Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria recently delivered the commencement address at Harvard. While the audience was graduates, the message could apply to a great many of us, so we've reprinted a modified version below.
By Fareed Zakaria
The best commencement speech I ever read was by the humorist Art Buchwald. He was brief, saying simply, “Remember, we are leaving you a perfect world. Don’t screw it up.”
You are not going to hear that message much these days. Instead, you’re likely to hear that we are living through grim economic times, that the graduates are entering the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. The worries are not just economic. Ever since 9/11, we have lived in an age of terror, and our lives remain altered by the fears of future attacks and a future of new threats and dangers. Then there are larger concerns that you hear about: The Earth is warming; we’re running out of water and other vital resources; we have a billion people on the globe trapped in terrible poverty.
So, I want to sketch out for you, perhaps with a little bit of historical context, the world as I see it.
The storm over the blind activist Chen Guangcheng has understandably captured the world's attention in the past week. But an event of much greater significance remains the ouster of Bo Xilai, the powerful party boss of Chongqing. The rise and fall of Bo is part of a much larger and potentially disruptive trend in China–the return of politics to the Chinese Communist Party.
We don't much think of the party as a political organization these days. It is dominated by technocrats obsessed with economic and engineering challenges. These men–and they are almost all men–are comfortable talking about detailed economic and technical data, but they are not skilled politicians, adept at handling large crowds or palace intrigue. This apolitical system is a recent phenomenon and the outcome of a conscious decision by the founder of modern China, Deng Xiaoping.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
When the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan premiered in 2006, Kazakhstan's government banned the film and threatened to sue its star. Six years later, Kazakhstan's foreign minister is thanking Borat, crediting the film with a large tourism boost. He called it a 'great victory' as the number of applications for tourist visas to Kazakhstan has grown tenfold.
Travelers can't look to Borat as an accurate depiction of the country. So how should they prepare for a trip?
Well, they could watch a 67-minute promotional film about the glorious country's history and recent achievements entitled In the Stirrups of Time. This one stars a different Brit, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The film features carefully selected clips from an interview with Blair who applauds the nation's diversity and progress.
It proudly celebrates Kazakhstan's recent accomplishments - political, educational, industrial, economic. Grab your passports, you are now an expert on Kazakhstan.
There were a few statistics that could not fit into the 67-minute video.
Kazakhstan ranks 172nd out of 196 countries in terms of press freedoms, 120 out of 183 in terms of corruption, 137 of 167 in The Economist's 2011 democracy index. Kazakhstan's president won the election with over 95% of the vote.
On second thought, maybe there is a Lonely Planet guide out there somewhere.
By Fareed Zakaria
“This pudding lacks a theme,” Winston Churchill once said of his dessert. The same might have been said of Barack Obama’s election campaign, which started strong with his State of the Union address in January and then meandered. It appears finally to have settled on a theme — but it is the wrong one.
Recently the president and his advisers have focused on taxing the rich and tackling inequality. The “Buffett rule” tax on millionaires has become Obama’s bumper sticker. The proposal is reasonable — but does not deserve the attention Obama is showering on it. It raises a trivial sum, $47 billion over the next 10 years, during which period the federal government will spend $45 trillion. It adds one more layer to a tax code that is already the most complex and corrupt in the industrialized world. If the president wants to be bold, he could propose comprehensive tax reform and eliminate the hundreds of deductions, exemptions, credits and loopholes, many of which Congress sells in exchange for campaign contributions.
On Friday, U.S. authorities at White Plains airport new New York detained Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan for an hour and a half. India reacted angrily with its foreign minister declaring: "[this] policy of detention and apology by the U.S. cannot continue." This is not a first for Shah Rukh Khan. Back in August 2009, he was held for two hours at New Jersey’s Newark airport.
Here's a transcript of what Khan said to Fareed Zakaria after that first detention: FULL POST
Editor's Note: Tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. ET for Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
It has now been four years since the start of the global financial crisis. This was a crisis that showcased a breakdown of markets - too much leverage, too little concern about risks and too much debt. So you'd imagine that any political backlash would involve a move towards the left.
Well, that's not what happened.
Instead, we saw a shift towards the political right in much of the industrialized world. Here in America, the Tea Party was born, pulling conservatives further towards the right. Consider that in the 2008 election, Mitt Romney was considered the conservative challenger to John McCain. In this election he is the moderate, outflanked on the right by every other candidate.
This dynamic seems afoot in Europe as well. Britain's Conservatives returned to power after 13 years. Germany's Merkel and France's Sarkozy cemented their positions. Spain has a new conservative government.
