By Fareed Zakaria
There are those who are still trapped by history and geography. Think of Pakistan’s generals, still trying to establish “strategic depth” in their backyard while their country collapses. Or think of Putin, who is, as Secretary of State John Kerry said, playing a 19th century game in the 21st century. He may get Crimea. But what has he achieved? Ukraine has slipped out of Russia’s grasp, its people deeply suspicious of Moscow. Even in Crimea, the 40 percent who are non-Russian are probably restive and resentful. Moscow’s neighbors are alarmed, and once-warming relations with Poland will be set back. Trade and investment with Europe and the U.S. will surely suffer, whether there are sanctions or not.
Meanwhile, Russia continues along its path as an oil-dependent state with an increasingly authoritarian regime that has failed to develop its economy or civil society or to foster political pluralism. But no matter–Moscow controls Crimea. In today’s world, is that really a victory?
Read the TIME column
We live in a world without war or even significant conflict among the major powers. We also live in an age of economic growth. All of this seems normal, but in fact, it isn't. The current global system of commerce and collaboration instead of war and competition is historically rare. Will it last?
The answer depends largely on Asia, which within 10 years will be home to three of the world's four largest economies. There are two possible scenarios. The first is that Asian countries will embrace the open, rule-based free-trade system in place today and deepen it. The second is that as these countries grow rich, they will become more nationalist, focus on narrow interests, pursue mercantilism and thus erode if not destroy what some in those countries describe as the "Western international order."
Is Hamid Karzai crazy? on the face of it, the Afghan President has said lots of odd, inflammatory and contradictory things. Over the past year, he has criticized the U.S., wondered whether its presence in Afghanistan has done any good at all, refused to sign an Afghanistan-U.S. security pact and called members of the Taliban his brothers. This week the New York Times revealed that he has been conducting secret negotiations with the Taliban. What can he be thinking?
Maybe Karzai is looking at what happened to one of his predecessors. In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. The President it had backed, Mohammad Najibullah, stayed in power, but within months a civil war broke out, forcing him to seek refuge in a U.N. compound. In 1996 the Taliban rode into Kabul, captured Najibullah, denounced him as a foreign puppet, castrated him, dragged his body through the streets and then hung him from a traffic barricade. For good measure, they did the same to his brother.
That year was a gruesome replay of an earlier piece of Afghan history that Karzai also knows well.
By Fareed Zakaria
It's not always true that if you're under attack from both sides of the political spectrum, you're probably doing the right thing. The smart or moral course is sometimes resolutely partisan. But watching President Obama take flak from the left and the right for his speech on intelligence reform, I believe he's striking a difficult balance on a crucial topic.
In his speech, Obama defended the essential structure of U.S. surveillance activities. He argued that the National Security Agency is not a rogue outfit, that it plays by the rules and is staffed by patriotic men and women. But in an important admission, he also made clear that after 9/11, the NSA and American intelligence efforts in general went too far. Taking advantage of its unique technological capabilities, the U.S. government did whatever it could, rarely asking whether it should. The President proposed some new checks on decisions to collect data and new constraints on how it is stored and when it can be accessed.
The speech annoyed liberals and conservatives suspicious of government overreach, but reaction from the left has been more anguished.
Read the full TIME column
We now know that the change in U.S.-China relations in 1972 led inexorably to China's becoming the economic power it is today–rich, market-based and open to the world. But that path was not at all visible 40 years ago, least of all to the Chinese. Even after 1972, the regime under Mao Zedong was thoroughly communist and largely hostile to the West. After Mao's death came years of internal struggle and chaos and then, unpredictably, the rise to power of China's real modernizer, Deng Xiaoping, who set his country on its great transformation. To make the parallel, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, is Mao, not Deng. And whatever Rouhani's views, he cannot change the nature of the regime.
In fact, the better analogy to consider for U.S.-Iran relations is that of another 1972 meeting, between Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow. It was the first time an American President had paid a state visit to the U.S.S.R., and it resulted in the beginning of detente–a series of steps that de-escalated the Cold War and allowed for better contact. For now, that might be the most one can expect for relations between the U.S. and Iran.
When the Obama administration was selling the case for military action against Syria, it used every argument it could come up with, from preserving international norms to preventing another Holocaust. Most of these were exaggerations or bad history, but one could have dangerous consequences for U.S. foreign policy.
Almost every senior U.S. official–President Obama, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel–asserted in some way that we had to act militarily in Syria to preserve U.S. credibility with Iran. There is a mountain of scholarship in international relations that has carefully examined the notion of maintaining credibility–and most of it concludes that there is little gain in doing something simply to maintain credibility. Countries know that circumstances differ wildly in international relations and that what you might do in one situation says very little about what you might do in another, different situation. You really don't need to attack country A to let country B know that you're a tough guy.
