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Fareed Zakaria GPS
ISIS and The War of Words
Aired February 22, 2015 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
We have a terrific show for you today. First up, is the self-declared Islamic State really Islamic? And what's in a name anyway?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Al Qaeda, ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: How should we describe and deal with the phenomenon the president calls violent extremism? Then how do we win the fight against the terror group on a new battlefield? I'll explain.
Also John Chambers, the chairman and CEO of Cisco on disruptive technologies, the state of the economy and how the Internet of everything will transform your life.
Finally, a fascinating preview of the next few decades in which the United States will stay right on top. You won't want to miss this.
But first here's my take.
President Obama stands accused of political correctness for his unwillingness to accuse groups like ISIS of Islamic extremism, choosing a more generic term, violent extremism. His critics say you cannot fight an enemy that you will not name. Even his supporters feel that his approach is to professorial.
But far from being a scholar concerned with describing the phenomenon accurately, the president is actually deliberately choosing not to emphasize ISIS' religious dimension for political and strategic reasons. After all, what would the practical consequences be of describing ISIS as Islamic? Would the West drop more bombs on it? No.
But it would make many Muslims feel that their religion had been unfairly maligned and it would dishearten Muslim leaders who have continually denounced ISIS as a group that does not represent Islam.
But Graeme Wood writes in a much discussed cover-essay in the "Atlantic" this month, "The Islamic State is Islamic -- very Islamic." Wood's essays is an intelligent and detailed account of the ideology that animates the Islamic State. These are not secular people with rational goals, he argues, they really do believe in their religious ideology.
But Wood's essay reminds me of some of the breathless tracks written during the Cold War that pointed out that the communists really, really believed in communism. Of course, many ISIS leaders do believe their ideology. The real question is, why has this ideology sprung up at this moment and why is it attractive to a group, a tiny group of Muslim men these days?
Wood describes ISIS as having revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. Exactly. ISIS has rediscovered, even reinvented, a version of Islam for its own purposes today.
Wood is much taken by the Princeton academic, Bernard Haykel, who claims that people want to turn a blind eye to the ideology of ISIS for political reasons.
Quote, "People want to absolve Islam," Wood quote Haykel as saying. "It's this Islam is a religion of peace mantra, as if there is such a thing as Islam," he says. "It is what Muslims do," end quote.
Right, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and perhaps 30,000 members of ISIS. And yet Haykel feels that it is what 0.0019 percent of what Muslims do that defines the religion.
Who is being political, I wonder.
"An Ideology succeeds when it replaces some other set of ideas that has failed," says Professor Sheri Berman at Barnard College.
And across the Middle East, the ideas that have failed are Pan Arabism, Republicanism, nascent efforts at democracy, economic liberalism and secularism. The regimes espousing these principles have morphed into dictatorships producing economic stagnation and social backwardness. In some cases the nation itself has collapsed as a project. It is in the face of this failure that groups like ISIS can say Islam is the answer.
This battle of ideologies can be seen vividly in the life of one man, Islam Yaken, profiled brilliantly by the "New York Times'" Mona El- Naggar. Yaken, a middle class fitness trainer from Cairo who's interested mostly in making money and meeting girls. "But his dreams began to crash into Egypt's depressed economy and political turmoil," the article notes. He couldn't get a good job and began dreaming about leaving Egypt.
Questioning his life choices Yaken became drawn to a very different ideology, a version of Islam that is rigorous and militant. Yaken, now 22, fights for the Islamic State in Syria. During the last Ramadan season, he tweeted a photograph of a decapitated corpse. His post read, "Surely the holiday wouldn't be complete without a picture with one of the dog's corpses."
Islam Yaken is now a true believer. But the question surely is, how did he get here and what were the forces that helped carry him along? Calling him Islamic doesn't really help you understand any of that.
For more go to CNN.com/Fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week.
Let's get started.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: The president has gone to great pains to avoid framing the challenge against the terror group as one against radical Islam. His critics have taken note and the article I just mentioned has reignited this debate.
In that article the Atlantic's cover story, Graeme Wood writes that, "Yes, ISIS has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe but the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam," unquote.
Wood, the author of "What ISIS Really Wants" joins me now from Yale University where he's a lecturer in political science. Joining us from Istanbul is Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy. And here in New York is Peter Beinart, an associate professor of political science at the City University of New York and a CNN political commentator.
