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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS

Interview With Richard Holbrooke; Interview With Thomas Friedman

Aired December 6, 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 the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We have Afghanistan on our minds today. What will happen now that the president has announced a surge of troops?

I will speak with Richard Holbrooke, the president's special representative to the region, and to Thomas Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist of the "New York Times."

First, some of my own thoughts on this topic.

If you listened to the president's speech, and you took one line out, the speech was all about focusing the U.S. mission, narrowing its scope, setting limits to our involvement, planning on a drawdown, keeping in mind the costs of the enterprise. He rejected the notion of nation-building in Afghanistan. He said almost nothing about the expansive goals of the Bush years, democracy, women's rights, education.

And he actually said very little about the Taliban. The core mission, he said, was to defeat and dismantle al Qaeda. That's it.

Then, there was that one line in which he announced a surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. And there you have the essential dilemma and tension in the president's policy. He is trying to put limits on America's involvement in Afghanistan. And yet, he felt compelled to surge -- to accept the recommendation of his commanders that he send in more troops.

But while sending in the troops, he put constraints on their mission. The goals are more counterterrorism than counterinsurgency, more military than broadly political.

At first glance, this is an expansion of the mission. But read between the lines, and it is a drawdown in scale and scope.

Can this balance work, between putting in more troops and giving them a narrower mission and a timeline?

It can, with one very important proviso: Afghanistan will not magically get stable and prosperous in a few years. The president will, within 18 months, have to get focused and disciplined on his definition of success. If Taliban forces are on the run, if Karzai's government is in control of many, if not most, of the major population centers in Afghanistan, if al Qaeda has been degraded somewhat, if some Pashtun tribes have flipped over to the government side, that should be enough to say, we have achieved some success, we can now start drawing down -- not leaving, but drawing down.

Right now, President Obama is having it both ways. He is giving the generals their troops, and he is giving Joe Biden the narrower mission he wanted. But in 18 months, he will have to choose. He will have to choose whether or not he genuinely wants to be realistic and limited in America's involvement in Afghanistan.

To govern is to choose, as they say.

Anyway, my thoughts. Let's get started.

(BREAK)

ZAKARIA: We are now joined by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is in Brussels, where he has been consulting with America's allies on precisely the issue we are discussing -- the president's speech and our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan going forward.

Ambassador Holbrooke, thank you for joining us.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN: It's great to be back on your program, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Let's dive right in.

The central criticism that the president is hearing in the United States on Capitol Hill from Republicans is that it makes no sense to have announced an increase in troops, while at the same time setting a deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal.

Are you hearing that criticism? And how do you respond to that? Isn't it possible that al Qaeda will just wait the United States out, the Taliban will just wait the United States out?

HOLBROOKE: I think there's been some misinterpretation of that part of the speech, Fareed, and I'm glad you started with it.

Now, let's be very clear in what the president said. He said that we are going to use our troops to diminish and get -- and weaken the Taliban. We're going to get them off-balance. And we're going to use the time and space available created by that in order to build up the Afghanistan capability to defend itself -- namely, the army and the police -- and that, as a result of that policy, in July of 2011, we will be able to start withdrawing some of our combat troops.

But he made it clear that our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, and this is a national security issue, and that this would be a responsible transfer of security authority to the Afghan security forces. ZAKARIA: You had some controversy occasioned by a remark you made a few months ago when asked about success in Afghanistan. And you invoked the Potter Stewart rule about pornography. You said, "You'll know it when you see it."

Now, more seriously, because -- let's say we're in July 2011, and we're trying -- you are trying to determine whether to advise the president that it's possible to begin the reduction of forces.

What will be the signs that this policy will have succeeded? What are the metrics we should be looking at to figure out whether or not the surge has worked?

HOLBROOKE: It is essential that the Afghan government forces -- military and civilian -- come in to gradually replace the American Marines and the U.S. State Department AID and Department of Agriculture personnel, who are down there now. That is the test.

It's very easy to see. You've discussed it yourself in your columns. And that is the test of the policy. And we'll do it district by district. Some districts will move faster than others. Each district has individual characteristics.

