Return to Transcripts main page

Fareed Zakaria GPS

How to Tackle Al-Qaeda Local; Al-Qaeda's evolving strategies; The Last Man to Try to Achieve Peace in the Middle East; Kidnapping Ordeal Ends in Idaho

Aired August 11, 2013 - 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 today's show, first up is al-Qaeda back or where the embassy closures and the terror alert misguided? We'll take a look at those questions and examine al-Qaeda's new stronghold.

And we'll ask the last man to try to achieve peace in the Middle East whether the current attempt is worth it. Ehud Barak, the former prime minister of Israel weighs in.

Also, President Obama cancels a summit with Russia's President Putin. What is up with the Russians?

Finally, before and after, a stark reminder of the ravages of war.

But, first, here's my take. The Obama administration's warning about a possible al-Qaeda plot against American interests in the Middle East has triggered a volley of attacks back home.

For those who always suspected President Obama was somehow soft in fighting the war on terror, this was vindication. The Weekly Standard, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorialists all piled on, saying the President had claimed that al-Qaeda had been decimated and that the tide of war was receding, but this terror warning proved him wrong.

Now, in part, the Administration has only itself to blame. The State Department issued a global travel alert for the entire month of August and explained that an attack could come anywhere.

Congressmen who were briefed by Administration officials explained that while al-Qaeda targets were cities in the Arab world and in Africa, there could also be attacks in Europe or North America.

Now, if it is a global travel alert, then it isn't really a travel alert but rather an existence alert.

The public announcement had all the hallmarks of the old color- coded alerts of the Bush era, threatening enough to make people anxious yet vague enough to give them little to do about it. But what about al-Qaeda? Well, al-Qaeda Central, the organization centered n Afghanistan and Pakistan, is, in fact, battered and broke.

But the idea of al-Qaeda remains vibrant in some other places, not, as it turns out, in the great hotbeds of Islamic radicalism, such as Saudi Arabia, but rather in places where the government is so weak, it simply cannot control its own territory, Yemen, Somalia, Mali and northern Nigeria.

So what kind of strategy should the U.S. pursue against these very small groups in very weak states? There are three possible paths.

The first would be a more full-bore counterinsurgency strategy, the kind that General David Petraeus executed in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, in Afghanistan to bring stability to those areas.

But does anyone think that sending tens of thousands of American troops into these countries is a smart idea? And does anyone think keeping more troops in Afghanistan would make terrorists in Mali tremble?

As Michael Hayden, CIA director under George W. Bush, pointed out, many of these groups are really gangs of local thugs using the al-Qaeda name to build their brand.

For Washington to announce a grand campaign against them might exaggerate their importance, Americanize local grievances and create a global threat that didn't really exist. The terror alerts have probably delighted these small groups for just that reason.

The second strategy would be counterterrorism, using drones, missiles, Special Forces and other kinetic tools to disrupt al-Qaeda- affiliated groups. By anyone's measure, the Obama Administration has been aggressive on this front.

President Obama has used more drones in each year of his presidency than Bush did in his entire presidency. Ditto on data- gathering, as Mr. Snowden has reminded us.

The third possible approach to the new threat of terrorism is to try to get local governments to fight the terrorists. But the places that these al-Qaeda affiliates have sprung up, like Somalia and Yemen, are, almost by definition, ungovernable.

At the moment, only the U.S. has the technology, missiles and troops to disrupt terrorist plots being hatched in those countries.

So, you throw the posturing and the politics aside and you can see that the U.S. is following a reasonable path among the options. If anything, the best policy, in the long-run, would be to shift the struggle over to locals, who can most effectively win a long war against militants on territory they know better than any outsiders.

It would also shift the ideological struggle over to Muslims, who can most effectively battle al-Qaeda in the realm of ideas.

The U.S. can help by building up the legitimacy and capacity of these governments in various ways by encouraging reform, providing aid and technical know-how.

