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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Fifteen Years After 9/11; Interview with Fmr. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; Interview with London Mayor Sadiq Khan Aired 10-11a ET

Aired September 11, 2016 - 10:00   ET


[10:01:10] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: That was a moment of silence marking the fall of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Today is, of course, September 11th, 2016, the 15th anniversary of the attacks on America that changed so much in so many places.

This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.

Let's go right away to today's panel to reflect on all this. From Washington, "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman joins us. He's also the author of the soon-to-be published book, "Thank You for Being Late." Fawaz Gerges is in London today. He's a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of a recent "GPS Book of the Week," "ISIS: A History."

Joining me here on set is Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president and CEO of the think tank, New America, and a former director of policy planning for Hillary Clinton. And Mary Kissel is a member of the "Wall Street Journal's" editorial board.

Anne-Marie, where were you on 9/11, 2001?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NEW AMERICA: I was in Cambridge. I was teacher at Harvard and my husband called to say a plane hit the tower and I turned on the television and then called my mother in Virginia. And I remember kind of clinging to her over the phone as we watched the plane hit the second tower and then the towers collapsed. And then we heard that the Pentagon had been attacked and I thought they are going to attack every sector. They are attacking finance and Wall Street, they are attacking the Pentagon and there I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And so I went to get my children who were in daycare about 15 minutes away, feeling like that sense that every part of America was under attack, and all I could think was, you know, to hold my family as close as I could. And even now, when it's that brilliant September blue and you love the fall, and for me, it's always that shadow of this is what it was like on September 11th.

ZAKARIA: Yes. Fawaz, do you recall your reaction? Because, you know, I'm struck by how most Americans didn't really have any idea who this -- who might have done this and for those of us who had been following al Qaeda, it was pretty obvious. They had done the call, they had done the embassy bombings in Tanzania.

What was your reaction? Did you -- when you saw it, did you think to yourself, this is al Qaeda?

FAWAZ GERGES, PROFESSOR, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, Fareed, I was in New York teaching a course on American foreign policy in the Middle East at Lawrence College. And I remember vividly that the dean of the college came out and asked a pointed question to all of us. She said, is this the beginning of World War III?

There was a great deal of confusion, anxiety, fear, about the unknown. Few Americans had known about al Qaeda. And some of us who knew a bit about al Qaeda, we did not take it seriously, Fareed, because we estimated we basically thought that al Qaeda was a very small submersible organization. It did not have large numbers. In this particular sense, I was surprised that it was able to carry out such a spectacular number of attacks in the heart of America.

ZAKARIA: Mary, what was -- what was your thought about what this meant? Did you have just personal thoughts or did you start to have political thoughts?

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I was in London working in the bank on a trading floor the size of several football fields, if you could imagine that.

[10:05:01] Hundreds of people sitting in this one room and remember looking up at the screen. We had the BBC coverage at the time so we didn't see what everyone else in America saw. And there was complete silence on the floor, if you can imagine, you know, 800, 900 people just falling completely silent. And I was sitting next to --

ZAKARIA: Normally very noisy people.

KISSEL: Normally very noisy on the trading floor. But I was sitting next to Brits and Irishman and the Norwegian team was sitting behind me. And I just recall that sense of deep horror, and anger and shock. I think no one had conceived that such an attack could be executed in the way that it was. I think there was an appreciation that the world changed. But there was also a kind of solidarity at that moment. Remember the French and the big headlines were all Americans now.

And of course in the years after that, many of those countries forgot that lesson. We forgot that lesson in the United States. And I think the consequence of that, we're starting to see today, that I'm sure we'll talk about that in a moment.

ZAKARIA: Yes. Yes. Tom Friedman, you were in Tel Aviv, correct?

TOM FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I was in Tel Aviv, Fareed. I was there covering the latest iterations of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. I was actually in the office of the president of Tel Aviv University interviewing him when the news flashed on the television. That night, they closed the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem so I was trapped there. And at that time, I happened to know the chief of military intelligence in Israel and I contacted him after, you know, a few hours, and said, I need to know everything you know about suicide bombing.

And he wanted to talk to me as well because of my experience in Beirut. We met the next morning at the Israeli Ministry of Defense at 7:00 a.m. with the whole team. And I learned then, Fareed -- I got an insight from that dialogue that has stayed with me to this day and has really governed how I look at this problem because when I asked them what they learned about suicide bombing through their conflict with the Palestinians, the basic message was this. It was -- Tom, you know, we got -- our intelligence is very good, we've got the West Bank wired. We can get Ahmed before he blows up a pizza parlor. We can get Julio before he blows up a disco club. But you know what, Gibron -- Gibron will get through unless the village says no.

