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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS

Interview with Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha; Is Success Linked to Talent?

Aired April 12, 2009 - 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 all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

Now, perhaps the most startling comment I heard this week, and one that was not widely reported, came from Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke discussing our adversaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said he was, quote, deeply, deeply dissatisfied with the degree of knowledge that the United States government and our friends and allies have on the makeup of the Taliban and on its methods. Furthermore, he said, this lack of intelligence impedes our war effort.

Think about that. After seven years at war with the Taliban, we still don't know much about them. We don't know what makes people sign up with them, whether there are moderates and extremists, how to divide them, how to reconcile with some elements within the Taliban -- nothing.

We are fighting an enemy we don't know and can't understand.

This is why Washington has to put greater emphasis on intelligence, specifically human intelligence, something that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has proposed, and I'm going to talk about at the end of this program.

Meanwhile, on to another country about which we know little.

Inside the policy community, people have begun speculating about a new role for Syria. The idea goes something like this. Syria, as a major Arab country, is in an unnatural alliance with Iran, historically a foe of Arab states. If we can begin engaging with Syria, we might weaken, soften that alliance and ease the way for a peace between Syria and Israel that just a short time ago seemed impossible.

I'll talk about all this with my first guest, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha.

Also on the show today, a terrific panel: Felix Rohatyn, the man who saved New York City in the 1970s; China scholar Joshua Ramo; and John Micklethwait, the editor of "The Economist." And top-selling author, Malcolm Gladwell on what role talent plays in success.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MALCOLM GLADWELL: So, does Shakespeare have some thing in him, separate from the desire to write poetry and plays, that explains his genius?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Stay with us.

(BREAK)

ZAKARIA: So, joining me now from Washington is Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha.

Welcome, Ambassador.

IMAD MOUSTAPHA, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Hello.

ZAKARIA: Ambassador, let me start by asking you a basic question. How did Syrians react to the election of Barack Obama?

MOUSTAPHA: I would say, just like the rest of the world reacted. We thought that America has vindicated herself by electing Obama after eight terrible years with the Bush administration. The ordinary, simple man from Syria was overjoyed.

The message was very powerful. You have to remember, it's not only anyone-but-Bush, but also, it is who is Barack Obama.

The symbolism of his election has created a very strong impact across the whole world. And I can claim also that in Syria as well.

ZAKARIA: And for his first interview, given to an Arab network, Al Arabiya, his speech in Turkey where he said the United States is not and will never be at war with Islam, he pointed out he has Muslim members of his family.

Has this all been reported in Syria? How do Syrians react to this?

MOUSTAPHA: In general, of course, it has been reported across the Arab and Islamic world. It has been strongly emphasized everywhere, including in Syria.

However, because of Syria, the major emphasis was on the sentence in which he said that he wants to support the peace process between Syria and Israel.

This made major news headlines in Syria as compared to the Bush administration that used to oppose peace talks between Syria and Israel. For us in Syria, I think this was a very important message.

ZAKARIA: Your foreign minister very recently said in an interview that your concern was a withdrawal from Golan. If that's the case, and if Bibi Netanyahu is willing to pursue that policy, do you believe that there will be fruitful talks between Syria and Israel? MOUSTAPHA: Yes. It's a very concrete possibility.

Let us compartmentalize and remember, there is the Syrian-Israeli peace track, and there is peace in the region. Israel wants a peace agreement with Syria based on the fair principle of land for peace, ending this occupation of the Syrian Golan and making peace with Syria in return. This is fine.

ZAKARIA: And how do you envision this peace?

President Assad in an interview recently said it would be a cold peace, because it would not involve the Palestinian issue. So there would be a return of the Golan, and then Syria would make peace with Israel in the way that Egypt and Jordan has, formally, and there would be a diplomatic exchange?

MOUSTAPHA: Basically, fundamentally, there will be a peace agreement between both countries. Now, the details will -- of course, naturally will be negotiated.

But you have alluded to the Israeli peace agreement with Jordan and with Egypt. If this is what Israel wants, this can be done. But this is not really the issue.

The issue is, shouldn't we at one point arrive to a point in which peace prevails in the Middle East, suffering ends, human dignity is restored to the Palestinian nation?

ZAKARIA: It strikes me as hopeful that you believe that a peace of sorts could be instituted between Israel and Syria despite the recent Israeli election, despite the fact that the foreign minister of Israel is Avigdor Lieberman.

You believe that you can do business with any Israeli government?

