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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny Dies in Prison; Europe Reacts to Trump's Incendiary NATO Remarks; A Path to Peace Between Israel and Hamas; Meloni's Moment; Jailed Ex-Leader's Allies Win Big In Pakistan. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired February 18, 2024 - 10:00   ET



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.


ZAKARIA: Today on the program, the leading opposition figure in Russia, Alexei Navalny, dies in prison. What happened? What does this mean for Russia? We'll dig into it with the "New Yorker's" David Remnick.

And the words have been reverberating around Europe all week. Former and possibly future President Trump threatened not to step in against the Russians if they attacked a NATO ally.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.

ZAKARIA: I'll Dr. Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden, about the real fears on the continent.

Also Richard Haass on the Middle East, and in the wake of Pakistan's recent controversial elections, I will talk to the sister of the jailed politician Imran Khan whose allies swept the polls.


ZAKARIA: I'll bring you my take at the end of the show. But first, I wanted to get right to the death of Alexei Navalny. An outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin for many years, Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent and evacuated to Berlin in 2020. He defiantly returned to Russia, was promptly arrested, and languished in prisons ever since. The 47-year-old died this week in a remote penal colony in the Arctic.

We had his daughter Dasha on the show last January. Today, David Remnick joins me to discuss this tragic death, which many believe is a murder. He's the editor of the "New Yorker" and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Lenin's Tomb." Welcome, David. Let me ask you first to talk for a moment about

Navalny because I do think we sometimes, you know, in today's world we forget when we see genuine courage. This is a guy who was, you know, allowed to go because of Angela Merkel to Germany for treatment. Putin had tried to poison him. He refuses to stay there. He has political asylum. He could come to the United States.

He goes back, and he goes back because as I think his daughter said to me he could not ask other people to protest Putin's Russia if he was sitting comfortably in Germany or the United States. That's a rare kind of courage, don't you think?

DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER: Contrast it to the lack of courage we see in our politicians and politicians all over the world who won't even risk the possibility of losing a primary, an election because of their unwillingness to defy a strong arm figure in their own party. Alexei Navalny was a kind of modern version of the old dissident. But his tools were different. He wasn't writing manifestos on onion skin paper and passing them out.

He was using social media. He was using mass protests. He was using all the modern tools he could. And he really came to fame in 2012 as a leader of anti-Putin protest right outside the Kremlin walls. And this scared Putin terribly because Putin saw this as the possibility of a color revolution coming to his own gates. And he has been his enemy ever since. He tried to kill him with poison, with Novichok, several years ago, it failed.

And unbelievably, unbelievably Alexei Navalny, as shown in the terrific documentary film that CNN broadcast again last night, went back to Russia knowing absolutely that he would be arrested immediately and put in a prison camp. So when you ask if he was murdered, well, first there was the attempted and failed murder of several years ago, and then the old technique of the gulag and his health failed.

And we'll find out the details I hope about how he died. The idea that he had, quote-unquote, "sudden death syndrome" is a kind of bitter dark comedy from the Kremlin.


ZAKARIA: And why does Putin feel he has to do this? He has total control over the country. He -- you know, he rules with an iron fist. What does -- what did Nevada leave represent or for that matter, Boris Nemtsov, who was killed outside the Kremlin walls. Why this fear of the dissident?

REMNICK: Well, Navalny represented the idea of modernity, of liberalism, not in the American sense, but just in terms of liberal thinking, of choice, and the possibility of an end to this regime that began in 2000. It's been going on for a generation. Navalny was an attractive figure, somebody who had represented leadership for minorities of all kinds. He represented a different existence not only with the West, but places like Ukraine. He opposed the invasion of Ukraine in the most forthright language. He

was a kind of latter-day Andrei Sakharov. If you remember, in 1986, in December 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev, that relatively new Soviet leader, signaled his turn toward liberalism by liberating Andrei Sakharov from Gorky where he'd been kept as a virtual prisoner with his wife. This is the opposite.

This is somebody signaling his ruthlessness, his willingness to kill his enemies, and a very, very different kind of system that's in place right before his so-called election. Remember Putin is up for election in just a matter of weeks, which of course he will win because it's a fraud from beginning to end.

So sometimes history moves distinctly backwards and tragically. We sometimes think it constantly moves forward in the best possible way. That's not the case. Navalny always spoke of a beautiful future for Russia. That's why today, this week, is so deeply tragic because it's very hard to imagine the opposition recovering its footing very quickly after this. This is a terrible, terrible blow.

