June 3rd, 2011
01:32 PM ET

Fareed Zakaria on Syria and Yemen

The following is a transcript of my discussion with Anderson Cooper last night:

Anderson Cooper: Not only can the Syrian regime kill a 13-year-old boy and mutilate and torture him, they can also force the family of that boy to even deny what happened to their son. It's just a double blow. It is particularly insidious. 

Fareed Zakaria: It's completely Orwellian.... These are classic totalitarian methods.

This regime is probably the most brutal of all the dictatorships in the Middle East and you can see precisely why: Because it is trying to force this kind of mass confession, this kind of implication in its own thuggish behavior. And it uses plenty of pressure, too.

Remember, this is a regime where the father of the current president, Bashar al-Assad, faced an uprising from an Islamic movement over 20 years ago and killed, reportedly, 20,000 people in the town of Hama and then bulldozed the town - bodies and all - to destroy the threat. 

The frustrating thing for many  around the world is the sense that there's not much, perhaps, that the United States or the international community can do. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had some of the strongest words for Syria's dictator, Assad. She said:

"The legitimacy that is necessary for anyone to expect change to under this current government is, if not gone, run out. If he cannot end the violence against his own people, take meaningful steps to start a process of reform, then he needs to get out of the way."

This is a regime which really can hold on for a long time. 

I think it can hold on, unfortunately. It has the army behind it. Certainly, the officer corps of the army. The Assad family comes from a sect that is about 10% of Syria, a small sect, regarded by most Sunnis as heretical.

They're going to go down fighting. They have what money they need and they can be very brutal.

You know, there are two forms of control in the Middle East. One is mass bribery - and you've seen the monarchies do that, doling out money. The other is really brutal mass repression. And you see that Gadhafi tried that. But the Syrians are doing that in full force. It is really a testament to the spirit of the Syrian people that despite these incredible crackdowns, these protests keep popping up day after day.

It's extraordinary, and they're still speaking out. I talk to them almost every night on this program and I find it so moving, their strength and their bravery in the face of this slaughter. 

Let's talk about Yemen. A very different situation there. A very difficult situation in terms of U.S. policy. The U.S. has supported the president there –the dictator there. They now are basically saying he should step aside. What is going on? We're seeing, basically, this country almost on now - it seems like on the brink of civil war. 

That's absolutely right. And it is the most difficult challenge for the United States because the immediate danger the United States faces remains, of course, from al Qaeda. Al Qaeda in Yemen - al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - is probably the strongest al Qaeda branch outside of the Afghan-Pakistan region and they are gaining strength in Yemen.

What has happened here is President Saleh, facing these challenges at home, has drawn his army out of all the peripheral parts of Yemen into the centers. What that means is he has ceded large parts of the country to al Qaeda.

And so it's a very tense, difficult situation. Yemen is, in any case, a pretty unstable place. John Brennan, the president's counterterrorism adviser, has gone to Yemen, and I think the United States is trying to broker some kind of exit strategy for President Saleh that retains some stability. We want to see President Saleh go. We don't want al Qaeda to take over Yemen.

Post by:
Topics: Conflict • Syria • Yemen

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Paul Branton

    what about the chronic killing of afghan children in afghanistan
    ie. seven last week by us forces.
    double standard when reporting

    June 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  2. Jonathan Field

    Thanks Anderson and thank you CNN for keeping this in the news. I'm deeply troubled by the NYTimes lack of leadership in making this a front and center issue – or for that matter NPR, PBS or any of the major news outlets. It's a conspiracy of inertia and insidiious – bowing to this regimes' attempt to literally blow their own population back into the stone age. Not "regretable" but horrific. Thanks to you all for making sure the Syrian demonstrators are heard.

    June 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  3. Bobbo

    A palestinian state. Why does the US support this at all? What interest is it of Americans that there exists a Palestinian State. What have the Palestinians brought us in this world? Is there any contribution to anything of any relevance that these people have brought to the world???

