going to bully any government, any head of state, into making a deal because those heads of states, Angela Merkel, other leaders of European countries, have self-respect and they're not going to go home to their own electorate and tell them I've just been strong armed into a deal by the bully who is U.S. president.

ZAKARIA: John, put this all in perspective for us. Theresa May also tried, she's courted Trump assiduously, she gave him a black tie dinner at Blenheim, she praised him to the sky, she was the first foreign leader to visit Trump when he got elected, and he gave her what the political editor of "The Sun" described as a hand grenade wrapped in a newspaper interview or something like that.

JOHN MICKLETHWAIT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BLOOMBERG: Also known as a (INAUDIBLE) kiss. I think what's going on at the moment is that two things. One is that Trump, whether we like it or not, is emerging as a sort of figure of consequence in policy. The things he's doing are making a difference. They made a difference in Asia, they made a difference in the Middle East. And now they're making a difference in Europe.

The other thing is he throws leaders into discombobulation. You've seen it with Merkel, you -- I think Bernard is exactly right about Macron. But you look at Theresa May, she's had this nightmare week. And at the very end of it, Donald Trump arrives. And even when she thinks she's got him tied down at Blenheim, sitting beside her, this article is coming out of "The Sun," he's back on totally different, saying that it's all fine, he likes her again. And then he's off to the Queen. But it is -- it is in a sense this very difficult thing where this guy

has come in and just on the purely personal level, these people do not know how to deal with him. Merkel, an extremely skilled person, Theresa May has less skills in those departments but she seems unable really to be able to know which way he's going to go.

ZAKARIA: All right. Stay with us. Next, we're going to talk about what Trump said about immigration in Europe. He called it a very negative thing. It is changing the culture. I want to know what people think of Trump weighing in on that and broader European politics, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:16:32] ZAKARIA: And we are back with our John Micklethwait, Bernard-Henri Levy, Tanit Koch, and Anne Applebaum.

Bernard, let me ask you, when Trump talked about European immigration in these kind of dark tones, he was essentially echoing the kind of arguments made by the National Front, by some of the right-wing groups in Germany and in northern Europe. And it seemed to me, it must be very unhelpful to the mainstream political parties that have been trying to integrate Europe because Europe, after all, has as many foreign-born people now as the United States. It is already an immigrant society. And this is not something that can be reversed at this point, can it?

LEVY: Of course not. It's number one complicated stupid and complicated crazy. It does not work this way. And any American citizen knows what immigration means and how a society can be, if it well-regulated, enriched by immigration. And number two, these sort of speeches of National Front in France, of Orban in Hungary and so on, only increases the fire, the flame in the brain. It puts -- it does more fire and (INAUDIBLE) in the brains of the citizens. So Donald Trump is playing with a matchbox in Europe. And this is another way to destabilize and to -- Europe, as I said before, about Putin.

ZAKARIA: Tanit, well, this is -- it seemed even though he didn't this time mention Merkel by name, he has previously described what Merkel did with regard to taking refugees in as a disaster, as a horrible mistake. Merkel has still been paying for that decision. So, again, this must not have come as a welcome surprise to Angela Merkel or her party, to have this assault on immigration come from the American president.

KOCH: No, but I think by now everybody is actually used to those assaults. The problem is, and it's the same with Donald Trump talking about Germany not spending enough on its military budget, which is partly true, that of course Germany is tackling a massive problem due to the refugee crisis, but even before that, the system was flawed for I would say at least a decade. And the whole unrest that was within the population only sort of came to the surface during the refugee crisis. And of course mistakes have been made.

On the other hand, Germany has millions of immigrants who helped not just the economy but also the culture is fine. And to have sort of interference from abroad, we're normally used to sort of Vladimir Putin causing confusion unrest and controversy. We're not really used to that coming from our actually closest ally, which is the United States.

ZAKARIA: John, that is part of the puzzlement here is the president is interfering in domestic politics of other countries. It's rarely done. I think that if other leaders were to start doing the same to him, he would be appalled.

MICKLETHWAIT: He would be upset.

