June 24th, 2014
05:15 PM ET

How LBJ got the Civil Rights Act passed

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

The Civil Rights Act remains one of the great puzzles and achievements of American history. The achievement part is obvious. The puzzle part is two-fold.  First: why did it take so long?  It passed 101 years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. And second: how did it finally get passed?

To get the answers, let’s step back 50 years. It's hard for young people today to imagine, but back then there were restaurants and stores and cabs – mostly in the South – where black people were not served. There were separate water fountains for the two races and, as Rosa Parks made infamous, separate sections of buses, just to name a few. It was legal in 1964 to refuse to hire somebody because of the color of their skin or their gender. A year earlier, President John F. Kennedy had addressed the nation to urge action on civil rights.

But then Kennedy was assassinated. Surprisingly, his successor Lyndon Baines Johnson, a staunch Southerner, took up the cause, a cause that looked hopeless.

Why? Johnson biographer Robert Caro explains.

For more on the issue, tune into CNN's 'The Sixties' as it explores the civil rights movement in-depth, this Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.


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Topics: GPS Show • History • Politics • United States
What Reagan can teach us about Ukraine
May 14th, 2014
12:30 PM ET

What Reagan can teach us about Ukraine

By Rudy deLeon and Aarthi Gunasekaran, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Rudy deLeon served as deputy secretary of defense from 2000-2001 and is senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Aarthi Gunasekaran is a research assistant at the Center for American Progress. The views expressed are their own.

At the peak of the Cold War, a Soviet military fighter shot down a civilian airliner and all 269 passengers on board were killed, including a U.S. congressman and 61 other Americans. The world waited for a response from the United States.

But President Ronald Reagan didn't offer much beyond strong rhetoric and careful words, only condemnation without a serious call for action. He urged the international community to deal with the Soviets in a calm manner; labeled the Soviets as "savagery," "murderous," "monstrous," and united the European allies against a Soviet system nearing its end.

"We didn't elect a dictionary. We elected a president and it's time for him to act," is said to have sounded conservative columnist George Will. Reagan was the commander-in-chief at the time, and a conservative stalwart who today's hardliners believe would have never allowed such aggression go without response.


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Topics: Foreign Policy • History • Ukraine • United States
March 27th, 2014
11:30 PM ET

Obama’s 21st-century power politics

By Fareed Zakaria

Compare what the Obama administration has managed to organize in the wake of this latest Russian aggression to the Bush administration’s response to Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008. That was a blatant invasion. Moscow sent in tanks and heavy artillery; hundreds were killed, nearly 200,000 displaced. Yet the response was essentially nothing. This time, it has been much more serious. Some of this difference is in the nature of the stakes, but it might also have to do with the fact that the Obama administration has taken pains to present Russia’s actions in a broader context and get other countries to see them as such.

You can see a similar pattern with Iran. The Bush administration largely pressured that country bilaterally. The Obama administration was able to get much more effective pressure because it presented Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to global norms of nonproliferation, persuaded the other major powers to support sanctions, enacted them through the United Nations and thus ensured that they were comprehensive and tight. This is what leadership looks like in the 21st century.

There is an evolving international order with new global norms making war and conquest increasingly rare. We should strengthen, not ridicule, it.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: History • Russia • Ukraine
Is history really repeating itself over Crimea?
March 25th, 2014
03:29 PM ET

Is history really repeating itself over Crimea?

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her @FridaGhitis. The views expressed are her own.

History, as we know, echoes loudly in the present. Some version of what we see unfolding in Ukraine, and more specifically in the Crimean Peninsula, has occurred before. Indeed, today’s headlines recall countless events and bring to mind long-ago read chapters in history books; brittle, yellowed newspapers carefully preserved in libraries; and old black and white newsreels.

But as world leaders try to chart a response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, hoping to learn from the successes and failures of the past, it isn’t quite clear precisely which chapter – or even which era – the current crisis is replaying. Are we back in the Cold War? Are we about to step into a new Crimean War? Or should we go further back, perhaps to Catherine the Great’s conquests on the shores of the Black Sea?

When the U.N. Security Council met last week to discuss Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the British ambassador pointed to what is arguably the most troubling of all possibilities.

