Return to Transcripts main page
FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Possible Impact of Obama's Presidency
Aired November 9, 2008 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
Before we get started, let me tell you my reaction to the events of this week.
I think Obama has won more than a presidential victory. He has a chance -- a chance -- to realign the political landscape. Here's why.
Ever since the end of the Cold War, we've seen two political trends in Western democracies. The first, led by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the early 1990s, was the left's movement toward greater comfort with free markets and traditional values. The second has been the ideological exhaustion of conservatism of the Reagan-Thatcher variety.
These two trends have now intersected in 2008. The present economic crisis ironically presents an opportunity to Obama. He can recast the traditional divide in American politics. Rather than the usual left-right split over the size of government, he can try to present smart government.
See, the greatest problem most Americans have with Washington is that they see the government as predatory and corrupt. So, they look at the tax code and worry less that it spreads the wealth around, than that it institutionalizes corruption through loopholes and special deals.
True reform will mean attacking those kinds of policies from the left and from the right.
In the early 1930s, you had a similar situation. Economic and political reality suggested that the United States might be poised for a new era. But such an era happened and took the particular shape it did, only because of the skill and ambition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Obama has the ambition to be a great president. The crisis he inherits gives him the opportunity to be one.
Now, on today's program, four great historians are here: Robert Caro, Walter Isaacson, Jon Meacham and Joseph Ellis. They have fascinating stories about great and failed presidencies of the past, and what Obama can learn from them.
And Brent Scowcroft, a great, wise man, with advice for a new president.
Let's get started.
How will this history-making election be judged by historians? What does Obama need to do to become one of history's greats?
To talk about all of this, I've invited four of America's most eminent historians to join me.
Robert Caro came to prominence studying and writing about Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Joseph Ellis is a Pulitzer Prize winner. He won it for his book, "Founding Brothers: A Look at the Leaders of the American Revolution."
Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, has written extensively about leadership. His book, "Franklin and Winston," about Roosevelt and Churchill, was a "New York Times" bestseller, and one of my favorite books.
Walter Isaacson was the editor of TIME Magazine, also the chairman and CEO of this company, CNN. He is the author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Henry Kissinger and Albert Einstein, all of which were soaring "New York Times" bestsellers.
Welcome to all of you.
Walter, what do you think Obama needs to do to make a mark in foreign policy?
WALTER ISAACSON, AUTHOR, "THE WISE MEN": I do think it would be great to rise above partisanship and have a nonpartisan foreign policy, because we all agree on the basic goals.
You know, if you look back at what Truman did, when he was faced with a great global struggle, he brought in people without regard to party. And, you know, at one point, the Marshall...
ZAKARIA: The Marshall Plan was run by a Republican...
ISAACSON: Yes. And at one point...
ZAKARIA: ... Paul Hoffman.
ISAACSON: ... Bob Lovett is explaining to him how we're going to have a plan to rebuild Europe. And he says to President Truman, "But we're not going to name it the Truman Plan. We're going to name it the Marshall Plan, so it can rise above partisanship."
And Truman says to Lovett, "Yes, that'll keep those damn Republicans from pinning it on me."
And Lovett has to say, "You forget, Mr. President, I am one of those damn Republicans."
(LAUGHTER) So, that's where we could sort of rise above the partisanship when it came to creating a very imaginative and exciting new foreign policy.
ROBERT CARO, AUTHOR, "MASTER OF THE SENATE": And in addition to that is the question of the United States' moral standing in the world, you know.
To me, it was just fascinating. In May and June my wife and I drove around remote areas of France. In every little provincial city, on the newsstand, there was Obama's picture on the cover -- not just the national magazines that were on the newsstands, but the local, regional newspapers.
She said, "It's like the world is waiting for him."
Now, what are they waiting for? It's almost like they were saying, "We want America to be America again."
To me, of all the things that he could do immediately, and in an instant, it would be closing Guantanamo Bay. The symbolism would mean something to the world. The United States no longer being a country that sanctioned, that governmentally sanctions torture, or whatever they call it.
That would mean something to the world -- on top of the fact that we have elected an African-American. He could be a transformational figure in the world as a whole.
ISAACSON: When I was traveling around the Middle East a few weeks ago -- both in Jordan and in the Palestinian Territories, Kuwait -- wherever you go, people say, "No, no, no. You're not really going to elect Obama. It's not going to happen. This is a hoax."
