Return to Transcripts main page

Fareed Zakaria GPS

Fareed's Take: Trump is invested in a risky Saudi strategy; Crisis in Zimbabwe; Trump after Asia Trip: "America is back"; Europe's far right resurgence?; What in the World: A last-ditch option for averting catastrophic climate change?; America's new Gilded Age; Is Islamic terrorism on the run?; Urban vs Rural: A global struggle. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired November 19, 2017 - 10:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to those of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

Today on the show, Donald Trump returns from Asia, declaring victory.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow citizens, America is back and the future has never looked brighter.


ZAKARIA: But what does the world actually think of President Trump? We'll get that view from across the Atlantic.

And the week's other standouts, in Zimbabwe and Poland.

Also, is the American economy in a dangerous crisis? Gates, Buffett and Bezos have more money than the bottom 50 percent of America's population. And one of the country's wealthiest men, Ray Dalio, sounds the alarm on what he calls our biggest economic, social and political issue

Then, first Mosul fell, then Raqqa. What is the so-called Islamic State without a state? Is radical Islam dying out? I will talk to Salman Rushdie about that and his new novel.

But, first, here's my take. Donald Trump graded his Asia trip this week. Not surprisingly, he thought it was a tremendous success. "Our great country is respected again in Asia,"! he tweeted.

All recent polling data from the region suggest the opposite. A core focus of Trump's trip was Japan and South Korea, for example. Only 17 percent of South Koreans and 24 percent of Japanese express confidence in him. That is down from 88 percent and 78 percent, who expressed confidence in President Obama during his second term.

Trump's rhetoric of self-interest and America first was seen by Asians as a sign of retreat in contrast to Chinese President Xi Jinping's more open, outward looking and ambitious agenda. However, Trump's foreign policy faces a new challenge now that could further disrupt the Middle East, already the most unstable part of the world. Trump has given the green light to an extraordinary series of moves in Saudi Arabia that can only be described as a revolution from above.

Some of them suggest real and long-needed reforms, but all appear to have the risk of destabilizing Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia's new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has moved to consolidate power in all directions, jailing conservative clerics on the one hand and advocates of political reform on the other.

His most recent targets have been some of the kingdom's most powerful princes, including the head of the National Guard, as well as the billionaire investor Al-Waleed bin Talal on allegations of corruption.

A senior Arab statesman and businessman told me the reasons given seem suspect. He said, every prince in Saudi Arabia has partaken in the institutionalized corruption that is embedded into the system. If this was really about corruption, Al-Waleed is the last Saudi prince you would go after.

Saudi Arabia has historically rested on three pillars of stability. There's the royal family. And it has intermarried with the second pillar of Saudi society, the tribes. These two then ally with the final pillar, the country's ultra-orthodox religious establishment.

Mohammed bin Salman has said the right things about religious moderation and he's taken on all three pillars. But in doing so, he is altering the very structure of the Saudi regime, from a patronage state based on consensus to a police state based on centralized control. Time will tell whether it will work.

The greater puzzle and greater danger is that while taking on this bold and risky domestic agenda, the crown prince has also made a series of aggressive moves abroad.

He has escalated Saudi intervention in Yemen with air, land and sea blockades and bombing strikes. He has tried to quarantine Qatar. In Lebanon, he apparently forced the prime minister to resign, hoping to destabilize the Shiite-dominated government.

All these are part of an effort to fight back against Iran's growing regional influence. But these are blunt tools for a complex challenge.

The Saudis, for example, are attempting to dislodge the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah from its position of power in Lebanon and punish Qatar for its alleged ties to the group.

But for several years now, the Saudis and Americans have been in an unspoken alliance with Hezbollah against the Islamic State. The Islamic State is being largely defeated by American-backed Kurdish forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias, including Hezbollah. [10:05:05] In any event, the Saudi strategy does not seem to be working. The war in Yemen has turned into a disaster, creating a failed state on Saudi Arabia's border, seething with anger against Riyadh.

Qatar has not surrendered and doesn't seem likely to any time soon. The Shiites in Lebanon did not take the bait. And so far, they seem the responsible party, refusing to plunge the country into instability.

But everywhere in the Middle East, tensions are rising, sectarianism is gaining ground. And with a couple of miscalculations or accidents, things could spiral out of control.

And with Donald Trump having so firmly supported this Saudi strategy, America could find itself dragged deeper into the growing morass in the Middle East.

