Return to Transcripts main page
Fareed Zakaria GPS
Stories Overshadowed by Debt Ceiling Talks; Interview with Morroco's Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Firhi
Aired July 24, 2011 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
We have a terrific show planned for you today. You've probably heard enough about the debt ceiling, so we are going to talk about what else is going on in the world with two distinguished experts.
Then, what is the first and only Arab nation to approve a new constitution with significant reforms since the Arab spring began? Morocco. We'll talk to that nation's foreign minister about what seems like a success story.
Next up, hanging together. We'll take you deep inside the relationship of this odd couple. Why Castro and Chavez will likely be friends till the end.
Finally, an opportunity to hear from one of the greatest historians writing today. David McCullough gives us perspective on the nation's current political problems, President Obama, and the American mood.
But first, here's my take.
Watching the extraordinary polarization in Washington today, many people have pointed the finger at the Tea Party. It's ideologically extreme, refuses to compromise, and cares more about purity than problem solving.
I happen to agree with much of that critique, but it doesn't really answer the question, why has the Tea Party become so prominent? Why is it able to dominate Washington?
We've had plenty of ideologically charged movements come to Washington before. Think of Barry Goldwater or George McGovern. But once in Washington, the system encouraged compromise and governance.
But, over the last few decades, what has changed are the rules organizing American politics, and they now encourage small interest groups, including ideologically charged ones, to capture major political parties as well as Congress itself. Call it political narrow casting.
Here are some examples. Redistricting has created safe seats so that for most House members, their only concern is a challenge from the right for Republicans and the left for Democrats. The incentive is to pander to the base, not the center.
Party primaries have been taken over by small groups of activists who push even popular senators to extreme positions. In Utah, for example, 3,500 conservative activists managed to take the well- regarded Senator Robert Bennett off the ballot. GOP senators like Orrin Hatch and John McCain have moved farther to the right, hoping to stave off similar assaults.
Changes in Congressional rules have also made it far more difficult to enact large, compromised legislation. In the wake of the Watergate Scandal, sunshine rules were put into place that required open committee meetings and recorded votes. The purpose was to make Congress more open, more responsive, and so it has become to lobbyists, money and special interests, because they're the people who watch every committee vote and mobilize our position to any withdrawal of subsidies or tax breaks.
Political polarization has been fueled by a new media, which is also narrow cast. Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, gave an interview to the "Wall Street Journal" in which he suggested that he might further the conservative agenda through an occasional compromise. That provoked a tirade from Rush Limbaugh, which then produced a torrent of angry e-mails and phone calls to Issa's office. Issa quickly and publicly apologized to Limbaugh and promised only opposition to Obama. Multiply that example a thousand fold, and you have the daily dynamic of Congress.
It's depressing, but the fact that our politics are the result of these structural shifts means they can be changed. Mickey Edwards, a Republican and former House member from Oklahoma, has a highly intelligent essay in "Atlantic" magazine suggesting a series of reforms that could make a difference. Some of them are large scale, others are seemingly small but crucial changes in Congressional procedure. The essay is on or website. Read it.
Some political scientists long hoped that American parties would become more ideologically pure and coherent, like European parties. They seem to have gotten their wish, and the result is abysmal.
Here's why. America does not have a parliamentary system like Europe's, in which one party takes control of all levers of political power, executive and legislative, enacts its agenda, then goes back to the voters. Power in the United States is shared by a set of institutions with overlapping authorities - Congress, the presidency. People have to cooperate for the system to work.
The Tea Party venerates the Founding Fathers. It should note that the one thing on which they all agreed was that adversarial political parties were bad for the American republic.
Let's get started.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAKARIA: Here to discuss what's been going on in the world while we've been focused on debt ceilings but also shaving cream pies, are two guests who have worked at the highest levels of foreign policy, and now write about it and think about it.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is the former Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department. She now teaches at Princeton. And Gideon Rose is the editor of "Foreign Affairs." He also served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. Welcome both.