People thought it -- I mean, I'm talking about serious people -- said, "No, no, no. This is a hoax."
And I got home and was saying, "Are we really going to do this? Are they -- maybe they're right. Maybe this can't happen."
I think it's going to show the world that, in America, something like this can happen.
ZAKARIA: Now, how do we get -- how does he become a president you guys write about? In other words, what does it take for a president to be ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's already ...
ZAKARIA: ... to be a great...
ISAACSON: I think, put his hand on the Bible and say, "So help me God," and he is going to be a major force in the history of this world. ZAKARIA: But how does he become all that? How does he become a president who, in his execution of the office, becomes a great president -- not just in his symbolism?
CARO: See, that's the great question. Can he do it?
They talk about -- has he shown executive ability? Of course he has. He has how he has run this wonderfully organized campaign. He's shown that.
But can he get things through Congress? What is it like to deal with Congress?
I mean, I just happen to be writing about a guy. Scoop Jackson once tried to define the difference between Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in dealing with senators. He said, when Kennedy would have them to dinner, he would charm them. They were having this conversation, and you tell them how important the bill was. But if the senator says, "You know, I just can't do this. It'll kill me in my state," Kennedy would understand.
And Scoop Jackson said, "But Lyndon Johnson wouldn't understand." He would refuse to understand. He'd threaten him or charm him or cajole him or bribe him -- whatever he had to do. But he would get his vote.
For Obama to become a great president, he's going to have to be a legislator, a writer of laws. He's going to have to be effective with Congress.
ZAKARIA: What do you think?
JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN LION": I think that Barack Obama has thought about this exact question a lot more than we have.
I asked him what were his favorite books recently, and "The Power Broker" was on the list.
CARO: Good man.
MEACHAM: That's right. Sensible.
I think he's, I think "obsessed" is a fair word -- with Lincoln. He is -- once I asked him, were there failed presidencies that he had studied. And he said he didn't spend much time thinking about failed presidents, which is an interesting thing.
I think he understands that he is going to have to deliver on the details. I think he is -- remember, he's a Chicago politician. And he has -- he doesn't need to be dramatic -- "No-drama Obama," you know, is the mantra inside the campaign -- because of the color of his skin and the magnitude of his achievement. The drama takes care of itself.
And I think he understands that there has to be meat in the sandwich to be a truly, truly transformative figure.
ISAACSON: There's one other thing, and it's actually at the end of your column in Newsweek that you just did, which is, it's a great chance to be imaginative and innovate. Whether it's K through 12 education or the Middle East peace, there are really new ways of thinking of things. And we've been stuck in a rut for a long time.
ZAKARIA: And I think that is a lot of what people see in him, this prospect of going across the traditional left-right divide on less government, more government, toward something like smart government.
You know, in almost every one of these areas, I think the traditional argument -- the government should spend less, it should spend more -- is one that leaves people cold.
ISAACSON: If you look at peace in the Middle East or how to transform that crescent of the Arab world, or you look at the K through 12 education crisis we face in America, all of these things are not partisan, left-right issues. They're calling out for some imaginative -- and as you put it, innovative -- ways of dealing with these.
That's what the previous great leaders have done, is they've come up with -- I mean, come up with something like NATO and the World Bank and the Marshall Plan. That was very creative. And we've lacked that in the past 20 years.
JOSEPH ELLIS, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN CREATION": Well, he's replacing an administration that, for eight years, made policy a highly politicized thing -- and in foreign policy especially, a top-down thing, in which there wasn't a deliberative process akin to what happened after World War II with people like Kennan and others sitting around a table talking about policy.
It was decided at the highest levels, and then the bureaucracy was forced to conform to that, so that the reversal of that process in an Obama administration is inevitable. And it's a return to the best of our executive traditions.
And it's clear from the way he's conducted his campaign, he's comfortable picking strong people. Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about the Lincoln Cabinet, and having them tell him things that are different, and then allowing himself to think and decide and be deliberative about that -- that's, you know, that's who he is.
ZAKARIA: What traits did Washington and Jefferson have that made for a great president?
ELLIS: Washington had the same trait. He, as commander in chief of the Continental Army, developed the habit of having all the general officers come. And what he would do is require that they put in writing -- he did this with the Cabinet, too -- he would say, "These are the choices. We invade Philadelphia or we invade New York. What do you think?"
