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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Panel Discusses President Obama's First Year in Office; Interview With Military Expert Tom Ricks

Aired January 03, 2010 - 13:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

Today, a mix of the new and the old. I wanted to show you again a few terrific panels we've done, and also some new material of particular interest.

Now, in 16 days, President Barack Obama will have been leading the United States for exactly one year. The year was filled with challenges -- Afghanistan, Iraq, the economy, health care. How did he meet those challenges?

We spoke back in November with an extraordinary panel of eminent historians -- Peggy Noonan, Walter Isaacson, Robert Caro and Nell Irvin Painter. It was a terrific conversation. So, I thought it was important to bring it to you again, now, as we look back at the president's first year.

Also on the show, a battle you might never have heard of, the Battle of Wanat. But if you care about the U.S.'s involvement in Afghanistan, you'll want to learn all about it. Many say it encapsulated many of the problems that America faces in the world at large.

The best military reporter, military expert in the country, Tom Ricks, joins me to tell you all about it.

And while much of the focus of the nation and this show is on the hotspots around the world, what about the rest of the world? We'll talk with the famous international writer and scholar, Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore, to get a very different perspective on the world.

Let's get started.


ZAKARIA: All day long on cable news talk shows we hear about how President Obama is doing. On Fox, some say he's a socialist who's trying to indoctrinate our children, even as he mortgages their future. On MSNBC he is the lonely hero, fighting to give help to the sick, employ the jobless and end racism in our time. And here on CNN, well, I won't say an answer today. I wanted to see if we could get some of a clear-eyed look at what kind of a president he really is, and what kind of a world he faces. So I've gathered a panel of talented historians and writers -- people who know greatness and the lack thereof when they see it -- to help me accomplish this mission.

Walter Isaacson has written terrific biographies of Ben Franklin and Henry Kissinger, among others.

Robert Caro has won two Pulitzer Prizes, along with numerous other awards. He's the author of the amazing three-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson -- three volumes so far.

Peggy Noonan was Ronald Reagan's chief speech writer. She wrote many of his most memorable words, and then, a terrific book about those years, "What I Saw at the Revolution."

Nell Painter is a Princeton University historian, and author of, among other books, "Creating Black Americans," a history of African Americans over the last 400 years.

Welcome to all of you. That was quite a mouthful.

Peggy, when you were in the White House with Ronald Reagan, at the end of the first year I think people would have talked about optimism, confidence, things like that. What do you think people will say with this first year?

PEGGY NOONAN, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think this first year of Obama, I think history will probably look back on it as an attempt to change the face of America in the world -- which, so far, appears to be a good beginning -- coupled with, I think, a serious domestic misstep with regard to focusing on certain issues that were not the great issues the American people were focused on when the Great Recession really sunk in.

ZAKARIA: But internationally, if I read your column right, you've been quite supportive of his change of tone.

NOONAN: Yes, I think it was needed. I think bringing a new face -- literally and figuratively -- of American foreign policy to the world was a good thing. And I think his basic approach of what I would call friendliness -- not an apology tour, but a sort of expansive approach of no nation does everything right, we haven't done everything right, but we certainly would like to have progress between us in the future -- I think that's pretty good. As I say, domestically, I think less so.

WALTER ISAACSON, THE ASPEN INSTITUTE: Well, no. I think, first of all, you have to say the big thing we're going to remember about the first year of the presidency of Obama was that, exactly a year ago, you know, my wife was walking around to various banks buying CDs, because we were all afraid the entire financial system would collapse. Lehman Brothers, AIG had collapsed. We thought everything was going to go off of a cliff. That didn't happen. We had, yes, you know, a stimulus, and maybe a budget you think may have been too larded by the committees in Congress, but the entire saving of the financial system was huge.

I do think, when you're in a recession, it's a great time to tackle the unmet social net issue of our time, which is health care.

The fact that most Americans are insecure, and fear, if they lose their job, they're not going to have health insurance, this is big. It has to be tackled. And the fact that he's gotten it past the 80 yard -- I mean, you know, down the field 80 yards so far is pretty amazing.

ZAKARIA: But isn't it fair to say that it is more than Americans might have bargained for when they elected him? I mean, it is something no Democratic president has been able to get passed in...

