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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Is Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Imminent?; Macron Leads Europe's Diplomatic Effort To Defuse Ukraine Crisis; Interview With Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired February 13, 2022 - 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.
Today on the program, the United States government warns that war in Europe may be imminent. One after another countries are urging their citizens to evacuate Ukraine as that country's president cautions the West against creating panic. I will be joined by an all-star panel to examine just how dangerous this moment may be.
Then, an exclusive interview with the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. I will ask him about his dangerous neighborhood, Afghanistan, India, China, and about Islamic terror in his country and abroad.
Let's get started right away. We will do the take a little bit later.
The drum beat of war seems to be beating ever louder as the United States says a Russian invasion of Ukraine may be imminent. Meanwhile, a top French official tells CNN his country sees no indication from Putin that he will invade.
What is the truth? Does anyone know except Putin himself?
Let's get right to today's panel. CNN's diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joins us from Moscow, Sophie Pedder is in Paris where she is the bureau chief for "The Economist" and Richard Haass is the president for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Nic, let me start with you, a crucial question many have been asking is what is the mood inside Russia? Is Russia, is the government, preparing the public for war? Remember, all Russian media is essentially state controlled, so it would give us some indication of the Russian government's intentions.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We watch it carefully for that reason. At the moment you do see those pro-Russian separatists from the east of Ukraine on the state television here saying, look, the United States is providing weapons to the Ukrainians, please help us and please give us weapons. Russia denies that it does but there's plenty of evidence to support that it does. So that's one of the messages that's on state television. Another
piece of messaging is, you know, what -- how Western news organizations are reporting the tensions in Ukraine at the moment and that's used on state television to say that it's the United States and Europe that's driving up the tensions there. And I think the other piece that's sort of fallen into place over the past few days, of course, Russia going through its big military exercises in Belarus and around other parts of Ukraine.
And Russian television reporters and camera crews have been allowed in yesterday for the first time and they have been speaking with generals, they've been speaking with soldiers. Clearly, clearly, we've listened to it carefully, it's pretty well-scripted stuff, but that's, again, sort of raising the profile of what's happening, but I think generally you speak to people here they are not inclined to believe state media and there isn't really a sense that the country is about to go to war.
And it's not something that the leadership is coming out on television and speaking about. So there's a quasi-readying of people, but not full scale.
ZAKARIA: And Nic, what is their attitude as far as you can tell toward Ukrainians these days? Generally Russians think of Ukrainians as their brothers, but is the state media trying to portray the Kyiv government as kind of the enemy?
ROBERTSON: Certainly the government and an absolute diminution of President Zelensky at every opportunity. And President Putin, when he met with President Macron, they held a press conference just on Monday, you know, six days ago, he used some really pretty vile language, I suppose is the best way to put it, when referencing Zelensky. And you hear that in abundance here.
But you speak to Russians on the streets and they say, look, no, Ukrainians are our brothers, we can't see ourselves going to war with them, and I think that's a very pervasive feeling here, but certainly at a political level and Zelensky in particular, President Volodymyr Zelensky, he comes in for an extreme amount of criticism both on the television here and from the leadership.
ZAKARIA: Richard Haass, would it be fair to say that at some level Putin has achieved his main goal, which is that he has rattled the West so much about the prospect of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO, in any case that was a long shot, it now seems very difficult to imagine the Europeans, for example, Germany, going along with that, and if that's true, does that oddly provide the possibility of some kind of diplomatic off-ramp here?
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, as you say, Fareed, Ukraine was never on the cusp of joining NATO so this in some ways consolidates or reinforces what wasn't going to happen. I think his problem, though, is it might strengthen ties between Ukraine and the European Union. It also has created a stronger sense of Ukrainian national identity and it's hard for me to see how that helps either Mr. Putin or Russia.
Plus, he's paying a price for this, which is the strengthening of NATO and transatlantic relations, at least so far. So he may have pushed off even further the idea of Ukraine entering NATO or NATO entering Ukraine, but he's paid a considerable price for it.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that the administration has so far handled this well? They have put -- they have consolidated the West. The deterrents angle seems to be fairly strongly in place. Now do you think there is also a clear diplomatic off-ramp?
