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Fareed Zakaria GPS

U.S. Takes Out Top Iranian General In Drone Strike; Strike Shines Spotlight On America's Middle East Strategy; Are U.S. Drone Strikes Opening A Pandora's Box?; Trump Faces Skepticism Over Claim Of Imminent Threat Before Strike. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired January 05, 2020 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: 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.


ZAKARIA: Today on the show, Trump's major escalation. Iran's most powerful general is killed by American fire power.


ZAKARIA: Now, Tehran is vowing revenge, promising a crushing response. Even as the world are just calm. Are we at a start of the next Middle Eastern war?

We'll explain just who was General Qasem Soleimani and examine the complex ties between Iran, Iraq and America.

Then we'll discuss Trump's decision to kill Soleimani. The consequences in the Middle East and beyond. I'll speak with Vali Nasr, Richard Haass and others.

Finally, how to get ahead in the 2020? People say become a specialist. The research suggests the opposite. An eye-opening conversation with David Epstein.


ZAKARIA: But, first here's my take.


AL PACINO, ACTOR, "THE GODFATHER": Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.


ZAKARIA: Michael Corleone's lament in "God Father III" about never being able to escape his family business of crime could well be said about America's entanglement in the Middle East. Donald Trump came into office firmly committed to the bipartisan

consensus that the U.S. had wasted more than a decade and untold blood and treasure in the Middle East. Meanwhile the country had neglected its own problems like its crumbling infrastructure and forgotten working class, and foreign policy, the consensus have, Washington should have been focused on the real challenge of rising competitor in China.

And yet, here we are a few years later, the old conflict still not resolved, moving towards military escalation in the Middle East again.

Qasem Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. A man who had directed his forces to battle against American troops and who had directed Iran's military operations in the region. The Trump administration was justified in targeting him in moral terms but why has it placed itself in a situation where for two years now, it has been continually ratcheting up tensions in the most volatile part of world.

What American interests have been served by this strategy? What is its goal?

Trump's policy toward Iran has from the start been marked by ideology and emotion, rather than strategic sense. He inherited a manageable situation. Tehran's march toward a nuclear arsenal had been stopped. Every outside intelligence agency including Israel's concluded that Iran was abiding by the nuclear agreement. The country remained active in spreading its influence across the region as it had for years so that challenge to America and its allies remained.

Trump withdrew from the agreement, tightened the economic noose around Iran, and designated its Revolutionary Guards as terrorists. This maximum pressure campaign seemed geared toward nothing less than regime change in Tehran. A goal Trump has denied. With the killing of General Soleimani, any prospect of a new nuclear deals or any negotiations with the Iranians has evaporated. Washington has expanded hostilities with no clear objective or end point.

In January 2007 when George W. Bush announced the surge, sending thousands more troops into Iraq, I happened to be having lunch with a well-connected Chinese friend. I asked his opinion of the escalation. His response, we would hope that you would send the entire American army into Iraq and stay for another 10 years. Meanwhile, we, China, would keep building up our economy.

It's easy to get into another conflict in the Middle East. The place is unstable. There are lots of real bad guys and many of the locals want America to come in and fight their battles for them. But getting dragged back into the morass once again, getting mired into other people's quarrels, losing another decade as China and others march on, that would be the surest path to America's strategic decline.

And let's get started.

To begin to understand the significance of this killing, I think we need to understand who Qasem Soleimani was. We need to understand the history of the relations between Iran and Iraq and America. To do all that, I could think of no better guests than Vali Nasr and Dexter Filkins.

Vali was until last year the dean of the School of Advance International Studies at Johns Hopkins. He's a former State Department official and a scholar of international relations and Islam. Vali was born in Tehran.


Dexter Filkins is a staff writer at the "New Yorker," one of the greatest war reporters around. In 2013 he wrote what I think is the best profile of Qasem Soleimani for the magazine.

Dexter, explain, you know people have talked about Soleimani, brave, revered in the country, obviously regarded by the United States as a terrorist. But why did he have this central role in Iran? What is the nature of Iran's -- you know, regional influence that it's the military guy who ends up being the single most important guy, who directs all these operations?

DEXTER FILKINS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think Soleimani is a product I think above all was a product of the Iran-Iraq war which was a catastrophic event for Iran. A million people dead. And when that war ended in the late 1980s, they set out, the Iranians set out to ensure that this would never happens again.

