Return to Transcripts main page

Fareed Zakaria GPS

Ukrainians Brace for Possible Russian Attack; The Concern Over Germany's Response to Russia. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired January 30, 2022 - 10:00   ET



BASH: And his wife Rachel Ensign. Talia is named for her older Francesca known as Beans who passed away a little more than a year ago after bravely battling pediatric cancer.

Everyone at CNN is welcoming Talia with open arms. We can't wait to meet you and we're so happy you're part of our family.

The news continues now.

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, Secretary of State Blinken offers Russia what he terms a serious diplomatic path forward.


ZAKARIA: Could it work? Can invasion be avoided? I'll talk to experts on the ground in Ukraine, Russia and Germany.

Also, China, the pandemic and the Olympics. Beijing's zero COVID policy appears to be quite successful so far, but is it a ticking time bomb with COVID ready to explode across the world's most populous nation? I will be joined by one of America's top medical experts, Ezekiel Emanuel.

Finally, Beirut was once called the Paris of the Middle East. Today, Lebanon's currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value, food prices are devastatingly high, up 600 percent. It is a failed state. A new World Bank report is brutally honest about the reason. We will tell you who gets the blame.


ZAKARIA: But first, here is "My Take." Only one person knows whether the Ukraine crisis will lead to war, the man who started it, Vladimir Putin. But so far the Biden administration has reacted to Putin's military escalation intelligently, with an appropriate mix of deterrents and diplomacy. It has rallied European countries to stay together, provided more weapons to Ukraine, and put some troops on heightened alert to signal greater resolve.

It's also publicized the kinds of hybrid warfare Russia is engaging in and signaled the sanctions that Russia would face if it went ahead with an invasion, but Washington has also held out the offer of diplomacy, outlining ways that the U.S. and Russia can work out better confidence building measures regarding security arrangements in Eastern Europe.

Last week I outlined Russia's interests and strengths in this crisis. It's vital to understand its weaknesses as well. When Putin took Crimea in 2014, he lost Ukraine, Owen Matthews writes in a thought- provoking essay. You see after a declared independence in 1991 Ukraine was divided between an unabashedly pro-Russian segment of its population and a more nationalistic one. But by annexing Crimes and plunging eastern Ukraine into open conflict, Matthews points out Putin has energized Ukrainian nationalism and fed a growing anti-Russian sentiment.

And the math doesn't help. Putin took millions of pro-Russian Ukrainians in Crimea in the Donbass out of the country's political calculus. Those in the Donbass don't vote in Ukrainian elections because the area is too unstable. As a result, a Ukrainian politician estimated to me that the pro-Russian seats in Ukraine's parliament have shrunk from a plurality to barely 15 percent of the total.

In retrospect, if Putin's aim were to keep Ukraine unstable and weak, it would probably have made far more sense to leave those parts of Ukraine within the country, supporting the pro-Russian forces and politicians in various ways so they could act as a kind of fifth column within Ukraine, always urging Kyiv to forge closer ties with Moscow. Instead, Ukraine is now composed mainly of a population that is proudly nationalist and has become much more anti-Russia.

Now, Putin's aims are probably twofold, to make Ukraine weak and more dependent on Russia, but also to divide the West and render NATO less effective. As far as the latter is concerned, the opposite is happening. NATO long searching for a post-Cold War purpose has been energized by the Russian threat. Denmark is dispatching a frigate to the Baltic Sea. The Netherlands is moving fighter jets to Bulgaria.

France has offered to put troops in Romania under NATO command. Spain is dispatching warships east and the U.S. has put 8,500 troops on heightened alert in case they need to be deployed to Eastern Europe.


Some in Finland and Sweden are even reconsidering their long- established neutrality. The most significant success for Putin has been in Germany. The new German ruling coalition has expressed doubts about arming Ukraine, placing Russia under serious sanctions or canceling Nord Stream 2, the pipeline through which Russia could sell more gas directly to Germany and Europe, bypassing Ukraine.