Of course, this would be the softest of the three strategies and would probably draw the most fire from Obama's critics were he to actually pursue it more fully.

Go to for a link to my Time column this week and let's get started.

You've heard my take. Let's dig deeper now. I have two great scholars on al-Qaeda and terrorism. Peter Bergen is, of course, CNN's national security analyst, the author of many books on al-Qaeda. He produced the first TV interview of Osama bin-Laden back in 1997.

Gregory Johnsen is the author of, "The Last Refuge: Yemen, al- Qaeda and America's War in Arabia."


Peter, what triggered all this, as far as we understand it, is the head of al-Qaeda, Ayman Zawahri, sent a message to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen, asking them, you know, do some terrorism please.


ZAKARIA: Now, is that a sign of weakness or strength?

BERGEN: I mean I - it's a sign of just sending a message. I mean, it's do something - it's not like the end of the world is coming. And, so far, whatever that something is hasn't transpired.

And I think that al-Qaeda central, led by Ayman al-Zawahri, is aware of its own problems and even al-Qaeda in in the Arabian Peninsula is not doing particularly well despite all the sort of flurry of things we've seen over the past week.

About 30 of their leaders and senior operatives have been killed in CIA drone strikes. So, you know, their bench is thinning.

ZAKARIA: We has Yemen become the next place after Afghanistan and Pakistan?

GREGORY JOHNSEN, AUTHOR: Right. Well, I think in Yemen you have a very weak central government. So, this is a government that doesn't have a lot of control over a lot of the territories which means that when this group that we're talking about, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they really had sort of their Genesis moment in a prison break in February of 2006.

And, at that point, the U.S. was really focused on Iraq and the Yemeni government was really focused on an insurgency it was fighting up in the north which meant when the group tunneled out of the prison, they had about two-and-a-half years in which to build up an infrastructure and really establish deep roots.

And that head start that they've had is one that the U.S. and Yemeni governments really haven't been able to catch them.

ZAKARIA: But are they ideologically motivated, global jihadists? Are they really after something - you know, do they want to rule Yemen? How would you describe these people?

JOHNSEN: I think the problem that we in the West often have is that we think about al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula only as a terrorist group and they're certainly that.

But they see themselves as something much more. They see themselves as a group that can be a governing force, a group that can take over territory, the group that can staff schools, build water wells, string electrical lines.

And this is something that they did in 2011 and in 2012 in the wake of the Arab Spring. But doing that opened them up to air strikes from the U.S. and they were eventually forced out.

And I think what the group is doing now is having a debate over how do we get to where we want to be, ruling a country, without being so vulnerable to strikes from above.

ZAKARIA: How should we think about drones because I think you've been very critical about the drone program, the excessive use of drones in Pakistan?

BERGEN: Yes, I mean, you know, if the price of a successful program in Pakistan is just angering 200 million Pakistanis, the fifth largest country in the world with nuclear weapons, I mean that's a large price to pay.

And there are certainly moments when you can use drones and the President in a speech in May basically, you know, gestured at the idea that they were going to sort of be more careful about the use of drones.

And I think in Pakistan we've some of that, but in Yemen, just recently, we've seen a lot of strikes. So, as a practical matter, the administration is still using the drone program.

But -- and, you know, in Pakistan it's -- you know, it's unbelievably unpopular. In Yemen, as Greg knows better than I, you know, there have been protests, but it's not - I don't think the whole country's up in arms in Yemen as it is in Pakistan on this issue.

ZAKARIA: When I look at these groups, the thing that I think sometimes we forget in the United States is these are very small groups often and with very little public support.

I mean there's a reason these guys don't field candidates for elections. They're not going to win anywhere, right?

JOHNSEN: Right. ZAKARIA: And there's a reason they don't try to get a million people out on the streets in Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood can because they can't.

How - so, how do you think about the strength of something like -- because of all them, the one in Yemen probably has the most, you know, intrinsic strength.


