Return to Transcripts main page

Fareed Zakaria GPS

Southeast Asia Ponders What is Going on in China; Anger at the U.S.; Climate Change Game

Aired October 27, 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 am Fareed Zakaria. We have a great show for you today. We will start with anger against America from our friends, the French, Germans, Saudis, Pakistanis, all have complaints against America. What's the United States to do? I have a panel of experts to talk about it. Also, rewriting the Bible. Is it possible that for two millennia, the world has misunderstood the lessons of David and Goliath? That is Malcolm Gladwell's controversial claim in a new best-selling book, and he applies this lesson to life today. And why in the world can't we get consensus on climate change?

A new study, a game actually, sheds some fascinating light.

Then, anti-American signs are old-hat in Tehran, but there is a new batch targeting nuclear negotiations. We'll show you what Iranian citizens are seeing.

But, first, here my take: I was in Malaysia this week and I expected a volley of complaints. The country was one of the stops on President Obama's planned trip to Asia this month that was canceled because of Washington's manufactured budget crisis.

The country's Prime Minister Najib Razak told me, We were disappointed, but we understood the situation.

Others were less diplomatic, pointing to the cancellation as evidence of America's dysfunctional political system and general decline. But many in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia told me that they were mostly puzzling not about what's happening in Washington but rather in Beijing.

This is partly the product of power. As China has grown in importance, its neighbors have become increasingly attentive to the Middle Kingdom. In the past, the only politics that these countries followed outside of their own was in Washington. Today they feel they must also understand Beijing.

And there's much to understand. China is in the midst of great political change. Last month, the country watched on national television as President Xi Jinping sat in on a meeting at which senior Communist Party officials publicly engaged in "criticism and self- criticism."

It is part of the party's "mass-line" campaign, designed to address concerns that the party is out of touch, elitist and corrupt.

The campaign includes a strong anti-corruption drive, most visibly involving the humiliation of Bo Xilai, the former party boss of Chongqing. Many in China have worried that anti-corruption is a mechanism that is being used to eliminate political opponents.

"There is so much corruption in China that whom you choose to prosecute is really a political decision." Those are the words of a Beijing businessman to me.

More surprisingly to many, the new leadership has begun a sweeping crackdown on dissent. Chinese media and human rights groups say that hundreds of journalists, bloggers and intellectuals have been detained since August, charged with the crime of "spreading rumors" among others.

China scholars have noted in recent years that the Communist Party is deeply concerned about its legitimacy and grass-roots appeal. That led many to believe it would address these issues by opening up its political system, with political reforms that would accompany economic reforms.

Instead, it appears that the Communist Party is choosing older, Mao-era methods' crackdowns, public confessions and purification campaigns.

The people I talked to in Southeast Asia were not approaching these issues from the perspective of human rights activists. They were really just trying to understand what was going on in China.

Above all, they wondered what the internal changes meant for Beijing's foreign policy. "China is being very friendly with us these days," an Asian politician told me, "More so than it was a few years ago, but it still pushes its own interests very strongly."

Diplomats have worried that China has been circulating new maps of the region in which a previously dotted line demarcating Beijing's claims in the South China Sea now appears as a solid line.

Last month, China's foreign minister denied any such change in its claims when he was publicly asked about it at a Brookings Institution forum by the former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. Yet, the concerns highlight the nervousness felt in the region.

The United States washes its dirty linen vigorously and in public. When Washington messes up, it does so in prime time, with politicians, journalists and commentators describing every gory detail with delight.

China, by contrast, has an opaque political system, which makes it far more mysterious. But China, too, has its share of crises, controversies and change. And because of its newfound clout, the world is watching and wondering what to make of the black box that is Beijing.

For more, go to and read my Washington Post column this week. Let's get started.

Germany and France, two of America's closest allies summoned the U.S. Ambassadors this week to protest alleged spying by the National Security Agency.