ZAKARIA: And very quickly, David, we only have about 30 seconds, but I do want to ask you, you raised the issue of political courage. Is it possible that Trump or any of the Republicans will have a rethink about Putin after this brutal demonstration of his repression?

REMNICK: Has Donald Trump ever had a rethink about anything in a moral sense, in a political sense? Will Tucker Carlson become a transformed man after watching what happened following his pathetic interview? I don't think so. I seriously doubt that. And it's left to Joe Biden to make the moral and political distinction between the two in the election which he's already done by making the statement that he gave the other day that this was in fact a murder. And we'll see what the United States does going forward. But this is a huge, huge event.

ZAKARIA: David Remnick, thank you for putting it in context for us. That was very helpful.

Next on GPS, last weekend, Trump threatened NATO members who do not spend enough on defense. How are Europe's leaders responding? I'll speak to the former prime minister of Sweden, a country that just joined NATO, Carl Bildt.



ZAKARIA: There's been much handwringing among European leaders about a potential Donald Trump win in November's U.S. elections. Last weekend, Donald Trump said he would encourage Russia to do, quote, "whatever the hell they want," unquote, to any NATO member who doesn't pay their fair share in military spending.

Joining me now is Carl Bildt, the former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden. Bildt now co-chairs the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Welcome, Carl. Let me first just ask you, what was your reaction when you heard that? Give us a sense of, you know, what you think.

CARL BILDT, FORMER SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER: Well, you might have seen that most European leaders, they try to keep a reasonable straight face, which wasn't entirely easy for some of them. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of NATO, was rather firm on what he said. But behind that everyone is deeply worried. We only sort of early and the election is in November. And he might say, the one strange thing after the other, that in itself has a de-stabilizing influence. And then of course, entire question, if he's elected, what on earth might happen.

ZAKARIA: You know what I wonder about, Carl, is the damage already done in the sense that after all NATO, the nature of the NATO's deterrence is it's a psychological one. You're trying to deter Putin principally from daring to cross borders because he is worried about the certainty that NATO will respond. And that certainty has cast into doubt even if at the end of the day Donald Trump were to respond, some of the psychological deterrence is already lost.

BILDT: Some of that is already lost. You're entirely correct. And then of course the credibility of NATO rests on the credibility of the man or the woman who sits in the Oval Office. What kind of decisions might come out of the Oval Office in critical situation, and when there is beginning to debate what might happen in different situations. That of course creates, as you point out, uncertainty instability.


And to this should be added, of course, the turmoil that we see in the House of Representatives, which is blocking aid to Ukraine. The two together, and it is distinctly destabilizing.

ZAKARIA: Is there as a scenario in which this jolts to Europeans to do more, to -- you know, there's 18 out of 31 above the 2 percent threshold of defense spending. Could it pressure more of them to do it? Could it result in a more unified foreign and defense policy? I mean, is there any good that could come from this?

BILDT: Well, I think as you noted, in most European countries, virtually all of them are busy increasing defense spending quite a lot. I mean, that has to do with Ukraine. And all of them that are in more exposed positions in east of Europe facing Russia, the one way or other they are above 2 percent or even well above 2 percent, and they are on a path to even more. So the limits to what can be down short term.

What might happen is, of course, and that has to do more with the aid to Ukraine that there will be a recognition of the need for the Europeans to do even more. Most of the aid to Ukraine has already (INAUDIBLE). But if the U.S. disappears from the scene one way or the other, Europe will have to do more.

ZAKARIA: It feels like in order to do more, I mean, as you said, Europe is already paying more to Ukraine than the United States. But the U.S. has a military industrial complex, the kind Europe doesn't. Is it possible that Europe will have to build something like that, you know, which some of which it had during the Cold War. Kind of return to a European military industrial complex that can churn out weapons of all kinds to deal with this new security environment.

BILDT: I think that will happen. But the problem with that is, of course it takes time, it takes time to build facilities, to refute the workforce, to get all the raw materials necessary. We see that with attempts to ramp up production of artillery ammunition. But there's no question there is a significant effort underway to expand the defense industrial base of Europe. But it takes years, unfortunately.

ZAKARIA: Looking at it from the point of view of Sweden, Carl, where you were prime minister and foreign minister, Sweden has taken a big gamble in joining NATO, which is that it has adopted a much more confrontational policy toward Russia than it has historically, and it has done so I presume on the expectation that it has the United States, you know, at its back.

