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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Is the Benjamin Netanyahu Era Coming To A Close?; Belarus Shocks The World With "State-Sponsored Hijacking;" How America Could Have Bungled Its COVID Response. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired May 30, 2021 - 10:00   ET



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 coming to you live.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): We'll begin today's show with a stunning announcement out of Israel. Is the Bibi Netanyahu era of Israeli politics over? I'll talk to Tom Friedman of the "New York Times."

Then, the strongman leader of a former Soviet republic scrambled a fighter jet. The foe was not a hostile neighboring nation but rather a 26-year-old opposition journalist. Will state sponsored hijacking, as some have called it, become a new tactic for despots around the world? I'll talk to the historian Anne Applebaum and the Belarusian journalist Hanna Liubakova.

Then, how did America, the world's wealthiest country, so badly bungle its initial COVID response?


ZAKARIA: Was it Donald Trump?

TRUMP: People think that goes away in April with the heat.

ZAKARIA: Or was it something much bigger? Michael Lewis is here to tell us what he found.

MICHAEL LEWIS, AUTHOR, "THE PREMONITION: A PANDEMIC STORY": We didn't have a really respected and brave entity at the federal level to lead the response.


ZAKARIA: But first, here is "My Take." In a country that's divided on almost everything, one area of bipartisanship in the United States is alive and growing. Fear of China. President Biden said --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Chinese are eating our lunch. ZAKARIA: Republican Senator Josh Hawley says they are well on their

way to achieving their goal of world domination. Experts warn that China's "Belt and Road" initiative and vaccine diplomacy are bolstering its soft power.

Let's take a look at what is actually happening on the ground. China's secrecy and deception about the origins of COVID-19 have spurred increasingly calls for thorough investigations worldwide including now from President Biden. Instead of being transparent and welcoming international efforts to figure out what went wrong, Beijing's attitude has been defensive and obstructionist, fueling suspicions and conspiracy theories.

This is part of a pattern. Last week China's ambitious trade and investment treaty with the European Union ran aground large by because of Chinese overreaction. In March, the EU chose not to endorse the American characterization of China's actions in Xinjiang as genocide but it did announce a small set of sanctions against four local officials and the Regional Public Security Bureau.

As Stewart Lang notes in Politico, Beijing's counter attack came as a shock to everyone. It placed broad sanctions on the entire EU Political and Security Committee as well as the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Human Rights, five leading European parliamentarians and even academic experts who study China. As a result, Europe has all but pulled out of the deal.

Or take China's relations with Australia, one of its main trading partners. Australia has become somewhat more assertive toward China on both trade and human rights but has always worked to maintain constructive relations. Last year Canberra called for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. In response, China had what can only be called a freak-out.

Beijing hit Australia with all kinds of trade restrictions and the Chinese embassy in Australia issued an extraordinary charge sheet of 14 grievances accusing Australia of poisoning bilateral relations and demanding, among other things, that the country's media and think tanks stop writing negative things about China. In April, the Australian government canceled "Belt and Road" agreements made with China.

All considered China's handling of its relations with India. Last year Chinese troops clashed with Indian forces in skirmishes that netted China 100 square miles of land along their frozen tundra-like Himalayan border.


The result is that India, which has long been weary of signing on to an anti-Chinese coalition, is now much more willing. It has banned a slew of Chinese apps, excluded Chinese companies from building India's 5G networks and recently joined the U.S., Australia and Japan in their largest naval exercises in over a decade. Meanwhile Taiwan, Japan and the countries around the South China Sea have plenty of their own stories to tell about China using aggressive military patrols and other forms of intimidation to assert its interest.

China's current foreign policy is far removed from the patient, long- term and moderate approach of the country during the Deng Xiaoping era and after. Back then the central objective was to ensure that the country's meteoric economic rise did not trigger resentment and counterbalancing from other countries.

President Ju Jintao spoke often of the peaceful rise to describe China's aspiration and strategy. Now, Chinese diplomats embrace conflict and hurl insults in what is known as wolf warrior diplomacy.

