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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Learning from the Ottawa Attack; Is Everything Obama's Fault?

Aired October 26, 2014 - 10:00   ET



Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. Next question. Why the gunshots?


ZAKARIA: We'll start today's show with the attack in Canada's capital. It brings up key questions. Are lone wolf attacks the new normal? Does Canada have a jihad problem?

Plus, Ebola, ISIS, terror. Is Barack Obama responsible for the sense people have that the world has gotten crazily unsafe? What does it mean for the midterm elections and for the rest of his presidency? We have great historians and analysts to weigh in.

Also, Edward Snowden says he would love to come back to America for trial. I'll tell you why I think that can and should happen.

And on the eve of Halloween, can you resist a plate of cookies, a bowl of candy, a bag of marshmallows? What your self-control says about you and your prospects for your whole life, from the psychologist who led the famous marshmallow test.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. When news flashed that a man had shot and killed a Canadian soldier in front of the War Memorial in Canada, what most people were wondering but not saying out loud was, is it another radical Muslim? And it was.

As was the man who ran over two Canadian soldiers in Quebec, Martin Rouleau Couture. As was Zale Thompson who attacked four police officers in Queens, New York, also this week.

It's why I have said before we have to be honest. There is a problem in the world of Islam today. Some people have found in it an ideology of opposition and violence against the modern and Western world. The three jihadis who burst onto the news this week represent that ugly phenomenon. But let's dig deeper into these three people to understand what moved them to become terrorists. None of them was born and brought up a religious Muslim. A profile of

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in the "New York Times" shows someone who went from a life of partying as a 16-year-old to repeated arrests for drug possession and stealing a credit card. He was once sentenced to prison for two years for possessing a weapon in a robbery.

In the "Times" article, one of the counselors at a Salvation Army shelter described his battles with addiction does. He was doing heroin to take the edge off crack. Amidst this turmoil, the "Times" says, he converted to Islam, got radicalized, sought to go to Syria to fight in the jihad, and finally ended up trying to wage his own version of it in Ottawa and died after killing a soldier.

The man who ran over the soldiers in Canada earlier this week reportedly converted to Islam even more recently, only a year ago. The NYPD says the man who attacked its officers with a hatchet, also clearly disturbed, converted to Islam two years ago.

These are not people steeped in Islam, people for whom the religion shaped their world view over decades. People who were motivated by their immersion in the religion. On the contrary, these were unstable young men prone to radicalism and violence. They were searching for an ideology that would fit their disturbed world view, and in the radical and jihadi interpretations of Islam, they found it.

It's always worth remembering that these people represent a tiny minority. Think of it this way. Terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda have been calling on Muslims to engage in terrorism in Western cities for over 10 years now. Of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, the number who have responded to these calls is a small, small, small percentage. If all Muslims were radicals, we would have more than three to worry about this week.

And yet, there is a problem within Islam. It's not enough for Muslims to point out that these people do not represent the religion. They don't. But Muslims need to take more active measures to protest these heinous acts. They also need to make sure that Muslim countries and societies do not in any way condone extremism, anti-modern attitudes, and intolerance towards other faiths.

Muslims are right to complain that there is anti-Muslim bigotry out there, but they would have a more persuasive case if they took on some of the bigotry within the world of Islam as well.

Let's get started.

So let's dig deeper, both on the Ottawa attack and on the problem many have been discussing in its wake -- how to defend against so-called lone wolves. Is there any way to do it?

My guest, Michael Hayden, who has run both the CIA and the NSA. And Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist now a member of Canada's parliament, who was on Parliament Hill on Wednesday when those shots rang out.

Chrystia, you were in lockdown for almost 10 hours. Did it ever get really scary?

CHRYSTIA, FREELAND, MEMBER OF CANADIAN PARLIAMENT: Yes, Fareed, it was really frightening, particularly at the beginning. Like a lot of people who were inside Center Block, I heard the shots, and I ran to take cover in a room. For the first few minutes, maybe even the first hour or so, we didn't know if it was just one gunman, if there were others there, and we were worried.