And he wouldn't tell them what he thought. And the same thing -- do we have a national bank? Is the national bank constitutional? Jefferson writes a memo to him as secretary of state saying, no, it's not. Everybody else writes the same kind of memo, because they're all from Virginia.
And the only guy that writes one saying it is, is Alexander Hamilton. And he says, "Hamilton happens to be right" -- meaning, "That's what I thought all along."
So that that process is with us from the beginning of the republic.
Jefferson was like the textual president, too. I mean, Jefferson -- everything had to be in writing. And interestingly, he said his own executive writing, what he did write, he wished to be placed in a separate file, because he didn't want any record of what he really thought.
ISAACSON: Can I put in a plug for Ben Franklin, my old friend? Because I actually see a lot of Obama in Ben Franklin, because, if you look at...
ELLIS: Or vice versa.
ISAACSON: Right. (unintelligible) ties (ph) is what I meant to say.
But if you look at our founding, you needed great people of great rectitude like, you know, Washington. And you needed people of absolute passion like Sam Adams and his cousin, John Adams. And you needed the really bright people like Madison and Jefferson.
But you also needed somebody who knew how to listen, knew how to lead by listening, and knew how to bring a consensus together and sort of make a sage and wise choice.
I think that's what Franklin great role was, as a glue. And this -- and President-Elect Obama seems like a very sage and wise person who knows how to listen.
ELLIS: The letter you quote at the end, when he's leaving the Constitutional Convention, and he says, you know, "I've grown old and come to doubt all of my wisdom, and I've listened to all these."
And, you know, a lot of people leaving the Constitutional Convention think it's a failure. Washington thinks it's a failure. Madison thinks it's a failure. And he's saying, "It's the best we could do." So, there is a pragmatic dimension ...
ISAACSON: He's (unintelligible) the wisdom of crowds (ph), too.
ELLIS: That's right. And there's a pragmatic dimension to policymaking.
ZAKARIA: All right. Bob Caro, what lessons should Barack Obama take from the failure of Lyndon Johnson's presidency?
CARO: Well, if you look at Lyndon Johnson's presidency, you really feel that a major element was -- going back to what you were saying -- his failure to bring the American people along with him. You know, James Reston wrote something -- the exact words escape me at the moment -- of Lyndon Johnson escalated -- brought (ph) the American people into a land war in Asia yesterday in secret, you know.
If he had -- Johnson was the opposite of what you're talking about. Johnson was not a man who wanted to hear dissenting views, you know. Johnson was a man who cowed people and didn't hear the dissenting views.
And I think, if we have something different, where Obama brings the country along with him -- I mean, we are right now, Fareed, nine out of 10 Americans think America is on the wrong track. This is the United States of America. That's quite a -- the greatest power in the world, and you say that's what it's people...
ZAKARIA: And the most optimistic nation historically.
CARO: Exactly, Fareed, and the most optimistic nation historically, and that's where we are. And the world as a whole doesn't trust us anymore.
I mean, his opportunity -- the need for him to be open and candid, and let people see his aims, I think is the great lesson, for me, that he would take.
ZAKARIA: We will be right back.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with our panel of wise men, Robert Caro, Jon Meacham, Walter Isaacson and Joseph Ellis.
Joe, you were saying that, to be transformational is also, it's about undoing something.
ELLIS: For me, the key as to whether Obama's administration is transformational is whether he's able to significantly erode the belief in limited government. I think Katrina and the market implosion have had a significant effect on people's view of government. And I think that the notion that government is "them" is going to shift to government is "us."
ZAKARIA: Jon Meacham, you're a Southerner. Does this look like a realigning election from the perspective of the South?
MEACHAM: Absolutely. And like every Democrat who has won the presidency since your man, including your man, he carried two Southern states. He carried Virginia. He carried Florida.
I think, to me, one of the goose bump-making -- to use a technical term -- moments here is that he ran as a first without being explicit about it. He was an -- a lot of the transformational, racial drama of the moment has been implicit. And...
ZAKARIA: He never mentioned it in his speech.
MEACHAM: It was a brilliant allusion. He simply said, "There will be stories for generations told about this election," and just let it go at that. And he spoke volumes, I think, by not saying much.
ZAKARIA: Walter, you're also a Southerner. Most people don't realize that.
Do you -- how does this strike you?
ISAACSON: Well, I mean, you get moist eyes when you think about the transformation that's occurred, and what an amazingly great country this is, that this could happen.
And I also think it's transforming, because we've gone through a major transformation, which was the Reagan-Thatcher years. And then, with Clinton and Tony Blair you had a certain type of realignment.
