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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Foreign Policy Panel; Interview with 'Argo' Author Antonio Mendez

Aired October 14, 2012 - 10:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

On Monday, Mitt Romney set out his foreign policy plank. In eight days, Romney and Obama will debate foreign affairs. So we will ask a terrific panel what to make of Romney's foreign policy.

Next up, "Argo," the amazing, little known story of six Americans who actually escaped from the embassy in Tehran in 1979 and, eventually, got out of the country.

I'll talk to the man at the CIA who masterminded the operation. Ben Affleck plays him on the big screen, but you get the real version with us.

Finally, Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, on how the Civil War changed America. Also, do you feel guilty taking a day off from work, don't. It's probably good for your country. I'll explain.

But, first, here's my take: Recently, Intelligence Squared, a feisty forum in New York, debated the proposition "Better Elected Islamists Than Dictators," referring to the choices the United States confronts in the Middle East.

The lead speaker for the proposition was a prominent conservative intellectual, Reuel Marc Gerecht. And the lead speaker against the proposition a prominent conservative intellectual, Daniel Pipes. That's a reflection of the state of conservative thought on the most dramatic event sweeping the world.

Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech sounded alarms about the turmoil in the region, but he, too, seems somewhat unsure which side he would be on.

On the one hand, you have commentators like the Romney adviser John Bolton and TV anchor Sean Hannity, who believe that the Obama administration should have tried to keep Hosni Mubarak in power in Egypt. Hannity described the emerging democratic system in Egypt as "the rise of violence, hate, Islamic extremism, madness and death.

On the other hand, you have conservative policy makers like Paul Wolfowitz and others who have celebrated the fall of Arab tyrannies, some of whom only wish that President Obama had been quicker to support the transition to elections.

This debate is important. Over the next few decades, the Middle East could see the rise of "illiberal democracies," countries with elections, but few individual rights. Or it could see a gradual evolution toward pluralism and the rule of law.

But this discussion is being superseded on the right by a visceral reaction to Islam and Islamism, as Hannity's comments suggest, that is neither accurate nor helpful in understanding what is happening on the ground.

The heart of the problem in the Arab world was that the old order was highly unstable. Repressive regimes like the one in Egypt had created, over the decades, extreme opposition movements.

That opposition often became violent and it attacked America for supporting those dictatorships. In other words, America's support for Mubarak or the Saudi monarchy and other such regimes fueled the anti- American terrorist groups that then attacked us on 9/11.

Al-Qaeda understands that if the Arab world democratizes, it loses the core of its ideological appeal, which is why al-Qaeda's head, Ayman Zawahiri, wrote a book condemning the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's decision to support and participate in Egypt's democratic process.

So while we might despair over a particular statement or policy from the new Arab regimes, they have produced elected leaders with real legitimacy. And these leaders do denounce al-Qaeda and violence and they do try, in their own way, to reconcile Islam and democracy.

Should we encourage that or should we oppose them? That's why Romney, in the end, proposes that we work with the elected governments of Libya and Egypt and try to push them in the right direction.

Now, there is one place where a resolutely secular dictatorship, one that has battled political Islam for decades, is in trouble. And it's in trouble from an opposition movement that has within it radical Islamic forces.

So, those who truly believe it is better to back secular dictators than to gamble on the prospects of political Islam should be supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

For more on this, read my column in the "Washington Post." There's a link on And let's get started.

We will leave it to others to analyze the ups and downs of the vice presidential debate. We will get to the main course. What do make of Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech this week, what to make of the state of the Arab Spring and the candidates' responses to it.

Joining me now are: Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times, now an op-ed columnist for that paper; Danielle Pletka, the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI; Bret Stephens, the Wall Street Journal's foreign affairs columnist; and Kishore Mahbubani, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

Welcome back to all of you.

Bill, what did you make of what was billed as Romney's major foreign policy address?

BILL KELLER, FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR, OP-ED COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, the interesting thing to me was, you know, when you strip away the rhetoric and all of the kind of high-minded talk about leadership; he's not that different from Obama.

And, in a couple of points, it seemed to me he moved a little closer to President Obama, maybe analogous to the way he moved to the middle on domestic policy in the first debate.

ZAKARIA: Danielle, you wrote an op-ed in the Times calling for him to present a kind of stark, substantive contrast or at least a vision, it wasn't so clearer it was a contrast. What did you think of it? Did he deliver for you?