ISAACSON: Sure. I was on this show not too long ago with Peggy Noonan. And we were worried that he was trying to do too many different things. And I said on this show...

NOONAN: No, I was worried that he was trying to do too many...

ISAACSON: No, you were. No, but I...

NOONAN: You were defending him and saying, no, it was all genius.

ISAACSON: No, I felt that...

NOONAN: Oh, yes, you were.

ISAACSON: ... health care was the thing that you really had to push. I frankly did not think cap-and-trade and climate were things you should do in the first year of what could have been a Great Recession.

But I felt it was a time he needed to do health care. And I do think he's honed his focus in on that. I think it's a good thing.

NOONAN: I don't think people are afraid they'll lose their job and lose their health care. They're afraid they're going to lose their job. That is the emphasis. It is unemployment. It's high taxes, high spending. It's money.

It's not these secondary issues.

ZAKARIA: What do you think, Nell?

NELL IRVIN PAINTER, AUTHOR, "CREATING BLACK AMERICANS": I was just saying, it's not either-or. It's not either I'm going to lose my job, or I'm going to lose my health care, but people are worried about both at the same time.

And over and over, I keep reading about people who have lost their jobs and, therefore, lost their health care. ZAKARIA: Bob, you know, this discussion inevitably, actually, brings us back to Lyndon Johnson. Because the president who...



ZAKARIA: ... no, but it's often claimed -- who over-read his mandate, tried to do too much, and particularly tried to push the American system too far left, too much in favor of big government was Lyndon Johnson. And it produced this great conservative backlash.

How do you think about it?

ROBERT CARO, AUTHOR, "THE YEARS OF LYNDON JOHNSON": Well, I'd read it a little differently. I would say we have two presidents here, both of whom wanted to transform America. They both wanted to make America a different place.

Johnson, you know, was succeeding to a remarkable extent until he lost track of it in Vietnam.

If we look, in July 1965, he's doing two things. He has gotten through the Voting Rights Act. "We shall overcome," he said. He gets through this act in a just -- I'm writing about it in a book I have now -- it's marvelous to watch him get this bill through the Senate, vote by vote. He does it.

He's signing the Medicare bill. This is the same month, July 1965. And at that same time, in the next week, he is launching the first, huge escalation -- secretly, without telling the American people -- of the Vietnam War.

But Obama is, as I see it, trying -- he has a vast vision for America, as Lyndon Johnson did. And he's setting out to transform the country on many fronts. And I think it's going to be fascinating in world history and the history of this country, to see if he succeeds or not.

ZAKARIA: But you don't think that Johnson, you know, that Johnson failed because of an overreach of the Great Society. You think it was all undone because of Vietnam.

CARO: Well, let me give you an example. 1965, everything looks better. And then the money starts to go for Vietnam.

And you know, if I can just take one more minute, if you read the notes of his meetings -- he used to call them the Tuesday Cabinet meetings, they were up on the second floor of the White House in the family dining room, often with just four people, McNamara, Rusk, McGeorge Bundy and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Earle Wheeler -- you suddenly see, "Gee, we don't have money for these programs."

That's the tragedy. I don't think it's an overreach. NOONAN: Look. We've got two wars going. That is expensive. It costs so much. Whatever is done in Iraq and in Afghanistan, it will continue to be awfully expensive, and it will continue, I think, to crowd out -- not only financially, but almost in the public imagination -- great new expansions that he might want and desire.

We are going to see what his decision is on Afghanistan, and we will see if he decides to increase troop strength very seriously and, obviously, commit to a great deal of time there. Of course it will be financially expensive.

ZAKARIA: Do you think he's dithering?

NOONAN: Oh, my goodness. I must tell you, I depart from some people's criticisms on that. I am delighted to see an American president who is thinking about a very serious decision.

They are pushed forward too much by events. There's too much in a president's inbox. They're constantly pushed, because of the press of people like us, chattering about what they do, to make a decision quickly, and to make it with an almost faux decisiveness.

Do you know what I mean? "This is what I'm doing." And then there's stuff.

I like it that he is thinking. I like it that he's calling everybody in. I think it is a good thing that he's calling in counsels.

It is clear to me he has changed his views somewhat from the campaign, when Afghanistan was his good war. Now he is not sure.

PAINTER: I'm so struck that so much of what we talk about in foreign policy is really about masculinity. It's about who's going to shame whom, who's going to take the fall for having been wimpy.