And now, I think Obama has a chance to change what America thinks of itself at home, and the way the world thinks of America. It's like, you know, the dawn of the Cold War that Evan Thomas and I wrote about in "The Wise Men," where you have a chance to invent and be creative for whole new institutions.
ZAKARIA: I should have mentioned Evan Thomas is your co-author in that book I was recommending.
Talk about this crisis, Jon, because you wrote about Franklin Roosevelt. Is this -- does this look like 1932?
MEACHAM: Well, it's a crisis of confidence. I think it's like 1932 and 1980, in terms of coming in when confidence in ourselves at home and in our capacity to change and project power around the world is in great, great jeopardy.
And I think, like Reagan, I think Obama has a very interesting opportunity here, because of his character and his personality, to keep the faithful happy, but be able to have them forgive him his compromises, because he's inevitably going to have to do it.
There's a good bit of conventional wisdom at the moment that, well, if the Millennium doesn't dawn by Christmas, the left is going to walk out, and the net roots are going to explode.
I think this is a new Teflon president. I think that there is such firm belief in the apostle -- a Democratic senator during the Jackson years, who said that the thing that struck him about American politics is that followers tended to believe more in the apostle than in the details of the creed.
And if the Apostle was strong, they would go with him.
And it sounds like a cult of personality, but Obama -- remember, he rarely set a foot wrong, I mean, as a pure tactical matter. And I think the character of his detachment and his capacity to analyze is something that is exactly right for the moment.
ZAKARIA: Bob, Lyndon Johnson had a big Democratic majority in the Senate and the House.
ZAKARIA: People are saying, look, it may -- it looks good, but they're going to squabble, it's going to drag him to the left. What does history tell us?
CARO: Well, history tells you that a president needs two things. I do it in terms of hands. You need the outstretched hand of the great speechmaker, like John F. Kennedy -- "Ask not what your country can do for you." But you also need the fist of a Lyndon Johnson, who can control the Congress.
The larger your majority, when it seems like it's so easy -- "Why aren't you passing everything?" -- the easier it is for you to slip. And that is, in fact, what happened with Johnson.
You also have an over-confidence factor, where you see, wherever we've had a landslide -- the largest landslides in American history -- when Jefferson won in 1804, he tried to impeach a Supreme Court justice. When Roosevelt was elected by a landslide in '36, he tried to pack the Supreme Court.
When Lyndon Johnson was elected by a landslide, he thought he could take the country into Vietnam without consulting it.
That's a great pitfall for Obama in a way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hubris.
ISAACSON: Yes. He tried to avoid that with that very sober, great victory speech, where he said, "It's going to take a while."
CARO: I didn't quite mean hubris. I meant that the expectations of the country are very high, because he has these big majorities of his party.
MEACHAM: You know, Churchill once said that the British people can face any misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, as long as they're convinced that those who are in charge of their affairs are not deceiving them, or are not themselves dwelling in a fool's paradise.
There are paragraphs in that speech in Grant Park that are exactly like that. "I'll tell you the truth." "If we disagree, I'll be honest with you." "The road is long..."
ZAKARIA: But is that true in a modern democracy with the kind of media madness, where -- I mean, I know people say this. And could a president go out and say, "You know what? I made a couple of howlers here, and maybe I need to withdraw this policy."
Can you do that?
MEACHAM: I think, if he tried it, his numbers would go up. I mean, think about just how extraordinary it would be. And again, his -- we've all said -- well, I have. I won't blame everybody else.
I was very skeptical that a black man could win. I, frankly, felt that Senator McCain would win, until the market collapsed.
And my sense is that he has again and again confounded the conventional wisdom that's thrown out by journalists. And maybe this is another one where he can, in fact, be more honest about what he gets right and what he gets wrong.
ELLIS: I think everything we know about him suggests he's not going to go to the left. He's going to go to the center -- and center-left, perhaps -- and put together a coalition Cabinet, and reach across the aisle.
And that's not compatible with the kind of behavior that we were discussing earlier with regard to Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt. I think that, to bring it even closer, I think Clinton made a mistake by going too far to the left in the first year or two of his administration.
And I'm virtually certain -- I mean, when Obama was made head of the Harvard Law Review, all the blacks thought that he was going to appoint them. He only appointed one.
