The assumption that American intervention could mitigate Syria's carnage is flawed
By Fareed Zakaria
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?
By Fareed Zakaria
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.”
By Fareed Zakaria
Environmental groups are approaching the Keystone pipeline project much as the U.S. government fights the war on drugs. They are attacking supply rather than demand. In this case, environmentalists have chosen one particular source of energy – Alberta's tar sands – and are trying to shut it down. But as long as there is demand for oil, there will be supply. A far more effective solution would be to try to moderate demand by putting in place a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. Ideally we would use the proceeds to fund research on alternative energy. Washington spends $73 billion on research for defense, $31 billion on health care and just $3 billion on energy. Massive increases in research would make a difference. Targeting one Canadian oil field – or one pipeline company – will not.
Some in the environmental movement seem to recognize that the facts don't really support singling out Keystone, so they have turned to more intangible reasons to oppose it. Climate activist Bill McKibben argues that if Obama were to say no to Keystone, it would be a turning point: “He could finally say to the Chinese, ‘We've done something significant. Your turn.’” Of all the arguments for blocking Keystone, this is surely the most naive. Is there a shred of evidence from the past 25 years that China would respond to this kind of unilateral concession by limiting its growth? How did Beijing respond to the Kyoto accords, under which European countries curbed their carbon emissions? By building a coal-fired power plant every week since then!
By Fareed Zakaria
America has long been seen–by its citizens and the world–as the place where anyone can make it. And yet studies from the past two decades all point to a different reality. Economic mobility in the U.S. is low compared with what it was in times past and with current levels in many European countries and Canada. It is particularly sticky at the two ends of the economic ladder. Rich people rarely become poor in a generation–and the poorest seldom get rich. Despite the rags-to-riches myth, such stories are the exception. A comprehensive study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project documents that in the U.S. today, few poor people become even upper middle class.
That's why President Obama's proposal to expand early-childhood education is vitally important: the idea is to provide high-quality pre-K for 4-year-olds from families whose incomes are at or below 200% of the poverty line–that is at or below $47,000 for a family of four. Children born into poor or dysfunctional families must have pathways up, especially if they have the talent to succeed. And the more we learn about neuroscience, the clearer it becomes that the human brain develops much sooner than we had believed. Early stimulation and education can be highly effective.
By Fareed Zakaria
One of the great political debates in Washington – and around the country – has been about whether Barack Obama is a highly partisan Democrat bent on a liberal agenda or a centrist searching for compromise. It's still early in his second term, but he has recently made moves that seem to answer the question. Obama could easily choose a partisan strategy that would be politically effective: Don't make deals with the Republicans on immigration or entitlement reform, and go into the 2014 congressional elections with those problems still live. A deal on either front would allow Republicans to share credit and, most important, take the issue off the table. With no deal, Democrats could campaign as the guardians of Medicare and advocates of immigration reform, both electoral winners. For this reason, some Democratic Senators have begun to make demands well beyond what Republicans can accept.
But Obama has chosen the second path. In late January, as soon as a group of Republican and Democratic Senators joined forces behind a unified approach to immigration reform, Obama signaled his support for it. And this week, in urging Congress not to allow the so-called sequestration process to force massive spending cuts, the White House said Obama's budget proposals to House Speaker John Boehner were "very much on the table." Those proposals include entitlement reforms that arouse immediate opposition from Democrats. Obama might be doing this because he wants to notch some legislative accomplishments and leave a legacy. Even if that's the case, the strategy might be good not only for Obama but also for the country.
By Fareed Zakaria
Opponents of Chuck Hagel's nomination to be the U.S.'s next Secretary of Defense claim he is outside the mainstream in his views on Israel. Hagel's actual policy positions don't reflect that. On many issues, he sounds a lot like Israeli President Shimon Peres, who lamented in an interview published Jan. 9 by the New York Times that Israel was not doing enough to make peace. In any event, Hagel's views on Israel are irrelevant, since policy on that issue will be set by the White House and Congress. Where Hagel does appear out of the mainstream is on Iran, which is a good thing because Washington desperately needs fresh thinking on the topic.
In 2013, perhaps in the next few months, President Obama will face a crisis on Iran. He has categorically ruled out living with a nuclear-armed Iran under a Cold War–style policy of containment. That means either Iran will capitulate to U.S. demands or the U.S. will go to war with Iran. Since the first option is extremely unlikely and the second extremely unattractive, the Obama Administration needs to find a negotiated solution. That means using sticks and carrots–or what is often called coercive diplomacy–to get a deal that Washington and Tehran can live with.