ZAKARIA: One of the things the president talked about -- and, certainly, in the briefings around the speech -- was that the focus is now going to be on securing major population centers, not going out into far-flung areas.

Help me with Helmand, because Helmand is actually not, you know, enormously populated, densely populated. We have gotten into a kind of fight with the Taliban there. You know, we had it. They weakened our hold or perhaps made some inroads.

Why are we -- to put it bluntly -- why are we in Helmand? Is it critical? I see that as a test of this question of, can we be disciplined and focus on the major population centers.

HOLBROOKE: There are certain areas that the United States troops, and the British troops and our allies went into, that, upon re-examination, it's been decided are not critical -- outposts in places like the Korangal Valley, which is really not Taliban, but it's not government, it speaks a different language, and they fiercely oppose.

I remember you wrote a column once with a marvelous vignette at the beginning, where there's a fight going on in some -- and correct me if I'm wrong, but I remember you saying that there's a fight going on, and some of the Afghans just pick up their guns and join the fight. And somebody says, "What are you doing? Which side are you on?"

And they say, "I don't know. It's just a fight. We want to get in it."

And I think, in places like the Korangal Valley, we should never have been in there. And we're not going to get involved in that kind of thing.

In Helmand, it's a little bit trickier. That is a historically important area, but it's slightly off the beaten path.

The British have been in there. It had this "little America" connotation. It was a center of the drug trade. And the U.S. military, months before the buildup, decided they should go in there.

And that's why I picked it to discuss a minute ago, because it's a real test case of our strategy.

ZAKARIA: Let's...

HOLBROOKE: Did I get that story right?

ZAKARIA: You got the story right. The one addition to it which is interesting is they asked the guy, so, "But then, why are you fighting against the Americans? Are you for the Taliban?"

He said, "No. But, you know, I mean, I can't -- I have to fight the foreigners. I have to fight the outsider." Otherwise, you know -- "I have to live with these people here."

HOLBROOKE: Well, that is exactly the point of the Korangal Valley. The Korangal Valley was not Taliban, and it was not Karzai. And we shouldn't have gotten involved the way we did. And that was -- that kind of thing, Stan McChrystal is fixing that, case by case.

ZAKARIA: So, let's talk about the regional diplomacy, because you will be centrally involved in that.

What I noticed is, in the lead-up to the speech, the Indian prime minister, when he was in Washington and on this program, very robustly supported America's involvement in Afghanistan, talked about the removal of the Taliban as a blessing for the world, and supported implicitly the surge.

The reports out of Pakistan, however, were quite different. There was a great deal of caution, a great deal of apprehension. A couple of senior government officials were quoted in the "New York Times" as saying, this is a terrible idea.

Now, since there is a historical issue where the Pakistanis have not seen Karzai as somebody friendly to them, they have in the past given support to the Afghan Taliban, is it the case that Pakistan is entirely on board with this strategy, and will now work to stabilize and strengthen the Karzai government?

HOLBROOKE: No country is more important to our success than Pakistan. Indeed, I've often said and written for the last four years, five years, that success in Afghanistan is unachievable without Pakistan's active, proactive support, that if you have a large and safe sanctuary across the border, and they just sit there, and you can't go after them, you're going to pay a heavy price.

So, Pakistan has gotten more attention from this administration, arguably, than any other country. We have had more high-level visitors including, just in the last few weeks, Secretary Clinton and I went. General Jones, the national security adviser, went right behind us.

The heads of our intelligence services went. Admiral Mullen has been there more than a dozen times in the last year. I'll be going back soon.

ZAKARIA: But has all this worked, yielded any dividends?

HOLBROOKE: Yes, it has worked. The situation in Pakistan, from our point of view, is much better today than it was at the beginning of the year, as you well know.

The Pakistani military has undertaken important offensives in Swat, in South Waziristan, against the Taliban. They are collaborating with us on activities which resulted in the elimination of Baitullah Mehsud, one of the most odious, dangerous terrorists on the face of the earth. I would rank him just slightly behind Osama bin Laden in the world's most dangerous men, and he is no longer alive.

There's been progress on every front in that regard.