And basically what that meant was kind of establishing clients and client state across the region. But principally Hezbollah and Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria, and the Shiites in Iraq. And essentially to ensure that they have strategic depth. And I think that's -- that vision they've been executing for 30 years and Soleimani was very effective at doing that.

ZAKARIA: And what he did was he had ties with the militias in these various countries so those people could act on Iran's behalf.

FILKINS: Yes, indeed. Yes. And I mean the kind of the rescue of the Assad regime is a perfect example. Assad was ready to fall in 2012, 2013. The Iranians basically came to the rescue and they brought in the militias to do it. Hezbollah, the Iraqi militias, they all came in and basically saved Assad at Soleimani's direction.

ZAKARIA: And from what you could tell, Vali, is Iran's policy in this regard, you know, we keep hearing about all their regional activities, does it feel to you offensive or defensive?

VALI NASR, PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: I think it's both. It is in the eye of the beholder. In the view of Iran, it doesn't have the technologically advance, conventional military. It spends less on arms than Saudi Arabia, Israel or Turkey. It is afraid of the United States. It sees itself in a hostile environment and it looks at these militias essentially as its missile systems or anti-missile systems.

For instance, it views Hezbollah as a deterrence against Israeli attack on Iran. But in the eyes of the Arabs and the eyes of Israel, what Iran sees as defensive is offensive. And Iraq in particular is very important because Iranians, after the Iran-Iraq war, decide that they will never be safe with Iraq unless Iraq is under their control. And the United States did them the favor of removing Saddam Hussein.

Iran is using this opportunity to make sure that Iraq is neutralized and will never again be a threat to Iran. And that made Soleimani's operations in Iraq very important.

I want to add also one other thing to what Dexter said is that Soleimani was also Iran's chief diplomat in the region. Iran's Foreign Ministry is not that active in the Arab world. Soleimani met presidents like Assad, president of Iraq, president of Afghanistan.

His refuted to have met with Putin personally at the Kremlin and personally persuaded Russia to enter the war in Syria. So he had -- he was not just in relationships with militias, he had broad relationship in the region. I mean, he was instrumental in putting together multiple Iraqi governments, for instance.

ZAKARIA: And Dexter, that raises the question. Charles de Gaulle once said the graveyards are filled with indispensable people. Is Qasem Soleimani genuinely indispensable or are these ties, you know, really ties that are very deep and will persist?

FILKINS: They'll persist. I mean, I -- I think one of the clerics when Assad was teetering, said -- this was about 2013. If Assad falls, we can't hold Tehran. And so I think it's that important to them. And so they'll carry on. Is Soleimani indispensable? I think it's a body blow to the regime. I mean, I don't think he's replaceable in the short term. I think will somebody come in and fill in all the gaps? Probably over time but they're suffering right now.

ZAKARIA: When we talk about -- I think it's always important to look at this from the other side's perspective. So when we talk about the fact that he has blood on his hands, American blood, absolutely true. I mean, and, you know, from the American point of view, clearly a terrorist.

From -- I remember being in Iraq in '03 and '04, and people would say -- '04 or '05. Sorry. And people would say, well, you know, people allied to the Shia militias, look, remember, yes, we're killing your guys but you're killing us. In other words, this is a war. We're -- you know, Soleimani was directing people who were trying to kill his guys.


NASR: Well, you know, yes, he was their executer of Iran's strategy, much like, let's say, Pakistani generals are executers of Pakistan strategy in Afghanistan, and by many accounts, they have American blood of sorts on their hands as well. But he was given a remit by the Iran's leadership to make the United States uncomfortable in Iraq, make sure that the U.S. doesn't stay, make sure the U.S. gets out, and he executed that. And yes, it's bloody but it wouldn't have been any different if he had

been the commander of the force in battlefield fighting and was lobbing, you know, rockets and directing tanks at U.S. troops. So -- and that's exactly why it's complicated that the reaction among Shias in Iraq or in Syria or in the region, and many in Iran is very different from the reaction outside of Iran or in the United States to his death.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us. Next on GPS, we're going to talk about how Iran and Iraq are more than just neighbors. They share a long common history as a majority Shia country. And after years of enmity, they are now closely allied.

We'll talk about that when we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Vali Nasr and Dexter Filkins talking about Iran, Iraq, America and Qasem Soleimani.

