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Fareed Zakaria GPS
American Journalist Denied Bail By Moscow Court; Interview With David McCormick; Interview With The President Of Foreign Policy Research Institute Carol Rollie Flynn. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired April 23, 2023 - 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 from New York.
ZAKARIA: Today we'll devote most of the program to the global power struggles we are witnessing. America versus China. America versus Russia. We'll give you a Republican roadmap for how to compete with China, with David McCormick, a former top Treasury official, hedge fund CEO and Republican politician. I'll also ask him about whether the GOP --
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Four more years.
ZAKARIA: -- needs to get beyond Donald Trump.
But first a look deep inside Russia. Just what is Vladimir Putin's end game. I'll talk to "The New York Times" bureau chief Anton Troianovski.
Also, both Beijing and Moscow have spies and operatives in America. That is a given. But revelations this week about exactly what both China and Russia doing stateside shocked even longtime spy watchers. We will tell you all about it.
ZAKARIA: But first here's "My Take." The United States and China have embarked on one of the most hair-raising experiments in international history. Both sides are now locked in a steady, escalating geopolitical competition. And yet both are deeply economically intertwined. Can these two trends, geopolitical tension and economic engagement, continue or will one of them give?
Over the last few years, as Washington and Beijing have feuded, U.S.- China trade in goods has remained strong, reaching an all-time high of nearly $700 billion last year. Major American companies from Qualcomm to Corning to Wynn resorts get large chunks of their revenue from China.
The Biden administration has pursued a policy toward China that is more strategic than Donald Trump's tariffs. It has sought to deny China access to some of the highest and technology chiefly the world's most advanced computer chips. It is also made large scale investments in science and technology, and it's even providing manufacturing subsidies to revive high tech manufacturing within the United States.
The effort here using National Security adviser Jake Sullivan's metaphor is to build a small yard of critical technologies that are guarded with high fences around it as opposed to coming up with a long list of technologies that would be hard to seal off from China. But the challenge will be to see whether all these efforts and the hostile rhetoric that surrounds them will scare off American businesses from dealing with China all together.
Of late, the administration seems to have recognized this danger, and has tried to send some conciliatory signals. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo has often said that the United States does not want an economic decoupling from China. Last four, she said, "We need to continue to do business with China and trade with China supports American jobs."
This week in a major speech on China, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called for constructive relationship between the two countries. She stressed that the American tech curbs on China were not designed to stop China from growing but have been imposed solely for national security reasons to prevent the Chinese military from gaining parody or an edge over America.
But the administration's carefully crafted surgical China policy lives in Washington, a town not known for nuance. The Republican primaries promised to become a festival of China bashing. Representative Mike Gallagher's China Committee has already announced that it is going to investigate companies doing business in China, which means any CEO with exposures to that market could be subpoenaed and cross examined.
And don't forget, China has domestic politics as well. Xi's tough line against America is popular in a country that is quite nationalist. Decoupling is already happening, as the Peterson institute shows. The strong trade numbers actually mask a falloff in U.S. exports to China. Because of inflation the dollar value of the goods has risen even while volume is flat or falling. Companies like Apple are searching for ways to diversify out of China. General Motors' earnings in China have fallen by almost 70 percent since 2014.
Some of this is a healthy diversification, reducing excessive dependencies on China. But the real question is where are we headed? If these trends continue and accelerate, which seems quite likely, we could see the world split into two zones, economically and technologically, and many countries will not want to limit their options by choosing just one zone.
Emmanuel Macron might have been too blunt about his worries about Europe becoming a vassal of America. But his views are in fact widely shared in Europe and beyond. The war in Ukraine has hurt Europe by raising its energy costs while benefiting America, which is the world's largest producer of hydrocarbons, many at low cost. European companies are shifting investment to the U.S. lured in part by the Inflation Reduction Act's generous subsidies.
A German CEO said to me recently, you cannot expect us to forego cheap Russian energy as well as the Chinese market. That would be suicide for Europe. More broadly, if geopolitical tensions win out and economic ties continue to weaken, we'll move into a very different world marked by much greater chaos and disorder at every level. One sign of this can be seen in the impasse over debt restructuring.
