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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview With Gordon Brown About The G20 And COP26; Interview With Zalmay Khalilzad About Afghanistan. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired October 31, 2021 - 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.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the show, world leaders gathered at the G20 Summit in Rome this weekend to discuss economic recovery, climate change, the fight against COVID-19 and more. What were the successes and failures? I'll ask the man who led a G20 effort to rescue the global economy successfully the last time around.

GORDON BROWN, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: A global plan for recovery and reform.

ZAKARIA: Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Then, it has been two months since the United States completed its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. I sat down with the lead negotiator of the peace deal with the Taliban, America's former special enjoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE TO AFGHANISTAN RECONCILIATION: Nobody is happy with the way the final phase of the withdrawal happened.

ZAKARIA: What went wrong and what is next for Afghanistan? I will ask him.

Finally, Democrats have been scrambling for months to finalize President Biden's $1.75 trillion spending bill. The biggest roadblock has been how to pay for it. I'll talk to a leading expert with a theory that says the big price tag is really not a problem.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's "My Take." Have we witnessed another Sputnik moment? "The Financial Times" has reported that China tested a hypersonic missile this summer, though China denies this. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, compared the test to the Soviet Union's Sputnik launch during the Cold War.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I don't know if it's quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it's very close to that.


ZAKARIA: General Milley should dust off his history books. The Chinese test has nothing in common with Sputnik and saying so feeds a dangerous paranoia growing in Washington, D.C.

To recall, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first manmade satellite to orbit the planet on October 4th, 1957. Both the U.S. and the USSR had been planning to launch satellites into space for years and the fact that Moscow got there first was a huge shock to Americans.

Coming in the wake of multiple, powerful Soviet nuclear tests, Sputnik signaled that in the next frontier, space, the Soviets were ahead. Sputnik was a revolution in the space race. Hypersonic missiles, on the other hand, are very old news. A hypersonic missile travels at five times the speed of sound.

Starting in 1959, the United States and the Soviet Union deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles that traveled around 20 times the speed of sound. Even Germany's V2 rockets, first launched against Paris during the last phase of World War II, flew at close to hypersonic speeds.

Cameron Tracy, a Stanford scientist and expert on the topic, has pointed out that hypersonic weapons are neither faster nor stealthier than ICBMs. Oh, and by the way, that Chinese missile missed its target by 24 miles.

As Fred Caplan, the author and journalist, notes it's possible that the test was China's attempt to nullify America's vast missile defense system, but that system, as he points out, is an expensive white elephant that failed three of its last six tests despite hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent on it to date. Perhaps that's why the Pentagon hasn't even tested the system since the spring of 2019.

And even if the system had perfect aim, it could still be rendered useless with small asymmetrical measures like simply firing two missiles at the same time. Alas, don't expect science and facts to have much sway in this discussion. That is because there is now a bipartisan consensus in Washington.

We're coming dangerously close to a new Cold War. For the Pentagon, it's an opportunity, raising fears about a huge and tech-savvy enemy is a surefire way to guarantee vast new budgets that can be spent countering the enemy's every move, real and imagined.

The mood goes beyond Washington. "Foreign Affairs" has published an essay by the scholar and famous realist John Mearsheimer who castigates American policy makers for engaging China for the last four decades.


He predicts that our active encouragement of a peer competitor will lead to a new Cold War that could get hot and even nuclear. But realist logic only gets you so far. The high priest of realism, Kenneth Waltz, often predicted that once the Cold War ended and Japan had gotten strong, it would throw off the shackles of dependence on America for security and acquire nuclear weapons.

Mearsheimer himself predicted in 1990 that as the Cold War ended, NATO would collapse and Europe would become a cockpit of warring states as it had been before the Cold War. He believed that many European states, chiefly Germany, would likely acquire nuclear weapons. None of these predictions have come to pass. In fact, the European Union has grown tighter and stronger in the decades after the Cold War, and Japan's military remains resolutely nonnuclear.

I raise this to make the point that Mearsheimer looked at only one of the great forces that motivate states and the international system, power politics. But there are others like economic interdependence. The world today is thoroughly enmeshed in a complex global economic system in which war would hurt the aggressor nearly as much as the victim. There have been almost no land grabs since 1945, the most notable exception being Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014,

This amounts to an almost unprecedented declaration of respect for borders. In addition, nuclear deterrence has raised the stakes, making countries far more cautious about launching a great power war.

