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Fareed Zakaria GPS
Interview With Former U.S. State Department Senior Adviser Vali Nasr; Interview With Century Foundation Policy Fellow Dahlia Scheindlin; U.S. And Germany To Send Tanks To Ukraine. Aired 10-11:00a ET
Aired January 29, 2023 - 10:30 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 from New York.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the program, Germany will give Leopards as America offers the Abrams.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're the most capable tanks in the world.
ZAKARIA: What will these tank deliveries to Ukraine mean for the future of its fight? How will Russia retaliate for what it sees as a major escalation? We'll talk about all of that and more with the terrific panel.
Also, Israel's new government led by Bibi Netanyahu is its most far- right ever. Its first month in office has been marked by provocations, protests and problems. A fight has begun over the power of parliament to overturn the rulings of the nation's highest court.
Would it be a major step back for the Middle East's only liberal democracy? I'll talk to a close observer.
And we'll bring you an important update on Iran. On the anti-regime protests, and the status of the Islamic republic's nuclear program.
ZAKARIA: But first, here is my take. What should we think of the fact that Donald Trump, Joe Biden and now Mike Pence have all turned out to have classified material sitting in their houses?
Before I answer that question, let me tell you a few facts. One 2004 essay put the number of classified pages in existence at about 7.5 billion. In 2012, records were classified at a rate of three per second making for an estimated 95 million classifications that year alone.
Today, no one knows how frequently information is classified. And as of 2019, more than four million people are eligible to access classified information. About a third for top secret documents, the highest general classification.
The real scandal here is that the U.S. government has a totally out of control system of secrets and that this is a real danger to the quality of democratic government.
Let me acknowledge a political point. It is true that people glossed over these issues when Donald Trump was found to be holding on to classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home but had begun to discuss them now that Joe Biden also appears to be guilty of the same offense. Some of this double standard is political bias.
But Trump's behavior was also a major issue, particularly his refusal to turn over the documents and defied direct requests from the Justice Department. That is an important difference, though it doesn't change the larger point.
Given how crazy the classification system is, the wonder is that we don't find more top secret documents littered throughout the houses of government officials.
In 1998, then Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan, who served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote a book titled "Secrecy: The American Experience."
In it, he lamented the rise of the culture of secrecy in American government which he believed was both bad for foreign policy and dangerous to democracy. On the first point, Moynahan argued that many of the government's biggest mistakes were a result of its reluctance to share information and subject it's analysis to outside criticism.
Remember that the intelligence community was largely created to assess one question. The nature of the Soviet threat. It got this wrong. In the late 1950s, for example, it claimed that the Soviet Union was significantly ahead of the U.S. in missile technology and deployment, a very consequential but totally false assertion. More broadly, it got the state of the Soviet economy in the 1980s dead wrong, claiming it was sturdy when in fact it was collapsing.
After the Cold War in the late 1990s, the intelligence community's central directive was to establish whether Sadam Hussein was trying to develop nuclear weapons. It got that wrong as well.
Moynahan argued that secrecy has become a form of regulation and bureaucratic control. People in government view information as power, don't want to share it and develop elaborate mechanisms to hoard it. They cover up mistakes, embarrassments, and illegal activities by classifying the problem away.
Richard Nixon's solicitor general wrote in 1989 about the publication of the Pentagon papers, the top secret documents about the Vietnam War released while the war was still being waged. This is what he said. "I have never seen any trace of a threat to the national security from the publication.
Indeed, I have never even seen it suggested that there was such an actual threat. It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security but rather with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another."
Democratic government demands transparency. Accountability and control over government are impossible when citizens know so little about what it is doing, and when government has the power to block access to any of that information. And this problem has become much worse in the digital era.
Timothy Naftali, an NYU scholar and former director of the Nixon Library, told me we now have a tsunami of classified documents, tens of thousands of e-mails, PowerPoints, all kinds of stuff, all stored somewhere in the cloud.