Dozens of the world's most vulnerable economies are in or near default. Lebanon, for example, has been in default for three years. Yet the IMF cannot bail out these countries because China, which is one of the world's largest creditors, cannot come to an agreement with Western nations on the terms of relief. The two sides blame each other and hundreds of millions of people suffer.
The last time two major world powers tried to manage a relationship of economic interdependence and rising geopolitical rivalry was Britain and Germany in the period from the 1880s to 1914. That experiment ended very badly with a war that destroyed much of the industrialized world. Both sides should try to ensure we do better this time.
Go to CNN.com/Fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.
On Tuesday, American journalist Evan Gershkovich appeared in a glass cage in a Moscow courtroom. This was his first public appearance since being arrested by Russian authorities last month. His case marks the first time that a Western journalist has been charged with espionage in Russia since the Cold War. And while Gershkovich's arrest falls in line with the broader campaign by the Kremlin to quash dissent, many see it as a new warning sign to foreign journalists, who until now had typically been spared from the government's harsh laws criminalizing what it views as fake news.
To talk about the view from Russia, we're lucky to have "The New York Times" Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski with us in person today.
ANTON TROIANOVSKI, MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF, NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you for having me.
ZAKARIA: Pleasure to see you. You're just here briefly visiting. First tell me about Evan. What strikes you about this whole case that is -- that we should pay attention to?
TROIANOVSKI: It's a case that really should concern journalists everywhere and I think should concern frankly everyone because getting information, unbiased objective reported information from on the ground from places like Russia that are so pivotal to world events right now, this is so important, and Evan was doing that. He was on the ground for the "Wall Street Journal" at a time when there were very few Western journalists working in Russia.
And he was getting us reports of what was actually happening. What was the mood in Moscow, in border cities, in military families? He was talking to people who were both pro war and antiwar. He was giving us this nuanced view, which is so important and when he got arrested, as you say, it's really an unprecedented situation for modern Russia. And it creates this enormous chilling effect for journalists trying to work there, and this is why I think it's so important to really push for his release.
ZAKARIA: Do you think this is a sign that, you know, basically, we are back to something like the old Soviet Union?
TROIANOVSKI: Frankly in the Soviet Union, you know this happened as you mentioned there was a journalist, an American journalist who was arrested and charged with espionage in the 1980s and the Soviet Union, but he was released three weeks later in a prisoner exchange.
ZAKARIA: Which is the Nicholas Daniel --
TROIANOVSKI: Exactly. Exactly. This is something very different. There is no -- we're not seeing publicly at least any signals from the Kremlin that they're ready to release him, Putin's spokesman said right after Evan was arrested that he had was allegedly caught red handed as Dmitry Peskov, that spokesman said, so the Russians are sending the message that they are going to treat him as a spy, which is obviously an outrageous accusation against the journalist doing his job.
ZAKARIA: I think, as you say, it's meant to send a chilling message to all of you working there. It's meant to send a message to any NGO that might still be involved. And it doesn't that sense seems to be part of a larger Kremlin strategy. I think this was a wonderful piece in "The Times" about how the people around the Kremlin want all these hundreds of thousands of Russians to leave Russia. They want the Western educated or Western oriented liberals to leave. They want to create a much more insular, you know, kind of non-Western Russia.
TROIANOVSKI: Exactly. This is -- it really does feel of a piece with that overall trend. Even though this is such a new step, yes, it's part of sowing fear, you know, fear has been sown among Russian academics, you know, who are being punished if they do something, say something that the authorities don't like. Russian journalists obviously have been dealing with this extraordinary chilling effect for years, even more so since the war began, and now it's Western journalists who are dealing with it.
ZAKARIA: So give us a picture of what as far as you can tell is happening in Russia. It does feel as though, you know, we hear some stories, but what I'm told by particularly other foreigners who go to Russia is things are pretty normal. The sanctions do not seem to have affected the daily life of Russians. Is that true? And if that's true, can Putin, you know, stand this for a long time?