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


TRUMP: America is back.


ZAKARIA: That's what Donald Trump triumphantly declared this week on his return from his five-nation, dozen-day Asia trip.

The statement does raise some questions. Is America really back? Had it really gone way under President Trump's predecessor? I wanted to get some perspective on the United States from the outside.

So, here I am in London, joined by Radek Sikorski, who is the former foreign minister of Poland; Niall Ferguson who is a senior fellow at both Stanford's Hoover Institution and Harvard Center for European Studies. He has a terrific new book out in January in the States called "The Square and the Tower"; and Anne McElvoy is the senior editor at "The Economist", head of "Economist Radio" and a columnist for London's "Evening Standard."

Before we get to all that, Niall, let me ask you as someone who understands economics, Zimbabwe. Will Zimbabwe, after Mugabe, be different?

NIALL FERGUSON, AUTHOR, "THE SQUARE AND THE TOWER": I wish it could be. I'd love to be optimistic. Not all military coups go disastrously wrong. Chile's, remember, paved the way for a Chilean economic miracle and transition to democracy.

It's not looking very promising in Zimbabwe, one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Pretty much ruined by Robert Mugabe.

And, unfortunately, all we're really seeing here is a change within the existing regime, a palace revolution, if you like. It's hard to believe that this is going to produce a massive improvement in institutions, rule of law or economy in Zimbabwe tragically.

ZAKARIA: Radek, when I was in Asia last week, I was in Singapore, I found that what people were saying about Trump's Asia trip was really more about Xi Jinping. The United States seemed to be retreating. China seemed to be expanding. You know many of these foreign ministers. You've dealt with them for years. What's your sense?

RADEK SIKORSKI, FORMER POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: I think the fact that the United States is stabilizing its relationship with China is a good thing because the stability of the world depends on that.

But I think President Trump has mishandled the way he treats North Korea. When you escalate with a rogue state, you should allow your underlings to do the tough talking, so that the other side understands that when the head of state says do this or else, it's really serious.

And as it is, the first line is the last. And the other side might not understand when the crisis has become really serious.

ZAKARIA: You've actually visited North Korea as Poland's foreign minister. Is it your sense that this is a regime that is trying to survive and does it pose an imminent threat to the United States?

SIKORSKI: It can't threaten the United States, but it can certainly threaten South Korea. And one strategy is for regime survival, obviously, but they also wanted to reunite the country and by threat.

Let's remember that North Korea is a really nasty Stalinist dictatorship with concentration camps and gulags still operating. It's the sickest society I've ever visited.

ZAKARIA: Anne, what is your sense of how the world is reacting to Donald Trump as he goes around?

ANNE MCELVOY, HEAD OF "ECONOMIST RADIO": Well, there's always an oversell with Donald Trump, isn't it? If he leaves Washington, DC, it seen as a major achievement. He went somewhere and he came back again.

I'm discounting the fact that when you look at Donald Trump's own account of his deeds, they're always heroic.

I do think the Asia trip was important, and not just because it has flushed out a bit more of the Chinese position. I think it's actually very good for the Trump administration and the president himself to get out and about a bit. And they did commit a proper amount of time to Asia.

My worry was that he was beginning to see other capitals, however troubled and however interesting in the global picture, as kind of backdrop in a studio that would have made him look good in the film.

I think, in this case, his officials did work on him. I've just come back from Washington, seen a lot of people involved in preparing that. They wanted him to at least sustain some interest. And I think the proposition is, he's a difficult man, obviously, to steer, let alone control. But when he has met some of these people, when he has actually sat down and spent some time that it's then easier for them to say, now do you see what we were talking about?

[10:10:14] Because, remember, this is a president on a learning curve. This is not someone who has come through political institutions or foreign affairs.

So, in all fairness, even taking away the Donald Trump factor, there would be a lot of learning to be done. And I think that's really what this trip has been about.

ZAKARIA: Niall, quickly, on the trip?

FERGUSON: Well, let's remember how badly things were going under his predecessor. The Chinese regarded the pivot to Asia as an extremely bad idea. They ridiculed it often when one was in Beijing.

And the Obama administration's handling of the North Korean situation was disastrous. Remember, impotent resolutions that only accelerated the North Korean nuclear program and presented the Trump administration with a nightmare scenario.

The Obama people said it would be at least five years before Kim Jong- un had an intercontinental ballistic missile and a miniaturized nuclear warhead. Turned out to be five months.