This approach reflects a long-standing German desire to have a special relationship with Russia, an attitude expressed during the cold war by an approach they called Ostpolitik. More recently ex-chancellor Angela Merkel who as a former East German had lived under communism was more tough-minded in her dealings with Putin. In the wake of her departure Germany appears to be returning to its more traditional search for middle ground between East and West.

The Biden administration has been alert to this problem sending CIA director Bill Burns to Berlin and inviting Merkel's successor Olaf Scholz to Washington for a meeting with President Biden. Matthews points out that Putin would not benefit from a war, especially if the sanctions being discussed are put into place against Russia. While Putin has built formidable foreign exchange reserves, constraining Russia's gas and oil exports would devastate the Russian economy.

Most young adult Russians, those who would be called upon to fight, are not gung-ho for a war against Ukraine which they regard positively. Now, this doesn't mean that war is impossible for even unlikely. Wars can happen because of misperceptions, misunderstandings, miscalculations and even because backed into a corner countries find they can't find a path to deescalate.

The Russian Foreign minister has said that the West's recent written responses to Russian demands do not address the main issue by which he means Ukrainian membership in NATO. The truth is that Ukraine is unlikely to become a member of NATO anytime soon. NATO runs by consensus and there is little agreement on the issue. Germany and Hungary, for example, have deep reservations about accession.

And yet the United States cannot and should not forswear the possibility that Ukraine could join NATO at some point in the future. Between those two realities lies a narrow corridor, a space for creative diplomacy to avert a war that could consume the energies of both sides for years.

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

I want to keep talking about Russia and Ukraine, but joining me now are experts on the ground in those two countries and one other key player in the story that I mentioned, Germany. Andrey Kortunov is one of Russia's top foreign policy thinkers. He is the director general of Russian Inter Affairs Council. Nataliya Gumenyuk is a Ukrainian journalist who reports on conflict and international security. And Katrin Bennhold is "The New York Times'" Berlin bureau chief.

Nataliya, let me start with you because I think you are in Kharkiv which is 40 or 50 miles away from where Russian troops are. It's a Russian-speaking area. What is the atmosphere there and what can you tell us about the atmosphere in those Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine?

NATALIYA GUMENYUK, UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST: Hi. Good to talk to you. Indeed Kharkiv is the major town in Ukraine and it could be an interesting explanation that if after the first shock a couple of weeks ago people were -- they felt anxiety, what would happen because this threat is such a formidable threat. The feeling is like, OK, well, it's our town. If something happened we don't flee, we would fight, we would resist. And so there is some level of confidence instead of, you know, just

looking at the scenarios. Of course, I should probably stress that on the ground really nothing happens because it's still a diplomatic conflict apart from the Russian troops on the border, but it's more now today about the talks. Also just to say that for at least 300 people who moved to Kharkiv fled occupied Donetsk eight years ago when there was this annexation of Crimea when the war started.

For these people this threat it's not theoretical. They fled from the occupied territories so they really know how it's happened. So, you know, being here, coming from the capital I should say that people feel on alert but calm, and also quoting the local government or the military, they also say that they are kind of in control.


However, of course, it very much depends on how the things will develop. But they definitely don't want to fight. That I should say. They don't want the war. So it's all about the defense.

ZAKARIA: Andrey, President Putin or certainly the Russian government has at various points said it doesn't want to fight. It does not plan a military invasion of Ukraine. So what are 150,000 Russian troops doing on the border and why have they been massed in that case?

ANDREY KORTUNOV, DIRECTOR GENERAL, RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: The goal is to attract the attention of the West to Russians' concerns about the security system in Europe and Putin stated it quite bluntly, that the West doesn't want to listen to us, so we need to do something dramatic to get the Western attention. There might be another goal, however. I think that in the Kremlin they're concerned that at some point the Ukrainian leadership might walk out of the Minsk agreements and it might try to use military force in order to get Donbass back.