Thank you all.
Graeme, I should start by giving you the floor. I just discoursed on your article. The question I have really even beyond what I -- what I mentioned was you insist that the Islamic state or ISIS is very Islamic. Fine. But what does that change in terms of the strategy one adopts? I noticed at the end of the article you end up endorsing pretty much Obama's approach to ISIS, am I wrong?
GRAEME WOOD, CONTRIBUTOR AUTHOR, THE ATLANTIC: No. You're quite right. I think many aspects of Obama's approach are exactly what I would take. However, knowing the enemy I think is very important. If we understand how the organization of ISIS conceives itself, then we have some sense of what its plans are, how it motivates possible recruits, and how it presents itself. And to deny that it has any Islamic character whatsoever, I think, is really to suggest something that simply isn't true and leads us to misguided approaches.
ZAKARIA: Shadi Hamid, a lot of Islamic scholars and clerics have reacted to that article and versions of that argument, saying, look, why do they get to define what's authentically Islamic, we say it's not Islamic, or at the very least as a debate. Where do you come up?
SHADI HAMID, FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: When it gets to a theological issue we shouldn't -- we shouldn't pretend that ISIS' approach to Islam is somehow equally legitimate as other interpretations. In fact it is a distortion. And they ignore centuries of medieval Islamic tradition.
There is a tradition of legal pluralism, of intellectual pluralism from the early days of the prophet. And if we look at the so-called prophetic model which ISIS claims to respect from day one when verses came down there was questions of what was God's intent and what was the context in which that verse was revealed.
ISIS has no interest in either intent or context. So in that sense they are violating fundamental principles of interpretation, and that's why I don't think we can say that ISIS is a medieval kind of organization. In fact, they're distinctly modern. They're reacting against things they don't like in the world.
ZAKARIA: Peter Beinart, when you look at the kind of religious rhetoric they use, do you sometimes think that this is just a cover for, you know, a power grab. These are local thugs on the ground who have kind of come up with a very elaborate ideology that maybe speaks to some people but that some of them may believe in and some of them really just want power.
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I don't doubt Graeme's very, very piece which suggested they believe very, very sincerely. But I think from the point of an American foreign policy we as a nation have done best when we have defined our enemies narrowly. We did not fight a war -- a Cold War against communism or when we -- for most -- for our most effective period of the Cold War.
We allied with Yugoslavia, a communist country, against the Soviets and we allied with China against the Soviets. We narrowed our enemies and therefore put more strength on our side.
To the -- I think what's important about what Obama is doing is he's trying to keep our enemies narrow. We are going to need two ally with people who we call -- maybe call themselves Islamists in order to defeat ISIS, maybe even people who call themselves Salafi jihadists, whatever that means, just as we allied with communists against the Soviet Union.
We didn't fight all fascists in World War II. We never declared war on Franco, Spain, so I think the ideological part, while it's important shouldn't be what drives American foreign policy.
WOOD: The point that I'm making is that to deny that they are from this enormously diverse and contradictory tradition of Islam, and that's where they find their legitimacy, that's the discourse that they use and the rhetoric that they use would be false.
Now to take Peter's point we certainly did not fight communism per se or fascism per se. I think the point that I'm making, though, is that not knowing what communism is, not knowing what Nazism is. That's more like the position that we're in right now. And knowing the ideology allows us to separate and address things one by one.
ZAKARIA: Peter, if they are -- if ISIS is such a threat to so many other Muslims and Middle Easterners, why not let them take on the struggle?
BEINART: Well, I think there's another very different database, which is how much of a threat this is. And I think that's another issue when you've seen Obama take a different position than many of his Republican critics. I don't think Obama thinks that ISIS is a potential real threat but I don't think he believes that it is as great a threat as al Qaeda was the day before September 11th, for instance.
That's why I think Obama's calculation about the amount of power that he's willing to expend in fighting it is different. If you really believe that ISIS was as great of a threat as many Republican presidential hopefuls are saying, we should be sending ground troops. I don't think the evidence is at this point that they are. And that's why I think the U.S. should be doing what it's doing. Maybe it could be doing it more effectively.