So, before we beat up on Trump, which is kind of CNN pass time, let's remember, his predecessor did -

ZAKARIA: You're on CNN now.

FERGUSON: - very poorly indeed.

SIKORSKI: It's not the United States that supplied those new engines to the North Koreans, thanks to which they can put a bigger payload into space.

ZAKARIA: Where did they come from?

SIKORSKI: The R350 engine used to be produced in the old Soviet Union and there are parts from which you could put these engines together in today's Ukraine and Russia, and I don't think Ukraine would dare.

ZAKARIA: We will have to leave it at that. When we come back, angry nationalists take to the streets, many of them calling for Jews and Muslims to leave Poland and chanting death to the enemies of the homeland. What is going on? We will ask the foreign former minister of Poland, Radek Sikorski, and the rest of the panel about that.

Also, Brexit. When we come back.


[10:16:27] ZAKARIA: And we are back with Radek Sikorski, Niall Ferguson and Anne McElvoy.

Radek, tell us what is going on in your country. We see these pictures and it feels like Charlottesville times ten. Is it?

SIKORSKI: I think we have, across the West, a wave of populism, a wave of ethno-nationalism. Here in Britain, Brexit was also the vote of English counties against the Celtic fringe in London.

As a result of globalization, I think there is a despair among some majorities and fear of becoming minorities. And it takes different forms.

In Poland, remember, the nasty minority was a minority within a march that wasn't meant to be the way it turned out. And the president of Poland has condemned these radicals. And there are now motions to delegalize some of the organizations behind it. And I think the government really needs to take tough action now because they were too lenient in the past.

ZAKARIA: You agree this is sort of a cultural - it does seem to be happening mostly around immigration, right?

FERGUSON: Well, these are revolutions of falling expectations that we see on both sides of the Atlantic. And although it varies from country to country, I think the fundamental drivers are the same. There's an economic dimension to it, but there's also a cultural dimension to it, and immigration is the key issue, even in places where there hasn't been much immigration, which is certainly true of Poland or Hungary.

Another interesting point here is that, earlier this year, there was a tendency to say, oh, the populist wave has passed, the nightmare scenario hasn't materialized because nice Monsieur Macron won in France and nice Mrs. Merkel won in Germany, panic over, it was just an anglosphere phenomenon, but turns out that actually there's plenty of pretty nasty right-wing populism in Central Europe. It's not just going on in Poland. It's true in Hungary too.

And I expect this movement to grow in magnitude. Remember, this is happening in Poland at the time when the Polish economy is doing well. If that were not to be the case, I don't like to think how much it would do.

ZAKARIA: What about Brexit? The forces fueling Brexit again, as Niall says, a mix of economic and cultural - if Brexit - the vote were held today, would it happen again?

MCELVOY: Yes, it would. And to my mind, it would have happened any time you called that vote since the 1990s. And I think we haven't yet got to the point, but we need to get to it where liberal elites kind of wake up and say, how might we have failed in a way that brought this about and how might we respond better?

ZAKARIA: In not handling immigration and talking about assimilation, for example. MCELVOY: And this is not to say, by the way, that you have to simply veer off to the populist right and stop all immigration, but I think there's a genuine question. And I'm very, very strongly in favor of open borders, believes in, obviously, free trade and free movement of people.

But I don't think we can go on simply singing from the same song sheet when we've had warning after warning after warning that a lot of people - and these are not just a fringe in society by the time you get to 52 percent of those who voted in Britain - are concerned about it and they think it affects them adversely.

So, a lot of things are going to have to change. Some of the policies and some of the tone and the analysis. I think the spasm that you often hear about, oh, horrible Brexit, awful, how could it have happened?

The question is really to ask ourselves why this happened. It's not simply to blame people who voted for it or say that they were lied to.

ZAKARIA: Radek, Donald Trump came to Poland and he gave a speech that was seen at least by some people back home as affirming a kind of Steve Bannon ethno-nationalism. He talked about Poland, but not Poland as the country of democracy and liberty, but a kind of ethno- nationalist Poland.

[10:20:17] SIKORSKI: He praised us for the Warsaw uprising, which was the biggest disaster in Poland's history. And, yes, I think the nationalist right felt empowered in that Bannonite ideology, thanks to the president's speech, yes.

ZAKARIA: What do you think of that? Is trump feeding some of this ethno-nationalism?

