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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Interview With James Baker; Interview With Abubaker al-Qirbi
Aired February 21, 2010 - 10:00 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 our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.
On the show today, an exclusive interview with James Baker, a man who has served as White House Chief of staff, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of State and also ran a couple of presidential campaigns. He's just the man to talk to about how to get things done in Washington and the world these days.
But first, let me -- let me give you some of my own thoughts on this.
Everyone agrees Washington is a mess. In a poll released last week, two-thirds of Americans were angry at the way Washington works, and there's plenty of blame to go around. Washington is blamed for partisanship, dysfunction, paralysis, problems are never honestly addressed, we kick the can down the road, et cetera, et cetera. You've heard it all.
But, in one sense, Washington is delivering to the American people exactly what they seem to want. In poll after poll, we find that the public is generally opposed to any new taxes, but we also discover that the public will immediately punish anyone who proposes spending cuts in any middle class program which are the ones where the money is in the federal budget.
Now, there is only one way to square this circle short of magic, and that is to borrow money, and that is what we have done for decades now at the local, state and federal level. At the root of this problem, writes Jacob Weisberg, the editor of "Slate" magazine, is our national ambivalence towards government. We dislike government in the abstract, but we love government in the particular.
Strong majorities don't want any more stimulus spending, but 80 percent of the public wants unemployment benefits extended, and more money put into roads and bridges. Another term for that, as Weisberg notes, is stimulus spending.
The lesson of the polls in the recent elections is that politicians will succeed if they pander to this public schizophrenia. So, the next time you accuse Washington of being irresponsible, save some of that blame for yourself and your friends.
Anyway, on to James Baker, and then we'll look at Yemen, what just might be America's next national security hot spot. I'll talk to the foreign minister of Yemen.
Let's get started.
And now joining me, the former Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury, White House Chief of staff, James Baker.
You know, when Henry Kissinger was asked when he first became Secretary of State, somebody in the press said to him, should we call you Mr. Secretary or Dr. Secretary? He said, Your Excellency is just fine.
JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes. Right.
ZAKARIA: So I feel with all these titles, I don't quite know how to address you.
Do you think that there is still a real possibility of bipartisanship in the -- in the Congress? Because, you know, if you look at all these problems you're talking about -- social security, Medicare, Medicaid, immigration, energy, we've really kicked the can down the road for the last 10 years --
BAKER: We sure have. We sure have.
ZAKARIA: -- because we've had paralysis.
BAKER: We sure have. It's -- it's really sad.
We are -- we're, frankly, in very bad shape in our fiscal affairs, and the fault is not just the fault of one party. It's not just Democrats, it's Republicans, too. Nobody has the political will to stand up and cut spending or -- or reduce spending or cap spending, however you want to call it.
There's no political will to do that, and so here we are today with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 100 percent, and that's going to continue for three fiscal years, the next three fiscal years. That's unsustainable in the long term, and it will -- it will -- if it's -- if you don't find a way to -- to cure it ultimately, and not only is it going to saddle our children and grandchildren with an unsustainable burden, it's going to -- going to diminish America's power in the world.
What you -- you can only be powerful politically and militarily if you're powerful economically, and in a country that runs a debt-to- GDP ratio of more than 100 percent for a long time can't be powerful economically.
ZAKARIA: You talk about cutting spending, and you're right. It's very difficult politically to cut spending.
ZAKARIA: But it is also difficult, is it not, to even talk about tax increases, and the reality is no matter how much spending you cut, with -- you know, with the kind of shortfalls we're talking about, you're going to have to raise taxes.
BAKER: Well, taxes are going to be raised. You have a Democratic White House and you have a big, huge, Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and a very substantial majority in the Senate. There is going to be -- taxes are going to be raised.
But you -- but, look, let's really understand, you --
ZAKARIA: I'm trying to get you to endorse it, as part of the solution.