Vali, I think again most people don't understand the backdrop behind which all this is happening, which is what you have described in your first book as the Shia revival. Explain what the Shia revival is and how that plays into Iran's assertiveness or Iran's relationship with Iraq.

NASR: Well, the Shias are a minority sect in Islam but they -- there's a large portion of them -- of that population live in the Middle East, in Iran, in Lebanon, in Iraq, across the rim of the Persian Gulf. And after the Iraq War, in particular, there was a shift in power in Iraq away from the Sunni-dominated dictatorship under Saddam, towards the Shias, and this sort of created the schism within the Middle East, between the Sunnis, who had been in wielded power and the Shiites which were rising force.

And Iran took advantage of this in building relations in Iraq, strengthen its relations in Lebanon, building relations in Bahrain, with Shias in Afghanistan, Pakistan, essentially creating what we now sometimes call the Shia crescent.


But importantly, the Shia minorities in these countries, there was a case of the tail-wagging the dog as well. They look to Iran to help them empower. The Shias in Iraq also took advantage of Iran to consolidate their power. And in that scenario, Qasem Soleimani became very important because he was the lynchpin of the political military relationship between Iran and these Shia communities.

I think part of his popularity among Shia Arabs and some Iranians is the fact that the insurgence in Iraq, the war in Syria, and the rise of ISIS were seen as Sunni assaults on Shias. And so he's credited with protecting southern Iraq by being taken over by ISIS at the moment when there was no Iraqi army and no American military.

And he's seen as sort of a savior and that fed his aura. In fact he became a household name in Iran only after ISIS rose, because many Iranians thought he protected the Shia shrines from ISIS. So the backdrop to the entire sort of myth of Soleimani is this ongoing sectarian schism in the region.

ZAKARIA: And, you know, I remember talking to an Iraqi Shia politician who said to me, you know, you Americans, you have influence in the region because you can bomb, because you have great fire power. The Iranians have influence because they have local partners who have deep credibility like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

And they have ties to these communities. So it's a much more -- I think what he was trying to say is a much more bottom up kind of influence. Yes, I think he said, you Americans and the Israelis, you go around bombing, and you think that gives you influence.

FILKINS: They're right down the street. And in Iraq, the Iranians have basically operated into a certain extent directed and created the Shiite militias which have been -- were very effective fighting against ISIS. They were very effective in fighting against the United States. But they also act as political actors in the political system. So I mean, it's kind of this hybrid that we don't have in the West which is basically political parties with guns. And so these are really important players which are -- in Iraq which are deeply connected to Iran.

ZAKARIA: Now I want to ask you, Vali, how you think they're going to respond, the Iranians, given everything we've described? We just heard that Abdul-Mahdi, the prime minister, has asked parliament to essentially kick the Americans out of Iraq. It seems to me, if this happens, it is -- it might -- the Iranians might even view it as worth the death of Qasem Soleimani. This has been their longest standing goal, to get the Americans out of Iraq ever since 2003.

NASR: I agree. I mean, the Iranians have to do something symbolic in order to save face, tell their constituencies inside Iran and outside Iran that they didn't take Soleimani's blow without responding to it. I think the longer term view is that now Iran views the United States as much more of a mortal threat than it was before. Particularly President Trump has shown that he can cross red lines on and on and on that nobody thought.

Leave the nuclear deal and put maximum economic pressure, push for regime change, and now even carry out audacious assassinations. So I think the Iranians would like the United States to leave starting with Iraq, then it's Afghanistan. And then he's trying to draw a wedge between America's allies in the Persian Gulf and the United States who are very worried about conflict.

And I think we have a situation in which the Iranians now view any chaos in the region still preferable to an American presence, instead the used to be the case. Certain amount of stability was necessary for them. So I think they would push and push, use masses in the streets in addition to parliament. And I think if they get the United States out of Iraq, I think that's a huge victory and then that would make it much more difficult for us to also sustain our presence elsewhere as well. ZAKARIA: You know, Vali talked about the other American allies. At

some level, we have gotten dragged in, the United States has gotten dragged into -- of a battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional hegemony or for regional influence. And it feels to me like what's interesting in this Soleimani assassination is the Saudis have been very restrained. They haven't crowed about this even when the Iranian attack on their oil facilities took place. So they seemed to be, you know, as per what Vali was saying, they want stability. This is even for the Saudis too much instability.