FERGUSON: I didn't dislike the Warsaw speech as much as you, Radek. And I thought there was a wild and sometimes rather unreasonable attempt to misconstrue it as a white supremacist speech.

If you talk about Western civilization, you're not necessarily a white supremacist. If you talk about World War II, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing in a speech about Poland since Poland was, in many ways, the principle victim in World War II.

So, I didn't think it was a bad speech. And I think it's wrong to say that Trump somehow empowered this fairly marginal far-right element.

I'd like to go back to something Anne was saying. The British elite embraced Brexit. Theresa May was not for Brexit but, in many ways, the British elite said, OK, we're going to make this work.

I was opposed to Brexit, campaigned on the remain side. We lost. And many of the predictions that were made, I think, are coming true on the economic side. It's also far from clear that Brexit so far has done anything about immigration.

So, I think we are at the very interesting juncture in Britain where the chickens are coming home to roost.

ZAKARIA: Radek, as somebody who sat on those councils of Europe, is Europe going to give Britain a way to do this softly or is there -?

SIKORSKI: Well, let me come to that. But I think Brexit is also a result of 30 years of miseducating the British public about how the EU actually works and of the cowardice of the British political class in standing up to the nationalist tabloids. And now we have the results.

And, Britain, I'm afraid, is in a somewhat weak negotiating position because, in Brussels, everybody knows that whatever pain the EU 27 will suffer, Britain will suffer three to five times more under a no- deal scenario.

And what Brussels wants is for Britain to make up its mind. Do you want to stay in the single market? Do you want to stay in the customs union or do you want to leave? And Britain can't make up its mind because the cabinet is split. And both factions are strong enough to bring down the prime minister. If you don't know what you want, it's hard to achieve success.

ZAKARIA: This sounds like a perfect mess. Thank you very much. We will come back to it and to you.

Next on GPS, this week, at a UN climate conference in Bonn, the White House hosted a panel on promoting fossil fuels. Michael Bloomberg compared it to having a pro-smoking event at a cancer conference.

As we talk, carbon keeps piling up, making the atmosphere warmer. Can anything be done and fast? Well, one Harvard scientist has a very cool idea. When we come back.


[10:27:44] ZAKARIA: Now, for our "What in the World" segment. The UN released its newest Emissions Gap Report. According to the report, the world's nations need to reduce emissions much more than they've already pledged to do so, if we hope to keep warming to just 2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

In order to keep to 2 degrees Celsius, by 2030, the world would have to cut annual emissions by an additional 11 billion tons of CO2 or the equivalent.

However, with America unwilling and China and India still industrializing in a traditional manner, that seems unlikely.

Now, there might be a technological solution to the problem. The idea draws from what happens after volcanic eruptions. David Keith will help us understand. He's a professor of physics and public policy at Harvard.


DAVID KEITH, PROFESSOR OF APPLIED PHYSICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Big volcanos have this big signature of dust and material thrown up in the air, but invisibly they also put sulfur dioxide way up into the stratosphere - stratosphere, high above our heads where air stays for a year or two.

And that sulfur dioxide gets converted to tiny little droplets of sulfuric acid and those reflect away sunlight.


ZAKARIA: That last part is the key. But reflecting away sunlight, these little particles help to cool the planet.

You might remember Mount Pinatubo, that Filipino volcano that erupted in 1991. Well -


KEITH: After a big volcano Like Pinatubo that put a lot of sulfur in the stratosphere, you actually see the whole world get cooler for a year. Not just get cooler, but actually the productivity of plants and ecosystems around the world went up that year.


ZAKARIA: So, the challenge to Keith and his fellow scientists is how to get particles into the atmosphere that will do the same thing. Keith has an idea. Send planes up into the air that release an aerosol to do the trick.


KEITH: The basic idea would simply be that flying from just one or two airfields maybe near the tropics, you would gradually build up in the stratosphere these fine particles that would reflect away a tiny bit of sunlight, not to magically cure the problem because there is no magic cure, but to reduce some of the risks of accumulated CO2.


ZAKARIA: But would it really reduce global temperatures? Keith says the answer is probably yes.


KEITH: We could really on a region-by-region basis, say, reduce the intensity of extreme storms like the big tropical cyclones that are so destructive especially to the world's poor or heat waves and also to reduce the melting of the ice caps.

