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Fareed Zakaria on how Biden and Trump see the world



Fareed Zakaria is the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, a columnist for the Washington Post, and one of the most astute foreign policy thinkers of our time. So much of this conversation on The Ezra Klein Show is focused on just that — how Joe Biden and Donald Trump see the world and how they want to shape it. In particular, how does Biden’s foreign policy differ from Obama’s, and how has it changed over the years? Does Trump have a coherent foreign policy at all? And why is “What is an acceptable level of influence for China to have?” the most important US foreign policy question?

But I also wanted to talk to Zakaria about some broader trends, ones he’s been tracking for some time. His book The Future of Freedom, originally published in 2003, anticipated the rise of illiberal democracies across the globe long before anyone paid it much attention. His 2008 book The Post-American World described the multipolar international order that, in many ways, we now inhabit. And just recently he authored Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, which forecasts how Covid-19 will change the trajectory of our world.

So in this conversation, we also discuss the state of journalism, the dangers of war between great power countries in the 21st century, why Zakaria believes China’s rise is far less of a threat than either Republicans or Democrats seem to believe, why a global spike of economic inequality in an already unequal world is perhaps the most important pandemic trend, whether Zakaria has lost faith in America, whether anything short of violent catastrophe can upend concentrations of wealth, how the world’s views of China and America are changing, and much more.

A lightly edited excerpt from our conversation follows. The full conversation can be heard on The Ezra Klein Show.

Subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Ezra Klein

What do you think Joe Biden’s foreign policy is? How would you describe it?

Fareed Zakaria

I think Biden very much stands within the long tradition of American foreign policy. He believes deeply in the idea that America should be engaged with the world — that the American project of Franklin Roosevelt and Truman was a noble project that has made for a better world and that America benefits from enormously. I think he’s kind of a liberal international idealist in that sense.

I think the first acts of Biden’s foreign policy will be to reach out to the allies. There is a peculiarity to Trump’s worldview, which is that he has really turned his wrath mostly on America’s closest allies. The odd thing about Donald Trump is he sort of hates the world and hates foreigners, but he really hates those countries that have been allied to the United States for 70 years and whose soldiers have fought and died in American-led wars for 70 years: Germany, France, Britain, Canada. And the ones he likes are Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey and, to a certain extent, Modi’s India. It’s a very peculiar ordering, and I think Biden would probably rightsize those relationships and move to embrace the Germanys, the Chinas, the Japans, the South Koreas of the world.

At some level, Biden will be an effort at restoration. I am myself critical of that because I think that you can’t just go back to some imagined stability. The world has changed. We really have entered a very different age — a bipolar world. And so we need more creative thinking, and to ask ourselves the question: What does it look like to be in a world where others want power and influence? Is there a way to create a more stable, more multilateral world? Because the old world where America just dominated and set the agenda and paid the better price— that’s not going to happen. The American people are not willing to do it, and the rest of the world is now not willing to do it.

So that’s the place where I don’t know the degree to which Biden would be willing to creatively rethink it, because he is himself a creature of that older order and that older world, which had as its center a United States that was head and shoulders above everybody else — and also an American public that was willing to essentially subcontract foreign policy to a small group of elites in Washington and to pay these enormous prices. None of that is true anymore.

Ezra Klein

When I think back on Biden’s foreign policy, he’s certainly been a member of the liberal or center-left mainstream: a reasonably ambitious liberal interventionist. His memoirs talk about his pride in pushing Clinton towards intervening in the massacres in Bosnia. His legacy on Iraq is a little bit more complicated, but nevertheless, he ended up voting for the resolution and then had this very weird idea for partitioning Iraq, which was an extraordinarily ambitious in its idea of what America could do.

But then, when I look at his role in internal Obama administration debates, he was a person arguing against a further commitment in Afghanistan. He was potentially the person arguing against doing the more dangerous raid on Osama bin Laden, where you actually went in with individual troops as opposed to simply flattening the compound from the air. People talk a lot about how Biden has lost a step rhetorically, and I think that’s true. There’s no doubt that he’s aged. But there’s also a way in which he often seems to me to have softened a little bit in old age. He’s a little bit less ambitious for some of these things, a little bit less bullheaded. That may or may not prove true, but it’s my impression.