However, I must be honest with you. Pakistani-U.S. relations in the public arena are not where they should be. We inherited a decade of unfortunate history. And when Secretary Clinton and I went there, it was an extraordinary trip. She herself was treated as the kind of international leader that she is and has been for over a decade, greeted with great personal warmth.

But the questions were the most hostile and most pointed I've ever seen. She handled them beautifully, as you know. She calmly dealt with each criticism.

At one point, somebody criticized our foreign aid as demeaning their sovereignty. And she said, "Well, if you don't want the aid, you don't have to take it." And that silenced people, because, of course, they want it.

So, we have a lot of work to do to improve our mutual understanding with our Pakistani friends and allies.

Secondly, it is an unfortunate but unavoidable fact that those military offensives that I just talked about were directed against the Taliban who were focused on Pakistan, not the Taliban who are focused on Afghanistan.

And so, we want to work on that. And that's why -- that's one of the main issues we've been talking to our friends in Pakistan about.

ZAKARIA: But isn't that the crucial issue...

HOLBROOKE: And furthermore, they have...

ZAKARIA: Isn't that the crucial issue, Richard, which is... HOLBROOKE: Absolutely.

ZAKARIA: ... they have gone after those elements...

HOLBROOKE: Absolutely.

ZAKARIA: ... of the Taliban that are attacking Pakistan and, in fact, attacking the Pakistani army?

I don't believe that that -- you know, and the United States should not give them any great prizes for acting in their self- interest.

The question is, when I was fortunate enough to have lunch with the president before his speech, and I asked precisely this question, he said, well, we have to reorient Pakistan's strategic -- you know, its basic strategy, or try to work on a reorientation of Pakistan's sense of its national interests.

That's a very tall order. To be able to come in there and tell a country that...

HOLBROOKE: Very.

ZAKARIA: ... you know, you need to rethink the way you think about Afghanistan -- not as a buffer state, not as strategic depth, but as an ally and a partner. They see it as pro-Indian.

HOLBROOKE: Without question, it's a tall order. And the president understands that. And he understands precisely how daunting a challenge this is. He's spent a lot of time on this issue. But it is necessary to do it.

India and Pakistan and the United States, for the first time since independence in 1947, have a common enemy: these terrorists who have attacked New York and Washington, London and Madrid -- but also Mumbai and Islamabad, as you well know, and from that wonderful HBO program that you narrated, "Terror in Mumbai."

And we have to show our friends -- and we are friends of both India and Pakistan -- we have to show them that we can all work together against common enemies without resolving every historic difference that was inherited since partition.

ZAKARIA: We will be right back with more from Richard Holbrooke after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLBROOKE: I have to say that corruption is critical to our success, but it is not the most -- it's not the governing issue in this war. To me, the most important issue for our success is dealing with the sanctuary in Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: We're back with Richard Holbrooke, the president's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Tell me about Karzai. When you were a private citizen, you were one of the earliest people to point out that the competence and efficiency of the Karzai government was the weakest link in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

You're now here. Presumably, you're going to tell me that things are much better.

In what concrete ways can we look at the Karzai government and feel -- take some comfort that the build phase and the transfer phase are going to work out, since they centrally rest on the legitimacy, credibility and competence of that government?

HOLBROOKE: Well, I did write things like that as a private citizen. And I think they're completely consistent with what is being said by my colleagues and my bosses -- the secretary of state and the president -- in the Obama administration.

If you read the president's speech carefully, you see that he said in very carefully phrased language, that he was -- that President Karzai made a very fine inaugural speech. And the president then -- President Obama in his speech -- then referred to that inaugural address and said that President Karzai has made important commitments on corruption and governance, and we want to see those carried out.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that he will stop his...

HOLBROOKE: And that is the fact. We...

ZAKARIA: Do you think he will stop his brother from running one of the larger corruption rackets in Afghanistan?

HOLBROOKE: Well, I don't know what's going to happen with his brother. But we remain concerned about the corruption issue. All I can tell you on that very difficult front is that President Karzai in his inaugural speech talked about upgrading the anti-corruption division of his government. And that is a matter of high concern to us.

