Return to Transcripts main page

Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview with Elliott Abrams on Venezuela; Russia's Response to the Mueller Report; Did Robert Mueller Make the Presidency Even Stronger? Discussion of Special Counsel System; Looking at Anti-Muslim Content on Chinese Web Platforms; President Trump Signs Proclamation Recognizing Golan Heights as Part of Israel; Crisis in Sudan Examined. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired March 31, 2019 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I know, but can you see these women wriggling and grimacing? Every woman knows what that's like. And go look at how he treated Senator Heidi Heitkamp at her swearing in on CSPAN. He said to her, spread your legs next time you're going to be frisk.


CARPENTER: The day she was sworn in.

TAPPER: I'm afraid that's all the time we have. "FAREED ZAKARIA" starts right now.

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.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): We'll begin today's show with Venezuela. That troubled nation may now be the stage for a great power standoff. Two Russian planes landed near Caracas last weekend leading Donald Trump to tell Moscow to get out.

I'll talk to Trump's envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams.

Also, Attorney General Barr's bombshell letter about the Mueller report deepened the divide in America.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The collusion delusion is over.

ZAKARIA: But what is the Russian reaction? I'll talk to one of Moscow's top foreign policy minds.

And the legacy of Mueller. Do we now have new norms for presidential power? Will the next president not have to release tax returns? Be able to fire people investigating the White House, and more? We'll have a debate.


ZAKARIA: But, first, here's my take. President Trump faces a crucial test of his foreign policy and his resolve over Venezuela. His administration has made absolutely clear that the U.S. no longer considers Nicolas Maduro to be president. A far stronger declaration than the red line Barack Obama drew around Syria's Assad.

So far, Trump's pressure has not worked. Maduro has dug in and the Venezuelan military has not abandoned its support for him.

Now Venezuela is a complicated, divided country, and Maduro, as is the heir to the legacy of Hugo Chavez, does have some support in poor and rural areas. But far more significant than bolstering the regime in Caracas has been Russia's open and substantial support. Moscow now admits that it has sent military personnel to Venezuela. Two Russian military planes arrived in the country last weekend, carrying about 100 troops.

This is just the latest in a series of moves by Moscow to shore up Maduro. Over the last few years, Russia has provided wheat, arms, credit and cash to the flailing Caracas government. Estimates of Russia's total investment in Venezuela vary from $20 billion to $25 billion.

OPINION: COLUMNISTS Fareed Zakaria: Will stance on Venezuela ends Trump's Russian appeasement? POSTED: 03/30/2019 06:49:41 PM MDT

Fareed Zakaria Washington Post Fareed Zakaria Washington Post NEW YORK - President Trump faces a crucial test of his foreign policy and his resolve over Venezuela. His administration has made absolutely clear that the United States no longer considers Nicolas Maduro to be president, publicly backing Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, as the country's interim leader. Trump has gone so far as to urge the Venezuelan military not to follow Maduro's orders. These declarations are much stronger than the "red line" Barack Obama drew around Syrian president Bashar Assad.

So far, Trump's pressure has not worked. Maduro has dug in and the Venezuelan military has not abandoned its support for him. While U.S. sanctions may be hurting, they could also have the effect of creating a siege mentality that reinforces the regime's hold on the nation. This is what happened to varying degrees with Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

Venezuela is a complicated, divided country, and Maduro, as heir to the legacy of Hugo Chavez, does have some support in poor and rural areas. But far more significant in bolstering the regime has been Russia's open and substantial support. Moscow now admits that it has sent military personnel to Venezuela. Two Russian military planes arrived in the country last weekend, carrying about 100 troops.

This is just the latest in a series of moves by Moscow to shore up Maduro. Over the last few years, Russia has provided wheat, arms, credit and cash to the flailing Caracas government. Estimates of Russia's total investment in Venezuela vary from $20 billion to $25 billion.

The Venezuelan gambit appears to be personally significant for Russia's President Vladimir Putin. In recent years, as the Venezuelan economy has tanked and political instability has grown, even most Russian companies have abandoned the country, viewing it as too risky. But, as Vladimir Rouvinski writes in a Wilson Center report, Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft, which has close ties to Putin, has persisted and even ramped up its support for Maduro. In other words Putin is all in with his support for Maduro.