What is striking about China's strategy is that it has produced a series of own goals leading countries to adopt the very policies Beijing has long tried to stop. There have also been serious consequences for its global image, greatly diminishing its soft power. Negative views toward China among Americans soared from 47 percent in 2017 to a staggering 73 percent in 2020. And if you think that's a U.S. phenomenon, here are the numbers for some other countries.

Forty percent to 73 percent in Canada, 37 percent to 74 percent in Britain, 32 percent to 81 percent in Australia, 61 percent to 75 percent in South Korea, and 49 percent to 85 percent in Sweden. If there is a single theme in international life these days it is rising public hostility toward China worldwide.

President Xi has transformed China's approach domestically and abroad. He has consolidated power for the party and himself. He has reasserted party control over economic policy in recent months putting curbs on the most innovative parts of the Chinese economy, the technology sector, while lavishing benefits on its most unproductive one, the old state-owned enterprises. And he has pursued a combative, unpredictable, often emotional foreign policy.

In doing all this, he is dismantling China's hard-earned reputation as a smart, stable and productive player on the world' stage. It all brings to mind another period of centralized politics and aggressive foreign policy. The Mao era. And that did not end so well for China.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been a most dominant force in Israeli politics for decades. He's been prime minister of Israel for the past 12 years and served an additional three-year stint in the late '90s but the Netanyahu era may be coming to a close as a coalition is now being formed to oust him.

Joining me now is Tom Friedman who was once the Jerusalem bureau chief for "The New York Times." He's now the paper's foreign affairs columnist and the author of "From Beirut to Jerusalem." A classic.

Tom, let's posit initially that who knows where this goes, because there will be -- there need to be seven coalition agreements, Likud's lawyers will look at this. It might even go to court because it's not clear that you could have Bennett as prime minister if the president had asked Lapid. So there's a lot of complexity and this may play itself out over days, but what does it mean if in fact the Bibi Netanyahu era is over?

TOM FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Fareed, if it is over, if it comes together with a national unity government in Israel, let me put it in terms that Americans could understand. This is Bidenism coming to Israel. It's a backlash against a leader who developed a personality cult, who basically lived by dividing people, who is extremely allegedly corrupt. He's now on trial for three corruption cases.

It's the triumph of people who believe in institutions, the rule of law, and decency. It is the beginning potentially of a Biden backlash in Israel.

ZAKARIA: But let me ask you, Tom, when you look at some of the key figures here. Naftali Bennett is somebody who, on the issue of Israel- Palestine, I think it's fair to say, is more hawkish than Netanyahu.


He has said he will never give up the West Bank. He has talked about how he took -- you know, he saw nothing wrong with killing Arabs. You have Avigdor Lieberman part of the coalition. I think you could reasonably say that Lieberman advocates ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, moving Palestinians who are even Israeli citizens in some cases off the land.

What does that tell us? How should -- you know, should we really welcome this?

FRIEDMAN: So I think that if you think this is the prelude to Israeli- Palestinian peace, of course that is not the case. But what Bennett has been a strong advocate of, Fareed, is a very strong autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank. And I think you could see a consensus forming in this new coalition, this potential national unit coalition, around more separation and more autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank, as a potential stepping-stone for something else.

Right now, Fareed, the most important thing for American diplomacy and Israeli politics is to keep one thing alive, and right now it really is in intensive care. The two-state solution. And I see this coalition at least potentially doing that because I think there is a common denominator for separation and for real Palestinian autonomy unless daily de-legitimization of the Palestinian Authority, which was a staple of Netanyahu's (INAUDIBLE).

ZAKARIA: Tom, you've covered the Middle East for 30 years. When you wrote "From Beirut to Jerusalem," you know, you were very hopeful about the two-state solution. You advocated it even then.

At this point when you look at the encroachment of settlements, when you look at the radicalization of Israeli politics, when you look at the degree to which Palestinian, you know, dysfunction remains, Gaza being ruled by Hamas, do you understand and do you think that there will be traction for this idea that you are seeing growing on the Palestinian side and with some liberal Zionists like Peter Beinart that maybe the only solution here is going to be, one, binational state in which you give the Palestinians political rights within Israel?

FRIEDMAN: I don't really see that happening, Fareed. I think the best you could hope for -- I do think we're in the one-state reality more than we're in the two-state reality, but I don't see it as a one-state reality in which the Jewish majority basically gives full equality to the Palestinian minority if you brought in the 2.5 million Palestinians from the West Bank.