And Obama's up against that -- as a Democrat, as a skinny guy, as a nice black man. He's going to find it difficult to be the person who's going to be called the guy who lost China, Vietnam, Afghanistan.

ISAACSON: I'm worried about this. I don't know the need right now to try to nation-build in Afghanistan. I think it'll sap a lot of the strength of his domestic policies.

CARO: But whether he's right or not, just to go back to what Peggy said -- you know, Lyndon Johnson had a saying. He had a saying for everything. He said, "I'd rather be slow and right, than fast and dead."


So, you know, I so agree with you on...

ISAACSON: But he got pushed into Vietnam a little bit, too.

CARO: Oh, I... ISAACSON: I bet you he didn't really want to go in. I haven't read your book yet.

CARO: He didn't follow that advice, but it was good advice. And you hope Obama will follow good advice.

ZAKARIA: We will take a break, and we will be right back.



ISAACSON: Great. So, if both sides...

ZAKARIA: We've got to pull the plug on...

NOONAN: I think the Democrats didn't notice that, when they were passing a stimulus bill that couldn't get one single Republican vote, it might have been viewed as problematic by the American people.




ZAKARIA: And we are back with Robert Caro, Walter Isaacson, Nell Painter and Peggy Noonan.

Nell, how do you view Obama as the sort of symbol, as the -- you know, because in a campaign you are able to maintain this essentially symbolic position. You have Mayor Cuomo's great line, "You campaign in poetry, but then you have to govern in prose."

PAINTER: You have to govern in prose, yes.

ZAKARIA: What's the prose been like?

PAINTER: Well, I'm struck, listening to all of you, hearing the sort of undertone of the reality of partisanship. And so, everything we talk about is subject to this drumbeat, this partisan drumbeat that's going on.

So, the campaign was so much about bringing us together, and we can overcome and we can bridge, and we can do this, this, we'll turn the corner. But the actual governing has been fraught with a lot of partisan nastiness.

ZAKARIA: Now, was that a mistake on his part? Because...

NOONAN: No, I don't think so.

ZAKARIA: ... he also -- but he also, you know, I mean, he handed over a lot of control to Nancy Pelosi...

PAINTER: He had to. ZAKARIA: ... to the Democratic Party.

PAINTER: He had to.

I think we often want the president to have more power than he really does, or to overreach. And all along, I have felt that Obama could not afford to be out in front.

ZAKARIA: The drumbeat of partisanship, or whatever we call it, seems to have done all right for the other party. I mean, no matter how you spin it, at the end of the day, these last set of elections have been good for the Republicans.

Why do you think that is?

NOONAN: There was a Gallup poll out this week that said, essentially -- it was a fairly broad poll. And people said -- it had gone up about 12 percent, the number of people who thought Obama was governing from the left, not from the center. It used to be about 42 percent. Now it was about 53, or so, percent of people.

I think the president, in a number of ways domestically, but lowered (ph) it (ph) to (ph) a lot of busyness, a lot of spending. The promise, I think, of tax increases has taken people aback a little bit. And I think he has damaged his brand, as they say in the language of merchandising, which has now become the language of politics.

I think Jersey was the big election. I think Obama had carried Jersey, I think by about 15 points, just one year ago. Now, the Democratic governor, a strong supporter of Obama -- Obama had come and stood with him three times saying, New Jersey, vote for this man -- he just lost by five points. It was about a 20-point drop in support.

That tells you something. Jersey is a Democratic state, but they're worried about specific things -- unemployment, taxes they worry about a lot in Jersey, terrible property taxes, a bad economy. That's where their minds are. That's who votes in Jersey.

PAINTER: Now, wait.

NOONAN: The president...

PAINTER: I voted in New Jersey.

NOONAN: No, no. I lived in Jersey, too, but that's what they're worried about right now.

PAINTER: I still live in Jersey.


NOONAN: Well, you don't think that unemployment...

PAINTER: Absolutely.

NOONAN: ... property taxes.

PAINTER: Yes, but Jersey is...

NOONAN: I mean, those are huge concerns.

PAINTER: ... an ungovernable state, because people...

NOONAN: They all think they're ungovernable states.

PAINTER: ... want so many different things.