BAKER: Raising taxes -- well -- well, I understand you are, but let me tell you -- let me say this. Raising taxes alone will not -- will never get you there. You have spending up here, you have revenue here. Some people say, well, all we've got to do is raise taxes to here, we'll get there. No, because Congress will spend this money and then they'll spend more money on top of it.
So you must have spending restraint. With spending restraint, revenue increases can help you reduce your debt. But without spending restraint, they can't.
ZAKARIA: Now, how do you get spending restraint in a system where -- I mean, even if you look at this health care bill, right, the Republicans started demagoguing the bill because it had potential Medicare cuts. Now, this was a program that -- that the Republicans didn't want, that they talked about, you know, being out of control.
But then when you talk about specific cuts, everybody is opposed to any specific thing.
BAKER: Somebody -- somebody asked me once what I thought about this health care thing and I said, you know what? They tell me that it means they're going to pull the plug on -- on grandma and grandpa, and I'm grandpa, so I don't like it.
But -- but you don't get there unless you find somehow the political will for the parties to get together and agree on these types of solutions, the kind of thing that we did with Ronald Reagan in 1983 with social security.
ZAKARIA: (INAUDIBLE) because what happens now is if one side makes a proposal which frankly is intelligent, reasonable, you know, in part (ph), the other side immediately looks at it as an opportunity to polarize the debate, demagogue, fund raise, rather than making a deal.
BAKER: Well, that's where we are. That's where we are, Fareed. We're --
It's a zero-sum game now. Politics in Washington is very ugly. It's not like it was when I went up with Jerry Ford in 1975 and '76, or with Ronald Reagan in '81 through '88 and George H.W. Bush in '88 to '92. We did a lot of things by reaching across the aisle.
Many of Reagan's initiative, tax reform for one thing, somebody said you can't do tax reform. We did it. We did it with Democratic votes. And -- and it was a good thing to do, and we reduced the top marginal tax rate, ultimately, from 70 percent down to 28 percent. Republicans loved him. So it can be done.
In -- in today's climate, it's hard to see that it will be done. One of the problems that's emerged, in addition to the fact that controversy sells -- media love controversy. They're not too interested in reporting on comity or cooperation.
But one of the problems is that the country is so evenly divided today. It really is. We're -- you know, you look at the last two elections, you -- well, not the very last one, but the ones in 2000 where 537 votes in Florida decided the outcome, and the one in -- in 2004 where 59,000 votes, you turned it around in Ohio and, you know, John Kerry would have been elected. The country is very evenly divided.
And so, it's become a zero-sum game, and it's not good. It's not good for the country. The American people are tired of a Congress that is not doing the people's business. A congress and a -- and a government -- you shouldn't just limit it to Congress. Congress and government, because the sniping and partisanship comes from both sides.
ZAKARIA: But you don't have in the Republican Party the kind of Howard Bakers of the Senate who were people who became famous for creating these compromised legislations. What you have is a lot of people who were very powerful with the base. They reinforced themselves with -- by that, they fundraise on that basis.
They don't -- they can't make a deal with -- with the Democrats. That would -- it would destroy their -- I mean, Rush Limbaugh would be out denouncing them tomorrow.
BAKER: Also, you also don't have the Danny Rostenkowskis and the Bill Bradleys and the Russell Longs on the Democratic side either. There's been a polarization of both parties. It's not just the -- the Republican Party.
But my answer to that would be why didn't they try? They didn't try. How do you know that if you have -- if you'd given them a real say in the formulation of policy that you wouldn't have been able to pull over some of the more moderate Republicans? They just -- they never -- they didn't try.
ZAKARIA: What do you think of -- of the current state of the Republican Party and specifically what do you think of the emerging leader of the -- of the Republican Party or a leader, Sarah Palin?
BAKER: Well, I think she's a force to be reckoned with. She's got a lot of support out there.
But what I think about the current state of the Republican Party is this is what happens to the party out of power.
When -- when George H.W. Bush had a 90 -- H.W. Bush had a 90 percent approval rating in the aftermath of Desert Storm, all the big Democrats backed off. They say we're not going to -- and -- and you guys were all writing stories about the disarray in the party out of power and how they'll never come back and all of that.