I would really like, though, to single out how well the House of Commons security officers and the RCMP responded and also to point out, although we, the MPs and staffers and -- visitors to Canada who were in lockdown were scared, Corporal Nathan Cirillo died. He's going to be buried on Tuesday, and our whole country is really sad for him and his family.

ZAKARIA: Chrystia, you wrote a piece about all this called "Canada, Keep Calm and Carry On." And it is striking. I mean, you've lived in the United States for a long time. The difference between perhaps what is sometimes an overreaction to these kinds of events in the United States, is that in Canada, there seems to have been a very measured and calm attitude in the face of it.

FREELAND: Yes, I was really, really proud of the reaction of all of Canadian society. I thought the security forces were very calm. They took their time, they kept us in lockdown while they cleared out parliament. I thought the Canadian media behaved really admirably, not hyping the situation, and I was really proud to be in parliament on Thursday morning at 10:00 in the morning when we were back at our desks.

It was a very nonpartisan moment and we were all just there to say we're going to keep on going. On Friday night at 8:00 p.m., the speaker sent out a message to all the MPs saying we're opening up the grounds of parliament again to the public because that's how we do things here. That was the right thing to do.

ZAKARIA: And finally, Chrystia, would it be fair to wonder about whether Canada has a kind of jihad problem? Most people don't realize, but Canada actually has more immigrants, more foreign-born citizens than the United States does. And so in that mix is there a problem there somewhere?

FREELAND: Well, Fareed, I really appreciated your opening remarks and I think that one of the things that is under attack is Canadian pluralism and Canada as a diverse society. It's really important for all of us to stand up and say we're not going to let that be damaged.

There was a worrying incident on Friday where a mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta, was defaced and someone wrote "go home" on the mosque, and that was terrible. That's exactly what we can't let happen. But what was really heartening was the community's response. People spontaneously came out, washed off the mosque, and people brought signs saying, "Canada is your home," and that's really our message to Canada's Muslims, to Muslim Canadians.

You are part of this community. We are so glad you're here and we're going to respond to this together.

ZAKARIA: Michael Hayden, what do we do about these lone wolves? These guys who seem to get radicalized because they are radical or for whatever reason. How does one handle this?

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Fareed, it's a very, very difficult problem. And it's not one that we can make go away. Some of these attacks are going to occur even if the security services in a country do everything they're capable of doing. I mean, at what point does freedom of speech and freedom of thought cross over into imminent violence and thereby lets the community intervene? That's a very difficult line.

And as pointed out already, this may be more about resilience than it is about prevention. What happened in Canada last week was a tragedy. But the resilience of the system, the action of the sergeant-at-arms, prevented it from being a catastrophe.

ZAKARIA: As you point out, in many of these cases, maybe there was some information. In fact, from what we know in one of these cases, the -- the guy who shot the soldier, he was on a kind of a list, but is there much you can do when somebody is on a list but has not actually committed a crime or a terror act yet?

HAYDEN: Fareed, within a year of 9/11, I was meeting with our English-speaking allies at a conference, and one of the members there pointed out that our new dilemma was how do we deal with the not yet guilty? And that's precisely a definition of the problem we now have. And the answer is, we can only deal with that up to a point. Beyond that point, in order to preserve our liberties, we've got to live with some degree of threat.

ZAKARIA: Does all this, you believe, put a different light on the whole issue of NSA data mining and things like that? I mean, presumably, you would argue this is why you need pretty broad powers to look and listen?

HAYDEN: Well, there are different regimes in the United States and Canada. Canada is a bit tougher with regard to what they allow in terms of government surveillance. It's got a more generous asylum policy. One of the laws that Prime Minister Harper wants to change is how much information Canadian services can share with American services.