PAINTER: There are all these different jurisdictions.

NOONAN: At this point they may all...

PAINTER: Nobody wants to give up their jurisdictions.

NOONAN: Understood.


PAINTER: We have school boards where there aren't even schools.

ZAKARIA: Yes, all right. I've got to ask you...


ISAACSON: I want to get back to Fareed's really wonderful point, because there are two great things that happened this year. We didn't have the grand depression, and health care has gotten this far.

But the other big thing is that, as you said, partisanship -- which we thought he might be able to reduce -- the poison of partisanship has grown. It's gotten -- it's helped the Republicans.

It's partly, I think you're right, the fault of the administration by not calling everybody in, not calling everybody from Bobby Jindal to Nancy Pelosi and saying, let's figure out how we're going to get health care and what the principles are. Let's do the...

ZAKARIA: If he had just adopted John McCain's signature campaign proposal, which was to end the tax deduction for corporations, this would have made the bill much more affordable.

Secondly, it would have been a great act of bipartisanship...

ISAACSON: He could have had John McCain in...

ZAKARIA: ... to say, I'm going to...

ISAACSON: ... and consulted with John McCain on two or three of the things, on health care...

NOONAN: Of course. ISAACSON: ... and Bobby Jindal, or appointed what people hate, these commissions, but have a commission led by a Bob Dole and others, and say, what are the principles, and try to do it.

I think also, though, the Republicans felt that injecting more partisanship and being ideological was good politically. So, it's both sides...

NOONAN: I think the Democrats...

ZAKARIA: I've got to -- we've got to pull the plug on...

NOONAN: I think the Democrats didn't notice that, when they were passing a stimulus bill that couldn't get one single Republican vote, it might have been viewed as problematic by the American people.

ZAKARIA: All right. We've got to close this with historical commentary from Robert Caro -- or any kind of comment...



CARO: I think, you know, you never know how history is going to view things, Fareed. But I think that the scope of what he's trying to do, to change a country -- does anybody really think we didn't need huge health care reform? Does anyone not think we have other huge problems here?

To have a president who says, "I'm going to try," to me is sort of thrilling. We don't know how it's going to work out. He may be doing things wrong. But it's great, as far as I'm concerned, to have that scope of ambition in a president.

ZAKARIA: And there will be lots to write about. Thank you all. This is a wonderful conversation.

And we will be right back.



HELICOPTER: We just got hit in the lower belly, just to the north side of the aircraft.

GROUND: Dustoff! Chosen 2-1 Bravo! Hey, the L.Z. is 100 meters to your nine o'clock. You're landing on (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We just took a lot of fire there. Do not land there!



(BEGIN VIDEO) ZAKARIA: We spend a lot of time on this program, and around the media in general, looking at the war in Afghanistan from 30,000 feet -- looking at the big picture, the big questions.

Today, I want to do something different. I want to examine one battle from the war in Afghanistan. It may be the key battle. And I'm going to use it to shed light on America's problems in that country.

Wanat is a town in northeastern Afghanistan by the Pakistan border. The battle there was one of the deadliest skirmishes of the war. Nine U.S. soldiers died in just over two hours.

To get an idea of what was going on there, listen to some of the transmissions between the men pinned down on the ground and the helicopter pilots flying above that day, who didn't get to Wanat until most of the U.S. soldiers were already dead.


GROUND: Be advised, we're in a bad situation, and we can't really get spots on rounds.

HELICOPTER: I think they're pinned down good, bro. I don't think they want to lift their heads.

I tell you what, man, Dustoff, if you're going in there to do any type of hoist at all, that's going to suck.

GROUND: I need some help with visibility, because I don't have comms with my O.P.

HELICOPTER: Dustoff 3-5, we're taking fire. We just got hit in the lower belly, just to the north side of the aircraft.

GROUND: Dustoff! Chosen 2-1 Bravo! Hey, the L.Z. is 100 meters to your nine o'clock. You're landing on (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We just took a lot of fire there. Do not land there!

HELICOPTER: Move out, Dustoff. Don't land there.


ZAKARIA: Tom Ricks joins me now to make sense of all this. He is by common consent the best defense reporter in America, having covered the U.S. military for almost 20 years, first for the "Wall Street Journal," then the "Washington Post."

