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Fareed Zakaria GPS
U.S. And Allies Threaten Severe Cost If Russia Invades Ukraine; U.S. Leads Diplomatic Boycott Of Beijing Olympics; Biden Convenes Summit For Democracy; Germany's Surprisingly Stead Political Scene; How Syria Turned Into A Narco-State. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired December 12, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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 (voice-over): Today on the program, Russia, China, Iran. President Biden's biggest foreign policy headaches are only getting bigger.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democracy needs champions.
ZAKARIA: Putin puts forth red lines on Ukraine. Beijing reacts angrily to America's diplomatic boycott of the Olympics. And Washington and Tehran seem far from the deal.
I will talk to Anne Applebaum and Ian Bremmer about it all.
Then, Germany's Merkel's era ended with a song. And now the Scholz's era has begun. What to expect from Europe's richest and most powerful nation? I'll ask an expert.
Also, Syria descends into a narco-state as "The New York Times" reports its top export now is illegal amphetamines. I will talk to one of the reporters about that harrowing story.
Finally, does the Nobel Peace Prize need a rethink? I'll explore.
ZAKARIA: But first, here's "My Take." In America we tend to listen with rapt attention to the wisdom of people who have succeeded in the private sector. If they made billions, we think surely they must have profound insights into the world. And when the person speaking is obviously brilliant, this adds to our veneration. So when somebody as staggeringly rich and staggeringly as intelligent as Elon Musk talks, people listen.
Alas what came out of Musk's mouth this week was a series of self- serving and ill-informed comments about President Biden's spending plans. Musk advised that it would be better if the bill doesn't pass because our spending is so far in excess of revenue, it's insane. Seemingly selfless, he explained that he didn't want any subsidies himself for his flagship company Telsa neither for charging stations nor for cars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELON MUSK, TESLA CEO: I'm literally saying get rid of all subsidies.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Some of this might be sour grapes. Tesla actually outgrew the federal government's tax credit on electronic vehicles a long time ago. The federal government provides a $7,500 tax credit for electronic vehicles but they expire once the manufacturer has sold 200,000 of them, a mark Tesla crossed in 2018. In addition, the Biden bill adds $4,500 more in credits per car if the manufacturer uses unionized labor and Tesla does not.
As for charging stations, one of Tesla's key advantages is that it already owns and operates thousands of them. Federal subsidies in the infrastructure bill that recently passed would simply erode that advantage by building new ones for all electric cars.
It is bizarre and ironic that Elon Musk should be the tech billionaire who so opposes government spending. Three of Musk's endeavors, Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City would probably not even exist if not for federal support. Tesla owners, like me, by the way, have for many years received general tax incentives and credits from the federal and many state governments.
And in 2010 after a global recession, when Tesla was a fraction of the size it is now, the company got a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy, which gave it a desperately needed shot in the arm.
The state of Nevada gave Tesla a $1.25 billion tax incentive package to build its battery factory there. Solar City has benefited from all kinds of subsidies and tax credits that incentivized the production and installation of solar panels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And liftoff.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: And SpaceX's largest customers, of course, are federal government agencies from NASA to the Department of Defense. Musk defends himself by saying he's in favor of getting rid of all subsidies because he wants those for oil and gas eliminated as well. Oil and gas subsidies should be pared back but there really aren't as many as people seem to think.
A 2018 study by the Energy Information Administration found that in fiscal year 2016 the renewable energy industry received almost half of all federal energy subsidies while generating just only 1/8 of the energy produced in the United States. This is as it should be, green energy is the future after all. But let's be clear, if all subsidies were eliminated, it is green energy that would suffer the most.
Musk's comments on the budget were also disappointing. They seemed to parrot conventional wisdom about budget deficits that has not been vindicated by evidence. Over the past 30 years, governments like America and Japan have been able to run massive deficits and yet interest rates have overall trended way down. Even today rates remain low despite the surge in inflation. Does the market understand something that we don't?