DANIELLE PLETKA, VICE PRESIDENT FOR FOREIGN AND DEFENSE POLICY STUDIES, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I thought he delivered for me up to a point. I think that he made a lot of effort to be more specific than he has.

You know the campaign in foreign policy has really been plagued by a certain vagueness, in which Obama had run on his record and Romney has kind of run as the not Obama. But none of that has had any real texture to it.

I think that he did a good job in adding to it in certain areas. I think, as Bill said, in some, there was a surprising lack of contrast with Obama, particularly on Iran. He merely said that he would be better on sanctions.

And that's not really much of a contrast. So, yes, good on certain issues, good on Russia, good on the question of the Arab Spring I thought, quite specific. But, on this other question of Iran, perhaps a little more vague than I would have liked.

BRET STEPHENS, COLUMNIST, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think we're looking at this in the wrong way. This was not a policy speech. This was a political speech. It was a tonal speech.

It was a way of saying I'm Mitt Romney. I have some thoughts about foreign policy. They're somewhat tougher sounding than the incumbent is, but let's face it. It's almost like a proverbial curse.

You know enunciate a foreign policy doctrine as a candidate for the presidency and the gods will laugh at you. President Obama was going to close Guantanamo within a year of his presidency.

President Bush came into office promising a humbler foreign policy. President Clinton came into office saying I'm going to deal with the butcher of Belgrade. He did, but not until after the massacre of Srebrenica. So I think that we need to look at foreign policy pronouncements from either candidate with a certain grain of salt. This was tonal. He was saying he preferred chocolate to vanilla and not look at it with fine grade analysis.

ZAKARIA: Kishore, what does it look like from half-way across the world?

KISHORE MAHBUBANI, DEAN, LEE KUAN YEW SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY AT THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, SINGAPORE: Well, I mean I agree with Bret. This is for election purposes, for a domestic audience.

But if you look at it from the outside, there's a sense of incredulity that America still believes that you can be a white knight and go out and remake countries overseas and save them.

And, after your disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya, I think the era when America could go out and change the world is ending. So, from the point of view of the rest of the world, a much more realistic appreciation of the difficulties of changing the world would better.

ZAKARIA: You raised the issue of the Arab Spring. And that was, I thought Romney's, rhetorically, the most stark contrast even though it wasn't clear in policy terms what he'd do.

But the essential argument was, you know, you have these huge changes taking place around -- in the Arab world and Obama's sort of watching them passively rather than actively shaping them.

Do you think that -- you know, is it a wise -- is there something the United States could do that would more actively change what's going on in the Middle East in a way that would be beneficial to them or to us?

PLETKA: It's not like we can make the Egyptians different, make Mohamed Morsi successful or fail, be pro-American or anti. It's that, insofar as our interests are concerned, we can at least be mindful that there's been a change there.

You know we have a massive aid program in Egypt. If it's an aid program that's going to continue willy-nilly because of Camp David, then, OK, let's admit that that's what it's all about.

But if it's, in fact, about our relationship with Egypt, about furthering our own values, and about promoting things that we believe in that we think will be beneficial bilaterally, regionally and for Egypt, like health care, women's rights, economic reform, then we need to stop a second and say who are we giving money to, how are we spending it, what are we doing, we should do that every time a government changes.

And that was one of the things that Romney talked about that I thought actually made sense not in a partisan way, not in a, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood is coming way, but in a serious American foreign policy way.

I think we've seen the same, you know, ignorance of what's going on Libya. We turned our back. We stopped listening. You're done, not our fight, thank you very much, good-bye.

ZAKARIA: We are going to have to take a break. When we come back, more of the Romney foreign policy. We're going to ask why he stopped bashing China when we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Bill Keller of the New York Times, Kishore Mahbubani all the way from Singapore, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute.

Do you think it's fair to say, as I do, that conservatives are split on, you know, kind of fundamentally how to deal with the Arab Spring. Is it a good thing ...

STEPHENS: Yes, I'm lately joking that I've become kind of a paleo-neocon and my fondness or my skepticism of purely democratic movements.

ZAKARIA: I know.

STEPHENS: And there is -- I mean there's -- I think the split is actually fairly cosmetic and I think there's a way to heal this rift if it needs healing, which is that the United States should be and should have been, by the way, long ago, much more actively supporting reform with our friends and supporting regime change with our enemies.

That's why I think it's such a ...