Is there concern in Sweden that maybe this was a more risky move than they realize, given that Trump might be elected?

BILDT: Not really, because the advantage of NATO members should irrespective of that, even if you point out, I mean, the U.S. is the backbone of NATO. So there's concern on what might happen. But of course we will gain advantages anyhow by the integration that we get with our northern and northern European neighbors, and with the Brits and with the Dutch and the others. So there are pluses, even if you take out the U.S. out of the equation.

But the U.S. is the key, particularly when it comes to the critical component of nuclear deterrence. There's no way the U.S. can be replaced.

ZAKARIA: You in Sweden made that decision to join NATO because you see a fundamentally changed strategic environment, particularly with regard to Russia. What do you think about that Donald Trump doesn't understand? In other words, if I would've put you in a room with Donald Trump, what would you try to explain to him about what has happened in terms of the security situation in Europe, particularly on the east?

BILDT: Well, I would try to say to him that the security of the United States long term is dependent what happens in the rest of the world, and if the security of Europe is fundamentally in danger by Russian aggression, be that in northern Europe would be that somewhere else. It's got a long-term impact on the security of United States. It's got to have an impact on China because the message will be clearly understood in Beijing that you can do whatever you want.

And that might be other actors around the world that would receive the same message. And at the end of the day the United States, we live in a far more uncertain world, and that should be understood even by someone who doesn't seem to care too much about the word.

ZAKARIA: Carl Bildt, always a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you.

BILDT: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, as Israel presses into the south of Gaza, I will ask Richard Haass how does this conflict end and is there any path to peace.



ZAKARIA: This week Israeli forces entered one of the few running hospitals left in the Gaza Strip. Israel's push south in Gaza continues unabated despite warnings from leaders all over the world of the devastating humanitarian consequences of a ground offensive in Rafah. Meanwhile, American, Israeli, and Qatari officials met in Cairo this week for another round of negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage deal, though those talks are for the moment at least stalled.

So how does this conflict end? And what are the prospects for lasting peace in the region?

Joining me now is Richard Haass, a former State Department official and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Richard, welcome. Let me ask you, there seems to be a feeling among, particularly among commentators that given the kind of enormity of the original Hamas attack, the enormity of Israel's response, this is going to shake things up and you're going to see some peace deal, cease-fire. Does it seem likely to you?


RICHARD HAASS, FORMER DIRECTOR OF POLICE PLANNING, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: In a word, no. I wish I shared that optimism, but I think there's understandably from the get-go, Fareed, there's been hopes that this would end. There's a lot of people hoped that it might lead to a different Israeli government, more inclined to compromise and make peace. There's people who's hoping that it would lead to the emergence of a Palestinian alternative to Hamas. Ultimately, a peace process.

I haven't given up hope on any of that, but at the moment there's precious few indications that that is -- that is anything close to becoming reality.

ZAKARIA: So you once wrote a book in which you talked about, you know, how negotiations and be still is only come when there's a certain kind of ripeness when they -- when things have gotten to a point where you can imagine a deal happening, you know, on that scale. Do you think we are anywhere close?

HAASS: In a word, no. You mentioned the ripeness idea. You need leadership on the various sides to a dispute that a one willing and to able to make a deal, to compromise, while on the Israeli side, you have a strong government, a strong enough government that's able to make a deal but there's zero disposition. Indeed, they define themselves in many ways in opposition to it. Instead, they prefer to continue the war as they would say, to root out Hamas even though there's very little evidence that's an achievable goal.

And indeed there's a chance you could see a widening of the war to Lebanon. On the Palestinian side Hamas is clearly unwilling to compromise, to even accept the notion of a Jewish state. And the Palestinian Authority is much too weak, even if it were inclined to deal with Israel. So you don't have any of the ingredients. So peacemakers, diplomats can do whatever they want, but they have virtually nothing to work with.

And the situation, the answer is not to go home. But what we what we have to try to do is put in -- put some ideas out there that over time could lead to a more ripe political contexts. And that's the most we can do right now I think is begin to change the conversation on the Israeli and Palestinian side.

ZAKARIA: We haven't talked about the north, Hezbollah. How worried are you that this, this conflict might spread? It certainly seems that Hezbollah and Iran have been careful and signal that they don't want this conflict to spread, but could you see it spreading even -- you know, nonetheless, just kind of accidental or miscalculations?

HAASS: There's two ways at least it could spread. One is the way you just suggested. There's been some exchanges in the last few days, so that could be something that could do it. I also think the Israeli government could credibly argue that they're in an untenable situation where upwards of 75,000 Israelis who live in the northern reaches of the country aren't safe and they've been required to vacate.