We are providing air power and we're trying in a very difficult set of circumstances to build up stronger allies on the ground. Unfortunately we don't have great allies on the ground.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, we're going to have more of this with Graeme Wood, Shadi Hamid and Peter Beinart. We'll talk about some of the other controversies about America and the Middle East including the increasingly public dispute between Israel and the Obama administration.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Graeme Wood, Shadi Hamid, and Peter Beinart.
Thanks again for joining me.
Graeme, in your -- in your very interesting article in the "Atlantic," one of the parts of it that I really like is where you distinguish between al Qaeda and ISIS and its goals. And you point out that well, al Qaeda had fairly traditional kind of Islamist goals, really why we call them almost modern Arab concerns. For example, the issue of Israel.
ISIS does not seem to have those. ISIS' goals are more theological and they want to create a caliphate. They want to create -- you know, the true interpretation of Sharia. Does Israel fit in at all in that -- how does ISIS think about it?
WOOD: Certainly ISIS is no fan of Israel. But Israel's main point for ISIS is certainly its propaganda value, but also its place in the apocalypse. ISIS believes that it's foretold that the armies of Islam will eventually rally around Jerusalem after being defeated actually. So they believe that they will, after conquering a large area of land, eventually be reduced to a core of 5,000 fighters around Jerusalem. That's one of the most common ways that Jerusalem is referred to in the propaganda of ISIS.
ZAKARIA: Shadi, when I listen to what ISIS is propagating, the increasingly sectarian nature of the war, the Sunnis don't like the Shias, don't like the Alawites, you know, the Kurds, it does feel like the great charge against Israel and the great cause of the Palestinians essentially receded and does suggest that a lot of people who said this was always the kind of rhetorical ploy and never had that much deep currency in the Arab world were correct.
HAMID: If we look at many, if not most, Islamist groups I would say that they do care about Israel to one degree or another. But it's striking how little that seems to figure into what ISIS says and does.
In this sense ISIS is much more focused on Muslims. There's no one it hates more than apostates and to be an apostate you're a Muslim and then for -- because you don't uphold the religion, you cease to be Muslim in their eyes. And then there are, of course, the Shias, which are a target of their anger and hatred throughout the Middle East.
So in that sense where al Qaeda was obsessed with the West, ISIS is very focused on Iraq, Syria, the immediate surroundings. They hate Arab rulers more than they hate Israeli leaders. And that does -- that should affect how we react to them and how we think about the threat that they face. So in that sense they are less of a direct threat on the American homeland but they are very much a threat to Middle East stability.
And, you know, we're talking about an extremist expansionist state in the heart of the Middle East.
ZAKARIA: Peter, what I want to turn your attention to is the increasingly public dispute between the United States and Israel about Iran. You've read these reports. The State Department spokesman now publicly in a sense confirmed that the Obama administration believes that Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu personally, apparently, has been leaking incorrect information about the Iran nuclear deal.
In addition it feels that he's making an end run around them and going and speaking before Congress. What to make about all of this?
BEINART: The reason this clash is so fierce is it goes to the heart of the legacies of both men. Benjamin Netanyahu sincerely believes that he is Winston Churchill in the 1930s. The only person wise enough and brave enough to sound the alarm about a potential -- about a potential Nazi-like threat.
Barack Obama sees himself as much more akin I would say to Richard Nixon in the 1970s, trying to make -- look at the possibility of making an opening to Iran which would be like an opening to China which would re-jigger the entire power balance in the Middle East and allow America to solve problems it can't solve now and put itself in a much stronger position.
It's not just that these guys don't like each other. It's not just that Obama is a Democrat and then Netanyahu plays footsies with the Republicans all the time. It really goes to the core of the way they see themselves historically.
ZAKARIA: Is Israel, is Netanyahu, going to throw a monkey wrench in the Iran deal?
BEINART: I think that the lesson of conflict between the United States and Israel is this. When it comes to the Palestinians, Israel wins. The United States just does not care enough to pay the political price. But when it comes to an issue that it considered core to American national security like, will we go to war with Iran, in fact, make no mistake, if this deal fails and we have new sanctions, we will be on a path to war.
That is not an issue that Barack Obama or any other American president is going to allow an Israeli leader to have veto power over and I think Obama has made that very clear to people in the Democratic Party. And I think by and large they are going to stick with him.
ZAKARIA: Peter Beinart, Shadi Hamid, Graeme Wood, pleasure to have you on.
Up next, the U.S. government has found a new battlefield on which to fight ISIS -- Twitter. We will tell you whether it is working.
ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. Throughout its history as a superpower, the United States has fought not only on the battlefield but also tried to win over people's hearts and minds, through diplomacy, public messaging and other efforts. That other battle now has a new frontier on Twitter and other forms of social media, and it has not been led by the world's technology super power, the United States but by the medieval Puritans of ISIS.
ISIS has embraced social media with a zeal and savvy that has been startling. The group supporters issue 90,000 pieces of social media every day according to the State Department. Interwire.com's Jane Berger, who is conducting a study of ISIS' Twitter usage commissioned by Google estimates that the number is closer to 200,000 mostly generated by less than 2,000 accounts using a very thought-out high- volume method.
Even with Twitter suspending some ISIS accounts Berger says they are very prolific in producing new media. All told he estimates that there are still 30,000 Twitter accounts used by ISIS supporters. And because they tweet so much, they can place higher in search results and get their material on other Twitter sites.
This week the Obama administration announced an effort to fight back. "The New York Times" reported that the administration is reorganizing its response to the ISIS campaign. Expanding the State Department's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications to coordinate a multi-agency effort.
Drawing on hundreds of government Twitter accounts, the center will also coordinate messaging with Muslim leaders and scholars who would likely have a better chance of influencing potential ISIS recruits, reports the "Times." The center established in 2011 has already begun a "think again, turn away" campaign trying to convince those on the fence that joining ISIS is the wrong choice. The overall strategy is threefold according to the agency's previous
director Alberto Hernandez in a 2014 speech. To contest the space that has previously been ceded to terrorists, to redirect the conversation, highlighting jihadi groups' weak spots, such as the fact that Muslims are often their victims, and finally to unnerve the adversary, getting inside their heads like they do to us.
Preventing would-be terrorists from joining ISIS might be less about altering their theology than appealing to basic human instincts. Hernandez quotes al Qaeda scholar Thomas Hegghammer, who noted that a growing number of micro-level studies of jihadi recruitment downplays the role of doctrine and emphasizes proximate incentives involving emotions, the pleasure of agency, the thrill of adventurism, the joy of camaraderie.
In other words it appears that recruiting jihadis is about giving young people probably mostly young men something big and bold that they can be part of. Figuring out the right approach isn't easy, Hernandez says. It's an alchemy that is more art than science.
So how is the United States doing? It's difficult to quantify progress. Generally the reviews we've seen have been mixed and the budget for the center is only about $5 million a year, a paltry sum compared to other foreign policy initiatives. But the idea is interesting and the battlefield important. Perhaps the State Department needs to call in some of the people who ran the president's digital campaigns in 2008 and 2012. They seem to know how to use social media and they also know how to win.
Up next, CISCO Systems builds and runs what is often called the arteries of the Internet. What does CEO John Chambers see as the future of today's most powerful technology?
ZAKARIA: My next guest says that one day every country, city, company, house, car, and other physical things will be digitized. What he calls the Internet of things, the increasing interconnectedness of people and objects will be life changing for many people but disruptive for many industries. John Chambers is the chairman and CEO of CISCO, the world's largest manufacturer of data networking equipment. He has been the CEO of that company for an astonishing 20 years. John.
JOHN CHAMBERS, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, CISCO: Fareed, it's a pleasure to be with you again.
ZAKARIA: Thank you. First, give me a sense of the future of the Internet. I mean it seems like it's something we now can't imagine life without. But what are we not seeing that's going to happen five years from now.
CHAMBERS: So, if you think about the Internet in the first generation. All of us understand how it's changed our lives. Multiply it by five to ten fold, and that's what the next generation Internet is going to be. It's going to be the digital era where the last two decades were around the information era. And as that occurs the economic value by merely connecting things, not the whole value of the Internet, but connecting things will be about $19 trillion around the world over this next decade. That's the U.S. economy.
ZAKARIA: So, average middle class family in the United States, so in the Western world, what will their life look like? So, when they have this Internet of things that you talk about?
CHAMBERS: Yes. So, if you think about it, let me start with the business. When either parent goes to work in the business, most likely their company will move from being a retail company or a bank company or a manufacturing company to a digital company. And specializing the retail and manufacturing. That's where GE is going, that's where Walmart is going as an example. You will automatically turn on and off devices in your home in terms of starting the dinner or changing the temperature, et cetera, it will change life in a very positive way. It will generate a lot of jobs, but it will be disruptive to many industries. And it will be an environment where if you don't change as a city or a country, or as a company you will get left behind, so it will be disruptive.
