TIME Ukraine

Looking Back in Anger

Putin arrrives in Leningrad
Klimentyev Mikhail—ITAR-TASS/Landov From left: Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu, president Vladimir Putin, and commander of the Russian Western Military District Troops Anatoly Sidorov arrive at the Kirillovsky training ground to watch military exercises on Mar.3, 2014.

Vladimir Putin may control Crimea, but his 19th century tactics do not bode well for Russia

The crisis in Crimea reminds us there are two kinds of rulers around the world: those who think about the past and those who think about the future. If it were not abundantly clear before, it is now–Vladimir Putin is a man who thinks about the past. His country will be the poorer for it.

If you read and listen to commentary, you will hear many stories about Russia’s long association with Crimea, a relationship that dates back to the 18th century. Crimea was the first great prize wrested from the Ottoman Empire, a mark of Russia’s rise to great-power status. It also gave Russia something it had never had: a warm-water port with direct access to the Mediterranean and thus the wider world.

Sevastopol, the Crimean port city where the Russian Black Sea fleet docks, is an excellent natural harbor and is steeped in history. It was the site of the great siege of the Crimean War in 1854. (When Mark Twain visited the city just over a decade later, he remarked that “ruined Pompeii is in good condition compared to Sebastopol.”) Russia held on to the city even though it lost the Crimean War. Almost a century later, it maintained its grip on Sevastopol after reclaiming Crimea from the Nazis in early 1944.

Then came the strange and fateful twist in 1954 when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to Ukraine–an internal transfer within the Soviet Union. Why Khrushchev did this remains somewhat unclear. He had made his mark as a young communist leader in Ukraine, and the occasion of the transfer was the 300-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine. But almost certainly the larger reason was that the original inhabitants of Crimea, the Tatars, had been forced out of the region by Stalin, and Ukrainians were being sent into the area to repopulate it. Making it part of Ukraine would accelerate the movement of people. Whatever the cause, the consequence has been lasting and dramatic. Crimea exists outside Russia legally and politically, but it has a Russian majority, and Moscow thinks of it as part of the motherland.

That is the history. But history is bunk, as Henry Ford said. By that he did not mean that it was unimportant but rather that people should not be trapped by it, that they should think not backward but forward. His exact words were “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history that we make today.”

The history that leaders make today has much less to do with geography or constraints from the past. When Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965, the experts said the small, swampy town in the middle of nowhere could not survive as an independent country. It is now one of the world’s great trading hubs, with a per capita income higher than that of its erstwhile colonizer, Britain. That’s because its founder, Lee Kuan Yew, thought less about the disadvantages of history and more about the advantages of the future.

When the nationalist Chinese were abandoned by the world on a tiny island after the communist revolution in mainland China, most assumed the place would not survive. Yet in the most precarious position, with zero natural resources, Taiwan became one of the world’s fastest-growing economies for four decades. That’s because it didn’t worry about geography; it obsessed about competitiveness.

When Paul Kagame took over Rwanda, the country was more deeply ravaged by history than almost any other nation, scarred by a genocide of a speed never seen before in history. Rwanda is also landlocked, with no geographic advantages at all and a bloody war in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. But Kagame looked to the future, not the past. The result is a small African miracle, a country that is healing its wounds.

There are those who are still trapped by history and geography. Think of Pakistan’s generals, still trying to establish “strategic depth” in their backyard while their country collapses. Or think of Putin, who is, as Secretary of State John Kerry said, playing a 19th century game in the 21st century. He may get Crimea. But what has he achieved? Ukraine has slipped out of Russia’s grasp, its people deeply suspicious of Moscow. Even in Crimea, the 40% who are non-Russian are probably restive and resentful. Moscow’s neighbors are alarmed, and once-warming relations with Poland will be set back. Trade and investment with Europe and the U.S. will surely suffer, whether there are sanctions or not.

Meanwhile, Russia continues along its path as an oil-dependent state with an increasingly authoritarian regime that has failed to develop its economy or civil society or to foster political pluralism. But no matter–Moscow controls Crimea. In today’s world, is that really a victory?