[10:20:05] ZAKARIA: Do you think that -- you know, is this something people are just going to have to get used to? Is it the new normal? Is Trump this kind of authentic new political animal who just says what he wants? Or is this going to be a bizarre aberration and we're just going to go back to normal?

MICKLETHWAIT: I think it's probably an aberration. But we don't know. Overseas, Trump again is breaking all the standard rules. You know, Merkel and May would never dream of interfering in each other's politics unless that was -- they would apologize if they did it. Again, he's trampling over that. But the fact that he's sort of succeeding, again whether we like it or not, he is having an effect in Germany. The fact that he's talked about immigration, he's having an effect in terms of what he said about NATO. That is at least - the possibility is there that he is changing something and more people might be encouraged to do this.

ZAKARIA: Anne, what I'm puzzled by is what is the purpose of it? Because it doesn't seem to serve America's strategic interests to undermine Prime Minister May, to undermine Chancellor Merkel. So there seems only two possibilities, one is he's speaking to his base at home and it's really much more about that. And the second is that, you know, the darker view which is there is actually an intention here to disrupt the Western alliance. Is that too dark?

APPLEBAUM: I think you've put your finger on what's exactly so confusing about him and the reason why he's so hard to understand. He's not acting in America's interests. He's not coming to Europe to speak for the United States. He's not doing good for American business or for American tourists or for anything else, really, about the United States, and certainly not for American security. He seems to be acting in his own interests.

And second of all, he seems to be speaking to the people who he defines as his base, who like this divisive language and who like him talking about immigration and who like the emotional charge that a discussion of immigration and the implications of racism, of white supremacism, of hatred towards one part of society over another, that seems to be what he's doing.

Your second point about whether he's actually trying to break up these institutions, it seems to me that he's toying with that idea. He certainly has some people around him who want to break up the EU, who want to break up NATO. Certainly John Bolton is somebody who is very anti-EU, very anti-international organizations, Steve Miller and others.

I'm not sure that Trump really understands these institutions. He doesn't know that much about them, he doesn't know how they work. But for the moment, the charge he gets, both personally and politically, out of creating havoc and chaos seem to me to be what he's really aiming for.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us because we've got to talk about the next big meeting. Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin one-on-one. What can we expect? I will ask the panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:26:56] ZAKARIA: On Monday, President Trump and President Putin will meet at a summit in Helsinki, Finland. The two men will begin their meeting by talking mano-a-mano without any aides around them, according to CNN sources.

Trump said before departing for Europe that of all of his meetings on this trip, the NATO, Prime Minister May, the Queen, the Putin one might be the easiest. When later asked if Putin was a friend or a foe, Trump said he couldn't really say. Then on Friday, 12 Russian military officers were indicted for hacking the DNC by Robert Mueller.

So what to expect from the Trump-Putin meeting?

Joining me again, our Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, the former editor-in-chief of Bild Tanit Koch and "Washington Post" columnist Anne Applebaum.

John, you've just spent some time in St. Petersburg with Putin. Putin thinks very strategically and very rationally. Do you think he understands what to make of Trump?

MICKLETHWAIT: I think Putin is some who -- he looks at everybody and examines their strengths and weaknesses. There is a weird sort of connection with Trump. I think Trump does the same thing in a very emotional way. Trump is a little bit like the schoolyard bully who comes in and finds somebody to go for. Putin thinks much more rationally. He thinks this is the weak spot for Merkel, I will push. And I think now this new thing, particularly what's happened with the indictment, that puts Putin in a slightly awkward position.

Because what's happened throughout all this, he has roughly the same motive as Trump. He wants to make Russia great again. He's keen on destabilizing the areas around him, getting (INAUDIBLE). But he also wants to be able to be part of the conversation. He doesn't want it just to be about hacking and about the things that his people have done. And so he's now going to find Trump in a somewhat defensive, strange position.

I think it's going to be quite a complicated meeting for both people. And Putin may be better at that complication than Trump is.