MOUSTAPHA: Personally, I believe that it's better to deal with someone like Lieberman than to deal with someone like Livni. At least Lieberman is candid. He exactly says what he believes in.

Tzipi Livni and her colleagues were, as I said, talking all the time about their desire to make peace while committing the atrocity in Gaza or doing other things similar in the rest of the Palestinian territories.

ZAKARIA: So, the place where things stand now is, you're ready to do something. You say you want some kind of active American engagement, and then you might even have direct negotiations.

What specifically do you want from Washington now?

MOUSTAPHA: We believe that the United States of America has a moral obligation to sponsor peace talks between the Arabs and the Israelis. It's because of the American support for Israel -- military, diplomatic, financial, political -- that Israel has been able to sustain her policies of occupation. This is why the United States has a moral duty to play a vigorous, creative role in brokering peace between the Arabs and the Israelis.

We believe that enough is enough. The moment the United States will come in vigorously and tell the Israelis, while we are absolutely committed to your security, we believe that what you are doing is detriment even to your own security on the long term, and your occupation should come to an end.

We think that Israel will be very, very careful not to say "no" to the U.S. administration and the U.S. president.

This is what we want for America to do. Come and honestly broker peace talks between the Arabs and the Israelis...

ZAKARIA: So, if the United...

MOUSTAPHA: ... in a serious way.

ZAKARIA: So, what you're saying specifically is, if the United States were to call a peace conference between Syria and Israel next week, you would be willing to attend, and you would be willing to initiate land for peace, if Israel gave back the Golan in the course of those negotiations?

MOUSTAPHA: Because you are asking me a hypothetical question about what might happen next week, I will tell you, let me first consult with my government. Most possibly they will tell me, yes, we will attend.

ZAKARIA: And let me ask you finally, the basic message I'm hearing is that you are more optimistic that there may be a deal with Israel than perhaps you've been in a long time. Is that fair?

MOUSTAPHA: It might be fair, because of what we have here today. This is a historical moment in the United States of America. Here is a president that has said in a very, very vigorous way that the United States is committed to making peace in the region.

And then, look who did he select for a special envoy to our region? A person known for his integrity, fairness and his capability to deliver.

So, yes, I can say that we are a little bit more on the optimistic side right now. But we also need to be very careful and realistic.

Senator Mitchell will not be as free to address the Arab-Israeli conflict as he used to be when he was addressing the Irish crisis, because, of course, of the omnipotent power of the pro-Israeli special interest groups here in Washington, D.C.

ZAKARIA: All right. I will take that small optimism then. And thank you very much, Ambassador.

MOUSTAPHA: You are welcome.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSHUA COOPER RAMO: What we're facing is not a financial crisis, it's an existential crisis. It's the fact that the world has now reached a level of complexity that our extant institutions simply can't manage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Each week I like to talk about the world's big events and ideas with a group of the smartest people I can find. Today, three terrific guests whom I've wanted to get on this program for a long time.

John Micklethwait has good news for those of you who have been celebrating Easter or Passover, indeed any religious faith. "God is Back". That's the title of his fascinating new book which I'll tell you more about a bit later. But I should also tell you he is the editor-in-chief of "The Economist".

Felix Rohatyn has numerous impressive accomplishments. He has served as ambassador to France. He has been a prominent investment banker. He has a wonderful new book out called "Bold Endeavors." More about that. But Felix is also credited with single-handedly saving New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s -- no small feat, and we may need to talk about that again soon.

And speaking of right now, Joshua Cooper Ramo's new book puts an indelible label on this remarkable era we're living through. It's called "The Age of the Unthinkable," now a "New York Times" bestseller, and he offers you a new model for surviving and prevailing in a world turned upside-down. He also knows more about China than just about anyone else.

Long introductions for distinguished people.

Welcome.

Felix, the first thing I have to ask you is, when you watch the recovery plan, the bank bailout with the context of 40 years in the financial markets, are we doing the right thing? Are we in the right place now?

FELIX ROHATYN, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO FRANCE, AUTHOR, "BOLD ENDEAVORS": Well, the answer is, I don't know. And I won't know until it's over, because so many things can happen.

Now we -- because it is a political issue, we are looking for very -- we're not looking for, but we're going through very complicated structures. And I've always been convinced that, in finances and most everything else, every level of complication adds three or four levels of difficulty and the likelihood of failure.

ZAKARIA: So, you think things are still -- we're not at the bottom. You don't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.

