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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS

Upcoming Presidential Election in Afghanistan; Signs of Economic Recovery?

Aired August 2, 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: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We've got a great show for you today -- the next president of Afghanistan, then the CIA's role in Iran, and the secrets to a global economic recovery.

First, Afghanistan. Is it spiraling downward badly?

July was by far the deadliest month for the international coalition since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001. More than 60 American and British troops were killed.

So, the question for the commanders is: How do we staunch the blood flow?

Talking to the Taliban, reconciling with moderate elements, even buying them over to our side, is something we have discussed on this show. It's something I have long been a proponent of.

This week, I think I heard the strongest endorsement yet from two crucial players. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a speech on Monday at NATO headquarters that the Afghan government needs to court rank-and-file Taliban soldiers and give them reasons to switch sides.

Later in the week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to agree. She commended his important NATO speech, and said that the U.K.'s way forward in Afghanistan is consistent with the United States'.

So, why isn't it happening?

Meanwhile, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, is expected to ask for additional troops and equipment. That request will first land on the desk of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Now, listen to what Gates said in April when he and I talked about troop numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I have been quoted accurately as saying I have real reservations about significant further commitments of American military -- of the American military -- to Afghanistan, beyond what the president has already approved.

ZAKARIA: But that means that a year from now, six months from now, you are unlikely to approve a request for additional troops in Afghanistan.

GATES: I would be a hard sell. There's no question about it. And I have not made a secret of that, either publicly or in government meetings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: So, it appears that he has now changed his mind. In recent days, Gates said he's waiting to see McChrystal's request. But if needs are demonstrated, he would be open to sending more troops.

Now, while all these forces gather, a crucial event will occur in Afghanistan in a few weeks. On August 20th, the country will go to the polls for the first-ever, truly contested election.

Hamid Karzai has led the country since shortly after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. A once-friendly relationship with the West has frayed, and his own popularity has dipped substantially.

So, could a new Afghan president change the basic dynamics of the country? Will he be more friendly or less friendly with the West? And what will it mean for the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban?

Coming up in a minute, a presidential debate of sorts. I will talk to the two candidates with the greatest chance of upsetting Karzai's re-election hopes.

And then, what exactly is the U.S. government doing in Iran?

My guest from Tehran last week, Dr. Marandi, complained about the negative role that TV and radio signals beamed into Iran by the West have had on the crisis. Is it true? And what is actually going on in Iran right now?

We have a great panel to talk about all that.

Let's get started.

(BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now, first up in our faceoff of the Afghan candidates who hope to unseat Hamid Karzai is Ashraf Ghani. He's a former finance minister of Afghanistan who was educated in the United States at Columbia University. He has a Ph.D. He's been a guest on our program before, so I welcome him back.

Mr. Ghani is coming to us from a tent in Kabul.

Welcome, Ashraf.

ASHRAF GHANI, AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be with you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Ashraf, begin by telling us what you think went wrong with Hamid Karzai's government. He comes into power with a great deal of hope. You were there at the time. You saw it. What happened?

GHANI: He turned out to be a very poor manager, in the sense that he could not deal with issues in a manner that would respond to the needs and aspirations of the people and create a sense of momentum. The other side was his tolerance for corruption that grew into a massive disease, into a cancer that's eating through the society.

And then, the poor quality of governance. The people he appointed to central areas, where today the heart of the insurgency is, these were people that had failed to govern before, and it was their bad behavior that had given rise to the Taliban.

ZAKARIA: You said recently to George Packer of The New Yorker, that Shakespeare is in some ways the best guide to what happened in Afghanistan.

What did you mean by that?

GHANI: The palace is full of intrigues. It's all about tactical play, who gets closer to the king, because the style that Karzai has created in the palace is much more like a medieval kingship, where there is intrigue all around. Somebody gets close in order to out- maneuver somebody else.

