December 18th, 2014
11:13 PM ET

Caving to North Korea on ‘The Interview’ sends the wrong message

By Fareed Zakaria

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.

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December 15th, 2014
05:20 PM ET

Zakaria: What the torture report says about American system

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

By Fareed Zakaria

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.

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December 11th, 2014
10:36 PM ET

Why releasing the CIA torture report will make America stronger

By Fareed Zakaria

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.

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December 8th, 2014
02:24 PM ET

Can Carter rein in the Pentagon?

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

By Fareed Zakaria

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."

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December 5th, 2014
12:36 AM ET

Can Ashton Carter rein in a Pentagon out of control?

By Fareed Zakaria

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.

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November 28th, 2014
02:38 AM ET

A legal immigrant’s plea for understanding

By Fareed Zakaria

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.

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November 24th, 2014
02:39 PM ET

Why America may be set for success

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

By Fareed Zakaria

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.

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November 20th, 2014
10:34 PM ET

America’s prospects are promising indeed

By Fareed Zakaria

Two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, a poll number that has not shifted much in three years. The midterm election results were just another reflection of this pervasive discontent. And yet, looking at the rest of the world, what’s striking is how well the United States is doing relative to other major economies. Japan is back in a recession and Germany has barely avoided slipping into one, which would have been its third since 2008. President Obama says the United States has produced more jobs in its recovery than the rest of the industrialized worldput together.

Why is this? Many believe that the American economy has some inherent advantages over its major competitors — a more flexible structure, stronger entrepreneurial traditions and a more demographically vibrant society. Along comes a fascinating new book that says you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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November 17th, 2014
03:28 PM ET

Facing up to the China challenge

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

By Fareed Zakaria

As Moscow continues to send its forces into Ukraine, it seems clear that Putin's Russia presents America and the West with a frontal challenge. But in the longer run, it is not Russia's overt military assault but China's patient and steady non-military moves that might prove the greater challenge.

Russia is a great power in decline. Its economy amounts to just 3.4 percent of global GDP. China's is nearly 16 percent and rising, now almost four times the size of Japan's and five times that of Germany's, according to the World Bank.

Presidents Obama and Xi deserve the accolades they are receiving for their historic agreement on climate change, and it seems to suggest that America and China are moving towards a new, productive relationship.

Except that, even while signing these accords, Xi Jinping's government has been taking steps that suggest it is developing a very different approach to its foreign policy – one that seeks to replace the American-built post-1945 international system with its own.

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November 13th, 2014
11:54 PM ET

China’s growing clout

By Fareed Zakaria

As Moscow continues to send its forces into Ukraine, it seems clear that Vladimir Putin’s Russia presents the United States and the West with a frontal challenge. But in the longer run, it is not Russia’s overt military assault but China’s patient and steady non-military moves that pose the larger challenge. Russia is a great power in decline. Its economy amounts to just 3.4 percent of global gross domestic product. China’s is nearly 16 percent and rising, now almost four times the size of Japan’s and five times that of Germany, according to the World Bank.

Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping deserve the accolades they are receiving for their historic agreement on climate change, which suggests that the United States and China are moving toward a new, productive relationship. Except that, even while negotiating this accord, Xi’s government has been laying down plans for a very different foreign policy — one that seeks to replace the American-built post-1945 international system with its own. There is clearly a debate going on in Beijing, but if China continues down this path, it would constitute the most significant and dangerous shift in international politics in 25 years.

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November 9th, 2014
12:23 AM ET

Asia key to Obama's foreign policy legacy

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

By Fareed Zakaria

Obama's biggest foreign policy initiative is powerful and intelligent – the pivot to Asia.

The greatest threat to global peace and prosperity over the next decades comes not from a band of assassins in Syria but from the rise of China and the manner in which that will reshape the geopolitics of Asia and the world. If Washington can provide balance and reassurance in Asia, it will help ensure that the continent does not become the flash point for a new Cold War.

But the Asia pivot remains more rhetoric than reality. Having promised a larger U.S. military presence in the Philippines, Singapore and Australia, there is little evidence of any of this on the ground...

...I know the world looks messy and the administration is now on the defensive. But recall what the world looked like when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were conducting foreign policy.

America was losing a war in Asia in which it had deployed half a million troops. The Soviet Union was on the march. Domestic opposition and troubles were mounting. Nixon and Kissinger had to initiate a major retreat but, as Robert Zoellick has pointed out, they combined this with a series of bold, positive, assertive moves.

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November 6th, 2014
11:43 PM ET

Will Obama become a foreign policy president?

By Fareed Zakaria

Despite this week’s elections, President Obama has the time and scope to do big things over the next two years. But they will have to be in the world beyond Washington. Next week’s trip to Asia would be a good place to start. In fact, it’s odd that Obama has not already devoted more time, energy and attention to foreign policy. It has been clear for a while that there is little prospect of working with the Republican Party on major domestic initiatives. This is hardly unprecedented. Administrations often devote their last few years in office to international affairs, an arena where they have latitude for unilateral action.

If Obama wants significant accomplishments in foreign policy in his last years in office, he will first need the discipline with which he began his presidency. The incremental, escalating interventionism in Syria and Iraq — were it to continue — would absorb the White House’s attention, the public’s interest and the country’s military resources. It also would not succeed, if by success we mean the triumph of pro-democratic forces in the Syrian civil war.

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