He's doing this in part to prop up an old ally and because it adds to Russia's clout in global oil markets, but above all because it furthers Putin's central foreign-policy objective -- the formation of a global anti-American coalition of countries that can frustrate Washington's purposes and usher in a more multi-polar world. Putin's efforts seem designed to taunt the United States, which announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, warning foreign powers to stay out of the Western hemisphere.

The big question for Washington is, will it allow Moscow to make a mockery of another American red line? The U.S. and Russia have taken opposing, incompatible stands on this issue. And as with Syria, there is a danger that, if Washington does not back its words with deeds, a year from now, we will be watching the consolidation of the Maduro regime, supported by Russian arms and money.

The administration has been tough on Russian involvement in Venezuela. Trump himself has even declared, Russia has to get out. But that is an unusual statement from Trump, who has almost never criticized Vladimir Putin and often sided with Russia on matters big and small.

As former ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul has written, "Trump has a remarkably consistent pattern of supporting Putin's foreign policy goals." Trump has threatened to withdraw from NATO and has announced the removal of American troops from Syria. He has publicly disagreed with his own intelligence community's conclusion that Moscow meddled with the 2016 elections.


TRUMP: President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.


ZAKARIA: Now I have never alleged collusion or conspiracy between Russia and Trump, writing merely that we should wait to see what evidence Robert Mueller presented.

[10:05:06] But the real puzzle remains. Why has Trump been unwilling to confront Putin in any way on any issue? And will Venezuela finally be the moment when Trump ends his appeasement?

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

Let's keep this conversation going about Venezuela. Joining me now from the State Department is Elliott Abrams. He is President Trump's special envoy for Venezuela.

Welcome, Elliott. First tell us what is the situation on the ground in Venezuela. A few weeks ago it seemed that things were moving in a direction that the Maduro regime was going to collapse. That has not happened. How do you read the situation?

ELLIOTT ABRAMS, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR VENEZUELA: Well, the situation for the people of Venezuela, it just gets worse and worse. Last week we had blackouts. The week before that more blackouts. The humanitarian situation gets worse.

The political situation also gets worse. We saw about a week or 10 days ago, the arrest of Roberto Marrero, who is the chief of staff to Juan Guaido. They wrecked his house while they were arresting him. That's also getting worse. So the internal situation is terrible and every indication is that the people of Venezuela want a change, which is what we and 53 other countries also want. Restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

ZAKARIA: But so far, it appears as though the sanctions have not been widely joined by other countries. The Russians support continues to be strong. Is it possible that we will end up in a situation much like the Assad regime where people said this is unviable, untenable, he has to go but somehow because of sheer oppression and force and external support, Russian support, in that case, again, he endured? Could I be talking to you a year from now and Maduro will still be in office?

ABRAMS: I'm extremely doubtful that that's going to be the case. You know, I would say one thing we have to worry about in the case of Syria, but we don't have to worry about in the case of Venezuela is thousands and thousands of foreign fighters. I mean, you have thousands of Iranian and Hezbollah troops on the ground in Syria. So that's something you're not going to see in Venezuela.

You also have, I think, an amazing international and Latin coalition against the regime in Venezuela. So, really, I don't think the situation is comparable and I'm very much doubt that you and I will be having this conversation a year from now.

ZAKARIA: So tell me about the Russians. Why are they doing what they're doing and what can you do about it?

ABRAMS: I would say the Russians have demonstrated their loyalty to the regime and here I think you can draw a connection to Syria, that is symbolically. They're trying to show that they're good allies for dictators all around the world. We have a big options list that is being reviewed by Secretary Pompeo of ways in which we should respond directly to Russia for their continued support and now a little bit of military support for the regime. And he will make those decisions soon. ZAKARIA: Is it fair to say, though, that given this extraordinary

Russia intrusion into the Western hemisphere of violation of the Monroe Doctrine, a doubling down on this regime. The Trump administration has not really taken Russia to task and President Trump personally, other than one statement about Russian troops, has never really fully confronted Vladimir Putin on what is an act of aggression in the Western hemisphere.

ABRAMS: Well, I think the Russians are doing, first of all, will have its own impact on Russia in separating them and other supporters of Maduro from Latin America. But I would not accept what you've said. I think we've made very clear our views. Secretary Pompeo spoke to Prime Minister Lavrov almost exactly a week ago. And as I said, there are some things that we are going to be doing.

We don't do these things by rushing into them without consideration. So we've drawn up the options and the secretary will review them and the Russians will pay a price for this.

