Return to Transcripts main page


GPS Shadow National Security Council Discusses Syria; What Sweden Can Teach America; Can President Obama Strike Syria Without Congressional Authorization?

Aired September 8, 2013 - 10:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I am Fareed Zakaria. We're going to get you one step ahead on understanding the crisis in Syria. We have put together our own war room, a national security council of senior officials from recent administrations that is assembled and ready to take us through the path ahead for President Obama. We have General Wesley Clark, Paul Wolfowitz, James Steinberg and Nicholas Burns.

Then, a critical question. Can President Obama take action without Congress? Should he have even asked it or did he weaken the powers of his office? We have a lively debate.

And is Syria Libya all over again? Is Assad another Gadhafi? I'll talk to the man who was critical in convincing the world it had to get rid of the Libyan dictator, France's foremost public intellectual, Bernard-Henri Levy.

But, first, here's my take. From the start of the Syrian conflict, President Obama has wanted to take two very different approaches to it. On the one hand, he's been disciplined about the definition of American interests and the use of force.

On the other hand, he has sought a way to respond to Assad's atrocities. The tension between the two paths continues to bedevil American policy as the administration prepares the ground for a strike.

Two years ago, Obama declared loftily that Assad had to go. A year ago, he announced that the use of chemical weapons was a red line. Now, for a while it was possible to keep the juggling act going, talking tough while doing little.

But presidential rhetoric creates expectations and, as I wrote in June, "Eventually, the contradictions in U.S. policy will emerge and the Obama administration will face calls for further escalation."

The recent, horrific chemical-weapons attack had been the proximate cause, but there would have been others. As a result, we might be inching into a complex civil war while all the while denying that we are doing so.

Just as Obama's past rhetoric has pushed America more deeply into this struggle, the current efforts to win congressional support are already producing mission creep.

At a meeting with House leaders, the President spoke explicitly about a "limited" strike that would "send a clear message." That same day, his Secretary of State had to assure hawkish members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "this is not sending a message per se," implying that the strikes would be much more substantial.

Republicans like John McCain have indicated that they have also been given more detailed assurances of a much more intense intervention.

The Administration might want to keep the mission "limited" and "proportional," as Obama initially promised, but it will be a challenge.

In selling the case to Congress, Secretary Kerry and his colleagues have described what is at stake and they've done it in monumental terms, vital national security interests, 100 years of international law, the core credibility of the United States.

It is a "Munich moment," says Kerry. But, in that case, how could American policy and response simply be merely a stiff warning, "a shot across the bow," in the President's words?

The reality is, the U.S. has now put its credibility on the line. It will find it extremely difficult to keep its actions limited in a volatile situation.

And were it to succeed in ousting Assad, it would be implicated in the next phase of this war, which would almost certainly lead to chaos and the ethnic cleansing of the Alawite sect, to which Assad belongs, and perhaps of other minorities, as happened in Iraq.

And, as in Iraq, if we break it, we buy it.

For more on this, go to You can read my Time column this week. Let's get started.

In the coming days and weeks, the White House faces two tasks it needs to execute. First, it has to convince the American public and its proxy, the United States Congress, that striking Syria is the right thing to do.

Then, if successful, the White House and the military need to carry out those strikes in the "Goldilocks fashion," not too hot, not too cold. So, how will they do this?

To answer that question, we have a decided to empanel our own shadow National Security Council meeting, former advisors from both sides of the aisle to offer their advice.

In the role of the military brass is General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Nicholas Burns is representing our State Department. Nick is now at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, but ended a life in foreign service as the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.

Sitting in the Pentagon civilian leadership seat is Paul Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense. He is now at AEI.

And James Steinberg will play our national security role. He was Deputy National Security Advisor to President Clinton, also Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama first term. He's now the dean of Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

Welcome to all of you.

Jim, imagine the National Security Council meeting after, let's say, you get congressional approval. What would be the most important thing you would want to see decided right at that point?

JAMES STEINBERG, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I think the most important thing is to decide what is our objective, what do we want to achieve and how will we know that we've achieved it? What's success?

I think by defining our objective we can then begin to develop the strategy both on the military and the political side at home and internationally.