All is a game of pretension, and King Lear does not understand that he is being fooled. So, it's there where we're really getting the sense of a Shakespearian tragedy, because it truly is tragic.

Afghanistan did not need to become what it has become: the fifth most corrupt government on earth, according to Brookings index, the second failed state; the center of drug production; but most significantly, a place of disenchantment of the population with this government.

ZAKARIA: You said something very significant. You said that he has restored the Taliban. So, you believe that the failure of governance is at the heart of the rise of the Taliban, and not a kind of military resurgence or Islamic ideology that is fueling this insurgency?

GHANI: I have talked to a lot of people in the south, where the heart of the insurgency is. And time and again, their story comes to one thing: an injustice that could no longer be tolerated and forced them to active resistance.

They point out -- and it's a fact -- during the first three years, there was no insurgency. The Taliban disappeared. They became ordinary men and women, and some went away.

So, 80 percent of what's happening in Afghanistan is due to bad governance. ZAKARIA: Lots of people are advocating some kind of national reconciliation, talking to the Taliban, reaching out. I've written about it. The foreign secretary in Britain recently gave a speech advocating it.

It doesn't seem to really be happening in Afghanistan. Is that because Karzai is not making the effort? Is it because, so far, the Taliban are not responding?

GHANI: How would they trust in his word, where we, who were his closest colleagues at one time, cannot trust in his word?

The president changes his mind on an hourly basis -- say, a daily basis. He makes policy on the hoof.

First we need to get a cease-fire. This is not going to be an easy issue. But we need to try everything possible, so we can build a cease-fire. And once we have a three (ph) year (ph) of a cease-fire, then we can discuss the second issue, an exit date for international forces.

International forces in Afghanistan, in general, and those of the United States, in particular, are not here to colonize Afghanistan or to build an empire. They are here to create a stable Afghanistan that would be a source of stability to the region and the world at large.

So, we have an organic basis for a partnership between the Afghan people, who strive for nothing else but stability, peace and prosperity in the international community.

But we have not had an Afghan leadership that can credibly represent the wishes and aspirations of the Afghan people to the international community and take the kind of actions that would establish the political framework for a lasting peace and a just order.

ZAKARIA: What do you think of the Obama administration and its strategy towards Afghanistan? Is it an improvement on the Bush years?

GHANI: There is a very good team, from the president himself to General Jones -- the National Security Council, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Holbrooke and Ambassador Eikenberry. This is a team with deep knowledge and commitment.

And I think, at a time of global financial crisis, the commitment of President Obama to Afghanistan really is an act of courage and determination. He has honored his campaign promise. We in Afghanistan and the region need to help him gain credible momentum, so his commitment can be appreciated and that the American public can be persuaded that the commitment was wise, timely and effective.

ZAKARIA: Ashraf Ghani, we thank you very much for taking the time in the midst of a campaign and sitting there in a reed tent in Afghanistan for joining us. Thank you.

GHANI: It's a pleasure to be with you, and it's an honor. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: I think the earlier, the previous administration in the United States was sort of on a blind date with Mr. Karzai, and continued until the end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And now we have Abdullah Abdullah. Some analysts say he has the best shot at unseating Hamid Karzai.

Abdullah is a one-time foreign minister of Afghanistan with strong ties to the U.S. He was a key figure in the Northern Alliance, the opposition group that helped the United States topple the Taliban in the days after 9/11.

Welcome, sir.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, do you see President Obama's approach to Afghanistan as one that is better than President Bush's? How are you reading the new administration in Washington?

ABDULLAH: I think the earlier, the previous administration in the United States was sort of on a blind date with Mr. Karzai and continued until the end. And then, towards the end, they realized that the partner is not sincere (ph) and cannot deliver to its own people. At that time it was too late.

