September 26th, 2014
12:06 AM ET

The fight against ISIS must include Iran

By Fareed Zakaria

The United States has some influence with the Iraqi government, but Iran has far more. The Shiite religious parties that today run the country have been funded by Iran for decades. Their leaders lived in Tehran and Damascus during their long exiles from Saddam Hussein’s regime. When Washington sought to remove the previous prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, Iran provided the push that made it happen. If the goal is to get the Iraqi government to share more power with the Sunnis, Iran’s help would be invaluable, perhaps vital.

In Syria, Washington’s strategy is incoherent. It seeks to destroy the Islamic State there and attack Jabhat al-Nusra and the Khorasan group but somehow not strengthen these groups’ principal rival, the Bashar al-Assad regime. This is impossible. As these terrorist groups lose ground, the army that will most easily take advantage will be that of the Syrian regime, not the disorganized and weak Free Syrian Army. If there is some way to make this strategy less contradictory, it would be to work toward some power-sharing deal in Syria that includes elements of the Assad government — such as generals and intelligence heads. But Washington has no contact or credibility with anyone in the Assad regime. The government that does is in Tehran.

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September 19th, 2014
02:37 AM ET

India's bold new leader

By Fareed Zakaria

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also handled the international stage deftly. He wooed Japan and softly criticized China, then backed away and embraced Beijing — getting large investments from both countries. He is straightforwardly pro-American and seems to harbor little ill will toward Washington for having refused to give him a visa for almost a decade. And yet, he has not abandoned Russia, India’s ally, choosing to be silent on its actions in Ukraine.

Where Modi has underperformed, surprisingly, has been in his core competence — economics. He has been slow to announce major reforms. His first budget was disappointing, and many of his Cabinet appointments have been lackluster. Those expecting major changes in subsidies, trade policy or labor market restrictions have been disappointed.

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September 13th, 2014
07:01 PM ET

How to defeat ISIS

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

By Fareed Zakaria

President Obama's speech Wednesday night outlined a tough, measured strategy to confront ISIS. But let's make sure in the execution of this strategy that the U.S. learns something from the 13 years since September 11, 2001 and the war against al Qaeda.

Here are a few lessons to think about:

One – Don't always take the bait. The United States has to act against this terror group. But it should do so at a time and manner of its choosing rather than jumping when ISIS wants it to jump.

Lesson two: Don't overestimate the enemy. ISIS is a formidable foe, but the counterforces to it have only just begun...While ISIS is much more sophisticated than al Qaeda in its operations and technology, it has one major, inherent weakness. Al Qaeda was an organization that was pan-Islamic, trying to appeal to all Muslims. This group is a distinctly sectarian organization. ISIS is anti-Shiite as well as deeply hostile to Kurds, Christians and many other inhabitants in the Middle East. This means that it has large numbers of foes in the region who will fight against it, not because the United States wants them to but in their own interests.

Lesson number three: Remember politics. The Obama administration has mapped out a smart strategy in Iraq, pressing the Baghdad government to include more Sunnis. But that is yet to happen – the Shiite parties have dragged their feet over any major concessions to the Sunnis. This is a crucial issue because if the United States is seen as defending two non-Sunni regimes – Iraq and Syria – against a Sunni uprising, it will not win.

Watch the video for the full Take, or read the WaPo column

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September 11th, 2014
11:34 PM ET

Can we defeat the Islamic State?

By Fareed Zakaria

The Obama administration has mapped out a smart strategy in Iraq, pressing the Baghdad government to include more Sunnis. But that has yet to happen — the Shiite parties have dragged their feet over any major concessions to Sunnis. The Iraqi army has not been reconstituted to make it less partisan and sectarian and more inclusive and effective. This is a crucial issue because if the United States is seen as defending two non-Sunni regimes — Iraq and Syria — against a Sunni uprising, it will not win. And it will be hard to recruit local allies. While a minority in Iraq, Sunnis make up the vast majority of the Middle East’s Muslims.