It takes a village. But ultimately the greatest restrains on human behavior are religial, cultural, familial and communal. And if the village says this is martyrdom, and not murder, then it will continue. And if the village says it's murder, not martyrdom, it will stop. It takes a village. It was true then and it's just as true today.

ZAKARIA: Anne-Marie, when you were in the State Department, how did you tackle the problem Tom Friedman is talking about, which is ultimately the only way this is going to stop is if you somehow get the atmosphere in some of these Arab countries to be not just less permissive, but deeply condemnatory. You know, that the Saudi -- Saudi Arabia does not wink and not at jihadist but -- you know, because they don't happen to be doing it in Saudi Arabia. As long as they do it somewhere else it's OK. You know, that's a very tough problem for foreign policy to solve.

SLAUGHTER: Right. Well, we addressed it at the macro level with President Obama's new beginning with the Muslim world, which was actually following in the footsteps of Condi Rice's proclamation that there has to be a robust, civil society in Arab society and that means Arab governments loosening up.

Now that's a direct conflict then between those governments that we support. So we attempted to say, look, we need to be talking to Islamic groups in these societies even when their governments don't like it. We need to be strengthening ways that people have alternatives to Islamic extremism.

That was two years before the Arab spring, then came the Arab spring. We tried to support that. But, you know, it's like the French Revolution, it takes decades to make that kind of change. And we --

ZAKARIA: And it's very messy.

SLAUGHTER: And it's very --

ZAKARIA: When I think of the Arab spring.

SLAUGHTER: Absolutely. And we had to -- so we had to be working with those governments, knowing that those governments are not only repressing their own people in ways that create support, but also, sometimes, working with those groups in ways we don't like. And it's very hard to take one position or other. But Tom is right. In the end, you have to penetrate the society, not the government. And that's very hard for another government to do.

ZAKARIA: Fawaz, we don't have a lot of time, but quickly, would you say that the -- there are a lot of people who feel that the U.S. response very quickly became too military and yet these were very bad guys? Do you think that there was any -- was it not inevitable that there would be a very strong military response?

[10:10:06] GERGES: You know, Fareed, I wish we had more time. But I'll try to be very precise. I mean, I think often the question is asked, did 9/11 change the world? I argue -- I would argue that a more pertinent question, to what extent did 9/11 transform America? In the sense of shattering America's innocence, not only about the security, but about the world, given rise to interventionist and crusading impulses. Embroiling the United States in wars and distant plans.

As you know, Donald Trump in his uninformed and incoherent way keep talking about the founders of ISIS. In fact, it's the unintended consequences of the American global war on terror that really paved the way for ISIS and prolonged the life of jihadist groups. As we know, al Qaeda was almost defeated in 2002-2003. It was the invasion of Iraq, the distraction of Iraq institutions, this interventionist impulse, social engineering basically project by the neo- conservatives. And it seems to me that Donald Trump's basically priorities and policy proposals, but we think the policy proposals will really also have tremendous massive negative consequences, unintended consequences in terms of trying to defeat ISIS.

ZAKARIA: Fawaz, stick around. Tom, Anne-Marie, Mary, all of you stick around. We're going to come back to you throughout the show. But next, you will hear from a man who dealt with the aftermath of 9/11 in both of his top jobs in the Obama administration. Leon Panetta was the CIA and the Department of Defense when we come back.


[10:16:07] ZAKARIA: My next guest, Leon Panetta, has had a front row seat in the war in terror having directed both of the top American agencies responsible for executing that war. Starting shortly after President Obama was inaugurated, Panetta spent four years in the administration, first as director of the CIA, then as secretary of Defense.

I spoke with him earlier this week about the state of the world 15 years after 9/11.


ZAKARIA: Secretary Panetta, welcome on the show.


ZAKARIA: Where do you think we stand 15 years after 9/11?

PANETTA: I think 15 years after 9/11 has marked a period where the United States has really developed the capability of dealing with threat from terrorism. I mean, we -- during that period of time, we've improved our intelligence capability. We've improved our ability to be able to track and do surveillance on terrorists. We have improved our ability to work with the military on counterterrorism operations.

