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.
CNN speaks with Fareed about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's speech to the United Nations and Tehran's potential role in tackling ISIS. Watch Fareed's interview with Rouhani this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
What struck you most about Rouhani’s speech?
It wasn't a particularly interesting or dramatic speech. It repeated themes that the Iranians have been saying for a while. Rouhani has been more forthcoming in interviews he's done – I had an opportunity to do one of them. In those, what becomes clear is the Iranians believe that they can be part of the solution in Iraq, in Syria, with regard to ISIS, even in Afghanistan. But first the nuclear deal has to be achieved. They are putting a lot of hope and a certain amount of pressure on the West to produce a nuclear agreement, a compromise that everyone can live with, and then they say they could be helpful for issues of shared interest, common interests in the fight against ISIS.
Certainly coupling issues that the West, the U.S. does not want to have coupled there. You spoke with him yesterday. He's critical of these air strikes in Syria. What did he tell you?
Well, he's critical of them, but I think it's important to note the criticism is very muted. It's of two forms. One is what you heard in the speech – this is all the West's fault. You invaded Iraq. You created instability. You created a haven for this kind of activity.
The second is rather technical grounds, which is that it's technically not something that can be sanctioned by international law because it doesn't have U.N. approval and it didn't have the Syrian government's approval. He moves off that pretty quickly. He's in favor of battling ISIS – there's no condemnation of U.S. air strikes. I think that they would very much like – the Iranians, that is – to have the United States take an active part in the struggle against ISIS. They just want to make sure they get the nuclear deal.
CNN's New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about U.S.-led military strikes against ISIS, the Obama administration's strategy, and why the politics are so complicated. This is an edited version of the transcript.
This morning, a new round of U.S.-led air strikes targeted about a dozen oil refineries to try and cut off the money that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria makes through the black market. But we don't know how successful these bombings will be, and we're not really going to know because the coalition isn't on the ground in a meaningful way. And even if they achieve every objective they want to, it's far from over. Explain the complexity of this situation in terms of how you make real change.
Well, you're exactly right. Think about the initial air campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, brilliantly successful in Iraq, brilliantly successful in Libya. And then what you have is the ground operation, and most importantly the political operation as it were – who is going to govern these areas? Who is going to take charge? And the problem we face in Iraq – we have an answer, and we have a strategy. The Iraqi army tries to move in, the Kurds move in, you're trying to create a more inclusive Iraqi government. Not there yet, but at least that is the strategy.
In Syria, it is a mess because once you start striking at ISIS, who is going to replace it? Well, the al-Assad government, the Syrian government, wants to be that person. We want the Free Syrian Army, the rebels, the moderate rebels as we call them, to take over. And, guess what? This is a 12-cornered contest. It's going to be very messy.
So, imagine the two-step race here. We have a one-step campaign to defeat ISIS. Then we need to, in our minds, help the Free Syrian army defeat the al-Assad government.
Meanwhile, just to complicate things further, the Iranian government, which has been backing the Syrian regime, is going to fight those free Syrian rebels. I had the opportunity to interview President Rouhani of Iran yesterday, and he said flatly, the Free Syrian Army are terrorists. From Iran's point of view, they really don't make that much distinction between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army. They're going to fight both. FULL POST
Fareed speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the ongoing nuclear negotiations. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
In his speech today, President Obama had a direct message to Iran. He said don’t let this moment pass. We can reach a solution. Is he right? Is the United States negotiating in good faith?
Well you see today, we are faced with a very good opportunity vis-à-vis the nuclear talks and negotiations. This good opportunity was created in reality only last year in result of the expression of the political will of the majority of the people of Iran and their vast participation in those elections and the mandates received out of those elections. A new atmosphere was created as a result of all of that. We must all make good use of it – our side as well as the five plus one. Everyone together must make good use of this historic opportunity…
…Mr. President, on the basis of my reporting, my understanding is that Iran has offered to go down to 9,400 centrifuges, the United States wants you to go to 1,500 centrifuges. Why don’t we split the difference? 5,500? Are you willing? Shall we announce to the world that that is the midpoint?
Well we have a saying in Farsi, “In the middle of the conflict, do not start setting rates.”