And then Bill Clinton's elected president. Where did he come from? Where did Jimmy Carter come from? Where did Barack Obama come from? You know, a year before the elections, nobody would have said that these people were the leaders of their party and the spokesmen for their party.
We will develop a leader as the nominating process unfolds, and that leader will be -- will receive support from Republicans all over the country. They will coalesce behind that leader, whoever it is, whether it's a -- whether it's a Mitt Romney or a Tim Pawlenty or a Mike Huckabee or a Sarah Palin or who it is.
ZAKARIA: But is the incentive at this point, a party out of power, a minority party in a sense, is -- is there an incentive to find a big tent Republican, a moderate who can -- who can span the -- the whole spectrum or at least the -- the center of the spectrum, or is there a danger that the Republicans will get somebody who is true to the base, but actually will not be able to -- to appeal to the center?
BAKER: Like Barack Obama who was one of the most liberal Democrats in the constellation --
ZAKARIA: (INAUDIBLE) campaign is on bipartisan. Sarah Palin isn't campaigning on bipartisanship.
BAKER: Well, that's correct. That's true. But -- but you campaign -- a lot of times you win campaigns from -- with the base, OK? And other times you can win it by bipartisanship. But you, generally speaking, have to govern from the center. You can win campaigns from the fringes, but you generally have to govern from the center.
So I don't think anybody can answer that question. I mean, there are benefits and detriments to that both ways. I mean, it might rally the base to have someone who appeals to the base. You might have a mush bigger turnout, you might have a more enthusiastic -- there's a lot of disaffection out there now with what's going on in Washington, and that -- that means the administration and the Congress. It's a bad time to be an incumbent.
I happen to believe that we're going to pick up significant seats in the House and in the Senate in the midterm elections.
ZAKARIA: Do you think you could -- the Republicans could get a majority?
BAKER: It's conceivable. We could. I'm not saying we will, but there are enough seats in play in the Senate that we could, and there's enough disaffection out there with what's going on in Washington that we could.
It is not a good year to be an incumbent.
ZAKARIA: And is that about unemployment, fundamentally?
BAKER: No. It's about -- it is about unemployment, but it's also about this -- the way we're spending money like drunken sailors. The American people are beginning to worry about that. They see how much -- how -- how far in debt we are. They understand that we're looking at 100 percent of GNP for the next three years, and they don't see any way out.
ZAKARIA: But then you talk about any cut -- in any specific program and they're all opposed to that, too.
BAKER: Yes. It's like in tax reform when he -- say, Russell Long used to say, "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax the man behind the tree". But that's what, you know, it's the same thing with spending cuts. Don't cut my spending, cut somebody else's spending.
But an election can be a great catharsis. And we may have just such a catharsis.
ZAKARIA: We'll be back with more of my conversation with James Baker, former Secretary of State.
BAKER: I think we called him up and said it takes 30 seconds to re-aim those missiles at you and, by the way, they're now re-aimed at you. And if you so much as blink toward Israel or toward us or one of our allies, you wouldn't like it. It will be -- it'll be bad news.
ZAKARIA: And we're back with James Baker, former Secretary of State, Treasury, White House Chief of Staff and more.
Do you think that when you watch China's behavior at Copenhagen, you watched the -- the trip that Obama made to China, what do you make of what appears to be a kind of rising Chinese confidence, assertiveness?
BAKER: I think it's fine. I don't see any problem with that. I don't know why we would be worried about a confident China. A confident China is a China that's going to be easier for us, in my view, to deal with, as long as they're not a hegemonistic China in the North Pacific, which I don't think -- we're not there yet.
We may be getting there. I don't know. Hopefully not. I don't think a confident China is something we ought to be worried about.
When I was Treasury Secretary, everybody was writing that the Japanese were going to take over the world. Japan Inc. was going to -- was going to inherit -- America was on a permanent decline, Japan Inc. was coming. It didn't happen. It doesn't have to happen now. I am very bullish on America, quite frankly, given our -- our strengths, our economy, which is 25 percent of total GDP, our ability to forcefully project power across oceans and continents, our educated population, our status as a de facto reserve currency in the world.