ISAACSON: But also, if you look at the really big issues that you've got to tackle, the four or five big ones -- which is, you know, dealing with terrorism, dealing the financial crisis, dealing with health care, and climate change, and K through 12 education in this country -- you're better off doing it as part of a coalition, reaching out to the other side, because that's how transforming policies can be made -- and sustained.
ZAKARIA: In a sense, this election would not have been possible without Lyndon Johnson.
CARO: In every sense, because in 1965, in the 11 Southern states there were six million African-Americans eligible to vote, but only about 400,000 were even registered, and few of them even voted. African-Americans had very little political power in large sections of this country. Johnson set out to pass the 1965 Voter Rights Act. You know, just to take a moment, as he's trying to decide whether to pass that act -- which seems impossible at that time, because the South had so much power in the Senate -- outside on Pennsylvania Avenue, African- Americans and other civil rights protesters are singing "We Shall Overcome." As his limousine comes out of the White House that night to take him to Capitol Hill, they are right next to the car, singing at him. "We're going to do this without you."
But, of course, and at that speech he says, himself, "we shall overcome." You know, that's the speech that made Martin Luther King cry. He's watching it down in Selma, Alabama. When Johnson says that, he starts to cry.
Now, it's 43 years later, just a blink of history's eye, and an African-American is now -- is the man in the Oval Office. This is an epic moment in history.
ZAKARIA: On that note, Robert Caro, Jon Meacham, Walter Isaacson, Joseph Ellis, thank you very much.
And we will be back.
ZAKARIA: Brent Scowcroft has a resume so impressive, it would take me the rest of this program to list the accomplishments, so I'm just going to summarize.
There is his distinguished military career, for which he received many honors, his service on behalf of four administrations, all Republican, beginning back in the Nixon years, including, of course, his tenure as the country's national security adviser -- a position he held twice, under President Gerald Ford, and again during the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush.
He has a new book out with another former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. It's called "America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy."
General Scowcroft, welcome.
BRENT SCOWCROFT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It's nice to be with you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: What do you think this president's legacy will be in international affairs?
SCOWCROFT: That's difficult to say. His legacy right now is not a happy one. If you register it by -- if you follow the Pew polls, there are periodic polls of attitudes around the world toward America. They have never been more negative.
And that is difficult, because we have always stood for trying to do the best. And most of the world has given us the benefit of a doubt, even though we make lots of mistakes. "Well, they tried." We no longer have the benefit of the doubt. And it's very hard to get support for great enterprises when you're distrusted. And I think that's the problem.
ZAKARIA: It feels to me -- tell me if you agree -- that the problem is that, for politicians around the world who want to support us, that it has become a politically unpopular position.
SCOWCROFT: It is, it is. It's a burden.
And it's frustrating, because we are the only country in the world who can mobilize world opinion in behalf of great enterprises. Whether it's climate change, whether it's health -- the big issues that confront mankind -- we're the only ones who can do it.
And not to have that ability -- and we've lost a lot of it now -- is a tragedy for everyone.
ZAKARIA: Do you think the election of this new president can change all that?
SCOWCROFT: I think it -- I think it will make a dramatic change in the general climate, if it's followed up on.
I believe that it shows that we have finally come to grips with a problem which has plagued us since the founding of the republic, and now, we have dealt with it. And people will feel good about the United States.
And if we can build on that, yes, it could make a tremendous difference.
ZAKARIA: You're a Republican, Brent. Do you -- what do you think has gone wrong with the Republican Party in terms of its ideas? Because there's a part of it which has to do with taxes and big government.
ZAKARIA: But there's also a part of it that has to do with foreign policy, where the Republican Party that you served under seemed to stand for something very coherent, a kind of hardheaded internationalism, engagement, pragmatism. It was always considered the place you could -- you know, you could trust these guys to take care of the shop.
And under this administration, it has become more ideological. And if you listen to John McCain, a lot of it seemed to have become much more ideological.
SCOWCROFT: Yes. I think we developed in the Republican Party a -- well, you know, the buzzword for it is "neoconism." But I think what it is, it's an ideology -- it's really an idealistic approach to things. But it's a combination of idealism and, if you will, brute force. As Rousseau said, we may have to "force men to be free." And that's been the notion, that 9/11 showed the world was a really tough place, and we needed to react.
We, the United States, had all this power. While we have this power, we ought to use it to transform the world.
And how would we do it? We'd start with that nasty guy, Saddam Hussein, throw him out, build a democracy. That would spread democracy to the region, and we would have transformed the most troublesome region in the world.