ZAKARIA: Outline for me how you think this ends, Elliott, because so far as I said, there hasn't been much military defection or turn on military support for the regime.

[10:10:07] The sanctions have only caused the regime to hunker down and -- you know, in a kind of siege mentality. How does this end?

ABRAMS: Well, first, I would say, you know, we applied sanctions about two months ago and some of them were suspended for 90 days or 180 days. So we are in this at a very early point. And I have been cautioning people both in the diplomatic community and the press. It was never our view that this was a four-week phenomenal and then Maduro would be gone. This is a struggle against a dictator who is a vicious dictator and has outside support from Russia and Cuba.

So we did not think that this would happen quickly. How does it end? It ends when the pressures have mounted to a sufficient degree. To convince Maduro and his colleague that their time is up, or convince the Venezuelan military that they have got to force Maduro out. So it's people power, it's the Venezuelan military, it's people in the travista (PH) movement who realize that Maduro is destroying the movement that they thought they were a part of. We're not there yet obviously in the streets of Caracas or in the military barracks but we will get there.

ZAKARIA: And are you confident that Maduro's chief external supporter and one could argue the reason he's still in power, Russia will pay a price and from the highest levels of the administration including the president?

ABRAMS: That's my very clear understanding. Everyone knows that the Russians and the Cubans are the main support of this regime and I see no hesitation on the part of anyone at the top levels of this administration of making them pay a price for it.

ZAKARIA: Elliott Abrams, always a pleasure to have you on.

ABRAMS: Thank you, Fareed. Good to be on.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, one of Russia's top foreign policy thinkers will join me to talk about Venezuela, yes, but also the Russian reaction to what we know so far about the Mueller report. Don't go away.


[10:16:15] ZAKARIA: The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. Those 23 words from the Mueller report surely brought millions of smiles to Donald Trump and his associates and his supporters.

The president followed up those words with attacks on the Democrats and the media but what was the reaction in Russia?

Joining me to talk about that and Russia's presence in Venezuela and other things is Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council.

Pleasure to have you on, Andrey. So what was the reaction in Moscow to the Mueller report?

ANDREY KORTUNOV, DIRECTOR GENERAL, RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: I don't think that Russians were really surprised to get the report. Because most of Russians did not believe that there could have been a conspiracy between Trump and Putin. I think if they were surprised, they were surprised by the fact that the commission dared to come up with the conclusions because the perception in Moscow, whether it is right or wrong, it's not up to us to judge. But the perception of Moscow is that the commission has been working under very serious political pressure. So it was surprising that the commission publicized the outcomes in such a blunt way as it did.

ZAKARIA: And what do you think, Andrey, it means for U.S.-Russian relations? Because in some ways, they have been a little paralyzed by this issue. Do you think it provides an opportunity for a new start?

KORTUNOV: Well, I think that we should not over estimate the impact on the relationship because there are many, many problems in this relationship beyond the so-called Russian interference into American elections. However, I think it is important that the Russian sector is or might be moved out from the political struggle in the United States. It might no longer be one of the major factors in the domestic politics in America. And if it happens, it will definitely open some opportunities for maybe very limited but still collaboration.

ZAKARIA: Is there kind of disappointment in Russia about the Trump administration and Trump himself? Because while, you know, I've always held that Donald Trump is very reluctant to say anything bad about Putin or Russia, his administration has in many ways been about as tough on Russia as the Obama administration was. The sanctions are still on. You know, the cooperation with the Ukrainians in the polls continues. And you know, Venezuela, the administration is pursuing -- pushing

back against Russia. So we all saw those scenes of Russian parliamentarians celebrating when Donald Trump was elected. Have they all been very disappointed?

KORTUNOV: Well, I think that there is a disappointment because expectations were too high and to some extent, Donald Trump, when he was running for election created these expectations. He mentioned that probably the United States could change its position on Crimea. That he could agree with Putin on many important issues. And, of course, right now we see that unfortunately for Russia many things turned out to be purely rhetorical.

And indeed, we arguably have more problems with the United States today than we had under Obama. We have this problem in Syria and Venezuela, can't supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, definitely Trump is not an easy partner.

[10:20:07] However, I have to tell you that of course, you know, all the Russians are intrigued with Trump. He's different. He's unorthodox. So I think that there is a kind, if not sympathy at least an interest toward the U.S. president.