    June 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Reply
    • Hafed

      For a while I thought you"r kidding when you asked, what the Palestinians brought you to deserve a state of their own, but then I realized how serious you were in asking such stupid question!.So,I thought its right time for Bobbo to read Shlomo Sand's book "The invention of the Jewish People",You know why,cause this book was written to answer silly questions like yours.

      June 4, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  4. Bobbo

    Sorry, I responded to the other article of Fareed's in which he was commenting on Netanyahu's statements.

    June 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    The brutality in Syria is highly disturbing. Apparently Assad's brother, the much feared Maher, who heads the Presidential Guard is practically in charge of those formidable forces, that put down protesters. Bashar is just a figurehead.
    The mountainous regions in Yemen resemble very much Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan and offer plenty of hideouts for the Al Qaeda people. The U.S. demands Saleh to step down! What happens then? Who will succeed him?

    June 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
    • Hafed

      Dear Von,Saleh has been and will remain,that's if he survives this heroic attempt to put an end to his farce,the most corrupted tyrant in the world.This man is also the most ignorant figure who can't even read without realizing the meaning of the speech.Contrary to this out of date clown, who claimes to dance od the heads of the snakes,meaning of course his people,the opposition is a brand of its own,educated, highly experienced in politics and well versed in public speeches but mostly adored by the people.Reason why the opposition hasn't Saleh removed is due to countries like Saudi Arabia and people like you who were accustomed to people of Saleh's type, who obey without needing to know the cosequences, as long as it satisfys his master's interests.We believe that interests of nations are genuinely secured when mutual respect is commonly upheld by concerned nations and not the opposit.

      June 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        I am amused by your reaction to my thoughts. I want to mention to you that Mencius, the Chinese philosopher (372 to 289 BC) maintained that it is acceptable for the subjects to overthrow or even kill a ruler who ignores the people's needs and rules harshly.Yes, a ruler who does not rule justly is no longer a true ruler.
        John Locke (1632-1704), an English, political philosopher wrote in the second treatise of his "Two Treatiises of Government" that the only legitimate governments are those that have the consent of the people. Therefore, any government that rules without the consent of the people can, in theory, be overthrown.
        I personally beleive, that the cause to overthrow a leader or to topple a regime must be just. "The interests of the vast majority in the country are quintessential", said Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778, a Swiss-Frend philosopher on whose ideas Gaddafi's Green Book is theoretically based.

        June 5, 2011 at 4:46 am |
    • Hafed

      Dear von, on the Syrian question,wish to know your answer as to which priority of actions would you preffer the Syrian Government to take 1-To Recognize and normalize relations with Israel and sever ties with Hezbollah or2-Introduce democratic reforms to the Syrian people???.

      June 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        Right now Syria should take care of its domestic affairs first. Bashar al Assad spoke of reforms in April, puting an end to the decades long emergency law and having a more people-friendly government etc. The problem was there were no dialogues between the two camps. The protesters wanted things to happen immediately and the continous uprisings prompted violent crackdowns from government forces. These interactions escalated the situation.
        I personally think Syria would have to revalidate its relationship with Israel and the Hezbollah. The last 6 months saw the Arab World and the Middle East in turmoil. Things are longer the same as they were before.

        June 5, 2011 at 5:11 am |
  6. ashley

    STOP MAKING SYRIANS LOOK BAD its not gunns work... in the end IT WILL ONLY HURT U LIKE THE WAR IN IRAQ please this is our TAX! money! leave it alone were going broke! just stop! leave them alone! jeez! IF HIS FAMILY SAYS HE DIDNT DIE THEN HE DIDNT DIE THAT WAY! a family would kill their son in syria ARABS ARE KNOWN TO BE SUICIDAL 4 EACH OTHER!! thats how i know this is all a piece of shit and CNN is a bigger piece of shit postin this bull...talk about Fake news! whats the point of reportin this if it aint real? really guys?

    June 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  7. ashley

    I used to Support anderson and CNN ...='(

    June 3, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply
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