But I do think we are in a phase where the dangers to Israel of becoming an apartheid state are becoming so clear, it became clear in the last two weeks here, Fareed, you know, we may be seeing in Joe Biden the last pro-Israel Democratic president of the United States, if you look where the rising left in their party is today.

And therefore, I think you will see a stronger move toward building more separation and creating a much stronger autonomy and preserving the possibility for a two-state solution. You know, it's the most we can hope for right now but I think that is a possibility with this new coalition.

ZAKARIA: Tom Friedman, you're always to insightful on this. Thank you.

FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we'll dig into the bizarre story this week of Belarus forcing a passenger plane down then arresting a passenger who was a thorn in the side of the country's strongman leader.



ZAKARIA: Last Sunday's Ryanair Flight 4978 started out as just another trip from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, but it quickly became a pawn in a major international incident after a security alert caused it to divert and land in Minsk, Belarus. Once on the ground the plane was boarded by security officials who arrested Roman Protasevich. The 26-year-old is a dissident journalist and a thorn in the side of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko who has been called Europe's last dictator.

Ryanair called the incident as state-sponsored hijacking and it was widely and strongly condemned by Western nations.

Let me bring in Hanna Liubakova and Anne Applebaum. Hanna is a journalist from Belarus and a fellow at the Atlantic Council. Anne is a staff writer at the "Atlantic" where she published a piece on the incident titled, "Other Regimes Will Hijack Planes Too." It's really a must-read.

Anne, explain this to us in historical context because I feel like the last time we heard about Alexander Lukashenko we thought he was on his own last legs. He had lost an election. He tried to doctor the results. There were massive protests in Belarus. Many international observers, governments supported those protests. He seemed flailing and now this. Explain. ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: So, yes, you're absolutely

right. Lukashenko was last summer seemed to be very close to resignation, very close to leaving this job. The entire country had turned against him and remember, this is a country that is -- was created out of what used to be the Soviet Union, although it has a long history, it had never been a state before.

And there was a -- you know, there was a feeling that, you know, we as a nation for the first time really are united in saying what we want and what we want is to be a democracy, we want at the very least to elect our own president.


Lukashenko managed to stay in power. He lived through the crisis. Partly because he escalated the level of violence that he had been using. And partly because he got support from Russia. And so he was offered this hand of friendship from Putin and that was clearly what prevented him from leaving the country and what made him decide to stay in power.

I don't think the fact that he is still there means that people are any less determined that he should leave or that they don't want him to leave. But the level of violence there is now at an extraordinary high. I'm not sure that people outside the country will really understand what's happened. People are being arrested off the street, people are tortured in prison, people are raped in prison.

There have been several deaths in prison recently. A few days ago, a very young boy of 17 committed suicide in prison. This is a very, very brutal regime now. And the fact that they were willing to hijack this plane shows the degree to which they are now willing to defy not only the rule of law in their country but also around the world.

ZAKARIA: And Hanna, explain to us this 26-year-old journalist. Who is he and why is Lukashenko so afraid or enraged by him? Tell us about him.

So Roman Protasevich has become a journalist in a very young age. He basically got involved in all these political activities. Roman is very full of energy, he's an extrovert, he's very brave. He's very loud. Since 2019 he has been living in Poland and he joined the team of this most influential Telegram Channel. Telegram Channel is a social media network that coordinated the protests in Belarus and is very popular in the country.

HANNA LIUBAKOVA, FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: And in November of last year he was added to the KGB terrorist list by the KGB which is the security service agency in Belarus which only shows that he is kind of -- Lukashenko considers him a personal enemy because he's a blogger.

He is the one who spreads information, who informs citizens both inside the country and outside the country about what's happening in the country. And that's his only guilt. He was a blogger. And that's why -- but because Lukashenko is so scared of information that's why he basically forced down a plane to detain Roman. ZAKARIA: Anne, it feels like this is a somewhat cruder version of a

Russian strategy which is to say Vladimir Putin has made it a point to attack opposition leaders, of opposition movements even when they're abroad. The message -- and Lukashenko I think said this in recent days, we have eyes everywhere. Right? The idea is you can't escape even if you leave the country.