We've got so many things going. We're going to continue to be an extraordinarily important player in -- in world affairs. And the mere fact that China is coming up is not an indication to me, at least, that America is on a permanently downward course.
We do have to deal with our debt bomb. We do have to deal with the debt bomb. But I don't think America is declining relative -- in absolute terms. It may be declining in relative terms with respect to other countries because there are other countries that are moving up.
Why are they moving up? Because they've adopted our economic paradigm, the free market. That's why they're moving up. Brazil, India, China, countries like that.
ZAKARIA: When you look at the Iranian problem, this has got to be one of the more difficult foreign policy challenges the Obama administration faces because, at the end of the day, these guys have a lot of cash that comes out of their petroleum exports.
ZAKARIA: They are determined, it seems, to move along a path towards some kind of nuclear capability, and we've tried sanctions. We've tried isolation. We've tried ostracism. And now, frankly, Obama has tried some kind of engagement and some kind of offers, which I think both you and I thought was a good idea as a -- as an opening gambit.
Now, none of it is working. What do you do?
BAKER: I don't think -- well, I think it's too soon to say everything has failed. I don't -- I think you keep doing what you're doing. In other words, I think what you need to do is keep pushing for stronger sanctions and keep talking to or being ready to talk to the Iranian leadership, if they're willing to talk.
Those things -- and support the reformers in the streets. Those three things. They're not mutually exclusive. It's exactly what we did for 40 years with the Soviet Union.
We talked to them about nuclear -- we negotiated arms control agreements. We supported the dissidents in the Soviet Union. We worked hard on Soviet-Jewish emigres to get them the right to leave. We met with dissidents when we would go over there as -- as Secretary of State.
And so there's no reason why we can't do all three of those things and continue to do them.
ZAKARIA: But that was -- that was a part of a policy of containment, keeping the Soviet Union kind of in a box and pressing it.
ZAKARIA: We didn't attack them militarily.
Would you -- would you say that you're uncomfortable with the idea of a military attack on Iran?
BAKER: Look, let me say this. Iran is a huge force for instability, not just in the region, but in the world generally, and if they acquire a nuclear weapon, it could set off a major nuclear arms race in that very difficult part of the world.
So don't under -- we don't underestimate the problem when I say what I'm about to say. I don't know that there is a military solution. Most of the people, knowledgeable people, I talk to say there is no satisfactory military solution, that a strike will delay but not prevent their acquiring a nuclear weapon.
That's not to say that you say, OK then, they should get it. But it's -- it's very questionable whether or a military solution exists.
As a matter of fact, in the last administration, it's my understanding that the Israelis wanted to strike and they came to us and they asked for bunker-busting bombs and refueling -- in-flight refueling capabilities and over-flight rides and deconfliction codes and we said, no, we're not going to do that. That's not in our interest.
Why isn't it in our interest? Because a strike that just -- that just delays will create untold -- nobody knows what the consequences of that would be, and one thing -- but one thing we do know is that would strengthen the hard-line regime in Iran at the very time that they're experiencing great domestic dissatisfaction. We ought to play on that domestic dissatisfaction.
And you'll get differing assessments of how long it will be before Iran can -- can obtain a nuclear weapon, but even a former head of Mossad not long ago, a year or so ago, said it will be three or four years. So we'll not -- you know, you never take the military option off the table, but we ought not to be rushing into that.
ZAKARIA: You were the last administration -- as Secretary of State to successfully put pressure on the government of Israel to restrain itself on settlement activity, and, in that sense, make gestures that were read by the other side, by the Palestinians as -- as kind of pro-peace and pro, you know, some kind of settlement.