ZAKARIA: Paul Wolfowitz, what would success look like? It's a very good question. How would we know if we had achieved it?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY AND DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think, as Jim says, first you have to decide what your strategy is and that needs to be clear. And I think you're not going to achieve success just with a military strike. I think that also ought to be clear.

So, the question is what comes afterwards. And I believe what is absolutely essential is that we finally begin to provide serious support for the Free Syrian Army because unless the balances of forces is changed in Syria, this thing is going to continue and continue with I think very bad consequences.

ZAKARIA: Nicholas Burns, when you look at this issue, what I'm struck by -- you know, as an old State Department hand, the United States would be going to war without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

How big an issue would that be for diplomats, for the United States?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Oh, I think the United States has every reason and right to act here because what Secretary Kerry would say, Fareed, at your virtual table, would be this, the United States has to preserve its credibility in the world.

The Security Council's frozen because of the cynical policies of Russia and China. We have to then enforce international law on the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons. I think that's what the State Department would say first.

I also would agree with Paul that we ought to be looking second, post-strike, at initiatives to strengthen our support for the moderate rebel forces and to strike back, push back against the Iran Hezbollah axis.

And, the third, I think the State Department would say, is there a diplomatic play available if we succeed in weakening Assad and deterring future use of chemical weapons, could we go back to the table working with the Europeans, with the Arab countries, and maybe with the Russians and Iranians to try to work towards a cease-fire. That would be a rational strategy for the United States.

ZAKARIA: All right, so that's the sort of the set of goals, the direction we want to go in.

Wes Clark, you're now the man in the hot seat. What would you recommend? You ran the operations in Bosnia and Kosovo -- I'm sorry, Bosnia. What would you recommend the nature of the military operation be in this case?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, FORMER SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER IN EUROPE: Well, I've got to go back to what Jim says, what's the objective? And before I go into the military, just one thing is everybody's always seem to be eager to press the military button.

But I wonder if there's not an additional diplomatic play once you get the United States Congress on board. Because what we really want to do in terms of our objective is not just make the strike.

We want to bring the nations of the world together to say this can't be done. You cannot use chemical weapons. If you can use the leverage of the congressional resolutions to reopen that before there's even a strike, that's the best of all possible worlds.

I see where China has said they're with Russia, they don't want to see a strike. Well, good. Do something about it. Let's have some diplomacy in the region.

If we go to the strike, then we know how to put the package together. So, we're going to pick out targets that are significant, targets that are minimized for collateral damage, targets that will be easy to access, targets that will make a different to the Assad regime and we're going to also have to work the process of delivery.

So, maybe we'll take out some radars, maybe we'll take out some air defense sites on the way going in. But what we are going to also need to do is we're going to need to assure that there's freedom of action for the U.S. Navy in the region.

So, we're going to have to set up some kind of a naval exclusion zone and ask our Russian friends would they please stay out of the way so they don't accidentally get hit by a cruise missile.

And, by the way, that exclusion zone has to be under the sea as well as in the air and on the surface around our fleet. So, there's a lot of diplomacy associated with this.

So, we're in -- you know, from the military perspective, we're in no rush to strike. We know what the package is, we've got adequate targets, four, five, six days, reassess, go in again if necessary.

We'll make a powerful statement. It'll be a "Goldilocks" kind of strike, just right, not too much, not too light. They won't be able to say it didn't hurt if we do it, they won't be able to say it destroyed the country if we do it.

ZAKARIA: I already see some difference between the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon.

(UNKNOWN): It never happens.

ZAKARIA: This is not -- this would not be unprecedented.

Paul Wolfowitz, do you think that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs should be bringing up these political and policy issues or should he just salute and present a war plan?

WOLFOWITZ: Look, they always have their views and they always express them and that's fine. But I think -- I'm all in favor of finding a diplomatic solution here, but you're not going to find a diplomatic solution or any solution that focuses solely on chemical weapons.

The issue is how do you end this civil war peacefully. It is possible? I don't believe it's possible with Assad in power, but something might be negotiated if we had some leverage. We have no leverage because so far we've refused to supply even gas masks to the Free Syrian Army.

If we want leverage, if we want to have some influence over the final outcome, whatever that turns out to be in Syria, we need allies on the ground in Syria because we've made it clear weren't putting Americans on the ground in Syria.

The only allies that would be worth anything to us are the Free Syrian Army. We should be behind them.