APPLEBAUM: Yes, absolutely. It's not just Russia actually. The whole phenomenon of what some are calling transnational repression is something that's growing rapidly. We have examples of the Russians trying to assassinate in some cases successfully their, you know, Russian citizens in England, in Germany.

We have examples of the Chinese kidnapping their citizens abroad. We have Iranian examples. Iranians have been murdering Iranian dissidents outside the country for a long time. But you're right that this has now accelerated.

ZAKARIA: Anne, you raised this prospect in your "Atlantic" piece, so I want you to spell out a little bit the real dangers here because I think of this in some ways as, you know, the way 9/11 exposed us to the reality that people could turn planes into bombs. This reveals a reality that if an authoritarian regime wants to send up a jet up into, you know, space it can force any civilian airline anywhere in the world down.

APPLEBAUM: So this is exactly why it's so important that the EU and the U.S. and other democracies react really strongly to this new level of provocation because ultimately this is about breaking rules that are set up to help all of us. Whether, you know, the laws of the sea, the laws of air traffic control, the point of those laws is to keep airplanes and ships safe. Once those are broken, once autocracies are able to freely break those rules, we're all going to suffer.

I mean, I can't tell you exactly how it will happen or when the next crash will be or when the next catastrophe, but the use of air traffic control, the politicization of air traffic control in order to arrest a dissident is something that we -- you know, could have grave consequences for us all.


ZAKARIA: Hanna, Anne, this is a very important issue and you're very kind to have explained it to us. Thank you.

APPLEBAUM: Thanks, Fareed.

LIUBAKOVA: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, the great writer and reporter Michael Lewis set out to understand how America could have bungled its COVID response so badly in the first few months. What he found out will surprise you. He'll tell you all about it when we come back.



ZAKARIA: I am not taking a big leap when I say that the U.S.'s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was sub-par. For the wealthiest country in the world to have among the highest per capita death rates is simply embarrassing. And that's just one metric. The lingering question is why, as in why did the U.S. fair so poorly?

The great writer Michael Lewis has pointed his pen at that question, and the resulting book, like all his books, is fantastic. It's called "The Premonition: A Pandemic Story."

Michael, the -- the central, kind of, insight, I think, in your book is that this goes beyond Donald Trump; this is a much deeper issue. How did you come to that?

MICHAEL LEWIS, AUTHOR, "THE PREMONITION: A PANDEMIC STORY": You know, I didn't -- it wasn't my own views that led -- led me there. In fact, it, kind of, surprised me that I ended up there. But I went looking for -- for, kind of, the best characters to see this thing through.

And -- and when you -- when you spend time with people who had been in disease control even before Donald Trump, they would have pointed out a couple of huge problems that would have made it difficult for us to respond no matter who was in -- in the White House.

And -- and maybe the first is just a basic -- basically an absence of a public health system, that you've got these disconnected 3,000 people around the country, local health officers, with some guidance from the CDC but also a lot of reasons not to completely trust the CDC.

And that was, sort of, the other thing, that -- that came up again and again was just how the CDC itself had ceased to be a -- a Centers for Disease Control.

Charity Dean, the local health officer who's, sort of, the main character of the book, says she wants to rename it "the Centers for Disease and Observation" -- "for the Observation of Disease," rather. Because, whenever she was in a conflict, whenever she was, like, on the ground trying to control some outbreak of some other virus, she found that the CDC was more of an obstruction than an aid.

And she actually banned them from her investigations. So she'd have told you that, like, that enterprise is just not set up to do what people think it's set up to do.

ZAKARIA: Explain this more. Because it really is at the heart of the screw-up. You know, the CDC gets the -- first of all, is late, and then it has a bad test.

Why do you think this is happening? Why was she -- why was somebody like Charity Dean so frustrated with the CDC?

LEWIS: Well, what she saw again and again -- again, it's -- and all the information, sort of, the stories before COVID are so revealing. It -- it -- what she saw again and again was that, when you're trying to control an outbreak, it is inevitably controversial. You are walking into a -- the clinic of a doctor who's spreading Hep C with dirty needles, but the doctor has friends and influence.

