Greg Boyed interviews Fareed Zakaria
In his adopted country of America, Indian-born Fareed Zakaria has been described as the most influential policy adviser of his generation. Not only does he host CNN's Sunday morning current affairs show GPS, he's editor-at-large at Time Magazine and the author of several books, including The Post-American World and the rise of the Rest. We wanted to talk to him about our backyard - the Asia-Pacific region - and why the US has declared this region its new top priority. But it being Easter and all, we couldn't resist a quick tour through the Middle East first, so I began by asking him how the world, and America in particular, will react if Syria fails to meet the ceasefire deadline of April 10.
FAREED ZAKARIA - CNN Host and author
Well, the United States has committed itself to the idea that there is going to be regime change in Syria, but it hasn't committed itself to any means by which it's going to do that. It has not really employed any military means, and it's not really arming the rebels. So I think that this is one more of those deadlines that will come and go. I don't see a path to any kind of sustained campaign that gets rid of the regime. I have felt from the beginning that in the Syrian case, the regime has decided it is going to be very tough, very brutal, and unfortunately that often works. Unless you can rouse a very powerful international response or a very powerful local insurgency, brutality of that kind works, and I think in this case, we're likely to see this deadline come and go.
GREG Longer term, could that make things worse if Bashar al-Assad is given a deadline, it's not adhered to and he is able to think, 'Right, well, I do have carte blanche in the eyes of the world'?
FAREED I think so. I think in the sense that it just makes this a continuing low-grade crisis, rather than one that is escalating to any kind of point of decision. If he can wait out this deadline and wait out the next deadline, then after a while, the deadlines won't matter that much. There is one problem, which is the sanctions against him are pretty tight. Remember, Syria is not Iran. It is not an oil-rich country, and therefore it is going to run out of money, and it makes me think that while I don't see any prospects of this regime crumbling in the next month or two, it's difficult to imagine that five years from now, or even two or three years from now, Assad will be running Syria, because he will literally run out of cash.
GREG All right. To Iran - how real is the prospect of an attack from Israel on Iran?
FAREED Well, I have Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister of Israel on the show this Sunday. The sense I got from him and the sense I've gotten from him repeatedly - I've now talked with him several times - is that the Israelis are pretty committed to the idea that they will not allow Iran to get past what they've got as a point of no return, and that point of no return comes basically within a year. So in the next year, either they want to see dramatic results from the pressure campaign on Iran, which means essentially a halt to all Iranian enrichment, or they're going to do something. And he did nothing to disabuse me of that sense. So I continue to believe this is the single most potentially dangerous situation in the world, both politically and economically, because, of course, it will send oil prices sky high and could very well put Europe and the United States back into a recession.
GREG Ok. Now to politics in the US - Mitt Romney looks like he's going to be the Republican candidate. Is he, or whoever does eventually get the go-ahead, seen as a viable alternative to Barack Obama?
FAREED Yes, it will be Romney. The Republican Party is a very hierarchical party. After much to-ing and fro-ing, they always nominate the frontrunner, the guy who waited his turn, the guy who has the establishment's support, and they're doing it again. And he is a viable challenger because of what his communication director inadvertently revealed, which was the Etch a Sketch strategy. Because I think what you're going to see is that they are going to pivot to a very different strategy in the general election. In the primaries, he has had to come across as this fire-breathing conservative, and I think in the general election what he will come across as is a hard-nosed businessman, conservative principles, but pragmatic and moderate in implementation, uh, who just knows how to handle the economy because he knows the private sector. And that message at a time of very high unemployment, at a time when growth is still on the weak side, is a compelling case. I think that Obama obviously has many strengths of his own, but I don't think people should underestimate Romney.
GREG All right. Moving now to our part of the world - essentially New Zealand's backyard. It's been called the Pacific pivot. In January America declared that the Asia-Pacific region is now number one priority. It's ahead of Europe, it's ahead of the Middle East. In short, why the interest now?
FAREED In short, the rise of China. I think that there are other factors. I think that the Obama administration and the president personally has felt that the US has been overcommitted in a series of crisis areas in the Middle East, some of which do not really involve America's vital strategic interests. Obama always felt the Iraq War was a distraction, and the effort is to move away from playing the fireman in these crisis zones and move to the area of the world where the United States will have to make or break its future as a world power. Asia is rising. Asia is going to be the centre of global economics, and in order for the United States to be the leading world power, it has be a leading, if not the leading, power in Asia. And for those reasons, I think it is a very wise strategic move. But the sharpest impetus, of course, is the rise of China and the need in Asia for some power to balance China.
GREG Given what's potentially going to be on the table over the coming years, what are the risks, what are the opportunities for a country like New Zealand?