[10:30:10] So, the scientific evidence that these technologies could reduce risk is very strong.


ZAKARIA: The problem is it's unclear what else solar geoengineering would do. That is the technical term for putting all those particles in the stratosphere. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH: Absolutely true. Any version of the solar geoengineering will have unexpected side effects, I'm sure, problems, uncertainties. But, of course, the state we're in has unexpected uncertainties.


ZAKARIA: So, with all of the uncertainty, should we send jet plane after jet plane after jet plane into the air to spray the stratosphere? It's worth further research. Perhaps some trials in selective places and reviews of the side effects.

Look, it sounds too good to be true. But sometimes that is how technology works. So, why not try?

Next on GPS. One of America's wealthiest men on why he is worried that the rich are getting too rich and the poor are staying too poor. Billionaire hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio, sounds the alarm when we come back.


[10:35:10] ZAKARIA: A study out this month from the Institute for Policy Studies finds that the three richest men in America - Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos - are worth more than the entire bottom 50 percent of the American population.

Yes, the wealthiest three Americans are richer than the poorest 160 million combined. Further, the top 25 billionaires have $1 trillion in wealth combined, according to the study.

And most experts say that the Republican tax plans will favor the rich and worsen this inequality. All this deeply worries the 26th billionaire on the Forbes list, Ray Dalio.

Dalio, the founder of the world's largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, wrote a blog post on LinkedIn, sounding the alarm. I wanted to talk to him about how he sees the problem.

He is also the author of a much-discussed new book called "Principles.

Ray Dalio, pleasure to have you on.


ZAKARIA: So, you're looking at a global economy that is generally doing well. There's a kind of synchronous global recovery. Europe is doing well. The US is doing well. Asia is doing well. US stock market is hitting highs.

And yet, you call code red on the American economy in a very interesting blog post. What do you mean?

DALIO: Well, two things. I think the averages are misleading. I did an examination of the bottom 60 percent of the economy and the top 40 percent of the economy, so if you break it up into the two pieces, what do those differences look like?

And if you look at the bottom 60 percent of the economy over a period of time, there's been no income growth, there's been rising death rates. There is a picture there that is hidden in the averages.

So, that's - there are two economies.

ZAKARIA: And so, for that 60 percent, you point out, it's not just economically that they're not doing well. They're having rising death rates. You point out in your post that the top 40 percent spend four times as much on education as the bottom 60 percent, which means we're in danger of perpetuating a kind of top 40 percent elite that gets more and more advantages and the bottom 60 percent that is left further behind.

DALIO: Yes. It's a self-perpetuating challenge. I think that we, as a nation, have to focus on the statistics of the bottom 60 percent. In other words, that's the majority of people.

Now, let's look at metrics to those. And I do believe that there should be a national initiative that actually focuses on that because that problem is going to increase.

ZAKARIA: But that's a governmental. And so, what would you have the government do about that? You talk about investment. What do you mean?

DALIO: I believe that there should be a commission or an initiative in which two objectives are set out. To take those metrics for that segment of population and move those metrics and to do the investigations of the various ways.

I do fear what will happen in the future because, as we look forward, what will the next economic downturn be? There will be a downturn. And if we imagine that downturn with the existing polarity, I think it's going to be a very serious social and political issue.

ZAKARIA: Do you worry that we are now in a two-tier economy and one could argue that, even within that top 40 percent, as you know, it's the top half of that that's really doing well, that this is going to produce a different kind of economy and a different kind of society?

I mean, you've told me, you grew up very modest means. You're now worth, Forbes says, $17 billion. Are we moving into a kind of almost Brazil-like situation where there is just going to be an elite that self-perpetuates?

DALIO: Well, I think we're there. The top one-tenth of 1 percent of the population's net worth is equal to the bottom 90 percent combined. And that's an important issue. That is political and social.

And that the pressures of technology - technology is wonderful. But technology, in replacing people, is an important force. And so, if we go forward, you're going to create a two-tier economy because there will be those who will create these wonderful things that also have the effect of replacing people. So, it is the issue of our time.

ZAKARIA: You have this fascinating new book out. I don't want to let you go without asking you about one thing that everybody wonders about because you talk about it in the book and you are famous for it, which is that, at your firm there is this idea of radical transparency, which means people have to disagree clearly, publicly with others.

[10:40:07] And people always wonder, do you take it to the point where people in your firm, actually, routinely look you in the eye and tell you, Ray Dalio, you're the boss, but you're completely 100 percent wrong?