ZAKARIA: Andrey, let me ask you about some of those specific issues. I look at Venezuela. Now one of the arguments that people had made to me, my Russian friends, about Putin would often be, you misunderstand Putin. He's not aggressive. He's simply trying to shore up and stabilize Russia which has gone through a very difficult period. So he is concerned about places like Georgia or Moldova, or Ukraine, which are historically part of Russia's, you know, sphere of influence, near abroad, call it what you will.

If that's the case, why this enormous Russian effort and investment in Venezuela, which is literally as far away from Russia as you can get on a map. What explains Russia's enormous commitment to Venezuela, which is, you know, in the Western hemisphere has been part of the American sphere of influence for 150 years?

KORTUNOV: Well, of course, you can look for economic explanation of this interest. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. And Russia cannot miss an opportunity to get a piece of the cake in Venezuela. But I can imagine that there are also some geopolitical considerations, as well. And basically the logic might be that if you mess in our backyard, you should keep in mind that we can mess in your backyard, as well. So let's agree on some kind of modus operandi that you will demonstrate self-restraint in dealing with our neighbors and in exchange definitely we will demonstrate self-restraint in dealing with your neighbors.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that there is now a kind of (INAUDIBLE) hostility between Russia and the United States? Or do you think that there is a possibility for a kind of breakthrough and a different kind of relationship? Because on both sides, it seems as though there's a certain fatalism that Russia has become the leader of the kind of anti-American coalition and my sense is in Russia there's a fatalism that says, you know, we are now -- the United States and the Western general are just opposed to Russia?

KORTUNOV: Well, first of all, I'd like to draw a line between public attitudes and decisions that may not be political level. I don't think that Russians are anti-American. I don't think that they hate Americans or believe that Americans are evil. However, if you take the political level, I think that no matter what we do right now, we are not going to change the situation where this relationship is likely to be adversarial, at least for some time. And the name of the game is not to shift it from competitive relationship to cooperative. But rather to decide how we can manage this competition in a less risky and less costly way so that the countries can feel stable and the rest of the world can also sleep at night.

ZAKARIA: It's a sobering and realistic prospect to end on.

Andrey Kortunov, pleasure to have you on.

KORTUNOV: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, in the wake of the Mueller report, are Donald Trump's actions in office now legitimate presidential behavior? Not releasing tax returns, firing law enforcement officials who are investigating the White House. Is this the new normal for future presidents?


[10:28:03] ZAKARIA: The "New York Times'" Peter Baker published a provocative piece this week positing that the outcome of the Mueller report or what we know about it has rewritten the rules of presidential power.

Baker writes, "After Watergate, it was unthinkable that a president would fire an FBI director who was investigating him or his associates. Or force out an attorney general for failing to protect him from an investigation or dangle pardons before potential witnesses against him." But the end of the inquiry by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III made clear that President Trump had successfully thrown out those unwritten rules."

I wanted to chat about this with legal experts. Joining me now are John Yoo, a law professor at Berkeley, he was the author of the so- called "Torturer Memos" in the George W. Bush administration, and Susan Bloch is a professor at Georgetown Law and a scholar of constitutional law.

Susan, so how would you answer Peter Baker's question? Is it now kind of explicitly clear that the president can, in fact, fire people who are investigating him? I would add to that, you know, not release his tax returns. All these norms that had built up over the last 40 years has Trump by defying them and now been cleared has he changed the standards?

SUSAN BLOCH, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN LAW CENTER: I think it's premature to conclude that. I think that Barr may believe that, but Barr has always summarized what is a fairly extensive report by Mueller. And I don't believe that Mueller meant for Barr to even answer the question. The special counsel should be independent, and why exactly Mueller left the question open, I don't know. But I don't believe that Barr is the proper person to be answering it.

It should not be answered by a political appointee. That's the whole point of the special counsel regulations. So I don't put much credence on what Barr said and I don't think he should have said it.

ZAKARIA: John Yoo, the absent party here is Congress, it seems. The Constitution clearly made Congress the check on presidential powers.

JOHN YOO, PROFESSOR, UC BERKELEY LAW SCHOOL: Yes, I think Baker's in -- in part right but I think it shows the shakiness of the foundations of this system, this experiment we've been trying for the last 40 years, to try to use prosecutors and the criminal law as a constraint on the president. I think actually Mueller, by -- in my view, doing a pretty good job going through the evidence, finding no conspiracy but by leaving the door open on obstruction, he's bringing it back around to what I think the constitution intended, which is that Congress is the one who is supposed to constrain a president.