At the same time, I think we have to be realistic. Afghanistan is not an easily governable, centralized government like many countries we're familiar with. It's complicated. It's diverse. It's very poor -- the poorest non-African country in the world. And that has to be taken into account.

I'm not excusing corruption. It is a malignancy that can destroy the body it is hosted in. But having said that, I want to stress that we have to be realistic about what can and can't be achieved.

And finally, I have to say that corruption is critical to our success, but it is not the most -- it's not the governing issue in this war. To me, the most important issue for our success is dealing with the sanctuary in Pakistan.

ZAKARIA: Ambassador Holbrooke, let me ask you a final question.

You say the sanctuary in Pakistan is the single most important issue. So, is it fair to say, then, that one crucial measure of progress will be whether or not the Pakistani army does, in fact, go after the Afghan Taliban and those terror groups in North Waziristan and Baluchistan that threaten not Pakistanis, but Afghans or Indians or Westerners?

Is that going to be a key test of your success?

HOLBROOKE: I think it is.

ZAKARIA: You've got your work cut out for you, Ambassador Holbrooke. Thank you very much for joining us. We're delighted to have you on.

HOLBROOKE: It's great to be back with you, Fareed. All the best.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FRIEDMAN: We're talking about Afghanistan. And we're talking about America in the middle of the great recession.

I feel like we're like an unemployed couple, who just went out and decided to adopt a special needs baby. You know, I mean, that's really kind of what we're doing. And that's like, whoa, you know, that terrifies me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now, to someone who is critical of the president's decision to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. The "New York Times'" foreign affairs columnist, Tom Friedman, may play golf with President Obama, but he doesn't agree with the president's latest move.

If I were president, that would worry me. Tom is always thoughtful.

Tom Friedman joins me now. Welcome.

TOM FRIEDMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Good to be here, Fareed. Thanks so much.

ZAKARIA: First, let's talk about the trivia. You and I were lucky enough to be invited to a lunch with President Obama right before he made his speech at West Point.

What was your sense? I mean, I thought he was very cool, very calm, did not seem agonized about this decision. FRIEDMAN: Yes, I think that the president had come to terms with what he was about to say, and had developed an incredibly nuanced argument for why he believed his policy was right. And I thought you saw it reflected at West Point, Fareed.

It was an extremely lucid, as you say, cool, pragmatic, point-by- point speech. And I have nothing but respect, Fareed, as I think you do, too, for the incredible difficulty of this decision.

And frankly, I could argue his side as well as I could argue my side. It's about, really, gut instincts and, I think, the broader context within which you see a problem.

And for me, the broader context is, I think what we need most in America today is nation-building at home, that that's what our country needs, that we aren't who we think we are. We are a country becoming enfeebled by debt, with a weakening education system, and we need to get our groove back.

And if that's my kind of macro picture, then I'm going to balance everything we do as a tradeoff against that need and that demand.

ZAKARIA: Tom, what will success look like? That's one thing the president didn't talk about. Because 18 months from now in Afghanistan, he says he's going to start the process of drawing down. And in order to do that in some way, you have to be able to say, we've achieved something.

What would that look like? And what will real success look like?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think real success is only one metric, Fareed, and that would be, it would have two -- it would be made of two phrases: "self-sustaining" and "decent."

That is, the only success I can imagine is one that, first of all, produces a decent government there delivering for the Afghan people. But the key metric has got to be self-sustaining. It's got to be able to stand on its own without 100,000 American troops -- or 100,000 American and NATO troops.

ZAKARIA: Now, let's be honest. Afghanistan has not had such a government for 40 years.

FRIEDMAN: Right.

ZAKARIA: We can argue about what the government in Afghanistan was like in the '70s.

FRIEDMAN: Right.

ZAKARIA: But in the late '70s began a series of convulsions. Since then, it has not had such a government.

This is a pretty tall order.

FRIEDMAN: Well, this is, again, why I'm on the wary side, because take a country, first of all, that has a legacy of a decentralized government and a strong tribal identity, and regional identities. Take that country, and then put it into a jar and just smash it to bits, Fareed, over a 30 -- over 40 years, basically, now 40 years -- over 30 years.