The task of American foreign policy is to recognize the traditional power politics can indeed deter Chinese expansionism, while also recognizing the ways in which interdependence might constrain it. The U.S. should make an effort to deploy both tools. This approach will certainly prove far more complicated to implement than scare-mongering and chest-thumping, but it is precisely the one that is likely to keep the world at peace and prosperity.

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

Earlier today, the G20 leaders tossed coins into Rome's Trevi Fountain. Tradition says those who do so will return to Rome. Good for them, but on the actual agenda this weekend were key issues like the global economy and the fight against COVID-19. And today's events are all about climate change before the leaders jet off to the COP26 climate conference in Scotland.

Joining me now from Scotland is Gordon Brown. When he was the British prime minister in 2009, he hosted a G20 that made great progress in healing the then-broken global economy.

Gordon, welcome.

BROWN: Hello.

ZAKARIA: You have been -- you have been urging that the G20 take active measures to close the vaccine gap that you call immoral. 60 percent to 70 percent of the developed world is vaccinated, 3 percent to 5 percent of Africa is vaccinated. And yet no great measures came out of the G20 on this front.

Why do you think they're not moving in this direction? As you point out, hundreds of millions of vaccines are actually expiring and will be used by no one.

BROWN: Yes, we could lose 100 million vaccines just wasted passed the use-by-date by the end of the year if we don't transfer the vaccines that are unused in the global north to the global south, that are desperately in need of them. And what's actually happened at the G20 is they've understood we need to get 40 percent vaccination in the poorest countries by December.

There are more donations that are being given but what we actually need is an operational plan, a timetable for delivery, month-by-month airlifts of vaccines out to the places that need them most. It's a military operation of a scale that hasn't yet been considered that we need. And I hope that as a result of the communique that we'll get later this afternoon this sense of urgency is recognized and we do something about it. Because nobody is safe until everybody is safe.

We've got to vaccine the rest of the world if America and the West is going to be safe at the same time.

ZAKARIA: Vladimir Putin says that part of what's going on here is protectionism and vaccine nationalism, or else we would have a system of sort of registering and giving a stamp of approval to the Russian vaccines, the Chinese vaccines. Is he right?


BROWN: He's right about nationalism. I think he's wrong about expecting Russia just to get a clean bill of health until its vaccine has been approved. The most important thing is that we realize that we need a joint effort here. Between Canada, America, the European Union and the United Kingdom, there are more than 200 million, perhaps even 300 million vaccines lying unused. And that's even after taking into account boosters in every country, the young people vaccination in every country, that is the extent of overordering.

And basically, the G20 has got a monopoly of the supply of vaccines and it's got to release them in the rest of the world is to be vaccinated. We've got international organizations, and they're trying their best and I applaud them, but they don't have control of the vaccine supply. The G20 countries have got to release these vaccines and release them now.

You know, this is probably the biggest public policy failure of our times because when you hoard vaccines in one part of the world and deny them to the rest of the world, it is indeed a moral outrage but it's something that you could do something about with proper coordination.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, Gordon, about the other big issue that many say is a policy failure on climate. The "Economists" calls COP26 the great copout. Paris has established the targets but now it seems to me that the great challenges establishing mechanisms by which countries will meet these targets of getting to lower emissions, probably that means a carbon price or a carbon tax in the developed world and it means some green subsidies in the developing world to wean them off coal. How do we get there?

BROWN: Well, there are two policy failures that could happen here. We're going to get agreements on coal. We're going to get agreements on electric cars. We're going to get agreements on forestry. The 2050/2060 net zero -- net carbon zero target is going to announced. What we're missing is two things. First is you say you've got to ratchet up the commitments of each country during the 2020s, otherwise we'll never get to the 1.5 degrees that we want to be at.

Equally, you've got to help the developing countries, and this is the same problem if you like, as vaccination, you've got to give them financial support to enable them to do the mitigation and adaptation. And it's a tragedy that after 11 years we promised this $100 billion financing to the poorer countries 11 years ago and we've never reached it.

We've got to reach it this week, and I believe there are special measures that could be taken, and I have been suggesting an innovative finance facility, alongside many others, that could actually get us beyond the $100 billion and get us much beyond the $100 billion but that's got to be done if there's going to be trust in the developing countries that the West particularly will deliver on its promises.

ZAKARIA: Do you think at the heart of these failures, the rise of nationalism, protectionism, is the lack of American leadership? Because after all, certainly, there's no other country that can fill it right now.