But we still have a tiny staff of people at the National Archives for the declassification process. He estimated that it could take five years for a request to declassify a single document to even make it to the agency that has to decide whether to do so.
Another scholar, Matthew Connelly of Columbia, points out that the U.S. government spends $18 billion a year on classifying and protecting information, and just $100 million on de-classification.
Most presidents come to office promising to open up government secrets. Yet once they get into office, they prefer the cozy system that keeps their actions hidden away from public scrutiny and assessment. So what we now have is a vast military intelligence secrecy complex that just keeps growing. A recipe for bad decision- making and unaccountable government.
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy turned 45 on Wednesday and got one of his biggest birthday wishes when President Biden announced that the United States would send 31 M-1 Abrams tanks to help with the fight. Dozens more Leopard tanks will come from Germany and other allies.
Ukraine had long been pleading for such heavy weapons from the West and this breakthrough came after what seemed to be a game of chicken between the United States and Germany to see who would offer their tanks first.
Let's talk about the war and much more with today's terrific global panel. Anne-Marie Slaughter is the former director of policy planning at the State Department and joins us from Princeton. She is the president of New America.
Carl Bildt is a former prime minister of Sweden and joins us from Stockholm. And Kishore Mahbubani is a former top Singaporean diplomat and joins us from Singapore. Anne-Marie, what do you make of this, particularly the German
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, CEO, NEW AMERICA: Well, the German decision is extraordinary in just historical terms because once again German tanks, panthers to most of the Russians and Europeans, will be fighting Russia. They will not be rolling into Russia or at least we certainly hope not.
So the kind of historical significance is enormous. Really, though, what's most important about this decision is political. It is signaling to Putin, no, we are not going to split, we're going to maintain cohesion and we're going to amp up, so we're not scared of your threats of escalation.
That's a more important signal right now than the actual military advantage. It's going to take months for the Ukrainians to get them and be able to use them. Longer term it will help Ukraine defend and actually advance against Russia. But that's going to take quite a while. So, for now, it's really a very important political signal that NATO is holding together.
ZAKARIA: But, Carl, if it is an important political signal, does it break the stalemate that seems to have developed on the ground?
There is no major advances on either side. Will this change that?
CARL BILDT, FORMER SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER: At the time it might. But as Anne-Marie said that's going to take quite some time. I think the immediate significance is primarily the political.
And I think it was very important that there were U.S. tanks as well. I think that is, in terms of political signal, even more important than the German tanks, the mighty Leopards which militarily significant, but the fact that there are some Abrams is also significant.
That is going to take some months at best to make sort of effective fighting units out of this. And that will make it more possible for the Ukrainians first to resist the new Russian offensive that is going to come at some point in time and then perhaps to be able to reconquer or take back some of the territory that Russia has tried to steal from them.
ZAKARIA: Kishore, do you think that this play pushes Russia in a direction where it is more likely to negotiate? So far President Putin has not seemed particularly willing to negotiate?
KISHORE MAHBUBANI, FORMER SENIOR SINGAPOREAN DIPLOMAT: Well, clearly the war has to be condemned, Russia's invasion has to be condemned. But I think Russia is also aware that 85 percent of the world's population has not imposed sanctions on Russia. And if you look at it, functionally in terms of Russia's links with the rest of the world, there haven't been that badly damaged by the war. So I don't think the supply of additional weapons is going to change
everything. At the end of the day, it has to be a political compromise and I think the vast majority of the world would like to see some kind of political compromise to end the war because the war is damaging all of us, too.
ZAKARIA: What do you say to that, Anne-Marie? Is there a compromise to be had? In other words, some kind of deal where, let's say, Crimea is given to the Russians and in return for that Russia recognizes most of Ukraine? I mean, we -- you know, diplomats can work out the formula but the question is, is that kind of political deal the only way to end this war?
SLAUGHTER: I see no sign of that. I mean, yes, we could all outline different possible deals. But, in fact, the Ukrainian position has hardened and expanded. I mean, wanting now really total victory. Wanting not just the Donbas back, but also Crimea.
