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The Paris terror attacks were barbaric but also startling, leading many to ask what could be done to prevent this kind of terrorism in the future.
Well, one man has a clear answer. "That attack you saw in Paris? You'll see an attack in the United States," Senator John McCain told the New York Times. Elaborating on how to stop this from happening, he explained to the Times and to CNN that it would require a more aggressive American military strategy across the greater Middle East, with a no-fly zone and ground troops in Syria and more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This theory was sometimes described during the Iraq war as, "We fight them there so we don't have to fight them here."
It was wrong then and it's wrong now.
Watch the video for the full Take or read the Washington Post column
By Fareed Zakaria
It would be nice if an American intervention could identify the moderate Syrians, ensure that they defeat the (much stronger) radical Islamists and then the (much stronger) Assad army, and then stabilize and rule Syria. More likely, it would help Assad and add fuel to a raging fire.
Let’s review the record. The United States’ non-intervention in Bosnia in the early 1990s is said to have spawned Islamic radicalism, as did the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, as did the partnership with Pakistan’s military, as did drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, as did the surge in Afghanistan, as did the withdrawal of troops from that country. When the United States intervenes, it is said to provoke terrorists; when it doesn’t, it is said to show that Washington is weak. No matter what the United States has done over the past two decades, Islamic radicalism has been on the rise, often directed against the United States and its Western allies, and it always finds a few alienated young men who act on its perverse ideology.
Read the Washington Post column
When governments try to curry favor with fanatics, eventually the fanatics take the law into their own hands. In Pakistan, jihadis have killed dozens of people whom they accuse of blasphemy, including a brave politician,Salmaan Taseer, who dared to call the blasphemy law a “black law.”
We should fight the Paris terrorists. But we should also fight the source of the problem. It’s not enough for Muslim leaders to condemn people who kill those they consider as blasphemers if their own governments endorse the idea of punishing blasphemy at the very same time. The U.S. religious freedom commission and the U.N. Human Rights Committee have both declared that blasphemy laws violate universal human rights because they violate freedom of speech and expression. They are correct.
If you ask people in Silicon Valley what makes it work, they will talk about many things — the ability to fail, the lack of hierarchy, the culture of competition. One thing almost no one mentions is the government. And yet, the Valley’s origins are deeply tied to government support. The reason there were so many engineers in California in the 1950s and 1960s was because large defense companies had attracted them there. Most of the legendary start-ups that fueled the computer revolution — Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel — got off the ground largely because the military, and later NASA, would buy their products until they became cheap and accessible enough for the broader commercial market. GPS, the technology that now powers the information revolution, was developed for the military.
And then there was government funding for research, which is sometimes thought of simply as large grants to universities for basic science but often was far more ingenious. My favorite example comes from Walter Isaacson’s fascinating new book, “The Innovators.” In the 1950s, the U.S. government funded a massive project at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, employing equal numbers of psychologists and engineers who worked together to find ways “that humans could interact more intuitively with computers and information could be presented with a friendlier interface.” Isaacson traces how this project led directly to the user-friendly computer screens of today as well as ARPANET, the precursor of the Internet.
Federal funding for basic research and technology should be utterly uncontroversial. It has been one of the greatest investments in human history. And yet it has fallen to its lowest level as a percentage of GDP in four decades.
Why does a terrorist threat from North Korea produce appeasement and indifference whereas threats from Islamic terrorists produce courage, and defiance, and resilience? I suspect that it's because we are fully aware of the barbarism of Jihadi terrorists.
But we tend to think of North Korea in somewhat comical terms – the odd dictators with their strange haircuts, the weird synchronized mass-adulation in stadiums, the retro-propaganda and rhetoric.
In fact, North Korea is one of the world's most repressive and brutal dictatorships. Estimates are that it allowed one to two million of its own people to starve in a famine in the 1990s. The United Nations says that North Korea abducted thousands of people from neighboring countries following the Korean War and currently imprisons about 100,000 people in brutal labor camps. That statistic comes from a U.N. panel commissioned to investigate the human rights situation in North Korea. Its report, released in February, paints a picture of a regime that really has no parallel in the scale of its cruelty and oppression.
The challenge that movie studios and theaters face is real because they have to balance the issue of freedom of expression with safety and commerce.
But they have made a mistake.
Watch the video for the full Take or read the WaPo column
Why does a terrorist threat from North Korea produce appeasement, whereas threats from Islamic terrorists produce courage, defiance and resilience? I suspect it’s because we are fully aware of the barbarism of jihadi terrorists. But we tend to think of North Korea in somewhat comical terms — the odd dictators with their strange haircuts; the weird, synchronized mass adulation in stadiums; the retro-propaganda and rhetoric.
In fact, North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive and brutal dictatorships. Estimates are that it abducted thousands of people from neighboring countries following the Korean War, allowed 1 million to 2 million of its own people to starve in a famine in the 1990s and currentlyimprisons about 100,000 people in labor camps. The United Nations appointed a panel to investigate the human rights situation in North Korea;its report, released in February, paints a picture of a regime that has no parallel in the scale of its systematic cruelty and oppression.
