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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Interview with Barham Salih; Crisis Central at the White House; Condition of U.S. Economy; Inventions Changing Life and Politics
Aired October 12, 2014 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
The United States is at war against ISIS. A war that is not going so well. And President Obama has promised no boots on the ground. But there is one hardened force in the field doing battle well. The Kurds.
I will ask a top Kurdish official if his people are ready for the long fight.
Also, an all-star GPS panel to grade the Obama administration on how it did with this week's major challenges -- ISIS, Ebola, and an insider attack from Leon Panetta.
Then, why it is that the American economy is looking up, up, up, but most Americans are very down about it. I'll explain.
And think you know who invented the light bulb? Think again.
But first, here's my take.
When television host Bill Maher declares on his weekly show that, quote, "The Muslim world has too much in common with ISIS," unquote, and the author, Sam Harris, a guest on his show, concurs, arguing that, quote, "Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas," unquote, I understand why people get upset.
Maher and Harris made crude simplifications and exaggerations. And yet they were also talking about something real.
I know all the arguments against speaking of Islam as violent and reactionary. It is a vast world of 1.6 billion people. Places like Indonesia and India have hundreds of millions of Muslims who don't fit these caricatures. That's why Maher and Harris are guilty of simplification and exaggeration.
But let's be honest. Islam has a problem today. In 2013, according to the State Department, of the top 10 groups that perpetrated terrorist attacks, seven were Muslim. Of the top 10 countries where terror attacks took place, seven were Muslim-majority countries.
The Pew Research Center rates countries on the level of restrictions governments impose on the free exercise of religion. Of the 24 most restrictive countries, 19 are Muslim majority.
There is a cancer of extremism within Islam today. A small minority of Muslims celebrate violence and intolerance and harbor deeply reactionary attitudes towards women and minorities. And while some moderates confront these extremists, not enough do so and the protests are not loud enough.
How many mass rallies have been held against ISIS in the Arab world today?
Now the caveat, Islam today is important. The central problem with Maher and Harris' analyses is that it takes a reality, extremism in the world of Islam today, and describes it in ways that suggest it is inherent in Islam.
For his part, Sam Harris prides himself on being highly analytic with a PhD, no less.
Now I learned in graduate school that you can never explain a variable phenomenon with a fixed cause. So if you're asserting that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant, the mother lode of bad ideas, then since Islam has been around for 14 centuries, we should have seen 14 centuries of this violent behavior.
Harris should read Zachary Karabell's book, "Peace Be Upon You: 14 Centuries of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation." What he would discover is that there have been wars but also many centuries of peace. There were times when Islam was at the cutting edge of modernity and periods like today when it is the great laggard. As Karabell explained to me, quote, "If you exclude the last 70 years or so, in general, the Islamic world was more tolerant of minorities than the Christian world. That's why there were over a million Jews living in the Arab world until the early 1950s. Nearly 200,000 in Iraq alone," unquote.
If there were periods when the Islamic world was open, modern, tolerant and peaceful, this suggests that the problem is not in the religion's essence and that things can change once more, which brings me to my final point.
Why is Maher saying this? I understand that as a public intellectual, he feels the need to speak what he sees as the unvarnished truth, though his truth is an exaggerated and simplified one. But surely, there is another task for public intellectuals as well, to try to change the world for good. Harris says that he wants to encourage, quote, "nominal Muslims," who, quote, "don't take their faith seriously," to reform the religion.
So the strategy to reform Islam is to tell 1.6 billion Muslims, most of whom are pious and devout, that their religion is evil and they should stop taking it seriously. That is not how Christianity moved from its centuries-long embrace of violence, crusades, inquisitions, witch-burnings and intolerance to its modern state. On the contrary, intellectuals and theologians celebrated those elements of Christianity that were tolerant, liberal and modern, and emphasized that. All the while giving devout Christians reasons to take pride in their faith.
The stakes are high in this debate. You can try to make news or you can try and make a difference. I hope Maher starts doing the latter.
For more, go to CNN.com/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week.
Let's get started.
If, and it is a big if, the United States and its allies are going to defeat ISIS without Western combat boots on the ground, they are going to have to rely heavily on the Kurds. But will the Kurds play along? Are their Pershmerga fighters up to the task?
Let's ask somebody who certainly knows.