You know him better than I do, and you’ve covered him longer. So I’m curious what your impression is on how or whether he’s changed.

Fareed Zakaria

I think you’ve read him very well; that’s entirely the way I would I would describe it. I think he tried to learn from the Iraq experience — he was against Libya, for example. I think that he is somebody who is still, however, very committed to America’s engagement with the world. And I like that about him.

In a way, this is a good election because you really have, in terms of personalities and values, two very different people. Biden is a warm, open-hearted, broad-minded, idealistic guy who has tried to trust his political adversaries, tried to believe in America’s role in the world. And when he’s made mistakes, they have been mistakes made in that effort to go along, to cut a deal with people on the other side of the aisle, to find ways to make a compromise, to open himself up to the world. I tend to think that that’s in many ways the best of America’s political tradition.

To what extent does some of these modulations that you point out signal that he sees the new world and knows how to adjust to it? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know he has a good eye for talent. The people he surrounds himself with, even in his Senate days, were very bright. And that itself is a good sign.

Ezra Klein

How do you think he differs from Obama in his foreign policy instincts?

Fareed Zakaria

I think Obama was more creative and supple in terms of the way he saw the world. He saw this emerging world that we’ve talked about, and he knew that America had to adjust to it. I think Obama’s problems were never the intellectual understanding of the world.

He had a somewhat Hamlet-like ability to analyze the problem exquisitely. But that left you without clarity as to exactly how you were acting, where you wanted to go. He was, in some ways, a good example of what can happen to an intellectual in politics, where you can have too sophisticated an understanding of what’s happening.

I remember once talking to Jim Baker [who served as secretary of state and chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush] about this. On the front page of the New York Times was that Obama had offered the Senate Republicans some concession or the other. And Baker said, “You know what? I can never understand this guy. He’s so smart. So he sees where the point of compromise should be. And he says, ‘Can we just dispense with this whole silly negotiation? Why don’t I tell you where I think is a reasonable middle point? And would you agree with me?’ And he says he doesn’t get human nature. The Republicans want to claw that compromise out of him. They want to get there with, you know, with blood and tears. And he just looks at it from on high, analyzes it, and says, ‘You know, I’m smart enough to figure out this is where we should all end up.’”

I’ve always felt that was a very interesting and wise way of looking at the difference between this kind of hard-boiled political world and Obama as an intellectual.

Ezra Klein

Something that is distinctive about Biden compared to Obama and Trump is how much he sees the world through relationships. He’s somebody who talks about grand foreign policy ideas but when you really listen to him, he will always say he knows the first name of every world leader and they know his, and they’ve talked, and he’s known them for 20 years and sent their kids a gift and so on.

How much do you think that matters versus how much do you think that can also be a way of misunderstanding the world? Because personal relationships and how people are with you can often be misleading, like George W. Bush saying he saw into Vladimir Putin’s soul and he’s a man of peace.

Fareed Zakaria

I think it’s actually a danger. The important thing is to not let it affect your conceptual understanding of the world. This is not a personality contest. Countries have deep interests. They act out of those interests. Understanding that process is very important — it’s actually at the heart of international affairs.

In the 1930s, most of the people who met Hitler misread him. Most of the people who didn’t meet Hitler — who were simply watching what Germany was doing under Hitler — ended up having a much tougher stance against him, Chamberlain most famously. There were many Western-spaded statesmen who talked to Hitler and either thought he was not particularly impressive or thought he was reasonable. There’s a great danger of that.

My worry, by the way, with Biden is that he thinks he knows Xi Jinping very well. And my experience of dealing with Chinese leaders — although I obviously don’t have anything near his experiences — is it’s all an act. This is a closed political system. People act very carefully. These things are all very choreographed. The idea that you actually know these people and have personal relationships with them is a very dangerous one — because you don’t. And I think it’s much more important to look at what they do than what they say.

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The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.


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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained



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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.

Will you help keep Vox free for all?

The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year



From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.


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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube



Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.


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