Fareed, all free peoples have to balance their security and safety with their liberty and privacy. I think the Canadians are going to recalibrate a little bit. We've calibrated based upon what we believe the threat here is in the United States, but this isn't the forces of light and the forces of darkness. This is what democracies have to do all the time.

ZAKARIA: And the key issue both of you seem to spill is resilience. The ability to bounce back from these perhaps inevitable problems, right, Chrystia?

FREELAND: Yes, absolutely. I was just going to single that out and say I think the key here is resilience. I think we have to understand this is not something that can be made to go away with a magic wand. And we have to really be clear that it's really important to secure our democracy, but it's also incredibly important not to let these attackers achieve their goal, which is to wreck and warp our democracy from the inside.

We have to remain who we are. And you know, on Thursday morning, Canada was still the same country that it was on Wednesday morning. That's really, really important not to let that change.

ZAKARIA: Michael Hayden, a final quick thought from you. Did anything about this worry you about for the United States? Or are we -- you know, are we in good shape?

HAYDEN: Well, we're in no better shape than Canada. We have this danger that you have pointed out in your opening, Fareed, about the self-radicalized individuals. There's no communications between any of these people in Canada back to any Islamist groups in the Middle East that we're aware of.

And so this is going to be a very difficult challenge for us over a long period of time, and frankly, Fareed, the things we're now doing in Iraq and Syria, which I strongly support and would even support expanding them, makes it more likely that folks like this are going to be motivated to do these kinds of things.

ZAKARIA: Michael Hayden, Chrystia Freeland, thank you so much.

We will be right back.


ZAKARIA: So the big question, of course, is, is President Obama to blame? For ISIS' advance, for the recent fumbles on Ebola in Dallas, for Democrats who might lose in the midterm elections next week?

There are many pundits and personalities who would like to blame the White House for all this and more. So I thought it was a good time to get some perspective. I have a great panel to do this.

Walter Isaacson is the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and the author of the new book "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution."

Gloria Borger has reported on and written about presidents since Gerald Ford lived in the White House. She was around 2 years old at the time. She's CNN's chief political analyst.

Sean Wilentz has written about presidents from Jefferson to Lincoln to Reagan and some non-presidents like Bob Dylan.

Amity Shlaes is a historian and writer with four "New York Times" best sellers including a presidential biography entitled simply enough "Coolidge."

Welcome, all. So, Amity, are the charges that people make about Obama correct?

AMITY SHLAES, AUTHOR, PRESIDENTIAL BIOGRAPHER AND HISTORIAN: Well, I'm going to surprise everyone and defend President Obama. Presidents always have a hard time at the end of a second term. And he's no exception. They get tired. The world gets tired. That happens. And also, the onslaught, whether it's the combo of ISIS and the Ukraine is a bit disconcerting for anyone.

ZAKARIA: I'm surprised you're not more critical of him.

SHLAES: Well, I have a lot of sympathy for presidents, having written about them and seeing them go down. In one way, he reminds me of Woodrow Wilson, doesn't he? You know, he kind of pouts a bit, President Obama, and retreats into himself because the world isn't going the way he thought it would. And Wilson did that and Coolidge did that, too, so.

ZAKARIA: But Wilson is a good example because he's a very intellectual president.

SHLAES: Very intellectual.

ZAKARIA: Paul Krugman would give this rousing defense of Obama.


ZAKARIA: Saying that, you know, if you look at domestic policy, most consequential president since Lyndon Johnson. Do you agree with the basic outline?

WILENTZ: I think Paul is basically right. But Paul and I have been on the same page from the beginning. Skeptical at first, much more respectful now of what the president has managed to achieve.

I mean, look, it's not spectacular, but a lot of people have very, very high expectations, shall we say? It's hard to be --



WILENTZ: Well, indeed. But it's hard to be disillusioned if you weren't, you know, illusioned to begin with. And, you know, judged on a more rational scale, I think the president has done a good job.