Infrastructure spending is essential and there's really no serious argument against it when the cost of borrowing for the federal government is essentially zero. Musk admitted that America needs better airports and roads and better mechanisms to ease traffic in cities but he seems unwilling to allow for the investments that would actually tackle these problems.
The federal government's investment in green energy is very similar to what it did in the 1950s with computer chips, paying much more for a new technology so that the price could later come down for everyone. It resembles the investments government made in the 1960s to develop ARPANET, the first rough version of the internet, and later the global positioning system.
These policies, incidentally, created the digital infrastructure which made possible companies like PayPal, the original source of Elon Musk's billions.
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
The G7 foreign ministers met today in Liverpool and issued a statement condemning Russia's military buildup and aggressive rhetoric towards Ukraine. Iran and China were also atop of the agenda. The group of seven, which is comprised of the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Japan, France, Germany, and Italy.
Today's panel is Anne Applebaum and Ian Bremmer. Anne is a staff writer at the "Atlantic" and a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose latest book is "Twilight of Democracy." And Ian is the founder and CEO of the Eurasia Group, a global risk consultancy.
Anne, let me ask you about Russia and Ukraine. This is a part of the world you know very, very well. Your great book about Russia, "The Gulag," is the that won the Pulitzer Prize. What is Vladimir Putin up to? Does he intend to invade Ukraine? And if not, what's the game plan?
ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: So sadly I don't have any profound insight into Putin's brain and I cannot predict what will happen. If you look at the situation rationally, a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be insane. Putin might get to Kiev quickly but then what? He would occupy a country that doesn't want to be occupied indefinitely, he would live with a guerrilla war and violence for many years.
I've talked to several people in Russia who don't even believe that something like that would be popular in Russia. So it's not even clear what his motivation would be. On the other hand we also know Putin, particularly over the last couple of years thanks to the coronavirus, is increasingly cut off from people and advisers. He lives surrounded by security guards.
He may well have it in his head now that he has some kind of historical role to re-create the Soviet Union or re-create some kind of vision of greater Russia, and he has been saying for many, many years, over and over and over again, that he does not believe Ukraine is a country as recently as last summer when he issued a kind of essay to that effect and had it sent to every Russian soldier.
The best guest that most people have now is that this is, you know, perhaps an experiment where, you know, he might eventually play the invasion card but right now what he seems to want is attention. He wants to build up his international status, which he has less and less of.
He may have wanted to interrupt Biden's Democracy Summit, which is also this week, by creating an international crisis. He may seek to use the threat of violence to demand things from the United States and from Europe. You know, he's already started doing so.
But as I said, there's a fundamentally, you know, unknown element here, which is just how narcissistic is Putin, just how central does he believe himself to be to his country's imaginary future as a super power once again, and, therefore, will he do something that on the face of it makes no sense?
ZAKARIA: Ian, how does all of this work in the context of a Europe that desperately needs Russian gas? Gas prices have gone up enormously and Putin has made explicitly the connection between him being cooperative on the gas front and, you know, expecting Europe to relax sanctions, be more understanding about Russia's security interests in Ukraine.
IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: That's right, Fareed. I mean, Russia is in a stronger geopolitical position vis-a-vis Europe right now. In part, winter is coming and there's been difficulty in terms of supply of gas and prices have gone up, just as they have in the United States.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been completed, which would allow Russia to deliver gas to Europe and bypass Ukraine but it's not yet operational. And of course Angela Merkel, who has been the strongest person to orchestrate a common European-United States response against the Russians on Ukraine is now one, now replaced by Olaf Scholz.
So the timing if Putin wants to escalate and see what kind of engagement he can get from the Americans and the Europeans, see if he can push them back in terms of, you know, their commitments of NATO's supporting Ukraine, even though Ukraine isn't a member, it absolutely makes sense to do that right now. But having said that, I mean, I agree with Anne, the idea that he would actually invade Ukraine, take more territory, is very clear that would be a disaster for him on a lot of fronts.
