Editor's Note: The following is an edited transcript of Fareed Zakaria's discussion with Suzanne Malveaux on Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.
Afghan shooting fallout limited
Suzanne Malveaux: The United States is trying to play damage control after the massacre in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, a shooter went on a killing spree, mowing down 16 innocent Afghans, mostly women and children. Now the country is reeling.
Fareed, we saw the press conference with President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. One of the things that the president made clear was that we would not be making, at this moment, a change in policy, in moving out U.S. troops. That timetable remains: 2014. Is there going to be fallout in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, if there's not some sort of movement here?
Fareed Zakaria: No, not really. What struck me about the reaction in Afghanistan is there was a stronger reaction to the Quran burning than to these killings. I think for most Afghans - and I'm speculating here - but I think the idea that there was some kind of policy decision made to destroy Qurans is something that struck at the very core of the issue of whether the United States respects the Afghan people, their customs and, of course, their religion.
This shooting has been seen as a just a tragic case of one bad guy. It is not seen as something that was ordered by any command structure - that the United States military in any way condoned it. And I think that the administration's response was very forceful with President Obama saying that we take this as seriously as we would if these were Americans who were killed. I think that has gone some way in making people realize this wasn't some kind of policy.
Suzanne Malveaux: Do you think that there's any daylight between President Obama and the British Prime Minister? Because clearly the Brits don't want to be in Afghanistan another day.
Fareed Zakaria: I think that President Obama, if you woke him up in the middle of the night, would have a position not so different from David Cameron's. I think the United States wants to go in a way that is responsible and keeps the place stable. I think the Brits feel the same way. No, I don't think there's much difference.
Obama boxed himself in on Iran
Suzanne Malveaux: I want to turn to Iran, if we can. We heard from the Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu pretty tough talk making it very clear that they believe Iran has the capability to build a nuclear weapon, that they would certainly be willing to attack. President Obama is a bit different than that. They want to see if Iran is building a bomb. What do we make of the position of the United States right now in terms of being dragged into some sort of conflict with Iran? Do you think that the tone of the White House is appropriate?
Fareed Zakaria: Suzanne, that's a very smart question, but I think the White House has tried to play this in a way which may have been too clever by half. Their view, which I completely agree with, is they are taking the threat very seriously. They have mounted an international effort: Iran is more isolated and more weak. Its ally, Syria, is in trouble. The administration believes we should give this time to work and keep the pressure on. The Israelis are saying, 'No, we're not waiting for them to make a nuclear weapon. We're waiting for the capability to make a nuclear weapon' and that's, of course, an intangible issue. When do they have the capability? I think that President Obama went through a period of real tough talk, saying he was ruling out containment and he's not bluffing.
I think he may have boxed himself into a situation where he's given up a lot of his options. He's said, 'I won't do this, I won't do that,' and he has put himself on a path where, unless Iran surrenders (and what country has completely surrendered to foreign pressure?) he's left with no option but to engage in a preventive war. I think the White House recognizes that and has been trying to dial back, but I would much more comfortable if we have all options on the table.
A lot of international relations is a mixture of threats and promises and bluffs. You don't want to leave anything off the table.
Syria more complex than Libya
Suzanne Malveaux: Another hot spot is Syria. It's just an unbelievable situation that you have on the ground there. 8,000 people having been killed now. And there's this failed diplomatic mission starting with Kofi Annan and now President Obama is trying to at least convince folks that the United States is doing something. Here's what President Obama said earlier in the Rose Garden: "Assad will leave power. It's not a question of if, but when. To prepare for that day, we will continue to make plans to support the continued aspirations of the Syrian people."
Fareed, do you think the United States can act on its own or do they need to wait for the United Nations?
Fareed Zakaria: Well, the main problem is there's not a lot of military options. You raise the question of what would you do? Syria's opposition does not control any cities, any territory. It's not an easy country to supply. In Libya, you had the Mediterranean Sea and Egyptian border. The logistics of doing something in Syria are very complex and I think the president likely believes there's no point in failing in a noble endeavor.
If you're going to get involved, you need to get involved in a way that you will succeed. it's very difficult to see how that would happen in Syria. We have to hope that the Assad regime runs out of power and money. They are pushing the Russians hard to effectively cut Syria off. That might be a more useful strike than a few air strikes here or there.