Barham Salih is a leading Kurdish power broker who has held very powerful positions there. He was the former prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and also the former deputy prime minister of all of Iraq.
Barham, pleasure to have you on.
BARHAM SALIH, FORMER PRIME MINISTER, IRAQI KURDISTAN: Thank you, Fareed, for having me.
ZAKARIA: First, give us your assessment of whether the U.S. airstrikes and this military campaign is having an effect. Is ISIS weaker? Because on the ground so far, it doesn't appear that way.
SALIH: I think it's fair to say that these airstrikes have slowed down ISIS advances, but they are nowhere enough to defeat ISIS. And what we see also in Kobani and neighboring Syria is also a statement to the fact that these airstrikes, while welcome, while important, but nowhere enough to defeat ISIS.
ZAKARIA: Now let's first talk about the Iraqi army. One of the problems, as I understand it, was that Maliki, the former prime minister, had fired a lot of very good Sunni generals and colonels, replaced them with Shiite loyalists, the army lost morale, people weren't willing to fight.
Has this been mended? Because people say we have a new Iraqi government, but it seems to me that the concessions that were supposed to be made to the Sunnis to draw them back have not yet been made.
Has the army been fixed?
SALIH: I think we need to be absolutely honest and direct about these issues. The Iraqi army has collapsed, has evaporated. This is not to take away from the good men and -- men in Iraqi uniform that have been there and have been fighting ISIS, but basically, the structure, the command structure has totally evaporated and collapsed.
At the end of the day the military needs to be a professional institution. The type of leadership that we have had in Iraq over the past few years has politicized the army, has divided the army on sectarian lines, and simply was not able to stand up to the challenge.
Another factor, which is very important in all of this as well, corruption. Iraq has access to easy money. And this money has often been used to buy loyalty and this corruption has reached the army and, in fact, it has created a shell, in a sense, that was not able to withstand any real pressure. Therefore, we need to really go back to basics.
ZAKARIA: What about the Peshmerga? Will the Kurdish army -- this is the force that protects the Kurdish part of Iraq. Is it going to be willing to go into battle in Iraq, potentially even into Syria to fight ISIS, since you do need an effective fighting force on the ground?
SALIH: My own sense is, I can say this definitively, Kurdistan has emerged as the most reliable partner of international coalition in the fight against ISIS. There may be a number of reasons for that one, the issues that I'm proud of, Kurdistan represents a tolerant society, tolerant values, and we do have real interest in taking on ISIS. So the Kurdish Peshmergas are taking on ISIS, they are fighting is, across nearly 1,000 kilometers of lines.
But I have to say also, the motto is that Kurdish Peshmergas should not be relied upon to go to Mosul or should not be relied upon to go to the heartland of the Sunni areas or to Baghdad. We can be there to support. We can be there to support. But at the same time, the communities there need to be empowered. The same thing about Sunni --
ZAKARIA: Because you would be seen as an almost foreign army if you were to go into --
SALIH: Absolutely. I think one has to also acknowledge this reality. This is payback time. Over the last 10 years there were lots of communities, particularly in the Sunni areas, who have been marginalized. ISIS and these extremists have taken advantage of that -- of those grievances and are -- this has become an incubating ground for them. The mental answer is to empower these communities to take on these extremists.
ZAKARIA: Final question. You're absolutely right that the Kurds of Iraq have proved to be the most reliable partner for the United States for a while now. Is the payback, after all of this, going to be that you would like to declare independence?
SALIH: Every Kurd wants independence. That is the reality of it. But I genuinely do believe that the Kurds will be the ones who will have least problem with the united Iraq, a decent Iraq. To date, the Kurds want Iraq to succeed. A democratic federal Iraq would be good for the Kurds and want to be partners in making Iraq a success.
However, what is tearing Iraq apart is corruption, is sectarianism, and is a lot of regional interventions, but above all, a political elite that has failed to seize the moment in building a nation from the ashes of genocide and the terror that Saddam Hussein has left us.
ZAKARIA: Barham Salih, pleasure to have you on. SALIH: Pleasure is all mine, sir.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, an all-star panel weighs in on what they just heard about the Kurds and on the Obama administration's response to the ISIS threat, to Ebola. Is it enough, is it too little, is it too late? All when we come back.
ZAKARIA: I have a terrific panel with me today so let us dig right in.