And I see no face-saving way for Putin to climb down. Certainly the stalemate militarily means both sides can stick to their demands. The more -- doing things like sending tanks helps Putin with his domestic audience because his view this is a NATO proxy war against Russia. So the more NATO does, the strong he gets.
So I don't see the actual psychological, political conditions or the military ones that make any kind of deal likely for the foreseeable future.
ZAKARIA: Carl, you know, where does this go? It does sound like -- I think Kishore is right that the Russians, Putin seems to have settled down for a long war and essentially destroying Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, hoping to effectively defeat the Ukrainian nation rather than the army.
BILDT: Well, I think that's correct. I mean, Putin has tied his entire political future to the success of get rid of Ukraine which is what he wants to do, so to restore a greater Russia empire that there before. That he sees as his destiny. He talks about a life and a death struggle. And there is no sign of him backing down and there's no sign of Ukrainians to surrender.
ZAKARIA: All right. Stay with us. I'm going to, when we come back, ask Kishore Mahbubani to expand on the issue of the 85 percent of the world that isn't imposing sanctions on Russia particularly the world's largest democracy, India, when we come back.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Anne-Marie Slaughter, the CEO of New America, Carl Bildt, the co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, former Swedish prime minister, and Kishore Mahbubani who's a distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute.
Kishore, you understand India's foreign policy very well. In Singapore you had to watch India and China in particular very carefully. And you were at the U.N. for almost I think a decade representing Singapore.
What is your sense of why India, the world's largest democracy, always talks about a moral foreign policy, has been resolutely neutral and unwilling to actively work against Russia?
MAHBUBANI: Well, I think it's important to understand from India's perspective, this is probably the most promising moment in India's history. There is now no question that one of the fastest growing economies in the world over the next 10 years will be India.
And I don't know how Modi did it, but he's woken up a sleeping giant. And this sleeping giant, as it wakes up, wants to focus on succeeding in its economic development.
And I think it doesn't want to get distracted by other issues like this Ukraine war. And at the same time, India has had a long and deep relationship with Russia. It's not just about military supplies.
You mentioned that I was at the U.N. India knows that when it comes to the crunch, when it desperately needs a veto in the U.N. Security Council to protect Indian interests, which happens from time to time if they have a problem with Pakistan or something. The Indians have learned after many decades that their reliable veto cannot come from the United States, United Kingdom or France, and certainly not China.
The most reliable veto comes from Russia. So there is some deep links between India and Russia that cannot be forgotten. But this does not mean, by the way, that India supports Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It's very unhappy about it. But nonetheless it has got larger considerations and it likes a multi-polar war and so you work with Russia. You will not cut off these ties with Russia.
ZAKARIA: Anne-Marie, what do you think is going on in China? Because the Chinese have in some ways signaled a kind of backpedaling of sorts. There was a conversation that was reported between the Chinese foreign minister and the Russian foreign minister where the Chinese version, the read-out, seemed to dial back a little bit this idea of an alliance, they said it's not an alliance.
It seemed to suggest it's not without limits. So in some ways, dialing back even the thing Xi Jinping had said just a year ago.
SLAUGHTER: Well, China, I think is making clear that there are limits. All right. For instance, if Putin were even to really, certainly to use a tactical nuclear weapon, I think Xi is saying, you know, we will not support you all of the way. It is not without limits.
But the United States is not giving China much room to do anything other than to support Russia. And here what Kishore said is hugely important because for the Biden administration, this is the free world versus the unfree world.
This is democracy versus autocracies. That is how Biden frames the importance of the war in Ukraine. It's not just about territorial integrity, it's about freedom, democracy versus autocracy. China doesn't want to play into this narrative of the democracies versus the autocracies. It, like India, wants to play its own global role and have relations with many, many countries who are otherwise also close to the West.