BROWN: Well, I think President Biden has led on global taxation. He is putting forward proposals on climate and on vaccination, but I think what's really happening here is America is used to acting unilaterally in what used to be a unipolar age, and America has now got to lead at multilateral action in a multi-polar age. There's no use harking back to an age where you can just say something and it's going to be done.

You've got to bring other people along with you. And that didn't happen, as you know, over Afghanistan but it could happen over this climate summit and it could happen over vaccination, the two big public policy failures of our time. And yes, I look to American leadership but it's America leading a multilateral approach in a multi-polar era.

ZAKARIA: Gordon Brown, thank you for those wise words.

BROWN: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, the man who worked for both Trump and Biden in negotiating with the Taliban before they took Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad. He resigned from his State Department post and you will hear from him next.



ZAKARIA: In September 2018 President Trump named Zalmay Khalilzad to be his special representative for Afghan reconciliation. President Biden kept him on to continue negotiating with the Taliban. But then in August the Taliban took Kabul, essentially completing its takeover of Afghanistan. Two weeks ago, he sent Khalilzad send his resignation letter to Secretary of State Blinken.

The ambassador who wrote a book called "The Envoy" joined me for a debrief about what exactly happened at the end of America's longest war.


ZAKARIA: Welcome, Zal Khalilzad.

KHALILZAD: Well, thank you. It's great to be with you again.

ZAKARIA: So let's start with the agreement that was negotiated with the Taliban. You negotiated it under Donald Trump. Trump's own National Security adviser General McMaster says this was a surrender agreement. Was it?

KHALILZAD: No. The president, President Trump, decided after trying what McMaster had put in place to escalate the war in Afghanistan, give the military the authorities to do whatever it would take to put us on the path to victory, and he came to a judgment that we were not winning.


We, in fact, were losing ground. And therefore he decided that the war was too costly financially given the change in the world, the rise of China, that $40 billion a year spent in Afghanistan was not appropriate given his evaluation of the importance of Afghanistan.

So, therefore, he wanted to withdraw, and I was asked whether I could take the lead in negotiating an agreement not only to ensure a peaceful withdrawal of our forces, but also assurances on terrorism from the Taliban and at my urging and Secretary Pompeo's support, to see if we could get the Afghans to negotiate with each other as part of an agreement for a new government that will end the Afghan war as well.

ZAKARIA: So this is a very important thing that I think many commentators have said and Americans I think generally do think, which is, why couldn't we have just stayed on? A number of people have said, look, we only had 2,500 troops in Afghanistan a few years ago. Things seemed to be fine. No Americans were being killed.


ZAKARIA: But you say that situation was not sustainable. KHALILZAD: Well, that situation was a result of the agreement with the

Taliban, that they wouldn't attack us as we were withdrawing and the withdrawal was in phases. Phase one was to come down from about 15,000 fighters, soldiers and 20,000 contractors that were supporting the Afghans and our forces, to 8600, and then from 8600 we came down to 4600 and then to 2500 before President Trump left office.

So I think that if we had told them we are not withdrawing, we're staying at 2500, the war between us and the Taliban would have restarted and then I believe the military would have come and said, in order to be able to protect ourselves, and to prevent further Taliban progress on the battlefield, we would need more forces.

ZAKARIA: And it's fair to say in your judgment, and looking at the facts on the ground, over the last five years the Taliban was winning and we were losing?

KHALILZAD: Yes. Over the past seven years actually that the Taliban were winning, they were making progress, we were losing ground.

And this was when we had 15,000 or more, and so the question that I have for General McMaster and other critics as to after 17, 15, 16 years, billions of dollars, why was that the case that we in fact were militarily losing ground each year and that the option was either to escalate it and maybe try something very different and some numbers were in order to win, we needed 400,000, 500,000 troops given the size of Afghanistan and its population, or stay at the smaller number, the war goes on, no victory, perhaps if the numbers were low, even losing more ground.

And the president of the United States -- two presidents, not only one. Maybe three if you include President Obama, that thought that they were not willing to escalate that much, and they thought what we were doing was not sustainable.

ZAKARIA: There were charges made that even if you had to withdraw, the Biden administration mishandled the withdrawal badly. Do you think that that's a fair criticism?

KHALILZAD: Well, nobody is happy with the way the final phase of the withdrawal happened with the rush of the population out of fear because a lot of people, including many in the government, argue that if the Talibs move into Kabul and there would be a bloodbath, the destruction of Kabul, which had happened in the '90s could be repeated so there was fear as the Taliban were coming into Kabul.