ROHATYN: I don't see anything.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, it's not -- again, I think this thing is the most complicated set of financial data that I have ever dealt with.

And I also find that I'm living in a world that I never even dreamt of living, with trillions -- I never knew what a trillion was. I knew what a billion was. And when you -- you know, you become sort of a little bit dizzy with what you read in the papers.

Even when I look back on the near-bankruptcy of New York City, I was looking for -- when it started, I was looking for $15, $20, $25 billion. And the notion that you have trillions, and that you'll open up the back of an annual report and you find these numbers, these zeros next to the word "derivatives," it's very new.

JOHN MICKLETHWAIT, AUTHOR, "GOD IS BACK": I think Felix is exactly right. It's an element where it's gone from being a sort of financial crisis through into an economic crisis. And now you've got a political crisis all the way around it. And it gets ever more complex and hard to solve.

I do think it seems to have stopped getting worse. I think that's my general sort of view of it at the moment.

ZAKARIA: Now, your prime minister, Gordon Brown, got early kudos for having kind of reacted quickly and swiftly and intelligently. Is he doing anything we should be paying attention to on the banking crisis?

MICKLETHWAIT: I think he's ahead on the banks. I think, in fact, they are closer to setting up bad banks. They've managed to get out of a lot of the -- a lot of the stuff off banks' balance sheets. And that's slightly because Britain in some ways is in a worse position. We're even more heavily in some ways reliant on finance.

He is ahead in that way. I think in other ways, politically, he's way behind Obama. Obama has much, much more political credibility.

ZAKARIA: So, Josh, this sounds pretty much like a world turned upside-down. So, you are the guide. What should we be doing?

JOSHUA COOPER RAMO, AUTHOR, "THE AGE OF THE UNTHINKABLE": Well, it really is a page right out of my book. And this exact sensation of feeling that the world was getting more complex than we ever understood was precisely what motivated me to write this and to label this as the world of the unthinkable, the age of the unthinkable.

The reality is, this complexity isn't going away. Complex systems tend to get more complex over time, which is why I'm kind of less sanguine about the idea that maybe we're through this.

The reason for that is that, what we're facing is not a financial crisis. It's an existential crisis. It's the fact that the world has now reached a level of complexity that our extant institutions simply can't manage. And relying on them to manage it is a huge mistake.

There's a long list of things you can do, which I can talk about. But when I set out to write the book I said, you know, there's all this disruption going on in the world. The only way I'll understand it is by being with disrupters.

So, I spent time with Hezbollah and with the guys who started Google and with bioengineers. And you do learn some lessons that are actually very applicable, even to those of us who are not sitting in places where we're traditionally disrupting the world.

Probably the primary one is this incredible focus on resilience. The idea that we are going to face more and more risk and more and more turbulence -- because a lot of it comes from things we need to be modern, like jet airplanes or financial markets or bioengineering, and we don't want to live without those things -- means that risk is part of our lives now, and it's something we all share.

And so, we need a real focus on resilience. And I think that's what's missing today. I mean, I want a sense that every single American is engaged in asking, "What can I do to make my life more resilient? What can I do to focus on my savings rates, my health care?"

I think this is going to get much worse before it gets better. And we know, when things get complicated and out of control, that's when people turn to very simple, very dangerous answers in history. So, I think this is a pivotal moment for us.

MICKLETHWAIT: Do you think it's possible to be a disruptive regulator?

RAMO: Absolutely. Not only do I think it's possible to be a disruptive regulator, but I think it's very important.

One of the things I did in my book was spend time with people who just kind of radically remake industries overnight. And one of the things you see is that they look at the world as these systems, and they find places where it's possible to really exploit holes.

So one of the things I did was I looked, for instance, at the Nintendo Wii, which is this device that completely upended the video game business. It's actually -- the graphics on it aren't that great. But what it did was, it combined the traditional video game with the accelerometer from an airbag system in your car, so you actually had to get up and move around. It remade the business overnight.

The nature of our age is that you're always confronted with unexpected things being combined together. So, like hedge funds plus home mortgages, or jet airplanes and Islamic fundamentalism.

So, the regulators themselves have to learn to play the game.

One of the ideas I propose in the book, actually, is that next to the National Security Council we should have something called the National Skepticism Council, which does nothing but try to think disruptive thoughts about the policies that we enact.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask about your book, Felix. Because, assuming we get through this financial crisis, on the theory -- you know, somebody asked Mark Twain once in the middle of downpour, he said, "Will it ever end?"

