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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview with Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski; Israeli- Palestinian Conflict Examined

Aired April 18, 2010 - 10:00   ET



At the one-year mark of his presidency, if you remember, Barack Obama looked like he was in real trouble. The economy was in deep trouble, his domestic agenda had stalled, his ambitious push for health care reform looked bad and none of his foreign policy pushes has as of yet yielded anything substantive.

Three months later, the world looks a lot different. Let's start with the American economy.

Now, it's possible to exaggerate the data, and some of this is tentative, but the fact is that the United States is in the midst of a broad-based recovery. The stock market, which tends to be the earliest indicator of an economic upturn, is up more than 70 percent over the last 12 months, and all assets have been moving up at a similar pace.

Exports are up, manufacturing is up, car sales are up, retail sales are getting stronger, and even employment has finally increased, although only slightly. Corporate balance sheets look very strong across the board.

Now, these are moves up from the depths of the financial panic, real lows, and much of it has to be attributed to broad factors, perhaps not to the administration. But surely, one would look back at the measures that were taken a year and a half ago and conclude that they stabilized an economy that was in free fall.

Remember, once the financial crisis really hit, global trade contracted at a faster pace than at any point since the Great Depression. We really were looking at the abyss, and credit for getting us out should be shared by Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, and the Obama administration. The bank bailouts, for example, will end up costing the taxpayer less than any previous bailout of the financial system in the last 30 or 40 areas.

On other fronts, Obama has been able to get his health care plan passed, though a majority of Americans remain anxious about what it will mean and, more crucially, what it will cost. In foreign policy, the surge in Afghanistan is proceeding with some success and he has managed to get countries to take a step forward in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials. Now, Obama's poll numbers are still pretty bad, but polls are often a snapshot of conventional wisdom from the past. If the trends I'm talking about continue, the poll numbers will change.

On the show today, we have a fascinating set of conversations to try to understand where the economy is, whether or not this recovery is robust, and whether global trends, what's happening in Greece, could still pull us into a second dip.

We talk to the man who effectively oversees the global financial system, the head of the IMF. We have a lively debate about what appears to be a bold new approach from the Obama administration, apparently trying to force movement on the Israeli/Palestinian peace process.


BRET STEPHENS, WALL STREET JOURNAL: A strike on Iran is a very risky and unfortunate option, if it has to - if it has to happen. There are options that the United States -

ZAKARIA: But what does it mean to be safe?

RASHID KHALIDI, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I think the work we're - word we're looking for is catastrophic, disastrous.


ZAKARIA: But first, we have an exclusive conversation with the foreign minister of Poland, one of the few leaders who was not on that plane. He'll talk about how Poland goes on after a staggering tragedy.

Stay with us.

I want you, for a moment, to imagine the unimaginable. Imagine if Air Force One went down while carrying the president, the First Lady, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, the National Security adviser, the deputy Secretary of State, the deputy Secretary of Treasury, the Army Chief of Staff, and some 50 other key American leaders.

That is the equivalent of what has just happened to the Polish government eight days ago, and now, Poland's government and the nation as a whole needs to find a way to pick itself up from the ashes.

Radek Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, was the first leader in Poland notified of the crash. He joins me now from Warsaw.


ZAKARIA: Tell me what your reaction was when you first got that phone call.

SIKORSKI: Well, one's first reaction is disbelief. One's second reaction is hope that the accident is not as serious as it - as it sounds.

I was informed that there - there's been a crash, but no explosion, so there was hope that maybe they crash landed. And - and then there's, of course, a dilemma, what do you do after one phone call? Do you put the entire country on alert?

So I sent a preliminary message to the prime minister, and then I telephoned our ambassador, who was on the spot, but when he saw the wreck - wreckage and it was obvious that nobody could have been survived, then I rang the prime minister again, I rang the speaker of parliament to tell him that he is acting head of state.

ZAKARIA: You raised the issue of what exactly does one do. Once you realized that this was, in fact, the tragedy that it turned out to be, everyone was dead, what do you - how do you go about the process of ensuring that government functions, ensuring that the apparatus of succession is put into place?