And this is something that Putin apparently is trying to prevent. I think that he would like to make sure that everybody including Paris and Berlin might exercise their leverage on Kyiv in order to enforce more complete implementation of the Minsk agreements on the Ukrainian leadership.

ZAKARIA: But, Andrey, it seems at least it would seems almost mad for the Ukrainian government to choose this moment to try to retake Donbass with all these Russian troops there. There's a lot of fear in the West that that is an excuse that will be manufactured so that Russian troops can go in and claim that they are simply protecting people in Donbass.

KORTUNOV: Well, you know, I am not in a position to judge about what the Ukrainian leadership is up to, but according to the Russian intelligence, at least that's what they claim officially, there is a major concentration of Ukrainian troops in the Donbass area and if you follow the political discourse in Kyiv, not everybody in the Ukrainian leadership is happy about the Minsk agreements.

There are many people who maintain that these agreements are detrimental to the Ukrainian sovereignty and to the national interests of Ukraine and therefore they have to be obligated, and some other ways of reincorporating of Donbass should be considered by Kyiv.

ZAKARIA: Nataliya, let me ask you whether you could imagine the Ukrainian government going in, moving into Donbass, and more broadly it feels to me like the Ukrainian government is actually trying to downplay the possibility or the prospect of war. Why is that?

GUMENYUK: Absolutely. So it's really -- I'm also reading to a lot of what is written by the Russian media and Russian experts, which really contradicts the mood on the ground because the current government won the elections two and a half years ago on the platform of peace, on the platform of the diplomatic solution, unless it's totally impossible. There were a number of compromises and the de-escalation policy and softening the tone and talking to numerous human rights, you know, defenders who were, you know, asking the government to have a softer tone.

It did happen, however, there were no major concessions on the Russian side. So there was a stalemate. So it's just opposite. And even now, reading sometimes Ukrainian government is portrayed as the ones who wants to mobilize the West. As we know it's just totally different. Vice versa, by the Ukrainian part of the opposition, President Zelensky has even criticized that it's -- you know, he wants to calm the society, that he doesn't want to escalate, and that's exactly what's happening.

But I need to stress a couple of things more. It's true that there is opposition to the president, but in this moment talking to the members of the opposition as well, there is not any major force in Ukraine political group who wants this war. It's all about defense and there was not even a slight idea for the couple of last years that that could be a military solution to the Donbass. So all -- which is now talked -- it's all about the defense.

And Fareed, something important. In your intro, you mentioned, you know, about Ukrainian nationalism. So I should say it's not about Ukrainian nationalism. Being anti-Russian here meaning like being pro- democratic. So it's not really anti-democratic, it's anti- totalitarian. So it's all about this type of threats, it's not really about the, you know, we speak today about civil nationalism in Ukraine.

ZAKARIA: Nataliya, I've got to take a break.


When we come back I want to ask Andrey Kortunov what it would take for Putin to deescalate and of course I have to bring Katrin Bennhold in to get the perspective from Berlin on all of this.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Andrey Kortunov in Moscow, Nataliya Gumenyuk in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, and Katrin Bennhold in Berlin. Katrin, let me ask you very simply, Germany does seem -- your own

reporting suggests to be the weak link here in the West, more unsure of what to do and, you know, many people have spoken out against sanctions in the ruling coalition. Why is that and is it changing because there has been some -- recently some shift in the rhetoric?


KATRIN BENNHOLD, BERLIN BUREAU CHIEF, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, thank you for inviting me. I agree that the tone has been shifting slowly, but the messages have been all over the place, and I guess it goes back to the old question of, is Germany willing and able to lead? And I think what this has shown, this entire episode, is that the country isn't quite there yet, and it's a question that of course has been, you know, we've been asking for the last 30 years.

The other point to make, of course, is that Olaf Scholz has been in office for about 50 days. He's new in that sense, weak almost by definition. He garnered about 25 percent of the vote. He has a three- way coalition. There are a lot of reasons why this government isn't coming across as forceful as it ought to be, but it's not just a Scholz problem, it is a Germany problem. You know, there is 1,000 years of history.