Now, it sounds great. The trouble is, you can't get from here to there. And that's almost always the problem with extreme idealism.
ZAKARIA: You were a skeptic all along. You wrote an op-ed in the "Wall Street Journal" before the Iraq War, warning against it, saying you thought it was a bad idea.
There is a scene in the new movie, the Oliver Stone movie "We -- I don't know if you've seen it...
SCOWCROFT: I haven't seen that.
ZAKARIA: ... where the president reads this op-ed and flings it across the table and says, "I can't believe Brent would do this. He must have talked to my father."
Is that true? Did you talk to the senior Bush...
SCOWCROFT: No, I did not.
ZAKARIA: ...before writing that piece?
SCOWCROFT: One of my problems in the last eight years has been speaking out -- and on some occasions, I failed to speak out. But as soon as I do, some of the members of your profession say, "He wouldn't do this if the old man didn't agree."
So, I have scrupulously, when I was going to do something like that, not talked to the father. And on this occasion, I did not.
I felt we were moving hastily in a direction which was filled with peril. And I couldn't seem to get anybody to pay attention, which is the reason I went public.
But Bush senior knew about it, the time that I submitted it to the "Wall Street Journal." I sent him a copy, and that was all.
ZAKARIA: And we will be right back with Brent Scowcroft.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under George Herbert Walker Bush and Gerald Ford.
Brent, let's talk about specifics. You were against the Iraq War. We're there now. What should we do?
Do you think that the situation is stable enough that we can begin, on a reasonably expedited basis, to start drawing down the way President-Elect Obama wants to?
SCOWCROFT: I think we can start drawing down. But I think it's dangerous to try to do it by the calendar. We need to do it by the situation on the ground.
Because what do we want with Iraq? It seems to me, what we want is to leave an Iraq which is a force for stability, not for chaos, in the region. If we leave too soon, and Iraq descends into chaos, we could have a Middle East that looks like Iraq does now. So, we have to be careful.
But as the situation, as the security situation on the ground improves -- and it's improving quite rapidly -- then, yes, we can draw down much of our combat strength. We will still have to have backup strength, because the Iraqi army -- it can do the actual rifle firing and fighting. But we do artillery support, we do helicopter support, we do intelligence. We do all the supply and infrastructure for the army. That's going to take a long time.
And then, you have a political situation, which we cannot solve the political situation. But we cannot leave when it's in its present state.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about one person. Your deputy at the NSC is a man called Robert Gates ...
ZAKARIA: ...who is currently the secretary of defense. Do you think President-Elect Obama should keep him on?
SCOWCROFT: Well, I wouldn't presume to advise the president- elect. But Bob Gates is an outstanding individual. I think he's done a tremendous job as secretary of defense.
I actually think it would send the kind of signal that I think the president-elect intends, or spoke about in his campaign, and that is that we need to work together. We need to work as Americans.
And I think giving Bob Gates some more time to do the kinds of things he's doing would be a very wise course of action, yes.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that Gates would be comfortable with Obama's broad view that we should be drawing down in some way?
SCOWCROFT: Well, I'm not going to speak for Bob Gates. But I, from what I know of him, I think he feels that we can draw down. But to be out in 16 months -- now to predict that, I think he might have some problem with it.
But I don't know. I haven't talked with him about that.
ZAKARIA: Both candidates were in favor of sending more troops in. Yet, as you know, Afghanistan is a kind of graveyard of empires. Foreign troops are not particularly welcome. And there is at heart a big political problem, which is that the Pashtun feel that they want to be represented, or they want to take over parts of the country and run it themselves.
What should we do?
SCOWCROFT: I believe we have tended to look at Afghanistan as just another Iraq. It's not. It's very different.
Afghanistan has never had a strong central government. It's been a loose coalition of tribes and other ethnic or tribal groups, presided over by a loose central government with a nominal king, frequently, and so on.
By trying -- by investing Karzai with all the attributes of a strong central government, I think we're going too far. And my sense is that we ought to now reach out.
The Taliban is not completely unified. Al Qaeda is there, but in small numbers. We ought to reach out to the different combatant groups and see whether we cannot structure something, which would be Afghanistan sort of the way it was after the Soviets left.
They never were able to put anything together. But we should not replicate what the Soviets did. You know, they had a government which was compliant with them. They were unable -- with three times the number of troops that we had -- to deal with Afghanistan.