SIKORSKI: Well, succession was the easy bit, because the constitution here is very clear that the speaker of parliament automatically becomes acting head of state. But it was establishing the list of those who died, and then, of course, going to the - to the - to the place to identify the body of the president and of the other victims.

You - you could add to the poignancy of what happened that all those people died wanting to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre of Polish officers by the NKVD, the - the Soviet Secret Service in 1940. I'm not sure what the equivalent American place would be, I suppose Alamo or 9/11, in fact.

So imagine if - if your people died on the way to commemorate the victims of 9/11.

ZAKARIA: And there is a - a geopolitical aspect to this, of course, which is that Katyn was a massacre that the Soviet Union long denied and that Russia had only very recently come to terms with. This was the first joint commemoration, and yet the crash takes place over Russian air space.

Were there suspicions in Poland that somehow this might have been some - there might have been some Russian hand in this crash?

SIKORSKI: Always, conspiracy theories. This time, I think they are - the - we haven't seen many serious ones because the Russian authorities have been completely open and I think we will have quick preliminary results of the investigation.

Russian response has been more than correct. The Russian authorities and the Russian people have shown empathy with our suffering, I think, partly, because Prime Minister Putin was with our prime minister at that place three days before, and he felt the horror of Katyn for us, where 5,000 polish officers died, and so he must have realized what it means to us, what Soviet Russia did to us, and why it's so horrible that people should died - die in that place again. So, paradoxically, I think we have something of a - of an emotional breakthrough in relations with Russia. There were - we've improved our relations with Russia before, but - but now, there's - there's evidence that - that the Russians are feeling our pain, which is - which I hope will lead to better relations.

ZAKARIA: Radek, I have to ask you something that is awkward but - but needs to be asked. There is an episode, as you know, two years earlier, when President Kaczynski was to land in Georgia where the pilot felt it was unsafe to land and the - the president effectively ordered him to land.

Could this have been a case where the pilot was - was being asked to land against his will?

SIKORSKI: I was on that plane to Georgia, and I remember it well. But, this time, we have no evidence so far that that happened.

ZAKARIA: One of the hopeful signs that has come out of this tragedy has been just how stable Poland has been, and it is, I suppose, the culmination of a process of the consolidation of Polish democracy and - and its market economy.

Is it likely that this will destabilize things, or do you feel comfortable and confident that - that Poland's democracy and, in fact, its economy, will - will endure and will - will remain as stable as they've been?

SIKORSKI: The logistical operation of bringing back those departed and - and organizing all these funerals is - is actually a huge organizational operation, and we are doing it, I think, quite efficiently, and - and it shows you that we have a new Poland, a Poland that has not suffered recession.

ZAKARIA: Tell me, Radek, personally, how did this affect you? You - you knew everyone on that plane. You have probably known many of the relatives. Many of these people are close colleagues, some of them are political opponents, and here you are, a survivor and witness to all of this.

What does it make you feel? What do - what do you think - how do you approach this?

SIKORSKI: It's - it's terribly depressing, because it's the people one liked, it's the people one had controversies with, and that one also misses, in fact.

I'm going to funeral after funeral. The associations, the levels of - of grief are just - are just too many.

ZAKARIA: But you - but you do believe Poland will - will be able to pull itself together and move on fairly quickly?

SIKORSKI: Oh, I think it will be a spur for another modernization of Poland. We needed to modernize those planes for years. We need to improve our procedures, improve our airports. I think the - the lesson that we should draw from this is - is more Europe, more modernization, completing the - the process of transformation from a - towards a democracy - a free market democracy that - that we've - we've done so successfully over the last 20 years.

ZAKARIA: Radek Sikorski, thank you so much for joining us. And, of course, our condolences to you and to everyone in that country.




ZAKARIA: Basically, as I see it, you're saying - you - you phrase it more delicately, a strike on Iran in return for the uprooting of settlements on the West Bank.

