Thursday evening, Fareed Zakaria ’86 spoke in SSS 114, which he said was the same hall where he attended his first Yale lecture course. But instead of a typical Yale lecture, audience members heard Zakaria’s thoughts on the current state of Iraq and democracy in the world.
Zakaria’s talk, titled “Can the U.S. Make the World Safe For Democracy,” was presented by Yale College Students for Democracy, as well as the Yale Political Union and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Undergraduate Fellows at Yale. Zakaria spoke to about 200 people, mostly students, about the United States’ role in spreading democracy to the world mainly within the context of Iraq.
Zakaria is the current editor of Newsweek International, an award winning columnist for Newsweek and The Washington Post, a political analyst for the ABC television show “This Week” and author of “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.”
Zakaria began by discussing the United States’ “51st state,” more commonly known as Iraq, and what he called the “greatest foreign policy challenge the United States has faced since the Vietnam War.”
He said the U.S. has a duty to bring democracy to Iraq, which poses difficulties due to problems such as extreme diversity among the populace, and the legacy of the Middle East’s past failures with secularism, such as the fascist regime of Saddam Hussein. Zakaria said he believes Iraq will be a “test case for whether democracy can flourish” in that area of the world.
“It is true that spreading democracy throughout the world is a good idea,” Zakaria said. “The United States should stand for something.”
But he said he disagrees with the current means to attain that ultimate goal of democracy.
“The United States must identify U.S. goals with the aspirations of [other] people,” he said.
Zakaria said it would be noble for the United States, as the most powerful country in history, to leave a legacy.
The United States has a chance to be “a progressive modernizing force in the world,” he said. “This could be the U.S.’s finest hour.”
While Zakaria idealized the notion of democracy, he was not optimistic about the short term fate of Iraq.
“We’re transferring power in 100 days to God knows who,” he said. “An unknown body.”
Both Zakaria’s ideas and his presentation gained a mainly positive reception.
“He made some good points, he was humorous and it was insightful,” Joseph Potter ’07 said.
James Kirchick ’06, vice president of Yale College Students for Democracy and the force behind bringing Zakaria to Yale, said he was pleased with the result.
Kirchick is a staff columnist for the Yale Daily News.
“He’s one of the smartest and most sophisticated columnists today and is very popular among young people as well,” Kirchick said.
Some thought, however, that Zakaria’s speech was interesting, but not original
“It was a middle-line speech. He reinforced the reasons Bush went to war and discussed future problems,” Philip Kenney ’05 said. “But he knew what he was talking about.”
Zakaria said he was also pleased with the result.
“I’ve come to Yale several times since I’ve graduated and I am always impressed,” he said. “Students are more politically aware in these kinds of big issues. Before Sept. 11, everyone wanted to be an investment banker.”