“We are witnessing the illegal behavior of a large country bullying its neighbors, disregarding international law, and unilaterally adjusting international borders to its advantage,” he said. “One only has to think back to the 1930s to recognize the dangers of a complacent international response.”


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Topics: History • Ukraine
What would JFK have done about Iran?
November 22nd, 2013
08:31 AM ET

What would JFK have done about Iran?

By Graham Allison, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Graham Allison is director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is author of Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. The views expressed are his own.

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it is instructive to consider what he might have done if faced with the Iranian nuclear challenge today.

In what historians agree was his “finest hour,” Kennedy successfully led the U.S. through the most dangerous confrontation in history, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.  The odds of war were, in Kennedy’s view, “between 1 in 3 and even.”

When the Soviet Union was found emplacing nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba, 90 miles off American shores, Kennedy declared that totally unacceptable — as President Obama has declared an Iranian nuclear bomb.  The question was how to eliminate this danger without war.

Initially, Kennedy chose a naval quarantine to stop further Soviet shipments of missiles to Cuba.  While this signaled American resolve and strength, it did not prevent the Soviets rushing to complete installation of missiles already on the island.  As the clock ticked down to the moment warheads in Cuba would become ready to launch against Washington and New York, Kennedy’s options narrowed.


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Topics: History • Iran • United States
3 things JFK taught us about U.S. strategy
November 21st, 2013
10:22 AM ET

3 things JFK taught us about U.S. strategy

By James Holmes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James Holmes is professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone. This is the fourth article in a series on America’s identity and image since the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

As we remember the passing of John F. Kennedy, 50 years ago on Friday, it’s fitting that we leaven a solemn occasion by also remembering the optimism he brought to the Oval Office. President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address remains a bracing bit of rhetoric even today, half a century on. But rhetoric demands substance as well as verbal flourishes. Three takeaways from the address are worth revisiting as America again mulls its place in the world and strategies for achieving its goals:

Unlimited commitment. Kennedy vowed that America would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” This is more than a statement of steadfastness in the Cold War. In strategic terms, it's a statement that the United States affixed such importance to its goals that it was prepared to spend as many national resources – lives, treasure, military assets – for an indefinite time if that's what it took to outlast the Soviet Union.

Strategist Carl von Clausewitz would instantly grasp the import of Kennedy's words. Clausewitz maintains that the value of a nation's political goals determines how many resources it expends attaining those goals, and for how long. The corollary for Clausewitz is that if an endeavor starts costing more than it's worth, statesmen should cut the best deal they can and get out. This simple cost/benefit logic is central to rational foreign policy and military strategy.


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Topics: History • United States
What we can learn from JFK’s leadership
November 18th, 2013
08:30 AM ET

What we can learn from JFK’s leadership

By Jeffrey D. Sachs, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace.  The views expressed are his own. This is the first article in a series on America’s identity and image since the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

We celebrate John F. Kennedy a half-century after his death for the confidence he gave us in meeting great challenges.  “Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man,” he told us.  And we believed him.  At a moment when the U.S. government seems unable even to launch a website, we recall Kennedy’s boldest commitment: to launch a man to the moon and bring him back safely to Earth within the decade.  That remarkable moment in American history, one that virtually defined my own childhood years, still inspires us to shake off our dour pessimism today.

While it’s all too easy to believe in government failure today – what with the failed Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, NSA spying, the Obamacare rollout, shutdowns, sequesters, and more – the public perception was nearly the opposite a half-century ago.  The federal government was friend, not foe. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government had organized the New Deal, steered democracy through the Great Depression, and then triumphed over fascism in World War II.  The federal government had invented the nuclear age in the Manhattan Project, hardly the work of a technological slouch.  Most importantly for most Americans in the 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. government was the bulwark against the aggressive designs of Stalin and the Soviet Union.


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Topics: History • Russia • Space • United States
What history can teach us about Islam and democracy
February 26th, 2013
11:03 AM ET

What history can teach us about Islam and democracy

By Nader Hashemi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Nader Hashemi is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. This opinion piece is in part based on a recent British Council policy brief. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

While the onset of the Arab Spring was widely celebrated in the West, the second anniversary of these democratic uprisings has been marked with waning optimism over the future of the Arab world. A recent Pew Research Poll revealed that nearly 60 percent of Americans do not believe that the changes in the Middle East will lead to lasting improvements for the people of the region. More than half of Americans polled, meanwhile, also believe it is more important to have stability in the Arab world, even if there is less democracy.