STEPHENS: Seriousness about Iran, and right now we're not - we're not -

ZAKARIA: You're speaking like a diplomat. What does seriousness about Iran mean?





ZAKARIA: American soldiers are in more danger overseas because of the stalled Middle East peace process. That's the claim. It's a controversial idea that both President Obama and General David Petraeus have voiced in some variation over the last few weeks.

It appears to be a shift in America's view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, casting it as a national security issue directly for the United States, and the new approach comes amid talk of a new Obama peace plan for the Middle East.

Joining me to talk about all of this are Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, and Bret Stephens, Foreign Affairs columnist for "The Wall Street Journal" and a frequent guest here.

So, Bret, what Petraeus seems to be saying, look, I'm out there, I'm talking to these Arab leaders. It - it hurts our relationship with them. It makes it more difficult for them to ally with us. They all complain about this.

So, he's sort of reflecting that ground reality, no?

STEPHENS: Well, I think there's some element of truth to that, and it's certainly convenient for our political leaders to make the case that discontent in their country has to do with what settlements Israel might be build in -in parts of Jerusalem as opposed to, say, their own policies, Mubarak's repression of Egyptians, the, you know, repressive policies in Saudi Arabia.

So, you know, of course they're going to blame Israel and not sort of look at their own mismanagement, and when you look at actually the - the Salafis, the Jihadi complaints about the West, they - of course they include Israel, of course they include the settlements.

These complaints predate the settlements. They have a lot to do with long-standing radical objections to Western life as it's carried out in all of its liberalism.

I wrote a - a column saying Lady Gaga is in many ways as much an emblem of the problem that these characters have with - with the West, with modernity, as Israeli settlements are. And so, it essentially say that, well, if we can only solve the settlements problem, we'll relieve ourselves of a large share of the burdens that we carry in the Middle East is - is preposterous.

ZAKARIA: Well, but, you know, I - I read that column and, thanks to them, because I have kids I actually know who Lady Gaga is.

The idea that - that their discontent, the Salafis, the Jihadis' discontent is all about, you know, the - the fact that American women are scantily clad. It seems to me it doesn't quite address the issue of America as an imperial power, as a great power in the region, because, after all, I mean, Swedish women are scantily clad, but the - the Jihadis don't have anything against Sweden.

STEPHENS: Of course, American power and the projection of American power has a lot to do with some of these - with - with sparking discontent. It also has something to do with - with putting - with damping discontent.

In Iraq, America is seen as the key player. Sunnis are relying on - on the United States to keep Shiite power at bay. So I'm just saying that it's, I think, uniquely sort of simpleminded as well as convenient to say that if only Israel weren't building settlements in - in the West Bank or in - in East Jerusalem, many of these problems would go away.

I don't think that's what David Petraeus will say and that's why I think it's somewhat unfair to - to suggest that he was.

ZAKARIA: Rashid, what do you think? Does - does it strike you as a shift for the - the United States to be suggesting that this stalled peace process hurts America's ability to pursue its interests?

KHALIDI: What they're saying is that Israel is a drag on the United States. It's not a strategic asset, and this is a discursive shift of some significance.

I don't think they're saying, you know, remove Settlement X from Hilltop Y and the Arab will sing Hosannas to, you know, American power. What they are saying is that Israel is not the strategic asset it was touted as during the Cold War.

And we've gone back, in effect, to the Eisenhower administration's view of the Middle East is an area where the United States has problems, and Israel is, in some small way, one of those problems.

ZAKARIA: Do you see the shift is as dramatic as - as you were just describing? Because what Obama has said and what Petraeus' report says is not Israel is a strategic drag, it's that the lack of progress in the peace process is the problem, you know, that - that we need this process to be energized.

Otherwise, it is pointed to by the - by Jihadis, it is used as a recruiting tool. That's a - that's very different from saying Israel is a strategic drag.

KHALIDI: I think that discursively, if you sit down and parse what they're saying, at - at base, at root, that is essentially the message. Far from being an enormous asset.