And he said, "Well, historically, it always has."

(LAUGHTER)

So, at some point, let's hope the crisis passes.

You speak about the crucial importance of having a very big infrastructure program.

ROHATYN: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Because we have neglected infrastructure. And you actually think we should be spending on the order of $1.5 trillion over a period of years using an infrastructure bank.

Do you think that we're moving in the right direction there?

ROHATYN: I thought we were. I thought -- and last summer, President Obama, in fact, supported the notion of infrastructure and of an infrastructure bank. In the latest stimulus program there is, I think, $120 billion set aside for infrastructure. But $120 billion over two or three years is not going to do what needs to be done.

ZAKARIA: What are the biggest infrastructure projects you would support building now?

ROHATYN: I would actually start with public school buildings, because our public schools are a disgrace. And I don't see how you can take a child and put him in a building that is decrepit and is leaking in the roof, and think that we can teach him a great deal.

You have to start with the notion of, whoever you talk to says, well, we can't afford this because of the deficit. And you say, but no. You know, there's no deficit here. This is a capital asset.

So, once you're past all of that, then you've got the chairman of the committees, and you've got all of the good people who say, well, next year.

But I won't give up except if I have to.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAKARIA: And we will be right back. We're not giving up either. We're going to talk about foreign policy when we come back. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICKLETHWAIT: I think some elements are making America seem a slightly humbler power overseas. Actually, it could be a way to greater strength.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And we are back with John Micklethwait, Joshua Cooper Ramo and Felix Rohatyn.

Let's talk about Obama's grand tour.

You're a foreigner. How did it strike you, John?

(LAUGHTER)

MICKLETHWAIT: You used to be one.

(LAUGHTER)

I think it strikes me as he did well. I think there was a clever element of building down expectations just as he went.

He certainly hasn't achieved everything he set out to go and get. He hasn't got as many troops in Afghanistan as I think he might have wanted. But he's started.

I think that also he's done something in terms, which is reshaping America's image overseas, which I think was important. And I know he's getting a lot of pressure here, particularly from the right on this, the idea of him sort of apologizing.

But I think some element of making America seem a slightly humbler power overseas actually could be a way to greater strength. And obviously, he could take it too far. But he has done...

ZAKARIA: But you Europeans haven't given him much. I mean...

MICKLETHWAIT: No, exactly.

ZAKARIA: ... you didn't give him much in the G-20. You didn't give him much on Afghanistan and NATO.

MICKLETHWAIT: Well, "The Economist" is a global newspaper, so we don't follow the European edge. But...

ZAKARIA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) personally (ph) under a British (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MICKLETHWAIT: No, you're right. Now, I think that, well, the British have done something. But you're absolutely right.

I thought there was a chance that Obama could go there, and he could appeal over the heads of Merkel and Sarkozy to, you know, to the people and say, "Look. This is the one part of the war on terror that you always said you back. And you're not doing it."

And that doesn't really seem to work. The polls still show pretty hostile reactions to the idea of more troops going to Afghanistan.

But if he could push that a bit, I think he could get a tiny bit more.

ZAKARIA: Josh, one of the countries that everyone thinks the United States should be doing more with is China. And you live in China. You've spent a lot of time there. You speak Chinese.

What is your sense? I mean, how are the Chinese reacting to all this talk in the West and in the United States, that what we really need is a G-2, just two countries, the Washington-Beijing. It must at some level be enormously flattering. I mean, this is a country still with an economy that is, you know, half the size of Japan's.

RAMO: Yes. I mean, I -- also, flattering in the Chinese context has a very strange context, which is, usually when somebody's flattering you, it's right before they kind of knife you.

(LAUGHTER)

In fact, one of the great things about being friends with Chinese people is, you know when you've really reached that level of friendship is when they say, "You look exhausted," or "Your Chinese is awful." That's the mark that you've sort of really arrived.

So, they don't prize flattery. What they prize is stability.

And this is a moment where their stability is probably more under threat than it has been in awful long time. And they're confronted with challenges that they simply are not prepared for.

It's not surprising -- it's a country that 30 years ago was basically cut off from the world -- that they wouldn't have a mature foreign policy infrastructure, they wouldn't have a strategy that lets them operate in this way.

But to be forced to engineer that on the fly, while you're also worrying about all these problems at home, it's a very tense moment in Beijing right now.

ZAKARIA: Do they wish that the United States backed off? Or...