And I don't think that's a tenable situation for the long term. Now, ideally, given what you said, Fareed, there could be some kind of, quote-unquote, arrangement between Israel around possibly Hezbollah, that would allow people to go back some sort of informal de facto truce or cease-fire. I don't think the only alternative is for Israel to widen the war militarily. I certainly hope not, but I'm not going to sit here and rule out that possibility either.

You know, bad situations can get worse. In many ways that's the character of modern Middle Eastern history.

ZAKARIA: When you look at the situation, what you seem to be saying is, you know, don't expect some radical change. You might just have more of the same. This is going to continue. What does that do for Biden politically? Is it tenable for him to continue in the position he is where he's being very supportive of Israel, but the Israeli government is pocketing that support and making no concessions to him.

HAASS: Again, we're in somewhat violent agreement. I think it makes the president look weak. His instincts should have been supportive of Israel and almost like an avuncular uncle, to express disappointment or sorrow when he feels the prime minister or the Israeli government are doing the wrong thing. The problem is, what, we're over four months into this crisis and the Israeli government essentially rejects American and treaties.

Israel essentially is doing what it wants to do in Gaza, may do what it wants to do in the north. So the United States only has a few options, but I would say, you know, we could provide certain military equipment, but place certain conditions on its use. There's no reason, for example, Israel should be using large munitions and highly populated areas of Gaza. We could start tabling our own initiatives in the United Nations rather than abstaining or vetoing those of others.

I think the president has to become much more forceful in trying to change the conversation. I know Israelis are still focused on October 7th. Thats understandable.


But I think it's time for the president to begin a prolonged conversation over the head of this government with the Israeli people about October 8th and 9th and 10th, and February and March, and essentially make the argument that there needs to be a political dimension. There can't be a military solution which at the end of the day, is a political challenge. He has to initiate that conversation because he doesn't have a partner in this Israeli prime minister who is not interested in that conversation.

ZAKARIA: Richard Haass always good to hear from you. Thank you.

HAASS: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS. I'll explain why Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister Italy, may just be the future of Europe.


ZAKARIA: And now for my thoughts on a remarkable turn of events in Europe.


The de facto leader of Europe was once Angela Merkel, Germany's centrist chancellor from 2005 to 2021. Merkel welcomed refugees, pursued economic integration with Russia and China, and insisted on balanced budgets.

Today, another very different woman appears to be leading the way for Europe, right-wing Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni. Meloni recently demonstrated her growing clout when she helped convince Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban to stop blocking an E.U. aid package for Ukraine. The far-right Orban, who has a close relationship with Putin, feels the E.U. treats Hungary unfairly.

Meloni used to be very anti-E.U. as well but has come to embrace it. And according to "The New York Times," she persuaded Orban that it would be better for him to work with the European Union that against it. She pointed to her own success in securing billions from the E.U. and much needed funds for Italy.

Back in 2022 when Meloni came to power, some actually saw her as an Italian version of Orban or perhaps an Italian Donald Trump. She was anti-immigration, anti-abortion, anti LGBTQ. Her coalition partners were close with Putin and her own party had its roots in Italian fascism.

Joe Biden described her victory as something for democracies to be worried about. But her staunch support for Ukraine won him over. Within a year, Biden was hosting her at the White House saying they had become friends and applauded her for standing with Ukraine.

Meloni has also pleased the U.S. with her policy toward China. Italy had been the only major western nation to join China's signature Belt and Road Initiative. Meloni decided to pull out. This was seen as an undeniable sign of Europe's pivot away from China.

Meanwhile, her hawkish stance on immigration looks increasingly mainstream as France, the U.K., and the U.S. have tact right on the issue but she recognizes that tough measures in Italy alone are inadequate to fix the problem. So, as African migrants continue to rush in Meloni has undertaken a flurry of diplomacy to stanch the flow.

Just this week, she finalized a deal with Albania to hold asylum seekers there while they wait for their cases to be adjudicated. She helped forge another deal between the E.U. and Tunisia to block migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. She also launched an Italian initiative to invest in African countries aimed at improving conditions and thus discouraging people from leaving there for Europe in the first place.

In economic policy, Meloni's approach reflects the growing consensus of turning away from fiscal restraint and free market reforms. She has embraced bigger deficits with higher spending and tax cuts for workers. She has tried to go after big business with price controls on airfares and an extra tax on banks.