ZAKARIA: Tanit, when you look at the situation, again, from Germany's point of view, Trump is accusing Germany of being soft on the Russians, but it's the Germans who have put in some pretty tough sanctions and maintained them. Do you think that Angela Merkel is worried that Trump will give away too much with Putin? Do you think that -- do Europeans, do Germans worry that there is some strange connection between Trump and Putin?

KOCH: I think there is reason for concern. But first of all, it's also great that actually the U.S. president and the Russian president are talking. It just depends on what they're talking about and what the outcome will be. So the reason for concern is maybe not so much for Germany but for the Baltic states, for Ukraine, will the U.S. president actually be tough on Crimea, on Russians still being interfering in the east of Ukraine.

And from all I've heard from President Trump so far, you cannot be sure that he's taking a stance that is actually helpful from a European perspective.

ZAKARIA: And Anne, the point Tanit makes is an important one. When we think about Europe's problems with Trump, we often think of Western European countries, Britain, France, Germany, but the real nervousness I sense is in Eastern Europe, Poland, the Baltic Republics,Crimea and Ukraine. What does it feel like in Poland, where you right now?

APPLEBAUM: Well, one of the reasons you don't hear much criticism of Trump here in Poland, but also in this region, is partly because people are afraid. They are afraid of a resurgent Russia. They're afraid of what that means not just militarily but in terms of economics, in terms of corruption. Not so much in Poland but in some neighboring countries, Russian political influence is very strong.

People were -- have been counting for many years on the United States as an important piece of -- not just really as a member of NATO, but also as a spokesman for democracy, as a spokesman for liberal institutions that could push back against Russian corruption and against the Russian political system. They were hoping for support from the United States. And now, of course, people are very afraid that they are not getting it.

I mean, it's important to remember what the United States has stood for in this part of the world for so many years, for democracy, for human rights, for an idea of security, for an idea of stability, for an ideal of economic progress and economic freedom. And to suddenly have the United States appear to be doing some kind of strange deal with the country that stands for the opposite of all things really frightens people.

I mean, you know, the Russian relationship with Trump is one of the deepest mysteries of this presidency. It's one of the oddest things about Trump. This is the -- Putin is the one world leader who he never criticizes. He'll criticize his allies. He'll criticize Xi Jinping. He'll criticize his allies in Congress. But he will not criticize Putin. And it may be that we'll learn something from this meeting about why that is, or it may be that we won't, and that will simply increase the sense of paranoia in this part of the world.

ZAKARIA: Bernard-Henri Levy, this point about values seems to me an interesting one, which is that the United States has tried to lead in certain ways with regard to human rights, democracy, liberty, not always practicing what it preached, but at least preaching it.

What about a West without a moral leader, Bernard? Where does that leave the West?

LEVY: This is the most sad part of the story. America has been, since decades, the moral leader of the world, the shining city upon the hill. This is how American Pilgrim fathers conceived their country. This is how most of the Americans today still conceive their country, as a shining city, showing the path to democracy, embodying liberal values and so on.

So the shining city is now switching off like a light which goes out. And it is true that it leaves the world, the rest of the world, and Europe, sort of, orphaned. The West without America cannot be the West. The democracy without the American example and leadership cannot be democracy. And this is a great source of distress for all of us, Americans and Europeans.

ZAKARIA: We will have to let that be the last word, Bernard.

Thank you all very much for a fascinating conversation, from very different parts of Europe and of course the United States.

Next on "GPS," how is a world leader supposed to act in the age of Trump? Well, I would suggest that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has perhaps figured it out best. I'll explain when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. Another week, another American alliance is in trouble. This time it was NATO's turn as target. Last month it was Canada at the G-7. Before that, Trump had alienated a host of friendly countries with steel and aluminum tariffs.

But if America's allies are panicking at Trump's hostility, there is one leader who at least for now appears remarkably calm, Japan's Shinzo Abe. Around the G-7, while Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel shot back at Trump, the Japanese prime minister was aloof, criticizing protectionism generally.

It's not that Abe isn't nervous. If Trump goes ahead with automobile tariffs, Japan could be hit hard, and Abe has spoken out about these tariffs. But it appears that Prime Minister Abe is playing out a shrewd strategy marked by a deep pragmatism: keep Trump close and figure out a contingency plan in case of disaster.