RAMO: No. The overwhelming sense is they're happy to be engaged with the United States. But it's also very important to understand that the Chinese foreign policy apparatus is not a monolith, that there are people inside the political spectrum who are very anti- United States, and there are people who believe that engagement with the United States is essential.

I think they are happy with the way the Obama administration has acted so far. But they're engaged in kind of very traditional Chinese negotiating behavior, which is, you observe. And in areas where you feel there is some potential weakness, you make a little probe. And that's what happened with this proposal on the universal currency, which they're very worried about currency being used to slow their rise.

But the behavior so far has been very typical. But it's a super- complex situation.

ZAKARIA: Of course, the G-2 pointedly excludes the traditional economic power centers of Europe. How do you think Europe reacts to it?

MICKLETHWAIT: I think Europe is in something of a fog about it. They're just waking up to the idea that -- the idea of the G-2 sort of frightens them, because it means they're being left out.

I mean, it's true the European Union is still the world's biggest economic area, so to that extent, I think the G-2 talk is premature.

There's a different reason as well. I think the Europeans don't understand the Pacific. They look on China almost entirely through commercial eyes, rather than particularly as a sort of big foreign policy challenge. But that's just beginning to come into their radar.

ZAKARIA: Could you imagine a world in which the dollar was not the reserve currency?

ROHATYN: No. No.

On the other hand, I think the Chinese have been, almost by chance, been put in a position strategically in the world because of their assets, that is unique and that cannot stand still.

And the logical thing for the Chinese to do is more and more investment in the West, in equities. Why buy, you know, a Treasury bond when you can buy the Caterpillar Tractor Company, which they can probably make very good use of.

MICKLETHWAIT: But that's going to cause problems, isn't it...

ROHATYN: Very definitely.

MICKLETHWAIT: ... in terms of American domestic...

ROHATYN: Very definitely. But that is the logic of their situation is, you know, you don't need more Treasury bills, you...

ZAKARIA: Yielding, you know, 1 percent or something.

ROHATYN: Yes. If you can buy Caterpillar, or any one of these companies at six times earnings, that's a terrific, terrific investment.

ZAKARIA: Josh, you have the last word, because you haven't commented on Obama and his foreign policy so far. In an age of unthinkable, what grade do you give Barack Obama?

RAMO: I give it a very high grade. I mean, one of the things is, we're learning about how Obama makes decisions. And when we talk to people who work in Washington, as I'm sure we all do, and get a sense of the way he actually processes information, he is highly analytical combined with this kind of instinctive feel.

And so, from his perspective, what was the goal of the trip? The goal of the trip was not to drive these policies home. The goal actually wasn't even to be a rock star.

It was to gather information that there was no other way that he could gather without he himself sitting there with these leaders. And I think from that standpoint it was very effective.

He's gone back. He's processed it. And now, I think, in coming weeks comes the very hard asks he's going to have to make of these folks.

ZAKARIA: Right. This strikes me as a kind of wonderful overture. But now you face the reality of Europeans not cooperating, maybe the Iranians not talking, maybe peace in the Middle East not going as well as one hopes. And then the question is, what does he do? What's the next stage?

Thank you all for a wonderful conversation.

And we will be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALCOLM GLADWELL: What you have described is what I believe talent is. Talent is the desire to practice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Malcolm Gladwell is probably the best-selling nonfiction writer in America. He's sold many millions of books based on very simple ideas.

"Blink." Should you trust your first impression? "The Tipping Point." How does a fad become a sensation?

His new book, which is my favorite, is called "Outliers." In it he explores what makes a person successful. Why do some talented people flame out early while others go on to brilliant careers?

His main point is this. Success doesn't have much to do with talent. Instead, he says, it's almost always a product of hard work and of the culture in which one lives.

Malcolm Gladwell, thank you.

MALCOLM GLADWELL, AUTHOR, "OUTLIERS": Thank you for having me.

ZAKARIA: One of my favorite examples is actually your first example, where you talk about hockey players.

And the reason I think you talk about them is because, what could be more meritocratic than sports? You just -- you know, it's not who your parents are. It's just a question of raw talent and hard work, it would seem.

But what do you find?

GLADWELL: Well, you find -- there's some lovely work by a series of psychologists. What you find is that an overwhelming majority of hockey players are born in the first three months of the year -- elite hockey players.

And the same is true, by the way, of soccer around the world.