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This appears in the March 17, 2014 issue of TIME.

Time to Put Trade Above Politics

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Visits South Korea - Day 1
Chung Sung-Jun—Getty Images U.S. Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, right, during their meeting at presidentisl house on Dec. 6, 2013 in Seoul, South Korea to discuss, among other things, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Washington needs to realize that a free-trade agreement with Asia is good for us all

We live in a world without war or even significant conflict among the major powers. We also live in an age of economic growth. All of this seems normal, but in fact, it isn’t. The current global system of commerce and collaboration instead of war and competition is historically rare. Will it last?

The answer depends largely on Asia, which within 10 years will be home to three of the world’s four largest economies. There are two possible scenarios. The first is that Asian countries will embrace the open, rule-based free-trade system in place today and deepen it. The second is that as these countries grow rich, they will become more nationalist, focus on narrow interests, pursue mercantilism and thus erode if not destroy what some in those countries describe as the “Western international order.”

This is not a theoretical debate; a great game is afoot in Asia. The U.S. wants to strengthen the forces of openness, rules and free trade by concluding an ambitious trade agreement with many Asian countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). China, on the other hand, is proposing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a more mercantilist deal for Asian countries. It asks very little of these countries in terms of commitment to real market-based reforms or to environmental and labor standards. It offers them greater access to China as a gift from Beijing. This might advance China’s narrow interests, but it does little for an open, rule-based regional order.

Most Asian countries will naturally sign up to expand into the Chinese market. But they are willing to make painful concessions to sign up for America’s vision of the region. Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, told me recently that he was willing to take on some of his country’s most protected sectors as part of the TPP. But it’s in the U.S. that the American vision has become more cloudy. Congressional Democrats have virtually abandoned free trade, and Republicans balk at supporting President Obama.

The economic reason for Washington to support both the TPP and another ambitious trade agreement with European countries, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is obvious. The U.S. market is already wide open. Last year, 68% of the value of goods entered duty-free. The rest came in at an average tariff of 4.4%. Any agreement will require other countries to make many more concessions than the U.S. simply because their markets remain much more closed. And both trade deals open up markets in other tough areas, like intellectual property, state-owned companies and what are called nontariff barriers (regulations that have the effect of protecting inefficient local industries).

Even in deadlocked Washington, there is a path forward. Republican Congressional leadership remains committed to free trade. Former GOP officials like Robert Zoellick have made a persuasive case for why the party should strongly support both deals. Democratic opposition is not quite as devastating as it appears at first glance. Harry Reid, for example, voted against all three recent trade agreements, but did not obstruct their passage. The number of House Democrats who voted for these deals ranged from 31 to 66; garnering such a range again might still be possible.

Still, the democratic party’s retreat on free trade over the past two decades has been utterly dispiriting and totally at odds with its claim to be modern, future-oriented and open. It’s also at odds with the party’s history. There is FDR nostalgia among Democrats these days as they consider how he battled a depression, created the social safety net and made assertive government admirable. But Democrats forget another crucial element of his legacy: free trade. In a smart essay for the Council on Foreign Relations, Douglas A. Irwin points out that the “fast track” authority–empowering the President to negotiate trade deals–that Reid and Nancy Pelosi oppose was created by the Roosevelt Administration in 1934. FDR and Secretary of State Cordell Hull knew that free trade helps produce not just prosperity but also peace. In fact, free trade was one of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points to remedy the mistakes that led to World War I.

Free trade has always required an assertion of the national interest over special interests. Harry Truman vetoed a bill that tried to kill the nascent world trading system. John Kennedy took on domestic producers who feared foreign competition as he expanded that system substantially. And Bill Clinton heroically took on his party’s opposition to NAFTA and turned much of it around.

President Obama will have to spend real political capital, take his case to the country, push his party and work with Republicans. But if he does, history tells us that he–and the U.S. and the world–will win.