HAASS: The short answer is, yes, I do think they've handled this well. They've strengthened NATO, they strengthened Ukraine's ability to resist an occupation. They've threatened all sorts of economic sanctions. As you say, Fareed, they've provided various diplomatic offramps both in the eastern part of Ukraine if people want to revive the so-called Normandy process as well as what we were just talking about with European security.
The problem for the administration is they don't hold the initiative here. This is a crisis largely brought about in recent months by Mr. Putin. He really has to decide how this is going to play out. And strategically this simply isn't good for an administration. As you know, they want to put the lion's share of their calories to focus on the so-called Indo-Pacific, in particular on China, and what do they find themselves, dealing increasingly with European security as well as with the Middle East.
So this has strategically become a much more demanding world for the administration so this can't be in the long-term interest of the United States.
ZAKARIA: Stay with us. When we get back I'm going to ask Sophie Pedder about Macron's diplomatic initiative. Ben Wallace, the British Defense secretary, has said there is a whiff of Munich in the air, meaning appeasement and I wonder whether he's talking about Mr. Macron's trip to Moscow. I will ask Sophie Pedder who accompanied Macron when we come back.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Nic Robertson in Moscow, Sophie Pedder in Paris and Richard Haass here in the United States.
Sophie, let me ask you how you would describe what Macron was trying to do in that trip to Moscow, and what he thinks he got from it and where he failed.
SOPHIE PEDDER, PARIS BUREAU CHIEF, THE ECONOMIST: Well, I think what he's trying to do is use what he sees as an extremely narrow opportunity to pursue dialogue at a time when he does not underestimate the volatility of the situation, the gravity of the situation nor the need to continue with deterrents and with the threat of sanctions. I think what he's hoping is that he can through what they call the
Normandy format, that's to say four-way talks with France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, pursue a sort of talks that can find a settlement that avoids war. Now, I don't -- nothing suggested to me during the trip I made with Macron Monday to Moscow and then to Kyiv on Tuesday that he's not naive about this. He talked about the potential for incandescence in Europe, he knows that it's extremely tense, he said that his meeting with Putin was palpably tense a well.
All of that was extremely difficult and it may all come to nothing. And this is -- you know, remains to be seen. I think that's why yesterday you saw in the communique that the Elysee Palace put out after the Putin-Macron phone call yesterday that Macron had said to Putin that, you know, the dialogue could only be sincere if there is no escalation. He's made that very clear.
I think he thought he got on Monday a guarantee of some sort or at least a verbal assurance from Putin that he would not be the cause or the origin of escalation. Now that's worth what it's worth, it's not a written guarantee of any sort but I think Macron still thinks that there is a possibility for talks and that's a very different tone coming out of Paris at the moment to that coming out of London, for example.
ZAKARIA: I thought it was not a coincidence that he also decided to take that -- this moment, this period, to announce a major new expansion of French nuclear energy. He's been talking about it, of course, but that is surely in stark contrast with Germany, which is ever more reliant on Russian gas, don't you think?
PEDDER: Well, it is in a way France is less -- the palace is exposed as you said, Fareed, because of its reliance anyway on nuclear energy for the majority of its electricity generation in France and that put it in a very different situation vis-a-vis Russia than that in Germany. Having said that, I do think one of the things I found very interesting about this dialogue that Macron is trying to pursue, is that he really is doing it in consultation very, very close consultation with Germany.
They have differences, of course they do, and they are exposed in different ways to what happens or what might happen should there be an invasion of Ukraine, but he has -- Macron has been at pains to consult not only with Germany all the way through. After we left Kyiv on Tuesday we went straight to Berlin where he debriefed the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and he has been at pains also to make sure he consults with all other NATO allies or at least, you know, meeting NATO allies, obviously the U.S. but also U.K., Baltic states and others.
And I think that this has been a really different sort of Macron doing diplomacy. A very consultative, inclusive attempt, not a unilateral effort of the sort that we have in the past seen him try to pursue with Russia. ZAKARIA: Richard Haass, tell us what you think about the
administration's strategy of really publicizing every piece of Russian -- every Russian move, every Russian plot that they uncover, you know, that they may be -- they may hatch a pretext for war by claiming that the Ukrainian government is cracking down on insurgence in eastern Ukraine.
This strikes me a very considered strategy and very different from what happened in Afghanistan where they were accused of having been caught surprised or unprepared. They seemed determined to show this time that they will not be surprised and that they are prepared.
