I spoke with John King from Tehran about America's withdrawal from Iraq. Here's a transcript of our conversation:
John King: A simple question up front. U.S. troops leaving Iraq by the end of the year, Iran has to view this as a victory.
Fareed Zakaria: Oh, I'm sure it views it as a victory. Iran views what had happened in Iraq entirely from a kind of geopolitical prism. That is the U.S. and Iran are competing for influence in Iraq. They have viewed it that way from the start of the fall of the regime and they have their agents in there and Iran has long ties to many of threat groups that are now dominant in Iraq.
Prime Minister Maliki and his party were in exile in Iran for 10 years. Many of the Kurdish leaders, including the current president of Iraq, was in Iran. Many of them speak fluent Persian. They have long and ongoing ties. Muqtada al-Sadr, when he finds that things get difficult for him in Iraq he head backs to Iran. So all of these political officials have been nourished sustained by Iran. And as American troops draw down, Iran's influence can only increase.
John King: And this sounds incredibly crass, but is this a fair bottom line? That after almost nine years, billions of dollars in U.S. money and nearly 4,500 lives lost of brave U.S. service men and women, that Iran wins?
Fareed Zakaria: One of the things I have always - looked on the idea of dealing with Saddam Hussein favorably is that whatever benefits we have gotten out of the operation in Iraq, the costs have been staggering, as you described.
And those costs really seem to far outweigh benefits right now.
John King: At the White House today the deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, said they're not that worried about Iran's influence. He says Iran is further isolated, has been weakened in recent years.
Fareed Zakaria: Denis McDonough pointed out that Iran's been having a bad few months and I think that's entirely true.
The Iranians have had trouble internally, they have had trouble abroad. The whole image of Iran in the wake of the Arab spring has been tarnished. And now these new allegations about the Saudi assassination plot. Iran's not in great shape. But on this specific issue I'm not sure I would agree. I think that Iran has maintained contacts with Iraq very successfully and very aggressively. Look, this is why the Americans couldn't get a deal done.