ZAKARIA: How strong it is really?

JOHNSEN: Yes, that's a great point because this group is deeply unpopular in Yemen. The problem is that the U.S. is even more unpopular.

And so this is a group that is really internalized I think a very important lesson and that is that the side that kills the most civilians in a war like this loses.

And that's something that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is very very careful about. They justify their attacks. They make mistakes. But they really attempt to limit their attacks to military forces or to western interests.

ZAKARIA: Peter, I have to ask you before we go about Syria. Is it your sense that there is not jihadis, but actually al-Qaeda presence growing in Syria?

BERGEN: Oh, I mean without a doubt. I mean the most effective fighting force fighting the Assad regime is something called the Jabhat al-Nusra, the victory front. It's basically an al-Qaeda front organization.

It's -- Ayman al-Zawahri is the boss. And, you know, Syria's in the heart of the Arab world, al-Qaeda's an Arab organization. For then, the Afghan war was a sideshow. It's next door to Israel.

You've got thousands of foreign fighters coming in, including people from the West and, you know, just do the math. I mean it could get pretty ugly.

Iraq didn't turn out to be a net exporter of terrorism in the end. Many of the foreign fighters who came actually ended up as suicide attackers or died on the battlefield.

But, certainly, Syria is something where al-Qaeda could establish a safe haven.

ZAKARIA: Peter Bergen, Greg Johnsen, thanks for joining us. Wonderful book, by the way.

Lots more ahead. Two big conflicts, the first is India and Pakistan. I'll explain why we might actually be optimistic that these two sworn enemies might become friends. But, up next, the chances for Middle East peace. I have a great guest, the Former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak who tried this the last time around.


ZAKARIA: If all goes as planned in the coming days, the next round of the Middle East Peace Talks will take place in Israel. This comes on the heels of the negotiators' meetings with President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry in Washington last week.

So, we have actually made it past the first round, but what are the real prospects for Middle East peace?

Joining me now is Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister, whose 2009 summit with Yassar Arafat remains the most ambitious attempt to achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

So, when you look at this situation, a lot of people say this is a waste of time, it's a sideshow, Secretary of State Kerry should not have invested political capital in this. What is your sense?

EHUD BARAK, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I'm basically an optimist. I've been all along my life and I believe that it's real need for both sides. Both sides, the leadership on one end, the mainstream understand that the alternatives are much worse.

And I think that Secretary Kerry deserves a lot of compliments for his for his tenacity in bringing both sides to the table.

ZAKARIA: But is there a -- has something changed now that makes is likely to happen?

BARAK: I think that there are more chances than I admit. Reason is that both sides understand it and, of course, both sides will have their complaints.

I personally believe that the Palestinians are much more responsible for where we are stuck than the Israeli government, bit it doesn't matter because without tough decisions on both sides nothing (inaudible).

ZAKARIA: You were in these talks. What is your sense -- what is the single issue that is likely to be the deadlock. Is it Jerusalem? Is it - how would you describe it?

BARAK: I think the (inaudible) of hard-core issues, borders should be set, security of Israel extremely important, the -- some (inaudible) about the Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, which is, of course, symbolic.

And, ultimately, they need to recognize Israel as what is is, a Jewish state, and putting an end to all mutual claims. End of conflict and end of mutual claims is the essence of a permanent peace.

I personally believe that even if it will end up that a full permanent peace cannot be achieved, it's worth the effort to strike even an interim agreement where borders and security arrangements are made.

And, once and for all, in an irreversible way, a line will be delineated on the ground within which there will be a solid Jewish majority for generations, we include the major settlement blocks and the Israeli president, Jewish president, beyond the line -- old line in Jerusalem and on the other hand, a place for a viable Palestinian state.