ZAKARIA: But let me press you on that because, to be fair, there was an 8-year period called the Bush administration where, to be fair to Bush, he tried and it was very tough to get Mubarak to reform.

STEPHENS: That was a -- that was ...

ZAKARIA: It was very tough to get the Saudis to reform. It sounds like a good idea ...

STEPHENS: That was a two-year or maybe three-year administration that began with the fall of Saddam and ended the moment Hamas won the election -- parliamentary election in 2006.

And, then, let's face it, late Bush administration was a kind of classic realist administration dealing with Mubarak. We had an ambassador who would extol Mubarak's virtues at every turn.

And the Obama administration pursued that as well. So that was actually a great missing opportunity for the United States to really start pushing the Mubarak regime.

Maybe it wouldn't have succeeded, but it was at least worth a try to say your options are not good, you're not going to be able to perpetuate this regime forever and you need to start moving aggressively towards reform.

ZAKARIA: Bill, how does this strike you?

KELLER: Well, I mean the question is what else should we be doing to encourage the guy who is now the head of Egypt, Morsi, to honor his better angels? And, you know, he's clearly fumbling for a way to do that.

You know he got criticized a lot for going to Tehran, but he went to Tehran and criticized the butchers in Syria. He got criticized, by some people, for not protecting our embassy better, but then he did protect our embassy in Cairo.

So he's trainable and, you know, yes, we should be doing all of those sorts of things that used to be called, "nation building," but we should also be, you know, using the carrots and occasionally the sticks to reward and encourage that kind of behavior.

STEPHENS: Let me just pick up on just one thing you said because you brought this up, Kishore, what can the United States do? The United States can impose a no-fly zone over Syria or at least Western Syria, precisely the kind we imposed, at no cost to us, over Bosnia in the 1990s.

There was one line in Mitt Romney's speech that stayed with me when he quoted a Syrian women saying, "We will not forget that you've forgotten about us." And I think that's important.

There are ways in which we can use American power very effectively and very forcefully. So I think that there are things we can do to tilt the balance in favor of our interests.

KELLER: Well, let's talk a little bit about -- let's stay on Syria for a little bit because I mean I would love to see us do more to help get rid of the Assad regime.

And I guess, I don't know, but I would guess that if, you know, Hilary Clinton could figure out a way to get surface-to-air missiles into the hands of the rebels with some assurance that they wouldn't be used to shoot down American passenger liners, she would do that and the Obama administration would do that.

I would bet that if they could figure out a way to impose a no- fly zone without massive casualties, because Syria's more complicated as a military target than Libya was, you know, where all the anti- aircraft stuff was around the coastline not in huge population centers, you know, I think it's easy to wish for those things, but a little harder to actually do them.

PLETKA: But ...

MAHBUBANI: Can I inject a slightly different point of view here? I mean I want to emphasis that this is not the end of history (inaudible, this is the return of history (inaudible). The Islamic world has been passive for 200 years. It is waking up. It is remaking itself. It will remake itself in its own image. And, at the end of the day, much as I wish, like all of you, that we can go in there like a white knight and save the situation, sometimes it cannot be done.

PLETKA: Hang on a second ...


PLETKA: Wait, you can't -- You know there's all these sort of platitudinous pronouncements about how I wish we could do and if only we could do more and this is really their fight. And the answer is yes.

Well, you know, the war on the European continent was also their fight and we did something and they were remade in an image and guess what, it looks a lot like the image of the victors.

The truth is that these things can be done. I mean we are the United States of America. Yes, it's true. It's not Libya. On the other hand, it's not the Soviet Union either.

We have precision-guided munitions. We can enforce a no-fly zone. We can do it without substantial casualties. That is what the military believes as well. Of course it can be done. We don't have the will.

And the Syrian woman that Romney quoted knows it. It doesn't matter how many times you pronounce that we wish we could do it. We've got to do something.

MAHBUBANI: And the result would be a civil war -- the result would be civil war ...

PLETKA: There is a civil war. There are 30 plus thousands of people who are dead.

MAHBUBANI: There is a civil war. The result would be a bigger civil war and you got to figure out how to stop it ...

PLETKA: You can't stand aside.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask for a, finally, one question about China and American leadership in responding to requests essentially from the Vietnamese, from the Philippines and, to a certain extent, from other countries in Asia.

Do you think that the United States is inevitably going to play the role of some kind of a balancer in Asia?