FILKINS: I think that's right. I think they're probably a little nervous now that things are going to get out of control. I mean, what if -- what if the Iranian sank an oil tanker tomorrow? That would cripple the economies of the whole region. So they -- the Saudis don't want chaos.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that -- when you talk to people, you know, when researching that profile about Soleimani, do you think that people thought he was a potential successor to Khamenei?


I've heard that but I -- it always struck me as farfetched. He has no religious credentials.

FILKINS: Yes. I think it's farfetched. But I think he's probably the -- he was the second most powerful man in the country. But he was in an ideal position. He had power without accountability. It's just where he wanted to be.

ZAKARIA: Dexter, Vali, a pleasure to have you guys on.

Next on GPS, the threats and the counter threats flying back and forth between Iran and America. We will talk about the next moves with Richard Haass, Megan O'Sullivan and Peter Beinart.


ZAKARIA: On Saturday, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said the killing of General Qasem Soleimani was a grave mistake and America would face the consequences for years. Then Saturday night, President Trump tweeted threats to Iran, saying, "America's military is the biggest and by far the best in the world. Just spent $2 trillion on military equipment."

And he went on, if Americans were attacked by Iran, he wouldn't hesitate to attack. He said he had 52 Iranian targets ready. Places important to Iran and the Iranian culture. And they would be hit very fast and very hard.

So where does this all go? Joining me now, Meghan O'Sullivan was deputy national security adviser and in charge of Iraq and Afghanistan during the George W. Bush administrations. She's now at Harvard's Kennedy School. Richard Haass was the director of policy planning in the George W. Bush State Department, and Peter Beinart definitely did not work for George W. Bush. He is a journalist, writer, professor, among other things, and he is a contributor to the Atlantic and CNN.

Meghan, I have to ask you. The -- we now know that various administrations in some sense considered all the options with Iran and never chose this option, killing Qasem Soleimani. Why?

MEGHAN O'SULLIVAN, PROFESSOR, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL: I think any administration looking at this, Bush, Obama or the Trump administration has to weigh the pros and cons. And I think it's safe to say that previous administrations thought there would be a counterterrorism benefit, no doubt.


This person is -- we're better off without him but that had to be evaluated in the context of all the risks that come along with it. And it's not just the risk to the U.S.-Iran relationship and the potential for confrontation there. It's the risk to U.S. posture in the region. It's the risk to the U.S.-Afghanistan.

It's the risk to broader American goals and bringing more U.S. power forces, diplomatic assess to the Middle East at a time when even the Trump administration has acknowledged in its national security strategy thatt the real threats to American interests are in Russia and in China.

So the risks obviously had to be evaluated in a certain way but my concern is more about how did the Trump administration see the benefits, and how does that compare to how Bush and Obama might have seen the benefits. The benefits here are on the counterterrorism front, for sure. Soleimani was a critical person as your previous panel discussed. But I'm concerned that the Trump administration might have assessed -- might have made this decision based on an assessment about a certain kind of weakness within the Iranian regime.

We have noted that they have certainly said they're not for a regime change. But the idea that the Iranian regime might be at a critical point of fragility under severe economic sanctions and widespread protests in Iran, maybe the Trump administration thought that this was a gamble that would have a much bigger pay off than just removing Soleimani.

ZAKARIA: And that seems at least, I mean, for 35 years people have been saying the Iranian regime is about to be -- is about to collapse.

O'SULLIVAN: There is not a lot, I think, of Iranian experts who would agree with the analysis that the Iranian regime is about to collapse. It is true it is in a fragile state. But this kind of action, my assessment would be that it's more likely to consolidate the Iranian regime than it is to be a final blow or it is going to break it up in any way. Because this will allow the Iranians to unify. Soleimani was a revered figure in Iran and in other parts of the Middle East.

ZAKARIA: So, Richard, if I think about the short-term consequences that -- you know, when people say well, short term, it's been good for America. But even in the short term it has consolidated power in Iran and it has weakened America's position in Iraq. One way to think about this is one month ago, there were anti-Iranian protest in Tehran. Anti-regime protests and anti-Iran protests in Baghdad. Today in both of those capitals, there are anti-American protests.

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Right. It's totally changed the narrative inside Iraq and all those people who are going to be celebrating when American troops come home from Iraq, they should just take a deep breath and think about the potential price there. It means Iraq will be essentially completely open to Iranian influence. And I thought that was part of our goals, was to limit it.