And then there was the opportunity where a message spread across Afghanistan like wildfire that anyone who can make it to the airport will be taken to the United States. So you had this massive rush of thousands and thousands of people to the airport and with those scenes, nobody was of the view that this was very positively done.

Of course, in terms of the logistics of getting a lot of people out, there was obviously a significant that you have no other power could do what we need, but if you look at it in its totality, it was obviously very undesirable. (END VIDEOTAPE)


ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, I will ask Ambassador Khalilzad about the complete collapse of the Kabul regime and the takeover by the Taliban. How did this happen so fast, when we come back.


ZAKARIA: And now for more of my interview with the former U.S. special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.


ZAKARIA: Ambassador, you were in Doha negotiating with the Taliban.


ZAKARIA: And you had a plan, which would have been a kind of interim government, a phased transition, you know, a coalition of different forces in Afghanistan.


Instead what we got was the complete collapse of the Kabul regime, the Taliban's total takeover.


ZAKARIA: Why did that happen?

KHALILZAD: Well, I believe that there were two reasons for it. One was the gap between the two sides; the Afghan side was large. Part of the blame goes to the...

ZAKARIA: The Afghan government and the Taliban.

KHALILZAD: ... the Taliban. And part of the blame goes to the Taliban --on the government side. There were grand miscalculations of President Ghani and the elite in Kabul, where they thought the United States would never withdraw from Afghanistan. They thought, "We're close to China, close to Pakistan, Russia, Iran. Who would want to leave there?

So they didn't move when they should have moved.

And second, I think that President Ghani miscalculated about the strength of his armed forces. He thought that we, in fact, the United States, were holding them back from fighting the war the way Afghans would fight it, and that, without that -- even if we left, which he didn't believe, then he would be freer to fight.

And so he was, I think, intransigent, wanting to stay in power, didn't make the compromises that was necessary.

The Talibs were also -- they had intransigent elements, but their calculation turned out to have been...

ZAKARIA: But they were...

KHALILZAD: ... better.

ZAKARIA: They were winning.

KHALILZAD: They thought -- they knew that the president wanted to leave, so they knew time was on their side, and their intransigence was, "If we wait, the balance will shift in our favor and we will get better terms."

So I think there was problems on both sides.

ZAKARIA: But Ghani's sudden departure...


ZAKARIA: ... also caused that collapse, right?

KHALILZAD: No doubt.

ZAKARIA: Because suddenly the Taliban realized they didn't have to share power.

KHALILZAD: Right. Well, as the balance began to shift, because initially many districts fell to the Taliban without a real serious fight. Then provincial centers, provinces fell to them. When they were close to Kabul, I tried one more time to see if we could get an inclusive government, rather than power-sharing, which was earlier. But the balance had shifted so much that they said they will be dominant, but they would want the republic to be part of it, and they would negotiate for two weeks, and then there would be a peaceful transfer while President Ghani would be president. Then he will turn over power to this new government.

And the Talibs agreed not to enter Kabul. In fact, they had some units there that they withdrew. But he had agreed to it. There is -- also, some of his close aides have told me he even taped, videotaped a message to the Afghan people that was supposed to be broadcasted that night, but he then went away.

It's possible that it was fear that the -- that the Talibs might not honor it, that he might get caught. But whatever the reasons, he abandoned his country and he abandoned many close aides. Once the government had disintegrated and there were law and order concerns, that the banks would be raided, the Taliban then went in.

ZAKARIA: When you look at the Taliban now...


ZAKARIA: ... people say they're the same; some people say they're worse because 20 years of fighting, that it's a -- it is a bloody, vengeful, you know, quasi-terrorist organization. KHALILZAD: Well, it is -- yes and no. I think it's hard to make the

case that they are the same. First, Afghanistan is not the same, which has to be stated very clearly. Millions have now gone to school, to university, men and women. Kabul, which was a dead city, is now a 5.5 million people city, totally transformed. And now the struggle is between Talibs and this...

ZAKARIA: This new Afghanistan.

KHALILZAD: ... new Afghanistan. Who's going to win in the struggle that is now between Afghans?

The Talibs are allowing education, although elementary, and to college and private schools, women and men are going. They have not interfered with it. They have allowed the high school education for girls in four or five provinces. They want to separate them into...

ZAKARIA: Segregated.