Francis Fukuyama is one of the foremost public intellectuals of the day. He is based at Stanford University. Danielle Pletka is the senior vice president for foreign and defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Gideon Rose is the editor of "Foreign Affairs" and Walter Russell Mead is a professor of international affairs at Bard College.
So, Danielle, what do you think of Obama's military strategy with regard to ISIS?
DANIELLE PLETKA, SENIOR VP FOR FOREIGN AND DEFENSE STUDIES, AEI: I think the biggest problem is that Obama doesn't have a military strategy. He has a bunch of tactics that are put into place and part of the problem that we've had in the region and the reason that we've had trouble gathering more people to our side, more countries to our side, is because they don't know what his end game is.
The Turks want him to say that Assad should be out. He said that in the past, he's not saying it as much now. The Arabs aren't sure exactly where the president is headed. We seem to be hitting without any major strategy or end game in place.
ZAKARIA: But can air power by itself do it?
Gideon, you wrote a dissertation about military strategy and -- there's a long debate about this from World War II. What can air power achieve?
GIDEON ROSE, EDITOR, FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Unless you're really prepared to go in much, much bigger in a way that we have at all or whatever plan to, no, by itself, it's not going to achieve more than to keep the situation in check, because you need to sort of pin something down and then take the ground with ground troops.
And I agree with what Danny said, but the problem is that what people say, easy to criticize for saying there's no strategy, but what they usually mean is we need a strong, decisive strategy to go and solve the problem. This problem can't really be solved absent a much larger and nastier intervention, which I don't think makes sense, because it's not worth it for U.S. interests.
So I think while I agree with the criticisms of the administration, I would prefer that they back out and stop talking so big rather than if they live up to their big talk with even greater intervention on the ground.
ZAKARIA: You're agreeing?
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, AUTHOR, "POLITICAL ORDER AND POLITICAL DECAY": Absolutely, I think if there's anything we should have learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, we don't have the staying power, resources, patience to actually produce a particular political outcome on the ground in any part of that world. We can't get Assad out of there, I think actually, President Obama overpromised by saying he was going to destroy ISIS because, you know, it's been 13 years, we have not destroyed al Qaeda.
ZAKARIA: So what would you do? A kind of containment strategy?
FUKUYAMA: Well, I think containment is appropriate because I don't think we should have permanent friends and enemies in that region. What we want to do is prevent the really bad actors from harming people that we care about like the Kurds. So, you know, we lean against ISIS, we lean against Assad, but we can't pretend that we're going to have an end game for Syria, because we have no idea what that would look like.
ZAKARIA: Containment, Walter Mead?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE AMERICAN INTEREST: Well, you know, the problem is, and I think this is what people have been worrying about for some time is that the president, his instincts are right about wanting no part of any of this horrible mess and I think as everybody is saying, it's -- you know, it only gets uglier as you look deeper.
The trouble is the longer you wait, the worse all of your options get, including the option of trying to do nothing. And what we have seen is the president has tried to stay out, he has done everything possible really to follow, I think Gideon and Frank's advice, but then something happens that makes it impossible to do that. And by the time that's happened, all of his other options are worse than they would have been a couple of years ago.
ZAKARIA: But you would favor ground troops, U.S. ground troops going in there? I mean, it is the only way to hold ground properly.
PLETKA: Look, you know, we're in an awkward situation. Everybody is, in many ways, right. The president -- the president is in a very difficult place. He has overpromised. And he has a history of overpromising and then walking back -- red lines in Syria, degrade and destroy, they no longer use the word destroy when they talk about ISIS. He only said that a couple of weeks ago.
So, no, frankly, I don't think there are very many people who are enthusiastic about the notion of ground troops, particularly combat troops. But you know, we do have troops on the ground already, Fareed, in this part of the world. And they are helping. We need to be more decisive.
ZAKARIA: What should he do? PLETKA: Well, you know, I have been saying this for a long time, the
problem is the options three years ago were way better than they are now. We should have been using more air power then, we should have been supporting the Syrian opposition then. We should still do those things.
ZAKARIA: But just to be clear, you wanted to use air power against Assad which three years ago would have helped ISIS. Right? Because the Assad regime would have been weakened.
PLETKA: Three years ago there was no ISIS.
ZAKARIA: But --
PLETKA: Three years ago, al Qaeda in Iraq had not yet morphed into ISIS. It is because we've stayed out of this part of the world, because we haven't been willing to pick winners. That in fact groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra which is al Qaeda in Syria have risen up.