And then say, now, we're going to come in and we're going to put in a decent government, non-corrupt, build it back together. That's a really tall order.

ZAKARIA: But what I was struck by in the speech is, while there was the surge for troops, he talked about we're not doing nation- building.

FRIEDMAN: Right.

ZAKARIA: Robert Gibbs said we're narrowing the mission. He just talked, actually, in the core mission about al Qaeda -- not even about the Taliban. He talked about -- you know, everything else about it was narrowing it in scope and scale.

So, can you...

FRIEDMAN: I thought that was a little, you know, not quite accurate to what the policy is. I'm going to choose my words carefully here, because I think McChrystal is all about nation- building. What is McChrystal saying? He said, this -- he didn't -- these are my interpretation of what he said.

He said, this Karzai government is so corrupt and so inept, that it has lost the loyalty of its people. And they actually are preferring Taliban security and minimal justice over what this government can deliver.

Therefore, I (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) McChrystal need the troops to go in and clear areas of the Taliban. And to hold them, I need a decent Afghan government to come in, in partnership with American and NATO help, to build decent government.

Now, if that isn't nation-building, I don't know what is. It's core to the whole thing.

ZAKARIA: So, the question is, can that work? Can you do nation- building light (ph)? And then, Biden was on TV the last few days saying, basically, the mission is much narrower than the traditional counterinsurgency mission.

FRIEDMAN: And I've got to confess, Fareed, if that's the mission, I don't understand it. And again, that was part of my reticence yesterday, because I was in Afghanistan in July. I actually went with Admiral Mullen when he went over there, and met with McChrystal, and really got to hear the outlines of the plan.

And I came home and just said to myself, does the president understand? This is nation-building. This is nation-building 101 in the most fragmented country in the world.

We're talking about Afghanistan. And we're talking about America in the middle of the great recession.

I feel like we're like an unemployed couple who just went out and decided to adopt a special needs baby. You know, I mean, that's really kind of what we're doing. And that's like, whoa, you know. That terrifies me.

And that's why I keep coming back to where I ended up in my own analysis.

ZAKARIA: So, you think there's no way you can have it both ways. You know...

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

ZAKARIA: ... you can't scale up and scale down...

FRIEDMAN: Right, you can't...

ZAKARIA: ... at the same time.

FRIEDMAN: You're going in. There is only one reason, I would say, to support the president's policy, because it's really saying, we're going to go in. We're going to build a decent government, because -- again, let's get back to that phrase, self-sustaining.

The only thing that'll be self-sustaining is a government that Afghans not only feel an allegiance to, but are ready to fight for.

And that's why I'm -- I pull my hair out whenever I hear about training. Who needs to teach Afghans to shoot? I mean, surely, you know, that's not the issue.

Who's training the Taliban? Have you seen the Taliban trainers?

It's not about the way, it's about the will.

ZAKARIA: But it's not about setting up a central institution with a bureaucracy that says, we're going to produce army officers.

FRIEDMAN: And this is why, to me, the Iraq Awakening has always been very important. The only reason -- or the main reason -- we have a chance for a decent outcome in Iraq still, is because the Iraqis decided to own their problem, that there was an awakening among Sunnis who said, we're going to get rid of al Qaeda. There was an awakening among Shia who said, we're going to get rid of our extremists -- the Mahdi Army, basically -- and we are going to take ownership of this problem.

That's the only -- and our surge there, remember, coincided with their awakening. That was critical.

So, what are we trying to do in Afghanistan? I would argue, we're actually trying to create the conditions for the surge. That is, we're trying to build the decent government that Afghans would then come out and say, OK. But we're trying to create the conditions -- I'm sorry, for the awakening -- that there's a decent government; I will come out and fight for it.

But if they won't own it -- you know, Fareed, you and I talked so much back after 9/11. And there was a line from Larry Summers which I quoted often, which still applies today. In the history of the world, in the history of mankind, no one has ever washed a rented car. And in the history of mankind, no one's ever washed a rented country.

If they want to own it, they will fight for it to the death. But it's got to be something that delivers for them that they actually want to own.