I think in the United States is a new beginning and a new approach towards many issues, including Afghanistan. In Afghanistan there is a hope that, as a result of the elections, there will be another opportunity for working together in order to help Afghanistan stabilize, as well as to address the needs of the Afghan people, and, of course, the concerns and the hopes of the friends of Afghanistan, including the United States.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, Mr. Abdullah, about the non-military element to this struggle. There are a number of people who have argued that the United States and, most importantly, the Afghan government should be talking to the Taliban, trying to get members of the Taliban to switch sides, to isolate the hardcore elements and broaden the base of support for the Afghan government.

You have called the current efforts at reconciliation "a joke." So, what's wrong with the way we are trying to talk to the Taliban now? And how would you do it differently?

ABDULLAH: The current administration is losing their people. And because of the resentment of the people, dissatisfaction of the people towards the government, the current administration is losing the people, and it is strengthening the insurgency. That trend has to reverse before anything else could happen. Next to that, there are thousands and thousands of people who have joined the ranks of insurgency, because of other grievances, rather than sharing the agenda of the Taliban, which is to bring the state down and to reverse the process.

There is no doubt there is a hardcore element in it. But there are thousands of people under the same brand, Taliban, which have joined the insurgency because of other reasons. By taking those reasons out, you can take a further step towards national reconciliation.

ZAKARIA: Mr. Abdullah, you have worked with President Karzai. You were his first foreign minister. What do you think of him as a leader? What are the flaws that obviously lead you to feel that you must challenge him in this election?

ABDULLAH: Our hope was that he will act as a national leader and take the national interests above every other interest. And there was a golden opportunity at the beginning, where the whole Afghan nation got together, and the international community also joined hands in supporting the Afghan people as well as the process.

He has turned -- under his leadership, a golden opportunity has turned in today's situation, which is a disappointment, a total disappointment.

So, I am disappointed because of my support earlier. But I should mention that I didn't vote for him in the earlier election, in spite of the fact that I was the foreign minister. And I told him -- I had told him that I had not voted for him for certain reasons, because I could see that he is leading the country towards a wrong direction, which is today's situation.

In today's situation, Afghanistan should have been more stable. Democratic institutions should have been functioning better. And the corruption issue, we shouldn't have been in the top list. The issue of narcotics is bad (ph), and many, many other issues, including the failure to deal with the insurgency.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you finally, Mr. Abdullah. If you were elected president of Afghanistan, what would be the first thing you would do to signal to the Afghan people that there is a new administration in place? What would be your first act as president of Afghanistan?

ABDULLAH: I think the first thing is about the message. What is my message to the people of Afghanistan? It is a message of change and a message of hope.

I will not promise to the people of Afghanistan anything that I will not be able to deliver.

The main issue is the issue of trust and mistrust. The atmosphere of mistrust in Afghanistan today, in today's Afghanistan, is unfortunately very high and very serious. So, to change that, an honest message that this leadership would be at the service of the people of Afghanistan, rather than a gang which is benefiting from the hardship which has been imposed upon the people of Afghanistan -- all from the billions and billions of dollars which has been poured into Afghanistan under the name of supporting Afghanistan and the Afghan nation.

So, that's -- it will be hard for the people to believe any leader, any future leader, because they will judge it against the current situation. But an honest approach towards the people, the people who will give you time, and they will test you.

And the first test will come from the first day.

FARED: Abdullah Abdullah, thank you very much for joining us.

ABDULLAH: You're welcome.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World?" segment. Here's what got my attention in this week.

It's rare that a set of statistics make news. But the release of this month's Case-Shiller Price Index was reported as the lead news story in both the "New York Times" and the "Wall Street Journal."

Why? Well, the index showed that the decline in the American housing market seemed to have ended, and a recovery might soon begin.

This is big news. The decline of the housing market has been the single largest cause of the current recession and financial crisis. And its stabilization could well mean the beginning of a recovery.

Now, remember, when you're trying to understand the way out of this recession, the single most important question is still: Will the average American start shopping again?