And it was important that Biden before meeting with Putin for two hours last week that first he met with the European allies and he actually coordinated a strong economic and military response. What would happen if the Russians invaded? Very different from Biden deciding to leave Afghanistan all by himself and the allies get to pick up the diplomatic pieces afterwards.
ZAKARIA: Anne, would it be fair to say that some of these Russian actions does seem to have created the very thing that Putin seems to be intent on destroying, which is a sense of Ukraine as a nation? I mean, I'm struck by when you go to Kiev, there's a much stronger sense of nationalism and national pride, largely in opposition to a lot of these Russian moves.
APPLEBAUM: I mean, it's one of the great own goals in modern history that by threatening Ukraine, by dismissing the idea that there is such a thing as a sovereign Ukraine, Putin has created a kind of backlash in Ukraine. One interesting statistic is that more and more Ukrainians every year say that their native language is Ukrainian. Most Ukrainians to be clear are bilingual, they speak both Ukraine and Russian.
But more of them now claim Ukrainian is their first language. Of course it's not statistically possible that there could be more so that illustrates that there's a kind of sentimental attachment to Ukraine and to the language and to the culture, much stronger every year.
So there's a real sense of national identity. There is also a real army now. It does have Western weapons. It does have some American weapons. It's had training, although in this case it's really the hardware that's more important than the training.
And Ukrainians would fight and Putin has to know that. This would not be the same kind of event that the invasion of Crimea was a few years ago when Ukraine wasn't prepared. It was at that time leaderless. You know, there wasn't a coordinated response.
Now there's been a lot of thought put into it. And yes, the Ukrainians think of themselves very much as a partner of the West and as a country that would like to choose for itself whether it wants to be in NATO or whether it wants European allies and it no longer wants to be dictated to by Russia.
ZAKARIA: Stay with us. What we're going to talk about next is the United States and the world's other major issue, which is the diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, essentially done by the English-speaking countries. Will the move have any real effect? The panel will be back with me in a moment.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:18:44]
ZAKARIA: On Monday the United States said it wouldn't send any diplomats or other officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics set to begin February 4th. The next day, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada all followed suit. China in turn warned that countries would pay a price for their boycotts.
What does all this mean? Joining me again, Anne Applebaum and Ian Bremmer.
Ian, this move with China does seem to be part of a kind of expression of the balancing act that the United States is now trying to play with China. On the one hand, athletes are participating, in a sense the United States is participating, but there won't be any government officials there. It feels like an effort to, you know, metaphorically have the same policy toward China, which is some deterrence, some toughness but at the same time recognizing the reality that it's a big trading partner.
BREMMER: And a recognition that Biden loses votes at home if he's seen as too soft on China. The White House certainly feels like they did in 2020 as a consequence of that whole Beijing-Biden trope. And so yes, they did move ahead with a diplomatic boycott. But, you know, frankly it's not just that the athletes are still going. There's no economic boycott either. There's no pressure on the American companies not to continue to sponsor the Beijing Olympics.
And over the last few weeks we've actually seen a number of significant signs, they're small but they matter, that show that the Americans and the Chinese are trying to find ways that they can cooperate when it's clearly in both of the country's direct national interests. Here I'm thinking about the announcement to start working together in the COP 26 on climate.
Also the United States reached out directly to the Chinese and secured a level of cooperation when both countries released oil from their strategic petroleum reserves at the same time. Why? Because prices are high and because there are challenges at home in dealing with inflation. So I mean, on balance, I agree it's completely a balancing act, but it's a balancing act that's not just international, it's also domestic politics.
ZAKARIA: Anne, you've written an article about the autocracies in "The Atlantic." And one of the points you make in it is that, and this is probably more true of Russia but also of China, that they're sort of increasingly connecting with one another. Do you think that there is going to be a kind of common front as it were not quite a communist international like the old days, but some type of common approach taken by the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians?
APPLEBAUM: There already is and China is very much a part of it. But it's not at all like the old communist international. There's no ideological link between China and Russia and Iran and Venezuela and Belarus. These are very different countries. They have completely different ruling philosophies, at least in theory.