There are two world wars that created a baggage that makes it very difficult now for Germany to, you know, look at Russia in any way -- the same way as the United States. So I think it's important to keep in mind that history, but the one thing to also keep in mind, you mentioned Ostpolitik which is something that particularly the Social Democrats of Scholz look back at all the time is that Germans like to forget the fact that, you know, engagement is good but deterrents only really work if it's backed up by hard power.

And so we're finding ourselves in a position where I believe the resolve is firmly there, that the resolve is transatlantic and Germany is sort of, you know, in all three parties in that coalition are completely clear that they stand by their allies, but when it comes to actually paying a price, be that economic or military, there's been a lot of wavering. And so, yes, the message has not been strong enough.

ZAKARIA: It seems to me that the Biden administration is subtly and sometimes not so subtly saying we will make sure that Nord Stream 2 is canceled either by using Washington's economic power with the dollar or, frankly, there was a reference to, you know, literally bombing the pipeline so that it could be rendered inoperable. Do you think it will come to that or will Germany agree to cancel Nord Stream if there were a Russian invasion?

BENNHOLD: I think there is no doubt that if there's a Russian invasion that Nord Stream will go away. I think it's fair to say that this is pretty clear. I think Germans hope that it won't come to that and they want to minimize the annoyance and the irritation caused with Russia.

Look, I mean, you know, Germany is that power in the center of Europe and has traditionally seen itself as a kind of bridge between East and West. You know, under Merkel it served that position very well. It was Merkel who 2014 rallied all the European countries behind pretty tough sanction regime. And so there is an argument to be made that those channels of communications between Berlin and Moscow are important, but I think in this case it has definitely gone too far.

It is interesting, if you look at the language that Scholz has used and has been criticized for, calling Nord Stream 2, you know, a private sector project and almost, you know, being in pains not to mention it even now that they're saying everything is on the table, which clearly refers to Nord Stream 2. Other politicians have named it, he hasn't. And it's something that, in fact, Merkel, that is, it's almost verbatim the language that Merkel used until very recently last year.

So it's not that different. The difference of course is that underlying -- the underlying circumstances have changed. So I think Scholz is kind of committed to a policy of continuity from the Merkel era. He has said so all along. But the circumstances underlying everything have changed.

What is interesting and you pointed this out, Fareed, you know, Putin is kind of -- I mean, citing somebody else but, you know, Putin has managed in a way with what he's doing right now to make Ukraine a nation, which arguably in some ways it wasn't before, uniting Ukraine. He has also given NATO a reason to exist. And some now feel as this escalates that he may just be the reason that Germany moves from this very tortured past, from a past where it was on the wrong side of history and had, you know, had struggled with leading in any way with military power, moving perhaps into a future that is different.

So it's possible that Putin ironically perhaps might be achieving just that. There's certainly signs that the position is hardening now.

ZAKARIA: Andrey, what do you think it would take for the Russian government to deescalate? Because as Nataliya was saying there have been efforts to negotiate between Ukraine and Russia, the Ukrainians believe the Russians are making no concessions. The Americans have held out the prospect of diplomacy.

Why is it that, you know, even though there does seem some space for diplomacy it doesn't seem to be -- the Russian government has really quite dismissed it so far.


KORTUNOV: Well, I cannot read Putin's mind. I wish I could. But if you look at the Biden's reply to the initial proposals, clearly it's a mixed bag. On the one hand the U.S. administration cannot promise a none enlargement of NATO, it cannot make formal commitments, but on the other hand there are a couple of positive opportunities, maybe not game-changing opportunities but still important opportunities that can and probably should be explored, like nuclear forces of Russia, the United States and Europe and the resumption of the operations of the NATO Russian council.