HAASS: That's very interesting. It's a way of getting ahead of things, Fareed, and it suggests to me, one, we've got very good intelligence, and two, we're willing to make it public. And what we're trying to do, the United States, is take away from Vladimir Putin, the pretext that somehow Russia is the victim, that Ukraine is initiating the crisis. So the administration has stayed one step ahead.
Most recently it's been the charge that war could be imminent, which is a way of saying we've got lots of warning indicators that Russia is at a point that if they were -- if they wanted to launch a war they could, and I think this has been an attempt to wrong foot Vladimir Putin. At the end of the day, again, though, he'll have to decide what price he's willing to pay, but in the meantime I think it's a very creative use of what seems to be extraordinarily good intrusive intelligence.
ZAKARIA: You've got 30 or 40 seconds, Richard. At the end of the day do you regard Putin as a rational actor or is Ukraine for him an emotional issue?
HAASS: That's the 64,000-ruble question here, Fareed. And the question I have, is he like Khrushchev in 1962 who ultimately backed down at the time of the Cuban missile crisis or is Putin determined to go ahead, to press what he sees as his advantage and his window? I will be honest with you, I don't know, but I think we're going to find out sooner rather than later.
ZAKARIA: On that note, Nic Robertson, Sophie Pedder, Richard Haass, thank you. This was a fascinating conversation. We will surely be back to all of you.
Next on GPS, I will give you my take on something different, the American economy, which I think is in much better shape than the American people give it credit for. So what is the disconnect between those two? I will explain.
ZAKARIA: Here is my take. There is a puzzle at the heart of American political life right now. Why are people so gloomy about an economy that is so strong? I'll get to inflation in a moment, but almost no economists predicted the force of the current recovery. Growth in 2021 came in at 5.7 percent, the highest in almost 40 years.
The unemployment rate is 4 percent. Poverty has fallen below pre- pandemic levels. Child poverty has decreased by almost 40 percent in 2021.
New businesses are forming at a record rate. Bankruptcies are falling and American savings are healthy. The job numbers are so good that Senator Ron Johnson has refused to urge the Oshkosh Corporation to use federal funds to manufacture trucks in his home state. He said, "It's not like we don't have enough jobs here in Wisconsin. The biggest problem we have in Wisconsin right now is employers not being able to find enough workers." The state's unemployment rate is just 2.8 percent.
But what about inflation? Data released this week showed that the Consumer Price Index rose by 7.5 percent year on year, an almost 40- year high. That sounds scary and inflation is too high, partly caused by a too large COVID relief bill. But the fears of ever escalating prices are probably exaggerated. Year over year inflation rose to 7.5 percent, but as forecaster Mark Zandi notes, the increase is only from the extremely low base of 1.4 percent in January 2021 in the midst of the pandemic.
The monthly rate of 0.6 percent is much lower than in October, for example. Crucially, according to calculations from the Center for American Progress, Americans' disposable incomes rose in 2021, even adjusting for inflation.
And yet American consumer confidence is at a decade low. A Gallup poll in January found that 82 percent of Americans felt that the country was on the wrong track. Joe Biden has the lowest approval ratings for this point in his presidency compared to any modern president other than Donald Trump. A number of commentators chalked this up to the COVID effect. "New York" magazine's Ed Kilgore writes, "When life stinks the president's job approval numbers are low."
"New York Times" columnist Paul Krugman points out that by historical standards inflation is not all that high and wages are in good shape, so he faults a media narrative, especially from right-wing media that has put all the focus on inflation and not enough on jobs. As a result, he notes, Republicans believe that the economy today is worse than in June 1980, a time when inflation was 14 percent and real wages were declining 6 percent a year.
The "Times's" Nate Cohen makes a persuasive case that the timing of Biden's falling numbers suggest two causes, Delta and Afghanistan. Both happened in August 2021 which is when Biden's numbers took a sharp dip and never fully recovered. Cohen's larger point is that these twin problems made the Biden administration stop looking competent. Life was getting messy and the president who had promised normalcy, competence and a science-based collusion to COVID was not delivering.
All of this makes sense but I wonder if there is a larger issue at play. People are not responding rationally to objective data. Right now we are living in an intensely polarized partisan times. Questions about consumer confidence or about the country being on the right or wrong track are meant to get at people's views of the world outside of politics, but nothing lies outside of politics anymore.