The Syrian aspect of the president’s strategy is its weak link. It is impossible to battle the Islamic State and not, in effect, strengthen the Bashar al-Assad regime. We can say we don’t intend to do that, but it doesn’t change the reality on the ground. The Free Syrian Army remains weak and divided among many local militias.

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September 8th, 2014
03:55 PM ET

Revisiting 'Why Do They Hate Us?'

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

By Fareed Zakaria

Watching the gruesome ISIS execution videos, I felt some of the same emotions I did after 9/11. Barbarism, after all, is designed to provoke anger and it succeeded. But in September 2001, it also made me ask a question: "Why Do They Hate Us?"

I tried to answer it in an almost 7,000-word essay for Newsweek that struck a chord with readers. I reread the essay this past week, to see how it might need updating in the 13 years since I wrote it.

I began the piece by noting that Islamic terror is not the isolated behavior of a handful of nihilists. There is a broader culture that has been complicit in it, or at least unwilling to combat it. Now, things have changed on his front but not nearly enough…

…By 2001, when I was writing, almost every part of the world had seen significant political progress - Eastern Europe was free, Asia, Latin America, and even Africa had held many free and fair elections. FULL POST

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Middle East • Religion
September 5th, 2014
12:21 AM ET

Why they still hate us, 13 years later

By Fareed Zakaria

Watching the gruesome execution videos, I felt some of the same emotions I did after 9/11. Barbarism is designed to provoke anger, and it succeeded. But in September 2001, it also made me ask, “Why do they hate us?” I tried to answer that question in an essay for Newsweek that struck a chord with readers. I reread it to see what I got right and wrong and what I’ve learned in the past 13 years.

It’s not just al-Qaeda. I began by noting that Islamic terrorism is not the isolated behavior of a handful of nihilists. There is a broader culture that has been complicit or at least unwilling to combat it. Things have changed on this front but not nearly enough.

It’s not an Islam problem but an Arab problem. In the early 2000s, Indonesia was our biggest concern because of a series of terrorist attacks there after 9/11. But over the past decade, jihad and even Islamic fundamentalism have not done well in Indonesia — the largest Muslim country in the world, larger in that sense than Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Gulf states put together. Or look at India, which is right next door to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s headquarters in Pakistan, but very few of its 165 million Muslims are members of al-Qaeda. Zawahiri has announced a bold effort to recruit Indian Muslims, but I suspect it will fail.

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August 31st, 2014
03:31 PM ET

Does Iraq need a second Sunni Awakening?

By Fareed Zakaria

What are the strengths of the Islamic State? I posed this question to two deeply knowledgeable observers – a European diplomat and a former U.S. official – and the picture they painted is worrying, although not hopeless…

…The Islamic State’s military strategy is brutal but also smart. The group’s annual reports – yes, it has issued annual reports since 2012 – detail its military methods and successes to try to impress its backers and funders. The videos posted online of executions are barbaric but strategic. They are designed to sow terror in the minds of opponents, who when facing Islamic State fighters on the battlefield, now reportedly flee rather than fight.

But the most dangerous aspect of the Islamic State, this diplomat believes, is its ideological appeal. It has recruited marginalized, disaffected Sunni youths in Syria and Iraq who believe they are being ruled by apostate regimes. How to handle this challenge?

The American, a former senior administration figure, counsels against pessimism. The Islamic State could be defeated, he said, but it would take a comprehensive and sustained strategy, much like the one that undergirded the surge in Iraq…

…The two observers agreed on one central danger. The temptation to gain immediate military victories over the Islamic State could mean that the United States would end up tacitly partnering Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. This would produce a short-term military gain against the Islamic State but it would be a long-term political disaster. “It would feed the idea that the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are embattled, that a Crusader Christian-Shiite alliance is persecuting them and that all Sunnis must resist this alien invasion,” the European diplomat said. “The key is that Sunnis must be in the lead against IS. They must be in front of the battlefield.”

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August 29th, 2014
12:43 AM ET

A second Sunni Awakening?

