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.