He's written four highly acclaimed books, including "Fiasco" and "The Gamble," both about the Iraq war. He is now senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, which is a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Tom, let me ask you first, why is this battle important? What are the themes we should be looking at as we peer more closely at it? THOMAS E. RICKS, AUTHOR AND SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: It's significant, because it's representative of several things. And it shows you why this war is so difficult and how things can go wrong.

The Afghans have survived by smart -- by observing. They know how Americans fight. They know the intervals they have in which to attack. They know where the American weaknesses are -- communications, heavy weapons.

And things like overhead reconnaissance means you attack ideally in bad weather, like the attack a couple of weeks ago, when it's going to be hard for the helicopters to get in the mountains. You go after their communications, and then you go after their heavy weapons. You see this again and again.

These are smart fighters. They fought the Soviet Union, then they fought each other, and now they're fighting us.

ZAKARIA: And so, what should we be looking at? What's going on there?

July 2008, 49 soldiers get orders to establish a base in Wanat. Why are they going to Wanat?

RICKS: At the time, they thought they were doing counterinsurgency. Here we're going up the valley. And they're going way up into this valley. And there's Wanat village up above there. You can see it's way up in the mountains.

Well, this is a corridor that Taliban and Taliban allies have been using to come from Pakistan over into Afghanistan. The U.S. decides, let's go up in there and interfere with their movements.

ZAKARIA: So, it's a kind of supply route that they're trying to block?

RICKS: Yes. It's a corridor that they're using to come -- and the Americans want to get in there and make it more difficult for them.

ZAKARIA: So then, July 13th, the day of the attack, what happens?

RICKS: They had a lot of foreboding. In fact, one of the -- the commander of the platoon, Lieutenant Brostrom, told his best friend, "I think we're going to get messed up" -- although he didn't use that term -- "messed up badly up there."

And he was right.

Right at dawn, at about 4:20 a.m. there, a volley of perhaps 200 rocket-propelled grenades started coming in on them -- very well done, very sophisticated. The Taliban had crept up close, because they didn't have enough troops to put up patrols up there, because they were so busy building their base. So, the Taliban fighters had crept up close, and aimed their rocket-propelled grenades at exactly the right targets -- the heavy weapons, the anti-tank rocket launcher, the 50-caliber machine gun. They knew what they were doing -- take out the heavy weapons first, and then deal with the lighter stuff later.

ZAKARIA: And how long did the battle last?

RICKS: The intense battle lasted about an hour, because -- another point of sophistication -- the Taliban, I think, had observed that it would take about that time for American attack helicopters to get there. So, they knew they had a window of opportunity.

In that hour, nine American soldiers were killed, another 27 were wounded, which made for 75 percent casualties.

ZAKARIA: Now, did they fortify themselves? How much fortification was there?

RICKS: They were working really hard to fortify themselves.

And by the way, in all of the discussion, I have no criticism of the soldiers on the ground. They were in a difficult situation. They were doing the best they can. They were working really hard. But they were really put in a difficult spot.

They didn't have enough water to keep themselves hydrated while digging and filling sand bags in heat that ran over 100 degrees in the high mountains of Afghanistan. So they were desperately trying to secure themselves, aware that the locals were hostile, fearful of the situation.

ZAKARIA: Now, two weeks ago, we had a similar battle in another town a little bit north of Wanat. What happened there?

RICKS: It was very similar, very sophisticated knowledge. And I think the fighters attacking them up there knew that the Americans were beyond the reach of artillery. And that meant, again, you had a window of opportunity until the attack helicopters arrived to start pushing you back.

This was an even tougher fight. It went on for many, many hours, despite the fact that the helicopters were overhead. It was a similar result, that the base wasn't taken, but the base was abandoned shortly thereafter.

Which raises another question that General McChrystal is considering right now. Tell me exactly why we're in Nuristan. I understand why we're in Afghanistan, but why in this part of Afghanistan?

Is this really counterinsurgency you guys are doing up there, or are you simply sticking your fist into a hornet's nest?

ZAKARIA: So, let's delve into that. The argument would be made, if we were not to be here -- if we were to, say, cede these areas, which are very sparsely populated, there are very few people -- the argument is the Taliban will assert control there. Potentially, al Qaeda or other terrorist groups could set up training camps, and things like that.

What's wrong with that argument?