MAHBUBANI: The simple answer is yes. They will do so for American national interests, too, because the world's most important relationship is within the world's greatest power and the world's greatest emerging power. The world's greatest power is the United States and the world's greatest emerging power is China. There will have to be a balancing force that will emerge quite naturally as a result of geopolitical competition.

And, certainly, by the way, the pivotal issue is, or whatever you may call it, it welcomed in many Asian countries because they'd rather see a balance with U.S. and China than to see either one or two or three powers just dominating it on their own.

And the biggest story about the U.S.-China relationship is how both sides are maneuvering each other, positioning each other so that they avoid any kind of direct condition and that, too, is good.

ZAKARIA: Bret, were you surprised that Romney dropped what had been a staple of his speeches which was a king of China-bashing paragraph that was not in this foreign policy speech.

STEPHENS: I was relieved. I think the worst part of the Romney campaign is the ceaseless and I think very feckless and, ultimately, dangerous China-bashing.

We want China as a rising economic power and as a responsible political player. And I hope that this is an indication that Romney, at some level, beyond the purely political, beyond politics in Ohio, understands this.

ZAKARIA: On that note, Bret Stephens, Danielle Pletka, Bill Keller, Kishore Mahbubani, pleasure to have you all on.

Up next, What in the World, the case for a new public holiday in America. I'll explain.


ZAKARIA: Now, for our What in the World segment. The summer holiday season is winding down. But last Monday, Americans got to enjoy one last hurrah, a federal holiday, Columbus Day.

It got me thinking about the economy. Can we afford all these days off? And how does America compare with the rest of the world?

Well, the consulting firm, Mercer, ranks countries by the number of holidays each requires by law. And the data confirms a number of commonly held stereotypes and there a few surprises. Take a look.

Top of the list is the United Kingdom, with 28 statutory holidays. Nine of the top ten countries are, of course, in Europe who love La Dolce Vita. Eight of those are in Western Europe.

Scroll down further and the list continues to be dominated by European countries. About 20 days off for the Germans, Irish, and Italians. Then, come a bunch of Latin American countries, and then the Asian ones, Hong Kong, Pakistan, and Singapore with just 14 statutory holidays. Where's the United States? Dead last, actually. Zero statutory holidays. That's because federal law does not mandate pay for time not worked.

In practice however, Mercer says Americans are allowed about 15 working days off a year, still pretty close to bottom of the list. What's more, only about half of Americans actually take their full quota of days off, according to the World Tourism Organization. Europeans, once again, have no such qualms.

But let's go back to Columbus Day. Federal holidays like those are counted separately. These are days when government offices and banks are closed and so businesses have an incentive to follow suit.

But even on those, the U.S. lags behind. Mercer puts us at joint 9th place. Top of the list are India, with 16 public holidays, and Colombia with 18.

But Argentina has climbed even higher after the Mercer survey was published. It now has 19 public holidays. They, too, had last Monday off, but they don't call it Columbus Day. In Argentina it is called "Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity."

The Financial Times reports how these holidays have increased by seven full days since President Cristina Kirchner took office in 2007, a 60 percent jump.

The logic here isn't simply to keep people happy. The FT points out that domestic tourism during long weekends has increased by 40 percent this year. The government estimates that more than 800,000 people traveled around the country last weekend, spending $130 million.

So how's that for a paradox, holidays that boost growth. In fact, it's a tradeoff, the boost to tourism versus a decline in other economic activity. But countries also have to juggle political and cultural sensitivities.

Now, I work hard, but I like holidays. I think you get a chance to recharge and Americans shouldn't worry about taking some time off. Look around the world, we are not slackers.

More important, most of our growth has been fueled not by long hours, but by innovation, productivity, education, and immigration.

One final thought. If I had my way, I would add one holiday to the U.S. calendar, one which most countries have, Presidential Election Day. If we did that, we might find that many more Americans would take part in what should be an essential act of citizenship.

We'll be right back. Up next, it sounded like something out of a movie. Now, it is a movie. The 1979 hostage crisis in Iran, I speak to a CIA insider about the new film, "Argo."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. FAREED ZAKARIA GPS returns shortly, but first a check of the top stories. A new poll shows a tight race for the White House in Arizona. According to a Rocky Mountain poll of likely voters, President Obama has a 44 to 42 percent edge over Mitt Romney. That's within the survey's margin of error. Only one Democratic presidential candidate has won Arizona in the past 60 years, Bill Clinton in 1996.