Anne-Marie, let's start with Libya, because it feels like the stalemate continues, but can it just keep going on forever?
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF POLICY PLANNING, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I don't think so. I actually think we are moving slowly toward a resolution, but I think when you think about Libya you have to ask yourself constantly where would we have been if we hadn't intervened?
And the answer is Gadhafi would have crushed the opposition, there would have been a clear example of how to do that by force, and the U.S. would have stood by, notwithstanding appeals from the entire Arab world, which would have sent signals to Yemen, to Syria, that would be much worse.
GIDEON ROSE, EDITOR, FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I don't buy that because, frankly - first of all, that same exact thing that you just said played out in Bahrain and nobody cared. And although what happened in Libya - and we are moving towards something else - no one has any clue at this point what the something else is.
So, I agree with you that the stalemate ultimately will end, and ultimately Gadhafi will go, but that's only going to be the start of the interesting questions and frankly probably a lot of the problems. This is going to last a lot longer and get a lot more complicated than anybody is predicting.
SLAUGHTER: But, Gideon, what we did in Libya is driving what we have to do in Syria. If we hadn't intervened in Libya, we - we would have not nearly as much pressure on us to actually have to stand with the protesters in Syria, which in my view is the right thing to do.
ROSE: Yes, I think just the opposite. I think -
SLAUGHTER: I know you do.
ROSE: -- what we're doing in Libya is driving what we're doing in Syria because the one thing everybody is saying is God help us, we can't get involved in there. So even if Assad massacres 1,500 people, we're certainly never going to intervene anymore. We already have one ongoing messy, difficult intervention, so we got to stay on the sidelines on this one.
SLAUGHTER: No chance. We were never going to use force in Syria. And, what's important, because the - ZAKARIA: But why? The - I mean, in an affected - in Syria, a dictator is also massacring his people.
SLAUGHTER: In Syria, a dictator is, although, again, I think deterred somewhat by - by what we're doing, by what others are doing. But, again, in Libya, we were very clear, we were not going to act unless we were actually requested by the regional organization, and that was very important.
We were not going into a Muslim country without an actual appeal and authorization from other Arab states. And you're never going to get that with Syria.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, you would - you would - you look at the Syrian diplomacy and say that's what we should have done in Libya. We would - we have had, you know, less military power and prestige engaged. We could walk away from it more easily.
ROSE: In Libya, frankly, the government would probably have been able to suppress the rebels. And so what I would have preferred in Libya is some - you know, in effect, putting - putting Gadhafi back in the cage that he used to be in and letting that be the object lesson rather than intervening directly.
ZAKARIA: Now, would that -
SLAUGHTER: Yes, but can I just say one thing about Syria? I - we agree on Syria.
The one place I would - would push a little further is we need to be pushing much harder on the other countries in the region. We need to be making clear, wait a minute, you guys are the ones who denounced Gadhafi. You're the ones who called for intervention.
Look at this. Look at what this guy is doing. Turkey is playing a constructive role, Saudi Arabia, if anything, would just as soon he stay in office. Egypt is preoccupied. We need to be pushing on other countries in the region to take a role in that contact. We're -
ZAKARIA: OK, I want to move on to Afghanistan. You had a very interesting piece in "The New York Times" in which you said that the administration should - should take its queues in terms of its withdrawal in Afghanistan from Nixon and Kissinger's withdrawal from Vietnam. Now, that is not usually looked upon as a model of success, so explain what you meant.
ROSE: Nixon and Kissinger tried to extricate the United States from the war in Vietnam. They knew they weren't going to win. They didn't want to lose. And so they tried to tiptoe away and leave the local parties to keep fighting by themselves.
It almost worked, but, after the U.S. got out, the whole house of cards came falling down because Congress wouldn't let the government support Saigon because the local parties weren't able to defend themselves and so forth. And I think that, essentially, if the Obama administration can tiptoe out of the ground combat in Afghanistan, while continuing to support the regime in Kabul and continuing to bash the enemies and so forth, then essentially you could get extrication even as essentially the war continues. And that strikes me as the least bad option at this point.