I think we've done a great job at being able to go after the leadership, particularly of al Qaeda. So we have developed some remarkable capabilities and I think the bottom lines is we've been able, as a result of that, to at least prevent another 9/11-type attack on this country. Doesn't mean that we've resolved all the issues terrorism has continued to metastasize, we're dealing with ISIS, we're dealing with Boko Haram. We're dealing with al-Shabaab, we're dealing with the threat of lone wolf attacks in this country. All of that remains.

ZAKARIA: We heard a very spirited and interesting critique of the -- the Obama administration's approach, also really the Bush administration's support, from the Republican nominee this week. Donald Trump says that the United States has been intervening too much in the Middle East. It's been trigger happy. And he says we would have been better off if we hadn't done anything at all or we hadn't gotten involved. What do you make of that critique?

PANETTA: If only the world were as simple as that. The reality is that when you are confronting the threat from terrorism when al Qaeda was able to strike at this country, kill over 3,000 people and devastate not only the World Trade Center but hit the Pentagon and try to hit even other targets in Washington, there was no question that the United States had to go to war against terrorism.

We had been attacked and I think for that reason, it was important for this nation to go after aw. And we did. And obviously President Bush began that effort. Some policies we can agree with, some we can disagree with. But the reality was that he knew we had to confront that threat. And President Obama understood that we had to confront that threat as well.

ZAKARIA: Donald Trump calls Hillary Clinton trigger happy and unstable. You worked with Hillary Clinton. What do you think of her temperament and would she make a good commander-in-chief?

PANETTA: Well, Fareed, from my -- from my experience having worked with Hillary Clinton for over 25 years as first lady, and then when she was U.S. senator, and then in particular when she was secretary of state.

[10:20:05] I always found her to be extremely careful and thoughtful, someone who understands the world and the challenges that we face in the world. Who understands the nature of the crises that we are confronting. But more importantly, wants to exercise thoughtful judgment in the approach that we take.

I think she does have the right temperament to be commander-in-chief. I think she is somebody who can provide the kind of experience and the kind of diligence and care that a president has to use in dealing with a lot of threats that we are confronting in the world.

I want to have somebody who understands the nature of those threats and how the United States should respond. And that's what Hillary Clinton can do.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about a specific foreign policy challenge that you would be consumed with while you're still in your old job, which is the battle against ISIS and particularly the efforts now under way to retake Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, the most dramatic gain that ISIS had, which it is hoped will be reversed.

General Petraeus had a very interesting, I thought very smart column in the "Washington Post" in which he said, "The U.S. is winning its battle against ISIS. The Iraqi army with the help of the U.S. military will almost certainly be able to retake Mosul." But the real challenge is, what happens next? Who governs Mosul, will there be a political sentiment there which will allow it to include the Sunnis so that they don't feel excluded and go join ISIS again?

What is your sense of whether or not it would be possible, not just militarily to defeat ISIS, but to create the kind of political settlement that will keep ISIS defeated?

PANETTA: Fareed, I think that is the -- that's the most important challenge we face. I agree with General Petraeus, that, from a military point of view, I think we have the capabilities to defeat ISIS in Mosul and ultimately to defeat is in Raqqa as well in Syria. We have great special forces. We have great military capabilities, we're working with the Iraqis., we're working with others. I think we are making progress on that front.

One area we have not been as effective as we should be is in providing the support system that will ensure that if we defeat terrorism that Iraq, and Syria, and Libya and Yemen and other countries that went through the Arab spring are able to govern themselves and establish the institutions to be able to govern themselves and provide stability in the future.

That is the one area, frankly, where we need to devote a lot more attention both diplomatically, economically and we also need to consider the root causes that have produced terrorism, which, frankly, we have not done enough to confront.

ZAKARIA: Secretary Panetta, a pleasure to have you on. Thanks so much.

PANETTA: Nice to be with you.


ZAKARIA: Next up here on this special edition of GPS, marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I will talk to the new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. He is the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital. I'll ask him about the recently ramped-up backlash against Muslims in his country, in America, elsewhere, when we come back.


[10:29:24] ZAKARIA: That was this moment of silence for the fall of the North Tower. Now four months ago, to the astonishment of many, a man named Sadiq Khan was elected mayor of London. He is a Muslim whose parents emigrated to London from Pakistan. Perhaps it shouldn't have been so astonishing. The last census found that just 45 percent of 21st century Londoners were white Britons. And the second most prevalent religion after Christianity, of course, is Islam.

This week, Mayor Kahn will embark on his first official visit to North America. But before he departs, I had a chance to speak with the mayor in his first American television interview.