We need to take a lesson from that.
ZAKARIA: Can we deter a nuclear Iran? Or must we in some way disarm a nuclear Iran?
SCOWCROFT: I think that's question two. I think we have not resolved question one, which is: Is there any way we can reasonably dissuade Iran from going forward on it -- on a nuclear program? And I don't think we've exhausted the possibilities there.
There are two aspects to it. One is us and what we talk to the Iranians about. The other is a solid phalanx of the countries who are dealing with Iran now -- Britain, France, Germany, us, the Russians and the Chinese.
I think, if we can have a really solid front of all those telling Iran, "You don't need to do your own uranium enrichment. We will guarantee you a source of enriched uranium for your power plants, and we will support nuclear power. You don't need any more."
I think we ought to focus on that now. And if that fails, then we look at what's next. But what I really fear is less Iran having a few bombs, than Iran as the example of another wave of proliferation. Because, if Iran is allowed to enrich uranium, I believe Egypt, almost inevitably, will follow -- probably Saudi Arabia, probably Turkey in the region.
And then you may have 20 or 30 other countries that said, "Well, we don't want nuclear weapons, but we need to be prepared."
And that is not a better world.
So, I would do it carefully in steps. And to talk about, can we deter them, or do we need to take action, I think is very premature now.
ZAKARIA: Finally, Brent, if you had one piece of advice to give the incoming president-elect in terms of formulating a grand strategy, what would it be?
SCOWCROFT: Right now, I believe that the most troublesome area in the world is the Middle East, from the Balkans on through Central Asia. And I think that is what has to be tackled first.
And I would start that process with the Palestinian peace process as a way to psychologically change the mood of the region, and get the region to start working together rather than at cross purposes, because the Palestinian issue, while it's not important to many states in the region, it's nonetheless -- it gives the members of the region a deep sense of injustice.
And we have removed in this country, with this election, a lot of that sense of injustice in this country. We ought to try to do it in the Middle East.
ZAKARIA: Brent Scowcroft, a pleasure. Thank you so much.
SCOWCROFT: Nice to be with you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: OK. You've seen many of these scenes. This one is 10 p.m., Tuesday night, Grant Park in Chicago...
... 5 a.m., Paris, France ...
...7 a.m., Kogelo, Kenya ...
...2 p.m., Obama, Japan ...
...3 p.m., Sydney, Australia.
But a few hours after all these global celebrations, we got a reality check from Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delivered a scathing rebuke of U.S. policy, blaming America for the worldwide financial crisis, harshly criticizing U.S. support for Georgia in the conflict between the two nations, and warning that Russia will soon deploy missiles to counter the U.S. missile shield in Poland.
Oh. He also sent President-Elect Obama a warm message of congratulations.
Now, Joe Biden talked about an international crisis that will test the new president. Most have thought this will come from the Middle East or Afghanistan. But it might well turn out that handling Russia will prove the most vexing part of the new president's early foreign policy.
Russia is not a two-bit nation flailing about and causing chaos. It is a major world power, flush with oil resources, angry and humiliated at its loss of empire and status.
For years, we've dealt with Russia in a kind of episodic and tactical way. We really need to step back, think broadly and strategically, and work to create a new framework for relations between Russia and the West.
Having a wounded and resentful Russia outside the international system is not a recipe for peace and stability.
ZAKARIA: And now, the question of the week. Last week I asked: What is the first thing you want the new president to do when he takes office?
Well, a majority of our viewers knew exactly what they wanted him to do -- close the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. Interestingly, that's the same thing Robert Caro said earlier in the program.
A number of viewers -- many -- had very high expectations for the new president. They want him to heal the racial divide, bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, fix the economy, and many other things.
So, good luck, President Obama. Here's one for next week. At some point in his first few months in office, President Obama will make a trip overseas. What is the first country you think he should visit, and why? Let me know.
Also, my book recommendation. It's by one of the historians on the panel. All of them wrote great books, but Jon Meacham has a new one out this week, "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House."
Jon makes a convincing argument that Jackson should be mentioned in the same breath as Washington or Jefferson or Lincoln for the dramatic role he played in preserving the Union. It's terrific, beautifully written, and I know you'll enjoy it.
Remember, as always, you can e-mail me at email@example.com. You can visit our Web site, cnn.com/gps, for highlights from the program. And you can always find our weekly podcast on the Web site.
Thanks for watching the show. Have a great week.