ZAKARIA: All right. As every military officer or general will tell you, the enemy gets to vote. So, when we come back we're going to ask what happens after the strikes, how will Syria respond and how should the United States prepare for that when we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with our shadow National Security Council war-gaming the Syria operation. Wesley Clark, Nicholas Burns, Paul Wolfowitz and James Steinberg.

General Clark, tell us what you expect is the likely Syrian response to a series of strikes, as you say, maybe two or three days of it? What do you expect them to do? Hunker down or actually retaliate in some way? CLARK: I think the greater likelihood is that they'll hunker down. If they do try to retaliate, they may try to retaliate with some anti-ship missile against some force out in the Mediterranean.

ZAKARIA: Jim ...

CLARK: Obviously, their air defense is going to try to shoot back at anything they've got a target on.

ZAKARIA: Jim Steinberg, if they do hunker down, part of the problem for the United States and the coalition that engages in these operations is how do you know whether you've won, how do you -- you know what yardstick do you use at that point?

Let's say we're three days into this operation and then we just decide at some point that's enough and stop?

STEINBERG: Well, I think you have to go into the operation first with a military objective which is to decide what capabilities of his you want to damage or destroy and to have your own benchmark about what is the level of harm that you've inflicted, the operational ineffectiveness that you've imposed on him.

But, again, it has to be then in the context of the broader strategy which is what you don't want to see happen is him simply kind of dust himself take the blow and then carry on as if nothing had happened.

So, you have to think now only about the first strike, but how you posture yourself so he doesn't feel at the end that he's been able to ride it out.

ZAKARIA: Paul Wolfowitz, you want to do more than just these strikes. You want to warm the rebels because you want to decisively shift the balance of power.

What do you say to those people, and I know they exist within the U.S. military, who say look, we've been trying for a year-and-a-half now to find these moderate rebels.

And the opposition to Assad is disaggregated, it's dispersed, hundreds if not more militias. Some of them are radical allied with al-Qaeda, others are not. In any event, this is much more difficult to do and don't pin your hopes on this.

WOLFOWITZ: Fareed, we had a lot more options two years ago. The opposition has become more radicalized because we've sat on our hands. I would -- from what I -- I don't believe we've tried very hard to do anything for the people who are identified as moderates, the Free Syrian Army.

Face it, we don't want to send in American troops. You've got Hezbollah fighters, you've got Assad fighters, you've got al-Qaeda fighters. The only people who might promise something better are the Free Syrian Army and we should be supplying them with both lethal and non-lethal weapons. And I -- one thing that is very confused in the strategy now, sometimes the president seems to say we're not aiming to shift the balance of forces in Syria, sometimes he talks to Senator McCain and Senator Graham and he says we are.

I think it is essential that we do so. I tend to agree Assad has got enough on his hands without retaliating, but he is certainly going to step up the pressure on the opposition to demonstrate that he's not defeated and may even claim that he is the victor from out strikes. It's important to make clear he's not.

ZAKARIA: Wes Clark, could you train these rebels given what you know about them?

CLARK: I think there's an arming and training program going on. Some can be, but I think -- and, again, I'm not trying to -- let me step out of the chairman of the JCS role for a second.

If they're going to be successful, they're going to have occupy some piece of ground inside Syria and claim it as their own. That's the way movements like this succeed.

Bosnia would never have happened if it had simply been President Izetbegovic in Paris saying please kick the Serbs out of Bosnia. And what happened in Kosovo happened because people were on the ground and there was a strong political force associated with the fighters.

So, the Free Syrian Army has to have some politics behind it and it has to have some territory. Can people be trained to fight? Of course they can be trained to fight.

Can it be done overnight? No, it takes months to build of chain of command, to rehearse, to prepare these people, to equip them. That's what's been going on.

But what we really are after is what Paul says you've got to have the political/diplomatic impact of this and to do that, you've got to have somebody on the other side of the table from Assad.

ZAKARIA: You raise in important point which is that the Free Syrian Army does not seem to control much territory at this point. I think I saw a report that said of 14 major cities, it doesn't control any.

Nicholas Burns, let me ask you about the intriguing prospect you raised which is let's say this operation takes place, it has some success, you want to then use that to try to build on it and get some kind of negotiated settlement, a political settlement.