[10:30:00] He joined me from his offices at city hall.

Sadiq Khan, where were you on September 11, 2001? What was that day like for you?

SADIQ KHAN, MAYOR OF LONDON: It was a day that I'll never forget and many Londoners will never forget. I was at home and I saw the images on TV of the first plane going into the tower. And you couldn't believe what was happening, the feeling of shock, horror. And as the day unfolded and the days unfolded, the real scale of the horror sunk in. And on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, not just my thoughts and prayers but the thoughts and prayers of all of London and all of our country are with the victims and their families.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that there is a responsibility for moderate Muslim leaders, particularly, to denounce radical Islam and to call for a kind of reform?

You know, you have heard this -- this cry that the moderates are quiet and that's why the radicals and the extremists win.

KHAN: If you analyze acts of terror around the world, actually, the vast, vast, vast majority of victims are men, women and children of the Islamic faith. They are victims in Muslim-majority countries. What's important is not that Muslims speak out because we are more responsible; sometimes, though, we can be more effective in stopping young people becoming radicalized, young people becoming extremists. Because it's important we tell those preachers of hate that, actually, the West doesn't hate us and it's not true that it's impossible for Muslims to have friends who are Jewish, Christian, Hindus, Buddhists, (inaudible) those not members of an organized faith. There is no conspiracy.

What's great about America, London, the U.K. and other countries around the world is it's possible to be Western; it's possible to have liberal Western values and also to be a mainstream Muslim. And I'm really proud that, in May of this year, London chose me as their mayor, not just an ethnic minority, not just a religious minority, but a Londoner of Islamic faith. And that shows, I hope, the world that, actually, you know, here in the West, here in London, and other parts of the world, we cannot simply have our potential fulfilled; we're not simply tolerated, but we're respected and embraced as well.

ZAKARIA: What do you think causes that downward spiral of radicalization?

You know, we have all looked at the profiles of some of the people who have ended up turning into Islamic jihadis, the people behind the London bombings, the people in France. These are young men; sometimes they're religious; often they are not particularly religious. What is it, you think, that causes that downward spiral?

KHAN: Well, one of the reasons why I was so keen to come to North America -- I'm going to Montreal, New York and Chicago -- is to see how we can work together to address the challenges we face.

I was recently in Paris. And you're right. In the last year alone, there have been horrible attacks in Paris, in Brussels, in Nice, in Istanbul and elsewhere. And there is a real challenge we have in relation to integration, social integration, making sure our youngsters are resilient, so you, as a young citizen in America, in Canada, in the U.K., in France or Brussels, in -- anywhere, when you're approached by a preacher of hate; when you're approached by somebody who says the West hates you and the way to achieve success in this world and the hereafter is being nihilistic, is turning on your neighbors and your friends, you're resilient enough to say "You're talking rubbish; I know the true faith of Islam; I know what being a Muslim means."

ZAKARIA: What is the mood in Britain today?

Do you think that the vote against Britain staying in the European Union, the Brexit vote, was an expression of a certain kind of fear or distrust of foreigners?

Because it did seem to me like the campaign moved very quickly from economic arguments, where those who wanted to stay in the European Union, sort of, won that -- that debate. It moved very quickly to this issue of migration and the worries about foreigners swamping Britain.

KHAN: Well, one of the other reasons why I'm keen to come on this visit is to show the rest of the world that London is open. We're going to carry on being an open-minded and outward-looking city like we have been for more than 1,000 years. And I'm proud that London chose to remain in the European Union.

It is a fact, though, you're right that my fellow countrymen and women voted to leave the European Union. And there were a number of explanations for this. One is, again, you're right, there was an anti- immigration feeling. And the E.U. was used as a proxy, if you like, a scapegoat for the legitimate concerns many of my fellow citizens have, the inability to get a decent job, the inability to get a home you can afford to rent or buy, waiting times to see your doctor or to have an operation.

And the easy thing to do -- it's the lazy thing to do -- is to blame the other, to blame the European Union. And the challenge that we have in my country, but also, it's a challenge that you have in the elections that are coming up, is to ensure that we show that, actually, we can achieve far more working together. My election in London was one where my opponents would try to divide

our city; they tried to give the impression it's not possible to have a mayor of Islamic faith. And in London, you know, hope succeeded over fear; unity succeeded over division. And it's disappointing, you're right, that my fellow countrymen and women chose to leave the European Union. But, you know what, we still are the greatest city in the world. London is still very much open.