ZAKARIA: Is that - that - is that realistic?
SLAUGHTER: Well, in your piece you say that - that the problem is we shouldn't be talking about withdrawal, so that we should be doing it, and indeed that's what Nixon did. He withdrew, but he withdrew under - under cover of offensive fire.
In - in an optimal world, I think that's right. But you're leaving out, A, the domestic audience, and, above all, you're leaving out the audience of Karzai.
So, Obama is trapped. He has to - he has to make absolutely clear he's pulling out to let Karzai know that we're serious. We are not going to stay and back his regime forever, and so he has to either be willing to cut a deal to fight corruption in his - his own country.
But, whatever, we're - we are where we are now, and I agree with a lot of what you say, except you leave out diplomacy. You don't ever mention the Paris Peace Accords, which were essential to being able to allow us to withdraw. And where I think we need to be in Afghanistan is I do think we need to withdraw, but I think we need to be pushing much, much harder on the diplomatic front with Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of the region.
ROSE: I think a formal accord would be desirable. I agree entirely. But, even so, it would probably be a fig leaf rather than an actual settlement to the problem there. And so, if we don't get it or if we can't get it, that shouldn't stop us from going away, if it feels like (INAUDIBLE).
ZAKARIA: One of the things you point out in the piece which I thought was very striking was that there was all this - this opposition and huge intense opposition in this country to the bombings of - bombing of Cambodia, because that was seen as crossing an international border. But, of course, we do that every week now in our drone attacks in Pakistan, which - is it functionally exactly the same thing? Pakistan became - has become a safe haven, just as Cambodia was, and we just follow in hot pursuit, as it were?
ROSE: Anybody who's watched a war movie knows that when you have a tactical retreat, you leave one guy behind to shoot and cover the retreat while the other people go away. Essentially, that's what you have to do militarily on the ground. Even as we're pulling out our forces, we should be striking hard and aggressively so the enemy can't follow our tracks and come right in.
And, you're absolutely right. Thanks to technology and other factors, you can do much more targeted attacks with drones now that achieve the same effect, disrupt the staging areas and the base of operation.
SLAUGHTER: If in the end our use of drones further destabilizes the Pakistani government or U.S.-Pakistani relations, that's actually a greater cost to us than anything that happened in Laos or Cambodia in 1973.
ZAKARIA: Final thought on Pakistan?
ROSE: You know, nobody knows what to do about Pakistan. The Pakistani government isn't very happy with us no matter what we do, and so, frankly, if we present them with a choice, as we did essentially with the Osama Bin Laden raid, which is this has to get done. Either you do it or we do it, and if you don't want us to do it, do it yourself. I think, at the end of the day, they'll grumble and be furious, but that may be the least. They had the option as well.
Gideon Rose, Anne-Marie Slaughter, pleasure to have you on.
And we will be right back.
ZAKARIA: Monday marks six months since Egypt's protesters took to Tahrir Square. While that country's leader, Hosni Mubarak, was toppled, the wider Arab spring has turned into a long summer of attrition in Libya, and Syria, and Yemen.
One country, on the face of it, seems to be doing something right. The Kingdom of Morocco recently approved a new constitution that gave significant freedoms to its people. But will these paper promises be fulfilled?
Morocco is a monarchy with an elected parliament. Its foreign minister is Taieb Fassi Firhi, and he joins us today.
TAIEB FASSI FIRHI, FOREIGN MINISTER, MOROCCO: Thanks to receive me (ph).
ZAKARIA: So, when you read the - the constitutional reforms that were approved by I think 98 percent of the people in a poll, it sound as though you're on the road to a constitutional monarchy almost in the European style. The king retains certain powers on paper, but it seems that it is going to be an elected prime minister who will become the working head of government. Is - is that going to actually happen?