ZAKARIA: Now, let's talk about the geopolitics of the region, because one of the things we sometimes do as Americans is, we come in and we say -- it's some complicated place -- we say, OK, we're here now. Let's tell you who the good guys and the bad guys are.

FRIEDMAN: Right.

ZAKARIA: You should fight with us, because we're the good guys.

But you're actually entering a very complicated geopolitical space.

So, we like the Afghan government, even though we -- I mean, in the sense that we wanted a democratically elected Afghan government that we -- there's a kind of neutral -- I mean, who wouldn't want a good, democratic government?

Well, the problem we face -- the single biggest problem in some ways -- is that Pakistan doesn't, because Pakistan wants a weak Afghan government, because it has seen this as a place where it has a kind of strategic depth vis-a-vis India. They see a strong Afghan government as being a natural ally of India's.

How do we square this circle? You know, we talked about this with the president. And I didn't -- he had no answer.

FRIEDMAN: And basically, I think what the president told us, and in his speech told the country, was three things. That for this to work, Karzai has got to become a different person, and his government's got to become a different entity -- a non-corrupt, basically decent, delivering government.

Second thing that's got to happen is Pakistan has to completely redefine its interests -- not be focused on India, but, in fact, be focused on what the president called the cancer within its society, the rising jihadist insurgency there, and not be focused on controlling the political space in Afghanistan as strategic depth against India, and therefore is a place to have its own Taliban to manage that.

And a third thing that's got to happen, the NATO allies have to become different. They've got to say, Mr. President, we love this mission. We are ready to sign up. We're ready to send our troops there, and we're actually ready to let them go out of their bases. Now, some of our NATO allies, in fairness, like the Brits, the Danes and the Canadians, they have -- I mean, they've actually -- they've fought and they've died, and they've made a huge effort there. But others are going to have to, as well.

And so, his policy -- and this is what scared me listening to him, Fareed -- his presidency, the difference between a good day and a bad day for Barack Obama going forward is going to be how Karzai behaves, how Zardari, the prime minister of Pakistan -- the president of Pakistan -- behaves, how our NATO allies behave.

He's betting so much of his future on those reads. And I go back, therefore (ph), I said, let's go small. You know, let's do this in a really small way. Limit our ambitions and limit our investment.

ZAKARIA: Tom Friedman, always a pleasure.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now, for our "What in the World?" segment.

What got my attention this week was this building in Switzerland. It doesn't look like much, but it happens to be at the center of a firestorm filled with allegations of racism, discrimination and hate.

It's a mosque in the small Swiss town of Langenthal. Three years ago, the mosque applied to build a 20-foot-tall minaret.

Minarets are the towers adjacent to mosques from which, traditionally, the Muslim call to prayer is issued five times a day.

Local opposition was strong, and was soon swept up nationally, spiraling to a referendum this weekend on whether to ban the building of any future minarets in the entire country. An astonishing 57.5 percent of the Swiss population voted for the ban.

It wasn't that the Swiss didn't like being woken up by the call to prayer on loudspeakers at 5 a.m. That was already banned. Switzerland has strict noise pollution laws.

It wasn't that Switzerland was becoming a land of minarets instead of chalets and churches. There are just four minarets in a country of 16,000 square miles.

And it wasn't that Switzerland was being overrun by Muslims. There are just 400,000 people identified as Muslims in this country, whose population is 7.5 million. And of those, only 60,000 are believed to be practicing.

So, you might ask, what's the problem?

As the Swiss politician Oskar Freysinger said, "The minute you have minarets in Europe, it means Islam will have taken over."

And Freysinger isn't an oddball. He's a representative of the largest and most powerful political party in Switzerland, the Swiss People's Party. They are the ones who called for the referendum and promoted their cause with posters like this, with minarets shaped like missiles. Get it?

The reaction has been fairly consistently condemnation from around the world. The U.N. has called the ban "discriminatory." The Catholic Church called it a "heavy blow to religious freedom." A senior Turkish official has asked Muslims who have money in Swiss banks to reconsider.