I know you've heard a lot about China, India, Brazil, the strength of the European Union, trade. But as a share of the world economy, the American consumer is currently equal to the total economy of China, plus India, doubled.

So, while governments around the world are spending a lot of money, they will not be able to do that indefinitely. At some point, the American consumer has to get back into the market.

So, is he or she doing that? Well, we don't really know yet. The housing data is good news. And actually, most recoveries begin with recovery of the housing market, followed by automobiles, appliances, and then, other consumer categories.

But many experts argue that this is not an ordinary recession, and will not be an ordinary recovery. The consumer went deep into debt over the last 10 years, is slowly paying that off, and won't get easy credit any time soon. The optimists point out, on the other hand, that the American savings rate is already back up to 7 percent, which is close to its 30-year average. The pessimists say, yes, but Americans are going to be very cautious now, and save more in the face of the uncertainty and hard times they foresee.

So, the key to understanding whether and when we will experience a real economic recovery around the globe lies not in a set of hard economic facts, but a very soft question. When will Americans feel confident and secure enough about the future that they will start spending again? Is it when the savings rate is 8 percent, 9 percent, 12 percent?

The fate of the global economy rests on the answer to what is ultimately a question of human psychology.

And we will be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN O'SULLIVAN: I think what we're doing is reporting news that they would prefer that people not know. That's what annoys the government. And it's nothing whatever to do with espionage. We don't send out coded messages, or anything like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Iranian officials like to say that the United States and Great Britain are interfering in their internal affairs, that in some manner, the West is responsible for the Iranian anger over the disputed elections.

Just last week on this program, a conservative Iranian academic made this charge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEYED MOHAMMAD MARANDI, UNIVERSITY OF TEHRAN: Right now you have almost 40 television channels in Persian being broadcast into Iran from the United States and Europe, basically funded by the American government and European governments -- or, in some cases, owned -- which have played a very negative role over the past few weeks, turning people against one another.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: It is, of course, an absurd accusation. The Iranian people are angry at what they see as a fraudulent election, not because of something they saw on TV or heard on the radio.

But it does raise the question: What tools are Western countries using to figure out or to influence what is going on in Iran? Is it propaganda? Is it espionage? Joining me to talk about this, from Washington, John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the CIA; from Berkeley, California, Robert Baer, a former case officer for the CIA; and from Prague, John O'Sullivan, the executive editor of Radio Free Europe.

Welcome, gentlemen.

John O'Sullivan, the charge really is centrally directed at people like you, who are broadcasting stuff from outside Iran, beaming it into Iran. And it's principally Voice of America and the BBC, though there are many others.

What are you doing that is getting the Iranian government so riled up?

JOHN O'SULLIVAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY: I think what we're doing is reporting news that they would prefer that people not know.

We are acting, in a way, like a domestic broadcaster for the Iranian people.

Although I am the executive editor of the entire organization, Radio Farda, our Iranian service, is staffed entirely by Iranian journalists. And they're doing what an Iranian journalist would be doing if you had a free television station, a free radio station or free newspapers in Iran.

That's what annoys the government. And it's nothing whatever to do with espionage. We don't send out coded messages, or anything like that.

We simply report the news. And we also provide a forum for debate among Iranians. And on both those counts -- free debate and truth -- the government doesn't like it.

ZAKARIA: So, you don't encourage people to go out and demonstrate or to protest against the government?

O'SULLIVAN: No, we don't directly do anything like that. Of course, if we report, for example that people have been shot or killed while demonstrating, it might have the effect that some people will then respond by being indignant and by turning against the government or possibly by demonstrating themselves.

One of the things we do make plain is that the repression is severe, and that anybody who decides to take peaceful action, like demonstrations, is taking a risk. So you could equally well argue that we're persuading people to stay at home, because we point out the dangers.

ZAKARIA: John McLaughlin, you saw this play itself out in the former Soviet empire. How powerful are these tools of information technology -- information warfare, some people call it?