According to a Pew poll that shocked many, roughly half of all Republicans now say that Donald Trump bears no responsibility for the attack on the Capitol on January 6th and that he likely won the 2020 election. But do they really believe that? I wonder if they are answering a different question, one that goes something like this. Will you join the mainstream media and the country's urban elites in condemning Donald Trump? And their answer is an emphatic no.
Intangible fears are today more important than objective facts. In one of the most careful scholarly analysis of the 2016 vote the University of Pennsylvania's Diana Mutz explained in her paper that the data simply did not support the thesis that Donald Trump was being supported by those who were economically left behind and had lost jobs or seen their wages decline.
She writes, "Candidate preferences in 2016 reflected increasing anxiety among high-status groups, both growing domestic racial diversity and globalization contributed to a sense that white Americans are under siege by these engines of change."
The most telling statistic in the United States is surely this, this country, the world's leader in science, has one of the lowest percentages of fully vaccinated adults in the industrialized world. That is because a large number of Americans would rather risk exposure to a deadly disease than accept what they regard as dictates from so- called elites. That is the supreme example of the triumph of cultural anxieties and class conflict over facts, data or even one's own well- being.
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week.
Coming up in a moment here on GPS, my exclusive interview with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan. He tells me there is an abuse of Muslims going on in the world today that is much worse than what China is doing to the Uyghurs. Where is it? Stay tuned and find out.
ZAKARIA: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan traveled to Beijing at the end of last week for the Olympic opening ceremonies and a meeting with President Xi.
China is a neighbor, as is India, of course. On its other flank Pakistan borders Iran and Afghanistan. That neighborhood makes Khan's country the hub of much intrigue and conflict.
Prime Minister Imran Khan joins me now for an exclusive interview.
ZAKARIA: Prime Minister Imran Khan, pleasure to have you on, sir.
IMRAN KHAN, PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: My pleasure, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Let me first ask you about what for much of the world and certainly for the United States seems to be, you know, a very urgent situation, which is what is going on in Afghanistan. Pakistan is, of course, bearing the brunt of it. The U.N. estimates you have already taken in almost 2 million refugees.
What -- how bad are things on the ground and what could happen in the next weeks or months if there isn't a change in the situation?
KHAN: Well, Fareed, you know, people in the U.S. must understand one thing. Disliking Taliban government is one thing.
But it's a question of 40 million -- almost 40 million Iranis. Half of them are in a very precarious situation. So there's hunger; there's -- one of the Iran winters is extremely wicked, ruthless. And so they're facing winter. They are -- food shortages, malnutrition. The next couple of months everyone is worried that it could be one of the worst -- already developing into one of the worst humanitarian crises.
ZAKARIA: Have you found it possible, easy, to deal with the Taliban?
Is -- you know, because the U.S. concern is that the Taliban is not giving guarantees on women's rights and things like that. What is your experience and what is your advice to the U.S.?
KHAN: Well, look, Fareed, what are the choices?
Is there an alternative to the Taliban right now? No, there isn't.
Is there a chance that, if the Taliban are squeezed; if the government is squeezed, there could be a change for the better? No.
So the only alternative we have right now is to work with them and incentivize them in -- in what the world wants, inclusive government, human rights, women's rights in particular.
That's the only way forward right now. And the flip side is, if they abandon, or these sanctions stay there and the banking system has no liquidity left because of the sanctions, then the worry is that Afghanistan could go into chaos, humanitarian crisis chaos. And then, from Pakistan's point of view, we face two problems. We already have 3 million Iran refugees. There were three terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan into Pakistan. There were.
Right now with the Taliban government, unfortunately, when the -- when the flood of refugees came, we have almost 250,000 Iranis crossing into Pakistan. Now, amongst them, unfortunately, you have these terrorists. There's the Pakistani Taliban, which has conducted attacks inside
Pakistan. There's the Baloch insurgents, who've been conducting attacks, and especially recently. And then there's ISIL.
So our best hope is that a stable Afghanistan will ensure stability of peace in Pakistan. But it's not just Pakistan, because if it goes into chaos, then we know why the United States first came to Afghanistan 20 years back. So, therefore, it's in everyone's interest that this does not descend into chaos, the situation in Afghanistan.
ZAKARIA: Would you argue that the United States should recognize the Taliban government?
KHAN: Well, sooner or later the Taliban would have to be recognized.