What happened to the left? Why was there no great surge in left-wing populism? FULL POST
In today's Washington Post, I lay out out the contours of a deal between Iran and the the “P5+1” - the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany. Here's an excerpt:
For any deal to stick, it has to be accepted by two groups. There are reasons to think Iran’s hard-liners, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, might be amenable. Khamenei has consolidated power: He has beaten back the Green movement; accommodated one key rival, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; and sidelined another, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khamenei has also given himself room to make concessions on the nuclear program.
Consider this categorical statement he made in February: “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons . . . because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.” Khamenei might well have been laying the ground to explain concessions to his audience at home. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Egypt is in the news these days because of the nomination of two new candidates for president - one from the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater, and the other from the more radical Salafi movement, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail.
Many Egypt watchers are understandably concerned. There have been attacks on Christians, Western aid workers and women. So where is Egypt headed? Is democracy in Egypt being captured by highly illiberal forces? Can tolerance and pluralism win out?
We should continue to monitor the situation very closely, but as of right now, we should not panic. Al-Shater and Abu Ismail both insist that they are fully committed to democracy and to the rights of minorities.
Yes, they have very reactionary social views, but such views are allowed within democratic systems. There are plenty of parties in the West with arguably reactionary or illiberal views. Nevertheless, these parties run and, in some places, win elections. For example, ultra-right-wing, nationalist parties have won elections in countries across northern Europe. FULL POST
Last week I wrote in op-ed in the Yale Daily News in support of Yale's new college at the National University of Singapore. There has been strong disagreement among members of the Yale community over whether Yale should open a campus in Singapore, which has limits on freedom that we in the West strongly disagree with. Here's a portion of my response:
"Singapore is not a liberal democracy, though it is not so different from many Western democracies at earlier stages of development. It is not the caricature one sometimes reads about. Singapore is open to the world, embraces free markets and is routinely ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world.
"It has also become more open over the last ten years. In fact, it is to enhance and enrich this process that Singapore has invited Yale to help create a liberal arts college. There will be differences in perspectives among students and faculty, foreigners and locals, but that makes it an ideal place to engage with issues of democracy and liberalism. I can imagine a fascinating seminar on democracy that would be much feistier in Singapore than at Yale precisely because there will be those who take positions quite critical of what is received wisdom in the West. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
What caught my eye last week was an art installation by the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei. He put surveillance cameras up in his house in Beijing, four of them in all, and earlier this week he began streaming them live on a website call Weiweicam.
This was a protest against another form of surveillance, this one by the Chinese government - the police cameras trained on his house, the frequent searches Ai says he is forced to endure and the monitoring of his phone and computer.
But in a move that may not surprise you, four days later the Chinese government told Ai Weiwei to take down the website.
Editor's Note: Be sure to catch Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN every Sunday at 10am and 1pm ET.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
At the start of this year, I predicted, rather hopefully, that the U.S. economy would recover nicely in 2012. I'm returning to that topic with some preliminary good news. If you look around the industrialized world, the U.S. economy is the most promising of the bunch.
The American recovery is not as vigorous as one might hope, but it is remarkably broad-based. Manufacturing is up - including, for the first time in thirty years, non-technology based manufacturing. Retail sales are up; consumer confidence and spending are growing. The new employment numbers are encouraging. American businesses continue to do astonishingly well. Corporate profitability continues to grow and the stock market reflects this.
The one area that continues to lag is housing, and it's a huge area. Traditionally, housing leads every recovery. This time it hasn't because the bursting of the housing bubble and the problems associated with mortgages and housing debt have left it struggling. But at some point that will end. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria, TIME
Why does it seem that democracy has such a hard time taking root in the Arab world? I explore this question in my latest column in TIME Magazine. Here's an excerpt:
As it happens, a Harvard economics professor, Eric Chaney, recently presented a rigorous paper that helps unravel that knot. Chaney asks why there is a "democracy deficit" in the Arab world and systematically tests various hypotheses against the data. He notes that such majority-Muslim nations as Turkey, Indonesia, Albania, Bangladesh and Malaysia have functioning democratic systems, so the mere presence of Islam or Islamic culture cannot be to blame. He looks at oil-rich states and finds that some with vast energy reserves lack democracy (Saudi Arabia), but so do some without (Syria). He asks whether Arab culture is the culprit, but this does not provide much clarity. Chaney points out that many countries in the Arab neighborhood seem to share in the democracy deficit–Chad, Iran, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan–yet they are not Arab.