Saudi Arabia, perhaps America's most important Arab ally, turned down a U.N. Security Council seat. But the nation's real complaint is now with the U.N., but with the U.S. over inaction in Syria and Iran.

And America's relations with Pakistan, already strained since the bin Laden raid, took center stage this week as Prime Minister Sharif visited the White House.

What to make of it all and what, if anything to do about it? Joining me now: Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Karen Elliot House retired as the publisher of the Wall Street Journal where she had also been foreign editor and a diplomatic correspondent.

Bret Stephens is the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Husain Haggani has written a new book, "Magnificent Delusions" about his time as Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S.

Bret, let me ask you, is what we're witnessing with France and Germany and Brazil and, you know, every country ...


ZAKARIA: Mexico. Is this sort of an inevitable consequence of America being this global superpower? Is there anything we could have -- given that Snowden happened and we had this data dump, is there anything one could do about it?

STEPHENS: Well, I think you could ask some of our allies to drop the Claude Rains shocked, shocked routine. And I think most people in senior reaches of government have understood that governments spy on both enemies and allies alike.

And sometimes they do so with -- for mutual benefits. I mean the French have security concerns about jihadists in their territory. The Germans do, too. Mohamed Atta came from Hamburg.

So there are legitimate reasons why the National Security Agency would be monitoring or at least covering meta data for a lot of the calls that are placed throughout the European Union.

This is obviously a political problem in that European politicians are answerable to publics who simply see a case of this big bad America spying on them for whatever nefarious purposes they imagine that American spies on them.

And it would be better to have an explanation from the United States, but also with these governments about why the U.S. does these sorts of things. You know, someone needs to say, "Joe, you're not that important. We really don't care what you're e-mailing to your friends."

These are broad collection programs that served clearly defined security purposes. So there's a political problem, but I don't think there's a real civil liberties problem.

ZAKARIA: You worked in the State Department and you would have had to deal with this kind of fall-out. What do you -- Would you do anything differently than the Obama administration?

RICHARD HASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: What you got to ask yourself, first of all, is whether the risk of spying on your friends is worth it.

It's one of the diciest areas of espionage and what we would. And you've really got to be sure the potential benefits outweigh the potential costs. I'm not persuaded.

ZAKARIA: Husain, when you were ambassador in Washington from Pakistan, I'm assuming that you assumed that the Pakistani military was listening to what you were saying and the U.S. National Security Agency was.

How did you do business in that environment?



HAGGANI: But, yes. I mean people in countries like Pakistan always assume, with our long history of military intervention and politics, that civilian officials will always be listened to by our intelligence service. We don't like it, but we live with it.

As far as the U.S. listening in is concerned, I agree with Bret that some of this has to be explained. I think that this administration has been relatively weak in dealing both with allies and adversaries.

It has not been able to tell the adversaries that it means business with them in being able to confront them and it has not been able to reassure allies about many thing. And, therefore, something like this becomes a bigger problem in the absence of communication.

ZAKARIA: Let's talk about the biggest ally, Saudi Arabia, in the Arab world. It's something bizarre because after having lobbied for the seat on the Security Council, they abruptly turned around and said we don't want it. Ostensibly protesting Syria, Iran, the lack of a Palestinian state.

What do you think is really going on? You wrote a wonderful book about Saudi Arabia.

KAREN ELLIOT HOUSE, RETIRED PUBLISHER, FOREIGN EDITOR, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think they have given up on us. They understand -- in a tribal society like Saudi Arabia, weakness brings not only contempt but the risk of aggression.

And they don't want to walk around that nasty neighborhood holding hands with the cowardly United States. I mean that's their view.

We haven't -- we let Mubarak go. We dithered for weeks over was the coup in Egypt that threw out the Muslim Brotherhood a coup and should we end military assistance and then finally did.

And, in Syria, we've sort of said we're going to help them, but we haven't. And, then, the president said he was going to bomb them, retaliate for their use of chemical weapons and whipped around and hugged the Russians and hope that they can get rid of the chemical weapons.