RICKS: There's nothing wrong with it. That's probably what would happen.

But I think what you're seeing is General McChrystal considering, given the limited number of troops I'm going to have, what's the best use of them?

One use might be, OK, let's pull back from those areas and focus on an ink spot, classic counterinsurgency approach -- Kabul, the Khost bowl, the area southeast of Kabul, and Kandahar. Put your troops, put your resources there, and do classic counterinsurgency there...

ZAKARIA: That is, provide security for the people there, and that is the vast bulk of the population of Afghanistan.

RICKS: Exactly.

And then, in more rural areas, pull your troops back, do a kind of triage, but use counter-terror against them.

ZAKARIA: So, if you saw a terrorist base being set up in Nuristan, go in with attack helicopters, destroy it, but get back out.

RICKS: Yes. I would call this, do the Biden plan for areas like Nuristan, do the Petraeus plan for areas like the major cities and other population areas.

ZAKARIA: What does it say about the Taliban and its military tactics? When you watch what you're describing, should we be wowed by the level of sophistication? Or is this just street smarts?

RICKS: I think we've consistently underestimated Afghans.

I used to live there when I was a teenager. And one thing I learned there is...

ZAKARIA: You lived in Afghanistan when you were...

RICKS: Yes, from 1969 to '71, in Kabul. My father was a professor at Kabul University for two years. I was actually a member of the Afghan ski patrol, junior grade, and skied in the Salang Pass.

A lot of Afghans, though, are illiterate. Illiterate does not mean stupid. In fact, I'm not even sure it means uncultured.

The average Afghan probably knows more poetry by heart than hardly anyone in America. You can run into Afghan tribesmen who know hundreds of poems and thousands of proverbs, and we would consider in their conversation quite literate.

Even when I lived there, it seemed to me that guerrilla warfare was the Afghan national sport.

One of my favorite books on this region is by John Masters. It's called "Bugles and a Tiger." It's a memoir of being a British officer with a Gurkha regiment in Waziristan in the 1930s. At the end of that last war that the British had there, the Afghan cousins showed up rather angrily and confronted him.

"Where are our medals," they said.

He said, "Well, you were the enemy."

And they said, "No, no. You gave medals to the Pashtuns on your side. We want our medals, too. You couldn't have had a good war without us."

This is very much the Afghan attitude. This is a kind of sporting event for them in many ways.

ZAKARIA: Tom, thank you very much. This was fascinating.

Now, shortly after the attack on Wanat, the U.S. military pulled out of the village, then out of the entire valley. To this day, they have not returned.

Two weeks ago, at the request of Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Petraeus opened a new investigation into the battle, and he appointed a three-star general from the Marine Corps to oversee it. We'll keep you informed when the results of that investigation come in.

Now, to read more about the battle of Wanat, to get the book that Tom suggested, go to our Web site, where you'll find links to some of the best reporting on this subject.

And we will be right back.



ZAKARIA: Now, for our "What in the World?" segment. Here's what got my attention this week.

It's a report from Russia that bankruptcy proceedings have begun for the manufacturer of the Avtomat Kalashnikov number 47. Perhaps you know it by its more common name, the AK-47.

Today, it's the world's most popular weapon. And it might prove to be a victim of its own success.

In 1947, a Soviet soldier, Mikhail Kalashnikov, won a competition for a new submachine gun design. So good was the weapon, capable of firing 600 rounds per minute, so indestructible, impervious to hot, cold, wet and sand, the Soviets put it in the hands of everyone fighting on their side.

It didn't always shoot where you aimed it, but it was an almost indestructible workhorse.

The U.S. first fought against it in the jungles and rivers of Vietnam, then in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Americans made sure that the mujahideen had AK-47s to counter the Soviet foe. Today, many of those same weapons that the United States provided for those freedom fighters are being used against American and NATO forces by the Taliban.

Anyway, then the AK-47 crossed the ocean, cementing its reputation as a rebel favorite -- first in the hands of the guerrilla fighters in Central and South America, from there to Africa, where it proved just as lethal in the hands of an untrained child.

On that continent, AKs have reportedly been bought for as little as $12. It got the nickname, "the African credit card," as in "Don't leave home without it."

