Zakaria: We’re in a new world
August 8th, 2013
10:54 AM ET

Zakaria: We’re in a new world

Fareed speaks with CNN about President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel a meeting next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S.-Russia ties, and the biggest threats to U.S. national security.

Do you think listening to members of his own party, concerned about weakness abroad, is what fueled President Obama’s decision not to meet Vladimir Putin?

No, I think what fueled this fundamentally is a genuine frustration with the Russians, because it isn't just Snowden. Let's be honest, if a Russian spy fell into our hands I'm not so sure that we would very quickly extradite this guy back to Moscow. So there's a little bit of tit-for-tat that goes on in this spy versus spy game.

The big disappointment has been on Syria, where the Russians have been very difficult to deal with and in some ways not even acting in their own interests. They've got an Islamic radicalism problem that is going to get worse if Syria spins out of control. And on arms control, where they have not come forward with a big proposal. So the Snowden thing was the kind of the straw that broke the camel's back.

So it really comes down to how we’re dealing with this, because the reasons have existed for some time. But the perceived weakness, loss of mojo, do you believe these are fair criticisms of the president?

I don't think it’s a fair criticism, but I think it's fair to say that it is acting as a kind of background condition in explaining the decision to cancel the summit. Look, part of the problem is that we're looking forward and trying to find constructive relations with the Russians. But they sometimes slip into a Cold War mentality.

Remember, Putin joined the KGB, Russia's spy service, in 1975 at the height of the Cold War, and he stayed in it until 1991. Literally when the Soviet Union collapsed is when he resigned from the KGB. Obama in 1975 was playing basketball in Hawaii. These are very different people with a very different outlook on the world.

But right now it does seem as though Russia has the upper hand, is dictating the action, doesn't care about the United States' intentions. Doesn't that have to change and quickly?

We're in a new world. We don't have the ability with Russia, with China, even with as we've seen with Turkey, with Egypt to issue the kind of commands we were once able to do. With Russia there's only a brief period where they were collapsing we could issue those demands. We're in a new world, these guys are powerful.

More from GPS: What Obama doesn't get about Russia

The underlying condition of Putin's strength is high oil prices. When oil prices were $15 a barrel the Soviet Union collapsed and Boris Yeltsin came begging to the United States for help and did whatever we said. Today, oil prices are closer to $100 a barrel. Russia is a kind of Siberian Saudi Arabia. It is a huge oil power, and as long as oil prices stay high Putin has the cash to be a spoiler. I wouldn't say he is setting the agenda, but he is the spoiler, and he has the money and power to do that. If you want to really break Russia's power, let's get off our addiction to oil, and that will do more to free us than anything else.

What do you think of his decision to snub the bilateral meeting in Moscow, but to still go ahead to St. Petersburg for the G-20 meeting?

I think it's very important to go to the G20. It’s the crucial decision-making forum now. And we've got a lot of issues that have to be dealt with, from trade to the issues of cyber security and things like that. The United States needs to be at the table.

But any kind of special recognition for Putin under these circumstances strikes me as the wrong message to send. So I think the president did the right thing.

Was Mitt Romney right last year when he called Russia America’s number one geopolitical foe?

I don't so, because I think it misconstrues the kind of world we're in. We're not in a binary world where we have one big enemy. That was the Cold War. That was World War II, if you will. It's a world in which we have many challenges. We've got challenges coming from Iran, from the collapse of Syria, from terrorist networks.

Yes, Russia is not one of our most trusted allies. It never has been. And I think that the mistake sometimes we make is to imagine that there was some imaginary moment where Russia was a great ally or cooperated with us. For a brief period, when it was on its knees after the Cold War, when Yeltsin was president, Russia was quite cooperative with us. Otherwise, for the last 75 years, we've been always been dealing with a difficult Russia that has fundamental interests that are different from ours.

The outgoing deputy director of the CIA, Mike Morrell, just gave an exit interview in The Wall Street Journal in which he says, as far as he's concerned, “Syria is probably the most important issue in the world today because of where it is currently heading.” He is deeply concerned about the chemical weapons, other weapons in Syria. If the regime loses control, al Qaeda will have access to all those weapons. He says that's the major national security threat to the United States right now. What do you think?

Well, I think it's certainly one of the biggest problems we face. If you look at where al Qaeda is cropping up, it's not in the places that are the most radical. They're not the greatest hotbeds of Islamic radicalism or militancy. It's in places where the government has no control. So it's Somalia, it's Yemen, it's Mali, it's Chad. The danger here is that Syria becomes one of those failed states, and then al Qaeda is able to establish a foothold. As you say, the chemical weapons add to the complexity.

