The Future of Fareed

CNN talk show host Zakaria could be on Obama short list for a top diplomatic post in a more flexible second term

April 17, 2012

A CNN pundit who has advocated nuclear containment of Iran and expressed antipathy towards American democracy is said to be on the short list for a top diplomatic post in a second Obama administration—perhaps even secretary of State. That is raising red flags across Capitol Hill and within foreign policy circles.

Fareed Zakaria hosts CNN’s "Fareed Zakaria GPS," a weekly program focusing on international issues and American foreign policy. Zakaria is also an editor-at-large for Time magazine and a columnist for the Washington Post, where he regularly praises the president’s policies.

Zakaria has gone to great lengths to ingratiate himself to Obama, frequently flattering the president and vociferously attacking his critics on both sides of the political aisle. This could be the reason Obama is so keen on the pundit, sources said.

"Every column he’s written in the Washington Post for the last two years has been a job application," said one longtime Washington foreign policy insider who requested anonymity. "He’s just climbing the greasy pole."

Rumors that Zakaria could receive a high-level post in the Obama administration have persisted since before the 2008 election, when Zakaria himself admitted he was "flattered" to hear his name bandied about as a potential pick for Secretary of State.

Speculation has only increased over the years, as Zakaria and Obama bonded over several face-to-face sit-downs and powwows about critical world events. It has even been reported that the president phones the CNN talking head to get "wisdom and advice about issues around the world."

Asked about a potential posting in the Obama administration in a 2007 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Zakaria demurred.

"I'm flattered, I suppose," he told the paper. "But I'm not a 'party man,' and you usually have to demonstrate that kind of loyalty to be chosen for government office."

Since that time, however, Zakaria has gone to great lengths to protect and bolster Obama’s reputation.  For instance, he has argued that Obama "is a centrist and pragmatist who understands that in a country divided over core issues, you cannot make the best the enemy of the good."

Even as Zakaria has earned plaudits for his commentary on international affairs—including a spot on Foreign Policy magazine’s top 100 global thinkers list—he has also worked to discredit evidence indicating that Iran is on the cusp of obtaining a nuclear weapon and levied harsh criticisms of the U.S. political system.

Foreign policy experts on Capitol Hill and elsewhere warned that Zakaria’s aggressive defense of the Iranian regime, as well as his continued criticism of Israel, would lead to a disastrous shift at the highest levels of the executive branch.

With Zakaria at the helm, things could get "incredibly dangerous" at Foggy Bottom, where the State Department is headquartered, said a senior GOP Senate aide.

"The policy of Barack Obama is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Fareed Zakaria is now to the left of Barack Obama on Iran. There’s no way someone like that is qualified to be Secretary of State," said the source.

Iran is one of Zakaria’s main areas of interest. Week after week on his television show and in his columns, he dismisses the international community’s fears about Iran, arguing that the regime is rational and that its nuclear program can be effortlessly contained.

"Before we set out on a path to another Middle East war, let’s remember some facts," Zakaria wrote in the March 9th issue of Time. "First, Iran does not have nuclear weapons. And the evidence is ambiguous as to whether it has decided to make them."

Iran, however, has continued its nuclear buildup, enriching uranium to near dangerous levels and building a complex nuclear infrastructure, according to the CIA.

Zakaria has also dismissed concerns that Iran would allow terrorists to access their nuclear stockpile, despite the fact that the regime is the number one backer of terrorist groups across the world.

"Would a country that has labored for decades to pursue a nuclear program and suffered huge sanctions and costs to do so then turn around and give the fruits of its efforts to a gang of militants?" Zakaria wondered. "This kind of reasoning is part of the view that the Iranians are mad, messianic people bent on committing mass suicide."

Iran’s leaders regularly decry the existence of Israel and have publicly laid out detailed plans to obliterate the Jewish state.

"The entire premise of this, that Iran is a rational regime, is so idiotic," said the GOP source on Capitol Hill. "No other regime on Earth has a track record of passing major weapons to terrorists," including Hezbollah and other rogue operators.

Zakaria has also referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "ward boss" and accused the Jewish state of colonizing the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"[Zakaria] has a surprisingly naïve view of the world for somebody seemingly so cosmopolitan," said Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a national security think-tank.

"It would be a poor choice" to appoint him to a post inside the Obama administration, said May, a longtime critic of Zakaria. "I don’t think a journalist has ever been appointed as a Secretary of State, and there’s a reason for that practice, maybe some wisdom behind it."

Zakaria’s views on the Constitution and the American democratic system have also raised eyebrows.

"The truth is we have a pretty complicated, antiquated system that has become dysfunctional," Zakaria told talk show host Charlie Rose last year.

He also has referred to the Electoral College as "highly undemocratic" and called the Senate "even more undemocratic," advocating instead for "a set of amendments to modernize the Constitution for the 21st century."

America’s system of check and balances, Zakaria maintained, creates political paralysis, damaging the country’s ability to be a world leader.

Zakaria’s remedy: unite the legislature and the executive branch under a single leader who could resolve America’s fiscal issues with unilateral declarations.

"If those are his positions, he is certainly out of the mainstream," May said after being informed of Zakaria’s policy recommendations. "It does suggest a worldview that is at the very least naïve and doesn’t show a strong appreciation of what has made America a world leader and power all these years."

Calls placed to Zakaria’s office were not returned by press time.