I mean it would scare you to death if your security depended on us. And so I think they've decided they're safer to go it alone.

ZAKARIA: Quickly, let me get a reaction before the break, which is how much of this is also the Saudis may have recognized that being on the Security Council places you in a very awkward position.

You've got to now vote on these things.

HAAS: Absolutely.

ZAKARIA: And Saudi policy has tended to be to just give money to everyone and hope problems go away.

HAAS: Exactly. Security Council seats, as we've seen, can be awfully uncomfortable places. You can't duck issues. You actually have to vote for them, against them or abstain.

The Saudis might not have relished it particularly because there wasn't much up-side and that goes against their broader critique that the U.N. wasn't doing what it was they wanted to do in places like Syria.

So I think it was partially a protest against the U.S., but I think people are underestimating your argument that it was simply not that hot of a ticket for the Saudis.

ZAKARIA: When we come back, we'll talk about Saudi Arabia. Also, what to do about Pakistan and Afghanistan with U.S. troops are supposed to get out of there soon.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Richard Haas, Karen Elliott House, Bret Stephens and Husain Haggani.

Husain, as the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, you must have had to deal with the Saudis a lot. Saudi Arabia is, in many ways, Pakistan's principle ally, huge of amount of money flows from Saudi Arabia. What did you make of the Saudi decision? As I say, I mean after having lobbied for it, they all of the sudden turned around and decided they didn't want it.

HAGGANI: Well, the Saudis were definitely disturbed by something more than just that related to the U.N. Security Council seat. I think that if the United States was going to make an opening to Iran, it should have taken Saudi Arabia into confidence. Quite obviously, that wasn't done.

The Saudis feel that they do not have the kind of rapport with President Obama and their leaders don't have the kind of rapport with President Obama that they're used to having in the White House. They don't like being taken for granted.

ZAKARIA: When you look at Saudi Arabia these days and what its doing in Syria and other places, there does seem to be something almost reckless though in Saudi policy. They're funding all kinds of jihadis.

They're funding a huge amount -- they're fueling a huge amount of instability in Syria. This can't be -- and it's all part of this Sunni-Shia schism that they are, in many ways, contributing to.

What's going on? Why do you think they have suddenly -- I mean, part of it -- the mystery to me is they've suddenly got very active and activists in these ways.

ELLIOTT HOUSE: Well, they've tried to be active in Syria. This has been going for the last couple of years. They are frightened to death of Iran. They saw Syria as an opportunity to give this ...

ZAKARIA: To blame Iran ...

ELLIOTT HOUSE: Iranian ally a black nose or bloody nose. And they thought we were going to help them fund the rebels against Assad.

So they have, as we would say in Texas, they've put their foot on the head of a rattlesnake, Assad, and we're not helping them so they can't take their foot off and they can't crush him.

So they're caught, I think, in a bad trap. I think for the Saudis things haven't looked as dangerous as they do now probably since the founding of the modern state in 1932.

ZAKARIA: You've argued though that the United States needs to actually be somewhat less involved in all these Middle Eastern machinations.

HAAS: We've actually done quite a trick. The Asians and the Pacific countries are worried that we're doing too much in the Middle East. They're all complaining. The president doesn't show up and so forth.

And you now have the -- people and leaders in the Middle East saying we're not doing enough there. So we've basically now alienated two groups of friends and allies.

And, look, you wrote a book about a post-American world. I actually think what we're beginning to see signs of in the Middle East and Asia is a post-American world where people are increasingly discounting the views and actions of the United States.

And what the Saudis are basically doing are saying we're going to take matters more into our own hands. That's what you're seeing in the United Arab Emirates. You're seeing Japan do that.

This now has the elements or the features of a post-American world where it's not that people are lining up with anybody else. Nobody's lining up with anybody. There's a lot of freelancing going on. It's a degree of disarray of messiness and this ought to worry us.