And the reason for that is that the system -- the system under which age class hockey and age class soccer are organized has as a cutoff date January 1st. And so, from the very beginning when we pick young kids to pull them out and put them on all-star teams and give them special coaching and special encouragement, we're looking at groups of children who are all nine years old. And we're saying, those three are the best. Let's pull them out.

Well, who is the best at nine years old? Well, it's children who are the eldest in their class, those born closest to the cutoff date.

ZAKARIA: So, the ones who are nine years ten months, nine years 11 months and nine years 11.5 months, tend to be the best.

GLADWELL: Are the best. When you're nine years old, 11 months can be four inches in height. It can be 25 pounds. It can be the difference between being a klutz and someone who's incredibly coordinated.

And so, we think there that what we've done is identify people who have extraordinary individual talent. We actually haven't. We've created a system that confers a special benefit on children born in a certain part of the year. And that benefit persists.

And those kids are the ones who end up 10 years later being in, playing all-star, playing in the NHL or playing professional football or soccer around the world.

ZAKARIA: Do you think this applies to, I don't know, finance? That there were some kids who seemed, at a young age, a little bit more talented at math, and that they get a certain amount of attention by teachers and parents?

GLADWELL: And it snowballs.

ZAKARIA: And they're told they're smart, and then it's reinforced. GLADWELL: Yes. This is -- this principle in psychology is called Matthew Effect, after the line in the Bible, "To he who has, much more will be given." Right?

It's this idea that -- it's called cumulative advantage, which is, small initial advantages mushroom over time.

The best data we have is on reading. A very, very small difference in reading ability at a very young age quickly mushrooms into a large difference. Why? Because if you're a little bit better at reading at the age of six, you'll read more. Right? Because reading is easier and more pleasurable.

And that little extra increment of reading that you do causes you to read even better than the person behind you. And the cycle reinforces itself until you have, by the time kids are -- when kids are six, the difference in the amount they read is like this. When they're 12, the same kids, the difference is this. And it's because of this snowballing effect that happens with small initial advantages growing.

ZAKARIA: Tell the story of the Beatles with regard to practice.

GLADWELL: The Beatles are a lovely example, because we think that their story begins with the invasion of America in 1964. Right? These four, fresh-faced, practically teenagers who burst on the scene.

You know, nothing could be further from the truth. They spend the really critical periods -- they spend two years in Hamburg, Germany, as the house band in a strip club playing eight-hour sets, seven days a week, for months at a stretch.

They have one of the most extraordinarily intensive apprenticeships in rock 'n' roll. And if you think about what it takes to play -- I mean, the typical set for a rock band is what, an hour, an hour-and-a-half. They did eight-hour sets, day in, day out.

If you think about that you realize, if you force a group of young musicians to play together over that -- in that way, for months at a stretch -- you're forcing them to master all kinds of different genres, to learn how to play together well, to write songs.

I mean, everything you need to do, particularly at the dawn of rock 'n' roll, to be the most dominant band of your generation requires some kind of apprenticeship. And lo and behold, they have it.

And I would argue, and many agree with me, that no Hamburg, no Beatles. You know, they're just not the band that we remember unless they had that kind of intensive training.

ZAKARIA: But of course, it raises an interesting question to me, which is, you could imagine a lot of other bands being told, "I've got good news for you. You've got a great gig in Hamburg, Germany. The bad news is you're going to have to play eight hours a day, seven days a week." And they would have said, "No way. We're not going to do it."

So, something about that group made them relish the opportunity...

GLADWELL: Yes.

ZAKARIA: ... to do enormous amounts of practice. And presumably, that's true of some of these sportsmen and true of other people.

That is, yes, it takes practice. But you need a certain mentality to want to practice...

GLADWELL: To want to practice that much.

ZAKARIA: ... the hell out of it. You know, the...

GLADWELL: What you have described is what I believe talent is.

Talent is the desire to practice. Right? It is that you love something so much that you are willing to make an enormous sacrifice and an enormous commitment to that, whatever it is -- task, game, sport, what have you.

When people use that word, we usually talk about something inherent in you. And we think of something very specific. I don't think that's what talent is. I think talent is simply desire.

It's what you said of the Beatles. Their talent consisted of their ability to see Hamburg as an opportunity, whereas 99 out of 100 bands would have seen Hamburg as a nightmare -- which, by the way, it was.

I mean, you could argue that the Beatles talent was also an act of delusion. You know, to be able to see opportunity in Hamburg in 1959 required, at the very least, an extraordinary imagination.