You are shutting down parts of a college campus because of a meningitis outbreak, to stop, you know, kids from dying. And -- and people don't like it. So you're doing it over the objections of some fraction of the society.

And when -- when things got at all hot, the CDC would retreat. They, like, didn't want to be there. They didn't want controversy. So that was part one.

Part two is, like, what they did want. And they -- what they wanted were academic papers. What they wanted was -- was -- what they wanted was, figure out the science of whatever happened, write a paper about it, and -- and that's where the status was.

And the problem with that as an incentive is that, if you're waiting for, like, perfect data before you take any kind of action, and the action is you write a paper, the -- the disease outbreak's over, that you -- the nature of disease control is, sort of, taking action with imperfect information, in conditions of real ambiguity.

It's like -- it really is a lot like battlefield command. And -- and she just sensed that the institution had lost its nerve.

ZAKARIA: You have this amazing moment where you describe how George W. Bush reads John Barry's book about the Spanish Influenza, and he decides that in fact the U.S. has exactly, as you say, a very bad national public health administration. And he tries to reorganize it. Does it work?

LEWIS: It does work. It -- I mean, it's an amazing story, right, that Bush -- you've got, basically, a traumatized president, with 9/11 in the rearview mirror, and Katrina's just happened. And someone thinks it's a good idea to hand him a book about the 1918 pandemic to read on his summer vacation.

And he comes back to the White House and says, like, "What's our plan?"

And -- and comes the answer, "We don't have a plan."

And these -- this collection of people, particularly two doctors, Carter Mecher and Richard Hatchett, who sit there trying to noodle and to figure out the answer to a very particular question.


And it is "What do you do to slow disease before you have vaccine?" Like, how do you minimize illness and death?

And the conventional wisdom at the time, which is hard to believe, but it was entrenched in the public health community, was that you couldn't do much, that the -- like, social distancing, school closing, all this stuff, didn't work. And they thought that because in 1918 it seemed not to have worked.

And so inside the Bush White House, these two guys -- and they're real doctors, like, you know, an oncologist and an ICU doctor -- reexamine what actually happened in 1918 and write persuasive papers about how, actually, the reason that St. Louis had a fraction of the death rate of Philadelphia was that they introduced these interventions earlier in relation to the arrival of the disease.

And this wisdom ends up being buried in a plan about how you intervene when you have a pandemic, that is -- that becomes the official plan of the government, and it's in the CDC.

Now, the irony here is the CDC was regarded as the world's great health organization, spread this idea to other countries and -- like Australia, Australia has contained the virus using the playbook the CDC handed them. So other countries executed our plan much better than we did.

And of course it's -- it was a plan for flu. But the plan -- the plan could -- was pretty easily adapted to COVID. And -- and we did not, for, I think, a bunch of reasons, completely internalize the plan.


ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS", Michael Lewis will tell us more about the woman who predicted the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. That story and more, when we come back.



ZAKARIA: When COVID-19 swept the world, it caught many by surprise. But some people sounded alarm bells early on. Dr. Charity Dean, a former California state health official, was one of those people.

She'd spent her career fighting outbreaks of fatal diseases like meningitis and tuberculosis. She knew what these plagues could do and how to stop them. Her bosses ignored her calls for urgent action against this novel coronavirus until it was too late. She's one of the stars of Michael Lewis's new book.


ZAKARIA: You have many fascinating characters in the book, but Charity Dean really is, as you say, probably the principal one. Talk a little bit about what is the most distinctive thing about this woman?

LEWIS: It's the combination of having so much fear inside of her with the ability to act so bravely. She -- her personal story is a lot like the Tara Westover, the evangelical community that didn't want girls to be really educated; they were just supposed to have children, had to break with her community in order to get her education, had been obsessed with viruses from -- as a small child.

And she leaves -- I mean, in many ways, lots of bad things happen to her. And she has many reasons to be fearful. She is fearful, but adopts as a narrative "I need to be brave, in order to do the things I want to do," and constantly, sort of, reminds herself that she is -- that that's who she is. She's Churchill, not Chamberlain, in her parlance.

And it turns out that's what you need to be to do the job she's destined to do, which is stopping people from giving infectious diseases to each other.