So what should the world’s expectations be? How should Western policymakers, intellectuals, and members of the public understand these developments? History should be our guide.


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Topics: History • Islam
November 30th, 2012
05:55 PM ET

High-profile poisoning claims nothing new

By Robert Templer, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Robert Templer is a former International Crisis Group Asia Program director and author of a forthcoming book, 'The History of Poison.' The views expressed are his own.

Yasser Arafat’s body has been exhumed to investigate if he was poisoned. A Turkish newspaper has alleged that that a former president, Turgut Ozal, was given doses of DDT and radioactive polonium-210 to hasten his death. In the African country of Benin, a former trade minister has been arrested on charges of trying to mix a toxin into the president’s medicine. In China, a contender for the Communist Party leadership was brought down after his wife allegedly poisoned a British businessman.

It would seem we are entering a new age of the poisoner, a menace with echoes of Renaissance Italy or Victorian Britain. Has the powder or potion become the assassin’s weapon of choice, as it was said to be in ancient Rome? Probably not, but poisonings still evoke fears beyond other means of murder. The secrecy, the malice aforethought and the thought of a slow, agonizing death still rattle us all. But although accusations of poisoning are fairly common, proof is rare.


November 27th, 2012
03:17 PM ET

Should Obama learn from Johnson?

Fareed Zakaria speaks with historian Robert Caro, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Lyndon Johnson, about drawing parallels between the Johnson and Obama presidencies.

People cite your book now as a kind of totemic source to make this point that Johnson knew how to schmooze, he knew how to use power, he knew how to push the buttons of Congress. And that Obama is aloof and less interested. So give us your sense, because it's a different landscape. Johnson did have Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate.

I'll take the opportunity of this show to say, although my book is constantly used to show that Barack Obama should be more like Lyndon Johnson, that's not a lesson I get at from the book. I think it's a misreading of it.

[With] Obama, you go back to that same thing – the moral arc of the universe bends slowly, but it bends toward justice. You know, Obama made a considerable bend in that. If you look back at Obama’s first term, you ask what are historians going to be saying about this in a century? They're going to be saying, “what's a major thing?”


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Topics: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • History
April 9th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

A piece of Turkey lies in the middle of the Syrian desert

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay - Special to CNN

Turkish-Syrian ties are slowly unraveling. Each day, thousands of Syrian refugees cross into Turkey, fleeing persecution. Ankara has been hinting that it will take action against Bashar al-Assad by setting up a safe haven across its border with Syria to protect civilians. On April 1, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the international community has to defend Syrian people's “right to self-defense.”

With Syrian soldier firing across the border, wounding Syrian refugees as well as Turks, all eyes are on the Turkish-Syrian border for a potential confrontation between the two countries. Yet there is another area where Turkey and Syria meet: A little-known Turkish exclave, Caber Kalesi (Qal’at Ja’bar in Arabic), a sliver of sovereign Turkish territory that is smack in the middle of Syria. On April 4, Turkish daily Today’s Zaman wrote about Caber Kalesi, drawing attention to its unique character as Turkey’s only exclave. FULL POST

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Topics: History • Syria • Turkey
What Obama can learn from Roosevelt's Supreme Court
American President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his desk in the White House, Washington DC, early 1930s. (Getty Images)
April 4th, 2012
09:52 AM ET

What Obama can learn from Roosevelt's Supreme Court

Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.

Compared with the judiciary in any other advanced democracy, the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court are uniquely influential in the country’s politics. With a ruling expected in June on the constitutionality of President Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation, some parallels can be drawn between this Court and the Court under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In the extremely difficult economic circumstances of the 1930s, Roosevelt launched innovative and unprecedented ‘New Deal’ schemes to help stimulate economic growth and job creation. After initially upholding some new laws that expanded federal involvement in economic activity, the Supreme Court turned dramatically against the Roosevelt agenda in May 1935. It unanimously struck down his signature legislation on industrial recovery and agriculture as unconstitutional extensions of federal power not justified by the extraordinary economic conditions facing the country. FULL POST

Topics: History • Law
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