Meloni has not succeeded in all her priorities. For instance, the deal with Tunisia collapsed and illegal immigration to Italy actually rose last year. And she is out of step with the West on some things like targeting the rights of same-sex couples.

A constitutional reform she has proposed also bears mentioning. Its purported aim is to shore up Italy's notoriously unstable democracy. But it goes too far in a country where no group tends to win a majority, it would guarantee 55 percent of seats in parliament to whichever group wins the most votes.

This carries a whip of a law Mussolini used to cement control. "The Economist" called it a power grab. Still, Meloni remains pretty popular in Italy. In fact, she has the highest approval ratings of any G7 leader, left-wing on economics, right-wing on cultural issues, tough but friendly. This seems to be a winning formula with voters.

Emmanuel Macron is term limited in France. Germany's government is driven by divisions. And the United Kingdom is out of the European Union. Italy's prime minister increasingly looks like the face of Europe's future. It is Meloni's moment.

Next on GPS, recent elections in Pakistan signaled a potential return to power for former prime minister Imran Khan, perhaps. But there's a big problem, he's in jail. That story when we return.


[10:44:04] ZAKARIA: It is hard to win an election from prison but that appears to have happened in Pakistan's general election. That's what the "Washington Post" editorial board said of last week's stunning vote in that country.

Candidates linked to Imran Khan, the former prime minister, won the most seats in Pakistan's parliament. This is true even though his party was all but dismantled. And its symbol, a cricket bat banned in a country where more than a third of the population is illiterate. So, Khan would seem to be a shoo-in to be the country's next prime minister. But he is actually ineligible as he has been locked up since August on a series of charges from corruption, to leaking state secrets, to having a fraudulent marriage. Khan's allies claimed these charges are orchestrated by the country's powerful military, which has essentially run the country for most of its existence and has been at odds with Khan since 2022.


What is going on? Let me bring in Aleema Khan, the sister of the former prime minister who has been regularly visiting her brother in jail. She joins me now from Islamabad.

Aleema Khan, welcome. Let me ask you first, what do you think this vote, this overwhelming vote for your brother represents? What are people voting for when they are voting for him?

ALEEMA KHAN, SISTER OF FORMER PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN: Thank you, Fareed, for having me on the show and being able to give my brother's message because he is in jail and there are very few people who can see him. There's either the few family members or the lawyers.

Keep in mind that he is in solitary confinement. He is kept in a tiny cell. But what has happened is that people have rejected a system which comes from, I think it's archaic, it's coming from the last century.

We -- this is a new era of social media and young people. And I don't think they would like to continue the system where somebody else decides their fate. What Imran Khan really taught them -- he's not a politician, but he was a mentor to a nation and he has built a nation and its -- was an indication of what he -- what he signifies, what he stood for.

And what he stood for was that you have a right in this country. You have a right to justice. You have a right to education. You have a right to health systems. You belong to this country.

He's better. He has built a nation. And I think the happiest moment my brother had was the 8th February when people came out and understood what he was trying to do for them. And they came out in a shock to the system.

I think it's not just to Pakistan. This might become a trend for the rest of the elections coming in this in the world for the 2024, that they came out. They had no candidates, by the way, no party symbol, no candidates.

They had no knowledge of who the candidate was. They came looking for their own symbol, and they came out, families came out. They came out dressed up as if they were in a festival. And they came out to vote for a change.

And that change. I do not -- I don't believe that change can be stopped now no matter how many mandates are stolen from the people.

ZAKARIA: So, let me ask you, what is going to happen next? Because the other two parties have kind of banded together. The military seems to have blessed it. They intend to form a government.

Can you lead protests on the street? Is there any -- is there any possible way that mass action can stop this process where it does appear the two parties and the military are trying to move forward?

KHAN: This is -- I wouldn't say it's an uprising. I think I'm very proud of Pakistanis. They have risen. They intelligently voted. I think one of the most central roles that was played by both for the social media it is how young people have connected with each other.

This was not an underground movement. It was a social media movement. And everybody thought this was like young children. It was -- I think, they treated it with disdain that, you know, it's just young people. But do not forget out of 20 -- 240 million people, 120 million people are under the age of 30.

So, this was I would say, an uprising and rejection of a system from last century. Internet has made them independent. You might say that they're illiterate. Maybe they don't have literacy. But they have knowledge and they have been very smart about it.