Fareed speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the Free Syrian Army. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
When you that say you don’t want the United States to fight ISIS but in the fighting of it create another terrorist group, what group are you thinking of?
The American authorities they themselves they have announced that they wish to train another terrorist group, equip that group and send them to Syria to fight.
You mean the Free Syrian Army?
You can call them whatever you wish sir. Be that as it may, it is a group, it is another group, that as they have announced, I’m not sure what their plan is, they say we wish to train these folks in another country, military training, and they even announced a time frame. With whose permission, with whose authority, with what mandate, according to what international laws and norms are they doing this?
CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about President Obama’s speech on the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria delivered at the United Nations on Wednesday. This is an edited version of the transcript.
Many were surprised that the Obama administration did in fact put together a coalition including five Sunni Arab countries to not only express support, but military support against ISIS. They got involved in striking these ISIS targets in Syria. That certainly is going to put enormous pressure on the rest of the world and friends of the United States to at least voice support for what the U.S. is trying to achieve.
Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing the United States leading a little bit from behind on this one, which is to say having the Sunni Arab states in the front confronting ISIS, rather than having what ISIS would regard as the crusader capitalist Western Christian power do it.
The issue here, though, is that the strikes are fine, and I think the president will find there's broad support in a campaign against ISIS. There's broad support for the kind of talk about world order. But what's the regional strategy and follow up?
These addresses before the U.N. General Assembly are usually pretty good speeches, well written, there's a whole laundry list of international issues they want to get through, make some points, but then a few days later, certainly a few weeks later, very few people remember what they said. Will this speech be remembered down the road?
I think it will because of that very distinctive piece of it, the call on the Muslim world to cleanse itself of extremism. Very unusual. Many presidents have thought about talking in those terms, but have always been deterred – I know this was a conversation that took place within the Bush White House – because [they] always felt it would seem too anti-Muslim.
But I think it's also important to point out that this was a great speech, the kind Obama gives well. It's Obama as professor. It's a public education speech. It's coherent. It arches over lots of subjects, talks about world order. FULL POST
Fareed speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the situation in Afghanistan, and asks for his take on the role Pakistan might play there.
When you look at what is going on in Afghanistan – the United States is going to draw down its forces. Historically, Pakistan has always played a role in Afghanistan, usually by supporting the Taliban, historically at least. Do you worry that that may happen again, that as the United States draws down, Pakistan will try to increase its involvement, and that will have negative consequences for India?
America will have learned from its experience in Iraq. I don’t believe that it will do the same thing with Afghanistan and that it will be on its own. My guess is that the United States will have a different policy in Afghanistan from what it had in Iraq.
The other issue is that we want Afghanistan to become happy, prosperous and peaceful. It should live in harmony with its neighborhood and progress. We have a special attachment with Afghanistan. From childhood, every person in India has an impression in their hearts that a person from Afghanistan is very honest, good at heart…Our connection with Afghanistan is not with reference to Pakistan. We have our own cultural heritage, with deep relations. We want to see them happy, and in this process we want everyone to be together. We invite Pakistan to come and join us all together, for the happiness of Afghanistan.
Fareed asks former U.S. President Bill Clinton for his 'Book of the Week.'
Mr. President, we usually have an end segment where I recommend a book of the week. We are blowing it out all for you, so I'm giving you the last word, which is what book would you recommend? You're a voracious reader. If you were to tell our readers, what should they read?
If you'll give me two.
First, I'd like readers to read Abundance, the Peter Diamandis book with his coauthor, because if they did that, they would see that while the headlines are really bad in the world today, the trend lines are pretty good. Extreme poverty is down. The health care is improving dramatically around the world. There are developments now which make me believe we might be able to do what we did in the 1990s, which is to use technological developments to create more jobs than we lose. For the last few months, for the first time in literally more than a decade, 40 percent of the new jobs have been in higher wage categories. I think people should read this and get some good ideas. The other book is The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson. FULL POST
Fareed speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about comparisons between India and China. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
After your election people have begun asking again a question that has been asked many times for the last two decades, which is, will India be the next China? Will India be able to grow at 8 to 9 percent a year consistently, and transform itself and thus transform the world?