Maybe a buffer zone between NATO and Russia in the center of Europe. So we are waiting to get a reply from President Putin who has to address the ideas expressed by Biden. We all hope that the reply will be positive. One of the good signals is that they apparently restarted the Normandy process this week. There was a meeting of political representatives of four leaders in Paris and they decided to meet once again in two weeks from now. So the odds are that maybe the escalation is not beyond our reach, but we are still waiting for the statement of the Russian president.

ZAKARIA: Andrey Kortunov, Nataliya, Katrin, thank you all. This is fascinating. We will surely be back to talk to you all.

And we will be back to talk about China's COVID disaster.


ZAKARIA: With the Beijing Olympics just days away, athletes and their entourages have been streaming into the Chinese capital from all over the world and getting a taste of China's zero tolerance approach to COVID.

The Chinese government has created a special bubble for those participating in the games. Vaccination is required, of course, and everybody in the bubble will be tested daily. Outside of the bubble, rules are even more draconian. Just a handful of cases can lead to an entire city being shut down for weeks.

But are all of these precautions actually making things worse?

My next guest just wrote an essay in the New York Times titled "China's Zero-Covid Policy is a Pandemic Waiting to Happen."

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel is vice provost and professor of medical ethics and healthy policy at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a top health adviser to the incoming Biden administration during the transition.

Welcome, Zeke. Let me first ask you, it's worth painting the picture, which is China's Zero-Covid policy has been stunningly effective so far. I mean, their deaths are something in the range of 5,000 or 6,000; our death rate is something in the range of 850,000, right?

EMANUEL: Yes, we have about 150 times the number of deaths they do, and they're a country that's four times our size. So, so far on that metric, it looks like their policy has been successful. And their measures have been orderly, ours have -- chaotic, I think, is the appropriate word.

ZAKARIA: But the basic point you're making -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is that, by having this super-draconian policy of just not allowing any kind of COVID, the population basically has no antibodies. There is no -- there is no path to a kind of immunity, herd immunity of any kind, right?

Is that the fundamental kind of medical flaw?

EMANUEL: So I would put it two ways. First of all, Zero-Covid is based upon the notion that COVID will disappear or somehow won't be a threat going forward.

If you think we're going to have endemic COVID, that it's going to be around and every so often going to surge, you need some population- based immunity, and the Chinese don't have it in part because they've prevented the coronavirus from coming into the country, but also because their vaccines are not very effective at inducing immunity and so they don't have it either by vaccination or by natural infection. They don't have immunity by vaccination or natural infection, and that leaves them very vulnerable, just like at the start of the pandemic, to coronavirus.

ZAKARIA: Tell me about what you think the right strategy is for China right now. Because, you know, they don't so far have the MRNA. So these lockdowns, which are brutal -- I mean, the Chinese lockdowns are very different from the U.S. lockdowns. You literally can't leave your apartment in the entire city, and, you know, you have to eat at home and -- so should they be instead allowing, you know, Omicron to, kind of, gradually spread? What would you do?

EMANUEL: So, Fareed, yes, we have to contrast. The lockdowns we experience in the United States and Europe are nothing like the Chinese. You are in your apartment; they shut off the elevators. Food gets delivered to you, or it doesn't get delivered to you, in some cases. And there are draconian measures if you're caught outside. And that lasts weeks. It can last more than three weeks of that. And it's millions of people, 14 million, 15 million people at a time. And many -- in fact, almost all the businesses are closed.

What they have to do, and you can see this in other countries that adopted initially a Zero-Covid policy but now are opening up, is you have to vaccinate your population with an effective vaccine -- that's an MRNA vaccine -- and then slowly open but not overwhelm the system.

Because, even with good vaccines and booster shots, we know that people are going to get Omicron and that some of them, not a lot but some of them, will need hospitalization and that you want to prevent overwhelming the system.

Remember, the Chinese have 1.4 billion people and about 7 million hospital beds. And unlike most of the countries we know where you can get medical care by going to a physician office, away from the hospital, in China all the medical care is concentrated at the hospital, and so people who get sick will be streaming to a hospital, and that creates its own dangers if there's too much COVID around.