In practice, they all now operate in many similar ways. And so the state companies -- states, quasi-state, quasi-private companies and one country now invests in the quasi-state, quasi-private companies, and others. The police force has helped one another with advice and sometimes reinforcements. They teach one another. They learn from one another on how to do propaganda. How to do disinformation, what kinds of tactics work the best.
China sells an enormous amount of surveillance equipment all around the world, to Cuba, to Venezuela, again to many, many countries. And so they have ways of working together, of getting around sanctions, of pushing back against -- not just against Western diplomacy but against Western ideas.
They have a common -- one common thing, which is that they all fear the language of democracy and they fear the democracy movements inside their own countries, which are larger in some places than others, but they're enough of a problem for them to care about them.
And so it's really in their interest as a group, even though they don't have much in common ideologically, to seek to undermine Western institutions, to push back against Western language about human rights, and to do that in a concerted way. And you can absolutely see that in a number of places around the world.
ZAKARIA: Ian, in the context of this contest or tension that Anne described, the Biden administration is holding a big -- it has held a big democracy summit. What do you make of that? Is that the answer?
BREMMER: I mean, it would be nice if it was the answer. There are a lot of reasons why it isn't. One is because, of course, the United States cannot be ideologically consistent in the allies it chooses around the world. Some are based on common values. Some are based on real politic and they are not democracies at all and so how do you pick who does, who doesn't shows up?
But the second problem and it's a much deeper problem, much more central problem, is the United States is not seen as an example of a well-functioning democracy by anyone around the world right now. Very different than when the wall came down in '89, when of the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. So I mean, it makes a lot of sense for the G7 as common advanced industrial democracies working together in a multilateral sense to try to say, look, rule of law matters, transparency matters, dealing with human rights matters.
The United States is the most powerful country in the world and we do a good job leading on things like NATO and the Quad. And heck, even vaccine diplomacy, with the United States right now is doing more than the rest of the world combined.
But on democracy, on how to run your country when the former president of the United States actually says that the -- falsely that the election was delegitimized, was stolen and most of his supporters, including in his own party, actually agree with that, you can't, you literally can't hold a democracy summit and think it to be functional in that regard. And, of course, looking ahead to 2024, there's just no capacity for the U.S. to be consistent in the way it articulates this going forward.
ZAKARIA: Ian Bremmer, Anne Applebaum, thank you both very much.
Next on GPS, after 16 years in office, Angela Merkel is no longer the chancellor of Germany and thus no longer the de facto leader of Europe.
Can her shoes be filled? Back in a moment to explore just that.
ZAKARIA: Angela Merkel left office, just as she came in, to the beat of her own drummer, or more exactly to the beat of a military band playing a song written by an East German punk rocker.
Now it is Olaf Scholz's turn to run Germany. He has a tough act to follow. Joining me is Tanit Koch, a columnist from "The New European" and the former editor-in-chief of Germany's top-selling paper "Bild."
Tanit, pleasure to have you on. First explain something to me, which is in an age of polarization and sharp divisions between parties, look at the United States or Britain or even France, in Germany what you're seeing is something remarkably bipartisan or nonpartisan. Scholz was in Angela Merkel's government. He was -- even though of the opposition party, it was a coalition. He was a trusted adviser first. She in some ways undermined her own party by tacitly supporting him. He keeps praising her.
What explains it? You know, in Germany it seems as though of all these countries the center is holding. Why?
TANIT KOCH, COLUMNIST, THE NEW EUROPEAN: Well, I'd say, first of all, it has to do with our electoral system. We're used to a sort of multiparty coalition. It will be a first this time with three parties in that coalition but Germans are used to parties having to find compromises. So it's not a two-party system as you know from the U.S. or in Britain, so it is inherently less controversial and less polarized.
But all in all, we are lucky I think that the far right -- mustn't forget the far right got into parliament straight after the Russian crisis and had remained in parliament ever since. If they had a more charismatic leader, I think then there would be more polarization in Germany. Luckily they don't and may that last very long.