How would you do this and do you think the Russians will play ball?

BURNS: Well, the United States has to find a way to unite the use of force with a follow-on diplomatic strategy. And sometimes they can reinforce each other as they did in Bosnia and Kosovo very successfully under President Clinton's leadership. And that depends, Fareed, on the strike being significant enough that it does, in effect, deter President Assad. And Senator McCain has been making that very good point.

If that's the case, if Assad can effectively be intimidated, there might be a possibility for the United States then to launch another diplomatic effort under Secretary Kerry to see if we can work with a very cynical Russian government to bring about some kind of cease fire.

There's a humanitarian catastrophe underway in Syria and the Syrian people need relief from this war. That would be one objective. But let's even become more ambitious. Is there a way to bring Iran into those talks that might reinforce what we need to do with the Iranians on the nuclear issue?

And that is have direct conversations with them and try to begin a way to work with this very new Iranian government, test them to see if they're willing to adopt some kind of a more pragmatic policy themselves in Syria.

There are lots of opportunities, but it all starts with the effective use of military power so it has to be significant enough in its strike capacity.

ZAKARIA: All right.

James Steinberg, we're going to have to go, but if you were running this National Security Council meeting, any decisions you need taken that were not taken? Any last thoughts?

STEINBERG: I do think that one of the critical decisions we have to make is what do we need to be prepared for in terms of retaliation.

It's not just the Syrian military. They have to think about Hezbollah and others who will be tempted to try to use and to harm American interests, to go after American civilians. So, we need to make sure we have a good posture worldwide to protect Americans.

And then to reinforce Nick's point, we have to have a full-court press afterwards to make sure that when all is said and done that Assad is not in a better position, not able to simply carry on with his efforts as if the strike had never happened.

ZAKARIA: Gentlemen, thank you. Very very interesting, successful meeting. Maybe we'll reconvene when this all actually happens.

Up next, What in the World. When President Obama visited Sweden, he could have gotten some tips from them on cutting edge capitalism. From Sweden, you might say? Yes. I will explain.


ZAKARIA: Now, for our What in the World segment. Conservatives often describe President Obama as a socialist. According to those critics, the president's goal is something called "Swedenization," sky-high taxes, bloated government, and ruinous welfare policies like European Social Democratic States.

Well, the president should have taken some of these conservatives with him to Sweden this week. They would have found a country very different from their imagination and from the Socialist Sweden of the past.

You know how conservatives hate inheritance taxes or "death taxes"? Well, guess which country has no inheritance tax, zero, Sweden. In fact, Sweden today is characterized by very free markets, freer and less regulated than the United States in many sectors.

It does have high income taxes, but it uses these to fund things like health care and pensions that are far more efficiently run than their counterparts in America. Sweden tends to be near the top of most rankings on quality of life and competitiveness.

But the old image of Sweden has much truth to it, 20 years ago. In 1995, Sweden had the largest government in Europe as a share of the economy. About 65 percent of its GDP was government spending, the nightmare scenario for the American right.

Since then, Sweden has been reforming, opening up its economy and becoming market friendly and efficient. By 2012, government spending had fallen by a fifth. Sweden is now in sixth place, behind even France.

Another outdated notion is that the Swedish model of generous healthcare and affordable education would run up enormous budget deficits. In fact, while America's deficit is 5.7 percent, Sweden's is one-eleventh that amount at 0.5 percent of GDP.

Or consider labor markets. While the United States government bailed out Chrysler and General Motors, Sweden did exactly the opposite. The iconic Saab was allowed to go bankrupt in 2011. Volvo was acquired by the Chinese.

It turns out that socialist Sweden is not nearly as socialist or crazy as the American right would have you believe. Instead, the changes of the last two decades reveal a Swedish government and people who are very pragmatic and adaptable.

When Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt came to power as part of a center-right coalition in 2006, he moved to cut corporate taxes, and Swedish companies now pay lower tax rates than American ones.

And the downsizing of government is part of a regional trend. In neighboring Norway, the leader expected to win next week's elections is a conservative, running on a campaign to cut taxes.

Slowly but surely, Scandinavian countries are moving away from big government to smart government. Now, despite the tax cuts and the recent move to the right, Scandinavian states are still big spenders, but increasingly efficient and effective spenders. So Sweden may have been a last minute addition on Obama's travel schedule, that doesn't mean there aren't important lessons to learn there.