The Obama administration has tried to do something, but the peace process is going nowhere --
BAKER: Yes, but before I get into the peace, let me go back to Iran for just one minute -
ZAKARIA: Sure. Sure. BAKER: -- because I want to make sure -- what you me arguing for is -- is the idea that deterrents can be effective. It was effective for 40 years against the Soviet Union, and I -- and I'm not at all sure it wouldn't be effective against these ayatollahs who may be -- may be flakey, but they -- but they like self preservation.
So, you know, we've got all this unused strategic nuclear capability, and I think we called them up and said it takes 30 seconds to re-aim those missiles at you. And, by the way, they're now re- aimed at you and if you so much as blink toward Israel or toward us or one of our allies, moderate Arab states, you know, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf State, we're going to -- you'll be the subject. You wouldn't like it. It will be -- it will be bad news.
ZAKARIA: So you would extend the nuclear umbrella, in a sense (ph).
BAKER: I think if we -- I think if we do that (ph) -- and that would require us then to extend a nuclear umbrella to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States, and I think we should do that. And -- I mean, I think that's something we ought to keep in our -- an arrow that we have in our quiver and we ought to keep it there.
Deterrents worked well against the Soviet Union. It -- I think it's wrong to simply reject out of hand that somehow deterrents wouldn't work here. So that's something I just wanted to add.
Now, on the peace process, it's regrettable where we are. It's really too bad, in my view.
What's really sad is that the Palestinian polity is now divided. How do you get a peace agreement when you -- when you don't have all the Palestinians at the table? I mean, I don't -- I don't know.
Israel is in a difficult position because it's going to be very hard for her -- and more and more Israelis are realizing this -- very hard for her to retain her democratic character and her Jewish character as long as she continues to occupy those portions of the west bank that she occupies. And -- and so it's very much in her interest for her to achieve a secure -- secure peace with her Arab neighbors.
The only way you get a secure peace is to negotiate it. If you do it -- try to do it unilaterally, it's not going to be -- not going to be secure.
ZAKARIA: What would you do if you were Obama? He wants to do something on the peace process. You know, the situation is, as you described, the divided Palestinian polity, an Israeli government that feels like maybe they can wait this out. So what do you do?
BAKER: Well, he's tried, and I give him great credit for trying, because there's not going to be peace between Arabs and Israelis unless the United States is -- is hands on and trying to do its best to -- to encourage Israel to do what I think is in their long-term best interest, and that is get a negotiated, secure peace agreement with their Arab neighbors so that they don't face this conundrum about whether they can maintain their Jewish character and their democratic character.
He's got a great negotiator and envoy in George Mitchell. George have been out there. You have to keep going. You have to keep after it. In the lead-up to the Madrid Peace Conference, I must have made -- I know I made at least eight trips to Syria just to get the Syrians to change 25 years of policy. I would -- if I'd quit after the first six trips, it wouldn't have happened. And so you just have to keep after it.
The biggest hurdle right now is trying to get the -- the Palestinian polity united somehow, some sort of a unity government. The Egyptians are working hard on that, and -- and we should be very thankful, and I know we are, that they are working hard on it. Because it's pretty hard to negotiate peace when your -- when your negotiating partner is two different people, and that's where we are now.
Now, what we did -- it's a little bit -- I mean, an analogy is what we did back in our day. We couldn't talk to the PLO. Today, we don't talk to Hamas, and neither do the Israelis, because they're a terrorist organization. We wouldn't talk to PLO and neither would the Israelis because they were a terrorist organization.
So we found Palestinians from within the territories that we knew and the Israelis knew were taking their orders from Tunis, from the PLO. But it -- but it was a cutout and it was a construct and it worked.
ZAKARIA: And we'll be back with more from James Baker right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Many people believe you have -- you have paid very little attention to al Qaeda. Is that true?
ABUBAKER AL-QIRBI, YEMEN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I said myself that probably over the last year or so, probably we did not give enough attention to al Qaeda.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you finally. You spent a long time in government. I think that you're probably tied up there with George Schultz and a few others for the most cabinet positions or most high-level positions.
BAKER: Elliot Richardson wins the prize.