But it's not just Switzerland. France is in the midst of a long national debate about whether to ban the burqa, the head-to-toe covering that some conservative Muslim women wear.

A Belgian newspaper noted this week that minarets are scary, and went on to opine that, if the Swiss referendum was held in Belgium there's a strong chance the result would be the same. All over Europe, far-right parties are said to be planning their own minaret bans.

Now, many rational Swiss and their European brethren say that what they really want here is assimilation. The minarets, the burqas, the long beards, the unfamiliar customs -- they say all these things set the Muslims in their midst apart -- which is a very good point.

What these Europeans claim to want for the Muslims is to become more like them, to accept their European customs, to dress in a Western manner, to integrate. Fine.

But moves like this ban, I think, will do just the opposite. They will drive Muslims in Europe deeper into their own traditions. It will make them feel more hostile. And that hostility will produce a greater sense of divorce from the general public.

It would become a sad, downward spiral. And we might see it get much worse.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: This week, Mohammed ElBaradei left his post as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. On his way out the door, ElBaradei said that his inspectors had effectively reached a dead end with Iran.

At the same time, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, defiantly declared that Iran is under no obligation to disclose its nuclear activities to the world.

ElBaradei has led the IAEA for 12 years, and through much of that period, he has counseled the West to have patience with Iran, speaking often of Iran's desire for reconciliation with the West, and the U.S., in particular.

I talked with him a month before Iran's latest announcement that it would be building 10 more uranium enrichment plants. And given how often Iran has thumbed its nose at the West, I was surprised by ElBaradei's continuing optimism regarding Iran.

Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about Iran, because it is the question, in some ways, that dominated your last years.

In the last five years, Iran has gotten closer to getting a nuclear capacity, and perhaps a nuclear weapon, than it did over the previous 10 or 15.

Why is that? Why has Iran been able to flout so many U.N. resolutions, so much pressure, to, in some way, bring itself within the framework of the NPT?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, FORMER DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: Well, Fareed, first, it's a pleasure to be with you here again.

What we have to understand, Iran's nuclear program is driven, in my view, primarily by its insistence that its role as a major regional power needs to be recognized. Unfortunately, we live in a world, that if you have the nuclear weapons or the nuclear capability, that brings with it power and prestige and influence. And Iran, I think, understood that.

Iran went with an enrichment program, looking for an engagement with the U.S. To me, Iran's program is a means to an end. It's not necessarily to my -- at least to my -- in my judgment, that they want to go all the way to develop nuclear weapons. They would like to remain within the confines of that Non-Proliferation Treaty.

ZAKARIA: So you think that they want a civilian nuclear capacity, probably they'll keep a missile capacity, but they will not join the treaty.

ELBARADEI: That is my belief. I think it's much more cautious for them to remain as a non-nuclear weapons state, but they have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons in a few weeks or months.

I think they want to go all the way to have the capacity, but not necessarily to have the nuclear weapons, until their security perception changes.

And I think they are -- they believe that, if they do that, they will then be getting what they want, which is, ultimately, integration with the international community, primarily the U.S.

And what we have seen in the last few weeks, and that's, for the first time, an American president who is genuinely interested in engaging Iran, in having what is called a grand bargain. Barack Obama, for the first time, said we are ready to engage Iran without preconditions, on the basis of mutual respect.

ZAKARIA: But it hasn't gotten him anything. I mean, couldn't you argue that this opening to Iran, this talk Obama has had since his campaign, has not really resulted in the Iranians making any significant changes?

ELBARADEI: I think it will come.

I mean, Fareed, we have to understand that this is -- you know, we have 50 years of resentment, of mistrust, of animosity. And Iran is still very distrustful. And they need to change. But, also, because of the result of their election, there is a lot, you know, a lot of turmoil inside Iran.

But I think, and I believe, based on my conversation with them, they are very much interested in having a grand package with the United States. The majority of their people would like to have a normal relationship with the West. And I think everyone in the leadership would like to take the credit for that.

I have heard directly from the leadership there that they would like to engage the U.S. directly, bilaterally. They would like to regulate the 50 years of animosity. I've heard the same from Barack Obama. As Barack Obama said, there is a lot of mutual interest.