Iraq also we've seen has been the hotbed of terrorism. So Americans in the region and our friends in the regions are likely to be threatened by the resumption and revival in terrorism in parts of the country that the government there will not be able to police on its own.

But I just do one other thing. I want to take issue a little bit with your take, at the risk of never being invited back on your show, Fareed. I think strategically what you said is exactly right, and Meghan alluded to it, too, that this emphasis here is totally at odds with the fact that we've got to think about China, Russia, and North Korea. But it's not that we got pulled into the Middle East. This administration pushed itself into Iran.

This administration broke the 2015 nuclear deal even though Iran was in full compliance. Then we slapped sanctions on Iran but don't give them a diplomatic off-ramp. Now we introduced military forces as well. It's as though we decided we wanted to escalate the U.S.- Iranian confrontation. But there wasn't -- this administration didn't inherit an impossible situation. It was totally tolerable in the region and it was obviously desirable, given everything else on our plate, even Donald Trump.

The last I check, he talks about America first. How is this consistent with America first? So it makes no sense given his own lights that he wanted to put a greater focus at home and a greater focus on great power rivalry. So this to me suggests a total absence of any serious strategic discipline, the total absence of a national security process. It's impossible for me to understand how this could have happened if you would have a rigorous policy review.

ZAKARIA: So you feel like I am being unfair to Michael Corleone.


ZAKARIA: Who really was trying to get out of the family business.

HAASS: Exactly.

ZAKARIA: Peter, that raises the question why.


Why has Trump and Pompeo been so obsessed with this idea? I think Meghan alluded to something which is important. There really does seem to be behind this a belief that you could -- you just push hard enough and the whole Iranian regime will collapse.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, there are certainly people who would like ultimately to produce a war in which United States bombed Iran, right? And therefore set back its nuclear program, right? We don't know exactly where in the administration those folks are but there are people around in Washington who would like that.

Donald Trump may believe that he can do this one day, send out some extremely menacing tweet as he did with North Korea if you remember, a couple years ago and then pull back and be friends the next day, right?

This is not a guy who tends to think very much about the consequences of anything he does but to me in some ways the most remarkable part of all of this is if there's one instinct you would think Donald Trump would understand, it would be nationalism.

Nationalism is the defining instinct, his own defining instinct and impulse yet he has so little ability to imagine the nationalism of other people as you were rightly saying, right? We took an Iraqi nationalist who was focused on hostility to Iran.

An Iranian nationalism, it was growing against its own state and turn both of those nationalisms against us. For goodness sakes to say we're going to attack Iranian cultural sites, can this man not imagine how Americans would react if a foreign power, no matter how much - how we how much we hate our leadership said they were going to bomb the Statue of Liberty in Mount Rushmore. I mean it's actually insane.

ZAKARIA: Meghan, you do get the feeling to Richard's point and to Peter's that there is a lack of some kind of process. You know, that you know from the reports we get Trump decided to do this at the last minute. The Pentagon was surprised.

You know, I wouldn't be surprised if this tweet that he's going to bomb you know, these cultural sites did not go through some rigorous national security process. Do you - do you worry given how volatile the things and this is all being done by one man, we could stumble into war?

O'SULLIVAN: Certainly. I think it's very concerning if the reports are right that this decision was made just a few days before it was executed and it was made to the surprise of Trump's national security team.

If that is the case going back to Richard's point, it's inconceivable to me that the appropriate processes could have been in place, that people could have thought about all of the implications again, not just for U.S. Iran relations but U.S. in the Middle East, U.S. posture vis a vis North Korea.

The peace process in Afghanistan that Iran has already been a spoiler in. The all the implications would have taken in my mind, weeks of analysis, building contingency plans preparing partners, allies so that we wouldn't get what we saw today--

ZAKARIA: Would it surprise the Iraqi government for example?

O'SULLIVAN: I was just going to say, that Prime Minister Adil Abdul- Mahdi, the fact that he was supporting, allegedly supporting a bill to withdraw American troops and that Ayatullah Sistani, that both of them work critical of the U.S. presence in Iraq is a dramatic change from where things have been over the last 16 or 17 years.

And so in order for us to be adequately prepare, it would have taken much, much more than one meeting or even several days.