STEPHENS: That's exactly the word. We're entering a world of foreign policy freelancers. We used to have a world in which America played -- basically set down the basic lines and people understood what they were.

Now, we don't know what the Israelis are going to calculate because they're not sure about American security guarantees. The Saudis are talking opening about buying arms and making alliances with other countries.

But the American insurance groups, if you will, strategically- speaking, is no longer providing the kind of insurance that we used to have and that's dangerous because it means a potential for miscalculation that didn't exist before.

ELLIOTT HOUSE: But this is recoverable with presidential leadership. You can remember the Jimmy Carter period when we also lost not as much credibility as now, but we lost a lot and we recovered from that.

ZAKARIA: So the most important recovery or the moment the administration will face is Afghanistan. The U.S. troops draw down. David Petraeus has told me that he doesn't believe that there is any prospect that you could truly defeat the Taliban or, you know, defeat any kind of insurgency as along as it had a safe haven in Pakistan and support from the Pakistani military.

So will the Pakistan military you think, in light of all this, as American troops draw down, is it going to want to maintain its equities in Afghanistan by funding the Taliban?

HAGGANI: They will and here's the reason: They've pursued this policy for many years. They saw the American intervention as a short- term intervention. They didn't realize America was going to be in Afghanistan for that long. That's what Musharraf said when he announced his decision to support the U.S. operation after 9/11.

They have continued to hedge their bets and, in fact, not hedge, but bet on the Taliban. But the question then is the United States, by announcing a date for withdrawal, has already made them feel that they just need to wait the American withdrawal date out.

And the only way the Pakistani military and intelligence services are going to change their policy is when it is proven to them that their policies will fail. But if they feel that they're succeeding, why should they back off?

ZAKARIA: How do you prove to them that those policies are going to fail?

HAGGANI: By letting the impact of it land on Pakistan. Pakistan civilians are already divided. Most of us feel that Pakistan is now becoming more of a victim of terrorism because we have ended up supporting these various groups and having them in our country is not good for us.

If Pakistan is going to change its policy, it's not going to be in return for a billion dollars of American aid. It's going to be when they really fear that the blow-back is going to be far more severe, that their relationship with India is going to really go worse than it is.

Basically, assuming that just aid will turn them around is not the right thing to do.

ZAKARIA: Solve Afghanistan/Pakistan for me.

HAAS: It's a condition to be managed at most. It's not a problem to be solved.

You know, it's interesting, we used the words the other day with Pakistan, "an enduring partnership." This is not an enduring partnership.

HAGGANI: Absolutely.

HAAS: Pakistan's not a partner. This is an example of the world we're living in. Countries aren't exactly friends. They're not exactly enemies. They're somewhere in between.

They're going to pursue what they see at their own self-interest. What's particularly ironic about Pakistan is I don't even think it pursues it's own self-interest.

I actually think it's setting in motion trends that will ultimately come back and undermine the stability of this country with 200 million people and more than 100 nuclear weapons.

This is one of the nightmares out there and the best we can do, I think, will be to hopefully finds ways of keeping Pakistan from collapsing. And probably in Afghanistan you'll see an increasingly divided country.

All those years of American efforts to build up a state, we'll essentially have very little to show for it. It probably won't collapse, but you're going to see, once again, a partitioned country. Lots more ahead including Malcolm Gladwell on his new book, "David and Goliath." But up right n4ext, What in the World. A new way to think about dealing with climate change. It all begins with a game that explains why we act the way we do. Right back.


ZAKARIA: Now for our What in the World segment. China has brought us a new English word: "Airpocalypse."

The northeastern city of Harbin was paralyzed this week by terrible smog and air pollution. Visibility was down to just a few meters. Highways and schools were closed, the airport was shut down. Pedestrians could barely get around.

The images are a vivid reminder of the impacts of industrial growth, especially when powered by dirty fuels like coal, which accelerates not only pollution but also climate change.