BORGER: Yes, I think there -- the problem here for the American people, and I don't know how this plays out in history, is that when you look at President Obama, you look at the numbers we're looking at now, it's a question of leadership. It's a question of whether he has communicated well to the American public about his successes, which you could argue in the future health care reform will be judged as a -- as a success.

WILENTZ: Yes. BORGER: Or whether he's communicating with them about the problems

like Ebola, like ISIS, like Ukraine. And how you talk to the American people has a lot to do with how they view you.

ZAKARIA: And he has not, in your view, communicated well.

BORGER: I do not believe he is. Less than half of the public believes that he's a strong commander-in-chief, less than half of them now believe that he's a strong leader. And this of course will affect the upcoming elections. The question is whether it has any impact at all on how we view him historically, and it -- yet it may not.

ZAKARIA: How will we view him historically?

WALTER ISAACSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ASPEN INSTITUTE: Well, you know, I agree with Sean that the "Rolling Stone" piece written by Paul Krugman is good and things he's been writing is good, but unlike Sean, I have not been on the same page as Paul Krugman all the way through, and I realized something that's a little disconcerting, which is that he was right and I was wrong.

I mean, I thought maybe it'd be great to have a grand bargain with Social Security, to cut Medicaid, do all these other things, and the stewardship of the economy has actually been very good. If anything, the stimulus should have been a little bit bigger. But that wasn't something you blame on Obama.

We have come out of the recovery far, far better than Europe, and come out of the recession far, far better than Europe did or any other place in the world, and I think health care is absolutely transformative. I've got, as you know, a daughter who is turning 26. All of her friends now can move job to job to job like they love to do, without worrying about, you know, how are they going to transport their health care or pre-existing conditions.

This makes not only for healthier people. It makes for a much better economy because you have much more fluidity in the work force.

ZAKARIA: I have a feeling I'm going to get a disagreement out of you now.

SHLAES: One question, Fareed, was he a kind and lovable leader? Another is, are his policies optimal and should we then go ahead and re-elect people who follow those policies and here I'll disagree probably with everyone here and say the policies are not optimal.

Start with the recovery. We had a recovery but it wasn't of high quality, relative to the record for our past recoveries. The reason for that, the primary reason, was the regulatory state that we have established. So Dodd-Frank, for example, institutionalizes too big to fail in a way that's a bit creepy. You fall into this rescue class or you don't.

And certainly, is especially hard on smaller businesses who can't comply and afford the compliance. Credit, it's the same situation. Officially banks are supposed to lend, but they don't always with a nominal interest rate.

ZAKARIA: What about health care?

SHLAES: Health care, the bill has yet to come. Of course prices are less high than they would be. It's the beginning of a price-control regime. What is the consequence of price control, what is the timeframe? First you get the low prices and then you get the scarcity, the lack of availability, right? It will be nominally free, but it will be unavailable.

ZAKARIA: Quick thought.

BORGER: You know, I just think in the end when we look back on President Obama, we're going to say that he really started the discussion about the role of government in this country or continued it, I should say, started with Ronald Reagan. Now with Barack Obama saying, yes, government can be more useful. It can succeed.

And the question of the competency of government, how to make it more efficient, smarter, work for you, will continue.

ZAKARIA: But he's lost -- he seems to be losing the public. We're talking about how history will view him.

BORGER: Right now. Yes.

ZAKARIA: Right now Gloria had told us the numbers.


WILENTZ: The numbers are terrible, but that's not necessarily -- as Paul says, it's not necessarily the most important thing in judging a president.

BORGER: Well, for control of the Senate, it may be.


WILENTZ: Well, it may, it may not be. The control of the Senate is outside of his hands in many respects. This is, look, the six-year out election. Any party almost always does poorly except in 1998. That's going to happen. A lot of these seats were seats that came in in 2008 that the Democrats got because they got them, because it was a big election.