FAREED I think New Zealand faces the kind of challenges and opportunities in a microcosm that the whole world faces, but the great advantage that New Zealand has is that it now has the world as its oyster. Global trade is connected in a way that it has never been before. Global supply chains span the world in a way they have never done before. I think we're about to see a whole new wave of this because of the advent of mobile telephony, the ability of your phone to really be your computer, all of which means distance becomes irrelevant. New Zealand also has the opportunity - which it has not fully exploited - which is to be a kind of haven. If you look around the world, throughout history, there have always been places which have been regarded as well ordered, well organised havens for capital, for people, for businesses. Switzerland is, of course, the perfect example for the last 500 years. It is striking to me that Singapore is able to do that more effectively and to come across as more of a kind of bastion of Western, good Western governance and law and order more so than New Zealand has been able to do. Though, of course, it has done some. And I think that should be one of the core strategies of New Zealand because New Zealand is a place with an extraordinarily strong tradition of law and order. It needs to be more business-friendly, it needs to be more aware of the competition and the competitive landscape it faces, and I think that will be its comparative advantage, particularly when you consider Australia and the neighbourhood it is in. And it really can succeed at that really dramatically, I think.
GREG In the late '80s, we had something of a falling out with the US in that we banned nuclear ships from coming into our harbours. We have had a reasonably good relationship with China. When push comes to shove, are we going to have to choose that we put our lot in with China or we go with the US, or can we kind of have a bet each way?
FAREED I think you'll be able to balance both ways. I think we're a long way away from those ANZUS days of the nuclear ships. I think that the reality is the United States does not want a confrontation with China. China is the United States' largest trading partner. China is the United States' largest creditor. The US is China's largest market. So we're not in a cold war, and we're not in a war that in any way resembles that. China is a vital part of the world economy that helps the United States, it helps Asia. So we fully expect the relationship between the United States and China will be productive and cooperative, and in that context I think it will be perfectly understandable for a country like New Zealand to want to have good, strong relations with both countries. There will be issues that come up. I think sometimes people forget that these kinds of issues come up all the time with friends, will allies, with countries that are not quite friends and allies. So one shouldn't over interpret. If it turns out there's one specific issue on the South China Sea with regard to sea rights in the South Pacific, these things happen, and there will be differences. If the strategic decision is made that you want to have good relations with both countries, I don't see any obstacle. I don't think we're entering a cold war where you will have to choose.
GREG Fareed, in terms of the US place in the world, you're a strong advocate of the rise of the rest - of Brazil, India, China and Russia and so on. Does America simply not matter as much as it did?
FAREED In a word, yes. I think that you can soften that comment in many ways, and I am the first to point out, and in my book I repeatedly point out the United States will thrive in this new world because it is the leading economy, it is the leading political player, and it is by far the leading military player, and it's a very dynamic country. But it's not the world that existed 20 years ago. Just look at the transformation that has taken place in China, in India, in Brazil, in Indonesia, in South Africa. All these countries now take up more and more space, and they have a greater sense of political confidence. They are more assertive. And of course that means power is relative - political power, particularly, is relative, and so as China becomes a larger and larger player in Asia, as Brazil becomes a larger player in Latin America, whose role is being diminished? To a certain extent, the United States. Now, I don't think it's a particularly bad thing. I don't think it was a particular prize for the United States to have to run the whole world and bear all the burdens and problems. I think burden sharing is a good thing. As long as we have an open, pluralistic, institutionalised world in which everyone is invested, I think it means the United States can play its part, which will be a central part - probably the single largest part that any country will play. But others will be involved as well, and that's a good thing. It will actually create a more stable world going forward.
GREG In terms of really opening the door as far as we in New Zealand are concerned, what chance of an American Congress passing a free trade deal that cuts tariffs and subsidies protecting US farms?
FAREED Well, as you know, farm subsidies is a third rail of not just American but European politics as well. I would hope that over time two things might make it more likely to happen, and I realise this is something of a long shot. But the two forces are: on the one hand, the United States faces tremendous budgetary pressures in the medium and long term, and farm subsidies would be a very easy way to find savings, because while the numbers are quite big, the number of people who are supported by these farm subsidies is not actually quite large. The second piece is that American farms and American agri-business are quite competitive globally, and so the ability to sell into markets all over the world would be an upside to having greater liberalisation along these lines. The odd thing here is that if you were to do the kind of thing you were describing - looking at the rise of the rest and looking at the demand for agriculture and agricultural products broadly, you would think this would be a great opportunity for America. America is very competitive in this area. It, frankly, doesn't need the subsidies in the long run, but, politically, as you know, it's a very difficult thing to deal with for Europe even more so than America. But I'm hopeful. I think that it won't happen in the next year or two, but in a five to seven year span, I think you might see some movement.
GREG All right. Fareed Zakaria, thank you very much for talking with us.