ZAKARIA: But there is no such thing as a certain inherent talent? I mean, there are people who clearly are just great at math. There are people who are -- you know, who clearly have a way with poetry.

Was Shakespeare not talented?

GLADWELL: Well, see, this is a surprisingly active debate among psychologists. So, does Shakespeare have something in him, separate from the desire, to write poetry and plays that explains his genius? All right. I'll grant you that.

But the question is, is it this big, or is it this big? I think it's this big.

Same thing when you say someone has a talent for mathematics. I would say that much of the talent for mathematics is that they like numbers. My father is a mathematician. What is his talent? He genuinely loves numbers in a way that you or I would find unfathomable. Right? That's 90 percent of why he's a mathematician. He just -- and so, as a result, from the very youngest age he was drawn to this, and has put in -- put in by the age of 21, 100 times more time in math than I did by the age of 21.

It starts with love.

Now, does he have some separate facility with numbers that I don't have? Maybe. But I'm not convinced it's significant.

You know, I mean, I think any reasonably intelligent human being has the intellectual firepower to do calculus. But only a small fraction of us make use of it. And it's the "make use" part that I'm interested in.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Malcolm Gladwell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And we are back with the best-selling author, Malcolm Gladwell.

Malcolm, when you talk about what succeeds, some of what you talk about in terms of success and failure is not just the individuals -- because, as you say, that doesn't seem dominant. It's the environment around them, the culture around them. And some cultures -- I mean, national cultures -- seem better and worse.

GLADWELL: Yes.

ZAKARIA: You found that, by and large, Koreans were very bad at being pilots.

GLADWELL: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Explain that.

GLADWELL: To be a good pilot we think is a matter of technical skill. It isn't really.

ZAKARIA: But what about Sully Sullenberger?

GLADWELL: Well, he's such a -- he's such an outlier, to the theory of "Outliers." That's a very rare kind of plane crash. In fact, I don't know if there'd ever been a successful water landing in the last 50 years.

Most crashes are of a very different form. The overwhelming majority of crashes are the result of a breakdown in communication between the co-pilot and a pilot. Something comes up, a situation emerges that requires those two pilots to be in open and honest communication, and they fail to do that. One person withholds information. One person doesn't share. Whatever.

There are invariably social failures.

So the question is -- this is why there's a cultural component -- is it easier in some cultures for a subordinate to speak openly and honestly to his superior than in other cultures? And the answer is, absolutely.

In fact, this is one of the dimensions on which cultures vary the most. It's called power distance. It is the respect for hierarchy. And there are some cultures that have zero respect for hierarchy, and some cultures for which that is the dominant paradigm of social interaction.

Korea, as it happens, is a culture which has enormous respect for hierarchy, where power distance is a -- in fact, the entire linguistic structure of the Korean language is infused with this sense of, how do I treat you if you are older and superior to me? I use specific pronounal forms. I mean, it goes on and on and on. Right?

Well, that is, in 99 percent of cases, a beautiful and wonderful thing. In the cockpit, it's a problem.

And so, you see -- whenever you see cultures, if you overlay the list of cultures in the world by their respect for power distance with the list of cultures in the world by their plane crashes per capita, it's basically the same list.

ZAKARIA: So, it's the ones that hierarchical that have the most plane crashes.

GLADWELL: That have the most plane crashes.

So, you'll see -- so a classic, you know...

ZAKARIA: And what does Korean Airlines do?

GLADWELL: Well, this is the second part of this argument, which is, this is not to say that certain cultures are incapable of doing that task. It just means that, if they want to get better, they have to address the cultural component of their interaction.

And that's exactly what Korean Air did. And they fixed their problem. Today, Korean Air -- Korean Air was, through the '90s, one of the most dangerous airlines in the world. I mean, it was almost shut down at the end of the '90s by international aviation authorities.

The Canadians told them at one point, you can't fly over Canada any more. I mean, which is a real problem if you're trying to get from one end of the world to the other.

And they fixed it. And they fixed it by bringing in people who have a different cultural attitude, and essentially re-educating the pilots in Korean Airlines.

ZAKARIA: And they made them speak in English...

GLADWELL: Made them speak in English.

ZAKARIA: ... because they said it's a non-hierarchical language.

GLADWELL: It's a non-hierarchical language. They want them to think like, you know -- I mean, non-hierarchical cultures are America, Israel, Austria, Australia. They want them to think like Australians, essentially.

What do you do? Well, you make them speak English, right? And it works.