That's the least strategic aim and if only this could be achieved it would provide a better logical path for the further steps.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about Israel's security. Ariel Sharon, when he was prime minister, said, "We are rapidly approaching the moment where Iran's nuclear program reaches a point of no return." Shaul Mofaz, when he was a defense minister, said something similar.

Of course, you very famously talked about Iran entering a "zone of immunity," at which point, there was no turning back. Hasn't Israel cried wolf too often on Iran? It seems as though you have set up these red lines and Iran seems to move past them, but nothing happens.

BARAK: We all use the same rhetoric. We all say that all options remain on the table and we are determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear. We have to mean it.

And now, with the new president, Rouhani, everyone mentions that he was the one responsible for slowing the moving toward nuclear military weapons in 2003, 2005. We have to remember why he did it.

He did it and the only time why he did it and that was the essential precondition, where he felt that when the Americans already hit Afghanistan, they already hit Iraq, and they probably -- there (inaudible) might be the next target.

That's the only thing that convinced them. When we say that we are determined to prevent Iran, we literally mean it. And we expect others who say to mean it.

The real way to act, according to my judgment, is to if you decide to give some time for negotiations, do it. But put it within a tight time line. And the Iranians should know, not the public, but the Iranians should know that they are expected to put an end to the nuclear military program or else.

Behind closed doors, they have to know it. There is no need to humiliate them. There is no need embarrass them, but they should know what will follow if they will not take decisions quite urgently to stop it.

ZAKARIA: So does that mean, however, that if things continue as they are and the Iranians have been careful not to enrich above a certain level, but if they continue as they are, at some point, Israel will strike, in your opinion? BARAK: I don't want to announce in front of cameras what we will do. But I repeat what I've said many times when I was in power and repeat it now. When we say that we are determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear, we mean what we say.

ZAKARIA: But a lot of people look at what Israel has been saying, from Ariel Sharon to Shaul Mofaz to you, and not acting and have come to the conclusion maybe Israel has decided it can live with the situation as it is.

BARAK: No, we didn't. We didn't decide and I don't believe that we can decide that we can live with it. We cannot control whole events. I don't want to go into speculation what might happen if Pakistan politically has a meltdown, what will happen to nuclear proliferation.

But we feel a heavy responsibility to do what should be done if the future of Israel is going to change in front of our eyes, we cannot afford to sit idly.

ZAKARIA: Ehud Barak, always a pleasure to have you on.

BARAK: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Up next, What in the World. Another decades old conflict and this time both sides are armed with nuclear weapons. But despite that, there are reasons to be optimistic about India and Pakistan. I will explain when we come back.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Christi Paul in Atlanta. Fareed Zakaria will be back in just a couple of minutes. But to watch the What in the World segment, go to

First, we do have an update on a developing story that we want to clue you in on. Breaking overnight, this week-long kidnapping ordeal is over. The suspect is dead, his captive, Hannah Anderson, safe, I'm happy to tell you, and soon to be reunited with her father.

But a drama that began near San Diego ended a thousand miles in the rugged wilderness near Morehead Lake, Idaho. I want to take you to CNN's Miguel Marquez with more.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exclusive CCN video of FBI Hostage Rescue Team members and other federal agents heading out on a dramatic rescue mission.

Amazingly, the teams in full tactical gear were delivered to waiting helicopters in a U-Haul van. A modest start to an enormously successful mission.


BILL GORE, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFF: Suspect James Lee DiMaggio was shot and killed. Hannah Anderson was located with DiMaggio. She appears well.


MARQUEZ: The FBI moved in on foot to confront James DiMaggio.

The area where these two individuals were seen is about 30 miles from Cascade, the only way to access it is by helicopter.

The pair was spotted first from the air near their campsite. Teams on foot then moved in.


MARY ROOK, FBI AGENT: Special agents with the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team along with Salt Lake City Division of the FBI, observed Hannah and the suspect near Morehead Lake at a campsite.

Agents moved in to rescue Hannah. The suspect is deceased.