KHALILZAD: Segregated. They are getting ready and they say to allow the rest, and the same will be true of universities. Press is relatively free. If you watch Afghan evening news, as I do, there is very tough engagement with Taliban leaders by the media. Women anchors, at the same, you know, cell phones all over, interaction with the world.


I think the Taliban, while some of them are the same, others have changed and they're adjusting to change that's Afghanistan.

ZAKARIA: As an Afghan-American, as somebody who spends so much time in this, how has this left you feeling?

KHALILZAD: Well, I'm not happy about the -- that I did not succeed in the -- to respond to the very understandable human aspirations of the Afghan people, their yearning for peace.

I tried my very best to bring the two sides to negotiate on a road map to respond to the aspirations of the people, what had been -- who have been at war for 40 years.

So that struggle goes on, the struggle for a -- I mean, not many Afghans -- as many Afghans are dying now, but the struggle for an inclusive Afghanistan where rural and urban Afghans, more Islamic, less religious in terms of politics, could come to some agreement on a formula that respects the differences that exist. And that's the challenge for the Talibs and the challenge for our policy.

I recommend that we use the leverage that we have, which is considerable, to negotiate a road map for the future of Afghanistan, a detailed road map, written, that would reflect the consensus of the Taliban, because they -- there are different factions, but once you have it in writing, the record generally is that -- that they go along in terms of implementing it.

ZAKARIA: Ambassador Khalilzad, pleasure to have you on.

KHALILZAD: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," much of the press coverage about President Biden's bills focus on the price tags. But does the cost even matter?

A surprising answer from a famous economist, when we come back.



ZAKARIA: "Let's get this done." That's what President Biden said before heading to the G-20 in Rome. He wanted Congress to pass his proposed $1.75 trillion climate and social spending bill and $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

Both have had their price tags halved, and there's still hand-wringing over how much they cost. But does the cost really matter?

Stephanie Kelton is a professor of economics and public policy and the author of "The Deficit Myth."

Welcome, Stephanie. One of the things that you have talked about in your book and -- is that, when we think about this question of are we spending too much, will this kind of deficit spending cause problems like inflation, you say it's as if the last 30 years of history didn't happen. Tell us what you mean by that.

STEPHANIE KELTON, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY: Well, Fareed, for so many years we have been taught to think about government deficits as something that's inherently irresponsible. Maybe in a time of crisis, like after the financial crisis and the Great Recession, or during the COVID pandemic, we make allowances and we say, "Well, OK, we have to run some deficits because it's a moment of crisis."

But in more normal times we're told that deficits are something that we ought to strive to avoid, that governments ought to balance their budgets, that they should effectively balance like -- a budget like a household, that deficits are dangerous because they do things like driving up interest rates, making our long-term debt unsustainable, producing a slower growing economy, putting us at risk of national bankruptcy, insolvency, turning into Greece, the kind of thing that we saw in 2010 with many countries in Europe struggling with debt.

So we have been taught to think of deficits are something that's inherently dangerous and risky. And I think the last 30 years, as you just said, really should cause us to rethink a lot of that.

ZAKARIA: And -- and explain what you mean by that, that we -- we have been going through -- we've been spending; we've run up large deficits. Countries like Japan have run up huge deficits and no inflation.

KELTON: Yeah, Japan's been running large fiscal deficits for the last three decades, and -- and you're right, with little inflation to show for it. The U.S. has been running fiscal deficits basically my entire life, with the exception of really four years during the Clinton presidency.

And, you know, we have just witnessed in the last 18 months or so Congress commit about $5 trillion to fighting the pandemic, supporting the economy. And what did we end up with?

We ended up with the shortest recession in U.S. history. So we have demonstrated the power of fiscal policy, what it is possible to do, lifting nearly half of all the kids in this country out of poverty, supporting families, supporting small and large businesses, protecting this economy through the pandemic. And it works. And it works without producing all of the negative consequences that we've been taught to associate with deficits.

ZAKARIA: What about the argument that now you are seeing inflation?

Larry Summers has argued that right now, because of, really, the COVID relief spending that was in his view too much, you are seeing inflation. Summers, I should explain, does support a lot of the social spending and the infrastructure bills, but he feels like all of it together is producing inflation. And the numbers do seem to be ticking up, right?


KELTON: Well, look, one of the first things that we teach students in their very first economics course is not to confuse correlation with causation.