ZAKARIA: What do you mean when you talk about cities? You wrote a terrific piece in foreign affairs about cities really becoming the new frontier?
CHAMBERS: So, maybe first cities and then countries. Barcelona is probably the best example in the world. In fact, they were voted the most innovative city in Europe, created 40,000 jobs in this transition. The ability to look at each of these in stages, on how they do public transportation and the services, the public services to the citizens. How they basically manage their traffic control, how they do their street lighting. Think about it from the country's perspective. Israel was the first country to make change. All three political parties, Shimon Peres's party, Netanyahu's party, the third political party, which is that finance minister, said this is about GDP growth for the country, digitizing a country can make a difference in one to three points on GDP per year. Secondly, it's about job creation. It's about health care to every citizen being delivered to their home or wherever they want, education the same way. Many people don't realize, there will be a digital Europe occurring. It will start with probably France, all about Germany, U.K., Northern Europe and then Southern Europe.
ZAKARIA: So, a lot of people are very gloomy about Europe. They don't think that euro will survive, they don't think 0Europe will survive or at the very least it will be troubled and they will have to deal with slow growth for a decade. You're not there.
CHAMBERS: No, I'm not there at all. We said about nine months ago that we were betting on Europe, that government had their act together, they are becoming digital countries, they understand it by cities, et cetera. I'm even more bullish on the U.S., however.
ZAKARIA: What makes you more bullish about the U.S.? I think I'm right on saying, you're also of the other party with - in the United States that is you are a Republican. But ... CHAMBERS: But I like Democrats, too.
ZAKARIA: What would you say that when you look at how the United States has handled the great recession, you know, between monetary policy, fiscal policy, recapitalization of banks, at least it looks to me we've done it better than anybody else. Certainly, if you look at Japan and Europe as the other alternatives.
CHAMBERS: I think you're probably, Fareed, you and I agree on most things. I think this time you're a little bit generous toward government. I think we've done it purely on the strength of the American economy and American people. And I don't think it's because of government. I think the government just has done a very average job. I think it's because of our basic concepts of job creation and business able to recreate themselves.
ZAKARIA: What about the issue of jobs? I mean a lot of the things you're describing sound transforming and, as you say, they are very disruptive.
ZAKARIA: But a lot of people say they don't really create those many jobs. In fact, if you look at what, you know, a lot of this technology is doing is getting rid of jobs?
CHAMBERS: So, this is the question that I think people have to take a hard look at. Let's use the innovation age. President Clinton did an amazing job. I'm from the other party, as you know. But he did an amazing job on really driving the Internet and the information age. And many people in the early '90s when he started down that path, people said it's going to displace jobs, it's not going to create jobs. Fast forward, the last six years of his administration, 22 million jobs, real GDP growth and real income growth for average American citizen up over 16 percent each. That's exactly ...
ZAKARIA: That's almost 20 years ago.
CHAMBERS: Yeah. But the concept was exactly the same. And this is when you come with the next generation of the Internet. I.e. that everything is the digital age. Exactly what the leadership of France understands and Germany understands, that if you build the infrastructure right, and this is the infrastructure of the future, this is the highways, the railroads, the education system, you then will create jobs at a pace you haven't done before. And so while there will be jobs destruction, just like there was with the Internet, many jobs destruction, you will move those jobs to other areas. Our country in the U.S. is the best at realigning resources quickly.
But what I found fascinating is the French leadership got that even quicker, than the U.S. leadership does at the present time.
ZAKARIA: John Chambers, always a pleasure to have you.
CHAMBERS: Fareed, it's a pleasure.
ZAKARIA: Coming up next, my next guest says that the future of the United States is surprisingly sunny, but in this case, he explains it's all because of geography when we come back.
ZAKARIA: When we think of what makes nations great, we think of inspiring leader, sweeping rhetoric, government set our - great virtues. But my next guest says think again, sometimes it's much less grand than that. Peter Zeihan poses that what really matters is demography, geography, and topography. Quite literally, the land itself. That's why major civilizations developed around navigable waterways. Rivers. It's why the United States with extraordinary rivers and ports has a unique advantage. But will that geopolitical luck last? Listen in on my recent conversation with Peter Zeihan, the author of a terrific new book called "The Accidental Superpower: the Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder."