FIRHI: It will indeed happen because we were prepared for that and because, also, I think that the constitution of Morocco is a constitution 2.0. Yes.
ZAKARIA: And you've been reforming for decades.
FIRHI: For decades and maybe namely since now 12 or 15 years. ZAKARIA: How do you ensure that the powers that the king has on paper are not abused or not used excessively? You know what I mean? Because the king still retains all kinds of -
FIRHI: All political parties decide together to maintain two specific functions for - to his majesty. First, as commander of the faithful. The second role, as head of state, is the - the possibility to manage the army, because our army is professional, not politics.
But in all other fields, it's open for - for the competition between political parties. And the - the head of state - the head of government, chief of executives, will have the possibility to manage the country in terms of orientation, social economic evolution.
ZAKARIA: You talked about the king's role as the - as the commander of the faithful. He is supposed to be a descendant of the Prophet. He is -
ZAKARIA: You know, he has this long lineage of 14 centuries.
ZAKARIA: What I'm struck by about the radical Islam in your country is even the Islamists are moderate by comparison. I mean, your Islamist movement is headed by a woman, and you are training women preachers, right?
FIRHI: We are training -
ZAKARIA: You're the only Islamic country I know -
FIRHI: Exactly. Exactly. They would - when I talk about the evolution during the last year, before the Arab spring, one of the reforms concerned the - the religious field, and, in this context, we want to maintain our Islam, but we want to avoid that the religions interfere in political issues.
ZAKARIA: Now, all this must sound very worrying if you were in Saudi Arabia. And people say that the Saudi regime has been trying to both woo and pressure the Moroccan government, the Jordanian government, not to go too fast down a path of reform, not to go down too fast down a path - path of constitutional monarchy. How do you deal with that?
FIRHI: Personally, I didn't feel that. Sincerely. And even the council of the (INAUDIBLE) country, the cooperation, invites Jordan and Morocco to join them.
ZAKARIA: That's part of the wooing.
FIRHI: We - we can interpret also in the different way, is that maybe they want to share with us our own experience in terms of democratizations. But I think that it's most strategic, and I hope that we will have a strong partnership with - with the Gulf countries because we need an Arab - a new Arab league.
ZAKARIA: Morocco has another unusual aspect to it, which is that you have had a - a history of actually friendly relations with - the Jews.
ZAKARIA: The - the king of Morocco sheltered 200,000 Jews during World War II.
ZAKARIA: With that background, do you - are you hopeful at all that there will be some breakthrough on the Arab-Israeli front?
FIRHI: Morocco played the role since a long time, and Morocco in the 1985 desired and expressed that Israel have to exist and to be recognized by all Arab countries. And we play a - a role as facilitator, as mediator.
Now, we don't have a friend - a friendship or relation with Jews. Jews are a component of the Moroccan society. And this new constitution recognizes that.
ZAKARIA: So, let me ask you, if these reforms are successful, if the constitution is enacted in the way that - and implemented in the way that - that you say, in all likelihood, in a few years, there will be an elected prime minister wielding real power, and your position, the foreign minister, will not be held by a diplomatic - a diplomat like you, but by some politician.
FIRHI: That's true (ph). It's - it's open and it - it was open in the past. And - but we see that, you know, in many countries, naturally, the - the importance of the political legitimacy in the - in the cabinet then with the legitimacy in the present people, sure. You're right.
ZAKARIA: So you're reforming yourself out of a job?
FIRHI: I hope that I will continue to play - to deliver, to give thanks to my humble experience, the best we can for my country, because this country is a splendid country.
ZAKARIA: Foreign Minister, pleasure to have you on.
FIRHI: Thank you very much. Thank you so much.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: Now, for our "What in the World?" segment, what got my attention recently was the video of these two men, shooting the breeze in their track suits.
The man on the left is, of course, Fidel Castro, who led Cuba for 50 years, starting in 1959. His pal is Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela since 1999.