The latest report from the United Nation's scientific panel says it is "extremely likely" more than a 95 percent probability hat human activity was the dominant cause of the temperature increases of the last few decades.

Another study, published in Nature magazine, showed that we are on track to reach unprecedented highs of temperature by 2047. Findings showed the coldest year in the future would be warmer than the hottest year of the past.

So, if the science is not really in dispute, why is it so difficult for us to actually do something about it? There's a clever explanation. To understand it, I need to tell you about one more study. This one is a game though played with real money. Six participants get 40 euros each to invest in a "climate account." Every round, these players get to pick one of three options: either they put 4 euros, 2 euros, or zero money, into the account.

The investments are anonymous, but the participants can see the total amount going into the pot. Here's the objective. If, at the end of ten rounds, the pot of money grows to 120 euros, which is about 20 euros a person - then the team has successfully averted dangerous climate change. In other words, it wins the game.

Each participant gets a 45 euro prize in addition to the money they each have leftover. But if the pot does not grow big enough, the team loses the game, and they don't get the prize. And remember, this is real money, so the players have a real incentive to win.

The game was played with three different sets of rules. In the first scenario, the 45 euro award would be handed to the participants the next day. Seven out of 10 groups won the game.

In Scenario 2, the cash would be paid out seven weeks later. This time, only four of the 11 groups succeeded. In the third, the prize money would go toward planting oak trees, which would sequester carbon, and thus provide the greatest benefit to future generations.

What happened? Zero of 11 groups reached the target.

The study was published in Nature Climate Change this week. We've linked to it at

The report's lead author, Jennifer Jacquet of New York University, expanded on the findings when we spoke with her. First, people instinctively seek instant rewards. They don't want them later and certainly not when the rewards would be reaped much later by future generations.

Second, it was important that the participants were anonymous. If their contributions were known, they'd likely be shamed into contributing more.

It's a simple idea, but it highlights why dealing with climate change is hard, and also why many economic reforms are hard. People are very reluctant to accept short term pain for long term gain.

To apply that to climate change, what immediate incentive do nations have to say, tax carbon or invest in infrastructure that would make cities more resilient to storms and floods?

No matter what the strategy; adaptation, clean energy, carbon taxes, someone has problems with them and few actually get done. Similarly, look at entitlement or pension reform. They involve specific costs today for broad benefits in the out years. And they're all very hard.

It wasn't always thus. The great sociologist Daniel Bell once wrote, that the best way to describe the Protestant ethic, that produced capitalism and the industrial revolution and the rise of the West, was one phrase, two words -- delayed gratification. But there are few Calvinists left today, and the spirit of our age might be better described with just one word change -- instant gratification.

Up next, some instant gratification. One of our favorite thinkers, Malcolm Gladwell. He will explain why David was really always going to beat Goliath.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington with a check of the headlines. German spy chief will travel to the United States this week demanding answers following allegations that the U.S. has been tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone. The trip comes amid a report from the German magazine "Der Spiegel" claiming that Merkel's phone has been monitored by the NSA for more than ten years.

A series of explosions rocked the city of Baghdad early Sunday morning. Iraq's state-run TV is reporting that in one incident, a car bomb killed five people and wounded 11 when it exploded at a marketplace. More than 6,000 people have been killed in Iraq this year. With at least 350 deaths so far this month. Five people in a Brooklyn home were fatally stabbed last night, including four children. One man has been taken into custody for the killings which also claimed the life of the 37-year-old woman. It is not clear what led to the stabbings, and investigators have not released the names of the victims.

Those are your top stories. Now back to Fareed Zakaria, "GPS."

ZAKARIA: We all know the biblical story of David and Goliath. A young Israelite named David fights a Philistine giant named Goliath. And David, perhaps, the most famous underdog in history, kills Goliath in the unlikeliest of victories. But for all these years, have we gotten the story and its lessons all wrong? That's what Malcolm Gladwell says. Gladwell, whose book sales are perhaps second only to the Bible, has a new book out on the subject. It's called "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants."