ZAKARIA: So we are going to take a break and come back and talk about exactly this. We are nine days away from the midterm elections. Will the Democrats lose the Senate? If that happens, will President Obama once again be to blame?


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Walter Isaacson, Amity Shlaes, Gloria Borger, and Sean Wilentz.

Walter, when you look at these elections, do they seem like traditional sixth year elections, that is the party in the White House is always going to lose some ground? Or politically, is something going on here? Because it does feel like the Republicans have a lot of momentum and the Democrats are very defensive.

ISAACSON: Yes, there's a discombobulation, I think, in the country and it's sort of gotten people distracted from what I think people really care about, which is we're having a recovery, how do we make sure everybody gets to participate in this recovery, how do we make sure it's a sustained and real recovery. How do we make sure that it's inclusive so that we don't hollow out, you know, good working class jobs.

These are things people care about. But, you know, now you're trying to figure out, should I call it ISIS or ISIL? What would -- should we have been arming Syrian rebels? Should we stop people at -- you know, stop flights from West Africa even though there aren't direct flights from West Africa?

All these things are making people slightly unnerved. Usually when the economy is getting better, and most importantly of all, when gasoline prices are going down, that's usually the best indicator of who's going to go to the movies and who is going to vote for the incumbent party, if the gasoline price is going down, but that's not having the effect it should.

ZAKARIA: But, Gloria, isn't that -- that's fascinating. I mean, as Walter says, if you looked at the objective data, you would say --

BORGER: People aren't feeling it.

WILENTZ: That's right.

BORGER: They're not -- they're just not feeling any kind of recovery. They're anxious about the world. They see what's going on. They believe it's chaotic. They don't believe the president is leading. They're not sure what they want him to do, by the way.


BORGER: But -- and they're conflicted, but they want to see a strong leader. And so all of this --

ZAKARIA: But hold on. That's a very important point. Do they really want him to invade Syria?

BORGER: No. No. They don't, and this is where they're -- this is where they are conflicted. They want him to be a strong leader but they don't want boots on the ground anywhere so the president in a way reflects the public ambivalence, I would argue. But they believe the world is chaotic. There are no sort of serious sets of issues in this campaign. We thought Obamacare was going to be a huge issue. Well, Republicans argue against it, but do they want to undo it? Not so much. So I call it -- it's like the Seinfeld election. It's not really about anything, but it does matter what the Democrats have to do is get their base out there to believe it matters to them or Republicans could win control of the Senate. ZAKARIA: But this issue of turnout brings up something I wanted to

ask you, Shaun, which is, so you look at immigration, and you look at what people assumed, which was a lot of people, well-meaning commentators say the Republican Party will compromise because they recognize they need to get Hispanic votes. But what this election has shown is the Republican Party has made a different bet that actually, you can get out the angry white voter in much larger numbers than the mythical or, you know, highly unlikely Hispanic voter. And they're doubling down on that bet, and it's working.

WILENTZ: It makes sense in this election, though. This election is basically being fought out in the Border States and the Deep South. This is a confederate election that's going on and that's why they're banging down on that. Because it's going to get them back the Senate most likely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the Republicans have a real decision to make, going in 2016. Do they want to remain a congressional party? Because they can win in Congress without Hispanic voters, or do they want to become a presidential party and win back the White House? In which case, they will need Hispanic voters. What they're doing in this election does not help them in 2016.

ZAKARIA: Amity, the core reason for the dissatisfaction, it seems to me, is something we have touched on on this program, which is unemployment is down, but so is the median wage. And, of course, most people have jobs, but what they have seen is for five, ten, now 15 years, the median wage is stuck.

SHLAES: Right, and one undercover thing that is putting pressure on the median wage is all the regulation. It's very hard to run a company now. And it's very hard to reward workers directly with pay when you have a lot of mandates upon you where you must spend elsewhere. That's key. And it's not just the current median wage. You don't really know every day if I have the median wage or not, but it's the prospect of the median wage staying low that bugs voters. They don't see a big future ahead, and they do see two bills to pay. One is the health care and one is, of course, the debt, even if the deficit might narrow, or appear to narrow the debt is still there, and they are well aware that if interest rates go up, the picture will become deeply difficult and chaotic.