MARQUEZ: FBI releasing few details saying the entire operation will now be reviewed by a team heading here from Washington with DiMaggio considered armed and dangerous and Hannah, a potential hostage, the stakes enormous.


ANDREA DEARDEN, ADA COUNTY, IDAHO SHERIFF'S OFFICE: This is a homicide suspect that was in a very rugged area and we had a 16-year- old girl. We have to look at the tactical issues. It is certainly a complex search.


MARQUEZ: A complex and successful operation ending a week of fear and grief. Miguel Marquez, CNN, Cascade, Idaho.

PAUL: So, let's get you to San Diego now where, of course, this whole thing began and Hannah Anderson's family is overwhelmed after hearing news of your rescue and just trying to process at this point everything that's happened since last weekend.


(UNNKNOWN): Oh, my baby girl. Our baby girl. Oh my God. I'm so glad she's safe. And she's OK. She's such a strong girl. We knew she was strong and we knew she'd make. We knew she could do this and she did it.

(UNKNOWN): She's definitely going to need our support through all of this and I know it's going to be really hard and we're just going to be here for her, you know, through every step of the way.

(UNKNOWN): I can't even cry anymore. I'm so happy. I really am. I want to cry because I'm so happy and I don't have any tears left.

(UNKNOWN): Me neither. I've been crying so much.

(UNKNOWN): It's been such a hard week.

SARA BRITT, HANNAH'S GRANDMOTHER: The way it ended up for both Hannah and Jim it's fitting. No one wants to go through years of jury trials and putting Hannah through any of that. So, you know, I wouldn't want to see anyone dead, but it happened and we're excited to have our granddaughter home.


PAUL: CNN's Casey Wian outside the sheriff's department right now.

So, Casey, do we have any word as to when Hannah's going to be reunited with her dad? He's on his way there now, yes?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONENT: That's what we understand, Christi, that Brett Anderson is on his way to Idaho at least will be there at some point today in the company of law enforcement.

Hannah has been in the hospital overnight for observation physically as she's said to be in good shape, but just as a precaution they did hospitalize her.

And so we don't know exactly when that reunion will take place. We do expect it will happen sometime today.

As to when she will return to the San Diego if, in fact, she does return to the San Diego area, that's an option question. Some family members expect it may be two or three days before she's back here.

She may not come back here, at least not immediately. Her father has been living in Tennessee. It's always a possibility they could go back there, we don't know. What we do know is that this family has a lot in front of it. A lot of healing and a lot of work to do. They have lost two family members. Hannah's mother and her younger brother, Ethan, and they have got a 16-year-old girl who has been through an incredibly traumatic ordeal over the last week that they have now got to deal with going forward, Christi.

PAUL: Casey Wian in San Diego, thank you so much. And certainly thinking about this family today. Even this is such good news for them. We're going to keep an eye on the story, developments all day long, I'm sure, but we're going to go back to "Fareed Zakaria GPS" talking about what President Obama pulled out of a planned one-on-one meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin. That's after a quick break.


ZAKARIA: This was President Obama and President Putin in June. Sullen and silent. Now it's even gotten worse with the White House pulling out of a planned one-on-one meeting in Moscow next month. So what to make of it? Who is to blame? I have two great experts. Julia Ioffe is a former Moscow correspondent for "The New Yorker." She is now with "The New Republic." And Chrystia Freeland spent four years as Moscow bureau chief for "The Financial Times", wrote her book "The Sale of the Century" about Russia's transition from communism to capitalism. She's now running for parliament in Canada. Welcome to both of you.

Julia, let me start with you. Do we know how much of what is going on is about more than Snowden? By which I mean there did seem to be a more promising prospect between U.S./Russian relations, the reset, but then you've had Syria on which the Putin administration has been a big disappointment to the Obama administration. You've had even arms control where they have not been particularly forthcoming. And then this. So is this part of a larger trend?