If Israel continues to act in a way that antagonizes opinion all over the Muslim world, all over the Arab world, and in other parts of the world, to tell you the truth. You go other places, people say, why is the United States supporting this crazy policy? Then it becomes a liability instead of an asset.

STEPHENS: Yes, but that - at that point, if you accept that analysis, at that point, you ask yourself, what can the administration do to move the peace process along in a - in a direction that serves both Israelis and - and Palestinians well?

And what the administration has been doing, I think, serves the opposite interests. It basically sends a signal to Israel that this administration is not reliable, there's no longer a kind of a hug-me- close mentality, which has - which has, in fact, moved Israel to, for instance, remove its settlements, its settlers from Gaza.

It tells the Israelis to hunker down. It tells the Palestinians -

KHALIDI: Hug-me-close led them to withdraw from Gaza?

STEPHENS: Yes. Well, that -

KHALIDI: Sharon unilaterally decided that -

STEPHENS: No, Sharon has -

KHALIDI: -- on his own (ph).

STEPHENS: No, that's actually - this is an important point. What Sharon did is he obtained a letter from Bush saying that in the event that Israel withdraws from Gaza, the Bush administration would not expect Israel to withdraw from all of the settlements that would accept the so-called realities -

KHALIDI: The famous April letter.

STEPHENS: -- the realities on the ground.

That's what allowed Sharon to sell disengagement in Gaza politically to Israel.

KHALIDI: I think first of all, the, you know, hug the Israelis and then they're forthcoming is not an argument that you can - that you can show a lot of evidence for in the past. I think that the American - the American embrace of Israel has led to decades of standoff. That's the thing I argue in my - in my piece in foreign policy.

Secondly, I - I agree with Bret. I occasionally do agree with Bret. I don't think that this administration is likely to make much progress, and I don't think that they're necessarily going about it entirely the right way.

But, I think it is actually important for the United States to lay down a marker that we have these or those important relationships - relationships with Israel or we have these shared interests with Israel, but there are also other areas on which we fundamentally disagree.

ZAKARIA: So why do you -

KHALIDI: And, secondly, I think that it is important for the Israeli public to know that there's some kind of cost for cocking a snook at the United States, which Israeli prime ministers have done since the days of Baker. Pretty much anytime an American envoy goes out there, Israelis slap a new settlement on the ground, open up a new issue in the occupied territories or whatever.

Baker actually said it. He says, every time I go there, they do something to offend us, and it's been happening systemically for decades.

I think it's worthwhile for the Israeli public to realize that - that the United States doesn't like this sort of thing, and, in the past, two American presidents who've made their displeasure clear - President Clinton, at the time that Netanyahu was Prime Minister in '98; and President Bush, the - 41, George Herbert Walker Bush, over the issue of loan guarantees, made it clear that the United States had differences with Israel over some things, and - and the Israeli public, in time, came around to realizing that maybe these weren't such good prime ministers, that Israel needs good relations with the United States -

STEPHENS: Look, I - I would -

KHALIDI: -- and that was part of the 1992 election result that brought Rabin to power and part of the '98 election result that brought Barack to power.

STEPHENS: Well, we're not living in - in '92 or '99 with - with Barack. I would say to you that the real template is the Camp David Accords of the - of the Egyptian/Israeli peace. Both Sadat and Begin could go back to their publics and say, we won. I got something from this kind of deal.

And the problem is that this administration is trying to balance Israeli and - or Israeli and Palestinian or Israeli and Arab interests. It needs to start bonding with both sides. It needs to find formulas in which it can go to the Israelis and say, in exchange for some concessions, we will give you something that you desperately want.

And what I argue in the piece in foreign affairs is what the Israelis are most worried about is Iran. That is their core strategic security interest, and the United States can give - give things to Israel on Iran.