See, India doesn’t need to become anything else. India must become only India. This is a country that once upon a time was called the golden bird. We’ve fallen from where we were before. But now we have the chance to rise again. If you see the details of the last five or ten centuries, you will see that India and China have grown at similar paces. Their contributions to global GDP have risen in parallel, and fallen in parallel. Today's era once again belongs to Asia. India and China are both growing rapidly, together.
But people would still I think wonder can India achieve the kind of 8 and 9 percent growth rates that China has done consistently for 30 years, and India has only done for a short period.
It’s my absolute belief that Indians have unlimited talent. I have no doubt about our capabilities. I have a lot of faith in the entrepreneurial nature of our 1.25 billion people. There is a lot of capability. And I have a clear road map to channel it.
Fareed speaks with former U.S. President Bill Clinton about the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
You’ve worked a lot on issues like disease prevention. What lesson do you think we should draw from this outbreak of Ebola and the speed and kind of pace with which it’s spread? When you look at it, can you tell us about maybe the potential for pandemics or anything?
Well, first, like anybody else who's involved, we have a big presence in Liberia and three of our people, our top people, have stayed in Liberia to help organize the response. So we've all got to figure out, you know, how to coordinate it better. We're going to have a special session on it at CGI (Clinton Global Initiative).
But the lesson we should draw, the lessons are twofold. One is we have to do a much better job in building the health care infrastructure in these countries. We have to increase their capacity, including the capacity to have community health workers go out in these villages and have credibility with people. You know, this tragic story of the health workers being killed in Guinea, it's just terrible. But if we have more capacity, we can deal with it quicker. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is we're going to have to get quicker and nimbler at developing biomedical responses, you know, the vaccines or whatever, or cures.
And the third thing is the wealthy countries have got to reexamine how we fund the World Health Organization, because I think they do a marvelous job. But increasingly, as development ministries get more expertise in given areas, they want to fund specific projects in specific countries. And it's clear that the World Health Organization needs a pot of money that can be mobilized in a hurry for emergencies while we wait for the inevitable time delay when America and the U.K. and France and Scandinavia, we all kick in money.
Fareed speaks with former U.S. President Bill Clinton about the Democratic Party’s prospects in this year’s midterm elections. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
I've got to ask you about some politics. Are the Democrats going to hold the Senate?
I think so, but it's going to be close. And it depends, frankly, on whether we can continue to match the money provided by all these outside groups. I think the Koch brothers are going to spend about $300 million in the last couple of months. And it depends on who turns out. We have got somehow, sooner or later, to convince the people that to vote in presidential elections for our side they have to vote in the Congressional elections. And if they don't, they can't complain when they lose governorships, state legislators and members of Congress and the senators who happen to be up in that year.
We've got a lot more senators up this year than the Republicans do. And we have them up in states that President Obama did not carry in 2012. But they're running great campaigns and we seem to be doing reasonably well. But if you look at all these polls, which are all over the place…that is the real question in polling today, is the sample you pick based on who you think will vote. And the answer to that is, no one knows. So if we can get our turnout up, we'll be fine and they'll hold the Senate.
Fareed speaks with former U.S. President Bill Clinton about how to respond to the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
So I've got to ask you about ISIS. I saw you on "The Daily Show" say that you thought we had to respond to these brutal executions of Americans. But I want to press you. Isn't that what ISIS wants? Wasn’t the purpose of the executions to bait us?
No, but there's a difference in, for example, using targeted drones and airstrikes as we did against al Qaeda effectively for years to try to take down their leadership and infrastructure and let them know they can't just decapitate people for the cheap thrill of the global media response. And horrifying people and get away with it and getting bogged down in the kind of war they would like us to get bogged down in – that would cost us a lot of lives and a lot of treasure and inevitably lead to greater civilian casualties. That’s why I think the president's strategy has a chance of succeeding, because the Iraqi government is now more inclusive than it has been since the fall of Saddam Hussein. And that seems to be awakening, if you will, the willingness of the Sunni tribal leaders to participate in fighting.
We know the Kurds and the Peshmerga are willing to fight. If we can help them and support them, I think the larger fight against ISIS can continue as it should – as a local struggle for the freedom and liberty of the people.