If a president's conduct makes him unfit or shows him unfit for office, that's what the framers wanted impeachment to be for. They thought there would be a broader impeachment power, they thought you could impeach for things that aren't just crimes and Mueller has left the door open for a significant Congressional inquiry that could become impeachment proceedings to determine whether even if President Trump did not commit obstruction of justice that met the criminal law standard, it could meet a different standard, namely high crimes and misdemeanors.

ZAKARIA: But John, you know Congress doesn't do this because Congress is trying to hide behind the skirts --

YOO: Yes.

ZAKARIA: -- of a special counsel or they want somebody else to do the dirty and controversial work of uncovering all this.

YOO: You're right, Congress doesn't want to do the job, they'd rather someone else handle the dirty work and they'd like to take political credit or have no accountability but the constitution isn't built that way. So if people want to get rid of a president who they feel is unfit for office and has abused their powers, they have to come home to the Constitution and the impeachment clause. If Congress won't do it, then they should be held politically responsible for refusing to do their constitutional duty.

ZAKARIA: Susan, what do you make of that and to what extent, though, is there an issue of actual legal issues, you know, in terms of criminal conduct and things like that? You know, is there a role for -- for some kind of legal process here?

SUSAN BLOCH, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN LAW CENTER: I think it might be a little early to judge. We've had this 40 year experiment of how do we deal with potential wrong doing by the president and the special counsel regulations that we're now operating under are still to be judged, but I think that Mueller left it open for Congress and I think there's a good chance Congress may take the ball and run with it. Not so much to impeach but to just look at whether there was obstruction and how to deal with it, if there were. I think it's a little early to give Congress a failing grade.

ZAKARIA: Finally, John, do you look at all this, though, and do you end up feeling president has powers that surely the founders did not intend? This vast executive office, the extraordinary power that he has under the commander in chief clause with a huge military. It -- it -- it feels very different from what the founders meant where Congress really was meant to be the main -- the main branch of government.

YOO: I thinks this is where you and me and Susan might disagree. I -- I know a lot of people think the president has too much power that goes beyond what the framers intended. I think they left that part more open than most other people would think, that the presidency was allowed to expand because the country grew, our national security and foreign policy needs grew and that has had the affect -- plus the administrative state -- of aggregating power to the presidency. I think, though, the answer is other branches must increase their own checks on the president as the presidency grows.

I think the mistake that was made was to try and -- instead -- to get part of the executive branch to investigate itself. And you can see from all the problems Mueller had with trying to investigate Trump and Trump refusing to sit down for an interview and people -- claiming privileges and people refusing to show up that it's very difficult for the -- to get a branch to check itself. So instead what you should have, I would think, would be a much broader and enhanced Congressional power investigation and more regular use of Congressional impeachment.

Because they tried. In a way you could say the independent counsel was kind of like the ultimate version of the administrative state. They tried to create an independent body to handle what is really, as you said, a political problem. I think it doesn't work. So instead Congress should increase its own measures and its own investigatory powers against the presidency.

ZAKARIA: Fascinating conversation. This is -- these are, I think, the deeper issues that the Mueller report brings up. Thank you both very much.

YOO: Thanks, Fareed.

BLOCH: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, in the wake of the New Zealand massacre, I'll take you to a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is running wild on the internet and making some wonder whether the government is looking away or even encouraging it. Where in the world? Find out when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: Now for "What in the World" segment. In the aftermath of

the horrific attack on two mosques in New Zealand this month there were expressions of sympathy and support for Muslims worldwide. But there was also a spike in anti-Muslim hate and vitriol online and from a strange place. I'm not referring to Reddit or 4Chan or any of the websites we've come to associate with the western alt-right. I'm talking about Weibo and WeChat, two of China's two most popular online platforms. As the journalist Tony Lin reports in the Columbia Journalism review, Chinese social media sites are increasingly home to a virulent Islamophobia.

Right after the New Zealand attacks, the People's Daily posted a news story about them on Weibo, China's Twitter. The top comment on that story at the time liked by hundreds of users called Muslims cancer cells. On WeChat an article written by an anonymous user describes the attacks as heroic revenge and it hit 100,000 views according to Lin. That is the maximum number WeChat will display. This isn't a sudden spike of activity either. Observers and scholars note that anti-Muslim bigotry has been rising online in China for the past several years. Online spaces are distortions and the most controversial views are amplified but the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment online has coincided with an official crackdown on Muslim minorities in China.