They are silent about it. And they came out and casted their vote. And the vote was a weapon that they used. That is why I would say we're very proud of what Pakistanis have shown to the rest of the world.

ZAKARIA: Aleema Khan, thank you so much.

KHAN: Thank you. Thank you, Fareed. Thank you for having me on your show.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, I'll bring you my take on Tucker Carlson's trip to Moscow and what it says about right-wing politics in America today.



ZAKARIA: And now here's my take. Tucker Carlson's interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin got a lot of attention. But I was most struck by Carlson's reaction to his visit to Moscow, his first ever. He was not just impressed, it left him radicalized and enraged at his own government.

Where to begin? Perhaps with the obvious reminder that living in Moscow, if you criticize the government can mean prison or death, sometimes both. In Dubai, a few days after the interview, Carlson put forth a bizarre hodgepodge of assertions. He thought the architecture, food, and service in Moscow was better than in any American city. Really?

Moscow, outside of a small historic center, is filled with drabs Soviet-era concrete buildings. And while the food in Moscow can be quite good, better than New York or San Francisco? You need to get out more, Tucker.


Many of his jibes was simply untrue. He praised Moscow, saying it is one of several wonderful places to live because unlike America, Russia apparently doesn't suffer from -- quote -- "rampant inflation" -- unquote.

But using the Russian government's own data from last month, the country's inflation rate is 7.4 percent, almost two-and-a-half times that of America's. That's why interest rates in Russia are 16 percent, about three times higher than in America.

In a short video segment shot in Moscow, Carlson shops at a local grocery store and marvels that groceries to feed a Russian family for a week cost maybe a quarter as much as similar groceries would cost in America. This outraged him. But Russia's per capita GDP is approximately $15,000 compared to America's, which is approximately $76,000.

Stuff costs more in rich countries than in poorer ones. Carlson should go shopping in Mexico where his groceries would also be much cheaper. Perhaps he'll gain a newfound respect for the Mexican government.

Carlson also marvels at the grandeur of a subway station, contrasting Moscow's subways favorably with New York's, of course. Now, while it's true that Moscow subways are excellent, the stations are so grand because they were built by Joseph Stalin at huge public expense to showcase the superiority of Soviet communism.

In contrast, New York subways are a product of capitalism, having been built and operated through public-private partnerships of various kinds, which are more budget conscious. It's always been true that centralized autocracies can marshal the entire resources of society to build great vanity projects.

Tucker should go next to see the pyramids and the Taj Mahal. They're amazing. Carlson's entire riff about Russia is really about America. He said, "I grew up in a country that had cities like Moscow and Abu Dhabi and Dubai and Singapore and Tokyo."

New York is one of his favorite cities, he says, but as he sees it, American cities are now broken. Carlson was, born in 1969. So, the New York of the 1970s, he so fondly remembers was in fact a city of rampant crime, riots and graffiti, a city so badly mismanaged that it newly declared bankruptcy in 1975. A 1977 blackout became legendary for the massive looting and crime it triggered. More than 800,000 people fled the city that decade and real estate values plummeted.

It wasn't just New York, San Francisco in that era was seen as a hotbed of hippies, drugs, pornography and radical experimentation. The movie "Dirty Harry," portraying out of control urban crime, was set in San Francisco in the 1970s. Crime rates in New York today, like in major American cities in general, are way down from their levels, even in the 1980s and 1990s.

Carlson speaks enviously of cities like Tokyo, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. I've been to all these cities many times. Some of them in the last few months, and they are indeed wonderful in their own distinctive ways.

But what's striking about all of them is that they are somewhat tame and subdued, the product of authoritarian governments or conformist culture, or both. American cities are different. They are the product of decentralization and diversity and democracy.

Jane Jacobs, the great writer on urban life, always described the best cities as kind of bottom-up systems, seemingly anarchic, but actually organic and in the long run far superior to the abstract drawings of central planners.

American cities are expressions of democracy, places where people have to negotiate differences and find ways to live together. That makes them messier and dirtier and sometimes chaotic. But perhaps that is what has made these cities so vibrant and innovative, and why they have been at the forefront in making America the country that leads the world in economics, technology, culture and power.

Once upon a time, American conservatives praised America's organic communities, rooted in freedom and choice, built bottom-up, not top- down. But the new populist right despises these cities and that disgust is in part a rejection of modern, pluralistic American democracy itself.


Increasingly, they are dazzled by the clean and orderly ways of dictatorships, populist authoritarians and absolute monarchies. After all, say what you will about Putin, he makes the subways run on time.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week