This is not just a friendly reunion. Chavez is in Cuba to undergo chemotherapy for his recently revealed cancer. He could have summoned the very best doctors to his home, he was invited to go to a world class cancer facility in Brazil, but he chose Havana.
Cuba has a cheap and surprisingly good health care system, but Chavez's attachment to Cuba is more than just medical. It's political. He's making the statement that he supports the Cuban model. Unfortunately, that model is crumbling, totally out of sync with the modern world.
Chavez has gone so far as to talk of a Venecuba, a merger between two allied states. These kinds of ideas, these two men, that picture, are all throwbacks, relics of another era. While much of the region has embraced free markets and free trade, ride a wave of fast growth and rising incomes, Venecuba has lagged behind. Brazil grew at nearly eight percent last year. The Venezuelan economy shrank by two percent.
The year before that, it contracted by another three percent, and that's despite OPEC announcing this week that Venezuela has more proven oil reserves than Saudi Arabia. People in the most oil-rich nation in the world actually suffer from rolling blackouts, thanks to years of bad leadership.
Meanwhile, in Cuba, the country and its finances are in freefall, surviving only because of Venezuela. Remember that Cuba has been a basket case for decades, but it was sustained by billions in Soviet aid. Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Havana lost its ideological ally and its major sponsor. The economy contracted by a third and there were dire food and fuel shortages.
Enter Hugo Chavez. When he became president, he immediately sought the blessing of his hero, Fidel Castro. Association with Castro gave Chavez revolutionary street cred. In return, Chavez has virtually written Cuba a blank check.
According to a recent Brookings Institute study, Caracas ships 115,000 barrels of oil to Cuba at discounted prices every day. That accounts for 60 percent of the island's oil demand. In total, Venezuela's various types of aid to Cuba is said to add up to nearly $5 billion a year. Havana returns the favor by sending tens of thousands of doctors and nurses the other way.
It doesn't sound like a fair trade. In Cuba, there are signs the leadership realizes it needs to wean itself off Venezuela's largesse. Fidel Castro's younger brother, Raul, is now president and is trying to seek out investment from China, India and Brazil. But, structurally, not much has changed in Cuba since 1991. The island nation is still run on socialist principles that have produced shortages, black markets and mass poverty.
Imagine what happens to Cuba without Venezuela's support, and imagine what happens in Venezuela if its people begin asking questions about why they suffer one of the world's highest rates of inflation, a contracting economy, one of the worst crime rates despite having more oil than any other nation in the world. One day, these two countries will look around, see that Latin America is leaving them behind, and face the future.
So remember these scenes of the two amigos. They might turn out to represent the last hurrah of a dying world.
And we'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MCCULLOUGH, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING HISTORIAN: I've known, to a greater or lesser degree, I think seven presidents, and I don't think I can sleep at night if I knew what they know and had all of that on my shoulders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley. And here are today's top stories.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told me in an earlier interview this morning that a short-term debt agreement would threaten the health of the economy, likening it to a tax increase. He also added despite some reports the president did engage in talks with Speaker Boehner yesterday.
TIM GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Over the course of yesterday, the president was in touch with all the leaders. They met together over the course of the day.
GEITHNER: And they were talking, you know, throughout the day.
CROWLEY: Beyond that early morning meeting?
GEITHNER: Yes. They were talking out.
CROWLEY: So the - so the president is still actively involved -
GEITHNER: Oh, absolutely.
CROWLEY: -- in these negotiations.
GEITHNER: Absolutely. You know, what the leaders know -
CROWLEY: With the speaker?
CROWLEY: More of my interview with Secretary Geithner at noon, Eastern on "STATE OF THE UNION."
Norwegians gathered this morning at a church in Oslo to mourn the victims of the bombings and mass shooting that killed at least 93 people. Local TV and newspaper reports identify the accused assailant as 32-years-old Anders Behring Breivek, who has not entered a plea of guilty but has confessed to the twin terror attacks.
Those are your top stories. Now back to FAREED ZAKARIA GPS.