ZAKARIA: Carl, where does this leave the Europeans? Trying to preserve a European order, they don't want to see, you know borders changed by force. It's not just in Europe. It's been very rare since 1945, almost unheard of for borders to be changed by force.
Is this a parochial European concern or can the European sell this to the Indias of the world as a concern about, you know, the Indians should not want borders changed by force. That's precisely what the Chinese are trying to do up in the Himalayas.
BILDT: Exactly. You can phrase it in different ways. I mean, democracy versus autocracy, but I would prefer, and I think that's a fundamental in facing it in terms global order. You don't invade other countries. You don't start war. That's sort of the very fundamentals of the United Nations entire (INAUDIBLE) that they've been trying to build since 1945.
Not always been successful. But there have been cases where the one nation has been trying to conquer other states, Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, and he was thrown out decisively by the international community for that very reason.
And for us Europeans, of course, this is something that brings back memories of Hitler versus Poland in 1939. It brings back the worst of memories of the worst periods of European history. But for us it's also a question of global stability. If we suddenly unravel, depart from and destroy what is the very foundation of the international order, that is you don't invade other countries. Then the consequences could be quite severe. Also for the Indians.
ZAKARIA: Kishore, do you have a final thought on this? We have to wrap up.
MAHBUBANI: Well, the paradoxical situation, Fareed, is that at the end of the Cold War there was so many predictions that Europe's past will be Asia's future, all of the wars will be in Asia.
Paradoxically, there have been no major war in Asia since 1979, 43 years, and what's remarkable is that the wars are now at Europe's doorstep. And I only say this because it's important to do some deep reflection.
Because wars are also at the end of day a result of geopolitical incompetence of some kind and there needs to be some deeper reflection on why is it that in so many wars at Europe's doorstep and why is Asia at peace. These are big questions.
ZAKARIA: All right. We will have to leave it at that and have you back, Kishore, to give us the answers. Anne-Marie, Carl, Kishore, really fascinating conversations. Thank you
MAHBUBANI: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we'll tackle two important stories out of Iran. First we'll tell you what is happening with the protest movement there and we will also give you a troubling update on the country's nuclear program when we come back.
ZAKARIA: For months, large crowds of outraged protesters filled Iran's streets. They gathered to condemn the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini who died while in custody of the country's morality police. The protests were met with a brutal regime crackdown. One human rights organization estimates that more than 500 people including children have been killed in clashes with government forces. Protesters are also being sentenced to death and at least four have already been hanged. Today, the protests appear to have mostly died down.
And there was another big Iran story in the news this week. The IAEA declared that Iran has stockpiled enough fissile material to build several nuclear weapons. I want to talk about all of this with my guest Vali Nasr, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Welcome, Vali.
First explain to us this issue of what has happened to these protests. They captured the world's attention. What has happened?
VALI NASR, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, I think the protests have entered a new phase. It was -- it was people expecting that they would just continue as they did. But they have -- they have lost some of their intensity. It is in large measure due to regime crackdown but also there are other things. For instance, the weather is very cold and most of Iran has been very snowy. There has been enormous amount of air pollution that shut down entire cities for periods of time and this sort of disrupted the flow of the protests.
But it is important to say that the anger that prompted these protests is very much there and the situation is still very froth. In fact, Iran's economy has actually gotten much worse place than it was before and there is also public anger at the way in which the government has reacted to these protests and particularly to the executions that you mentioned.
ZAKARIA: Yes. The executions strike me, correct me if I'm wrong, as an even kind of an escalation that you haven't even seen from this regime often.
NASR: Exactly. First of all, they are in contravention to Iran's own laws. They did not follow a process, the charges are dubious, the court proceedings are dubious, rights of appeal and rights of families to intervene in the process have not been actually observed. I think there is a combination of revenge, show of bravado by the regime that we can do this but also, I think, there's an element of deterrence here. They've been using many, many different tactics including the executions to raise the cost of participation for young people.