The Kalashnikov is said to be in the official arsenal of more than 80 countries. The U.S. bought more than 180,000 of them when it rearmed the Iraqi army. And the AK-47 was so instrumental in Mozambique's successful rebel movement, that it now figures on their national flag.

It's also become a weapon of choice for terrorists, drug dealers and gangsters. Some say these weapons are responsible for the deaths of one-quarter of a million people every year. And there are reportedly anywhere from 70 to 100 million AK-47s and variations of it floating around.

So, why is the company that makes Kalashnikovs going broke? Well, it's a story of globalization and technological change. Massive demand for a product now invites cheaper imitations and counterfeits -- many almost as good as the original, but at a fraction of the price.

Back in the Soviet era, the Soviets didn't just arm their allies with Kalashnikovs, they freely sent out instructions on how to manufacture them. They needed to learn something about intellectual property, I guess. That means the original company and its original factory have lost most of their business.

In recent years, Russia has accounted for just 10 percent of total Kalashnikov production, according to the company. Indeed, the factory floor has been quiet for most of 2009.

Fortunately for his own wallet, Mr. Kalashnikov has branched out. He now makes a product people will presumably keep coming back to buy -- Kalashnikov brand vodka.

And we will be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KISHORE MAHBUBANI: I mean, the whole tone of America's relations with the rest of the world has changed. The kind of reflexive anti- Americanism that you saw in Europe, in the Islamic world, in some parts of Latin America, that's gone.

And clearly, Obama is someone who is widely respected all around the world as a great man, even though they're waiting for him to deliver some results.



ZAKARIA: Lately, we've been devoting much of our time here on GPS to crisis hotspots -- Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran. But, of course, there is a wider world out there, and Kishore Mahbubani studies a large part of it. Kishore is a renowned writer and scholar, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

Before we get started, Kishore, let me ask you. You were on this program, and you said -- this was a couple, a year-and-a-half ago -- you said, if Barack Obama is elected president of the United States, 50 percent of the anti-Americanism in the world will disappear.

Well, he has. And has 50 percent of the anti-Americanism disappeared?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI, DEAN, LEE KUAN YEW SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE: Oh, I'm not sure if it's 50 percent, but it's gone down significantly.

I mean, the whole tone of America's relations with the rest of the world has changed. I mean, the speeches that he gave reaching out to the Islamic world have made a huge difference, you know. The kind of reflexive anti-Americanism that you saw in Europe, in the Islamic world, in some parts of Latin America, that's gone.

And clearly, Obama is someone who is widely respected all around the world as a great man, even though they're waiting for him to deliver some results.

ZAKARIA: What is the world's reaction to Obama's foreign policy so far? Beyond the issue of the speeches, I'm looking at the specific issues of, you know, dealing with Iran, dealing on the Iraq issue, dealing with Afghanistan in the way he is.

Is there some -- you travel in policy circles around the world. Are people coming to any kind of conclusions, tentatively?

MAHBUBANI: Well, I think they believe that he's trying to do the right things. And, I mean, I can tell you for a fact, I think even Hillary Clinton is doing an excellent job as secretary of state, reaching out to the right people, talking in the right tone. And if you look at the U.S.-China relationship -- which, frankly, is the single most important relationship today in the world -- I think he's done a very good job of keeping it on an even keel. Now, in the case of Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq, I mean, Iraq seems to be going the right direction. But the whole world is dreading any kind of military attack on Iran. That would be a disaster, OK, if scared (ph) up (ph) by (ph) the Israelis, even. And so, you've got to wait and see what happens.

But I'd say the key issue, frankly, I still think everybody is watching this very carefully. Let's push as quickly as we can for a two-state solution. Let's do something in that area, because any concrete result on the two-state front immediately lowers the barometer, you know, of anger in the Islamic world. And that's something that I hope he'll push for very hard.

ZAKARIA: Talk about the U.S.-China relationship a little more. China has come out of this recession stronger than ever. It's going to grow at 8.5 percent this year. Its reserves are now at $2.3 trillion. They're higher than they've ever been, you know, so far from being depleted as a result of it.

And they are using this crisis as an opportunity to build an amazing new set of infrastructures for their next tier of cities. So, they come out of this, at least in the first flush, much stronger than the rest of the world.

Are they beginning to flex their muscles?