ROSE: At this point, it's kind of like a "Game of Thrones" in Iraq and Syria. There's no political authority. There's no stable institutional structure and we just simply have to let most of the parties fight it out, unless we want to come in and provide that political order. Since we are not going to do that and shouldn't, because it is not vital to our interests, I think the answer is to back off a little bit and let it play out.
It's going to be messy, it's going to be ugly, but there's no reason to believe this is going to come back and strike the U.S. in our homeland in a dramatically and significant way. I think that's lot of exaggerated hype.
PLETKA: Fatal, fatal last words. That's --
ROSE: Fatal words of going in. We keep fishtailing in. We do too much, then we do too little. We do too much, then we do too little. We should have a course and stick to it. There's no reason, as Walter said, that the president keeps having to be drawn in. You make it -- you take his agency out of the picture. If he has a policy, he should stick to the policy. Just because the immediate cycles don't look good for a while doesn't mean that he has to give another big speech trying to respond to that making it sound like he is doing something bold.
ZAKARIA: All right. We are going to come back and we're going to talk about -- we're going to pivot and talk about Ebola, maybe we're going to talk about Leon Panetta. All with this panel when we get back.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with our star-studded panel. We were talking about the fact that you use air power and you go into these places but on the ground, the problem is we don't know how to create political order.
This is what -- Frank Fukuyama, your book is about, the fact that the United States has never really figured out how to produce or create political order in these -- in these places. When I look at Ebola, I think, in a sense, it's the -- partly the same issue, right, places like Liberias just don't have the capacity as states to do what we want.
FUKUYAMA: As Americans, we worry a lot about democracy. We worry about constraining powerful states because of our history. But the problem in most of the developing world is that they don't have that state power to begin with, they don't have the capacity. So controlling an epidemic like Ebola is completely an issue of public health. If you have a strong government that can field people with the space suits and this sort of thing, you can get it under control.
And that's really the thing that's lacking in Sierra Leone and Liberia, these places that have undergone these terrible civil wars, and it's really what's holding back the economic development much of Sub-Saharan Africa.
ZAKARIA: I look at Syria and I think here we go again. We're sure that there are good guys somewhere in there. You know, here you have this 12-cornered sectarian fight and the United States are sure that there are moderate Syrians who are going to build a democracy in Syria, which strikes me as, you know, the triumph of hope over experience.
MEAD: Well, you know, you -- I mean, could you look at Syria the way Ronald Reagan talked about a little boy looking at the big pile of manure, and say, well, there must be a pony in here somewhere. But I think -- I think if there were order in Syria, that would be the best you could get and it's unlikely that there will be an order that any -- that we would like. So this is -- it is not that there is some, like, magic policy prescription that we can just set out and the disorder and chaos and violence in the world will go away. We live in wild times.
ZAKARIA: All right. There is, however, a group of people who always seem to believe that there was a magic prescription that would make things much better and that they had prescribe it two or three years ago and these are the former officials who leave the cabinet, write a memoir and miraculously, they are always the heroes or heroines of their own story. They point to some policy debate three years ago or two years ago in which, ironically, they were just right and events are proof.
Am I being somewhat too skeptical of Panetta and frankly even Hillary and -- I mean, everyone who puts these books out somehow can find that one NSC meeting where they have been right.
PLETKA: If only the president had read my memo, everything would be different. Look, you know, they're writing their own history so the story is their own. The big talk in Washington is about loyalty and disloyalty and there is a -- there is a smell around the notion that if someone like Leon Panetta was so disgruntled, so disenchanted and frankly so disrespectful of the president, one has to ask, why didn't you step down? That would have been a big story, you still could have gotten a great advance. He would have been able to sell a lot of books but this has become the Washington culture. Colin Powell writes books, Hillary Clinton writes books, and as always, as you say, the -- you know, the author as hero of the moment.
Of course, it's not the true. The challenges are much more complex, the situation is much more complex. That said, I'm certainly going to buy Leon Panetta's book.
ZAKARIA: You know, George Marshall didn't write his memoirs after he left, after running World War II, being secretary of state, secretary of Defense, but he believed to write a memoir about your government service was to dishonorably profit from government services.
So is this now just like an antique idea?
ROSE: There were some class virtues of that old wasp belief that may no longer be there and more meritocratic environment that now prevails.