So, yes, we have had two things happen. We have had a huge increase in fiscal support -- so large government deficits that have supported the economy and pulled us out of a recession very, very quickly.

And, yes, we have higher-than-normal inflationary pressures -- not just here in the U.S., Fareed, but, of course, around the world.

And so you could look at these two things and say they're happening alongside one another, therefore it must be evidence that the government has pushed too far with fiscal policy, that in fact the spending is creating the extra inflationary pressures we see today. I don't think that's right at all.

And if you look at what, let's say, the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, they've got a research staff. And some of their researchers, just within the last two weeks, published a study asking this exact question, how much of the current inflation we're experiencing can we trace to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that was passed in March?

In other words, is Larry right, is Larry Summers right that that is what's been driving a lot of the inflation that we are currently experiencing?

What they found is that the answer is unequivocally no, that this year, that spending will add something like 0.3 percentage points to the inflation index that the Federal Reserve cares most about, and that next year, it will add about .2 percent to inflation.

In other words, it is practically negligible. And what we're dealing with are supply chain and reopening, the pressures related to those kinds of challenges are pushing inflation higher. But it doesn't appear that it is correct to say that the government pushed spending too far.

ZAKARIA: And what about the long-term issue of entitlement spending, Medicare, Social Security, all going -- you know, people say, "Look, we're facing a future where spending is going to take off, so we have to be careful today."

KELTON: Well, look, we have commitments that we have made to retirees, to dependents, to the disabled, in the form of Social Security. And we have commitments that we have made...


KELTON: ... to people receiving Medicare. And so there are two separate questions here, right? One is can the federal government afford...

ZAKARIA: Stephanie, I'm -- I'm -- I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, I realize I got the timing wrong. We -- we are out of time. We're going to have you come back and talk about all of this more.

I just want to give one -- one thought, leave viewers with one thought, which is the spending is over 10 years. It's important to keep in mind, and it's about $3 trillion. America's GDP over that 10 years will be about $300 trillion. And we will be back.



ZAKARIA: And now for the last look.

America's hottest new export is not an iPhone or a social media app, it's an idea, "the big lie."

It has found a receptive consumer in President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. For months he has been contending that Brazil's electronic voting system, which delivered Bolsonaro himself a decisive victory in 2018, is somehow in danger of turning up fraudulent results in the country's presidential elections next year.

As with Donald Trump's lie, there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim, but that has not stopped Bolsonaro from repeating it in rambling live addresses on social media, at rallies and in interviews to Brazil's conservative news outlets.

And Bolsonaro has been even more aggressive than Trump in peddling his lie. This summer he championed a constitutional amendment that would use a paper ballot to back up the electronic system. As the AP reported, three supreme court justices said this would

merely provide opportunity for baseless fraud claims. In July Bolsonaro issued a veiled threat to lawmakers saying that, if the elections weren't clean, they might not be held at all.

His threat didn't work. In August congress rejected the measure. But that didn't deter the president from his message.

On September 7th, the 199th anniversary of Brazil's independence, Bolsonaro called for rallies in cities across the country. He ratcheted up the rhetoric ahead of the event, telling supporters that he had three future options, being arrested, getting killed or victory.

As the New York Times notes, 150 lawmakers, former heads of state and former ministers from 26 countries issued a joint statement raising fears that the September 7th rally could turn into an insurrection.

On the day itself, tens of thousands of supporters thronged the streets of Sao Paulo. Addressing a crowd there, Bolsonaro declared tjhat only God would remove him from power.

Thankfully, whatever Bolsonaro's intent, the event did not turn into a repeat of the January 6th Capitol riot.

It's not coincidental that this push comes at a time when Bolsonaro's popularity is at a record low and he trails in the opinion polls his opponent, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.


That Bolsonaro is so closely following Donald Trump's 2020 election script should not surprise us, considering he has used the support of prominent figures in Trump world.

Steve Bannon said recently that Brazil's election was the second-most important in the world, predicting that Bolsonaro would win unless the election was stolen by the machines.

And Donald Trump himself endorsed Bolsonaro enthusiastically in a statement issued just on Tuesday, declaring that the Brazilian leader and he were "great friends."

Now, the affinity between the two leaders is well established. Bolsonaro has long been called "the Trump of the tropics." But with the big lie, the Brazilian leader is emulating the most dangerous aspect of Donald Trump's presidency and post-presidency, eroding trust in the most basic tenet of the democratic system, the one without which it cannot survive, free and fair elections.

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