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This appears in the March 03, 2014 issue of TIME.
TIME Hamid Karzai

Karzai’s Not-So-Crazy Endgame

Hassan Rouhani, Hamid Karzai
Ebrahim Noroozi / AP Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, right, stands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. On Karzai’s watch, the Afghan economy has grown rapidly, at an average rate of 9.2% from 2003 to 2012. But only 27% of Afghans have access to safe drinking water, and 5% to adequate sanitation.

The Afghan President's bizarre behavior has rational roots in a bloody history

Is Hamid Karzai crazy? on the face of it, the Afghan President has said lots of odd, inflammatory and contradictory things. Over the past year, he has criticized the U.S., wondered whether its presence in Afghanistan has done any good at all, refused to sign an Afghanistan-U.S. security pact and called members of the Taliban his brothers. This week the New York Times revealed that he has been conducting secret negotiations with the Taliban. What can he be thinking?

Maybe Karzai is looking at what happened to one of his predecessors. In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. The President it had backed, Mohammad Najibullah, stayed in power, but within months a civil war broke out, forcing him to seek refuge in a U.N. compound. In 1996 the Taliban rode into Kabul, captured Najibullah, denounced him as a foreign puppet, castrated him, dragged his body through the streets and then hung him from a traffic barricade. For good measure, they did the same to his brother.

That year was a gruesome replay of an earlier piece of Afghan history that Karzai also knows well. During their 19th century invasion of Afghanistan, the British put in place a local puppet, Shah Shuja, who was assassinated after their withdrawal. In fact, as the historian William Dalrymple has pointed out, Karzai comes from the same tribe as Shah Shuja–and the Taliban come from the tribe that brought down Shah Shuja in 1842.

There are many important differences between the past and present. But Karzai is probably looking at the evolving geopolitical landscape. The U.S. has tired of its longest war, debating only the size of the small force it will leave behind, mostly for training. The Taliban continue to have many strongholds in significant parts of the country. Pakistan continues to support the Taliban–and that is likely to expand as America withdraws and Islamabad seeks to fill that power vacuum.

Karzai might be playing an erratic game of brinkmanship in his negotiations with Washington, but he might also be trying to navigate a post-American Afghanistan. While U.S. troops might well remain and some American aid will continue, Afghanistan is going to look very different in 2015 than it does today.

Consider these facts from a highly intelligent forthcoming book, War Front to Store Front, by Paul Brinkley: In 2009, Afghanistan had a nominal GDP of $10 billion. Of that number, 60% was foreign aid. The cultivation of poppy and the production and export of raw heroin–all of which is informal and underground–accounted for 30%. That leaves 10%, or $1 billion, of self-sustaining, legitimate economic activity. During the same year, the U.S. military spent $4 billion per month to protect a country with a real annual economic output of $1 billion.

“Kabul is a metaphor for the country,” Brinkley said to me. “It is a city sized for 500,000 people. It has grown to 8 million, who have been drawn to the city by the massive influx of foreign money, military and nonmilitary. But that money is going to slow down very significantly soon. What happens then?”

Brinkley worked for the Pentagon to build companies in Iraq and Afghanistan–fascinating experiences he recounts in the book–and came to the conclusion that the single most important task in both countries was to create a self-sustaining economy, to which the U.S. paid little attention. “Our focus in Iraq and Afghanistan was to get the politics right–have elections–and somehow economics will flow naturally. But that’s not actually how it works. We need to get the economics right first, create a self-sustaining market economy, and then the politics will get much better,” he explained to me. In the West, he points out, trade and markets led to individual liberty and political freedom, not the other way around.

He is pessimistic about Afghanistan’s prospects, even though one of his projects was to map the country’s mineral wealth, which he estimates at a staggering $1 trillion. “Without proper structures and management, it will become Congo,” Brinkley says, arguing that the country needs three to four more years of political stability to build an economy. Meanwhile, the national mood is worsening.