JULIA IOFFE, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": I think Snowden was just the catalyst. He was the straw that broke the camel's back. And I actually think you would have to rewind past Syria and go back to Libya. The Russians felt very much duped by the Americans. They had abstained from vetoing the resolution to allow the use of force in Libya, and then what ended up happening was not, you know, the use of force was much more than they had anticipated and then Gadhafi ended up getting killed. This really, really rattled Putin. Then you had the protests, the kind of anti-Kremlin protests that broke out around the time of Putin's return to power. And the Kremlin chose to take an anti-American line and that accusing then Secretary of State Secretary Clinton of almost orchestrating the protests. An things just kind of snowballed from there. Things haven't been going well for about two years, a year and a half, and the Snowden thing I think was really just the last straw.

ZAKARIA: And Chrystia, isn't the awkward reality here that this anti-Americanism actually plays well in Russia? Is that fair?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, FORMER MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF, FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, I agree with you, Fareed, and I would double down on that argument. You know, I've seen some people talk about the cancellation of this summit as a blow for Putin, and I think that nothing could be further from the truth. I think that what we're seeing in Russia is Putin playing the classic authoritarian leader's playbook. And what he is doing is not only playing to a nationalist xenophobic anti- Western dynastic constituency, he is building that constituency. He is doing everything he can to create a power base in Russia and a sense among ordinary Russians that everybody else is against us, everybody else is hypocritical. We are strong. I am the person who supports you. And all of this is at a piece. I think the very strong and to my mind really dreadful, terrible, anti-gay legislation, sort of anti-gay push that we're seeing from the Russian government is another part of this that's saying we're different from the West, we oppose them, we openly oppose them, we can stand up to them. And ultimately what this is about for Putin is consolidating his hold on power in an authoritarian regime and I think it speaks actually -- now, Julia mentioned the Democratic protests. This is something he's actually really worried about. And so what he's trying to do is build up an alternative really quite frightening, nationalistic, hostile power base in his own country. ZAKARIA: Julia, was it always like this? Because it felt like when he came to power, he was seen as a man that -- he seemed to like the West, the West seemed to like him. You know, Bush famously looked into his eyes. But he also, people forget, he asked repeatedly for membership in NATO. He thought that Russia's rightful place was this part of Western Europe really. And he's moved from that a long way. Part of that, I think, is that the price of oil has quadrupled and all of a sudden the Russians don't need foreign aid and things like that. But there seems to be something else happening as well, where the Putin of today is not the man who took office.

IOFFE: Well, in some ways he is and in some ways he isn't. And I think this is his relationship with the West is part of a long tradition of cognitive dissidence inside Russia that goes back hundreds of years. On one hand Russia wants to be part of the West, it wants to be seen as an equal partner at the table. On the other hand it wants to be seen as different and unique and not -- and wants to be immune from what it sees as the West superimposing its values that are foreign to Russia on Russia.

ZAKARIA: Chrystia, when President Obama says, you know, I'm trying to look forward and I sometimes feel like they slip back into the Cold War, I do think there's something to this in the sense that this is not the most sensible strategy for Russia. If you look at Russia's national interests, what are their big problems? Their big problem is Islamic radicalism to their south. The other big problems are, you know, the long border with China that they've always had. They need the West in ways that would serve Russia's national interests, but as you say don't serve Putin's particular power interests.

FREELAND: Putin is not chiefly concerned about what's good for Russia. He is chiefly concerned with what is good for Putin. And that's where I think actually the Cold War analogy is not quite right. This is not -- we are not living in this dual-power world, in which Moscow is the capital of the Soviet Union and is seeking to control a big part of the world. We are living with a Russia, which is a much smaller, relatively economically and militarily much weaker country, and a country, in which for all his power, Vladimir Putin doesn't have the communist party machine to control his country. He is much more comparable to these sort of classic authoritarian rulers whose, you know, whose control is brittle.

