December 28th, 2012
06:36 PM ET

Talking tough decisions

"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

By Jason Miks

In the latest GPS special, Tough Decisions, Fareed spoke with four leading figures in policy making and business about difficult calls they have had to make. GPS is also interested in hearing readers' views about what they consider to be some of the toughest decisions made by policy makers in recent years.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon on weighing up the options over whether to proceed with the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

They were carefully considered, and there were really several options, as you said. Don't act, because the evidence isn't strong enough and the risks were too high. We can go through that, have a standoff attack. Work jointly with the Pakistanis on an operation. Or have the unilateral raid. At the end of the day, the reason, I think, that the president did the unilateral raid – the reasons were several fold. Number one, it allowed certainty that there wouldn't be a debate after the operation as to whether or not in fact Osama bin Laden had really been taken out. We would have proof and we just wouldn't have bought the United States a propaganda war around this. Second, it also allowed us to limit the potential for casualties and non-combatants. And we discovered, obviously, during the course of the raid that there were close to two dozen non-combatants at the compound. Three, it allowed us to limit casualties with respect to people around the compound, completely innocent.

And the president had a lot of confidence in that option for this reason: although it was 50-50, let's say, there was only a circumstantial case, he had 100 percent confidence in the special forces that would do this – that, in fact, that they would have the ability to get to the target, do the operation and get back, because he had a tremendous amount of experience with them.

Former senior State Department official Anne Marie-Slaughter on why she stepped down from her position.

The hard part was actually realizing I've always wanted to do these jobs, foreign policy is my passion, and yet actually, I'm also a mother and I want to be at home for the last 5 years my children are at home, And it was hard for me to admit that to myself. But in the end I had to recognize, both as a matter of need and want, that my life was going to go in a different direction than I always expected it would, and I had to listen to that. And I had to, in the end, kind of say, ‘wow, maybe I'm not quite the same person I thought I was, but I know this is the right thing for me to do.’”

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on how he helped turn Alcoa around.

“So the first day I was there, I asked the vice president, who was then in charge of safety, to come and show me the facts about where Alcoa was in those days. They were really quite good in terms of safety. Their injury rate per 100 workers per year was 1.86, almost two injuries per 100 workers that caused people to miss one day of work. At that time, the national rate in the United States was five injuries for 100 workers. So after I praised the vice president for you're really good and you've really done great things, I said to him, ‘Charlie, I want you to know something, because this is what I'm going to do, from now on, I'm going to say publicly to everybody who will listen to me, people who work at Alcoa should never be hurt at work.  We should have zero injuries.’”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on the secretive talks that helped thaw ties between China and the United States.

“You know, Nixon on issues of national interest was enormously courageous.  And he felt that it was his job as president to take those risks. And what was even more remarkable, is that Nixon was inherently a pessimist. And even when taking these risks had a certain sense of doom that they might not really work. But, he felt this was the one move that had to be made to unfreeze the situation.”

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soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. 100 % ETHIO

    Come on, let US move on, forward.
    We already passed that stages. Many thanks to the US Soldiers and for those who were with US.

    We got other jobs to do.

    December 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  2. Quigley

    Could this decision to murder the presumed Ossama bin Laden have been ordered to cover up the fact that the true bin Laden had already died some ten years ago from kidney failure in the mountains of Tora Bora? I guess we'll never know!

    December 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Talking about tough decisions. Susan Rice had more tough decisions to make than Anne Marie Slaughter!

    December 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
    • Charles P.

      Slaughter was best suited as an academic at Princeton.

      December 30, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
  4. Michael

    How can I get a copy of this program? Missed it on the air. iTunes does not have it.

    December 29, 2012 at 10:23 am | Reply
  5. GPS EP Tom

    Hi Michael,
    It's airing Sunday 12/30 on CNN and CNN International.
    And it will be available on iTunes in coming days.
    Thanks for your interest!
    - Tom

    December 30, 2012 at 7:50 am | Reply
  6. Charles P.

    My tough decision was to choose where to attend college- I chose MIT over Princeton, Harvard and Yale. Best decision- and btw enjoy your show very much. Thank you.