ZAKARIA: You know, one of the things that Samuel Huntington always said about looking for democratic transitions or the breakup of an authoritarian regime is you see cracks within the regime. And during the Green Revolution or movement in Iran you did see that. You had reformist members of the elite and hard-line members. What's going on inside the regime now?
NASR: I would say there is very serious cracks within the political class and people who count themselves as loyal to the Islamic republic. Even from the very beginning, women who wear hijab were very sympathetic to young girls who wanted freedom of dress. There are senior ayatollahs, former revolutionary guard commanders, senior statesman who have criticized the performance of the government, the crackdown. There has been broad criticism of the executions in Iran by clerics. But the cabal that is actually ruling Iran is making decisions -- is making these decisions under a siege mentality. That the country is under attack, that this is not the time to buckle, this is not the time to blink.
ZAKARIA: And what do we make of these nuclear moves? As you say the economy is in terrible shape, the sanctions are really making it very difficult for Iran to modernize any aspect of its economy. So what are they doing here? Are they trying to get the world's attention and get back to negotiations?
NASR: I think they would like to. But there is a reality here which is the protest has made Iran a pariah state. The public opinion in the West does not provide for any kind of a deal with Iran right now. I don't think there is any world leader that's willing to lift sanctions and give money to the Islamic republic at any price.
So, unless the nuclear program becomes more threatening, you're not going to get the West to budge. And, I think, the thing to keep in mind with Iran is that we have multiple crises with Iran. There are the protests. They are very serious. The handling has been heinous. It has captured public attention.
But that is not the only issue with Iran. We have a nuclear issue that is not going away and we now have a Ukraine issue with Iran which is not going away. And somehow --
ZAKARIA: You just explained the drones. They're selling drones to the Russians.
NASR: They are selling drones to the Russians. Perhaps they are selling other things to the Russians. They are also getting things from Russia. They're building a much tighter economic relationship with Russia.
In some ways Iran is becoming an economic lifeline to Putin, providing him with all sort of consumer goods and an outlet too to the Persian Gulf. So, all of these are on the table and all are happening at the same time. We used to have one crisis with Iran. Now, we have three crises with Iran at the same time. ZAKARIA: And it seems to me that this effort to ratchet up on the nuclear front maybe as a way of getting the attention of the West and restarting negotiations has another really important side effect, which is Israel is also watching.
And the prime minister of Israel right now is Bibi Netanyahu who has said unequivocally on this program, if Iran continues to move in the direction, Israel will not accept an Iranian nuclear program. By which I think he means the Israelis will attack Iran.
NASR: The Israelis will attack Iran or they will carry out acts of sabotage. This is going to be a game of cat and mouse which at any point in time could erupt into something much bigger. Iran's calculation is that the West has a lot more to lose in a major crisis in the Middle East than Iran has.
In other words, they're calculating on the fact with Ukraine going on, with China going on, the last thing the Biden administration and Europeans would want is a third major war in the Middle East and that in fact by escalating -- if they get Bibi Netanyahu to start saber- rattling of his own, that is a benefit of Tehran because it will force the -- just like they forced the Obama administration to do something it will force the Biden administration to do something.
ZAKARIA: Vali Nasr, pleasure to have you on.
NASR: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, mass protests have rocked Israel. Some say democracy itself is at risk there. We'll tell you all about it when we come back.
ZAKARIA: Even before the new bout of violence in Israel, another story, a political one, has been grabbing the attention of that nation and the world. Protests have rocked Israel's streets over a fundamental issue of governance. Let me explain.
How do you think Americans would feel if Congress wanted to pass a law that would give it the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority vote? I think it is safe to bet that there could be outrage and massive protests. After all it would violate the system of checks and balances that form the bedrock of the American political system.
Well, the Israeli government though different is also based on checks and balances. And Benjamin Netanyahu's new justice minister has proposed just such reforms and more. Nobel Prize winning Israeli economist Daniel Kahneman said that if these reforms were enacted, "Israel would no longer be a democracy in the eyes of world."