ZAKARIA: All right stay with us next on GPS, what kind of new precedent does the killing of Qasem Soleimani set. What kind of a Pandora's box did it open? A provocative headline in the Times of India asked if Iranian General can be droned for terrorism, why not a Pakistani general? Is that the New World? We'll discuss when we come back.




ZAKARIA: And we're back with Meghan O'Sullivan, Richard Haass and Peter Beinart. Peter, what do you think about this - the precedent for these kind of drone strikes? I mean if it's okay for the United States to do this, surely the Indians are right. Why can't they drone a Pakistani General who has blood on his hands?

Why can't the Chinese do it, if they believe that there is a Uighur terrorist? Which they will claim certainly whether or not it's true? Why could the Burmese government not do it with Rohingyas and so on?

BEINART: Right, I mean this is I think the dark side of American exceptionalism and I think it goes back to the justification for the Iraq war, which was also a violation of international law. We had no U.N. support, there were claims - bogus claims that it is with pre- emptive self defense and now we're seeing that again, right?

We don't know, haven't seen the evidence for this and the idea is that it because Americans are such angels that we can be trusted with this power, essentially a lawless power outside of international law.

Also basically outside of domestic law since there was no congressional approval for this. We're going on authorizations that were passed almost two decades ago and then we're going to say but no you rest of the world can't do this because you don't have our higher nobility, right?

That's not - we saw what happened in Crimea and the way the Russians justified that after U.S. behavior. This sets a tone for the entire world and it's not a tone that's going to make the world a better place.

ZAKARIA: Meghan, I want to ask you about something Peter pointed out, which is that we have not been shown any evidence, it's not even been alluded to in terms of specifics, that suggests that the strike was pre-emptive, that there were actual plots.

In the past when this has happened, we've been given details. Is it fair to say particularly, given the President's credibility problem, I mean he you know, has told many, many falsehoods, that it's probably not true that there was an imminent threat that there were actual plots that were being averted by this strike?

O'SULLIVAN: I'm not in a position to say that it's probably not true. I would agree however that under virtually any circumstances, I can imagine the immediate next steps of an administration that took action so dramatic and escalatory as this, would be to go to our allies, would be to go to the United Nations, would be to share the intelligence, would be able to you know make the case to others why this was absolutely necessary at this moment and in the space.

So again remember this is in a third country and why it had to be done at this time and the fact that we haven't seen that, I think is very worrying, not only because it makes us question, was there really intelligence that would have given this some kind of legitimate justification, not just a moral justification.

But it also suggests to me that the Trump administration is going to fall short on the diplomatic, political, all the other tools of engagement that will need to accompany a confrontation with Iran, whatever the next turn maybe.

You know how well this goes for the United States and our partners and allies depend on how well the United States works with its allies, is working with Saudi Arabia which has every reason to be very, very nervous about what comes next.

Working with the Europeans, talking with the - with the Asians. I mean all of this should be part and parcel of any plan to take out such a significant figure and again, he wasn't a non-state actor, hiding out in some ungoverned territory.

He was a senior government official of Iran.

ZAKARIA: Richard, talk about this - this - this larger regional dynamic because we have gotten ourselves and involved in Saudi Arabia's rivalry with Iran, the Saudis now seem you know, quiet, quiet.

How's this going to play out, there's this big consequence we're seeing right now which is our position in Iraq is threatened but beyond that describe what you think happens.

HAASS: It's going to play out in at least two ways. One, it's going to coming back to what we were talking about before, draw a similar. This has been part of the world where the United States is essentially devoted a disproportionate percentage of its resources time, attention, military force for 30 years now.


Since the end of the Cold War and the question is why do we want to continue. Does anyone seriously think, this is where 21st century history is going to be decided? We're talking about 4 percent of the world's population, other than energy or negative things, proliferation, terrorism, this is not the part of the world that's going to be creative.

So this reinforces a strategic error. In some ways what we're seeing is the Trump administration's equivalent of what George W. Bush did in Iraq. That was a major ill-advised war of choice, this is an ill- advised policy of choice to make Iran so show central.

Truly misguided and I think now it also takes place against the backdrop of much greater doubt about American reliability. The way the United States threw the Kurds under the bus, the fact that we did this unilaterally in some ways to the Iraqis, rather than with the Iraqis, the fact that the Saudis felt abandoned when their refinery was hit.