And we wasted six years, in the last six years, when Iran was ready to engage. But for the first three years of the Bush administration, they did not want to talk to Iran at all, and it was, we should not talk to that part of the Axis of Evil. We should not talk to people who we disagree with.

I think Obama is the first one to understand that you cannot impose conditions at the beginning. Just get on with it. Sit around the table. Put all your grievances, without saying you have to accept this in advance.

And I think that policy is the only policy -- a meaningful dialogue -- that would eventually get Iran and the U.S. working together.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about one close to home. Wearing your hat as an Egyptian citizen, there are rumors that you might be interested or be encouraged to run for a presidential election in Egypt.

Would you consider that?

ELBARADEI: Well, there's a lot of blogs, a lot of newspapers, you know, calling on me to run.

I mean, I have been in public service all my life, Fareed, and I will not shy from any public service duty, if I think I can make a difference. Egypt has to change. You know, there is a lot of economic, social and political problems Egypt is facing. Egypt is at the heart of the Arab world. It can pull the Arab world together, you know, toward modernity, toward, you know...

ZAKARIA: Do you think Egypt is in bad shape now?

ELBARADEI: Egypt is not in the best shape, because the economic situation is not very good. The political system is very fragile. And social -- the social piece (ph) is not very well established in Egypt. So, there are a lot of problems.

But I think it's not a question of one person, but it's a question of the Egyptians, who have the talents to really reform Egypt a modern, moderate, democratic system. Modernity and moderation is what we need in Egypt right now.

ZAKARIA: But it sounds like you're saying you would seriously consider running.

ELBARADEI: Well, I will -- as I said, I would only consider it, if there are built-in conditions for a free and fair election. And that is a big question mark still.

But I will do what I can to make sure that Egypt -- you know, as an Egyptian -- moves in the right direction.

ZAKARIA: Mohamed ElBaradei, I hope you'll visit us. Perhaps we could talk about Egypt more.

ELBARADEI: Thank you very much for having me, Fareed. Thanks a lot.

ZAKARIA: A pleasure.

ELBARADEI: Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Now, for our "Question of the Week."

Last week, I spoke with Eric Schmidt, the chairman and CEO of Google. I asked you to tell me how you felt about Google -- its omnipresence, its vast database. Do they scare you? Fascinate you?

Your response to the question was passionate. I had many thought-provoking responses. The majority of you said you were more fascinated than scared.

Steve Newman of Omaha, Nebraska, spoke for many of our viewers with this message. "I LOVE GOOGLE." And he did use all caps.

He added, "I use it probably 15 to 20 times a day to look up facts and information. I'd be totally lost without it."

Bill Zane of Santa Rosa, California, is scared. He raised many questions, including one that a lot of you has asked.

"Assuming that Google is entirely beneficent... is there a guarantee that present management... will last forever?"

In other words, what happens if Google falls into the wrong hands?

Now, for this week's question.

The president stated clearly that he wants American troops to begin pulling out of Afghanistan in 18 months. Do you believe that was a mistake? Does it give the Taliban and al Qaeda the chance to wait it out, hold their fire until the U.S. is gone? Or is it necessary to keep the war in Afghanistan from becoming an endless commitment?

Let me know what you think, and why.

And please, when you e-mail us, don't forget to tell us your name and where you're from.

As always, I would like to recommend a book. This one is called "How Markets Fail," by John Cassidy, a writer for the "New Yorker."

While Andrew Ross Sorkin's book, "Too Big to Fail," which I recommended last week, took us inside the boardrooms where fatal decisions were made, Cassidy takes us inside the mind -- inside the economic philosophies -- that allowed those decisions to be made. It is an intellectual history of the financial crisis.

A lot of it, he says, can be traced to the hands-off economics that was a central belief and tenet of the Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's almost 20-year stint running the nation's financial markets. Greenspan himself traces his theories back to Adam Smith, the 18th century economist.

Whoever's responsible for the underlying theory, Cassidy says self-correcting markets are a myth, and that we need more regulation.

Now, don't forget that GPS has joined the social networking revolution. Go to cnn.com/gps to find out how. You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.