Scandinavian countries have picked the best of right and left in some cases. It's time we re-defined the word "Swedenization." Instead of a slur, it's an example of smart economics.

Up next, more on Syria. Did the President of the United States really need to go to Congress to authorize a strike? It's a fascinating, but murky legal question and we have a debate for you.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington with a check of the headlines. The Obama administration is ratcheting up efforts to win approval for military strikes in Syria. The Secretary of State John Kerry suggested today that disturbing videos of chemical attack victims could move undecided members of Congress to back the president.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Those videos make it clear to people that these are real human beings, real children, parents being affected in ways that are unacceptable to anybody anywhere by any standards.


CROWLEY: As of now, President Obama does not have the votes in Congress. He will be making his case on Syria when he sits down tomorrow with CNN's Wolf Blitzer at 6:00 P.M. Eastern. CNN will also have live coverage of the president's primetime speech Tuesday.

Australia has a new prime minister. Tony Abbott defeated the country's incumbent Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Saturday. Abbott who represents Australia's center right Liberal National Coalition promised to form a confident and trustworthy government.

Tokyo was celebrating being chosen to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee picked Tokyo over Madrid and Istanbul. Tokyo last hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964.

CROWLEY: "Reliable Sources" is at the top of the hour. And now back to Fareed Zakaria GPS.

ZAKARIA: What are the actual powers of the president of the United States? Does President Obama have the power to order strikes against another nation without consulting Congress? Did President Obama weaken executive powers by actually consulting with Congress on Syrian strikes? These questions have been swirling around and I wanted to get to the bottom of them. Joining me now, Jeffrey Toobin is, of course, CNN's senior legal analyst and a staff writer at "The New Yorker" and Steven Groves runs the Freedom Project at the Heritage Foundation. Welcome. Jeff, let me start with you. Does the president, in your opinion, have the legal authority to essentially wage war against another country without consulting with Congress?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Not in these circumstances. I think he's required to go to Congress or the United Nations or NATO or some sort of legal -- acquire some sort of legal justification for what he's doing other than he thinks it's a good idea. There is no direct threat to American nationals or national securities here, the national security. And I think he needs some sort of authorization as it seems to me every president has had since World War II, which is the last time we actually had a formal congressional declaration of war.

ZAKARIA: But expand on that, Jeff, for a second. But there is -- I mean I can think of so many strikes when Clinton ordered strikes against al Qaeda, against Saddam Hussein. He didn't get congressional approval when Reagan invaded Grenada, he didn't even notify Congress until it happened.

TOOBIN: Well, I think you can draw distinctions among all of those situations. With Clinton, it was self-defense. This -- it was al Qaeda, which had attacked American embassies and American ships. With Grenada, it was immediate self-defense of American civilians, who were in Grenada and if you look at the other circumstances where war was planned in advance, I think there was authorization. Whether it was through Congress in the two Iraq wars or through NATO as in Bosnia or through the United Nations as in Libya just a few months ago. I think presidents, both for the legal -- the legitimacy of their own tenure and also for their own political good, there has to be some sort of justification other than they think that it's just a good idea.

ZAKARIA: Steven, what do you think?

STEVEN GROVES, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Fareed, I fall on the other side of the spectrum. The commander-in- chief power is in our executive and putting aside for a moment whether or not strikes on Syria would be a prudent thing to do, I believe that the president does have the authority to have such strikes without going to Congress, without going to the United Nations, without going to anyone else. There could be political and diplomatic an military ramifications for him doing so, but the authority is there and it must rest there.

Now, Congress has checks on that ability. They can decide not to declare war, they can decide not to fund a war, but the ability for the executive to have the power to act quickly, to secure our national interests, to defend ourselves and in the case of Syria, if strikes are done, to eradicate the ability to fire off chemical weapons, is something that the executive power has to have without seeking authority from some other source.