There are more than 20 million Muslims in China, many of them from the ethnic Uighur community in the far-western region of Xinjiang. By contrast, the overwhelming majority of the country is Han Chinese. The Chinese government has in the past two years locked up anywhere from 800,000 to 2 million Uighur Muslims in internment camps there, according to the U.S. State Department. The Chinese government denies any reports of detention or ill treatment, calling these camps voluntary vocational training centers. The Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol has likened the camps to the Soviet Gulag and called the new official attitude Islamophobia as state policy.

And the widespread presence of bigoted rhetoric online indicates some degree of public approval for these anti-Muslim policies. We're witnessing a rise in Chinese nationalism and its tacit endorsement by the communist party. Tensions between China's majority Han and the Uighurs, a community with a history of resistance to Beijing's authority, have risen in recent years. In 2009 there were riots in the capital of Xinjiang between Uighurs and Han and 200 people were killed. Then in 2014, 29 people were killed in a stabbing at a train station in Southwest China. Officials say it was perpetrated by Uighur separatists. Sheng Yuan News Agency (ph) called it China's 9/11.

These attacks have fed into China's crackdowns in Xinjiang and the distortion and (ph) hostility among the Han (ph) (inaudible) Uighurs and all this has fed the online mob. One reason that China's overactive sensors are not cracking down on vitriol against Muslims online could be that these online attitudes justify official policy in Xinjian, says Kecheng Fang, a Chinese journalist and media scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. And as James Palmer Foreign Policy notes, expression of nationalism and chauvinism online in China remain attractive as one of the few remaining forms of tolerated public political speech.

As Palmer notes, nationalism always requires an enemy of some kind. And so an official endorsement of intolerance in China may be emboldening a popular attitude, all with grim results. Up next, President Trump gave a gift to Prime Minister Netanyahu this week when he signed a proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israeli territory. We'll have the debate about the legality of that gift and a chat about how much it will help Bibi in the upcoming Israeli elections when we come back.

Don't forget, if you miss a show go to for a link to my iTunes podcast.


ZAKARIA: Somewhat lost in the Mueller report hysteria at the beginning of the week was a Trump action that overturned many decades of American foreign policy. On Monday, Donald Trump signed a proclamation that recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel. The area forms a border between Israel and Syria and was captured by Israel some 52 years ago during the Six-Day War. Now Trump may say it is now part of Israel. Does it make it so? The U.N., for one, says no. Let us bring in two folks to discuss.

Einat Wilf joins us from Tel Aviv. She's a former member of the Knesset and an author and an intellectual. Peter Beinart is an intellectual too. He is a professor at the Newmark School of Journalism and a contributor to both CNN and The Atlantic.

Peter, let me start with you. What are the stakes here? Why does it matter that Trump recognized the Golan Heights?

PETER BEINART, PROFESSOR, NEWMARK SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: It matters because of the precedent it sets in two ways. Look, nobody thinks that Israel is going to give back the Golan Heights to Syria during a civil war. This would have to be a process of negotiation as took place in the 1990s. But there are two dangerous precedents. The first is the notion that if you take territory by force, you can keep it, which the Russians are already saying is a precedent for what they've done in Crimea. The second is the precedent that Israel might apply this to the West Bank to annex parts of the West Bank, settlements in the West Bank.

Most of the people in Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party who will be elected next month already support this and the Israeli government is already talking about this as a precedent for an annexation in the West Bank that would kill the two-state solution.

ZAKARIA: Einat, is that -- does that strike you as dangerous precedent or is it fine?

EINAT WILF, FORMER MEMBER OF ISRAELI PARLIAMENT: Precisely the opposite. First of all, the only precedent that was set was that Syria and other Arab actors were allowed to operate for decades with zero consequences for aggression. Syria could invade Israel, refuse to recognize Israel, refuse to set an international border, use the plateau of the Golan Heights in order to shell down on Israeli civilians, host terrorist organizations that were responsible for some of the worst attacks on Israeli civilians. It could do all that, lose a war of aggression against Israel, and still get in the international arena to say, oops we got to do a redo, our bet didn't work out so we're going bet again and again and again.

And every time the international community --

ZAKARIA: But Israel -- but Israel responds --

WILF: -- is going to allow us to give a -- to do a redo.