ZAKARIA: Now, we're delighted you're coming to the United States. Do you worry that, if Donald Trump were elected president and he were to implement his always-shifting and varying ban on Muslims, or some Muslims, or all Muslims, you wouldn't actually be able to get here in a few months?


KHAN: Well, I'm looking forward to my visit to America. The election is a long way off. So let's wait and see what happens in November. All I'd say is this, look, I'm a firm believer in building bridges rather than walls. I'm a firm believer, actually, that it's possible to be a Western liberal and also be someone who practices the faith of Islam.

I want to add, actually, the great thing about America is your history tells the rest of the world that, actually, it's possible for people who are, you know, originally from Italy or from Ireland or from Pakistan or from Syria or from Mexico to not simply get on with each other, but to fall in love with each other, to work for each other and to work for the common good. And I'm looking forward to my visit to America. I love America. I love Americans. I have family in America. And, you know, America is a great, great country. I'm looking forward to, in November, the best candidate winning, and I hope she does.


ZAKARIA: Sadiq Khan, a pleasure to have you on.

KHAN: A pleasure.

ZAKARIA: And when we come back, more with our all-star panel. We're going to talk about is -- is the mood of 9/11 really over? Are we on to something different? When we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with my all-star panel today, Tom Friedman, Fawaz Gerges, Ann-Marie Slaughter and Mary Kissel.

Tom, I want to suggest to you that we're in a very different place from the years after 9/11, in the sense that it seems to me that Americans have understood that, you know, we have these terror organizations on the run, that they are not an existential threat to the United States. Every time there is an episode, one, you know, lone wolf attack somewhere, it does raise the temperature. Politicians, like Trump, take advantage of it, but it also fades pretty quickly.

Are we at a kind of a different, maybe, I would argue, a kind of more realistic assessment of the threat from -- from Islamic terror?

FRIEDMAN: I think it's true, Fareed, that it's less easy for any politician to exploit these things in any sustained way. But I would put a couple caveats on it. You know, one of the reasons I find 9/11 such a sad day is not only for all the Americans who were killed and others, it's the fact that -- you know, it's like "D" Day; it's like Pearl Harbor Day, now, in our memory.

But Pearl Harbor, while it pressed us into a giant war in the Pacific in which millions of people were ultimately killed, it had a happy ending. It ended with a democratic Japan and a much more stable Asia. "D" Day ended with a democratic Germany and a much more stable Europe. Nine-eleven has produced none of that, actually. Nine-eleven really has -- the only real transformation in the Middle East is that we could change Germany; we could change Japan because they were states. But Al Qaida, ISIS, these are not states; these are -- these are movements. And these are movements that can only be eradicated by the host countries. And that hasn't happened.

We still have, you know, tens of thousands of young predominantly males in that part of the world who have never held a job, never held power and never held a girl's hand. And the latter may be the most important of all.

And so while, yes, 9/11, these terrorist attacks -- they can't take us down, you know, in the exaggerated ways, maybe, that people predict, but the problem is still there. And I would worry about the rising power of one. So I wouldn't be putting up my feet now.

ZAKARIA: Mary, what do you think of the politics of terror? Do you think that, you know, many people think, if there were a dramatic attack a few weeks before the election, it still will have the tendency to help a candidate like Trump who seems more bellicose?

KISSEL: Well, first of all, I have to take issue with the premise. Terrorism is still a very major threat to the United States and to our allies. We have ISIS investigations going on in all 50 states. The president likes to compare ISIS to "bathtub falls," but that's not really and apples-and-apples comparison here. We have people who want to come to the United States with all sorts of weapons, chemical attacks, nuclear attacks. We're frankly lucky that we haven't had another 9/11 event.

Look, under the Bush administration, we had a policy of democracy promotion which essentially worked. Iraq was stable. Al Qaida was down to a couple hundred members in Iraq at the time that the president took office. We then engaged, under President Obama, in a policy of retreat.

And what did that lead to? That led to an expansion of the threat not just in the Middle East, but now we see it in North Africa, in East Africa, in Pakistan and in other places around the world.

And, you know, I'm hearing a lot of rhetoric on this show that, you know, this is just something that we need to come to terms with and deal with, as the president said after one of the attacks, this is just a war within the Muslim world; these American casualties are just collateral damage. No, I think the majority of the people in America do not accept that. We need to re-engage in the world. We cannot continue these policies. Because, if we do, I fear we would have another major attack here. I think that's a large part of the reason why Donald Trump is still in this race.