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CIA: Well, they were powerful tools during the Cold War, Fareed, but that was a time when we didn't live in the media-saturated environment of today.

I don't think those kinds of tools are as important to espionage as they once were. And while I don't know what the U.S. government is doing at the moment on this, I strongly doubt that there's anything that would justify the charges coming out of Iran.

In fact, looking at Iran today, I think the reputation for this is in Iran itself, not only the street demonstrations that are so evident in the world media, but also, I think what is most striking, and what the Iranians should be more worried about, is not what outsiders may be doing, but what insiders are doing and saying.

The most striking thing to me in the last couple of weeks has been the degree to which we see splits developing within the Iranian government. We see conservative newspapers criticizing the government. We see a grand ayatollah who has scolded the Republican Guard for its treatment of protesters.

Friday's sermon by Rafsanjani made very clear that he is upset with the way the government has handled the situation. Former President Khatami has called for a referendum. The head of the nuclear program has resigned. There are splits obviously developing between the intelligence ministry and the Republican Guards.

These are not things that you influence with propaganda or with media that is piped into the country. These are things that develop when a country like Iran is confronted with some of the choices it now faces.

And some of the engagement strategy that's come out of the Obama administration I think has obliged people within the country to think about their options. And as a consequence of that, fractures have developed.

ZAKARIA: So, you think the offers of engagement by Obama have been useful, in that they have complicated the life of the Iranian regime.

MCLAUGHLIN: I do. I do. I've felt this for a long time, because clearly, Iran is not a monolithic society. And is not monolithic at the top, either.

So, when the Obama administration offers thoughts about the future and the future relationship with the United States, I think, unlike a circumstance in which you are not engaging them and in which the Iranians can simply cast you as the Great Satan, when they're confronted with choices, they use their heads and they have differences among themselves. And so, it helpfully drives a wedge, I think, between some of the factions in Iran.

ZAKARIA: Bob Baer, do you think this kind of appeal to nationalism that the Iranian regime is trying to employ works? That is to say, you know, we may say, "Look, this is absurd. Obviously, the West is not involved."

But Iran is a proud country with a prickly tradition of nationalism.

It certainly has been true that the United States and Britain have interfered in the past. As you probably well know, one of the great best-selling books in Iran is called "My Uncle Napoleon," and it's basically a book about how the Brits actually control everything that's going on in the country.

So, does it work when they say, you know, it's all this Western interference that's causing our problems?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA CASE OFFICER AND AUTHOR, "THE DEVIL WE KNOW": Fareed, no, I don't think it works. The regime has certainly made these charges against the demonstrators and the leadership of the opposition.

But what we have to remember is that Karroubi, Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Khatami were all extremely close to Khomeini. They have impeccable credentials. They were there at the beginning of the revolution. Many of them were in exile in France with Khomeini.

They have absolutely no important foreign contacts. They are not susceptible to charges they're taking money from the CIA or from outside.

So, I think that when they made these charges right after the election was disputed on 12 June, they fell absolutely flat. And you know, they arrested the British employees at their embassy in Tehran. That fell flat as well. It was a strategy that's failed.

And I agree with John completely. We see these cracks inside the regime, which were, you know, frankly, for me, two months ago were unthinkable, and this is coming out of nowhere. And what we're really seeing is many of the important ayatollahs in Qom are coming out against Khamenei, as well as Ahmadinejad.

ZAKARIA: John O'Sullivan, what do your analysts tell you, the people you have, many of whom are Iranian? Are we in a pre- revolutionary situation in Iran?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, we are in a pre-revolutionary situation that could continue for a long time, because we've seen splits in the regime at every level, which we couldn't really have imagined before.

But why have we seen them? They emerged, because the regime itself made the colossal mistake of blatantly rigging an election, when one of the things which is important to its survival and success was the idea that there was a democratic element to it.