TROIANOVSKI: Yes, I think the most important thing about that is should sanctions are affecting daily life in some way, but the government has been able to really smooth that effect. There are very few drastic changes. You know? Yes, Starbucks and McDonald's are gone, but there's these new Russian brands that have gone and come in their place and you know, it's not -- to most people, it's just not that different. And economically, you know, people still have jobs. People are still drawing salaries. Most people never traveled abroad to begin with in Russia, so the fact that now it's become much harder to travel abroad as a Russian doesn't really matter to most people,
And you know, the big shock was the draft last fall when 300,000 civilian men were drafted to go into the war. That was the one moment where you really felt that stability shake a little bit. But then things went back to normal more or less.
You know that draft ended, and now what is really interesting to see is that even though a lot of analysts are saying the Russians need more troops, they need more personnel, they are not doing a new draft. At least not yet that.
ZAKARIA: And that gets to the, you know, the only place where it seems to me Putin could feel pressure is not really the sanctions because that's as you say they get oil revenues. They've got other brand, other Russian brands. But on the battlefield. From what you can tell what is happening on the Russian battlefield, and is it putting some pressure on the regime?
ZAKARIA: I don't think we can say it's putting significant pressure on the regime. Obviously there are stresses, but from all we can tell, Putin is as in control as he has been throughout this. You know, the next phase, of course, we expect will be the Ukrainian counter offensive, and analysts tell us if you look at the Russian defenses if you look at the Russian lines there in southern and eastern Ukraine, they are a lot more prepared for this than they were when Ukraine did its counter offensive in the north east of the country last fall, and the Russian lines collapsed.
You know, it's a lot harder to imagine that happening now, but of course it could happen. Wars, you know, you can never really predict what will happen. So as that counter offensive begins, probably in the next couple of months at some point. You can expect the unexpected, I think again.
ZAKARIA: Anton, pleasure to have you on.
TROIANOVSKI: Thank you very much, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS from Russia to China. My next guest has a new book out about how Washington can compete with Beijing. When we come back.
ZAKARIA: My next guest is David McCormick, who served in several high- level roles in the George W. Bush administration, including undersecretary for international affairs in the treasury department. He then helped run Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund CEO. Last year, McCormick ran for Senate in Pennsylvania but lost narrowly in the Republican primary after Donald Trump endorsed his opponent, Mehmet Oz.
Now McCormick has a new book out on strengthening America and competing with China. It is called "Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America."
DAVID MCCORMICK, AUTHOR, "SUPERPOWER IN PERIL": Thank you. Nice to be with you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: So I think you can help answer this question that I've wondered about which is the United States does a huge amount of trade with China. It's about $700 billion now, and I know that a lot of CEOs who run companies are wondering they export a lot to China. China buys huge amounts of American agricultural goods. Walmart uses China to stock much of its stores. They're wondering when they hear all the rhetoric, at the anti-China rhetoric, the tensions, what are we supposed to do?
Are we not supposed to be trading with China? Are we not supposed to be in this economic relationship with them?
MCCORMICK: Well, China and the United States, as you know, were the two largest economies in the world, but I do think we have a reckoning that's taking place in the United States, and there's a bipartisan consensus that we've become highly dependent on China and that we need to take steps to treat China as the adversary that it is. And so from an economic perspective, I think what that means is we need to strategically decoupled.
Those industries that are so critical to America's security and economic vitality, semiconductors pharmaceuticals, we've become unbelievably dependent on global supply chains and particularly as it relates to China. Second, we need to put investment restrictions in place that stopped venture capital firms in the Silicon Valley from investing in artificial intelligence companies that work with the Chinese military or the Chinese communist party. That's madness given that we believe, I believe at least, that China is an adversary.
The third thing we need to do is be much more proactive about creating the right kinds of alliances to check China's aggression, its aggression in geopolitical terms around the globe, and we can talk more about that. But that's the kind of -- it doesn't mean 100 percent decoupling. When I was on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, I'd go into one place, a manufacturing plant. And they say, listen, you know, China, the globalization is killing us. China's killing us. We got to stop the trade.
