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Zakaria: GOP bereft of ideas or trapped by wrong ones

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  • Zakaria: GOP's social program out of touch with young, diverse, tolerant electorate
  • Voters sensed a new world out there; McCain campaign didn't address change
  • Zakaria: Challenge is secure interests; create stable, peaceful, prosperous world
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Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN at 1 p.m. ET Sundays.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria says "We need to have communication channels open."

NEW YORK (CNN) -- On the day President-elect Obama visited the White House, a new national poll suggested that the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is the most unpopular president since approval ratings were first measured more than six decades ago.

Seventy-six percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday disapprove of how President Bush is handling his job. That's an all-time high in polling by CNN or Gallup dating back to World War II.

CNN spoke to world affairs expert and author Fareed Zakaria to get his take on what the Republican Party should do to get back on track.

CNN: If we accept that President-Elect Barack Obama and the Democrats seem to have won largely on the message of change, then why do you think Sen. John McCain and the Republicans lost?

Zakaria: I actually think that there were broad reasons for the resounding Republican loss and that they need to rethink their ideas before they can start winning again.

CNN: It was their ideas and not their strategy?

Zakaria: The Republican Party has become a party bereft of ideas or trapped by the wrong ones. The Reagan-Thatcher revolution of low taxes, deregulation and tight money isn't relevant to the problems of under-regulated financial products, huge deficits and a deepening recession. Add to that the Republican Party's social program is out of tune with an increasingly young, diverse and tolerant electorate.

Something similar has happened in foreign policy. Voters have seemed to sense that there is a new world out there and that the solutions presented by McCain in his campaign didn't address the change.

CNN: But do you really think that American voters care about foreign policy? Especially when it seems it was the economy that mattered more.

Zakaria: The economy was definitely an issue, but note that President Bush's approval ratings had plummeted to historic lows by 2005 even when the economy seemed to be on a steady course. And I do believe the vigorous unilateralism openly advocated by the administration is recognized by most Americans to have weakened the country's influence abroad. Its excessive reliance on military force has yielded few results relative to the costs. Video Zakaria urges Obama to 'go big' to fix economy »

At the heart of President Bush's ideology was regime change -- armed Wilsonianism. Whether in Iraq, North Korea or Iran, the basic goal was to refuse any kind of negotiation or diplomacy and instead try to overthrow the government and replace it with a democratic and friendly one. Most Americans now recognize that, however pleasant this sounds in theory, the real world is a complicated place and cannot be transformed by magic or military power.

CNN: So we need to negotiate with the enemy?

Zakaria: We need to have communication channels open. As former Secretary of State Madeline Albright said on our show, "Talking is not necessarily making nice. It is delivering tough messages and listening. I would bet that Milosevic didn't think that he was having a nice conversation with me -- or Kim Jong Il, for that matter."

Recently, even President Bush himself has seen the necessity of this. Over the past three years, he has negotiated with North Korea and Libya and even taken a tentative step with Iran; launched a high-profile peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis; and made encouraging proposals about global warming. These are all steps Bush actively opposed during his first term. He has moved in this direction out of necessity. Failure concentrates the mind.


CNN: So what would you recommend to the Republican Party?

Zakaria: They need to realize the world is changing and the old rules don't apply. They need to be innovative as Ronald Reagan was in 1980. Shouting "USA is No. 1" is cheap rhetoric, divorced from the real world. The real challenge for Washington is not to boast about America's might but to use its capacities -- military, political, intellectual -- to work with others to create a more stable, peaceful and prosperous world in which American interests and ideals will be secure.

All About Barack ObamaJohn McCainGeorge W. Bush

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