The result was the people came out onto the streets. There was a genuine resistance. They forced leaders like Mousavi, really, to lead them in a more dramatic direction than people had intended, and the splits emerged.

I think what's going to happen here is a loosening in general of the regime in the long term, even if the present repression continues and in a sense, succeeds, which is by no means certain. And whether or not it succeeds, I think we're going to see more people, more factions at all levels of society demanding the right to express their view, and gradually gaining that right.

And that is going to open up all sorts of opportunities. Although I think for the moment, it's not going to have a great deal of impact on the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Iran.

ZAKARIA: Gentlemen, we will be right back. We'll be back with John McLaughlin, Robert Baer and John O'Sullivan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: What happened in the aftermath of this election, I think, sent shock waves through the region, as well as through Iran, so that it no longer has the standing it had, and it no longer seems like this force that cannot be stopped in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And we are back with John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the CIA; Robert Baer, former CIA case officer; and John O'Sullivan of Radio Free Europe.

John McLaughlin, do you believe that there are important rifts emerging within the Iranian regime? And do you think that this is significant in a broader sense?

MCLAUGHLIN: You know, the Iranian Republic is one of the great survivors of the last three decades. So, I think we should not underestimate the resilience of the regime.

But I don't think these things can be papered over in a way that leaves Iran as it was before this election. It's impossible to know at this point where it's going, what it might look like a year from now. But I think it's fair to say that Iran will never be quite the same again.

Just imagine, for example, how we thought about Iran, say, two years ago, when the United States was pinned down in Iraq, when Israel was fighting Hezbollah to a standstill in Lebanon. Iran at that point seemed like a colossus forming in the region. Its prestige was high. Its proxies were powerful.

What happened in the aftermath of this election, I think, sent shockwaves through the region, as well as through Iran, so that it no longer has the standing it had, and it no longer seems like this force that cannot be stopped in the region. It has been weakened in that respect in terms of its regional posture.

And in a way, it gives the United States a lot of openings that it didn't have before -- openings with regional partners in the Gulf and elsewhere, in the Middle East. It gives us openings to throw proposals in there that they have to think about and disagree with. Although I think the prospects for actually stopping this nuclear program are very, very low.

ZAKARIA: Talk about that for a minute, John. What would you do -- a weakened Ahmadinejad, a weakened Khamenei -- would you try and strike a deal by taking advantage of that weakness and getting a good bargain, as it were?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the argument can be made that, because they feel weakened, and because they have a diminished sense of legitimacy, perhaps, in the region -- they're not irrational -- that they may be open to proposals now that they would have rejected some time ago.

I think that's a thin reed, though, personally. My sense is that the belief, the conviction that they need and want and deserve a nuclear program of some sort, this is not unique to me, it's widely held that this is a broadly shared conviction in Iran.

So, I think the United States at this point has to be thinking about three options. One is extremely intense diplomatic engagement to exploit the situation, and hopefully move them toward some consensus with us on this. The problem there is you've got to have the Russians and Chinese on board, and I think the Russians would have a very high price.

The second option that people don't take off the table is a military option. But, frankly, I think it's a horrendous option. I think it would have horrible consequences that would lead to proxy retaliation on the part of Iran's proxies, and kind of an endless struggle that no one needs.

And the third option, which is almost unthinkable, but which people really need to be thinking about, is what if we can't stop them, how do we manage an Iranian nuclear -- a nuclear Iran?

So, there are no great options here, I don't think. But I believe the United States' hand is somewhat strengthened in pursuing the diplomatic option in these circumstances.

ZAKARIA: Bob, let me ask you about a very important point that John McLaughlin made, I thought, which was, it does appear -- or at least one can speculate -- that the current events have weakened Iran's influence in the region.