I go to another and it was a Harley Davidson supplier, and they say, wait a second. China is a big market of Harley Davidsons. So I think there's a trade and investment that we can continue to have with China. It just can't be strategic in a way that undermines U.S. interest.
ZAKARIA: So what do you describe, David, strikes me as very sensible strategic decoupling, investing in the United States, trying to make sure that you have restrictions on certain kinds of investments. It sounds like the Biden administration's China policy. So what is Joe Biden doing -- he seems to be already be doing what you're advocating.
MCCORMICK: I don't think so. So on two fronts, the premise of my book, "Superpower in Peril," is that we're in decline. But decline is a choice and so was renewals. When you have an agenda to really deal with decline at home by educating our people, by confronting China and really securing the country, and there's two pieces to the China strategy. One is go to the gym at home and the way we do that is through reforming our education system, through technology policy that makes sure we remain -- continue to have leadership, and through ensuring that we protect our data.
But then in terms of China, we need to reduce dramatically this dependence and I don't think there's been a comprehensive whole of nation strategy for dealing with the adversary that China is.
ZAKARIA: But when I look at Biden, largest investments in science and technology in a generation, it curbs on high technology for China, new reviews on investment. It all seems to be very similar. I mean, you're --
MCCORMICK: It is similar in wording, but I don't think similar in substance at least to the arguments that I make in the book.
ZAKARIA: The Republican primary is beginning and you're going to have a lot of debate about China. Mike Pompeo, who many thought was going to run for the presidency, says he's not. Nonetheless it's clear he's trying to shape the debate where he says the United States should recognize Taiwan. That is almost certainly going to trigger Chinese -- very strong Chinese reaction. What do you think on Taiwan?
MCCORMICK: Well, listen, this has been an area of policy that's have great sensitivity and strategic significance for more than 40 years, and I think a policy of making sure that America continues to arm the Taiwanese with all the capability they need to make any sort of adventurism on the part of the Chinese very, very challenging and costly, to have U.S. forces arrayed in such a way that we're demonstrating that we have an ability to support and commit ourselves to Taiwan, and at the same time remaining and continue to have the policy that we've had since it was put in place by Henry Kissinger of strategic ambiguity.
That's a policy that in my mind makes the most sense. So I think we need to have a strong stance but I think the policy we have is one we should continue.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, I'll ask David McCormick about the future of the GOP and whether Republicans can and should move beyond Trump.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with David McCormick.
So you tell a story in the book about how you're running for the Republican primary in Pennsylvania, you want to make sure that Donald Trump just stays out of the race because you're up against Mehmet Oz. You go to see him in Mar-a-Lago. What happens?
MCCORMICK: I went in to meet with the president with the idea of hopefully him staying out of the primary. I had been told that he was going to endorse my primary opponent Mehmet Oz. And the president pulled up a couple of clips from previous TV interviews I had done before in deciding to run for the Senate or had not been particularly critical, but I hadn't been particularly favorable about some of the things that the president had said.
And then he said to me that he thought to win the election I would need to say that the 2020 election was stolen. And I said that, I wouldn't say that, I couldn't say that. And then he subsequently endorsed Mehmet Oz a couple of days later.
And listen, when you lose a primary 1.4 million voters -- votes cast by 900 votes there's lots of things that could have affected it. Obviously, President Trump being opposed to me certainly didn't help me. But there's many, many things that I could have done as the -- as the candidate that would have closed that 900 vote gap. So, I certainly think that have influenced the election, but I think there's lots of things I could have done to win it.
ZAKARIA: The Republican primary, Donald Trump is the leading candidate by all the polls. Do you think he should be the standard bearer for the Republican Party in 2024?
MCCORMICK: Listen, here's the reality. I think President Trump tapped into an enormous amount of anger in our electorate that I saw on the campaign trail. And that was the thing that struck me most is that for many Americans, probably half of America. The system hasn't been working for decades. And he tapped into that and channel that in a very effective way to win the 2016 election. And I tried to highlight those ideas in the book that I think need to have the right focus on policy and the right leadership going forward.