ZAKARIA: Let me try to understand what happens if what you are predicting, which seems to be perfectly reasonable, which is that there will be an outbreak in China, that -- that COVID is going to spread, particularly with Omicron, then it starts to spread, 1.4 billion people, it's going to -- it's going to replicate. And where you have massive replication, you often have mutations. So there's likely to be new variants. And then China is, you know, I suppose, connected enough to the world, I'm assuming, that those mutations aren't going to stay in China.

Isn't that -- isn't that a fear? EMANUEL: That is true, and the real question is how serious are the

variants that evolve?

And China's not the only place variants are happening; they're happening all over the world. Most of them have no effect. Most of them disappear. But in China, I mean, in the world, one of them might arise and be like Omicron or Delta, and that's the real fear.

And that's why we're, I think, desperately looking for things like pan-coronavirus vaccines that will really be able to take care of most of them and give us immunity to almost any variant that would arise.

ZAKARIA: Zeke Emanuel, pleasure to -- to have you on. Thank you so much.

EMANUEL: Thank you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," as Biden finished his first year in office, his polls dipped to record lows. When we come back, we'll discuss what this means for the future of his presidency and the midterms.


ZAKARIA: President Biden's polling numbers should be deeply troubling to the White House and the Democratic Party. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, his approval rating has hit a low of 33 percent. That matches the lowest low Quinnipiac ever found for Trump.

What does this mean for the future of Joe Biden's presidency, his agenda, the midterm elections?

To help us understand all of this, Amy Walter joins us. She is the publisher and editor in chief of the Cook Political Report.

Amy, pleasure to have you on.

WALTER: I'm so glad to be here. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: So let's first deal with Biden and -- and the popularity. Whatever the exact numbers are, they're very low. And what I'm trying to figure out is what -- you know, what do you think explains this?

And can we start by just parsing through -- there are essentially three groups of people, right, Democrats, independents and Republicans. Where has he cratered?

WALTER: Right. So the unfortunate news for President Biden is that he's not doing well with any of those groups. The group that should be easiest for him to do well in, especially in this really polarized era we live in, is among Democrats. I mean, he came into office with almost uniform support from Democrats, and now he's dropped -- it depends on which poll you're looking at -- you know, maybe down to 15 or more points with Democrats. They still like him; they just don't love him in the way that they did at an earlier part in his tenure.

The bigger problem for the president right now, though, I'd argue, is with independent voters who, again, he started off with pretty decent ratings from them, but over the course of the late summer and into the fall, they've really fallen away from him. They disapprove of the job he's doing, much more than they approve of it.

Getting your partisans back, right, getting the people who are on your team back in the fold, is a lot easier to do than trying to win back people who, you know, who aren't necessarily on your team but were willing to give you a benefit of the doubt at the beginning but now start to question whether they should still stick with you and still think you're doing a good job.

ZAKARIA: And I assume Republicans hated him before and they hate him now.

WALTER: Republicans -- right.


And, yes, we didn't talk about the final, but the Republican -- it's not just that they don't like him; that's not surprising. The intensity with which they dislike him has also increased.

And, again, more ominously for Democrats and for the president is the fact that they are much more excited, enthusiastic, about showing up to vote than Democrats. That's a reversal from where we were, say, in 2018, when you couldn't keep Democrats from the polls; they were raring to get out and vote really essentially against Donald Trump.

ZAKARIA: So what -- what do you think explains this?

Because Biden is a genial guy; he's pretty mainstream. And he has passed two very large pieces of legislation, a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill -- we've been waiting for 20 odd years for this; the COVID relief bill. And when you poll most of the key aspects of those bills, they're pretty popular. So to me, at least, this does present something of a puzzle.

WALTER: Right. So I think you have to go into the mindset now for just a traditional regular voter, who is somebody who is not spending a whole lot of time following politics, thinking about politics. They pretty much have a low opinion, anyway, of Washington and people who work in Washington.

What they're looking for is "What's going on right now in my own life and how are people whose job it is to be public servants, how are they making it better or worse?"