ZAKARIA: One way to gain some insight into the current mess in Washington is to step back and get some perspective. I tried to do some of that at the top of the show. But I wanted to get some deeper historical perspective on the performance of the president and of Congress.
And few today understand the past and present of this nation better than David McCullough. He is one of the world's most decorated historians, having won two Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of Harry Truman and John Adams. Welcome.
MCCULLOUGH: Thank you very much.
ZAKARIA: We have in the White House a president who clearly is interested in history, a writer himself. How do you think about him?
MCCULLOUGH: I admire him very much, and I think that his - his time in office presented him with problems such as very few presidents have ever had to address. And given the complexity and the gravity of those problems, I think he's handled himself very well. My - my hat goes off to him, my heart goes out to him.
Who - who could possibly do that job? No human being is sufficient for that role. It's beyond human capacity. We all ought to want to help him. We all want to help everybody in elected office to do the job the way it ought to be done, to live up to the responsibility.
In the old House of Representatives Chamber in the Capitol, what's now Statuary Hall, over the doorway, there's a figure of Clio, the Goddess of History, and she's riding in her chariot. And on the side of the chariot is a clock, put there way back in the 1830s or earlier. Still runs perfectly. She's writing in her book of history.
And the idea was that the Representatives would look up to see what time it is now, but they should be reminded that that's just present daytime. What legally matters is what's being written in the book of history. What looks down on Congress today? Television camera. Very different attitude.
Any time you have a president in office you have to think, too, as compared to whom? What are - what are the choices we have? Who else is there? Who else was there in the election?
I've known to a greater or lesser degree, I think seven presidents. And I guess what's impressed me most is how different they have been one from another as - as men, as human beings. And some of those that I like best as people weren't necessarily the best presidents. And my - my understanding I think of what weighs on their minds is pretty - pretty close. I don't think I can sleep at night if I knew what they know and had all of that on my shoulders. I don't know how many people could sleep at night.
ZAKARIA: When you look at it, Mr. McCullough, what makes a great president?
MCCULLOUGH: The capacity to move the country to do better than it thinks it can with the use of the English language.
ZAKARIA: Communication is that important?
MCCULLOUGH: The power of the written word, the spoken word, very, very important. An ability to stick to your principles, an ability to work with people with whom you disagree and may dislike.
I try to stress that exceptional presidents are the exception. We can't expect every president to be a great president. It doesn't happen that way. Life isn't like that. And you can't predict - there isn't a type. They come in all shapes and sizes.
Who would have ever thought that Harry Truman would be one of our greatest presidents? And there's no question he was. He said, I never forget where I came - who I was, where I came from and where I would go back to. Now, that's a man who knows exactly who he is. He's not craving this adoration and - and limelight in order to feel good about himself. He didn't want the job. It was thrust upon him.
He did not have the gift of moving the country with words the way FDR did or Lincoln did. And he did not have the physical presence that Washington had - and I think Washington is our greatest president.
MCCULLOUGH: He set the standards for behavior, integrity and patriotism of the best kind, not the flag-waving kind, but true love of country. All of our - all of our best presidents, without exception, have had a sense of history and I don't think that's coincidental. And one of the things that a sense of history gives to a person, is not just an appreciation, an understanding of what happened before we came along, but the realization that we, too, are a part of history and we, too, are going to be judged by history.
ZAKARIA: Do you -
MCCULLOUGH: And that's extremely important. The today's polls, today's - tomorrow's headlines, are not going to matter.
MCCULLOUGH: What matters, how will you look? How will this time look in time to come? What are - what cathedrals are we going to build? We don't ask ourselves that much.
ZAKARIA: But you're optimistic at the end of the day?
MCCULLOUGH: Yes, I am. I'm optimistic in the long run principally because of what I see in the generation of my own children and grandchildren and the students that I meet when I'm lecturing at colleges and universities. I'm distressed. I'm sometimes stunned by how much they don't know about the history of our country. But I know how bright they are. How well meaning they are, that they want to do the right thing.