ZAKARIA: So speaking of charismatic leaders, I don't think anyone would accuse Olaf Scholz of being charismatic. What kind of a person is he?
KOCH: Well, the former U.S. ambassador to Berlin John Kornblum called him the most boring guy in the electoral campaign, maybe even in the country. He said that Olaf Scholz sort of made watching water boil seem exciting. The point is though that Germans, if they want entertainment, they turn on the telly. They don't want entertaining politicians, such as maybe Boris Johnson or Donald Trump.
So Olaf Scholz, like his wife, also a career politician, they have no kids, no pets, no hobbies really. It's all about politics in that family. So he's -- as finance minister, as mayor of Hamburg. he had a legacy of actually being a very sort of honest, hard-working politician.
A couple of scandals, a couple of financial scandals but nothing close to what you see in other countries. So he's all in. He's done -- people sort of rely on him and he so far hasn't made the impression that he's going to change massively in his new position.
ZAKARIA: Now the one big change that does seem like at least on paper that's going to be important is, the foreign minister. Merkel was essentially her own foreign minister. Whoever was the former leader designated as such. Scholz probably at least initially does not have that kind of power and the coalition government means that the Foreign Ministry has been given to Annalena Baerbock, a green party leader. What does that mean for German foreign policy and for Europe?
KOCH: Well, I'm not sure I fully agree with you that Olaf Scholz sort of will hand back all foreign policy responsibility to the Foreign Ministry. Angela Merkel has rightly said, has sort of largely pulled it over to the country. I think he's trying to go and keep it that way, apart from foreign global climate issues but certainly, Annalena Baerbock who studied at the LSE in London, is going to try to make most of her post.
So she's been very, very outspoken, very vociferous against human rights violations in China and Russia. And it remains to be seen whether she will keep up that very sort of outspoken rhetoric now that she's got that post.
ZAKARIA: So tell us about that particularly. Toward Russia and China, Germany has had a sort of more moderate or pragmatic policy. It is not part of the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Do you think that that kind of pragmatism or moderation will continue?
KOCH: Well, Olaf Scholz has been part of Angela Merkel's last government as finance minister and he has largely supported her stance in most of that, as you just said as sort of more moderate, business friendly, at least rhetoric sort of apart from a couple of sanctions, you wouldn't see Germany as the most controversial, you know, the controversy but not the extreme which has been supported by Olaf Scholz as well.
So he's now chancellor, doesn't -- apparently doesn't look like Nord Stream is sort of off the table where it was heavily criticized by the Greens and by Annalena Baerbock, the new foreign minister. All in all German policy is mostly about European policy. So what the new government is trying to do is offer sort of -- on the China boycott, for instance, is try and have a European response, although it doesn't look very successful at the moment.
But they're going to try and find some sort of joint European response towards China in regard to the Olympics.
ZAKARIA: And finally, let me ask you about one issue, which is domestic policy but strikes me as Germany is heading toward a crisis. Germany has said they're going to phase out nuclear. They're going to phase out coal because of all the pledges they've made.
That doesn't leave a lot of new sources of supply and Germany's demand, you know, is very strong. How does it avoid an energy crisis? It used to rely a lot on nuclear. It's, you know, how does it square this circle?
KOCH: Well, you're absolutely right, we're going to phase out nuclear by next year and they're going to phase out coal by 2030, though a domestic issue actually largely influences a geopolitical issue, because Nord Stream is exactly about that. We do depend on other fuels such as gas coming from Russia. There isn't a threat of an energy crisis yet. At the moment, though, energy cost in Germany is massive.
We've always been sort of able to import nuclear energy from France, which is the bigger trade because we're getting rid of nuclear but then getting it from France so the new government is all finding a very, very fast way to make renewable energy happen in Germany. At the moment we're not -- we haven't sort of come far enough. But that's on top of the agenda of that new government. But as you said, there is a risk that at least from the dependency from Russian gas will increase and certainly not decrease.