ZAKARIA: Do you think, Steven that he has weakened presidential power by setting the president that seems to suggest he needs to go to Congress? GROVES: I think this is -- as Mr. Toobin said, each incident is different. In this particular instance, I think it is a bad precedent. If his goal is to neutralize the ability to make chemical strikes, we have telegraphed our strategy, we have telegraphed our tactics to Assad. And then we're going to Congress. We've stretched out the period of time that Assad can have to thwart those plans and then by going to Congress, Congress is attempting to legislate this war, which is a bad idea. The current resolution being debated in the Senate says something about no boots on the ground. Well, you can't restrict a president's power, the commander in chief's power once we go to war. We have to have all options available.

ZAKARIA: Jeff, you made a distinction I want to understand a little bit better. You were talking about well, either congressional authority or something from the U.N., but the Constitution doesn't have -- say anything about the U.N. authorization. Presumably the crucial thing from a constitutional point of view is whether or not you need congressional authorization for the president to act. Why would the U.N. or NATO be sufficient?

TOOBIN: Well, I think, Fareed, I don't want to pretend that I think if you look at the history of the last 30 years there is a perfectly logically consistent line here. I mean, I am advocating a position that I think largely should be followed, has mostly been followed, but I don't want to pretend that this is some wild aberration if Obama would have done it on his own. I think this has really been a practical change to how both Americans and even members of Congress feel about the use of military force that the sanction of our treaty obligations, whether it's our obligations in the United Nations or in NATO in the case of Bosnia, those are authorizations in and of themselves for military action. The fact that we are part of the Security Council and when the Security Council authorizes a military action, that's authorization for us. Same with NATO. You're right. That is not formally part of the Constitution, but I think as sort of the common law of international law has developed over the past 30 years, I think they are legitimate substitutes for congressional authorization.

But remember here, Obama has nothing so far and that's why I think it's so important that he gets some sort of authorization.

ZAKARIA: Final talks from you, Steven, on that?

GROVES: Sure, there are times when going to Congress for that authorization makes a lot of sense, particularly when there's going to be a great deal of unanimity in Congress, so that we can present a united front as a nation. As was the fact for the most part after the September 11 attacks.

Going to Congress on this Syria resolution, where there are going to be steep splits in both Houses and we will not present any type of united front, is really fraught with danger.

TOOBIN: If I can just respond, I think that's the time precisely when you should go to Congress, because going to war is such a grave step that you need some sort of authorization, especially when the country is divided about it.

ZAKARIA: All right, we're going to keep debating this and we will come back to it. Jeff, Steven, thank you.

Up next, the eloquent philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy on France and Syria and much more.


ZAKARIA: As the United States deliberates whether to strike Syria, I wanted to get the perspective of a French man who has been arguing for intervention right from the start. Bernard-Henri Levy was instrumental in getting France and the world to act in Libya. Right afterwards, in May of 2011, he wrote an essay in "The New Republic" titled "After Gadhafi, Assad." He joins me to explain where he stands now, and why France is on Obama's side.

Explain this particularly with the Hollande, with the President Sarkozy, I think we thought of France as being unusually supportive of America, Sarkozy was called in France often the American, the neoconservative, but along this traditional French socialist, people who have been very suspicious of America and American power.

BERNARD-HENRI LEVY, FRENCH PHILOSOPHER AND WRITER: Yeah. But what people don't always know is that there is such a strong link between France and America in general, beyond the political borders. Hollande is, actually, on the same position as Sarkozy regarding the alliance with America. If you look well, even General de Gaulle, there was many problems between France at the time of General de Gaulle and America, but in the critical periods, de Gaulle was always on the side of America. This is not new.

ZAKARIA: When General Pershing arrived in World War I, American forces arrived, as they got off, he said, Lafayette, we are back.

LEVY: Absolutely. Absolutely. In World War II, you liberated us -- we liberated you once and you liberated us twice. And now what I see and I'm happy of that is Obama and Hollande hand in hand in this terrible situation in Syria.

ZAKARIA: But the public in Europe seems very suspicious of this. And what -- how would you describe the public in France? Leave along the (inaudible).

LEVY: It is improving. A few days ago, you were right. I think that the wise Obama decision to speak to the Congress, to deliver the proofs to put evidence on the line and so on, all of this created the real progress everywhere, even in France. People are realizing, are understanding in France that it is a matter of human rights and a matter of collective security. People are understanding that if we don't act in Syria, will we lose any credibility if we have to act one day, God permits not, but North Korea or Iran, this argument, which is one of the main argument of Obama administration, has a real weight in France, too.