Peter, pleasure to have you on.
PETER ZEIHAN, AUTHOR: Pleasure to be here.
ZAKARIA: So, the big point of your book is America is in an enviable position. And it was historically and it will continue to be. But I want to touch on why geography and demography and these structural factors really inform your analysis. So, you start out by pointing out that America has one of the world's most enviable markets because of the rivers. Explain that.
ZEIHAN: Sure, it really comes down to a balance of transport. How easy is it to move things within your system versus beyond your system? Water transport costs about 1/12 of what it cost to move things by land and that's assuming that you already have the infrastructure in place. Once you add in interstate, the roadways, the ports, and everything, it's about a 50-1 advantage.
ZAKARIA: And that's why you point out throughout history civilizations and cities have always started on rivers or ports.
ZEIHAN: Almost all of the successful ones, whether it's the French, the Chinese, the Japanese, or so on. But in modern times, the United States has over 17,000 miles of these waterways that's more than everybody else put together.
ZAKARIA: That's more than the rest of the world put together.
ZAKARIA: By comparison, what it is China and Germany?
ZEIHAN: China and Germany, about 2,000, the entire of the world, just over 100.
ZAKARIA: And so, you have these great river systems that allow you to get goods out. And then talk about America's port advantage.
ZEIHAN: Ports, it's a whole different scale. Because of the Intracoastal Waterway, in essence, half of American frontage is protected. There's these barrier islands that protect everything. You have all these indentations in Texas, which have more combined port potential. Not actual ports, potential than all of East Asia. The geography is absolutely sublime. There's nothing like it anywhere else.
ZAKARIA: The three largest ports in the world are in America.
ZEIHAN: The San Francisco Bay Area, Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay.
ZAKARIA: OK, so that's the advantage in terms of transport. You also point out that the United States has enormous advantages demographically going forward. It's the only rich country in the world that is not aging, you know, fast in the way that Japan and even Germany are. Tell us about some of the surprising elements here. But this - what's also true is demography is not working to the advantage of many the so-called developing countries.
ZEIHAN: Absolutely. There is a problem throughout the developing world that has something that was experienced in a developed world a little while ago. Urbanization rates that now increased so much. And that has generated growth, industrialization, urbanization, that is good for economic growth. But when you move people from the farm to the city, all of a sudden children are a luxury good. And that has happened so fast in so many places, that the birth rate has collapsed. So places like Indonesia or like Brazil are now aging at three and four times the rate that they are in Western Europe.
ZAKARIA: Wait, Brazil is aging at three times the rate of Western Europe?
ZAKARIA: You look at Japan aging fast, Europe aging fast. The U.S. remains privileged. But we point out it's also going to be isolated, separated from the world. Explain how that works out especially with regard to energy.
ZEIHAN: Sure. I'm not sure if I would use the word "isolated," retrenched might be a slightly better world. But the United States is discovering that the global trade system is dependent on it. But that United States doesn't really use the trade system. Right now it's about 90 percent of GDP as America's total involvement, which is less than some countries like Bolivia or Kyrgyzstan.
ZEIHAN: We are now.
ZAKARIA: ... is something like 40 or ...
ZAKARIA: 50, yeah.
ZEIHAN: The United States is now the least involved international economy as a percentage of GDP. And a lot of that is disappearing. It used to be that 5 percent of our GDP was imports of energy products. Well, because of shale, we've gone from importing about 12 million barrels a day to two, once you figure out North America as a chunk. Within two years North America is going to be energy independent. What OPEC is doing with shale, the price war, is not really working. Because shale production costs are now below $50 a barrel. They are cost competitive. So the war is pushing out Russian Siberian crude or North Slope crude or Albertan or North Sea crude, but not the shale patch.
ZAKARIA: So, if you had the crisis in the Middle East, this has always been the concern.
ZAKARIA: ... prices of oil skyrocket. And some people say, well, it doesn't matter whether we're importing it from the Middle East or not, we're still affected if it's $200 a barrel oil because oil is a global commodity.
ZEIHAN: Right. But that linkage is breaking down. As North America moves towards formal self-sufficiency, you have got to remember that you can't import crude from the United States, it's illegal. And while that debate is being held in Congress, you are not going to have the sort of broad spectrum political support for exposing the United States on purpose to geopolitical risk. I don't think that's going to pass.