America was at a disadvantage compared to the Soviet Union, it was said, because it had to operate with its hands tied behind its back, with Congressional interference, media exposure and all the other trappings of a democracy. Moscow, on the other hand, could act speedily, effectively, lethally and in secret.
In fact, the Soviet Union pursued an utterly disastrous foreign policy. It so brutally suppressed its "allies" that by the 1980s, it was encircled by a group of countries in Eastern Europe that had become deeply hostile to it. It pursued an arms race with the United States that by some estimates consumed 10 to 20 percent of its GDP. It invaded Afghanistan and bled itself dry in a war it could not admit it had lost.
All these flaws were the product of a closed system with no checks and balances.
The United States made its share of mistakes during the Cold War. But because of a democratic system of contestation, transparency, checks and balances, many of them were exposed early. New administrations could shift policy without losing face. Course correction was routine. Despite the nostalgia that many mandarins have for an old Metternichian model, it is the big, raucous, contentious democracies — Britain and the United States — that have prevailed in the world, not Nazi Germany, imperial Japan or the Soviet Union.
“A case can be made . . . that secrecy is for losers,” the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in his 1998 book on the subject, adding, “Openness is now a singular, and singularly American, advantage.” Closed systems work badly. Open systems have the great advantage of getting feedback — criticism, commentary, audits, reports. The CIA claims that its programs after 9/11 worked very well and suggests that the best judge of this should be itself. The Senate report provides an alternative view with substantial evidence and argumentation. This debate will make the CIA better, not worse. And the revelations of the National Security Agency’s vast espionage will force it to refine its snooping to programs that are effective and justifiable.
Ashton Carter, the President's nominee to be the next defense secretary, is a brilliant man. But by far the best quality he has going for him is that he seems to understand the need to rein in a Pentagon now so out of control that it is difficult to fully comprehend or even explain.
The largest government bureaucracy in the world, the Department of Defense, even after billions of dollars in cuts, now spends about $600 billion a year when everything is added in – that’s more than the entire GDP of Poland. It employs 1.4 million men and women in uniform, 700,000 civilians, and another 700,000 full time contractors. The Pentagon's accounts are so vast and byzantine that it is probably impossible to do a thorough and honest audit of them.
Still, a recent Government Accountability Office report made a valiant effort and concluded that the total budget overruns for current weapons systems stand at nearly $500 billion. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program alone is now around $150 billion over budget. In other words, the cost overruns on one weapons system are more than the total defense budget of Britain and France put together!
In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower warned against the "unwarranted influence" of the "military-industrial complex."
Fifty years later, on December 15, 2011 – to mark the anniversary of Eisenhower's address – a renowned defense expert argued that things had gotten much worse and far more corrupt. Congress had itself been captured by the system, he said, which should now be called "the military-industrial-congressional complex."
Republicans worry a great deal about dysfunction in government. They launch investigations to find out why a few hundred million dollars were wasted and insist that departments do more with less. Except for the largest government bureaucracy in the world, the Defense Department, which spends about $600 billion a year — more than the entire GDP of Poland — and employs 1.4 million men and women in uniform, 700,000 civilians and 700,000 full-time contractors. The Pentagon’s accounts are so vast and byzantine that it is probably impossible to do a thorough audit of them.
Still, a recent Government Accountability Office report made a valiant effort, concluding that the total budget overruns for current weapons systems stands at nearly $500 billion. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program alone is now around $160 billion over budget. In other words, the cost overruns on one weapons system are more than the total defense budgets of Britain and France combined. A new presidential helicopter fleet was scrapped after the cost for a single chopper neared that of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. And on and on.
Opponents of President Obama’s recent action on immigration — and of any kind of legalization policy for undocumented workers — often argue that these initiatives are not fair to America’s legal immigrants. These people, it is said, played by the rules, followed the law, paid their taxes and are horrified to see people rewarded who did the opposite. I’m sure some legal immigrants feel this way, but not many. A poll released this weekshows that 89 percent of registered Hispanic voters approve of Obama’s action.
Why is this? I can only speak for myself. As a legal immigrant, I don’t harbor any ill will toward those who came into this country illegally. To be clear, I don’t approve of breaking the law. I think the stream of border crossings should be slowed to a trickle, and I favor immigration reform that would secure the borders, substantially reduce the numbers who come in via “family unification,” substantially increase the quotas for skilled workers and allow a small guest worker program. My views on immigration are in the middle of the political spectrum. But I don’t view illegal immigrants with any hostility.
Many believe the American economy has some inherent advantages over its major competitors – a more flexible structure, stronger entrepreneurial traditions, a more demographically dynamic society.
Well, along comes a fascinating new book that says, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Peter Zeihan's The Accidental Superpower begins with geography, pointing out that America is the world's largest consumer market for a reason – rivers. Transporting goods by water, he points out, is 12 times cheaper than by land, which is why civilizations have always flourished around rivers.
And America, Zeihan calculates, has more navigable waterways – 17,600 miles worth – than the rest of the world put together. By comparison, he notes, China and Germany have about 2,000 miles each and ALL of the Arab world has just 120 miles of river.
But that's just the beginning.
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
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