More from GPS: Obama's risky Syria move

But the problem is there isn't an easy answer to it. I mean, unless the answer is that we send hundreds of thousands of troops, or even tens of thousands of troops in, it's not clear to me what the answer is, because remember, aiding the rebels, in many ways, would be aiding al Qaeda, because al Qaeda is sort of allied with the rebels in Syria.

So he’s absolutely right, this is a very complicated problem that the United States has to navigate. But I'm not sure that there's an easy answer, such as we should support the Syrian rebels or should we support al-Assad to make sure that these al Qaeda groups never get control of these chemical weapons.

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Topics: Russia • United States

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soundoff (194 Responses)
  1. timelord7202

    So we're no longer in GHWB's "new world order" or "the new normal" anymore?

    Still, trickle down, supply-side economics, free market... keep changing the words but keeping the underlying broken system in place. I'm amazed nobody paid attention when GHWB called it "voodoo economics" in 1981...

    October 5, 2013 at 8:39 am | Reply
  2. Bob

    Congress out of control, corporations running the white house and the US. The old ones let the government, steal their so social security out from under them. and remove their pensions. And let the the manufacturing move to other counties. plus the tax that the US puts on its people never stop growing and place's un-realistic burdens on the voters. The voters had better stand up for your self's. Its time to go to war and take control of congress. And remove and outlaw all lobbyist from the US government!

    October 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  3. Bob

    North Korea Is going to brake Obamas jaw and knock out all his teeth from his big mouth. Hay Obama fly your jets over North Korea now you #$%$. their waiting for you and more then ready this time!

    October 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  4. Jakerman

    It's about time Obama gotr some ball s and send a good message. Putin has shown the world he despise Obama.

    October 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  5. ElreyJones

    Zakaria is incompetent. This article is demented. Who hired this small pea brain anyway? And did he steal another job that an American should have? If so, kick him out of that job and give it to an American.

    October 22, 2013 at 9:31 pm | Reply
    • RadicalModerate

      He is an American citizen. Just because someone is a different color than you, that does not make them not American; think Bobby Jindal or Bill Richardson. Try making a friend who is different from you.

      October 31, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  6. ElreyJones

    Pakistan must be tamed. They are a discraceful people and their religion (Islam) is a shameful hate group and not a religion at all. Zakaria needs to work to make Pakistanis a decent people instead of the cesspool they are.

    October 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Reply
  7. VIVA QATAR AND DOWN WITH IRAN ,HIZBOALLAH AND SYRIAN THUGS

    fk Russia and all the communists, it is bul sh it, only 8% of the freedom fighters are Islamist and the rest all like us want real democracy and hate communist fascist like bashar al asad and Russia and hate terrorists like IRAN AND HEZBOLLAH WHO ARE THE PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 1...SAUDI AND QATAR MUST HELP TO GET RED OF THOSE COMMUNIST BAATH PARTY AND ALL THE HEZBOLLAH TERRORISTS who are get paid by Iran and get weapons from Russia. VIVA QATAR AND SHAME ON YOU USA AND UN , MORE THAN 150,000 CHILD , WOMEN AND KURDS WERE KILLED AND MANY CHRISTIANS BY THOSE SYRIAN AND IRANIANS THUGS.

    October 26, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Reply
  8. Allan Kinsman

    For too long we have applied a foreign policy which has thrown money, armies and more money at a problem of this idea of a new world order. We have failed through the traditional systems in this country to generate results from policy. We have gotten good at finding the bad guys and slowly eliminating them. However, these questional successes are based upon a fact which does not get discussed. The root causes of the successful recruiting of a new generation of terrorists. If we want to get serious about dealing with these issues we must with some difficulty now begin to rebuild a reputation again in the world. The world now knows we will go to any means to find terrorists including listening to our friends personal cell phone calls. If we don't find better methods in our covert acts we may run out of any friends to help in this most daunting undertaking. We need our house in order to muster a context in which these issues can be approached other than bankrupting the country. Then who has won the war?

    October 30, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  9. Tina L. Moore - Airwnd0041

    The bible says not too wait for an answer from Tina L. Moore. My question is why dose the realms keep saying "Tina"! Look like the world is still the same only difference is that they are plageing me with my birth name.

    Trying calling on those that sabotage my effects by name, maybe the world will or will not be new or different!

    October 31, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  10. John Erickson

    The Cold War never ended, it's sad but as long as the NATO exists, it serves as a relic of it. We need to move past it....

    November 4, 2013 at 12:24 am | Reply
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