There was a wonderful line in Bob Gates' memoir, which actually a pretty good book and worth reading, but he has this line which displays no self-awareness, he talks about Obama -- he gets huffy about Obama opening a very close leading, saying, I hope all of you are taking good notes for -- when this appears in your memoirs. And he asked as if who could possibly say, any retelling this story in a memoirs a couple of years later. And it's just -- if you're the president, you would be forgiven for thinking that you can't trust absolutely anybody and maybe this explains why Valerie Jarrett is so important to the administration, because she is not going to be the one writing a memoir.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that Obama -- that this White House is so centralized, so controlled that this is kind of an inevitable aspect of operating in that way?
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, PROFESSOR, BARD COLLEGE: Well, I do think that this White House is -- has continued the trend of centralizing more and more authority in a smaller and smaller circle of people. And then I think what we also see is the same trend in past administrations, that small circle of people then can't do the job very well, they get overwhelmed, they keep being blindsided, you know, because you think about the small group around the president and one morning, it's bombing ISIS, another, it's beheading. Then you have, you know, did some volunteer have a prostitute in Colombia and was that handled properly? So you have the small group of people around the president and their inboxes are on fire every day. And you've lost the ability to use the larger bureaucracies, which for all of their flaws, if you've got people out there with a public service ethic and that kind of thing today, they are in some of these institutions. So, somehow, the executive has lost the -- the executive branch has lost the ability to use the resources that are there. Arguably, we say this is the same thing for, say the pre-Iraq war planning in the Bush administration, where a small circle of people concentrated authority and then a lot of people with experience and background weren't part of the discussion where they could have made things better.
ROSE: One of the best parts of Frank's book, actually, is about exactly this question, the decline of American political institutions and the professional civil service, an organization that we used to have.
ZAKARIA: But wouldn't -- wouldn't the argument that people would make from the Bush administration, or the Obama administration, is, look, these bureaucracies will sit around and do nothing. We - you know, the only way to have purposeful action quickly is to get it -- get the White House to ride herd on this?
PLETKA: Well, the problem - I mean I think there really is a problem of the permanent bureaucracy, which has an attitude toward the executive and towards elected officials, that, you know, I'll be here when you're gone. But at the end of the day what this really boils down to - what Frank has talked about, Gideon and Walter, is a crisis of leadership. You know, when you have a president who is leading, when you have a president who has a vision, he should be bringing people along and he should be bringing people along whether they are political appointees or they are career employees. The fact that presidents, whether Bush or Obama have been incapable and unwilling to try to do that really is a crisis of leadership, because Valerie Jarrett can't figure out the Iranian nuclear program and the cure to Ebola.
ZAKARIA: On that - on that note, we are going to have to end. Danielle Pletka, Walter Russell Mead, Gideon Rose, Frank Fukuyama, pleasure to have you all on.
Next up, the recent U.S. unemployment numbers have been surprisingly good, the stock market hit new highs last month, the deficit is down by a good chunk, so, why in the world are most Americans feeling like they are falling behind? I will explain, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. The American economy is back. This week, the IMF projected that the United States will be one of the very fastest growing advanced economies in the world in 2015. In fact the American economy is just about the great exception in a world that is showing signs of economic stagnation. Good news keeps piling on. The Congressional Budget Office just announced that the U.S. deficit fell by nearly a third during the fiscal year, which marks a six-year low. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 both surged to record highs over the last month and the most recent economic snapshot from the Labor Department says that private sector employment grew in September for a 55th month in a row, a record. And that the unemployment rate is now at 5.9 percent, the lowest level it's been since July 2008. But, and here's the paradox, despite a relatively robust recovery now, Americans aren't feeling more prosperous. In fact, 56 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center in August that they are falling behind financially. That's pretty much the same percentage as in October 2008 during the heat of the Wall Street financial crisis.
So, why are so many despondent over the economy when the statistics say it's doing pretty well? For some insight, listen to a recent interview that President Obama granted CBS News "60 Minutes."
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Ronald Reagan used to ask the question, are you better off than you were four years ago? In this case, are you better off than you were in six? And the answer is, the country is definitely better off than we were when I came into office. But now they want to make ...
STEVE KROFT, "60 MINUTES" HOST: Do you think people feel it?