And I'm not going to opine on a primary other than to say, I think for Republicans to win and to lead the country in the right direction, I think, they need to have a vision, looking forward, a positive vision for how to solve the problems that are affecting everyday Americans, and that's what I'm trying to lay out in the book. I think campaigns looking backwards, not forwards are not going to be successful. And I think our party as conservatives and Republicans isn't going to be successful.
ZAKARIA: All right. I want to ask you about one part of the book that struck me which was you say one of our weaknesses in America is that we're teaching American history wrong. Kids don't have pride in their country anymore. And it strikes me, if I can be honest, I think you are here genuflecting in front of a certain kind of conservative, conventional wisdom about, you know, attacking the critical race here in all this.
It feels to me like the United States is much stronger for being willing to critically examine its past compared to places like the Soviet Union or China today where there is only rara nationalist history. It feels like you're advocating -- we take a page from Xi Jinping's book on how to teach history to this people. Why shouldn't there be critical examination of American history?
MCCORMICK: Well, first of all, that's not the argument I make in the book. The argument I make in the book is that we should have an accurate teaching of American history. So the role that America has played in the world, the role it has played in bringing millions of people out of poverty, the role it has played in World War II and liberating Europe from Nazism.
So the argument I make --
ZAKARIA: Well, true but it also enslaved --
ZAKARIA: So, why not tell both?
MCCORMICK: I'm arguing for telling both. No, I'm arguing for telling both. I think what has happened and I think -- I think all the numbers would say this is true that our university system and our secondary school system is not having open debate. It's not actually allowing the entirety of American history or even conservative views being taught in our universities, is another example.
So what I'm arguing for is an accurate rendering of history, and I think, by any measure economic, freedom, liberty. America has been a force for good in the world yet has had dark chapters, and it has been a constant search for a more perfect union. We absolutely need to embrace and stare at those chapters that were dark and I say so in the book, but we have to put that in the context of America's role in the world.
And I don't think -- I don't think this is an area of sort of playing to the politics of Republicanism. What happened during COVID is parents actually got a window into how our teachers were presenting American history and also a whole range of other topics to our children, and they found it wanting. And that's why you see parenting --
ZAKARIA: You have kids. Do you think your kids have been badly educated?
MCCORMICK: I think my kids -- I have three -- three kids and fourth headed to college and I think that colleges today, universities, are very one sided in terms of the political views that are presented to them. So, I don't think -- and it's a constant conversation in our house that they're seeing the other side of the argument. And I think it's a -- it's a real problem.
And as it relates to American exceptionalism, President Obama gave a speech that said, yes, you know, the Greeks think they're exceptional. The Brits think they're exceptional. We in America think we're exceptional.
Well, if you believe that America was unique and that was conceived in liberty and the pursuit of individual freedom where the government works for the people, we are unique in history, and we need to preserve that uniqueness, that exceptionalism.
ZAKARIA: David McCormick, pleasure to have you on.
MCCORMICK: Thanks for having me.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we dig into what the Russians and the Chinese are allegedly doing right here in America to influence those living here. Two court cases unveiled this week caught my eye. You would want to hear about those spy cases when we come back.
ZAKARIA: A secret police station operated by agents of the Chinese government, not far from New York City hall. As unbelievable as that sounds, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York alleged the existence of just such a thing on Monday while announcing the arrest of two men who he claimed were operating the station.
Then the next day, the Justice Department announced charges against four Americans and three Russians for being part of a conspiracy to secretly influence local Florida elections and divide the American public.
The confluence of these two announcements made me wonder, what is going on here? Joining me now is Carol Rollie Flynn, who worked at the CIA for three decades, including a stint as director of the Office of Foreign Intelligence Relationships. She is currently the president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Pleasure to have you on.
CAROL ROLLIE FLYNN, PRESIDENT, FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE: It's great to be here, Fareed. Thank you for having me.
ZAKARIA: So, first tell us about the Chinese. This police station. Explain what was going on.