And, similarly, with the Palestinians, it also has to change the incentive structure so it makes it more and more interesting to the Palestinians to, again, accept the two-state solution as the template, which they've been moving away from, to reject Hamas, which is a deal breaker for Israel. It's really a deal breaker in - in any kind of negotiation, to continue to invest in Palestinian industries, Palestinian economies, finally rise -

ZAKARIA: But the core of your - your piece is basically, as I see it, you're saying - you - you phrase it more delicately, a strike on Iran in return for the uprooting of settlements on the West Bank.

STEPHENS: Seriousness about Iran, and right now we're not - we're not -

ZAKARIA: You're speaking like a diplomat. What does seriousness about Iran mean?

STEPHENS: Look, a strike on Iran is a very risky and unfortunate option, if it has to - if it has to happen. There are options that the United States -

ZAKARIA: But what does it mean to be safe?

KHALIDI: I think the work we're - word we're looking for is catastrophic, disastrous.

STEPHENS: Nothing so catastrophic for the chances of peace than an Iran armed with a nuclear - nuclear weapons supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.

ZAKARIA: You guys have to take a break, and we have to take a break. We will be back with Bret Stephens and Rashid Khalidi.



KHALIDI: What people really don't like is certain ways in which America, A) projects power, and, B) supports undemocratic, autocratic, kleptocratic, rotten regimes.




ZAKARIA: And we are back, debating Israel and the Palestinians with Rashid Khalidi and Bret Stephens.

You said you thought that the United States was going about getting to a Palestinian state the wrong way. The Obama administration seems to be suggesting - this is only rumors and - but some good reporting, that they're going to present their own peace plan. Presumably, this would be some version of the Clinton plan of 2000.

Is that a good idea to say, look, there's no point going through the endless negotiations. We know what the end point is going the look like. Let's start there and, you know, some minor negotiations around the - the issues of Jerusalem and the holy sites is fine, but let's not reinvent the wheel.

KHALIDI: Well, again, I - I - I'm again in agreement with Bret. His piece in foreign affairs talks about how unready Israel in some respects is and how unready the Palestinians are. And, in my piece, I talked in particular about the Palestinians.

If the - if the Obama administration were to put such a plan as you're talking about, and such has been reported, on the table, I don't think the conditions are propitious, and I don't think they've spent their first year in office seeing to it that they become propitious.

ZAKARIA: What would make them propitious?

KHALIDI: One of them is the thing I talked about in my piece in foreign affairs. You cannot negotiate with a fractured foreign policy in polity (ph).

It's not up to the United States to rebuild Palestinian unity, but the United States can stop saying, this is a deal breaker if you include Hamas. You have to figure out a way to bring a Palestinian consensus to the table, and that includes, necessary and inevitably, Hamas.

Bret argues, they'll never change. That's rubbish. There are - there are numerous signs -

STEPHENS: No, I was just - I was just quoting Khaled Meshaal, the - the general secretary of Hamas.

KHALIDI: There are many things you can quote Meshaal saying. You - you can parse, again, statements right, left and center of - of him, of the late-lamented Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and other people who have been blown away in the past decades by the Israelis, saying quite different things, hundred-year truce with Israel and so on and so forth.

I don't think it's going to be an easy thing, but - in fact, what I'm trying to say is neither in terms of Israel, where you have the most right-wing, most unamenable government in quite a while, nor -

STEPHENS: One that includes Mubarak.

KHALIDI: -- nor in - nor in the case of the Palestinians, where you have a completely divided policy, is the situation propitious, and those are the kind of things that I think they should work on if they actually seriously intend to put a proposal on the table.

ZAKARIA: But isn't it fair to say, Bret, that - that we kind of know what the end point is going to be, so why do we have to go through this elaborate confidence-building process when, you know, the Clinton plan of 2000 is roughly were the only viable solution, right?

STEPHENS: Yes, because the end point is a state of mind. It's not just a division of borders.

It's very easy, if this were a territorial conflict, for reasonable people to say, OK, let's draw the border here. The issue is, then, what - what are the intentions of - of the parties after that? Are refugees a - a part of the (INAUDIBLE)? Is it really an end of - of - an end of claims?

I'm really speaking from a - from the Israeli point of view, but Palestinians also have, you know, their own - their own sets of questions.