ZAKARIA: That's right. That's true. But some of those jobs were held for very brief periods. But do you look at this problem of governance in Washington right now -- you don't have senior people in government confirmed yet because of either conflict of interest rules or congressional pressure. Senators are holding up 70, 80 nominations of people. How are you going to govern this country?
BAKER: There's a lot of dysfunction. There's a lot of dysfunction and the Congress particularly is not functioning frankly the way it did when I was in Washington. As I just said to you, we had so many things that we would do on a bipartisan basis, reaching across the aisle. But to do that, you've got to bring the other side in on the takeoff. You may have the numbers, but you can't assume from that that you're just going to be able to cram policies that are way over on one side of the political spectrum, just going to muscle them through.
ZAKARIA: When you were in office, in every office you held, you were usually attacked from the right. Let's be honest. You were attacked for being a moderate in the Reagan White House, for being a realist as secretary of State. And it was the neo-cons who were attacking you. Do you look at the current Republican party and feel like these are not my people?
BAKER: No, I really don't. I do the fringe element, of course. But otherwise I don't. Let me tell you why I'm a realist because I detect that maybe you're at least partially a realist. I'm a realist because I'm a politician. And I know having been there in these jobs for those 12 years that you can't get things done if you do not have the support of the American people, particularly in foreign policy. You have to -- the final arbiter of policy in our democracy is the will of the American people. If you can't bring them along, then you're not going to be able to implement the policy very successfully. And to bring them along, you must have a significant national interest.
Now, this is not to in any way denigrate principles and values. Our foreign policies should be formulated and implemented on both principles and values and national interest. If you don't have that national interest in there where you can go to these elected representatives who are getting beat up day and night because of the body bags that are coming back into their home districts or home states, if you can't say, look, here is why this is important to America from a national interest standpoint, then you can't sustain the policy. So it's really great to be ideologically airy fairy out here and have some great wonderful ideas but you can't practice foreign policy. This is a sad thing to say, but it's true. You can't practice foreign policy according to the principles of Mother Teresa or it won't last very long.
ZAKARIA: On that sobering note, James Baker, a real pleasure.
BAKER: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Please come back again.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment, what got my attention was HR 2278. It's a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a huge margin, 395-3. What was this piece of legislative business that commanded such a majority? Well, the bill has largely been ignored by the U.S. media. It has created a firestorm overseas, specific in the Middle East. The bill calls on the president to report to Congress on anti-American incitement of violence in the Middle East and to make a list of all media outlets that engage in such activity, deliver it to Congress. Now this is what inspired the bill. It's a children's TV show aired on Al-Aqsa, the station run by Hamas, which is a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization. In this scene from one of its children's TV shows, a puppet is seen stabbing another puppet representing President Bush.
It's terrible. No one would condone something like this, but the broadly and very poorly worded bill can be read to go way beyond that. The bill's sponsors say the intention was not to crush freedom in the region, but if it passes, that is exactly what it is likely to do. Mainstream Middle Eastern television would be hard pressed to report on local affairs without, say, interviewing Hasan Nasrallah or Khaled Mashaal, the leaders respectively of Hezbollah and Hamas and of course very strong critics of the United States. Interviews like this could easily land those stations on the black list. Much of mainstream Arab media (INAUDIBLE) does not condone violence against civilians. A good percentage of the major media in the Middle East does not glorify al Qaeda or the Taliban or any of the other terror groups that are out for the destruction of the United States or the west.
But this bill, if it passes the Senate and gets signed the president as written which is unlikely, would seem to paint all of this with a very broad brush. It's worth remembering, America's greatest strength historically has been freedom. Freedom of religion was what brought the country together in the first place. Freedom of speech is what enabled a national discussion of the best way forward, competition of ideas and it has always been a cornerstone of the American system. The exporting of these ideas has of course been one of the core parts of American foreign policy.