ZAKARIA: We're going to have to leave it at that. Chrystia Freeland, Julia Ioffe, thank you so much for joining me. Chrystia, best of luck on your campaign.

Up next, an eminent Canadian tycoon who was prosecuted and jailed by U.S. authorities. Explains why America is a great country nonetheless. When we come back.


ZAKARIA: You might remember the case of the press baron Conrad Black, who at one point owned one of the great newspaper empires of the world. But then six years ago, he faced investigations into his handling of his company and was convicted in U.S. federal court on the lesser charges of obstruction of justice and fraud. Some of the major charges against him were successfully overturned on appeal, but in the end Black served more than three years in American prisons. Black, an amateur historian with several important biographies under his belt already, has now written a book about the country that imprisoned him called "Flight of the Eagle, the Grand Strategies That Brought America From Colonial Dependence to World Leadership." He cannot enter the United States currently so he has joined me from Toronto to talk about his benign view of American grand strategy, but his much less flattering opinion of our legal system. Listen in.


ZAKARIA: Conrad Black, thank you for joining me.

CONRAD BLACK, FORMER NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER: I'm grateful for the invitation, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you first about just a general tenor of your new book, which is kind of paint (ph) to American leadership in the world. You've always been a great fan of America. I was just wondering have your views changed after having had what I think you would describe as a very rough encounter with this country's judicial system? Do you still -- how is it that you can go through that process and still be so laudatory about the United States as a great role model for the world?

BLACK: Well, that's not quite what I wrote. I was laudatory of the rise of the country. I separate that from the fact the country persecuted me half to death, and that does affect my affection for it at the moment in its present condition, but not my admiration for it historically or my fundamental liking for it. And, of course, it has nothing to do with my relations with the great many valuable friendships and acquaintances I've built up with Americans over many years.

ZAKARIA: But still, does it make you think that our system of law, for example, that our rule of law is not as great as it is purported to be?

BLACK: Yeah, it is in a terrible condition. 99.5 percent of your prosecutions are successful compared to about 60 percent in Canada and 50 percent in Britain. It's not because your prosecutors are better, it's because the system is too one-sided. You've got five percent of the world's population, 25 percent of its incarcerated people and nearly 50 percent of its qualified lawyers. It's a terrible problem. And the plea bargain system is just an outrage. It's simply the extortion of incriminating perjury with an immunity for perjury in exchange for not being prosecuted or for a reduced sentence. It's not justice and certainly has made a shambles of America's claim to being a bastion of human and civil rights and has put the Bill of Rights through the shredder.

ZAKARIA: Tell me about leadership. You wrote a very exhaustive biography of Franklin Roosevelt. And even though you are a conservative, you were quite laudatory toward him. You wrote one about Nixon. What do you think distinguishes a great leader?

BLACK: Well, you've had a variety of them, obviously, in the United States, but I think courage when you need it, sense of a ruse and an ingenuity within limits and getting things done when you need that, such as Roosevelt's performance in helping keep the democracies in the war between 1940 and '41. And a vision of the country, of what it can do, where it can go, what its moral imperatives are, and a sense of innovation, a sense in the case of a great nation like the United States, a sense of grandeur.

ZAKARIA: So you have a few pages on Obama in the book -- at the end of the book and they're quite dismissive, I think. And what I wonder is, so if you would look at it from the point ...