Let me play you a little bit of what Netanyahu said to me in November before he returned for his third stint as prime minister.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: You know, Fareed, if I have to describe my political philosophy, I'm a 19th century democrat with a small "d." And I believe that the principles that Locke and Montesquieu put forward, namely that you have to have a balance between the three branches of government, that's important.
In Israel, you have to address some of the imbalance, because it's different from most other parliamentary democracies. It's been thrown into -- a little out of kilter, but you don't have to -- you don't destroy one of these nodes of the triangle, because then you're really out of balance. So, I will -- whatever we do in judicial reform will be very measured and very responsible, and my record shows that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Joining me now is Dahlia Scheindlin, a political scientist and a columnist at Haaretz. Dahlia, welcome. First, I want you to ask you, is Bibi Netanyahu's statement that he believes in checks and balances compatible with these reforms that are being outlined right now?
DAHLIA SCHEINDLIN, POLICY FELLOW, THE CENTURY FOUNDATION: I'm glad you asked the question that way. Because many people think what does Bibi really want? And I think it doesn't matter so much what he thinks or what he wants or what he believes, what matters is what he has been doing.
And what he has been doing is having his justice minister who is from his party propose a package of reforms that would severely constrain the independence of the judiciary as a whole and effectively end judicial review of legislation and frankly of executive powers as well. So, I don't think what he said at that time is compatible with what his government is doing now.
ZAKARIA: And just to highlight what you're saying the Israeli executive, the prime minister, really has quite extraordinary powers because, correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't really have a constitution, you don't really have -- Israel doesn't sign -- hasn't signed treaty to international courts and such, it does strike me that this is -- the stakes are already super executive one step further.
SCHEINDLIN: That is true. In fact, Israel lacks nearly all of the institutional checks and balances on power that we would see in any other democracy. We only have one chamber of parliament. We do not have a federal system or any regional autonomy or regional elections. We don't have presidential veto.
And the issue of the constitution is complicated. Some legal scholars would say that Israel's basic laws add up to something like a constitution if you include Supreme Court rulings. But there is no one formal written constitution.
ZAKARIA: Wow. Now tell us when did this movement on the right start? What is it about?
SCHEINDLIN: Well, that is a very complicated question. But I'll make it very simple. I mean, I think the most immediate response to that question is that several of the figures in this government, namely the prime minister and one of his key allies, are either on trial for corruption, that is the prime minister, and one of his key allies who has been convicted of corruption.
So, one immediate answer is that by restraining the independence of the judiciary you can have more free reign for an executive that involves figures who might be investigated or on trial for corruption.
But honestly, I think, that is a very small part of it. Because the right-wing tendency in Israel to support constraining the judiciary and frankly over the last 13 years attacking the judiciary rhetorically in op-eds, in media, through think tanks and through top level government figures has taken on a very -- I would say a frenzy tone.
ZAKARIA: What happens to Benjamin Netanyahu's own court case? You know, we kept hearing about it but here he is prime minister again. Is he still under investigation?
SCHEINDLIN: He's not only under investigation, he's under indictment and he's currently standing trial. His trial is active. We -- it will probably go on for a long time. There are recesses so we don't always hear about it.
And for that reason -- the way I look at this package of reforms, there is not one item in there that could formally end his trials, which would be a very extreme move in a country like Israel, especially because everybody is watching and this is obviously not something that would go under the radar. But the reforms that we're talking about, essentially consolidate power. I think this is the really important point.
They remove constraints on executive power. The more the executive has consolidated control, the stronger their case becomes. They become more dominant.
ZAKARIA: What is the reaction in Israel? I'm struck over here in the United States by the fact that even Alan Dershowitz, who one thinks of as a kind of unyielding supporter of Israel on all accounts has been very critical. What is it like there?
SCHEINDLIN: I think we're all fascinated by Alan Dershowitz. Most Israelis actually know who Alan Dershowitz is which is more than I can say for what they know about most other, you know, prominent Americans with the exception, of course, of the president. So everybody has been covering Alan Dershowitz's critical statements and it is a bit surprising.