By Fareed Zakaria

What are the strengths of the Islamic State? I posed this question to two deeply knowledgeable observers – a European diplomat and an American former official – and the picture they painted is worrying, although not hopeless. Defeating the group would require a large and sustained strategic effort from the Obama administration, but it could be done without significant numbers of U.S. ground troops.

The European diplomat, stationed in the Middle East, travels in and out of Syria and has access to regime and opposition forces. (Both sources agreed to speak only if their identities were not revealed.) He agrees with the consensus that the Islamic State has gained considerable economic and military strength in recent months. He estimates that it is making $1 million a day each in Syria and Iraq by selling oil and gas, although U.S. experts believe this number is too high in Iraq.

The Islamic State’s military strategy is brutal but also smart.

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August 18th, 2014
11:03 AM ET

What Middle East moderates?

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

By Fareed Zakaria

Over the last decade, the United States helped organize Iraq's “moderates” – the Shiite-dominated government – gave them tens of billions of dollars in aid and supplied and trained their army. But, it turned out, the moderates weren't that moderate and they turned authoritarian and sectarian. Sunni opposition movements grew and jihadi opposition groups, like ISIS, gained tacit or active support from the population.

This is a familiar pattern throughout the region.

For decades now, American foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” Great, the only problem is there are actually very few moderates. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is, “carrying the Islamic world back to the dark ages,” says Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul. In these circumstances moderates either become extremists or they lose out in the brutal power struggles of the day. Look at Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian territories. FULL POST

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August 14th, 2014
11:06 PM ET

The fantasy of Middle Eastern moderates

By Fareed Zakaria

For decades, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” The problem is that there are actually very few of them. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is “carrying the Islamic world back to the Dark Ages,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul. In these circumstances, moderates either become extremists or they lose out in the brutal power struggles of the day. Look at Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian territories.

The Middle East has been trapped for decades between repressive dictatorships and illiberal opposition groups — between Hosni Mubarak and al-Qaeda — leaving little space in between. The dictators try to shut down all opposition movements, and the ones that survive are vengeful, religious and violent. There was an opening for moderates after the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, but it rapidly closed. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had a chance to govern inclusively, but it refused. Without waiting for vindication at the polls, Egypt’s old dictatorship rose up and banned and jailed the Brotherhood and other opposition forces. In Bahrain, the old ruling class is following the example of the Egyptian regime, while the Saudi monarchy funds the return to repression throughout the region. All of this leads to an underground and violent opposition. “Because of the culture of impunity [from the government], there is a new culture of revenge” on the street, Said Yousif al-Muhafda, head of documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, a news and analysis Web site.

Read the Washington Post column

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August 11th, 2014
12:56 PM ET

And now for the good news

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

Wherever you look these days, the world seems like it’s on fire.

New hot spots like Russia and Ukraine are competing with the old ones like Gaza and festering conflicts like those in Syria and Iraq – especially Iraq – are getting much worse. Even Afghanistan, which seemed in better shape than the other places, had a setback this past week.

So, is there any good news out there? In fact, there is. Some of the most important countries in the world are making remarkable progress, affecting at least 1.5 billion people. FULL POST

August 7th, 2014
10:37 PM ET

Global success stories

By Fareed Zakaria

Wherever you look these days, the world seems on fire. New hot spots like Russia-Ukraine are competing with old ones like Gaza. Festering conflicts like those in Syria and Iraq are getting worse. Even Afghanistan, which seemed in better shape than the other places, had a setback this week. Is there any good news out there?

In fact, some of the most important countries in the world are making remarkable progress, affecting at least 1.5 billion people. Let me give you the good news.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. It has more Muslims than Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf states put together. It is also crucially located, in East Asia where great power politics and rivalries are heating up. Only 10 years ago, the fear was that Islamic militants were taking over the country and that it was an economic mess and an unreliable crisis spot in the region. The country has defied all skeptics and last month it took a big step forward.

Read the Washington Post column

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