ZAKARIA: Walter, you spend a lot of time in Silicon Valley with a lot of these tech guys. They're seen as the most dynamic force in America today. What do you think the think of this election?

ISAACSON: Well, I think that they think there's a big disconnect between the entrepreneurial economy and the sort of risk-averse, unable to make any deals. Unable to get anything done culture that you have on Capitol Hill and Washington in general. I also think that, you know, most people in Silicon Valley will tell you, why don't we focus on the major thing? If you want there to be a recovery that's very inclusive, then let's just have a simple thing that everybody can agree on. Most people could agree on, which is that every kid in America gets a decent shot. Let's increase the ability to have good education and K through 12 education. Let's, you know, make it sure that people can go to college. All these things that created the digital revolution in the '50s and '60s, I think you could rally a consensus around every person in America deserves to be part of this technological revolution and this recovery, and so let's give every kid a decent shot and do some programs for that.

ZAKARIA: Historically, how will people look at this moment? Is this, you know, is this the return of conservatism?

WILENTZ: It depends on what happens in two years.

ZAKARIA: Congressional elections don't set ...

WILENTZ: We'll see what happens. I mean two years from now is going to be much more important than anything that happens today, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, and I think there's just going to be a reset of each party. I mean if you look at the Democratic Party, it has to figure out a way to rally the base of the Democratic Party, which has been so Obama dependent without President Obama at the top, and the Republican Party has to figure out how to become more inclusive in order to win a presidential election. I don't think either party has really figured out how to do what they need to do at this point.

WILENTZ: But if the Republicans win in 2016, everything that's come before in the Obama administration is going to go away, or they're going to work very hard to try to make it go away. If the Democrats come in, very different situation. So, I think that a lot of the Obama legacy is going to depend on what happens in the next election.

ZAKARIA: And the two parties have their marching orders from Gloria ...


ZAKARIA: Thank you all very much.

When we come back, a controversial new documentary about Edward Snowden re-enforced my opinion. He did the United States a service, but he needs to come back here for trial and perhaps punishment. Why? I'll explain how to reconcile those two views.


ZAKARIA: Now for my "What in the World" segment. There's been lots of buzz in recent weeks about "Citizen Four," the newly released documentary about Edward Snowden.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the end, if you publish this source material, I would likely be immediately implicated.

ZAKARIA: I saw it recently and it's engrossing mainly because we get to see up very close the man behind the controversy.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: My name is Edward Snowden, I go by Ed. ZAKARIA: And he comes off well. Thoughtful, articulate, a bit nervous, but intelligent and well-intentioned. I say this is someone who believes that Edward Snowden broke the law and should be held accountable. But I also believe he performed a public service by revealing a vast system of domestic surveillance that lacks proper democratic oversight and judicial checks. My two beliefs are not irreconcilable. In fact, the way to reconcile them is a trial. Recently, via satellite at the New Yorker festival, Snowden said he would love to stand trial in the United States.


EDWARD SNOWDEN: I would love to do so.


ZAKARIA: He should. It would transform what he has done from theft into civil disobedience, which by definition means being willing to accept the consequences of your actions. At "The New Yorker" event, Snowden explained to Jane Mayer that given the stipulations the government is putting on his return, he doesn't think he could get a fair trial. But the legal scholars I consulted, none of them die hard conservatives on national security hawks, believe that Snowden could get a fair trial. UCLA law school's Norman Abrams told me how such a trial would likely go down. The government would try to prove that Snowden broke the law by leaking classified documents. Snowden would want to mount a defense that justified his motives and the benefits that he believes have resulted from his action. The issue, Abrams said, is that generally, motive and reasons for doing the deed are not an element of the crime and trials are limited to proof of the crime and responses to that proof.