But the reaction in Israel is as striking, I would say. It is one thing to have the political opposition oppose this, which of course they are in very extreme terms. Some of them have called it a pogrom against the Israeli judiciary. But we're also seeing mass protests for three weeks straight. Over the last two weeks those protests were over 80,000. And last week it was over 130,000 which is very big in a society of -- you know, we have 9 million people in Israel.
And in addition, I've been surprised to see open protests and statements of protests from a wide range of figures throughout society. The only question is, what kinds of arguments will be coming from this backlash that might actually make the government reconsider and say, these reforms are too dangerous for society, maybe too dangerous to our position. And certainly if they're dangerous to the economy, or the image of Israel, Israel's global image of its economy that could lead to harming its credit rating, that is the kind of thing I imagine Netanyahu would take seriously.
ZAKARIA: Wow. Thank you so much, Dahlia. Pleasure to have you on and try to understand this issue.
SCHEINDLIN: Thank you so much for having me on.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, when Russia invaded Ukraine last year it sent global food prices and energy prices soaring. Now they have come back down. I'll explain how the world did that after the break.
ZAKARIA: And now for last look. It has been nearly a year since Russia invaded Ukraine and shook the global economy. Prices for energy, food and fertilizer skyrocketed as countries move to cut off commerce with Russia and as Russia blocked Ukraine from exporting its own goods. But now, after a surprisingly short amount of time, those economic shock waves appear to have dissipated.
Food prices, according to a global index, ended 2022 lower than when they started. Fertilizer is also cheaper today than it was at the beginning of last year. The same is true for natural gas. After big spikes last year, prices have fallen below initial levels. Oil prices aren't quite as low as they were at the start of 2022 but they are significantly cheaper than the day the war began and they are way down from the peak.
How the world pulled this off is a story of both the private sector and governments swinging into action. American energy companies, according to industry data, pumped more oil, extracted more natural gas and exported a record amount of petroleum. The U.S. government released some 200 million barrels of oil from the strategic reserve. European officials race to strike energy deals with Azerbaijan, Algeria, the UAE and others. European governments worked with companies to install new terminals to receive foreign gas.
Countries and consumers also tried to use less oil and gas in the face of high prices. Americans drove less over the summer. Europeans turned down their thermostats this winter. Governments even urged or mandated that they though do so. Countries deployed more renewable energy and extended the life of nuclear plants that were due to be shut down though unfortunately they were also forced to burn more coal.
All of this helped to bring down prices for oil and gas. That in turn benefited the agricultural sector. One reason is because natural gas is a key ingredient in making many fertilizers. As natural gas has gotten cheaper, so has fertilizer. And that means cheaper food.
Farmers also need oil to run equipment and transport products so falling oil prices have helped lower food prices as well. Meanwhile, farmers eased shortages by simply planting more crops and some Ukrainian grain was able to get to market after the U.N. helped broker a deal whereby Russia allows Ukrainian exports on condition of inspections in Turkey.
One more thing that has brought down energy and food prices is luck in the form of good weather. An unusually warm winter has required let heating fuel to be burned and favorable conditions have yielded strong harvests. It is worth noting one other factor. Russian exports of energy, fertilizer and food declined less than was expected when the war began.
Partly this was because Western sanctions included carve-outs for critical goods. Partly this was because nations like China and India snapped up Russia products. This obviously hurt the goal of depleting Putin's war chest but many Russian goods have been selling at a discount because Russia is desperate to sell. And indeed the West's overarching goal has been to eat into Russia's profits, while minimizing impacts on global supply.
Regardless, exports from Russia and from Ukraine did take a serious hit last year. Russia's invasion administered a massive shock to the global economy. But political leaders and the invisible hand of the market did their jobs as well. The fact that prices have now fallen back to earth shows that after a painful year, the world has largely absorbed the Russia shock.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.