ZAKARIA: Tanit Koch, pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much.
KOCH: Thank you so much for having me, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, the fascinating story of Syria's tragic descent.
ZAKARIA: Syria was once known for exporting things like crude oil and olive oil, spices and fruits, rugs and other textiles, but today perhaps it ought to be best known for exporting amphetamines, illegal uppers. A blockbuster report by "The New York Times" says that Syria has become nothing less than a narco-state, making billions of dollars off those drugs, more money than from its legal exports.
Ben Hubbard is one of the reporters who chased this story down.
Welcome, Ben. Explain to us what you described as Syria at the end of 10 years of civil war that sounds like a kind of collapsed gangster state. Would that be a fair characterization? BEN HUBBARD, BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I think so. I
mean, after 10 years of war we've seen the state as this kind of central entity completely disintegrate and even though the government as we know it under Bashar al-Assad now controls the majority of the territory, inside of that territory it's still a very shattered place with a destroyed economy and warlordism and all sorts of other sort of problems that have come up from the war.
ZAKARIA: And from that warlordism and that sort of those militias and, you know, what you described as a kind of, you know, drug cartel that are tied in some way to elements of the government, right?
HUBBARD: Yes, I mean, so in all that destruction, we've seen the formal economy of the country destroyed. We've seen many people close to Bashar al-Assad and other, you know, important people in the country facing sanctions from the United States and elsewhere, and what we realize as that a lot of these people in order to keep their operations going and to earn money have gone into elicit trade, primarily in drugs, and so much so that the export -- the drugs that they're now exporting are actually more valuable than any of the legal things that Syria's exporting.
ZAKARIA: The drug is called Captagon, the main drug. Explain what it is and why it's as dangerous as it sounds like it is.
HUBBARD: So Captagon was originally the brand name of a pharmaceutical manufactured in Germany that was used to treat attention deficit disorder, narcolepsy. It's an amphetamine so it sort of gives you a boost. It was basically outlawed internationally in the 1980s after it was discovered that it was addictive and -- but around the same time it caught on as a recreational job primarily in Saudi Arabia and some of the other Persian Gulf countries.
And so you had had elicit Captagon production take off in various places, most importantly for us in Lebanon, and then as Syria kind of completely fell apart during the war, a lot of that production moved up into Syria and then powerful people in the Syrian government or associated with the Syrian government really took the idea of making this drug and industrialized it. I mean, just took it to a much larger scale than we had seen before.
I think the other issue that probably concerns a lot of other people in the world is not just it as a drug but it as a source of income, a significant source of income for a regime that, you know, many Western governments have tried to shut the tap off on to try to get some kind of political change. And so this has really provided Bashar al- Assad's, you know, many of his cronies, with sanction-proof income.
ZAKARIA: And it's fair to say that this new drug trade is large enough that it is essentially allowing them, the Syrian government, to not feel the effects of sanctions as much. This is a kind of a sanctions- busting strategy.
HUBBARD: Well, I think it's a sanctions-busting strategy in terms of income for individuals. I should say first we don't have great visibility into how the money moves but I think we know enough to know that this is not coming back into the Syrian treasury. But it's mostly ending up probably in the bank accounts and villas and yachts of, you know, basically drug warlords in the country.
ZAKARIA: I have to say reading the report, the image you get is of, you know, a country where you have this war, lots of outside players trying to get in on the action, on various sides of it. Then you have sanctions. And the total effect of 10 years of war and terrorism and sanctions have just devastated the country, created this narco-state and, you know, the life for the average Syrian is just -- it seems like a living hell.
HUBBARD: Yes, I mean, the economy has shrunk by something like 70 percent. More than half the country's population has been displaced, that includes both refugees who have gone abroad, you know, most of them in neighboring Arab countries but some, you know, more than, you know, millions who have ended up in Europe and elsewhere.
And then all of the other people who are displaced inside the country, who've been uprooted from the communities that they lived in and now living basically as internal refugees elsewhere in the country. And the economy in many ways has become nonfunctional.