So there - there is something - I mean, it's not because the parties are stupid or - or just vindictive or petty that this kind of settlement hasn't been achieved. It's because there are cultural, religious issues on both sides that simply can't be easily resolved across a negotiating table.

And this is what worries me about bringing Hamas into a Palestinian government, because this conflict -- and, I think, the Middle East generally -- has been shifting from kind of a nationalist type of politics to a much more religious kind of politics. And when these things become tied up with...

ZAKARIA: In the West Bank? In the West Bank you have the most secular, the most moderate government for the Palestinians that they've ever had. Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, strikes me as probably the most competent, secular prime minister in the entire Arab world.

STEPHENS: It's wonderful. But he wasn't elected. Ismail Haniyeh is the guy who ought to -- who rightfully holds the job, if you accept the results of the 2006 election. And Mahmoud Abbas is a year -- has extended his term by a year. He essentially rules by decree.

So, as popular as these guys, Fayyad and Abbas, are in the West, because we see them as moderates, people you can negotiate with, there's a real question about what the second rank of Palestinians are actually thinking. So, it's not at all clear to me that you really have that moderate core in West Bank politics.

I think Hamas is only seen as weak in the West Bank, because they haven't been able to act militarily the way they were in...

ZAKARIA: What do you say about Bret's point that this is not something that can be resolved just by geographic division, that this is a deep state of mind issue?

KHALIDI: The first thing that has to be done is, the United States has to get off the wrong track, which it's been on for a couple of decades.

I think that you do have issues of state of mind, but you also have issues of interest. I mean, you have developed in Israel what I call a settlement-industrial complex -- a vast network of people whose jobs and livelihoods, whether within the Israeli bureaucracy or in terms of the industries and companies and businesses that they run, depend on Israel controlling the Palestinians.

There's a huge database. Every Palestinian is on it. Dozens of software companies produce stuff for that. There are security companies.

There are half a million Israelis who live in illegally occupied territories, the West Bank, occupied Arab East Jerusalem.

Those are issues that are at least as important as state of mind.

What people really don't like is certain ways in which America, A, projects power and, B, supports undemocratic, autocratic, kleptocratic, rotten regimes rather than allowing the democratic process to work itself out in various Arab countries where we see we have vital interests, and we're holding these aging autocrats on their thrones.

STEPHENS: Rashid is a neocon.


ZAKARIA: Rashid is a neocon. On that note we're going to have to stop. Rashid Khalidi, Bret Stephens, a pleasure to have both of you on.

The articles you both referred to many times are in the current issue of "Foreign Affairs" -- actually, the upcoming issue of "Foreign Affairs." But they are on the Web site of "Foreign Affairs," and you can read them.

We will be back.


ZAKARIA: Now, for our "What in the World?" segment. What got my attention this week was the Predator, the unmanned aerial bomber, which has marked its millionth hour of flight time.

Now, ever since it first started flying, the Predator has been a sore point, with complaints about its legality and angry cries, mostly from Pakistan, over just how many innocent civilians it has killed. Some estimates run as high as 50 civilians killed for every one terrorist killed.

But the U.S. government loves it. Defense Secretary Gates recently testified that the Air Force is now training more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots.

And remember, drone pilots never even get into the cockpit of the plane. They fly the Predators by remote control from a base just outside of Las Vegas.

The CIA director, Leon Panetta, says the Predator is "the only game in town" for disrupting al Qaeda's leadership.

But are we really doing that? Some say no -- most recently, Robert Wright in the "New York Times." He says studies show that killing leaders of terror groups, especially religious terror groups, doesn't actually lead to the downfall of the organization. In fact, in some cases it makes them stronger. The leaders can always be replaced, and the organization is energized by the attacks.

Then there is the legal problem. The Obama administration recently authorized the assassination of an American, Anwar al-Awlaki. Could it be legal to execute anyone, but especially an American citizen, without due process? The ACLU is in a court battle with the U.S. government to try to force it to release information on the secretive program.