OBAMA: They don't feel it and the reason don't feel it is because incomes and wages are not going up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Well, the president is right, the one number that isn't up is the average American's paycheck. Look at this data from "The Economist" which, in turn, cites census bureau and research data. It shows that during the first six years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, the U.S. economy grew by 22 percent and the median household income also shot up by six percent.
Fast forward to Bill Clinton's first six years in the Oval Office and the nation's GDP grew by 24 percent while median income increased 11 percent. Then, it starts to turn. The first six years of George W. Bush's presidency saw 16 percent GDP growth, but a two percent decrease in median incomes. Likewise, the first six years of Obama's presidency have seen eight percent GDP growth coupled with a decline in median incomes, a four percent decline. Again, according to the research in "The Economist."
Indeed, when you adjust for inflation, census data shows that the American middle class is actually one percent poorer today than it was in 1989 when Reagan left office. That's also probably why Obama's job approval rating is about 20 percent lower than Reagan's was by the second October after his re-election, according to Gallup. And guess what, the new employment report sees that trend continuing. The average hourly wage for Americans working in the private sector actually decreased by one penny last month. So, why are wages stagnating or even falling? Nobody is actually sure. Generally, when unemployment drops, workers can demand better wages. That's not happening. And no one quite knows why. It could be globalization with its endless supply of cheaper labor from around the world. It could be technology that replaces people with machines and software. It could be other more technical factors. But I think we can confidently say that until all this changes and until the majority of Americans who do have jobs see some improvement in their wages, they will feel gloomy. And that will have economic consequences in the years ahead, but also political consequences in the weeks ahead.
Next on "GPS," how air conditioning helped get Ronald Reagan elected president. Really, a fascinating conversation with the author, Steven Johnson. You won't want to miss it.
ZAKARIA: You flip a switch and you get light. You turn the kitchen faucet on, you get clean water. You open your fridge, you're greeted by a blast of cold air. These are the things that most of us take for granted and most of us can't remember a time when they didn't happen. But they were extraordinary developments of the time and they took extraordinary innovation to achieve. These innovations, and more, are all chronicled by the author Steven Johnson in his new book and companion PBS Series, both titled "How We Got to Now." We sat down earlier this week and I began by asking him about the light bulb, which we all know Thomas Edison invented, right? Maybe not.
STEVEN JOHNSON, AUTHOR "HOW WE GOT TO NOW": Edison didn't really invent the light bulb. Every school kid is like Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but, in fact, there were 20 other people in the decade or two leading up to Edison's version of the light bulb who basically hit upon the same solution. So, there was something at that moment in history, a series of new scientific breakthroughs, understanding electricity, understanding the behavior of electricity in a vacuum, material science, that came together to make a light bulb imaginable. No one was even thinking about a light bulb 150 years before.
ZAKARIA: And Edison himself acknowledges, has always acknowledged that painstaking work of trial and error, right? He always says genius is one percent inspiration ...
ZAKARIA: 99 percent perspiration. And I think he says, I think this is in the book, who says I failed 1,000 times? I just found 1,000 ways not to do it right or something like that.
JOHNSON: And he - The other thing that he did that was really important is he built a model for innovation that then became central to the 20th Century. So, he had these kind of R&D labs and he had a team of people who had very different skills, right? He had people who were really good with material science, he had people who were really good with thinking about electricity and people who were good at thinking about large network systems. And he was good at kind of managing all of them and incentivizing all of them. And that was actually a new model for creativity and innovation that then became the kind of the 20th century template for that.
ZAKARIA: And then you have innovation that happens in a one -- in one dimension and leave something out, the story of the phonograph is really interesting.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Yeah. We always tell stories about these brave people in terms of their successes, but when you're on the cutting edge, you often have these weird blind spots where you can't see something, so there's this great, a little bit tragic story about this French inventor named Edward Leon Scott de Martinville who invents a device for recording audio and gets a patent for it in 1855, which is 20 years before Edison invents the phonograph, right? So, you know, everybody is like, I thought Edison invented the phonograph, this guy invented it? Well, the reason you haven't heard of him is that he invented a device that would capture sound waves brilliantly, take them in and kind of inscribe them on this rotating cylinder, great idea, but he failed to include a mechanism for playing back that audio. So, there was no way to listen to it. You could record it, you just - it was just sitting there as a bunch of scribbles.