The first part has been going on for some time. Abe was the first foreign leader to call on the president-elect at Trump Tower after the 2016 election. He presented Trump with a gold-plated golf club worth about $4,000. They've had dozens of conversations since, Reuters notes. The upshot?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: We have a very, very good bond, very, very good chemistry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: But that's just the boss. What's really interesting is Abe's newfound leadership on multilateral agreements without his American counterpart. Let's start with trade. Japan was once dragged into a massive free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, by Washington, a rather familiar dynamic for the two countries.

Trump, as promised, abandoned the TPP as soon as he entered office. But then Japan, surprising everyone, saved the deal minus America. That the agreement was signed by the 11 remaining countries in March of this year was a huge victory for Abe and his negotiators.

In Japan's parliament earlier this year, Abe sounded remarkably like an American president, saying, quote, "I will spread to the world a 21st Century economic order based on free and fair rules," according to The Wall Street Journal. He'll continue that trend later this week when he and European Union leaders are expected to sign another trade deal which would result in one of the biggest trade blocs in the world.

These agreements are not just about money. They are about knitting the countries together to provide strength in the face of aggressors, the liberal world order Trump himself seems determined to erode.

Japan needs these ties now more than ever before, amid fears of North Korean provocations, threats that Trump will suspend military exercises in the region and of course an increasingly dominant China. Perhaps that's why Abe is ramping up defense spending and working on security ties beyond those with the United States.

Japan and France are engaged in a dialogue involving shared military cooperation. The United Kingdom announced that British troops will go to Japan later this year to carry out joint exercises, a first for non-American troops.

There is clearly a sense in Tokyo that Japan can no longer rely on the United States alone to bring it into the Western alliance, and it is forging its relationships on its own, says Takako Hikotani, a professor of Japanese politics at Columbia University.

Abe is hoping for the best, that the U.S. will recommit to its alliances in the region in trade and security, but he is planning for the worst. Along the way he is breaking decades of patterns of Japanese post-War passivity and shepherding his country toward a new kind of dynamism.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Philip Alston spent two weeks touring the United States last December, but he wasn't hitting the tourist hotspots. Instead he visited places like Skid Row in Los Angeles, Appalachia and Puerto Rico, places where poverty and homelessness are rampant. He conducted his tour in order to write a report on whether poverty in America undermines human rights here. And he did so under the auspices of the United Nations, where he is the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Alston says the Trump administration facilitated his visit. However, the response from the White House since then has been scathing.

Last month Alston published his final report. We'll get to the conclusions in a moment. But first let me read to you what U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley wrote this week in National Review. "It is patently ridiculous for the U.N. to spend its scarce resources studying poverty in the wealthiest country in the world, a country where the vast majority is not in poverty and where public and private sector social safety nets are firmly in place to help those who are."

Joining me now is the author of that U.N. report, Philip Alston.

Pleasure to have you on, sir.

ALSTON: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: So explain first why you decided to take on this assignment and what the -- what the objective was?

ALSTON: Well, my role in advising the U.N. Human Rights Council is to visit a number of countries each year. I most recently went to countries like China and Saudi Arabia, for example. It seemed to me that the United States has a very major influence on issues of policy relating to poverty and human rights, and it was an ideal time to undertake a visit.

ZAKARIA: And when you went, did you -- were you surprised by what you started to discover or were you already aware of some of the problems? How would you describe your journey?

ALSTON: I knew basically what I was going to find. But the contrasts that one actually comes across in a place like Skid Row in Los Angeles; in Appalachia and so on; in Puerto Rico, of course, the poorest non-state in the union -- those contrasts are really dramatic.

And when you consider the statistics, which I think was the really important thing, the starting point for the Trump administration was that it inherited the most unequal society in the West, and it inherited 40 million people living in poverty. But while I was there, it was very busily putting in place policies that seemed to be deliberately designed to exacerbate both of those problems.