Now, late last month, State Department legal advisor Harold Koh, a very distinguished liberal, usually on the same side as the ACLU, provided a spirited defense of the Predator. He says the use of Predators complies with all applicable law, domestic and international.

His basic argument boils down to this. On 9/11, the United States went to war with al Qaeda and the Taliban. And, Koh says, the U.S. government therefore has the authority and responsibility to defend itself, including targeting terrorists from afar.

How do I feel about the Predators? On balance, I agree with Koh and with the administration. Fighting al Qaeda this way seems legitimate.

But I worry a lot about the precedent. Imagine, for example, if Russia were to announce that there were Chechen terrorists in Georgia and were to start lobbing missiles into that country. How would we feel?

Now, Pakistan, which has been the country complaining loudly about the American use of drones, was recently promised by Defense Secretary Gates a dozen drones of their own. Theirs would be smaller than the Predators and unarmed. So, at least Pakistan won't be complaining anymore.

And we will be right back.


ZAKARIA: Some people in the United States have been saying, look at Greece's problems. This is where we're headed.

Do you worry about it?



ZAKARIA: Greece is now, by many definitions, bankrupt, and might become the first European country in decades to get a bailout from the IMF, the International Monetary Fund. Some in the United States believe that Greece's problems today are America's tomorrow.

To talk about all this and more, we are delighted to welcome Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He is the managing director of the IMF, as well as an important political figure in Europe and France. He is often mentioned as a potential candidate for the presidency of France.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, thank you very much.


ZAKARIA: When people look at Greece, as you know, some people in the United States have been saying, "Look at Greece's problems. This is where we are headed."

Niall Ferguson, the very distinguished economic historian at Harvard, wrote a piece in the "Financial Times," saying America should worry about the Greek problem, because this is going to be America's future. Do you worry about it?

STRAUSS-KAHN: Historian not always right when they talk about the future.

And I'm not sure that the situation of Greece can be compared to one of the United States. The United States is the leading economy. It has nothing to do with Greece.

So, if what Ferguson means is the high level of debt is a problem -- is a problem for Greece, will be a problem for the U.S. -- he's right. It would be a problem for everybody, because that's the cost of the crisis. We escaped the crisis doesn't mean you have no cost. And the cost is increasing the debt level.

But if he means that the kind of problem Greece is facing today can replicate in the United States, I won't buy that.

ZAKARIA: Would you say that the United States actually handled this crisis pretty well? It was early in terms of acting on fiscal stimulus, the auto industry. The measures that were taken by both the Bush administration and then the Obama administration were quick, fast, massive, decisive.

STRAUSS-KAHN: I think so. I think that, obviously, this crisis comes from where we didn't expect -- I mean, the center of the system, the United States, and the financial system of the United States. But as soon as the crisis has been identified, as soon as -- and probably the IMF played its role in this -- then I think that the measure which has been taken by both administrations, you're right, were the right one.

And because of the size of the U.S. economy, that's one of the reasons why we avoided this big collapse. If things had been worse in the United States, there would be no way for the global economy to recover. The U.S. is still one-fifth or so of the global economy, so it's really the motor of the global economy.

But if you have the broad view, really, what has been done was what needed to be done.

ZAKARIA: Help us understand, what does it mean to see Greece in this situation? We think of this as a European country, part of the E.U., host of the Olympics. And now we learn that the finances of the country are in a shambles.

What happened?

STRAUSS-KAHN: This crisis put a lot of pressure on countries and the fiscal situation of countries. And when some of them, like Greece, were not really in a good shape before the crisis, the crisis creates even more pressure. And so, you have this kind of a disruption in the fiscal sustainability of the country.

ZAKARIA: But is there something broader at work here? Are we facing a kind of crisis of the West? I'll tell you what I mean by this.

We had a massive problem of private debt, private leverage. The way we solved the crisis was the governments took on all this debt. So we have transferred all the debt from the private sector's balance sheets to the public sectors balance sheets. The governments now owe all this money.