And what I hear in focus groups is just a feeling of a sort of malaise. People say that they're disappointed or they're anxious or they're frustrated. They feel as if, right, we're still, sort of, trapped in this COVID cycle; we can't seem to break out of it; it continues to impact everything from child care to schools to what's available on the shelves. Inflation is a real problem and it's pinching people's pockets significantly.

So I think, at its core, Fareed, what happened was, over the course of the spring and the summer of 2021, you had voters looking at a president who seemed to be fulfilling all of those things he said he would do as president, right?

But then the summer came and the summer brought a dose of really harsh reality. It was like a real punch in the gut, right?

You've got the Delta variant coming and really disrupting all those plans for COVID to be over; inflation really starts to hit; obviously the -- the pull-out in Afghanistan and the fallout there. And voters started to look now and say, "Well, the guy that we thought was going to be in charge of taking care of this stuff, or who was the competent one, suddenly isn't looking so competent anymore.

And once you lose voters on a question of competency, it's hard to get them back until you can prove that you are able to, you know, to handle just the basic stuff.

ZAKARIA: Amy Walter, good to have you on.

WALTER: Thank you so much.


ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. When we think of failed states, the images that come to mind are Afghanistan or Yemen or South Sudan. But Lebanon, once the most glamorous country in the Middle East, is joining those ranks.

On Monday Lebanon's former prime minister Saad Hariri announced that he was suspending his 17-year political career and would not seek re- election for either himself or his party.

For a man whose family has been at the center of Lebanon's post-war political history, the announcement was momentous. He cited sectarianism and rising Iranian influence as some of the reasons for his decision, but Hariri's retreat from the political sphere would be inconceivable if not for the total collapse of Lebanon's economy.

In a blistering statement issued Tuesday, the World Bank called this one of the most severe economic collapses the world has seen since 1850. Here is a picture of the collapse in data. In 2020 GDP fell by a staggering 21 percent. While other countries have bounced back from the initial shock of the pandemic, Lebanon's GDP has further declined last year by an estimated 10.5 percent.

What does that look like in dollars?

GDP was $52 billion in 2019. In 2021 it fell to less than $22 billion. That is a 58 percent contraction, the largest among 193 countries examined by the World Bank.

The scale of the crisis for ordinary Lebanese people is evident everywhere you look. The value of the currency has fallen by more than 90 percent since 2019. Average inflation was at 145 percent last year. The prices of food, transportation and clothing have quadrupled. More than 70 percent of the population now lives in poverty. As the prices of fuel and medicines have risen, people wait for hours

at gas stations at pharmacies. Power cuts have lasted as long as 23 hours. Banks have limited how much money people can withdraw from their accounts, and the currency crash means their pay isn't worth much anyway. Reuters notes that a soldier's salary used to be worth $900 a month. It is now worth $50.

Why is this happening?

The World Bank puts it uncharacteristically bluntly. It calls this a "deliberate depression orchestrated by the country's elite."

That's the political elite that has, since the end of the civil war in the early 1990s, milked the state for whatever money it could extract, with no apparent concern for the survival of the Lebanese people.

The war pitted Christian against Muslim, sect against sect. Its solution was a fractious power-sharing agreement. The government was split between Christians, Shiites and Sunni Muslims, Druze and Armenians.

As the journalist Rania Abouzeid wrote recently in the New York Times Magazine, sectarian warlords became sectarian politicians and set up the government to evade accountability for shameless profiteering.

The judiciary and other checks on government were deliberately handicapped. Corruption and patronage networks became central features of the state and they have spilled over into an unusually active part of the Lebanese economy, its banks.

According to 2014 research by the American University of Beirut, 29 percent of the banking sectors' assets are held by just eight politically connected families.

The current crisis has incensed the public and led to widespread protests, but none of this has led to any real change.

We rail against corruption everywhere, but Lebanon's example shows how, when it pervades all, it can almost literally destroy a country.

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