The Romney campaign has a new ad out today featuring Joe Biden laughing as his Republican challenger, Congressman Paul Ryan, talks about the struggling economy. The contrasting footage was from Thursday's vice presidential debate. A CNN ORC poll taken after the two men squared off showed a split decision.

A dangerous and daring effort to break the sound barrier, today skydiver Felix Baumgartner is making his second attempt to jump from the edge of space. CNN's Brian Todd is here with details. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, right now they're going through the process of inflating Felix Baumgartner's balloon on the surface there in Roswell, New Mexico. That process could take maybe as much as an hour. The launch of the balloon and capsule may not occur for at least another hour. At that point it will take about two and half to three hours for him to ascend to the highest point from which he will jump, 120,000 feet above the surface of the earth. So that jump if it happens today may not happen until about mid afternoon or early to mid afternoon Eastern Time. So he is on the ground waiting for all of this to get ready. And the launch could come soon, Candy.

CROWLEY: And incredible story. Thank you so much, Brian. CNN of course will have continuing coverage of this story throughout the day. "RELIABLE SOURCES" is at the top of the hour, but now back to FAREED ZAKARIA GPS.

ZAKARIA: Everybody knows about the 52 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days in Tehran after militants stormed the embassy in November 1979, but often forgotten are the secret six, six other Americans working for the government who were not taken hostage that day. And until recently only a handful of people, most with top secret clearances, knew the real story of how those six eventually got out of the country. That fascinating tale is the basis of a new book and movie, both called "Argo."


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: (voice-over) The actions of Iran have shocked the civilized world.


ZAKARIA: The movie out this weekend was released by Warner Brothers, which has the same parent company as CNN. The mastermind behind the plan to set them free, who is also the co-author of the book, Antonio Mendez, joins me now. Welcome. ANTONIO MENDEZ, AUTHOR, "ARGO": Thanks for inviting me.

ZAKARIA: So you were working at the CIA and you were the head of the authentication branch. What did you do?

MENDEZ: So a good part of my business was establishing alias identities for our officers.

ZAKARIA: Basically giving people fake identities, fake IDs, that kind of thing.

MENDEZ: Yes. Well the other things we did a lot of was what we called exfiltrations. So I had an actual staff who specialized in exfiltrations. And we would be working on preparedness worldwide, prepared to handle the walk in for instance that would knock on your door at midnight and say I want to defect.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER, ACTOR: (voice-over) This is what I do. I get people out. And I've never left anyone behind.


ZAKARIA: So the hostages are taken and then there are six people who by sheer luck escape before the militants can get to them, American government employees and their spouses. And they go from apartment to apartment and they end up-they're in a situation where they can't keep moving around.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: What happened, the six of them went out a back exit. Brits turned them away. Kiwis turned them away. Canadians took them in.


MENDEZ: The Canadians rather than shoo them away said right on, what took you so long?

ZAKARIA: But they can't stay with the Canadian ambassador forever. And so you have to come up with some plan to get them out. And so you think of something that's literally out of Hollywood.

MENDEZ: I think of Hollywood because I had some in doing dealings with Hollywood. And I trusted them. I knew some really smart people out there. My masters thought it was a little crazy.

ZAKARIA: But explain the idea. You decided that you were going to try to make these people seem like people who had come from Hollywood from a production company scouting for desert locations.

MENDEZ: Exactly, yes. So rather than hide them in the crowd we decided to put them out front and center. It's what we call a distraction and create a misdirection in the operation and where they can blend in and be gone.

ZAKARIA: So you decide, okay, so you're going to give them some identity that seems real. And you think that people won't wonder- you're scouting for desert locations and you come to Iran with all this turmoil?

MENDEZ: Yes. Everybody knows that people from Hollywood are a little eccentric and would go anywhere in the world if they had a certain bizarre that they wanted to shoot.

ZAKARIA: But in order to make this work you actually have to set up a real production company in Hollywood.

MENDEZ: Yes. We had to find real estate on one of the studios out in Hollywood. And our consultants there helped us find some real estate. And we created a production company that we called Studio Six Productions. Within a few days we had a movie script. We had a company. The first thing we did is took the-went down to a Hollywood reporter and to Variety and took out full-page ads. I designed a poster that said "Argo, a Cosmic Conflagration."

ZAKARIA: And now you've got to go to Tehran. And you decide to go yourself. And you play the production manager of this supposed film.