DALIO: I need that. Yes. And I need that. I do it because I need it. I set up a company. If I don't have that engagement, besides my not hearing things that I need to have, can you imagine what it's like for you to be in the company, being in a position where you have to hold that inside of yourself? And then, you're walking around, thinking I did something stupid around in a company and you can't speak up?

You can't build a culture that way. In order to have independent thinkers around to get at the best ideas and have great collective decision-making, you have to be able to have thoughtful disagreement to rise above it.

I think that there's a challenge a lot of people have emotionally to being able to have disagreements. Shouldn't disagreement be a source of curiosity?

And also, if people are disagreeing, then somebody must be wrong. How do you know that wrong person isn't you? It raises the probabilities of making a better decision and it also increases the quality of the relationships. So, yes.

ZAKARIA: Ray Dalio, pleasure to have you on.

Coming up on GPS. First Mosul, then Raqqa, the two capitals of the ISIS caliphate, so-called, are no longer in the group's hands. So, what does this mean for the future of terror? I will talk to Salman Rushdie about it when we come back.


[10:45:52] ZAKARIA: Last month, Raqqa was declared liberated, free after enduring three years under ISIS rule. The terror group had taken over the city as its headquarters, the capital of its so-called caliphate.

This comes just three months after the Iraqi prime minister arrived in Mosul to declare ISIS' former Iraqi capital liberated from the terrorists as well.

So, what is an Islamic State without any more pretense of an actual state? That's what a lot of people are asking these days. I asked Salman Rushdie to come to talk to me about that and his terrific new novel, "The Golden House".

Salman Rushdie, pleasure to have you on.

SALMAN RUSHDIE, NOVELIST: Thank you. Nice to be with you.

ZAKARIA: When you look at what is going on in Raqqa, with ISIS, with Al Qaeda, it does seem as though Islamic radicalism, or at least the jihadi version of it, is dying or has been defeated on the battleground. Do you think that that means it's been defeated ideologically as well?

RUSHDIE: I think to an extent, yes. But I think it always seemed to me that it would be likely that ISIS would be defeated militarily.

I think people who have reported on the war say that they're actually - friend of mine, a French journalist said, the thing about ISIS is they're good terrorists, but they're bad soldiers. So, when you confront them on the battlefield, they run away. So, that was probable.

But I think the difficulty now is that there will be, to a certain extent, a splintering of the danger, so that I think we may face more of the - like the individual low-tech attacks that we've been seeing across Europe, with people driving trucks into civilian populations and so on. I think there may be a bit more of that.

But I think there is really a reason to think that the tide has swung against that kind of fanaticism across the Muslim world.

ZAKARIA: That's a big thing for you to say because you've been worried and warning about the fact that there has been this cancer within Islam.

RUSHDIE: I mean, I think it's still there. I'm not even saying it's in remission. But I'm saying that it's having a bad time right now. And that's good for all of us.

ZAKARIA: Could it be because it's now been tried as it were in so many places and nobody likes it? The Afghans hated the Taliban.

RUSHDIE: Exactly, exactly. Everywhere that this phenomenon has actually taken power, it's very quickly become hated. In Afghanistan, as you say, the Taliban were hated. In Algeria, the Islamic radicals, the FIS or the GIA very rapidly were unpopular. The mullahs in Iran are not really beloved. And so, yes - and now in Iraq.

I think wherever this thing gets into control, people very rapidly discover they don't want it.

ZAKARIA: So, this is a novel different from some of the other things you've written. It feels very contemporary. It feels like you're describing the world we're living in.

So, I have to ask you as a social observer, what is, to your mind, the dominant reality of America, of New York, of its big cities today? RUSHDIE: Well, I think it's - first of all, one of the realities is the incredible division between the big city and the hinterland, the fact that New Yorkers think one way and Middle America thinks in a radically different way.

To the extent there's always been that split, that New York and America have never been completely happy with each other. That's true about Paris in France and London in England as well. So, it's something about the nature of the metropolis.

But, right now, that rift is so exaggerated.

ZAKARIA: It's set in the Obama years, very clearly in the Obama years. You made a conscious decision to do that. It's a thing you're told not to do as a writer, which is to write right up against the present moment, to write the book which is about the moment in which the book is being written, and to react, to be reactive to things that happen.

ZAKARIA: And as a novelist, what strikes you about the Obama era?