ZAKARIA: And explain, if you will, just the problem even before the Trump administration, that is, kind of, the more generic problem in the United States, which, as you say, 40 million people living in poverty. This is unlike any other really rich country in the world. In other words, if you looked at the world's richest countries, the OECD countries, certainly the top half of them, this level and extent of poverty is quite unusual.

ALSTON: The United States is a champion. It comes close to the top on almost all of the bad indicators. So whether it's child poverty, whether it's number of people in prison, whether it's the health outcomes, whether it's healthy life expectancy, the United States does extremely badly. And yet, as Nikki Haley said, it's one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

ZAKARIA: And in a sense what you're -- what you're highlighting is that contrast, which is, despite the fact that it is one of the richest countries in the world, by some measures the richest country in the world, it has these -- and it's not just fair to call them pockets, right, these are -- these are large pools of extreme poverty?

ALSTON: You've got 40 million Americans living in poverty. That's a very large percentage of the -- it's something like 14 percent of the population. That -- in most countries that I visit, the justification that's offered is that the government simply can't afford to offer more generous benefits to provide decent health care, to provide decent education, child care and so on. They just don't have the money. But in the United States, where the Congress was busily finding $1.5 trillion for tax cuts for the wealthy, that clearly is not the explanation.

And so what it seemed to me was that there is really an ideological push behind this effort to stigmatize the poor, to announce that a lot of the programs are going to be very significantly cut, and effectively that they have to fend for themselves.

ZAKARIA: Were you surprised by Nikki Haley's response, given that the administration had cooperated with your visit?

ALSTON: Ambassador Haley's response was very strange, because, apart from saying that my report was biased and I got all my statistics wrong and so on, but never specifying what those were, she essentially said that the United Nations should focus all of its time on countries like Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo because that's where real human rights violations are taking place. But as she knows, the whole focus of the U.N. program is on countries like China, Russia, Australia, where I come from, which has major problems with turning away asylum seekers in ways that violate international law. The whole notion of human rights accountability is that it applies to all countries.

ZAKARIA: Philip Alston, pleasure to have you on, sir.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Since President Trump came to office, his administration has been working hard to roll back environmental regulations in the United States. But other nations are taking drastic measures to actually crack down on pollution.

It brings me to my question. What country said it detained nearly 500 officials for violating environment protection laws? Was it China, Canada, Costa Rica, or Russia? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

My book of the week is Jim and Deborah Fallows' book "Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey Into the Heart of America." Tom Friedman said in a recent column, "If you want to be an optimist about America, stand on your head. The country looks so much better from the bottom up."

Well, that's exactly what the married writers Deb and Jim Fallows did. They took off in their single-engine plane and looked at America's small towns, its people, its heart. And what they found was a surprising amount of dynamism and optimism. If you are grim about America these days, read this book.

And now for the last look. If current trends continue, there will be 13 billion tons of plastic waste polluting the planet by 2050. Well, Starbucks announced this week it will take steps to help with this staggering problem by phasing out plastic straws. This came after the company's hometown of Seattle went strawless, banning single-use plastic straws and utensils.

And halfway across the world, an unlikely group is doing its part to save the environment, too, Al-Shabaab. Yes, I'm talking about the Al Qaida-backed terrorist group based in the Horn of Africa. On the 29th of June, one of the group's governors announced a ban on plastic bags for the entire Somali region of Jubaland, according to a statement Al- Shabaab released to CNN.

The group's media officer told CNN that Al-Shabaab governors said, quote, "Plastic bags are a threat to humans and livestock. Any person breaking the law has to be arrested and brought to the Islamic court," unquote.

Our sources in Somalia tell us there was little news coverage as this was generally taken by the public to be a joke. In fact, the Somali government called it "a P.R. stunt." The terror group's apparent interest in human welfare is, of course, ironic. It has actually spread death and destruction across the region. Just last week, Al- Shabaab claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on Somalia's interior ministry that killed 12 and injured 19.

The answer to my "GPS" challenge question this week is A. China's environment ministry says 464 officials have been detained for violating environmental regulations, according to Chinese state media. It's all part of the central government's crackdown on pollution, now in its fifth year, yet another area where, as American leadership recedes, China fills the vacuum.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.