Malcolm Gladwell, thank you for joining me.

MALCOLM GLADWELL, AUTHOR, "DAVID AND GOLIATH": It's a pleasure to be here.

ZAKARIA: David and Goliath, one of the most famous stories in the world. But you retell it. Explain why you thought it was important to retell. What is the real story of David and Goliath?

GLADWELL: Well, I think we have -- we have exaggerated the extent to which David is an underdog in that situation. And I think that feeds into a very dangerous line of thinking, which suggests the only way that we can ever drive is by some improbable miracle. In fact, this is an insanely fun thing to do when I was doing my book, if you talk to endocrinologists, the rabbis, Israeli defense force people, I mean anyone who thought about the David and Goliath story, they will tell you, first of all, that the sling that David has in his hand is not a child's toy. It is one of the most devastating weapons in ancient warfare. David has superior technology, right? Once he decided to break the rules, he's the guy in charge. And then, there's Goliath, this -- all of these hints in the biblical story, in Samuel, that Goliath is not what he appears to be. In fact, this is where the rabbis come in. The rabbis have been putting this out for years. He doesn't sound like a big, terrifying warrior. He is led down onto the valley floor by an attendant. He moves really slowly. It takes him forever to figure out that David is not intending to fight him in a sword fight. And he says these strange things as if he's not perceiving the situation properly, and all of these endocrinologists have solved the puzzle by saying, look, he sounds like a guy with acromegaly, which is a tumor on your pituitary gland that causes overproduction of human growth hormone, which is why he's so big, but also often has a side effect of constricting your optic nerves. Goliath can't see. He has got restrictive vision.

So here you have a kid with superior technology up against a lumbering giant who can no -- who can't see this far in front of his face. That's not underdog versus favorite. That's something very different. And I love the reconfiguration of advantage, I guess.

ZAKARIA: And the point you're trying to make is that the people who are seemingly underdogs can actually have surprising strength?

GLADWELL: Yeah, the categories -- I mean, the large intellectual project of the book is to try and figure out -- we have intuitive categories of what an advantage is and what a disadvantage is. And I want to suggest those categories are faulty, that we're putting all kinds of things in the wrong box. And so, in case of the story of David and Goliath, we are infatuated with Goliath's size and strength, and uninterested in the technology of the combat, and the audacity, the ability of one party to change the rules. And gain the upper hand. I don't know why we would underestimate the latter set of characteristics and overestimate the former.

ZAKARIA: So, let's take another one that you look at, which will strike most people as highly implausible. You're saying that in many circumstances it might make sense for somebody not to go to Harvard.


ZAKARIA: ... or to a fancy Ivy League, but ...


ZAKARIA: If America is anything, it is the holy grail of American achievement, is to go to a fancy Ivy League university.

GLADWELL: Not just America. It is the holy grail of Fareed Zakaria.


GLADWELL: You are a graduate of two of the finest. You know, this isn't ...

ZAKARIA: Why, tell me why it might not make sense. So, this woman, Caroline Sax.

GLADWELL: Yeah, the same line of thinking, are our intuitive categories of advantage/faulty. So, I look at, this is a chapter concern, with whether you want to be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond. And I use the specific case of kids who go to college intending to study science, math, and engineering. And we know that the vast majority of students who start out in the -- pursuing those three fields drop out.

Over 50 percent. And the question is, who drops out? And the answer is, so some -- 50 percent of these kids are thwarted in their ambition to become -- have a science, or math, or engineering degree. Who gets thwarted? Well, it's not the least-intellectually capable students who drop out. It is rather the students who happen to be at the bottom of their class, regardless of what school they're at. So the bottom half of the class at Harvard in science and math drops out. And the bottom half of the class at East Tennessee State in science and math drops out. Even though there's a vast difference in their ability, it's the, what matters is the -- is their relative sense of their own accomplishment relative to the classroom that they're a part of. In other words, so, when you go to an elite school, you increase your risk of falling in the bottom half of the class. And, thereby, you increase your risk of dramatically, I would point out, of failing to get the degree you intended to get. So, if you're going to tackle a difficult demanding subject like science and math, you should attend the school where you have the greatest chances of finishing in the top third. Now, for some people, that is Harvard. If you're a genius, fine.