I mean, and this is the sort of hopeful lesson at the core of my book, which is that, when we acknowledge how much of success is embedded in culture, that's a hopeful thing, because culture is malleable. It's something we can address if we put our minds to it.

ZAKARIA: So, when you look at America today, what elements of our culture are producing the kind of problems we see -- with a bad education system, for example?

GLADWELL: I think that we are -- we have carried -- in the educational realm we have carried our obsession with individualism too far. And paradoxically, we have an enormous amount to learn, I think, from Asian cultures like Korea. I mean, just as they can learn from us on flying planes, we can learn from them on education.

If you go to Korea or China or Hong Kong, and you ask them, what does it take to be good at math, their answer would be, being good at math is a function of how hard you work.

Now, hard work is something that is available to all students regardless of intellectual ability. So when you come in with that perspective, your expectation is everyone can work.

The dull child can work as hard as -- in fact, the dull child may find it easier to work harder than the smart child. That work-based perspective on achievement allows you, I think, to serve the needs of a much broader pool of students than our -- we have an ability-based approach. Right?

We're constantly segregating kids according to their aptitude, whatever on earth that is. I think we would do well to banish that word and simply -- I think we should separate kids according to how hard they want to work.

The kids who want to do their homework ought to be one. And if you don't want to do your homework, I think we should say, then, you have a problem. And we should -- I don't care if you have an I.Q. of 150, you have a problem.

You know, you have to -- a work-based culture is, at the end of the day, a far more effective means of raising the middle.

ZAKARIA: Malcolm Gladwell, thank you very much.

GLADWELL: Thank you, Fareed. ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now for our "What In The World" feature. Here's what got my attention this week.

It was big, it was bold and it created an uproar. But I think it was absolutely the right thing to do.

The budget proposal presented by Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week was nothing short of revolutionary. It's a long overdue adjustment to how we actually fight wars now. And it's an equally long overdue shift in the antiquated and exorbitantly expensive way the military does business.

As anticipated, it stirred up anger about proposals to cut programs like these.

The VH-71 presidential helicopter program: grounded. This was to replace the current Marine one. It's six years behind schedule, and is expected to cost $13 billion, double its original budget. Even the president, the main beneficiary of the program, agrees that it is nonsensical, calling it an example of the procurement process gone amok.

F-22 fighter jets: grounded. The most expensive fighter jet ever produced, with a price tag of over $350 million per jet. The F-22 was built to fight enemy jets. But when was the last time a U.S. pilot was involved in a dog fight?

So, who could object to this? Well, congressmen with pet pork- barrel programs, lobbyists, defense consultants -- that's who.

But Gates says those who see only the cuts are missing the point. It's about rebalancing to create a military for the post-Cold War world, characterized by disorder, failed states and terrorism, not Soviet-style great power challenges.

Between the cuts and the adds, the budget didn't budge much. It's about the same as it was last year. Gates is just trying to spend it better.

The tab for cost overruns -- not the cost, but the cost overruns -- for the Pentagon's 95 major weapons programs is around $300 billion. That $300 billion in overruns is more than the entire annual military budget of China, Russia, France and the U.K. combined.

Now, to the "Question of the Week."

For this week's question, do you think we ought to keep our military spending essentially as is? Or should our spending be more in line with China and Russia's?

You instinct might be to say cut. But don't forget, the world is dangerous, and our enormous military provides deterrence. Still, what do you think the number should be? Let me know.

Last week I asked what grade you would give President Obama for the G-20 summit -- A, B, C, F. I went back to my teaching days and crunched the numbers. Here's the report card.

You gave him an A average -- 93 percent to be exact. Of course, there were a few dissenters.

In addition to the question of the week, I want to put all of your great minds to the Fareed Challenge, the weekly quiz on our Web site. Some of you might have noticed that we had a few technical glitches, but it's all running smoothly now, so please, do try your hand at it.

And as always, I'd like to recommend a book. John Micklethwait, my guest earlier, has written a fascinating book that's just been published, "God Is Back." It's a look at the extraordinary revival of religion happening around the world.

One note. We had a flurry of e-mails last week after my interview with James Baker. And I just wanted you to know that, while I can't possibly answer all your e-mails, I do actually read them, and I take all of your comments, your kudos and your concerns, to heart.

So, please continue e-mailing me at gps@cnn.com. And don't forget to check out our Web site, cnn.com/gps, for highlights from the program, our weekly podcast and our current events quiz.

Thank you for watching. Have a great week.

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