MENDEZ: Exactly. And going to Tehran is not unusual. We know that the job is going to be done much better if you're on site because the worst thing that can happen is the six amateurs are going to make a mistake and everybody's going to be in trouble. We want to be able to assess their ability to carry it off under pressure, et cetera.

ZAKARIA: So you go there and you talk to them. What is their reaction? Now you're telling them for the first time this whole plan.

MENDEZ: Yes. And actually it was quite a chunk of information for them to swallow.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Theater of the, sir, what are our chances?


MENDEZ: One of them was a little more intelligent than we were and he was a little hesitant to climb on board until he did some more thinking or whatever, but we convinced him that it would be nice to move quickly.

ZAKARIA: Tell us about what happens then because when we watch movies or read books about these kinds of things, spy thrillers, it always seems that when the plan is actually implemented things start going wrong.

MENDEZ: That moment of moving through immigration was one of those occurrences where we were not sure this-the eight of us arrived at immigration, put down our authentic-looking phony document packages and the immigration guy looked at the pile. And he picked it up. And he went out to the back room. We said what is he doing? He came out stirring a cup of tea. He was taking his tea break. So we were cleared to go into the departure lounge. Yes the immigration checkpoint was-

ZAKARIA: A life's barrier (ph).


ZAKARIA: When the plane takes off, when the wheels take off that must have been, well that must have been the moment you felt this has worked.

MENDEZ: Yes. We always say there's nothing as lovely as the feeling of wheels up. In this case we were still in Iranian airspace for awhile, so everybody was holding their breath until we were out of Iran completely. And then we had a celebration.

ZAKARIA: So when it happened everyone assumed it was a Canadian intelligence operation that had worked.

MENDEZ: Yes, exactly, yes. And that was exactly our goal.

ZAKARIA: Because you didn't want there to be any further reprisals against the American hostages.

MENDEZ: Exactly, yes.

ZAKARIA: You've been a movie fan all your life. What does it feel like to have Ben Affleck play you?

MENDEZ: Well as I always say, Ben is a nice guy. He's probably not good looking enough to play me, but we'll give a pass. He's a damn good director, so I was proud to be, have him on the big screen looking at somebody and say my name is Tony Mendez. That was quite a moment.

ZAKARIA: Tony Mendez, a pleasure to have you on.

MENDEZ: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.


ZAKARIA: We rightly mourn the tragic loss of every American soldier who dies in Afghanistan, but how to think about 600,000 Americans dead. That toll from the Civil War in proportional terms is even more staggering. One fortieth of the nation's population perished. A new PBS film, "Death and the Civil War," explains how those deaths changed and built the United States of America. The documentary is based on a magnificent book by Harvard president, Drew Gilpin Faust. I had a chance recently to talk to her along with the film's director, Ric Burns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAKARIA: So in the book one of the things you talk about is the way in which the Civil War changed our conception of sort of nationalism, of patriotism. And why did it do that?

DREW GILPIN FAUST, PRESIDENT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: It did it in part because so many people sacrificed their lives on behalf of ensuring the continuation of the nation. And I think Lincoln captures that so beautifully in the Gettysburg address. These people had died that a nation might live.

The Civil War had a death toll that would be even to us today almost unimaginable. Two and half percent of the population died in the war. That would be the equivalent of seven million Americans today.

And so when you think about those kinds of numbers I think it reminds you of how people must have had to struggle in order to cope with those deaths. And one part of that was simply the military deaths. What did you do with the bodies? How did you identify them when people didn't have dog tags? How did you tell next of kin when there was no system for notification?

And so there emerges from the war a reburial movement in which after the fighting had ceased in 1865 Union troops moved through the South looking for every dead Union soldier in order to protect and honor them. And what that finally yields is the National Cemetery system with 74 national cemeteries and a national commitment to the lives of those who are lost in the nation's behalf. And so things we take for granted today only emerged in the course of the Civil War. And the bureaucracy and commitment of the federal government to those principles is an essential part of the kind of nation that emerged from the Civil War conflict.

ZAKARIA: At a personal level what-the first chapter in your book is called dying. And it's about people wanting to kind of die a good death. And but I was struck by was how dying of disease was something they-or infection was something they feared more than just getting shot, very hard.

RIC BURNS, FILM DIRECTOR: There were a lot of ways to die in the Civil War. It was kind of a perfect storm in that respect. Disease took twice the number of deaths as battlefield wounds, but indeed the battlefield deaths themselves were stunning. No one was prepared for them. There had been no war that Americans or anybody else have fought in which you could begin to have the kind of casualties that started to be racked up by the summer of 1861, which was simply horrifying. That's dying.