Now, the question is, the world wants some guarantees before they recognize the Taliban, so how far is the U.S. going to push the Taliban to actually conform to what they expect them in terms of human rights?
Now, this is the question. Can -- will the Taliban go all the way?
Are they capable of going all the way, bearing in mind that this is a very strong ideological movement?
They represent a culture which is completely alien to the Western societies. So, therefore, some way there has to be give and take. But not recognizing them and freezing their accounts and their banking system, the only people who are going to suffer is not the Taliban government because no one can replace them right now, but what will happen is that half the population of Afghanistan, which is about 20 million people, are at a severe risk.
ZAKARIA: You were a very eloquent critic of U.S. policy in the broader Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, with regard to the military actions. You would always argue that those actions, the drone attacks and such, fed the forces that produced terrorism.
Now, what I'm -- what I'm struck by is you have ISIS, or ISIL, attacking in Iraq, attacking in Syria, attacking in Pakistan, as you say, and Afghanistan. The -- the U.S. is out. What is fueling the terrorism we are still seeing in the broader Middle East?
Is it all Sunni versus Shia?
Is it -- what -- what are the roots of this terrorism now?
KHAN: Well, the U.S. war on terror actually bred terrorists. I can tell you from the Pakistan's example because Pakistan, by joining the U.S., we had 80,000 people dying in this -- joining the U.S. war on terror. And we saw the war, as it went along, it produced more terrorists. And I -- I am convinced it's exactly the same what happened in Afghanistan. Because these night raids in Afghanistan, the drone attacks -- drone attacks, really, the United States must review this policy.
We watched what happened there. They were telling people in the U.S. that the drones were very accurate and the people -- they actually got the terrorists. Bombs exploding in villages, you know, how -- how would they only get the terrorists?
So there was a lot of collateral damage, and I'm afraid people in the U.S. did not really -- the public didn't know the amount of collateral damage. We bore the brunt, because what happened was we were considered collaborators of the U.S. So all the -- the revenge attacks were against the Pakistani soldiers, against the people of Pakistan. There were suicide attacks going all over the -- we lost 80,000 people.
ZAKARIA: But the U.S. has withdrawn and the terror continues.
KHAN: Much less, Fareed. You can't compare now -- I mean, during the height of this war on terror, we were -- Islamabad was a fortress. I mean, you had suicide attacks going everywhere. So, compared to what used to happen, now, you know, terrorism is -- is almost insignificant now.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, I will ask Imran Khan why, as prime minister of one of the largest Muslim nations in the world, he does not believe that what China is doing in Xinjiang is a cultural genocide.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan.
Prime Minister, you are just back from China. And I want to ask you, you have strongly supported China, including in its actions in Xinjiang.
You are the leader of one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, as you know, have boycotted the Olympics diplomatically because they say China is engaging in what they term a cultural genocide against Muslims in Xinjiang.
Do you see it differently?
KHAN: Fareed, firstly, we had our ambassador, (inaudible) ul Haque -- he went to Xinjiang and he -- according to his observations, the picture is not what was being portrayed on the Western media.
But more importantly, from our point of view in Pakistan, Kashmir is a disputed territory between Pakistan and India. Over the last 35 years, approximately -- the figure varies -- about 100,000 Kashmiris have died. Since 5th August, 2019, the Indians have revoked the status of Kashmir, which -- unilaterally -- which is, according to the United Nations Security Council, a disputed territory between Pakistan and India.
There are extrajudicial killings going on. There are no rights there. There's (inaudible) there. There are 800,000 Indian troops in the Kashmir Valley.
Now, I find it very difficult that there is hardly any indignation about what is happening in Kashmir compared to what is happening or what they say is happening in Xinjiang.
So that's where I disagree with this. We as Pakistanis feel very strongly that this should be even-handed. Yes, if -- firstly, Kashmir is different because it's disputed between Pakistan and India, confirmed by the United Nations Security Council resolution. So, for us this is the immediate issue right now, and I'm afraid it just doesn't get the attention it deserves.
ZAKARIA: Are you saying that the treatment of Muslims in Kashmir is worse than the treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang?
KHAN: There would be absolutely no comparison. And I only have one source of this, our ambassador in China, who has compared the two. There is no comparison there. I mean, Kashmir, what is happening is criminal.
ZAKARIA: But whatever is happening in Kashmir, do you condemn what is happening in China to Muslims there?