ZAKARIA: Israel responds to every one of those provocations, it retaliates against them. It fights back against Hezbollah or whatever organization lobs missiles at it. How does a formal annexation help Israel in that sense?

WILF: In the diplomatic arena, there was always a sense that Syria can continue betting and would always get a redo, that there were no diplomatic consequences to its aggressive actions. Now this is saying the era of no consequences for Arab aggression is over.

ZAKARIA: Peter, what do you make of that?

BEINART: This doesn't really make any sense. No one was suggesting Israel would give back the Golan Heights while Syria was still in a state of belligerence. The negotiations during the 1990s were all about the idea that Israel would give back probably not all but part of the Golan Heights in return for peace. So Einat is saying that the principle somehow of -- of -- of Sadat and -- and Camp David makes it legitimate. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. The entire principle of Camp David was land for peace.

Israel gave back the Sinai, which it took in '67 in return for peace. I'm not saying that that principle can be brought into play now with Syria in a state of civil war, but you are making that impossible. There's one other point I want to make which is important. There are people who live on the Golan Heights. The 20,000 mostly Druze original members of the Golan Heights should be consulted as part of this process. They don't -- they actually generally have rejected Israeli citizenship and would have considered themselves still Syrians. We are completely ignoring their perspective in this conversation.

ZAKARIA: Let me -- Einat, let me just move quickly because I don't have time. I do want to get your perspective on whether this helps or hurts Benjamin Netanyahu in his quest for the prime ministership and whether you think generally speaking the corruption charges against him help or hurt. What is -- what -- in your view, does Bibi look like he's damaged goods or could he still be the next prime minister?

WILF: He is both. He is both damaged goods and could be the next prime minister. He's still standing, he's still a formidable opponent. The issue of the Golan Heights itself doesn't seem to play or to make a big difference either way. I personally am going to vote for the opposition and I yet I think this is an important step, one that is also good for the United States and allows it a low cost win in Syria. But Netanyahu continues to be a formidable opponent and we're likely not to know truly whether he can be the next prime minister until the last vote is counted.

ZAKARIA: Peter, Bibi next prime minister?

BEINART: You know, it's interesting, we've just been talking about Russian interference in our elections. This was a blatant American interference in the Israeli elections by giving Netanyahu this huge gift. It's -- it was popular across the political spectrum but one of Netanyahu's main reelection campaign themes is only I can deal with the United States and now Trump has given him this huge gift so it seems to me if we want people to stay out of our elections, we should stay out of their elections.

ZAKARIA: Peter, Einat . Thank you so much. Fascinating conversation and we will be back.


ZAKARIA: Last month an embattled leader declared a state of emergency. Yes, you've likely heard of one but he was not alone. It brings me to my question. In which of the following countries did the leader declare a state of emergency in February? Sri Lanka, Argentina, Ukraine, or Sudan? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer. My book of the week is Reihan Salam's "Melting Pot or Civil War." With all the heated talk about the wall, refugees, and immigrants, here is a remarkably calm, sensible and intelligent look at immigration. Salam writes from his head and heart, which makes for a potent combination.

The answer to my GPS challenge is D. In February, Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir declared a state of emergency, giving the country's security forces broad latitude to quell a barrage of protests. The demonstrators who first poured onto the streets in December over skyrocketing food and fuel prices are calling for the resignation of Bashir, who has ruled the country since leading a coup in 1989. Through a combination of religious populism and the crafting of a security apparatus loyal to him, Bashir has weathered crisis after crisis in his 30 years in power.

Most notably, the international uproar over genocide in the region of Darfur, where at least 300,000 people were killed and another 3 million displaced between 2003 and 2008. He has even been indicted by the international criminal court for his role in fomenting this conflict, though he denies the charges. In addition to extended civil wars, Bashir has presided over economic turmoil and or sporadic protests. Those economic struggles of course were heightened when the oil-rich south succeeded in 2011, cutting off much of Sudan's revenue.

Despite it, Bashir has held on to power, winning election after election, most of which are of course rigged. With this most recent state of emergency, the 75-year-old leader has paused his efforts to run again in a 2020 election. Now some of the slogans demanding freedom call to mind the Arab Spring, which eight years ago saw the ouster of longstanding dictators like Tunisia's Ben Ali, Egypt's Mubarak and Libya's Gaddafi. That memory might be why the government responded so brutally, with tear gas, live ammunition and a paramilitary group rooted in the Darfur genocide. At least 45 activists have been killed, according to international rights groups.

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