ZAKARIA: So, but does that mean that in general you find that there is a surprising degree of success that comes out of people who have been big fish in small ponds?

GLADWELL: Yeah, so there's some really fascinating research that looks at the publication rates of economics Ph.D.s within seven years after they attend -- they get their Ph.D. And what you find is that the very, very top students at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Chicago in economics, as you can imagine, publish enormous numbers of papers, they are superstars. But it drops off very quickly. In other words, even the 70 -- the kid in the 75th percentile in Harvard Ph.D. program isn't publishing that much post-graduation. Why? Because they've had their confidence shaken in grad school. They look around and they see this cohort of people who are so clearly more able than they are. By contrast, the top students at relatively mediocre schools publish a huge amount in the top journals after getting their Ph.D. In other words, their experience of being at a school where they were top of the hill was so profound and so empowering that they entered their academic career with much greater confidence.

ZAKARIA: When we come back, we're going to talk about why dyslexia may be good for you, but also, Malcolm Gladwell is enchanting and entertaining and insightful to many, many millions of people, infuriating to others. We're going to ask him about his critics when we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Malcolm Gladwell. Dyslexia. Most mothers would, when they hear their child has dyslexia, would view that as a disadvantage, as something to be worried about.


ZAKARIA: You actually say, it turns out it might be an advantage.

GLADWELL: In some cases. So you see this really fascinating phenomena with dyslexia, which is that the distribution of people with dyslexia is very clearly bimodal. There's a large group who are clearly hampered in their future life prospects by having a disability that prevents them from reading easily. But there's another group who appeared to massively overachieve. So, if you look at groups of -- there's been some studies on this, of successful entrepreneurs, you will find that among that group, much higher-than-expected percentage, very high percentage, have a disability like dyslexia. And then if you talk to those people -- and this is what I did. I was able to track down the kind of winners with dyslexia, and asked them how did you overcome this disability? And they all said, I didn't overcome it. I succeeded because of my disability. In other words, the fact that I had to cope from the get-go with something that made it impossible or not impossible, but difficult for me to read, forced me to learn all kinds of other skills that proved to be more important than reading.

ZAKARIA: David Boies.

GLADWELL: David Boies.

ZAKARIA: The famous lawyer, he would tell the story.

GLADWELL: He was the one I followed the most closely. So, here's the greatest trial lawyer in America. He has dyslexia. He told me he reads at most a book a year. He's a lawyer, right? So I think -- how on earth did you do that? And he said, well, because I couldn't read, what I did was I learned how to listen. Really listen. And he said, I developed my memory so I have an extraordinary memory now. And he got through law school by sitting in class, didn't take notes, sat, and listened to what the law professor had to say, and memorized it. Where everyone else was distracted and catching every third sentence, he was -- and then when he becomes a trial lawyer, what is he famous for? He's the guy who will cross-examine you over six days, and on the sixth day he will say to you, "Wait a minute, you just said X on, you know, on day one, you said something that contradicted that," right?

So the very things he spent his life learning, as a result of his dyslexia turned out to be enormously fruitful in his chosen career.

ZAKARIA: So now, a number of the reviews -- and in particular, one in the "Wall Street Journal" say, here's the problem with Malcolm Gladwell. He presents these things as kind of -- as explanations for how the world works and what you should do. But he -- he's very selective about what evidence he uses.


ZAKARIA: So, with the dyslexia, you're only looking at the winners, that presumably, lots and millions of people who have dyslexia who don't do very well.


ZAKARIA: And doesn't that mean, actually, it's not a good thing to have dyslexia? On balance, it's a bad thing. Yes, there are a few people who manage through, the Herculean means of God knows why, to succeed, but most don't?