Snowden has argued that previous whistleblowers did not get a fair trial, but the University of Texas scholar Robert Chesney says this is an argument from anecdote and that each trial and each judge is different. He, too, believes that it is possible for Snowden to get a fair trial, though there would be attention between Snowden's desire to put the NSA on trial and the court's efforts to keep the scope of the case more limited.

The most striking aspect of Snowden's substantive foreign intelligence revelations is how few consequences they have had. That's because they mostly showed the U.S. government doing secretly what it has said it was doing publicly, fighting the Taliban, spying in countries like Pakistan, and searching for al Qaeda cells around the globe. The disclosures also reveal routine foreign intelligence operations, some of these are entirely justified, such as hacking into Chinese computer systems, something that Beijing does on a much larger scale to the United States. Others are perhaps unwise, such as tapping the phones of the leaders of Brazil and Germany, but none are morally scandalous. As Bernard Kouchner, the former French foreign minister has said, let's be honest, we eavesdrop, too. Everyone is listening to everyone else, but we don't have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous.

In any event, the price has already been paid. The Obama administration should make clear that Edward Snowden would get a regular open civilian trial. Snowden should come home and make his case. He will surely argue that the laws he broke were unconstitutional, that he has changed American government for the better, that his actions are protected under the First Amendment and other kinds of claims. It will be the trial of the century, shining a spotlight on something that has been hidden in the shadows too much and for too long. And that is what Edward Snowden says he has wanted from the start. For more, go to, and read my "Washington Post" column this week.

Next on GPS, when confronted with a scrumptious looking sweet treat, can you control yourself? Or do you dig in immediately? Your answer might determine much about the rest of your life. I'll explain when we come back.


ZAKARIA: 50 years ago, a groundbreaking psychological experiment was conducted on preschoolers. It went something like this. The youngsters were put in a room where a marshmallow sat on a tray. They were told they could eat that one marshmallow immediately or if they waited, they would get a bigger reward. Two marshmallows. So what did the kids do? What would you do? And what does the ability to wait mean for future success? A lot, apparently. My next guest is Walter Mischel, who was the brains behind this marshmallow experiment and has a new book out called "The Marshmallow Test." He's widely known as the world's leading expert on self-control.

So you tracked these children down 50 years later. And what did you find?

WALTER MISCHEL, PSYCHOLOGIST: We found a great deal. We found, to our surprise, when they were about 13, 14, 15 years old, that the ones who had waited longer on the marshmallow test, were doing better in school, were doing better socially. And were doing better on SAT scores, by quite a bit. And we became very interested in why we are seeing these differences. What is that really all about? And we began to pursue them, really, over the years, and approximately every ten or 12 years, did a follow up.

ZAKARIA: Now, when you kept tracking them, did that difference you saw ten years later, the kids who managed to have delayed gratification, were doing better. Was it true 20 years later, was it true 30 years later, was it true 40 years later?

MISCHEL: What happens is that the ones who remained consistently high in self-control over the years as opposed to the ones who remained consistently low in self-control over the years, formed two quite different life trajectories that are distinctly different.

ZAKARIA: And basically, you feel that your results over this long period confirm the basic hypothesis that the ability to have self- control is a predictor of success in life?

MISCHEL: I think the answer to that is yes. And there is an additional answer that I would like to give, which is that what is equally interesting to me, but perhaps far more important in its public policy implications and its implications for how we teach our children, educate our children, run our schools and so on, is that the fundamental key skills that enable self-control, that allow a kid to do well on the marshmallow test, involves what is now called executive control, or executive function, which essentially means that the individual can keep a delayed goal in mind. I'm waiting for the two marshmallows. Resist interfering responses, not going to think how yummy and chewy they are. It's awfully frustrating to wait 15 or 20 minutes when you're a four-year-old for a couple of cookies or marshmallows. But what the kids who did this well managed to do is to transform the situation by distracting themselves, by playing with their toes as if they were piano keys, by exploring their nasal cavities and their ears and toying with what they found, by singing little songs, "This is home in Redwood City", by doing wonderfully inventive things that essentially allowed them to transform the situation into one that was manageable.