ZAKARIA: One of the reasons I was supportive of the intervention in Libya was it struck me that there were many forces in Libya that were pro-Western, secular, you could seem them, you could talk to them, you could understand how they wanted to shape the country. In Syria, do you worry that so many of the forces seem to be quite sectarian, quite violent and I think this is -- it has this because the regime was very sectarian. I mean it was an Alawite regime that radicalized its opposition, remember, Hama, the -- so, so, there's a -- there's a radicalization of the opposition that makes me worry, who are these people and then you see the violence that they, the opposition is able to perpetrate.

LEVY: Of course. There is a radicalization of the opposition. That's true, undeniable. But on the other side, on Bashar al Assad, everybody seems to forget that the allies of Bashar al Assad, Iran, the ayatollahs of Iran who are not, as far as I know, moderates. Hezbollah, who are the best warriors of Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah is not what they would call -- and until a few months, Hamas, which was sheltered, the political headquarters of Hamas was in Damascus. So you have radical Islam in the two sides. But what I believe and that is what has been proven by Libya, if the West intervenes, if tomorrow the Congress endorses, as I hope, President Obama, if the Congress endorse, if Obama is allowed to strike, you will say -- you will see how the landscape in the opposition will move. If Obama does not strike, the radical Islamists will take the lead. If the West appears to be on the good side, which is the side of the people, the radical Islamists will lose ground in the opposition. It is always like this. When the West takes the lead, the pro-West take advantage. When the West is Munich spirit, then the radical Islamists take credit for the fall of the dictator, they take credit for the revolution as in Egypt with the Muslim Brothers and it's bad for everybody. That's one of the other reasons why it was so important to -- for the international community for the West, for America, for France to build this strong alliance with some Arab countries and so on.

ZAKARIA: Do you -- do you believe that what happened in Egypt with the generals taking control is a good thing or a bad thing?

LEVY: It's a bad thing because of the way it has been done. Because the brutality of the coup, because the blood bath. You cannot pretend to restore democracy when you do it this way. The good thing is, but even without the coup that the Muslim Brother have tried to exert power, and they proved to be bad, corrupted, nepotist, unable. This is the good news.

In Egypt, coup or not coup, they are terribly, in a good sense weakened and if there were elections in the -- if there is election as the military promised in the next month, you will see the result will be very different than the last time.

ZAKARIA: Bernard-Henri Levy, always a pleasure to have you on.

LEVY: Thank you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Up next, why the best weapon to fight the Taliban might be a bus. I will explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: President Obama was in Russia last week for the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg. It was his second presidential trip to the world's largest nation by landmass. And that brings me to my question of the week. Who was the first sitting American president to visit Russia? Was it, A, Theodore Roosevelt, B, Franklin Roosevelt, c, Richard Nixon or, D., Gerald Ford. Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer. Go to for more of the "GPS Challenge." Lots of insight and analysis. You're going to also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Also, remember, you can go to if you ever miss a show or a special.

This week's book of the week is a terrific history of electricity and electric light in the U.S. It's called "The Age of Edison" by Ernest Freeberg. Today, we take it for granted that we can flip on a light switch and the bulb will come on. But the history was complicated, competitive and dangerous, even lethal, but that huge effects, transformed life in the western America everywhere, and now for the last look

The Americans and their international allies have not been able to defeat the Taliban with vehicles like this. So are we to believe that the Pakistanis can deal a death blow to the Taliban with a bus? Well, that's the hope. How? Well, this isn't just a bus. If you step inside, you'll see it's a mobile courtroom, meant to help with the huge backlog of cases in Pakistan's legal system. That huge delay in cases being heard has brought great frustration with the government and here in the northwest of Pakistan that often means turning to the Taliban to judge disputes.

The idea here is that the bus and its express route to justice will marginalize the Taliban and build up confidence in the Democratic government.

Next stop might be Kabul. That's not the plan, but it might be a good idea. The Afghan capital is less than 200 miles away from Peshawar where the bus currently is, and Afghanistan could surely use some help against the Taliban as well.

The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge" question was C, Richard Nixon. He may be better known for his historic first visit to China, but he was also the first sitting president to visit Russia in May of 1972. Nixon had traveled there before as vice president in 1959 when he took part in the infamous kitchen debate with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."