And yes, the previous administration had its own on predictability in places like Libya, Egypt Syria so the United States is no longer seen as a reliable, predictable partner so what that suggests to me is we're increasingly in a Middle East where other actors, countries and others will take matters into their own hands and in many cases they are going to disregard American interests.

They're going to do things were they going to say hey, maybe we need nuclear weapons because we can't count on the United States. Well, we're going to go to war or we're going to cut this deal so the problem is, we still have interest in this - in this region but we have now truly mishandled them and I think both in the narrow of the region but also globally, this will come back to bite us, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Peter, I have 30 seconds. Israel. How do you think this this will play in Israel?

BEINART: Look, I think the Benjamin Netanyahu is going to be happy about this and hawkish people, they saw Soleimani as their great adversary and I think politically, for Netanyahu probably, the escalation of threats as he goes into another election, tries to get immunity is probably good for him.

But I think more sober national security officials will say does America have a strategy? Do we actually want to get into a regional war in which has Hezbollah and Lebanon could be activated and all of northern Israel could be evacuated against?

Sober minds will say that Donald Trump is taking Israel to a dangerous place.

ZAKARIA: Fascinating conversation. Thank you all very much. We will not naturally we back on this. A quick programming note before the next segment. Tune into CNN at 10:00 PM eastern tonight to see my CNN special report, Precedence on Trial: An Inside Look at Impeachment.

Now next on GPS, how to get ahead in business? Is it better to focus on one skill or better to be a generalist? You can imagine what I think. Find out what the research tells us when we come back.




ZAKARIA: The prevailing wisdom for success is pick a field and stick to it. Practice makes perfect after all. From exceptional athletes to exceptional violinist, people are advised to find the specialty but my next guest David Epstein says, we've got it all wrong.

The best path to success is to explore widely and even fail. He's the author of the recent book, 'Range: Why Generalists triumph in a Specialized World? David Epstein, pleasure to have you on.

DAVID EPSTEIN, AUTHOR, RANGE: Thanks for having me.

ZAKARIA: So I love this idea because of course, I think of myself as a Jack of all trades which is in your elevated form a generalist. Why is you know, we've often heard all about how actually is very important to have a passion, to work 10000 hours at things. Why is it OK to be a Jack of all trades?

EPSTEIN: I think there's sort of two reasons. The first is that as the world becomes more specialized, experts specialized experts who are still important are seeing a smaller and smaller portion of the whole picture and so these opportunities for generalised to synthesize information in technology and science and politics are greater than they've ever been before.

And secondly when we specialize too early, we miss out on our best what economists call match quality, the degree a fit between your interest, your abilities and the work that you do and that's really important for both your motivation and your productivity to maximize that match quality but you need a period of sampling different things to try to maximize that.

ZAKARIA: So that's a very important point it seems to me, that you say that in order to figure out what you are good at, you can't do it theoretically. You can't imagine what do you think you'll be - you can't even do it by just studying something. You actually have to engage in the practice - you know, it's to try out stuff and - what do you call it?

The learned experience is better.

EPSTEIN: That's exactly right so we learn who we are in practice not in theory as one of the researchers I talked to, says and what she means is that we can't just introspect and decide what we're good at or what we might like. Our insight into ourselves is constrained by our roster of previous experiences.

We learn we are in practice by trying things, reflecting on those things and then zigzagging accordingly until we find a place where we alone can succeed and feel fulfilled and through that zigzagging, people tend to become broader and more like generalists. ZAKARIA: Now there is one part of this which I was - I was surprised

by and it doesn't even seem to be - quite fits but explain it which is this Airforce academy example that you have.

EPSTEIN: In education so there was this incredible study at the Airforce academy where students go in, they have to take three math classes in succession and they are randomized to professors and the study was looking at the impact of professor quality and what these researchers found was that the way to produce the best immediate achievement which was to teaching narrow specialized skills, systematically undermine students for future classes.

ZAKARIA: You saying that you know, if you're good at something in the short run, you pay a price in the long run but you're saying only if in the short run what you're doing is you're - you're getting that good performance by narrowing yourself down.

EPSTEIN: That's right so in the quickest, the absolute quickest way to get improvement, whether this is a cognitive skill or a physical still like in the sports world is to teach what's called closed skills or using procedures where you teach people specialized techniques for whatever they're doing, whether they're playing soccer or they're solving a math problem.