By Fareed Zakaria
One of the least controversial judgments about Barack Obama’s first term is that he has been a good foreign policy President. Certainly that’s what the American public believes. It has given him high marks on overseas affairs for much of his presidency, especially after the successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden. In the final presidential debate, Mitt Romney, who had relentlessly attacked Obama in their two previous matchups, decided that the wisest course was to agree with the President on virtually every foreign policy issue.
But what has been the character of Obama’s foreign policy? Most Presidents gain fame and respect in this realm because of some large-scale project. Franklin Roosevelt led the U.S. to victory in World War II, Harry Truman organized the Marshall Plan and NATO treaty, and Richard Nixon opened the door to Communist China. While Obama has accomplishments to his credit, the signature trait that has helped him steer the country well—and receive credit for it—is what he has not done.
By Fareed Zakaria
The American left has trained its sights on a new enemy: Pete Peterson. The banker and private-equity billionaire is, at first glance, an obvious target–rich and Republican. He stands accused of being the evil genius behind all the forces urging Washington to do something about the national debt. "The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is deficit-scold central," writes columnist Paul Krugman.
But for a deficit scold, Peterson does not seem very concerned about today's budget. "The current deficit is not the problem," he told me recently. "I wouldn't enact any measures to reduce it until the economy recovers properly." In fact, he is even in favor of additional stimulus spending, "as long as it's well designed and paid for," he notes. "My overriding concern has always been the long-term outlook, the massive structural deficits that we face as the baby boomers start retiring in large numbers. That's the problem we've simply refused to confront."
By Fareed Zakaria
Asia's greatest geopolitical problem is that its two great powers–with the two largest economies and militaries–have an unresolved, bitter relationship. China and Japan have never had to occupy the world stage as equals. One has always dominated the other. For most of the past 500 years, China was the region's hegemon and Japan accepted its role as a distant satellite of the great Chinese empire. That changed in the late 19th century, as Japan became the first Asian country to modernize its economy and society and catch up to the West. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan's military strength grew, and in 1895 it defeated the Qing dynasty in China. One of the consequences of the war was that Tokyo formally annexed the Senkaku Islands. But their sovereignty has been in dispute for the past 40 years, with China asserting its historic claims and Japan its modern possession.
Over the past two months, both countries have acted in ways that could easily spiral out of control toward conflict. There are almost daily encounters between Japanese and Chinese ships as they patrol these waters. On dry land, riots and protests have taken place in both countries–with the populations in each getting more nationalistic. There have been few efforts by either government to defuse the situation and move toward a diplomatic solution. The U.S. is involved too, because it is bound by treaty to go to Japan's military aid if Japan is attacked, and Washington has confirmed that the Senkaku Islands are covered by this obligation. In other words, if one of these naval encounters goes awry and China and Japan get into a naval conflict, the U.S. could find itself involved in an Asian war.
For the full column at TIME click here
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.
By Tim Padgett, TIME.com
It has been 50 years since a U.S. President traveled to Puerto Rico, and that's indicative of how little Washington ponders America's Caribbean island commonwealth. Only rarely, like the controversy over the U.S. naval base at Vieques a decade ago, do Americans even remember their ties to Puerto Rico.
Even President Obama's visit to the island on Tuesday, June 14, is being explained by most pundits as a way for him to curry favor with Puerto Rican voters in the U.S. The Miami Herald's Frances Robles has an insightful piece today on how Obama is eyeing in particular the burgeoning Puerto Rican community in central Florida, which is less reliably Democratic than more traditional communities like New York's.
But beneath the superficial political considerations, Puerto Rico – which unlike Haiti is actually our responsibility – has big problems that the U.S. needs to engage.
Puerto Rico's unemployment rate tops 16%; its poverty rate is 44% and its median annual income is $14,400, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., which is well below the U.S. poverty line.
Its violent crime has gotten so bad that last year Governor Luis Fortuño had to call out the National Guard in a bid to contain it. Little wonder that so many Puerto Ricans are leaving the island that according to Pew, there are more Puerto Rican-origin Latinos living in the U.S. today (4.6 million) than there are living in Puerto Rico (3.7 million).
By Rania Abouzeid, TIME
Location, in real estate and sometimes in politics, is everything.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad lives in a very different geopolitical neighborhood from his erstwhile, but now-ousted counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the teetering leaders of Libya and Yemen.
It's a tumultuous patch of the Middle East, populated by an uneasy mix of religious and ethnic groups, frequently in turmoil. Fear of the chaos and instability his ouster might unleash is Assad's greatest advantage as he races to brutally crush a seven-week uprising before the rapidly rising body count forces world leaders to act more forcefully against him. FULL POST