Now are we going to turn our backs on that? And is this any way to win the hearts and minds of Arab youth? The U.S. Congress can't seem to agree on anything. They're mired in dysfunction and paralysis, but they agree on this. In a country that is facing, to use Paul Volcker's phase from last week, a crisis in governance, is this what our legislators should be spending their time on? It would make for a topsy-turvy world with the U.S. government arguing against free speech while Arab governments were the one to preserve it. What if those rules were applied here at home? CNN for example might be in trouble. We air interviews with Mashaal and Nasrallah, and we air clips of al Qaeda releases and videotapes. Could we end up on the black list, too? Anyway, if you want to know who the three lonely Congress people who voted against this silly bill are, they're Michael Honda of California, Ron Paul and Eddie Johnson of Texas. We'll be right back.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley. Let's check some stories breaking this Sunday morning. On Portugal's Madera Island, at least 40 people are dead and more than 100 others have been injured from mudslides spawned from a deluge of heavy rain. An untold number of people remain missing. Portugal's civil protection agency tells CNN that badly damaged roads and bridges are hampering rescue efforts.
A growing number of Americans believe the government is broken. Eighty six percent, according to a new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll. That is up from four years ago when 78 percent believed government need to be fixed. Still a majority of you are optimistic. Eighty one percent say problems can be fixed. And only 5 percent feel that the government is broken beyond repair. We'll have much more coverage of broken government on "State of the Union" at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. Up next Fareed Zakaria GPS continues.
ZAKARIA: We've talked a lot about Yemen recently after, of course, that attempt to bring down a plane on Christmas day by Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber who was working with a growing al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen. In the past few weeks, Yemen has battled the extremists in its midst with some success. What exactly is the U.S. doing to aid the Yemeni government in that fight and what is going on in that country? Joining me now is Yemen's foreign minister, Abubaker al Qirbi. Thank you for joining me sir. Why is it that your country has become such a haven for al Qaeda?
ABUBAKER AL-QIRBI, FOREIGN MINISTER, YEMEN: Al Qaeda in Yemen has a longer history than just the last two or three months because it started with the return of the Arab Afghans after the end of the Afghan war. And we've been battling with them since then. This is not a new story for Yemen. Unfortunately, the recent incident in Detroit brought to it the forefront. But we've been facing al Qaeda. We've had them attacking "USS Cole," attacking Limburg in 2000 and 2001. This is a continuous battle with Yemen. In spite of all of our calls for international cooperation and exchange of intelligence information, this was not realized during the last decade until very recently.
ZAKARIA: You haven't actually been battling them all the time. You've been trying to rehabilitate many of them. The bomber of the "USS Cole" was actually released by you. People from Guantanamo have been released by you. There was little evidence until very recently that there was a strong battle that the Yemeni government was undertaking.
AL-QIRBI: The ones who were handed over to us from the United States as ex-Guantanamo prisoners, they were handed either after a court ruling acquitting them or by special arrangements between the two governments. And this is something that Yemen has addressed very responsibly because those who have been handed to the Yemeni government were interrogated. If we've had any evidence to prosecute, we would have prosecuted. So Yemen has not really released prisoners without proper coordination with the United States of America as far as the security issues are concerned.
ZAKARIA: You have said that there are 200 to 300 al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. Where do you get that number from? I'm curious because it has been so hard for U.S. intelligence of local governments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, to a search in the number and frankly, the fact that you can put such a precise number on it raises some suspicion in my mind. Are you sure there are 200 or 300 al Qaeda operatives?
Al-QIRBI: The impression I have is that there are 300 active or indoctrinated al Qaeda members. But the exact number, no one knows exactly how many al Qaeda operatives are in Yemen or outside Yemen in reality. I agree with you, that this is the challenge faced by our security agencies all over the world, not only in Yemen. But this is an estimate that I predicted that the hard core is about 300.
ZAKARIA: Your country has three security threats it faces, a Houthi rebellion in the north, a southern secessionist movement and al Qaeda. Many people believe you have prioritized the other two and given very little, paid very little attention to al Qaeda. Is that true?