But to build a scaffolding where their knowledge becomes flexible, you want to teach so called making connections knowledge but they have to draw together these broad concepts and instead of learning to just execute something, they learn how to match strategy to a problem and it doesn't matter if it's a math problem, a geopolitical problem or a soccer problem and that's - that's the fundamental basis on which they can layer these other skills.

ZAKARIA: You talk about how it may be - we may be in an age where you need kind of continuous coaching no matter what it is you do. How would one achieve that?

EPSTEIN: Yes, well, I think - I think what we already have gotten pretty good at inside the sports world for example, we need to bring to other areas of work.


Because again, this - this idea that we learn who we are in practice not in theory what we have to do is act and then think basically. You do things and then you reflect on them, what they say about you and you zigzag accordingly instead of kind of following the commencement speech advice to decide who you'll be in 20 years and march confidently toward that.

And I think having a coach can really help you and remind you to reflect on what you've done as you try to optimize your own match quality.

ZAKARIA: So life is a lot of trial and error.

EPSTEIN: A lot of trial and error with plus reflection. ZAKARIA: If you were to leave people with one piece of advice, what

would it be?

EPSTEIN: I think if they - I think that sometimes the fastest way to become proficient in something undermines your long term development so before your eyes progress often can make you very good a specialized task but nowadays tasks that are very specialized are in danger of getting automated so if you want this flexible knowledge so we've gone from the industrial economy to the knowledge economy now to the creativity economy, you need to be able to do new things and that's a slower form of learning where you have to learn across disciplines and build this conceptual models.

ZAKARIA: And you believe that's true even in the world of technology because you know a lot of people feel that the hardest place to be is to be in technology which is often quite narrow. Coding is a very narrow business.

EPSTEIN: Yes, I didn't know but then I looked at the research in this is and what it shows is that for example, in studies of millions of patents, the technological innovators who make the biggest impact are not going to drilled down the deepest but the ones who have spread their work across a huge number of different technological classifications according to U.S. patent office.

Those are the people who can solve these problems that we don't even know kind of exist yet basically.

ZAKARIA: You have a 4-month old. When - when he or she becomes old enough for you to start instructing him or her, what would you do?

EPSTEIN: I'm going to - I'm going to do exactly what - what I said which is I'm going to expose them to a lot of different things. If the kid - if my son wants to specialize, that's fine but all these tales of prodigies like Tiger Woods and Mozart, their parents were responding to their displays of interesting probably not the reverse like it's often told.

So I'll try to expose him broadly and be that coach who helps him reflect on what he did so he can march toward his optimal match quality.

ZAKARIA: Fantastic. David Epstein, pleasure to have you on.

EPSTEIN: Thank you very much for having me.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.



ZAKARIA: For the first time, the Bureau of Economic Analysis has published GDP data for the United States' 3113 counties. From America's least productive county, Tiny Issaquena in Mississippi to its most productive sprawling Los Angeles county in California. The data captures the economic output of each and every one of these political subdivisions of states.

And it brings me to my question this week. In 2018, America's 31 most productive counties, basically the top 1 percent of counties were responsible for what share of GDP? 11 percent, 17 percent, 25 percent or 32 percent? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

My book of the week is Jason De Parle's 'A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves.' This is the best book on immigration I've read. Three decades ago, Jason De Parle moved into the Manilla slums with the family. He chronicles their immigration story but through it tells the larger tale of what it all means. His empathy, intelligence and good writing shine through every page.

The answer to my GPS charge this week is D. Bloomberg found that 31 counties accounted for nearly one-third of the nation's GDP in 2018. Take a look at this map. Together these 31 counties occupy a tiny part of the United States geographically.

High output is concentrated in major cities across a dozen or so industries, making urban counties the primary engines of economic growth so while it's true that the economy is growing, only pockets of the nation are gaining significantly from that growth while the rest are lagging behind.

The BAA's economic data adds a new dimension to the discussion of America's rural-urban divide. Recall the 2016 election. Trump won about 2600 counties dwarfing Clinton's county count of roughly 500 but still Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million.

In 2015, her 500 counties generated two-thirds of American GDP, while his 2600 generated only one-third of the country's GDP. Growth rates are now up in the counties that voted for Trump but Clinton's high output counties still grew faster overall.

So the geographic concentration of growth has only become more extreme which could make for another surprising election result in 2020. Thanks to all of you for being part of the program this week. I will see you next week.