And what I love about it is it wasn't that he was trying to do this. It never even occurred to him. But it just was completely in his blind spot and it eventually took people like Edison and actually Graham Bell, who used that technology to invent the telephone, to come up with a system that could record audio and then play it back.
ZAKARIA: One of the best parts of the book is recognizing the spillover and unintended consequences of innovation and I think that's the thing that, you know, sort of powers the world in a way these days, as one thing leads to another and tell the story of what you call cold and ice transformed the world.
JOHNSON: It is really one of the most fun things about both the book and the show. You get taken on these kind of surprising adventures. And the story of cold, we always think about, you know, fire is the ultimate early innovation. But we have been doing that for 100,000 years, we have been, you know, cooking food with fire and so on, but we have only really been tinkering with artificial cold for about 200 years and it started with the ice trade. There was this massive business built up in the early 19th century of people cutting huge chunks of ice from frozen lakes in New England and shipping them to Bombay and Rio and the Caribbean. This guy, Frederic Tudor, who we talked about, made a fortune doing this, and it sounds crazy, but, you know, ice was just something that never showed up in these places, and you could actually keep the ice from melting in a ship for that long, which was extraordinary, so, that created then a demand for artificial cold and things like refrigerators and then air conditioning were invented.
And the extraordinary thing is when air conditioning enters the mainstream kind of household in the United States, right after World War II, it triggers the -- one of the if not the biggest migration of human beings in United States history, as everyone moves from the colder northern states to the hot sunbelt states, the desert states and Florida and so on, places that were very hard to live before air conditioning. And that migration initiates a huge swing in the Electoral College. There's almost 50-vote swing from north to south because of -- because of air conditioning. And that is crucial then to the kind of coalition that Ronald Reagan relies on to get elected president in 1980. So it's not exaggerating things that if air conditioning hadn't been invented, Reagan might have gotten elected but he would have had to have built a completely different set of, you know, constituencies to elect him in the Electoral College.
ZAKARIA: Steven Johnson, pleasure to have you on.
JOHNSON: It's great to be back. Thanks.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, terrorists and Twitter. The bad guys have been using social networks to, well, terrorize people, but we will show you how one member of the Taliban seems to have revealed something he surely did not want the whole world to see. What was it? I will tell you when we come back.
ZAKARIA: There was a different kind of GPS in the news this week, the first Nobel Prize of the week, the prize in physiology or medicine was awarded for discovering cells that make up an inner GPS in the brain. These cells essentially allow the brain to recognize one's position and navigate. The prize was split by a scientist from a London university and merit scientist from Norway, which bring me to my question. In the history of the Nobel Prize, which of the following duos has not won or shared the prize, either separately or as a pair?
This week's book of the week is "Crazy is a Compliment: the Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags" by Linda Rottenberg. Generally speaking, books on entrepreneurship are pretty vacuous (ph), full of cheerful platitudes, but with little actual wisdom. This one is different. Rottenberg founded a group that has helped almost 1,000 small entrepreneurs around the world for decades. The book is filled with fascinating stories, wonderfully told with important lessons and warnings for anyone working in any kind of organization. Her smarts, enthusiasm and intelligence are captivating, whether you're an entrepreneur or not.
Now for the last look. Terrorist and Jihadis have embraced social media using the Wild West of the Internet to exhibit bravado and spread their messages of hate. The bad guys have learned how to turn Twitter into a tool of terror. And Twitter is fighting back. One analyst who monitors such accounts, J.M. Berger, tweeted last month that Twitter suspended 400 accounts linked to ISIS in just seven hours. But social media can also sometimes be a counterterrorism weapon. Just last week, Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, might have made the CI's job a little easier. Mujahid's Twitter profile says he is in Kabul, but he posted tweets that showed his location, and as many media outlets reported, those tweets showed him to be in neighboring Pakistan, where many believe leaders of his group are in hiding. He quickly claimed to be the victim of a "enemy forgery" turned off the location feature and showed that it is possible to spoof your location by sending a tweet that made it look like he was in Brian, Ohio, population 8,000. While it is possible he was hacked, I think the book "Twitter for Dummies" might better explain what happened.
The correct answer to the GPS challenge question is A, two sisters. Five married couples can now boast to being Nobel laureates, four of whom shared the prize, a mother and a daughter, a father and a daughter, both those belong to the Curie family and a pair of brothers also share that honor. Fathers and sons have actually won six times, one pair as a team. All this according to Nobel media. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.