BLACK: Not dismissive -- I would never -- Fareed, I would never dismiss a president of the U.S. It's a great office and I always respect the holder of the office, the present holder and previous ones. I have to say I don't think the majority of Americans would be quite as enthused about this administration as you are. But I am certainly not dismissive of him. But I think that there have been some serious problems. And I think they don't start with him. But I think there is a leadership problem in the U.S. that has been going on for most of the time since Reagan retired. The thing that worries me just as an example is that in the terrible year of 1968 with 550,000 draftees in Vietnam, 200 to 400 of them coming back dead every week, riots everywhere in the country. Race riots and antiwar riots, assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, in that year, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon all ran for president. And you can say lots about all of those people, but they were all qualified to be president. And I don't think the best candidates, for example, in the Republican Party ran in the election last year. And this -- this is disturbing. And I don't think it has ever happened before in U.S. history. And in my judgment, since you asked me, I think that there is a very large number of Americans that felt instinctively that the national media and the political establishment had unjustly destroyed a distinguished administration, which Mr. Nixon had in his first term, and had scuttled the effort in Vietnam and had never ceased to congratulate themselves for doing it. And the country is uneasy about that. I think that's why Rush Limbaugh has 30 million listeners and the network newscasts have declined.

ZAKARIA: At the end of the day, though, you balance this with an overall sunny optimism about America. How?

ZAKARIA: At the end of the day, though you balance this with an overall sunny optimism about America. How?

BLACK: It's fundamentally a very powerful country. It's a rich country. There's nothing wrong with it in my opinion that some leadership won't deal with. And the habit of American history is when it needs leadership, it gets it. Very few people expected great things of Abraham Lincoln or either of the Roosevelts, let alone a less glamorous personality like Harry Truman. Many people disparaged Ronald Reagan as a rather limited -- intellectually limited actor, and so on, but they were all very distinguished presidents and they led effectively.

And we'll get back to that. I mean all that's needed, it's conceptually simple and the playbook is well known. Is for the elected leader of the country to say we have the serious crisis. These are the proportions of the crisis. This will happen if we don't deal with it. This is our plan of action to deal with it and I ask for your support. As long as it's plausible, the people will support that. But it's not happening.

ZAKARIA: A unique perspective on America. Conrad Black, pleasure to talk to you. We'd love to have you back.

BLACK: I'd always be delighted to speak with you, Fareed. Very nice talking with you again.


ZAKARIA: Up next, what does war do to a country? I'm going to show you some images from Syria that will get you thinking.


ZAKARIA: This week marked the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima in 1945. There was a somber ceremony in the city's Peace Memorial Park to honor the dead. Nuclear weapons like the W80 warhead that are currently in the U.S. arsenal have an explosive impact that is almost 15 times that of Little Boy, the bomb used on Hiroshima, which brings me to my question of the week. How many nuclear weapons does the United States have in its arsenal today? Is it a, 5,700, b, 6,700, c, 7,700, or d, 8,700. Stay tuned, we'll tell you the correct answer. Go to for more questions and lots of great articles. As always, you can follow us on twitter and Facebook. And if you miss a show go to

This week's book of the week is "Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Champion of Freedom by Conrad Black. If you were intrigued by the interview with Black, this is his magisteria biography of the man he contends was the most important person of the 20th century. A surprising choice for an arch conservative, but he makes his case very well.

And now for the last look. This isn't an ominous movie clip of an incoming UFO. You're looking at the city of Aleppo in Syria. Watch what happens as you drag this bar to the right. These extraordinary before and after satellite images released by Amnesty International this week show changes to the city in just 12 months. 1,000 roadblocks are scattered throughout and the extent of the devastation is truly vast. After 12 months of bombardments, hundreds of homes and businesses are reduced to smoldering rubble. These pictures illustrate not only death and destruction, but the loss of cultural treasures as well. Here you can see the minaret of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo, which dates back to 1090 A.D. It was completely destroyed in April. The economy is collapsing too, of course. The only construction that is taking place, makeshift camps for internationally displaced people along the Turkish border. The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge" question was C. The United States has an estimated 7,700 nuclear weapons as of early 2013. Between 1945 and the 1990s, we produced more than 70,000 total warheads and spent at least $8 trillion in present-day terms on nuclear weapons development.




ZAKARIA: The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia currently has a larger arsenal than the U.S. with 8,500 nuclear weapons in its possession. Of course, exact numbers are closely guarded state secret. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."