AL-QIRBI: Well, I said myself that probably over the last year or so probably we did not give enough attention to al Qaeda. But this does not mean that we will not continue our surveillance of them and collecting intelligence information. So we were not completely ignorant or negligent because we have taken the necessary actions when it became appropriate for us to undertake it.
ZAKARIA: Why not allow the United States to get more involved in this struggle on the ground? I know you said there might be a backlash, but the truth of the matter is your government has limited capacities. The United States would be able to go after these people much more effectively. They pose a threat to your government. Why not let the United States be more involved?
AL-QIRBI: Well, I think if you have heard many American officials, whether from the White House or from the State Department or from the Pentagon, I think they've learned from the experience in Afghanistan and in Pakistan that the best way to fight these groups is to leave it to the security and armed forces of the country.
ZAKARIA: You have in the past allowed drone attacks in Yemen. Would you be willing to countenance a stepping up of these drone attacks?
AL-QIRBI: We would like the United States and other countries who want to help Yemen in countering terrorism to provide us with the necessary firing power that our own counterterrorism units can use.
ZAKARIA: But you're not going to be given drones. The Pakistani government does not have them, but the United States will target terrorist leaders if you were to allow it to and you have in the past. I'm asking would you allow a stepping up of this? AL-QIRBI: We would allow the United States to provide us with intelligence information necessary for our air force to undertake that.
ZAKARIA: So can you -- in conclusion, can you assure the viewers that your government is taking active steps against al Qaeda and that were we to have this conversation six months from now, you would be able to point to concrete actions that have been taken and that al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula which apparently is headquartered in Yemen, would have been dealt severe blows if not eradicated?
AL-QIRBI: I can assure you that the concrete actions that have started will continue, because this is in the interest of Yemen, the interest of our region as a whole and the world at large. This is a commitment that has been there for a long time and I think what we need now is really the support for Yemen and its counterterrorism units and a real partnership in which there is exchange of intelligence information in which securities of countries is looked at holistic rather than individualistic.
ZAKARIA: Mr. Foreign minister, thanks for joining me.
AL-QIRBI: Thank you very much.
ZAKARIA: For very close followers of this program, you might notice that something is different from the last segment. Well, it's my tie. Last weekend was Valentine's Day. My six-year-old daughter, soon to be seven, made this for me and I promised her that I would wear it on the air. So that's why I have it on.
Now for our question of the week. For this week here is what I want to know. Was President Obama right in his decision to meet with the Dalai Lama or will it cost him too much political capital with the Chinese for too little gain? Tell me what you think and we'll post the best answers on our website, cnn.com/gps. This week I'd like to recommend a book and a movie. The book is James Baker's memoir and it's called "Work Hard, Study and Keep Out of Politics." Those were the words of wisdom from Baker's grandfather and for the first 40 years of his life, Baker followed that advice to a T. Then in 1970 James Baker, who was a Democrat was convinced by his good friend George HW Bush to switch parties and enter the political circus. The book takes the reader all the way through the disputed presidential election of 2000. It's a fun, lively read.
That brings me to my movie recommendation. Let me remind you of something Secretary Baker said earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BAKER: One of the problems is that the country is so evenly divided today. It really is. You look at the last two elections -- not the very last one, but the ones in 2000 where 537 votes in Florida decided the outcome -- (END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Now, we all remember that James Baker had a little something to do with the outcome of that 2000 election. The movie "Recount" backs up our recollection. It's by our sister company HBO and it's available on DVD. If you haven't seen it, it's a terrific dramatization of those hanging chads that held the nation hostage for four weeks in 2000 and it shows just how key a role James Baker, played by Tom Wilkinson, had in the whole process.
Now for our newest segment on GPS, we're calling it "The Last Look" and here is what we want you to take one last look at this week. It's reportedly a group of Iranian students engaged in a competition. They're trying to see who can throw their paper airplanes, what they have dubbed paper missiles the furthest in the direction of Israel. It's unclear what the regime offered as a prize to these students. But I think we can safely say thankfully none of their missiles hit their mark. Thanks for all of you for being part of my program next week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."