And -- and the side of this story that was just breathtaking to me -- I -- I mean, have you ever walked into a local public health office? I had not -- but is, when you walk in there, you basically are walking into a Netflix drama.

It is -- what is going on pre-COVID is -- is so unbelievable that -- you know, it's life and death, kind of, every day. And it's outbreaks once a week. And it's -- and you don't know what saved you, that this woman stood between you and a tuberculosis outbreak and you never knew it happened. That's what interested me about her. It was the quality of the person in the situation.

ZAKARIA: She says, "Men underestimate me. They think that my spirit animal is a bunny and instead it is a -- an effing dragon."

I want to ask you about something about her which reminded me of your last book, "The Fifth Risk," which is there are all these people, incredibly impressive, talented, devoted, who are not motivated by money, who are not doing this for the money.

And you've spent a lot of your time writing about Wall Street and people like that. But does it surprise you when you see these people with this level of dedication and hard work, and they're just doing it because they think this is an important -- this is important work?

LEWIS: I -- I've come to the conclusion that there's a separate gene. It's the money gene. And some people have it and some people don't. And the people who are really effective in public service simply don't have it. If they have it, they're frustrated because they're not getting paid.

I mean, this woman, Charity Dean, walks away from three times the sums she could have made right away in private practice to take this job as a public health officer, and -- and doesn't even think about it. It doesn't, like, gnaw at her that "I should be making more; I'm worth this." None of -- none of that crosses her mind.

So the -- and instead, she's animated, and I think these other characters in "The Fifth Risk" are the same way -- what gets them out of bed in the morning is not their bank accounts.


it's some mission that they've identified, like some almost -- I mean, you don't want to -- you don't want to overstate this, but it's a -- it's a calling. She has a calling. And it -- it overwhelms all other motivations, like she doesn't need any other motivation. And to me, like, the tragedy of all this is that we currently live in

a society that does not honor these people appropriately. Because I think that, I think, would tease more of that out of the population if -- if we created a culture of recognition around it and people understood, kind of, the sacrifices that some of these people made to do things for all of us.

ZAKARIA: And you have a calling, Michael Lewis, which is to tell us all about this stuff in these just amazing, amazing books. Thank you.

LEWIS: Thank you, Fareed.


ZAKARIA: I'm sorry to have to add a very, very sad coda to this segment. Michael Lewis's 19-year-old daughter Dixie and her boyfriend Ross Schultz were killed in a car accident earlier this week, after we had taped the interview with Michael.

It is just a terrible tragedy. We send our condolences to the families and to all those who loved Dixie and Ross. May they rest in peace.



ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. The last year and a half has taken a toll on every aspect of society, from our mental health to our financial well-being. And now new data reveals just how much populations are shrinking.

It's not just the excess deaths from the pandemic. It's the other side of the life cycle, too. All across the globe, birth rates are falling. The first babies conceived after the pandemic was declared were born in December 2020. But that month, in South Korea and Italy, birth rates fell 10 percent. In Spain, births fell by 20 percent. And by January in Poland, birth rates were down by almost a quarter.

In fact, aggregating 21 different countries, the economists found births fell 11 percent in January 2021 over the prior year. The magazine also noted that countries with the higher COVID infection rate saw greater declines in their birthrates.

When U.S. census data from 2020 was published, much was made of the 4 percent decrease in births that year compared to 2019. But the sharpest drop-off in births came in December, an 8 percent drop from the previous year.

And that trend looks to continue, based on the few states that have released data for 2021. In fact, a survey last June found that a third of all American women were postponing their plans to have children or aiming for smaller families due to the pandemic.

Demographers point out that a declining birth rate is the norm during such massive crises. But this is actually part of a larger trend that's been happening for decades in developed countries around the world. As GDP rises with higher education and more women in the workplace instead of at home, couples marry later in life and have fewer children overall.

Some of this is obviously a good sign. Gender equality and educational attainment are certainly worthy goals. A decline in teen pregnancies accounts for one of the biggest parts of the U.S.'s declining birth rate. I think most would agree that is a cause for celebration. And in a world of limited resources, there is a virtue to having fewer people on the planet.

But the pace of this decline matters a lot. Because when people stop having babies, the labor force shrinks, and with it, the tax base.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's good to be here on this solemn occasion with so many friends.