[10:50:03] RUSHDIE: What I felt was that there was this movement from incredible optimism to its antithesis.

That's to say, I mean, I remember, I was here on the night of the first Obama election. And I was walking around the city in the middle of the night in places where people gather, like Union Square and Rockefeller Plaza, like that.

And just looking at people's faces, the extraordinary joy and hope in those mainly young faces, I thought, was a remarkable thing to witness.

And now, certainly for somebody of my inclinations, we face the dark side of that.

ZAKARIA: And to add to the comic relief, there's a guy called the joker -


ZAKARIA: - who is Donald Trump.

RUSHDIE: Who sort of is a variation on Trump, yes. In a deck of playing cards, the only two cards that don't behave properly are the joker and the Trump.

Trump's name is not in the book anyway. I thought I don't want the Trump, so I'll have the joker instead. There's this cartoon villain running for president.

ZAKARIA: Did you watch Trump and say to yourself, if I wrote this, people wouldn't believe it?


ZAKARIA: Sometimes Trump is stranger than fiction.

RUSHDIE: Totally stranger than fiction. I've had dinner with my friend, Ian McEwan, and we were agreeing that if we had presented this as a story to our publishers, they would have said, go away and try harder. It's implausible.

So, we live in this age in which the implausible is what's happening.

ZAKARIA: Why do you think that is? What is going on in America that has allowed for this kind of -?

RUSHDIE: Well, I don't think it's just America. But I think there's a broken relationship with reality. I think that people don't believe things anymore because - and I don't think this has just to do with the Trump administration.

I think a lot of it has to do with the information age. That out there, on the Web now, truth and untruth exist at the same level of authority and I think it's very difficult sometimes for people to judge which is which.

And so, if you don't have a firm grip on the truth, then you lay yourself open to phenomena like Trump, like Modi in India, like Brexit, there's a whole range of these phenomena which, I think, all come from the same damaged reality that we're living in.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure to have you on.

RUSHDIE: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, I have been in London this week where it will cost you 11.50 pounds or more than $15 to drive your car into the center of the city each weekday. But there's still lots of traffic.

So, is there an answer? Well, it may be a boring one. By that, I do not mean the answer may be uninteresting. I'll explain what I do mean when I come back.


[10:55:] ZAKARIA: The president returned from his big international trip this week and it brings me to my question. Which country's passport is ranked the most powerful in the world for ease of travel? Is it the United States, Singapore, Germany or Sweden? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

This week's book is "Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine" by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and GPS regular Anne Applebaum. She writes about the Kremlin's brutal strategy to starve Ukraine and destroy its culture.

She also shows how so many of Ukraine's problems today - corruption, fear of the state, apathy - have their roots in the 1930s. A sorrowful story that is also a gripping read.

And now for the "Last Look". I'm in London this week, a city notorious for terrible traffic. In fact, just driving into downtown London on a weekday costs drivers a $15 congestion fee.

Well, take a look at this picture. At first glance, it looks like a garden variety underground shaft. But, in reality, it is a tunnel that SpaceX founder Elon Musk is digging underneath Los Angeles. Why the pivot from the above the clouds to below the ground?

Well, Musk founded a tunneling firm called, humorously enough, The Boring Company. Its mission is to solve our "soul-destroying" traffic problem.

And it's starting with a 2-mile test tunnel near LAX. The goal is to build a network of tunnels to move cars on electric tracks under cities fast, at around 125 miles per hour.

As you can guess, this is not cheap. Tunneling projects can cost $1 billion per mile. So, another goal is to reduce costs significantly, whether it is boring tunnels, limiting cars or increasing congestion toll prices, let's keep working toward ending our traffic nightmares.

After all, by one estimate, traffic congestion cost American drivers $300 billion last year alone.

The answer to my GPS challenge question last week is B, Singapore. A Singaporean passport holder can now visit 159 countries either without a visa or by easily obtaining one upon arrival, according to the Passport Index, a ranking compiled by the financial advisory firm Arton Capital.

According to the firm, it is the first time an Asian nation has come out on top of this list since it began in 2015.

If you're wondering which other countries provide powerful passports, Germany was next on this list, followed by Sweden and South Korea in a third-place tie. The US fell to sixth place this year, tied with Ireland, Canada and Malaysia.

And which country has the unfortunate rank of being the least powerful passport in the world? Afghanistan.

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