FLYNN: It sounds really weird, doesn't it? Yes. Well, they were operating what was in essence a regional -- in the United States office of a regional provincial police station, part of the Ministry of Public Security. So, these are police operating a police station in lower Manhattan. And it sounds crazy, but the Chinese do this all around the world. And it's fine as long as they're doing things like renewing drivers' licenses, which is, of course, what they claimed they were doing.
However, in this case they were also very involved with dissident activities it appears. And in two particular dissidents they -- the first one was someone they tried to persuade. And this individual, unnamed in the indictment of the dissident, tried to persuade him to return to the PRC and, of course, to face charges. They considered him a fugitive from justice.
In the other case, they were tasked to investigate the whereabouts of another dissident in the West Coast. And so, clearly beyond the scope of legitimate police activities.
ZAKARIA: So, it raises the thing that I think people have often alleged about the Chinese government, which is very worrying, it seems to me, which is that they target Americans of Chinese origin, Chinese citizens --
FLYNN: Exactly, right.
ZAKARIA: -- who live in the United States, maybe Green Card holders as -- you know, they try to get them to become spies for the Chinese government. Is that true?
FLYNN: It's absolutely true. If you look historically at Chinese espionage cases in this country they hunt in the diaspora, the Chinese Americans and resident Chinese here in the United States. That is where I think almost all -- maybe there are a couple exceptions, but almost all of the Chinese -- of the spies operated by China to penetrate the U.S. government are almost entirely Chinese, ethnically Chinese citizens, part of the diaspora, living in the United States. They've been doing this for years. However, this to me seems like a much more aggressive operation to actually be doing this out of a police station.
ZAKARIA: Now, what's interesting to me is will it be fair to say that the Chinese espionage, particularly of this kind of getting -- you know, recruiting a guy working in G.E. it's all economic espionage. It's --
FLYNN: Primarily economic.
ZAKARIA: Right. They are trying to get industrial plan secrets.
ZAKARIA: The Russians, on the other hand, it seems quite different. They're interfering in local Florida elections.
FLYNN: It's -- when I read that I just sort of said, what the heck? What's happening here? But -- and local. Local down to -- it was the city council of St. Petersburg, Florida. Why would they care?
Well, you know, I don't know. But as I look at it based on what we've seen Russians do in our own country and elsewhere around the world, the language of what these four American citizens were spouting came right out of the Cold War. It sounded like Soviet language. They were talking about colonialism and imperialism of the -- of the United States. The language was the genocide of Africa -- of African people in the United States. And, you know, where did that come from? It's straight out of the Soviet playbook.
So, to get back to your question, why this little city council election in Florida ? Well, Russians are masters of disinformation. They always have been. But now with the internet they can make this stuff go viral.
The other thing is -- and I really can't figure it out because this is the FSB. The FSB is the domestic intelligence service of Russia. So, they're in here playing in Florida. But maybe they thought they could fly below the radar by doing it in Florida --
ZAKARIA: I have European friends who tell me that sometimes, you know, the Russians have often been behind, for example, the anti-nuclear movement in Germany.
FLYNN: For years.
ZAKARIA: And the reason is that they want the Germans to get -- to phase out their nuclear capacity --
ZAKARIA: -- so that they have to buy Russian gas. This was the old strategy to make Germany dependent.
FLYNN: Yes, yes, yes.
ZAKARIA: So, sometimes it's a -- it's a little complicated, but there is a method to why they are interfering in our --
FLYNN: And sometimes it is as in that case for a strategic objective, a specific strategic objective. Sometimes it's just to sow disorder within a country because they don't want the United States to function well. Keeping us off balance, keeping us polarized is very strongly in the interest of Russia.
ZAKARIA: When you've watched this over the years who's better, the Russians or the Chinese?
FLYNN: You know, it depends on what. The Chinese are really very pragmatic. Does it pose a threat to their country, like the dissidents or what they perceived to be a threat? The Russians -- the Russians are really good at disinformation. They are the masters. The Russians, I think, are at a higher strategic level. And, you know --
ZAKARIA: You just said they are just trying to sow discord.