KHAN: If -- if what -- if I believe the -- the Western media. Unfortunately, right now, you know, Fareed, we are sadly -- and I hope it doesn't happen -- we are heading towards another Cold War. And we all know, once, you know, these sides are taken, then the -- you know, do you believe the -- which side do you believe?
Because two sides are completely different.
What China is saying is completely different to what the U.S. is saying, or the Western media is saying. So who do you believe?
That's why we asked our ambassador to give us his opinion. And it's not, you know, what is appearing in the Western media. But my point is that, right now, what should not happen is that we should not be heading towards another Cold War, and because then there's a lot of propaganda involved and you don't know what the truth is.
ZAKARIA: Imran Khan, pleasure to have you on.
ZAKARIA: There's more of my interview with Imran Khan on CNN.com. I ask him how bad the tensions between India and Pakistan are right now. But next on "GPS," in the two years since the coronavirus began, why has the United States had so many infections? Why has Vietnam, a poorer country, had comparatively few?
The answers, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: If you ever miss an episode of "GPS," you can always listen to it on our podcast. To try it out, open the camera on your phone and scan the QR code on your screen. We'l leave it up on the screen for a bit.
Now, for the last look. On the first of this month, more than two years after the discovery of the first cases of COVID-19, Denmark became the first country in the European Union to lift all COVID restrictions.
Gone are the indoor mask mandates; gone are the isolation requirements for the infected. If two years of fear, uncertainty and loss had crushed Danes' spirits, it was not apparent the first weekend the restrictions were lifted, when they flocked to night clubs.
This might seem alarming, but the truth is that the country's response to the pandemic thus far has been in many ways exemplary. In 2020, when the world knew little about the virus and how it spread, Denmark was one of the first countries in Europe to lock down. But as the New York Times notes, since then the country has adopted a very flexible approach to COVID restrictions, that the public has by and large supported.
There were no draconian curfews. Guidance to socially distance and mask was generally followed, in part because it was often re- evaluated. Officials, including the prime minister, held regular televised press conferences about the pandemic and there was little talk of a vaccine mandate, nor did there have to be. Eighty-one percent of Danes are fully vaccinated. That compares to just 64 percent of Americans.
So how did Denmark do it?
The key may lie in the fact that the country has long had high levels of trust in the government and citizens have high levels of trust in one another. According to a new study in the Lancet that compares caseloads in 177 countries and territories, from January 2020 to September of last year, those are the two most significant factors that are associated with low numbers of infections of COVID-19.
This is an important finding. Siddhartha Mukherjee once called COVID "an epidemiological mystery" because it confounds conventional wisdom about which countries should fare better in a pandemic, mainly rich ones.
According to the new Lancet study, the rankings of the famous or infamous Johns Hopkins global health security index for the countries that were theoretically best prepared for a pandemic had no correlation with either the COVID case counts or the proportion of those infections that led to deaths.
The authors looked at a dizzying array of metrics to find out what did. They looked at population level factors, age, body mass index, smoking habits. They looked at environmental factors, air pollution, altitude, even the number of bat species living in each location. They looked at structural factors, democracy, populism, levels of economic inequality. Age had the most significant link to fatality rates among countries, of course, but according to the study, the two factors that had the most statistically significant link to case numbers were citizens' trust in the government and trust in each other -- not inequality, not democracy, not even the effectiveness of the government or how much it spent on health.
So the U.S., with historically low levels of government trust and a high degree of political polarization, had 545 cases per 1,000 citizens. Canada, which fares better in terms of trust, had just 346. Denmark, where one estimate shows 90 percent of the population trusts its government, had just 166.
But it's not just rich countries that demonstrate this trend. As The Washington Post reports, Vietnam has a closed, single-party political system and few hospital beds for its population, but it has a high degree of trust in the government. And it had 67 cases per 1,000 individuals, just 67, from January 2020 to September of last year.
The study found that, if every country had the level of trust that Danes do in their government, the global caseload might have been nearly 13 percent lower. If every global citizen had as much trust in his countrymen as the South Koreans, we might have had 40 percent fewer cases. Combined, that would have meant 440 million fewer coronavirus cases, according to Tom Bollyky, one of the paper's authors.
We all bemoan the lack of trust in the United States these days, but this shows how, in an emergency, a lack of trust and social capital can actually cost lives, hundreds of thousands of lives.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.