If you were to ask me what international problem is least likely to be resolved in the next few years, I would probably say the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It takes no special insight to be skeptical on this; no one has ever lost money betting against the Middle East peace process. And yet I find myself cheering on Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive talks between the two sides.
The case for realism is obvious. The Palestinians are dysfunctional and divided, with Hamas controlling Gaza and still unwilling to make any kind of deal with Israel. For its part, the Israeli public has largely given up on peace, and new political groups–like those led by Naftali Bennett–flatly oppose a two-state solution.
But the situation on the ground is not quite as stuck as it at first seems.
Read the full column in TIME
We are living with the consequences of two powerful, interrelated trends. The first is digital life. Your life today has a digital signature. Where you eat, shop and travel; whom you call, e-mail and text; every website, cafe and museum you visit even once is all stored in the great digital cloud. And you can't delete anything, ever. "This will be the first generation of humans to have an indelible record," write Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen in their book The New Digital Age.
The second is Big Data. Americans were probably most shocked by the revelation that the U.S. government is collecting massive quantities of their digital signatures – billions of phone calls and e-mails and Internet searches. The feds aren't monitoring every last one. But they easily could, and this is the essence of the age of Big Data.
In ancient times – by which I mean a decade ago – computers would sort through random samples of data or try to create an algorithm to search for a criminal. But today, data is so readily available and computers are so fast and powerful that experts can analyze entire data sets, every last piece of information, to find needles in haystacks. As a result, they have stopped trying to figure out why something – say, crime – happens. Instead they look at crimes and notice what events or behaviors seem to precede them. In other words, the tricky work of turning information into knowledge has shifted from causation to correlation.
While we were consumed by the crises of the moment – Turkey's riots, NSA snooping and Washington's "scandals" – something happened on June 7 and 8 that is potentially of more lasting importance. The presidents of the U.S. and China held their most significant and successful meeting in decades. It was a vital step forward in the crucial relationship – between the world's superpower and its fastest-rising power – that will shape the 21st century.
The summit at Sunnylands, in California, was the result of months of preparation, led on the American side by National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon. He explained to me that the two teams agreed to a format that was a real break with the past: "Usually at meetings like these, each leader brings a set of talking points. This creates a format that highlights problems. This was different: We didn't come in with a set of complaints. The leaders came with ideas about opportunities. It created a completely different discussion and dynamic."
Read the TIME column here
Looking back, it's now clear that Washington handled the 2008 financial crisis extremely well. It acted quickly and with massive firepower: rescuing overextended banks, enacting a large stimulus, saving (but restructuring) two automobile giants. Perhaps above all, we will credit the Federal Reserve's extremely bold strategy of flooding the markets with liquidity and keeping it up while the economy was depressed. Compare that with Europe's response or Japan's (after its crash) and you see the difference.
Many problems remain–chiefly high and persistent unemployment and stagnant wages. For the next generation of growth, we must focus on training and retraining workers, break the immigration deadlock, build out our infrastructure and invest in science and technology. We also need reforms that will make our entitlement programs affordable as we age. If Washington could do just a few of these things, imagine what the American economy might look like then.
Read the full column at TIME
The assumption that American intervention could mitigate Syria's carnage is flawed
Those urging the U.S. to intervene in Syria are certain of one thing: If we had intervened sooner, things would be better in that war-torn country. Had the Obama Administration gotten involved earlier, there would be less instability and fewer killings. We would not be seeing, in John McCain's words of April 28, "atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time."
In fact, we have seen atrocities much worse than those in Syria very recently, in Iraq under U.S. occupation only few years ago. From 2003 to 2012, despite there being as many as 180,000 American and allied troops in Iraq, somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 Iraqi civilians died and about 1.5 million fled the country. Jihadi groups flourished in Iraq, and al-Qaeda had a huge presence there. The U.S. was about as actively engaged in Iraq as is possible, and yet more terrible things happened there than in Syria. Why?
Read my full column over at TIME
Boston has a tough New England spirit, a puritan ethic that prizes doing one’s job and not making a fuss. (I spent seven years living in that beautiful city and was always struck by its strength of character.) But beyond Boston, we Americans might have finally come to realize that the most important counterterrorism program is resilience, demonstrating that a terrorist attack will not, well, terrorize us. Sept. 11 was a much larger attack, raising much larger concerns. Many of the things that followed—security measures, the overthrow of the Taliban—were proper and necessary. But many were not, like shutting down travel, denying visas and, of course, turning counterterrorism into an ever expanding “war on terror.”
Osama bin Laden saw the rationale for 9/11 in precisely the reaction and overreaction it produced. In a video he released in October 2004, he said, “Al-Qaeda spent $500,000 on the event, while America, in the incident and its aftermath, lost—according to the lowest estimate—more than $500 billion, meaning that every dollar of al-Qaeda defeated a million dollars.”
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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