MAHBUBANI: I think that the key first thing is that, by the way, you know, when this crisis happened, I don't know if you remember this, many people thought that this crisis would somehow derail the Asian story, that the Asian countries who were dependent on exports to the U.S. and Europe, would somehow or other die as a result of the crisis.

What nobody expected is that this crisis has accelerated the shift of power to Asia. And the Chinese are ready to be responsible stakeholders in a new global order. They do want to work with the United States of America.

And so, at this plastic moment of world history, if the U.S. gets it right with China, then we are in for two or three decades of a comfortable time. But if the U.S. gets it wrong with China at this point in time, then it's very dangerous.

ZAKARIA: There has been in China for the last 20 years, roughly speaking, a kind of consistently pro-American foreign policy, by which I mean this, that the Chinese soared (ph). Their salvation, their path to great power, their rise to great power, is being fueled by a good relationship with America, because that gave them access to trade, to technology, and also created a kind of umbrella, a security umbrella, under which they could grow.

Is the current leadership and the next generation of leadership in China, from what you can see, still kind of thinking along these same lines? Or has the rise of China, the financial crisis, the discrediting, perhaps, of some notions of the American model -- has all this made the Chinese feel, "You know what? We need to rethink our relationship with the U.S. We don't need -- you know, friendly relations with the U.S. is not the paramount issue here."

MAHBUBANI: I think the key point I want to emphasize is that Chinese foreign policy has always been pro-China. And they have had a fairly, how do you say, consistent, long-term strategy of managing the rise of China.

And working closely with the United States has worked in enabling the rise of China, and so, they'll keep on doing it.

But you're right in suggesting, by the way, that this crisis has changed Asian and Chinese attitudes towards America and the West. Because until now, the general feeling was that, when it came to economic management, when it came to financial management, the West knew best what to do. This is how you manage the world's financial situation.

This crash, you have no idea of the impact it's had psychologically. It's like the scales falling from the eyes, and people saying, "How come? These guys were telling us how to run the world in the financial sector. And look how they screwed up."

And believe me, I mean, this is something that's so hard to put across to a Western audience, how attitudes have changed.

And the counterpart to that, incidentally, is that there is rising confidence in Asia, that we know now how to manage things better. We know how to get the right balance between the invisible hand of free markets and the visible hand of good governance. And you need both.

And all those who were saying, deregulate, privatize, open up -- gee, they were wrong.

So, in that sense, I would say there has been a sea change of attitudes.

But at the same time, I'm absolutely convinced that the Chinese know that the only way for China to emerge peacefully is for the 1945 rules-based order to stay in place. And they want to emerge just like Japan and Germany did after World War II. They want that rules-based order, which has been managed by the United States, to remain. They don't shake it or break it.

ZAKARIA: Does that include keeping the dollar in its current position as reserve currency of the world?

MAHBUBANI: That's a very tough question. And believe me, the Chinese are agonizing very hard about this dollar question, because they have so much to lose.

I mean, they know that, if something goes wrong with the U.S. dollar -- I mean, at some point in time, if you cannot raise loans to pay for your deficits, and you start printing money to pay for your deficits and the dollar goes down, China's going to suffer. Right? They've got a huge amount invested in the U.S. dollar. So, they would like to see a managed transition towards a world where they're not so reliant on the U.S. dollar. But at the same time, they do not want to undermine the United States in doing this. They want to work with the United States to create a more balanced kind of financial regime that is not so fragile and not so dependent on one currency.

ZAKARIA: Kishore Mahbubani, always a pleasure to have you on.

MAHBUBANI: Good to see you, too. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.


ZAKARIA: If you're waiting for the "Question of the Week," we have decided to give your brains a bit of a rest this week, so there will be no "Question of the Week" today. It'll return next Sunday.

If you're itching for a mental exercise, though, try your hand at our weekly world affairs quiz, the Fareed Challenge. You can find it on our Web site, Remember, you can always e-mail us at We welcome your comments, good and bad.

And this week, I would like to recommend not one book, but five. I've chosen 10 of my favorite recommendations from 2009. Last week we brought you the first five.

Now the final five: Joshua Cooper Ramo's "The Age of the Unthinkable"; "Imagining India," by Nandan Nilekani; Michael Lewis' "Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity"; "The Accidental Guerrilla," by David Kilcullen; and, of course, "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell.

You can see more about all 10 of our 2009 book recommendations on

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