So even if, you know, cronies of Bashar al-Assad can earn money off of Captagon, this money is not going back to the Syrian people. It's not helping them meet their daily needs or fixing schools or other infrastructure that was destroyed during the war. It's just enriching people who have the power to be involved in these kind of activities.
ZAKARIA: Powerful reporting. Ben Hubbard, thank you for it.
HUBBARD: Thank you very much.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, Alfred Nobel's will says the Peace Prize should go to people who have done the most for, well, peace and fraternity and the abolition of armies. So how many of the prize's recipients actually fit that bill? That story in a moment.
ZAKARIA: And now for "The Last Look." On Friday in a pared down ceremony at Oslo City Hall, the crusading journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia were presented with the Nobel Peace Prize. They deserved the award and they're in good company. Over its 120 years of existence, the Prize has become synonymous with selflessness and moral vision. It's been bestowed on Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and the 14th Dalai Lama.
But there are those whose prizes have not aged quite so well. Take the 2019 Laureate, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Then he was the country's new reform-minded leader. He had just spearheaded a peace accord with neighboring Etheria, which had long been at war with his country. At the Prize ceremony, Abiy spoke of the need to plant seeds of love, forgiveness and reconciliation in the hearts and minds of our citizens. Two years later he has not quite done that. He's presided over a
bloody civil war with the ethnic Tigrayan rebels, his government has cut off food aid to the north where ordinary Tigrayans live. Last month, a year into the conflict, he vowed that the country would bury this enemy with our blood and bones and make the glory of Ethiopia high again.
You might ask how could the Nobel Committee have gotten things so wrong? Actually, I have some sympathy for the committee because in awarding the Peace Prize, it can go in one of two directions, either it gives the prize to someone who is unquestionably a moral leader, kind of global good guy like Malala Yousafzai or the World Food Program. But it's hard to make the case those people or groups actually worked to create peace.
Peace is often the product of complicated negotiations among warring parties, so the committee also tries to reward those who well make peace. In 1973 there was an uproar when the prize was awarded to then- Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho for negotiating a cease-fire to the war in Vietnam. Five years later the Peace Prize was awarded to the Egyptian president Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat and the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for peace negotiations.
It was the same year they signed the Camp David Accords. The agreement was a bright spot in the Arab-Israeli relations. It ended three decades of bitter hostilities and war. But Begin was an ultra- conservative and a former guerrilla. To many, he was little more than a terrorist. In fact when he arrived in Oslo to collect his award, there was such forceful protests against him that the organizers moved the ceremony to a medieval fortress.
The committee once against waded into Middle East politics in 1994 when it awarded the prize to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin after the signing of the Oslo Accords. If the opposition to Begin's award was fierce, the outcry over Arafat was a blazing inferno. He was the chairman of the PLO when it was responsible for highly public acts of terror against Israel. An American conservative journalist called him the worst man to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize.
We can condemn these leaders for their misdeeds and we should. But, again, I understand the committee's apparent desire to reach out and take risks to encourage politicians and diplomats to actually try to find ways to end conflicts and to enter negotiations and find ways to compromise. The prize has been awarded to inspiring figures, ones far less complicated than the ones I described, like the pioneer of micro finance Muhammad Yunus.
Well, those figures, laudable though they are, did not really achieve peace. The fact is the custodians of peace are politicians, and politics is an exercise in power and interest, not simply an expression of moral principles. And while it makes mistakes, the Nobel Committee is trying to help forge that hard road to peace in this dangerous world. One final note, I want to say a word about someone who died suddenly
this past week. Fred Hiatt, the editorial editor of "The Washington Post." Fred was one of the great guardians of public discourse in America, a role he fulfilled with enormous integrity and intelligence.
I have a personal stake in this. He gave me a column in "The Washington Post" and was a staunch supporter of mine, even though we often disagree, which was one of the many reasons he was made for that job. He understood that at the heart of democracy lies the willingness to hear from those with whom you disagree.
Rest in peace, my friend.
And thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.