“Imagine living in a nation in which your national government was totally dependent on charitable donations,” Brinkley writes. “Would you respect that government? … Would you not assume they were puppets of the international donors who were propping up the government?” Hamid Karzai might be pondering just these questions as he plans his next crazy outburst.

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This appears in the February 17, 2014 issue of TIME.
TIME Surveillance

The Case for Snooping

Carolyn Kaster / AP President Barack Obama talks about National Security Agency surveillance, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Justice Department in Washington.

Obama's liberal critics say his speech on the NSA didn't go far enough. Why they're wrong

It’s not always true that if you’re under attack from both sides of the political spectrum, you’re probably doing the right thing. The smart or moral course is sometimes resolutely partisan. But watching President Obama take flak from the left and the right for his speech on intelligence reform, I believe he’s striking a difficult balance on a crucial topic.

In his speech, Obama defended the essential structure of U.S. surveillance activities. He argued that the National Security Agency is not a rogue outfit, that it plays by the rules and is staffed by patriotic men and women. But in an important admission, he also made clear that after 9/11, the NSA and American intelligence efforts in general went too far. Taking advantage of its unique technological capabilities, the U.S. government did whatever it could, rarely asking whether it should. The President proposed some new checks on decisions to collect data and new constraints on how it is stored and when it can be accessed.

The speech annoyed liberals and conservatives suspicious of government overreach, but reaction from the left has been more anguished. Many voices have begun arguing that Edward Snowden’s revelations show that U.S. intelligence operations have run amok and are illegal and unconstitutional and that Snowden deserves to be pardoned and treated like a hero. The factual basis for every one of these claims is weak. A large number of Snowden’s revelations involve not domestic surveillance but foreign intelligence operations, a standard role for U.S. spy agencies. They show, for example, that the U.S. government is spying on the Taliban and Pakistan. They show that the NSA is spying on foreign leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and top aides to Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. Now, you might regard some of these choices as wise and others as mistaken, but there is nothing unprecedented about countries spying on foreign leaders. Obama conceded too much when he promised not to eavesdrop on a host of them. Foreign governments will certainly not return the favor and stop what is often a relentless effort to spy on America’s top officials and CEOs.

There is a gaping hole in the left’s understanding of U.S. intelligence work. The U.S.–its government, businesses and people–is under massive, sustained surveillance from and infiltration by criminals, terrorists and foreign governments. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pointed out recently that since 2011, cyberattacks on America’s critical infrastructure–chemical, electrical, water and transport systems–have risen seventeenfold. The National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for the country’s nuclear power plants, reported in 2012 that it faces 10 million cyberattacks every day–that’s 3.65 billion in one year. Every major bank and corporation, from Bank of America to Goldman Sachs to the New York Times, faces almost continuous efforts from abroad to penetrate its networks, mine its data, disrupt its procedures and steal its secrets. The effects can range from disruption of transactions to systemic damage that feels more like a military invasion.

It would be impossible to defend against these attacks without allowing intelligence agencies to spy on foreign governments and groups abroad. But it is also crucial that the NSA and others have some ability to enter into telecommunications systems at home to track cyberattacks, figure out where they come from and render them ineffective. Former Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith notes that the New York Times objects to foreign cyberattacks yet wants the NSA to shut down its surveillance at home. In fact, he writes in the New Republic, “To keep our computer and telecommunication networks secure, the government will eventually need to monitor and collect intelligence on those networks using techniques similar to ones the Times and many others find reprehensible when done for counterterrorism ends.”

We all live, bank, work and play in a new parallel world of computer identities, data and transactions. But we do not seem to realize that this enormous freedom of activity in the cyberworld, as in the real world, has to be defended. Just as the police need basic information about your life and activities, the government will need information about the cyberworld. As General Keith Alexander, the NSA’s director, has pointed out, there is no way to defend these systems without getting into them in the first place.

In “Federalist No. 51,” father of the American Constitution James Madison wrote (along with Alexander Hamilton) that in setting up a government, “the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” That is the balance we have to strike, in cyberspace as anywhere else.

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This appears in the February 03, 2014 issue of TIME.

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