I agree with you that we're making a grievous error in not accepting these able, talented people who come here for our education opportunities. It's a big mistake. That is the natural resource of all natural resources, the most important of all, what's up here, ideas, ingenuity, foresight, all of that, training.
We ought to be as Canada is being. We ought to be a place they all want to be and come on over, we need you. What would we be without immigration? What - think of who would never have become an American without immigration? That's who we are, thank goodness.
ZAKARIA: Powerful words. David McCullough, thank you.
And we will be right back to talk about a time when America and Americans were fascinated by France. David McCullough's new book, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: We are back with the historian David McCullough, whose latest book "The Greater Journey" is about a wave of 19th century Americans who migrated to Paris.
We think of Americans as famously uninterested in the world. We think of America today and we don't care what's going on in the rest of the world. We don't want to borrow anything from the rest of the world. The Americans you're describing seemed fascinated by - by France. Why?
MCCULLOUGH: They craved, craved France, and they weren't anxious to go there because they were disenchanted with our country. They went to find out if the talent they had was really as strong as people were telling them, and in order to get the training, the experience that they could not get here. There were no museums with paintings hanging in them then. There was not one school of architecture in the United States. This is in the 1830s.
MCCULLOUGH: And no way to train as an artist to work in an Ataye (ph) or to get the kind of training that one would need to be a sculpture or a painter. And Paris was the medical capital of the world. So they went for a multitude of - of professions and artistic careers.
If you were a foreign student in France, in Paris, you could go to the Sorbonne. You could go to the L'ecole de Medecine for nothing, free. Imagine if the students who were coming to Harvard or Yale or Stanford were coming here and going free? It was part of the policy of the - of France at the time.
So if they could afford to support themselves, room and board, then they could go to these greatest of institutions. But American medical training, for example, was woefully behind. Most doctors in the United States in the 1830s, '40s, '50s, really right up through the Civil War had never been to medical school.
ZAKARIA: The Paris you describe is a place that is clearly the center of the world in a sense, and we forget now because the industrial revolution had just begun when - when you're - so you're describing the last gasp of the great agricultural revolutions, and France was probably the richest country in the world, and Paris certainly the center.
MCCULLOUGH: Well, what most people don't realize is that Paris was the cultural center of the world. And we had - this city, New York, has became the cultural center of the world after World War II.
But Paris was also the center for medical education, medical science, science itself, technology. The Brooklyn Bridge, for example, stands on an underwater foundation system called caissons, which was developed by French engineers in Paris. So the engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, Washington Roebling went to Paris to find out how they do it. And that's why he was able to do it.
And most Americans don't realize that, how much we owed to France.
ZAKARIA: I've got to just go on a tangent here for a second, because you wrote a book about the Brooklyn Bridge.
MCCULLOUGH: I did. And here you are talking about the engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge and what he borrowed from France. How does it stay that fresh in your mind?
ZAKARIA: To me the writing of the book is like an experience in life, you never - particularly if that's a powerful experience. You never forget it. And some subjects, once I've finished with them, that's it. I've gotten it out of my system. But with the Brooklyn Bridge, there's something about it, I'm still involved. My wife and I take a walk over the bridge every year. We go back and walk through the old neighborhood in Brooklyn where we lived when we were first married.
And I think it's - it's one of the great accomplishments of our civilization. It's both a work of technology and a work of art, and it stands - it stands the test of time, both visually and technically. It's a magnificent production.
And it also rises up out of what was really a very corrupt time, much like our own. And the idea of this emblem of affirmation can rise up out of that sort of swamp of the gilded age is to me reassuring, and particularly in our time.
ZAKARIA: Our times, though, do seem more parochial. I mean, the people you - you discuss in the book, they seem so interested in the world and in intellectual currents in France, but elsewhere as well. And the people, you know -
MCCULLOUGH: It wasn't cool to be cynical then. It wasn't cool to be - to be filled with self pity. One of the - people often ask me when I'm starting a book, what's your theme? Particularly some of our academic friends. I have no idea what my theme is. I make up something to calm them down, but I have no idea. It's one of the reasons I'm writing the book.
