CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about Europe's response to the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. This is an edited version of the transcript.
The French continuing with the sale of an advanced warship to Russia. Where is the outrage? Because the responses so far, you're talking about incremental increases in sanctions, still negotiating access to the site – this doesn’t seem to match the enormity of this crime.
You’re right. We’ve seen pretty strong rhetoric coming out of U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and President Obama. We've seen some of it coming out of the British prime minister, finally, and the Australian prime minister. Very little you notice out of continental Europe, the big powers – Germany, France, even the Dutch – have been remarkably restrained given the enormity of the tragedy here.
And I think that part of the problem here is that Europe has very deep economic ties, very deep energy dependence, on Russia. In the French case in particular, France has always prided itself in being a kind of bridge to Russia. They've always prided themselves on being a big military exporter. The way they think about it, if they didn't do this stuff, the Americans would be dominating the arms industry.
So, there are a lot of national interests that are coming in the way of what you rightly said should be a kind of international response. There should be a sense that the international community is acting, but instead what you're seeing is separate national interests – the French national interests, the German national interests – trumping what should be an international humanitarian interest.
There are national interests and there are national interests. On the one hand we talk about, for instance, Germany's dependency and many other countries dependency on natural gas. You need that to heat your homes, etc. But when you're talking about making profits in the case of the French on a major warship – that just seems almost too much to believe, particularly five days after this plane went down.
The French are remarkable because they are the heirs, of course, of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity, all that kind of thing. They're remarkably realpolitik in the way in which they approach the world. This was true even during the Cold War. They’ve always tried to pursue an independent often, what is called Gaullist foreign policy, which isn’t particularly interested in human rights and those kind of things, it follows France's national interests.
And what they would tell you is that thousands of jobs are on the line in France, because when you sell one of these warships you also sell service contracts. You sell maintenance, and so the there is a kind of continuing economic relationship. And it doesn't appear that France has done what I thought they might do, which was just delay all this for a few months. Just the appearance of it would seem to be almost unseemly, five days after this horrific tragedy.
The president is getting criticism for flying to fundraisers now rather than to Europe to finally rally European consensus on how to respond. Do you think the administration is open to fair criticism here?
I think that the administration in substantive terms often does about the right thing. You can't start a war over this. You've got to remember Russia has about a 30 to 1 advantage over Ukraine in terms of its defense budget, in terms of the size of the military.
So, the reality is Russia is very powerful on the ground. That's why it has been impossible to wrest control of the site. The Ukrainian government is in effect not in control of its own territory because these rebels get support from Russia. So there are limits to what you can do. But I think that the administration somehow seems to lack a sense of coherency and strategy and central purpose. The former National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was on my program last Sunday and he said, I agree with everything the administration was doing. I just wished they were more focused and energetic and purposeful about it.
I think there is that sense that there is an almost reluctance to take the leadership role here that naturally falls to the United States. And it's unfortunate because as I've said if you were to tick off the policies, there isn't much more you could do they weren't doing. Senator Lindsey Graham, when he was asked, famously said, well, they're not calling Putin a thug.
Well, you know, if that's the best alternate policy you have, a rhetorical flourish, there's not much there.