ZAKARIA: Anne-Marie, I have to give you a chance to quickly defend the honor of the Obama administration for which you worked.


SLAUGHTER: Well, I just don't think Iraq was stable when President Obama took over. Indeed, President Bush had negotiated a withdrawal and President Obama continued it. But I do think that the invasion of Iraq was a massive foreign policy blunder.

But -- but let's talk about whether we're safer now. So there have been 350 attacks since 9/11 in the United States; 12 have been lethal. Only 94 people have died, as compared to 3,000 on that day. And we are much, much safer from the kind of 9/11-style attack. They have tried; they've been stopped.

The danger now is that, exactly as Tom Friedman said, ISIS is -- it's a virus, right? And it spreads from the fragmentation and radicalism in the Middle East, and we have lone wolves; we have mentally unstable people who then can suddenly find purpose in ISIS propaganda, and those lone wolves are part of a pack on social media.

So we now face a new, kind of, metastasized threat that is something that you can trace back to 9/11 but that, honestly, I don't think either President Bush or President Obama can fully address or could have foreseen.

ZAKARIA: All right. We are going to -- Fawaz Gerges, we're going to have to come back to you on another show, which we promise you we will. Meanwhile, everybody should read his brilliant book on ISIS, really the best book around on ISIS.

We will be back now with my reflections on 9/11.


ZAKARIA: On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was driving along the Long Island Expressway, heading out to a friend's house to spend a few weeks working on a book. An hour into my drive, I switched from music to news and listened with horror to reports that two large passenger planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I turned around instantly, realizing that my sabbatical was over. So was America's.

It's now difficult to recall the mood of the 1990s. The Cold War had ended overwhelmingly on American terms. Dozens of countries from Latin America to Africa to Asia that were once staunchly socialist were moving towards capitalism and democracy, embracing a global order they had all once decried as unjust and imperial. America in the 1990s was consumed by talk of economics and technology.

The Information Revolution was just taking off. I tried to explain to my children that only two decades ago, much of the world that seems indispensable today, the Internet, cell phones, did not exist for most people.

What few of us recognized at the time was that one part of the world was not being reshaped by these winds of change, the Middle East. As Communism crumbled, Latin American juntas yielded, apartheid cracked and Asian strongmen gave way to elected leaders, the Middle East remained stagnant. Almost every regime in the region, from Libya to Egypt to Syria, was run by the same authoritarians that had been in place for decades. The rulers were secular, autocratic and deeply repressive, for the most part. They had maintained political control, but produced economic despair and social paralysis.

For a young man in the Middle East -- and there were a surfeit of young men -- the world was moving forward everywhere except at home. Into this void entered political Islam. Now, there had always been preachers and thinkers who believed that Islam was not just a religion but a complete system of politics, economics and law. As the Arab world's secular dictatorships produced misery, more people listened to ideologues who had a simple solution. Islam, they said, is the answer.

The seductiveness of that slogan is really at the heart of the problem we face today. It is what drives some young, alienated Muslim men and even a few women not just to kill, but far more difficult to understand, to die. They may be handfuls, but they have succeeded by sowing fear.

The striking change that has taken place across the Middle East is that today stability has been replaced by instability. America's intervention in Iraq might have been the spark, but the kindling had been piling up high. The Arab Spring, for example, was the result of powerful demographic, economic and social pressures pushing up against regimes that had lost the ability to respond or adapt. So when the repressive ruler was toppled, Saddam, Gadhafi, the entire political order unraveled and the nation itself fell apart and chaos reigned.

The pressing challenge now is defeating ISIS. But it's not really about vanquishing it on the battlefield. America has won battles like that for 15 years in Afghanistan and Iraq only to discover that, the week U.S. forces leave, the Taliban or ISIS or some other radical group returns.

The way to have these groups stay defeated is to help Muslim countries find some form of politics that addresses the basic aspirations of their people, all of their people. The goal is simple, to stop waves of disaffected young men from falling into despair of the conditions, surfing the Web and finding within it the same old slogan, Islam -- by which they mean radical Islam -- is the answer.

When those young men stop clicking on that line, that is when the war on terror will be won.

For more, go to and read my Washington Post column this week.


ZAKARIA: Thanks to Secretary Panetta, Mayor Kahn and my terrific panel for being here today. And thanks to all of you for being part of this special program. I will see you next week.