And one of the themes that I realized is a theme as I was about halfway through this project is - is work. We receive such ballyhoo constantly about ease and happiness being synonymous. Again and again, people were saying on paper in their diaries and letters, I've never worked harder in my life and this is the happiest time of my life. And they're struggling as Saint August - Augustus Saint- Gaudens, the sculptor. He said, "We're struggling with all the realities of life, the mundane, every day chores of life, struggling to soar into the blue," as he says. And I think that's emblematic of that - that generation.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that we have lost some of the optimism and energy that - that you saw in the 19th century?
MCCULLOUGH: Yes, temporarily. I'm a short range pessimist, long-range optimist. I think we'll get through these troubles. We've been through worse.
When the 9/11 happened, people said, oh, this is the worst thing we've ever been through. Yes, it was terrible. But by no means was it the worst we've ever been through. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War. Imagine 600,000 people killed. The influenza epidemic, the Great Depression. These were terrible times.
The dark - I think maybe the darkest time was right after Pearl Harbor. We had no army. Half our navy had been destroyed. The Russians - the Germans were nearly to Moscow. Britain was about finished and Churchill came across the Atlantic and he gave a speech and he said, "We haven't gone this far because we're made of sugar candy." That's the message we need now.
ZAKARIA: And that's the kind of historical perspective we all need.
David McCullough, thank you very much.
We will be right back.
ZAKARIA: Osama Bin Laden's burial at sea seems to have created a mini-trend for evil doers around the world. That's the subject of our "GPS Question."
It was announced this week that the remains of which deceased evil doer would be buried at sea. Was it, A) Adolf Hitler; B) Rudolph Hess; C) Pol Pot; or D) Idi Amin.
Stay tuned. We'll tell you the correct answer. Make sure you go to CNN.com/GPS for 10 more questions. And while you're there, make sure you check out our website, The Global Public Square. It's really great. Lots of smart interviews and takes from some of our favorite experts. You can also find all our GPS shows on it. And don't forget you can follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.
This week's "Book of the Week" is my favorite from my guest, David McCullough. It is his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of President Harry S. Truman entitled simply enough, "Truman." It's beautifully written and weaves a fascinating story of an ordinary man who became an extraordinary president. This is the book that restored Truman's reputation on history, so well worth reading.
Now for "The Last Look." Here's a riddle for you. What do you do with 17,000 cans of beer, 4,000 bottles of wine and 55 Jerry Cans of alcohol? Well, if you're a college fraternity, you'd probably throw a massive party.
But what if you're a Muslim country where alcohol is illegal and you've confiscated it all. If you're Kabul (ph) custom, you destroy it as they did this week. You line up the bottles of Stoli 12 deep, you take the Chinese Johnny Walker Red, the Heineken and the wine and you toss it all into a big pit.
The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge Question" was B, the remains of Adolf Hitler's Deputy Rudolph Hess were exhumed this week to be cremated and buried at sea. His gravesite had become, as many feared any grave of Bin Laden would, a place of pilgrimage.
Go to our website for more.
Now, before we go, a reminder that words are powerful. On last week's show I called the Brazilian Football Club Corinthian Small. Since then I've been deluged with messages from the Corinthian Nation, thousands and thousands of them. So let me clarify. Corinthian has tens of millions of fans as was evidenced from the response, but it does not have the revenues or purchasing power of the top European clubs. That is changing, as I noted. Corinthians is clearly a rising financial giant in the game as evidenced by its multimillion dollar bid for a star player like Carlos Tevez.
Interestingly, this week the Corinthians bid for Tevez was dropped. Corinthians is a great club with more than 100 years of proud history and I wish the team and its fans all the success in the world.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "RELIABLE SOURCES."