The debt burden of the G-8 is, roughly speaking, the average debt level is something like 100 percent now. It's going to go up to 120 percent. The debt level of the emerging market, the major emerging market countries, is a quarter of that. So, it's a sort of topsy- turvy world.

And are we witnessing a kind of gradual decline of the West, a scleroticism (ph) where these debt levels, huge spending on retirement, huge spending on health care, is going to sag the Western economies while the Indias, Chinas, Brazils will move forward?

STRAUSS-KAHN: Well, it depends what you're looking at. If you're looking at growth rate, then certainly, emerging market -- and especially Asian emerging market -- are going to go must faster than so-called West, which is basically the U.S. and North America and Europe.

Is it in (ph) decline? I won't say that. What I would say, certainly, is that the balance of power in the global economy is going to be reconsidered. And emerging economies, especially Asian emerging economy -- but not only China, India, but also Brazil, or some others -- are going to have more weight in the coming decades.

But is that bad? I won't say that. I mean, a more balanced world is certainly better than an imbalanced world.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about one European leader in particular, President Sarkozy. How has he done?

STRAUSS-KAHN: Well, I think everybody agrees that in October 2008, when he was chairing the European Union, he was really effective. And convening everybody in Paris, and say, OK, now, you guys are going to work together, and we need to do something, has been done. And I think for the European side, that was very -- that was certainly the most important thing that could have been done to avoid the crisis to spill over.

So, from this point of view, I think in the crisis he has been effective.

ZAKARIA: That doesn't sound like somebody you might be contesting in some fashion for the French presidency. I realize he can't run again, but...

STRAUSS-KAHN: Where did you get this idea? I'm heading an international institution. I'm happy with what I'm doing.

I think -- maybe it's a bit pretentious -- but I think it's important for the global economy to have those kind of institutions working well. I have no other projects.

ZAKARIA: When you're done with the IMF, would you rule out the prospect of returning into French politics?

STRAUSS-KAHN: Maybe I will stay in IMF for years and years and years. Who knows?

ZAKARIA: You're a very distinguished French politician, former finance minister of France. What advice would you give France's Socialist Party, to which you belong, in terms of how would they -- how should they position themselves to recapture the hearts and minds of the French people?

STRAUSS-KAHN: I will disappoint you, but I won't give any kind of advice.

ZAKARIA: All right. Advice to countries, but not to political parties.


ZAKARIA: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a pleasure to have you on.

STRAUSS-KAHN: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.


ZAKARIA: Now for our "Question of the Week." Here's what I want to know.

Do you think American soldiers are in greater danger in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond, because of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse?

Let me know what you think.

As always, you can go to our Web site to see some answers to last week's question. While you're on our Web site, take a look at our weekly podcast. If you missed a show, you can watch it on the Web. You can also find the GPS podcast on iTunes. Subscribe to it. It's free. And make sure you'll never miss a show.

Now, as I do every week, I'd like to recommend a book. It's David Remnick's fascinating biography of Barack Obama, "The Bridge." Remnick explains in great detail how this jumble of a person who didn't really fit into any group -- half white, half black, raised in Hawaii and Indonesia much of the time by white grandparents -- put himself smack in the middle of the narrative of American civil rights and politics. He arguably won the election because of that. The details in this book are truly amazing, down to the future president's favorite type of marijuana.

And now, for "The Last Look." If anyone ever thought the life of a president was a walk in the park, this video I'm about to show you will prove otherwise.

At the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington this week, President Obama welcomed heads of state and dignitaries from 47 nations. And he had to shake hands and make small talk with each and every one of them -- over and over again. The process took one hour, at least. And that was before dinner even began.

So, an enterprising photographer shot 1,338 pictures of the process, and put it all to music. Take a look. But while you do, try to identify every world leader you are about to see in this clip. E- mail us your list. We'll send signed copies of my book, "The Post- American World," to as many as 10 viewers who get them all right.


ZAKARIA: Luckily, President Obama didn't have to bid each good- bye individually, too.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."