ZAKARIA: So this was not hardwired or genetic. This is something that can be taught?

MISCHEL: It's absolutely something that can be taught and it can be enhanced. There are clear differences in kids and how easy it is for them, and there are clear genetic differences, but the genes, the good news is, are not your destiny when it comes to these kinds of self- control skills.

ZAKARIA: Can I still develop better self-control?

MISCHEL: Yes, even at your age, one can do that.

ZAKARIA: You talk in the book about something very interesting. Contextualized self-control, and I think we see this all when we look at people who seem very, very determined and goal oriented in one area and disciplined in one area but not so much in another.

MISCHEL: I think we all have our hot spots. And finding what those spots -- what those hot spots are, is really the first step, if one wants to enhance self-control, because you have to know, where are the places where I'm not -- where I'm vulnerable. Whether it's tobacco, whether it's drugs, whether it's whatever, the identification of where the vulnerabilities are is hugely important.

ZAKARIA: Now, the one thing I discover from talking to you earlier is you don't like marshmallows.

MISCHEL: Well, it's true. That, for me, marshmallows are not one of the many hot spots that I have.

ZAKARIA: So for you, this is easy. You would wait a long time before eating the marshmallows.

MISCHEL: I would have no trouble waiting for marshmallows.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure to have you on.

MISCHEL: Thank you very much. ZAKARIA: Up next, what does your accent say about you?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. My name is Evgeniya.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Ahmed Murtallah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Arsi Patel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bonjour. My name is Christina.


ZAKARIA: More than you think. I will explain with my perfect accent.


ZAKARIA: During all of the recent Ebola coverage, you may have missed some relatively good news about global health. Last month, the United Nations released its annual report on child mortality. Since 1990, mortality rates of children under five have been cut in half. It brings me to my question. About half of all deaths of children under five occur in five countries. Which country is not on that list? Is it a, China, B, India, c, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or D, Iran? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

This week's book of the week is Peter Thiel's "Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future." As I told you a couple of weeks ago, when recommending Linda Rottenberg's book, most books on entrepreneurship are useless, but here is another excellent one. Very different from Rottenberg's. Thiel's book is a series of somewhat philosophical reflections on a variety of topics that are at the core of starting and growing a business. He believes everyone should try to become a monopoly because that's where the real money is, for example. He's fiercely intelligent, widely read, and extremely practical in his advice on building a good business. It's a quick, smart read.

And now, for the last look. There are an estimated 7,000 languages in the world, and countless more accents and dialects. An accent can reveal a lot about a person. A spectrum of sounds with differing vowels, and consonants, lilts and drawls. They can betray someone's geographic origin, level of education, social class, but accents are malleable. They grow with you. I'm sure mine has changed since I first came to this country.

A new book published in the U.K. on accents caught my eye this week. It's titled "You Say Potato" focusing mainly on the British Isles where the authors say an accent shifts every 25 miles. The book explores the way an accent can reflect identity. On the book's website, people from around the world can upload how they say potato to a map.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is how I say potato and I come from Oakland, New Zealand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is how I say potato and I come from Dover.


ZAKARIA: The title brings up the question, does anyone actually say potato, or was it just a good rhyme for the song made famous in "Shall We Dance?" So far, we didn't find any po-tot-ohs, but the author say there is a historical reason for this pronunciation. The a vowel can be traced to the end of the 18 century in Britain. Interesting stuff. We have linked to the book and the potato map on our website. Upload your own potato today.

The correct answer to the GPS Challenge question is D, Iran. According to the report, the top five countries that account for about half of the under-five deaths are Indian, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and China. Nearly half of under-5 deaths result from poor nutrition.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.