ZAKARIA: Price of oil might decouple ...
ZAKARIA: And that as a result there won't be a global price and Middle East crisis will mean more expensive Middle Eastern oil, but not West Texas crude.
ZEIHAN: And we're seeing the start of that already. There's already about a $5 disconnect between American oil prices and global despite the fact that American oil prices are more reliable, more sustainable and pure crude. It's not high sulfur. All we need now is some sort of shock on the supply side outside of North America to drive that factor home to the markets and then we're in a fundamentally new world energy, trade, security, everything.
ZAKARIA: So, when you look at this world you're describing, it seems pretty messy with countries from ...
ZEIHAN: Messy is the right word.
ZAKARIA: Germany to China, all of them that seem to be doing well are going to start foundering. ZEIHAN: The reasons that countries like Japan and China, and Germany
have done so well for the last 70 years, is the U.S. setup a free trade system that encouraged international interaction and then put its Navy, which is four times more powerful than everybody else's put together at the service of the global commons. Energy independence among other things, the demographic shift, the fact that our market is stable is ending that relationship, that commitment. And when the rest of the world is responsible for patrolling its own system and there's no one to broker what that looks like, that's where resource wars come in. What we're seeing right now is the final days, months, maybe a couple of years of the old system that the United States arbitrated. We're very close to the beginning of the new.
ZAKARIA: It's a fascinating, particularly for me, because it describes in some measure the things I was trying to get out in the post American war, but you take it in so many interesting and fresh directions. Peter, Zeihan, pleasure to have you on.
ZEIHAN: Glad to be here.
ZAKARIA: Up next, President Obama is pulling most of the troops fighting Ebola out of West Africa. But is it mission accomplished? Stay with us.
ZAKARIA: Would you volunteer for a one-way trip to Mars? The Dutch nonprofit Mars 1 plans to establish a permanent human settlement on the red planet. The first four-person mission is slated to depart in less than a decade. Applications came from all over the world and this week the group was narrowed down to 50 men and 50 women from more than 30 countries, which brings us to our GPS challenge question. Which country has the most representatives in the Mars 1 finalist pool? Russia, China, the United States or the Netherlands? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.
This week's book of the week is David Boaz "The Libertarian Mind: a Manifesto for Freedom." People often wonder what it means when someone describes himself or herself as a libertarian. And that includes people like Rand Paul, Alan Greenspan and Peter Thiel. David Boaz does a superb job of explaining the ideas that animate an important philosophical tradition, and he does it with passion. For anyone interested in politics, this is a valuable resource and a well- written book.
And now for the last look. It is challenging for Americans to have their children stuck at home during this seemingly endless winter weather. So imagine just how arduous a nationwide half year school hiatus would be, all while battling a deadly epidemic. This week thousands of children returned to school in Liberia for the first time in over six months. Classes were back in session in some places, once hands were washed and temperatures were taken, of course. According to Reuters, the ministry of education in Liberia hopes all schools will open in March. The children's return to school is encouraging. But the world has not yet seen the last of the largest Ebola outbreak in human history. But as you can see from these charts, the number of Ebola cases in the most affected countries, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone has declined. Though some worry that the rate of the drop has stalled recently.
According to the WHO, a total of 128 new confirmed cases were reported this week with only two in Liberia. On this side of the world, President Obama announced that all but 100 U.S. troops deployed to fight Ebola in West Africa would come home by the end of April. The president stressed, however, that America's mission was not yet complete saying that while Ebola simmers it remains a threat.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Every case is an ember that if not contained, can light a new fire.
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ZAKARIA: The troops are heading home and the children are back to school, so when will West Africa and the world truly be out of the woods? Experts say the number of Ebola cases must be zero for 42 days, twice Ebola's incubation period or this terrible epidemic could reignite. We'll be counting and hoping.
The correct answer to the "GPS" challenge question is, C, a third of the finalists hail from the United States. Now, if only we could get that kind of public interest in NASA? After all, according to the OECD, the United States does have the biggest space budget in the world at roughly $40 billion a year. China is next with an annual budget of $6 billion, which incidentally is the exact amount Mars want estimates will be the cost of sending just the first four people to Mars.
Thanks for being a part of our program this week. I will see you next week.