You'll remember a few months ago, what everyone was concerned about was that Iran had emerged as the great, new power in the region. Its hand had been strengthened in Iraq with its proxies, in Lebanon through Hezbollah, in the Palestinian areas through Hamas. And on the Arab street, there was a general feeling that Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime were the great proponents of the great Arab cause, that is, the cause of Palestine.

Now, looking at things today, do you think that Iran's current troubles have weakened its proxies and its informal or soft power in the region?

BAER: I think we should watch that.

Remember, in 1981, when there were car bombs going off in Tehran, when there was truly a violent struggle for power -- more violent than it is now -- Iran was just getting underway its revolutionary message. A year later, it was coming into Lebanon, right in the middle of the Iran-Iraq War. Iran continues to export its message, even when things aren't well at home.

And you look at yesterday and the last couple of days. Clearly there was an Iranian hand in Iraq, in raiding the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq camps, the Iranian opposition.

I think whatever government comes into power in Tehran, even if Ahmadinejad resigns or something dramatic happens like that, you will find anyone who replaces him will want to make sure that Iraq goes in the way that Iran needs to, especially as we withdraw more quickly than we had expected.

So, what I'm saying is, we shouldn't count an aggressive Iran -- we shouldn't count it out.

ZAKARIA: And finally, John O'Sullivan, let me ask you just on a simple note, which is, have many of the people that you would have worked with on the ground in Iran been intimidated, harassed, arrested? What is the status of people who have done some of the underground reporting for you in Iran?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, I think you know yourself from YouTube, from SMS messages and so on, that an awful lot of the stuff that's coming out to us, and later through us, comes from citizen journalists there. And many of those, of course, have been arrested, beaten up, attacked. Some of our reporters actually described to us what happened to them physically.

But I think it's important to know that there is a very large reserve of people who come back either as professional journalists or as citizen reporters, and are prepared to keep getting this message out.

And before one begins to despair about the power of authoritarian governments in this regard, I think we should look at today's news from Moldova, where only a few weeks ago an election was apparently stolen. There was a new election today, which has produced a defeat for the government.

When we look at the battle between, so to speak, democratic crowds and authoritarian governments, it's far from certain that authoritarian governments are winning that battle.

And in the case of Iran, I think that although they will probably sustain themselves in office for some time, they will not have the power that they had previously. And they're having to -- they're going to have to make more and more concessions, both to their rivals within the ruling clique and also to the crowds on the street, in order to be able to sustain themselves. And while they're doing that, they're not in the self-confident position of being able to export revolution, on the one hand, or to continue an aggressive diplomatic policy on the other.

So, I do think that this battle on the streets in Tehran, and certainly in other Iranian cities, does have in some sense a restraining effect on the ability of the regime to cause trouble outside, because it's simply compelled to pay attention, to make some concessions and to pay regard to what's going on in the streets.

ZAKARIA: John O'Sullivan from Prague, Robert Baer, John McLaughlin, thank you all very much.

BAER: Thank you, Fareed.

MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you.

O'SULLIVAN: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: And now for our "Question of the Week."

Last week I asked you whether we are nearing the end of the recession. Are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?

It was a pretty close vote, but the majority view actually said "no."

One viewer, who did not give his name, turned our cliche inside- out to make a point. Is the light at the end of the tunnel actually that? Or is it the headlight of an oncoming freight train?

Now, for this week, I want to know who would you vote for in the Afghan election: the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, or one of the men I spoke with today, Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani?

Let me know what you think.

As always, I'd like to recommend a book. It's a splendid book called "Free: The Future of a Radical Price," by Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine.

Anderson says that sometimes the best price for your book, music, art or your magazine is, well, free.

Now, as an author, as a magazine editor, as somebody who puts out a TV show, this scares me. But he makes a very compelling argument. It's a very intelligent book.

If you want to read it -- free -- go to our Web site, cnn.com/gps. We have a link to it there. You can also do the more traditional thing and actually pay for it at any bookstore or Amazon.

Thank you for being part of this program. I will see you all next week.

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