GLADWELL: Yeah, but I mean -- I talk about that, and it's a very curious criticism, because, in fact, in the book, I go into that very fact and make it absolutely plain that what we're seeing is this curious divergence between these two groups. The majority of whom find this problem to be a handicap, and a small majority of whom don't. But it's really -- one is, I'm responding to a world in which we've spent a lot of time of just focusing on those for whom it's a handicap. And secondly, it is in observing the differences in the strategies that these two groups have taken. That you can learn how to help the group for whom it's a handicap, right?

ZAKARIA: And what do you think? So what determines whether somebody with dyslexia succeeds or fails?

GLADWELL: So many things. And I don't know whether we have a good answer yet. It's clearly the case that it helps to be intelligent. It was really interesting in talking to -- so I interviewed about 20 of these successful dyslexics. And by the way, you know -- I didn't interview him, but people like Richard Branson, I didn't interview the guy who runs Cisco, Gary Cohn at Goldman Sachs. It's quite -- it's quite an intriguing thing, and another interesting thing was that, every single person, a successful dyslexic I talked to, when they were describing their upbringing, they had one very close family member who never gave up on them. Who always believed that they were going to be -- make something of themselves. And that was the one -- the two constants I found in the winners were intelligence, but that seems to be less important than -- Gary Cohn had this whole thing about, everyone had given up on him, except for his grandfather. His grandfathered had observed that when little Gary Cohn who was this kind of problem kid, bouncing from school to school, would go and work in the family plumbing supplies store, he had the inventory of the store in his head. He's eight years old. He can't read. But he's got it all in his head. His grandfather was, like, don't worry about they say about you, you're going to be fine, right? And that is what keeps him going through some very, very dark times. And I think you can learn from -- there's an enormous amount, in other words, to be learned from looking at this admittedly small, but incredibly successful and fascinating group of people.

ZAKARIA: Malcolm Gladwell, pleasure as always.

GLADWELL: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Up next, signs that while the Iranian administration might have changed, public sentiment in Iran might remain the same. I'll explain.


ZAKARIA: Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Adha last week, one of the two most important events of the Muslim calendar. And it brings me to my question of the week about Islam. Indonesia has the most Muslims in the world at 209 million. Which country has the second-most? Is it, a, India? B, Turkey? C, Egypt? Or, D, Pakistan? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer. Go to for more of the "GPS Challenge."

This week's book of the week is Rana Mitter's "The Forgotten Ally." If you want to understand how history has shaped China, the most important and strangely mostly forgotten story is about its role in World War II. As America's ally. Mitter, an Oxford don, brilliantly describes how much of modern China, its hard-lined communism, its anti-Japanese nationalism, was forged in the fires of that terrible conflict.

Now, for "The Last Look." Six months ago, nobody would have guessed that U.S.-Iranian relations would be at the relatively high point they are today. If you thought Iranians would be uniformly pleased with their government's productive talks with the U.S. think again. These billboards have recently popped up around Tehran. There are a couple of different versions, all showing an Iranian and an American seated at a negotiating table. Above the table, both men are dressed in business-like jackets, but below the table, the American seems to have a different agenda. Here he is wearing fatigues and combat boots, holding a shotgun, pointed at his counterpart. Here he carries an Army bag while the Iranian has an innocent briefcase. And here he has a menacing dog. The badly written English tag line is constant on all of them. "The U.S. government styles honesty."

Well, whoever's behind this, go ahead, put up odd, inflammatory billboards with incorrect grammar, we're in favor of free speech around here. But this is an important reminder that President Rouhani has some noisy critics back home.

The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge" question was "A," India has the second most Muslims in the world, with 176 million. Pakistan comes next with 167 million, and then Bangladesh. According to the Pew Research Center, no Arab country makes the top five. Nigeria has 77 million Muslims, and Egypt is just behind by a few hundred thousand in sixth place.

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