FLYNN: Sow discord but it's basically the same tricks to discredit the United States. They still -- we are the number one enemy to Russia. ZAKARIA: Pleasure to have you on. This is such a fascinating conversation.
FLYNN: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.
ZAKARIA: Thank you.
FLYNN: Appreciate it.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, Sudan is at war again. I'll tell you why this time is different and part of a worrying trend. That story in a moment.
ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. Plumes of black smoke rising over the capital. Hospitals besieged by shelling. Government buildings engulfed in flames. Four years ago, when the Sudanese people took to the streets in an inspiring mass mobilization for democracy few would have predicted that the country would so swiftly come to this, two rival armies ravaging the capital, Khartoum, in a brutal contest for control of the nation.
On one side is General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Sudanese army. The other a man named Hemedti, who is the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. In 2021, the two united to seize control of the government from a civilian military council. Last year, under pressure from allies, they agreed to work together toward a transition to civilian rule. But tensions between the two mounted fast and have now erupted into all out war.
Sudan's struggles might seem almost unique. The country has, after all, spent most of its postcolonial history locked in bloody civil war. But as "The Economist" notes the persistence of violence in Sudan is part of a global trend. Conflict is lasting longer, becoming more intractable, and taking a heavier toll on the innocent.
The magazine reports that in the mid 1980s, the average long term conflict had been going on for roughly 13 years. By 2021, that number had stretched to 20 years. Last year, roughly 100 million people around the world were forced to flee their homes, mostly because of conflict. That is twice as many as a decade ago.
So what's behind these shifts? In the first place, money. As the scholar Alex de Waal noted in an interview with "Al Jazeera," the struggle between Burhan and Hemedti is to hold on to what he calls the kleptocratic military business empires. De Waal notes that Burhan has appointed loyalists into positions of control in finance, oil and minerals.
Hemedti controls Darfur's vast deposits of gold, which is Sudan's single largest source of export revenue. He also has another source of power and income, his paramilitary troops, who have fought as mercenaries for the UAE and Saudi Arabia in their proxy war in Yemen. A transition to civilian rule and eventually elections could weaken his hold on either of these sources of power.
This is a phenomenon we see across Africa. Resource rich countries have witnessed sustained conflict as warlords, soldiers and rebels have carved up the wealth of the nation. In the absence of an ideological motive for conflicts such as choosing a side in the Cold War or fighting for freedom against the colonial oppressor, greed has become the primary motivator. But this is now all happening against a new geopolitical backdrop which allows such violence to fester.
Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, as "The Economist" notes, a period of relative calm prevailed around much of the world, largely because the United States was an uncontested global superpower. This era was not free from war by any means, but great power conflicts of the style of the Cold War appeared to be a thing of the past. American military might or Washington's ability to write checks was often an effective deterrent to invasion or rebellion. But all that has changed.
America has withdrawn its military and its money from large swaths of the world, concentrating its efforts on a few key areas and issues. This is meant in some places that regional powers like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have expanded their reach, often by waging proxy wars.
Indeed, foreign involvement in wars has risen dramatically, according to the data reference in "The Economist." In 1991, only four percent of civil wars involve significant foreign forces. In 2021, 48 percent of them did. And foreign involvement in wars is one of the factors that allows them to drag on partly because foreign governments are inured to the conflicts' immediate effects.
Sudan is no stranger to foreign interference. As Ishaan Tharoor notes in "The Washington Post," Burhan and Hemedti's interim government was boosted by billions of dollars of aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Russia's mercenary, Wagner group, reportedly has a close relationship with Hemedti, providing his Rapid Support Forces with weapons and training.
Neighboring Egypt backs Burhan. And Kholood Khair, a Khartoum based analyst, wrote last month that Egypt's most consequential contribution is that it has catalyzed renewed tensions between the generals. All this bodes poorly for Sudan whose people continue to be trapped in cycles of brutal violence. And Sudan maybe just one of the places that suffers from the disorder produced by a post-American world.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.