ZAKARIA: Then there was killing. Americans were killing other Americans. Was that hard for them?

FAUST: It went against basic Christian principles of-and most of the nation at that time was Christian. And so one finds tracts written by various Protestant churches or other kinds of publications convincing individuals that to die for a holy cause is acceptable, to kill for holy cause is even better. To die is good, but to kill is also okay, to reassure people about a just war and the pass that you get on the commandment against killing.

ZAKARIA: You saw a kind of analogy with what happened after 9/11 that we went into Afghanistan and we toppled the Taliban, but that it didn't feel enough for the magnitude of what we had suffered. And so you say that was part of what explains the move into Iraq.

FAUST: It seems to me that people want meaning. And one of the things that happens at the end, and really by the middle of the war is what are all these deaths for? We have to make sure that we direct them to a purpose that is worthy of the sacrifice.

And again I think Lincoln is such an important voice in articulating this, the Gettysburg address. They have not died in vain. They are going to die for a rebirth of freedom. Something less than that is not enough. And-

ZAKARIA: And we here are highly resolved that the dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall get a new birth of freedom-


ZAKARIA: -and a government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish. That is the last, final-

FAUST: And you will-

ZAKARIA: -last lines. So it's-the Gettysburg Address is in a sense leading up to your point, is that's the essential point he's making.

FAUST: Yes. And the fact that you can recite that, that we all know it so well is proof perfect. I mention the fact of its centrality to our identity as a nation, and the centrality of the Civil War to our identity as a nation.

ZAKARIA: There has to be some larger meaning.

BURNS: Yes. Inside here I think too with the Civil War is of course the very deep hole Southerners were in, after all had lost as much as they had and not having won and having no redemptive narrative, no narrative that could make sense of all that carnage. And I think that one of the things that was driven home to me very forcefully by Drew's book and then working to translate into the film is how much in our country today it's been things that happened 150 years ago are still directly resonating with issues in the country as you realize that it was a section of country that was robbed, and essentially robbed itself permanently of being able to make sense in the Lincolnian way that the North had. And we like to think that the country came back together and Lincoln was speaking for everyone. The fact is, is that those battlefield deaths or the Confederate soldiers who died in camp did not ever really acquire after the fact the kind of redemptive narrative that Northerners got. And I think it's a discrepancy and a discontinuity that America lives with today in all sorts of ways.

ZAKARIA: Ric Burns, Drew Faust, a pleasure to have you on.

FAUST: Thank you so much.


ZAKARIA: And we will be back.


ZAKARIA: This week saw Joe Biden and Paul Ryan starring in the first and only vice presidential debate of the campaign season. And that brings me to my question of the week. You'd better put on your thinking caps. This is a tough one. Who were the participants in the first vice presidential debate ever in U.S. history? Was it (a) Johnson and Lodge in 1960; (b) Agnew and Muskie in 1968; (c) Agnew and Shriver in 1972; or (d) Mondale and Dole in 1976? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

Also remember if you missed our recent jobs special or any of our specials or shows, go to iTunes. The audio podcast is free or you can buy the video version at

This week's book of the week is "The New New Deal" by Michael Grunwald. The book is an extraordinary achievement, a detailed yet highly readable account of the 2009 stimulus, where the money went and why. Had Barack Obama read this book he would have been able to defend his own policies better during his debate with Mitt Romney.

And now for the last look. Many hedge fund managers have reputations for on a whim ordering fancy cars, planes and houses, but one hedge funder has an order for this three-masted, 356 -foot, almost 4,000 ton Argentine sovereign warship. He doesn't just have a request. It's a court order. This ship, the frigate, Libertad, and its more than 200 crew have been ordered held in Ghana's Port of Tema. Why? Just a small matter of a $1.6 billion debt that Argentina owes to Elliott Management, a New York hedge fund. So the fund went to the Ghanaian courts to ask them to seize the ship, reportedly worth only about $15 million. And the court did so. The next problem perhaps, how do you convert a warship to a luxury yacht?

The correct answer to our GPS challenge question was (d). The first U.S. vice presidential debate was only 36 years ago in 1976. It pitted Walter Mondale against Bob Dole. The first ever general election presidential debate in the U.S. was 16 years earlier than that, the famous or infamous 1960 Kennedy versus Nixon televised matchup.

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