    December 30, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply
  7. Fred Lee

    My vote for Tough Decision of 2012: The Court upheld the 2010 Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts handing down the majority decision, framing the act’s individual mandate as a tax.

    December 30, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply
  8. Fardosht Amirpanahi

    It would very important to have a show on "Wrong Decisions". Seemingly "mundane" foreign policy decisions such as Carter abandoning the Shah of Iran. Obama abandoning Mubarak of Egypt.

    December 30, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply
  9. Beth

    Opening to China appeared to be a smart policy in 1972, but in retrospect it began the process of establishing a relationship with China that is harming the US to this date. Consecutive American presidents, inspired by Nixon, began the dance of normalization with a country that has profound grievances against America. Their sole intention in entering into the deal that Kissinger offered Chen Lai, was to gain the hegemony that they were convinced they can not have by alliance with Soviet Union. We walked into their world at a time of despair and offered them a life line. A life line that is costing American economy sixteen trillion dollars of deficit and a gloomy prospect and no exit strategy.

    December 30, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
  10. Barbara M

    Nixon was amazing in his foresight on China. There was nothing for him to gain politically but he believed it was important to the US in terms of global leadership. Nixon realized that a country with enormous economic influence should be normalized.
    Kissinger was outstanding in this interview. Thanks for the segment, Fareed

    December 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  11. Cheryl S

    How disappointing to see Fareek Zakaria interviewing Kissinger, who is an established war criminal. CNN does this from time and time and it is a puzzle as doing so continues to elevate a man who knowledgeable journalists understand was responsible for the death of many innocent people.
    Has Fareek Zakaria not read Christoper Hitchens book on this subject? If he has, does he take issue with facts in the book? Does he choose to ignore those facts and honor such a man through the interview? I don't understand. Even if one limited Kissinger's crimes simply to his role in the overthrow of democratically elected president Allende and the bloodbath that followed with the establishment of Pinochet's military rule, that should be enough, given our supposed values, for all of us to refuse to honor such a man by putting him on TV. I was very sorry to see Fareek Zakaria's show today.

    December 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  12. Bob

    I just finished reading a book called "The Devlin Deception," in which a billionaire buys the entire US federal government and tries to fix everything, especially taxes and the bloated government, with NO politics to impede the process. It made me think a lot about what's going on with the "fiscal cliff" negotiations and the appalling politics involved. Made me wish it weren't just fiction.

    December 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  13. Jack T

    In addition to Nixon's trip to China, I would nominate Anwar Sadat's trip to Israel.

    December 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  14. Sydney

    Mr. Z.. Thank you for the interview with Mr. Kissinger. It was so nice to capture some of the history of re-opening US-China relations directly from one of those who was there. This was a HUGE event in US history, which got so lost after watergate. Thanks again for bringing it back to life!

    December 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  15. Syd Goldsmith

    My tough decision was to turn down the offer of an extra year of one on one Chinese language training to serve as the State Department translator for the Warsaw talks with the Chinese...but there hadn't been any Warsaw talks since 1967, and the job was in Washington (where Mandarin speakers were rare). Little did I know just months before the first Kissinger secret visit that I was being offered what would be the opportunity to accompany Nixon and Kissinger to China. But the story has a happy ending. I was given Taiwanese language training, and am still out here watching the twists and turns of our relationships with big and little China 40 years later. P.S. Nice to hear your superb talk at Chautauqua, Fareed. I spoke on that platform about the US-China-Taiwan relationship in 2000, back when it was much more tense than it is now.

    December 31, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  16. Syd Goldsmith

    An additional note: For readers who would like to see how Kissinger was so totally outmaneuvered by Chou En-lai, have a look at Jade Phoenix, my historical novel of that period.

    December 31, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  17. Doug Polnar

    Hello,
    I am a Occupational Safety and Health Professional. I would like to purchase the video and edit it so it includes the opening remaks and the interview with Paul O'neil. I would like our top management to view it as well as our employees. I purchased the entire program on Itunes but cannot edit it. Any help would be appriciated.

    January 3, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Reply
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