(UNKNOWN): Let's go to Delaware, President Joe Biden speaking now on Memorial Day weekend.

BIDEN: General Kathy Jennings.

General Berry, it's good to see you. And thank you for everything you do for the Delaware National Guard.

By the way, I saw General Vavala this morning. He's become not only a general, but a great friend -- a great friend. And he was at Beau's memorial mass this morning.

Thank you for being there, General. I appreciate it.


And, by the way, Hunter has had one shot...


... not two, and he's just making sure everybody's OK.

Me and my family, we've tried to participate in this event every year because it's an important tradition in the Delaware community. Even last year, in those early dark days of the pandemic, Jill and I didn't want to let Memorial Day pass like every other day.

And there was no event here, but we came to lay a wreath at the plaza. It was the first time we did any sort of event since the lockdown had begun in March, because we were determined -- determined to honor the fallen, to pay tribute to the women and men who braved every danger, who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country.

Because as a nation, we must always remember -- always remember.


We must remember the price that was paid for our liberties. And we must remember the debt we owe those who have paid it, and the families left behind. My heart is torn in half by the grief. The communities are never whole again.

Folks, it's also an important tradition in our family. As many of you know, this is a hard day for us. Six years ago today, Hunter lost his dad and I lost my son. It's the first year of his passing back in 2016, General Vavala did a great honor in inviting us to a ceremony renaming the Delaware National Guard headquarters in Beau's honor.

By the way, I'd note that, when Beau made the grade of major in -- in Iraq, I said -- I'd been in and out of Iraq over 25 times. I said: Beau, you're now a field-grade officer.

And he said: Dad, I have no illusion who runs the United States Army. It's the master sergeants.


"They run the army."

Well, I woke up that morning hearing Beau in my ear saying: Not me, Dad. Today is not about me. It's Memorial Day. You should be over at the bridge."

And, you know, if he were here, he would be here as well, paying his respects to all those -- all those who gave so much for our country, and particularly honoring the Gold Star families.

You know, a lot of time passes, but you all know better than I do -- or as well as I do -- that the moment that we celebrate it is the toughest day of the year. We're honored, but it's a tough day. It brings back everything.

And so I can't thank you enough for your continued service to the country. And your -- your sons, your daughters, they live on in your hearts and in their children as well. And we have to carry on without them. But I know how hard it is for you.

Beau didn't die in the line of duty, but he was serving a Delaware National Guard unit in Iraq for a year. That was one of the proudest things he did in his life.

So, thank you for allowing us to grieve together today. I know how much the loss hurts. I know the black hole that it leaves in the middle of your chest, that feels like you may get sucked into it and not come out.

Greetings like this and gatherings help. And while I know nothing I can say to ease the pain, I just know that each year, it gets a little bit -- a little bit easier.

And I promise you the day will come when the mention of the name of your son or daughter, husband, wife, they will, in fact, bring not a tear to your eye but a smile to your lips.

Folks -- and I hope that day comes sooner than later. Folks, you know, despite all the pain, I know the pride you feel in

the loved one and -- that you lost and those who are still serving, the pride and the bravery in the service to our great American experiment.

Our military community is the solid spine of this country. It's literally the spine of the nation.

And on my first Memorial Day as commander-in-chief, I want to reaffirm my longstanding belief. We may have many obligations as a nation, but we only have one truly sacred obligation, and that's to equip those we send into harm's way with all they need, and care for them and their families when they -- when they return home, and when they don't.

And all of us who remain have a duty to renew our commitment to the fundamental values to our nation in their honor, the values that have inspired generation after generation to service and that so many have died to defend.

Every day since I was vice president, I've carried with me a card with the exact number of troops killed in our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq -- not an approximation or a rounded number, an accounting of every life laid down for our country over the 20 years of war.

Today, it's 7,036 military members -- fallen angels -- have given the last full measure of devotion," as Lincoln termed it, in those modern conflicts.

And we'll never forget. They're the guardians and we're the guardians. They're the guardians of us, and we're the guardians of their legacy, inheritors of their mission, and the living testament to their sacrifice that is not going to be in vain. Because every American democracy endures. We have been tested, and we still will be surely tested further.