Fareed Zakaria at PostGlobal

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. He is a member of the roundtable of ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanapoulos" as well as an analyst for ABC News. And he is the host of a new weekly PBS show, "Foreign Exchange" which focuses on international affairs. His most recent book, "The Future of Freedom," was published in the spring of 2003 and was a New York Times bestseller and is being translated into eighteen languages. He is also the author of "From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role" (Princeton University Press), and co-editor of "The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World" (Basic Books). Close.

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. more »

Main Page | Fareed Zakaria Archives | PostGlobal Archives

Huntington, Prescient and Principled

If there is one central, recurring mistake the United States makes
when dealing with the rest of the world, it is to assume that creating
political stability is easy. We overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq
and then dismantled the structure of the Iraqi state, sure that we could
simply set up a new one. We toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and were
confident that with foreign aid, elections and American know-how, we would
build a new, modern nation. After all, the governments we were helping to
establish -- democratic, secular and inclusive -- were so much better than
those they followed. But we should have heeded the wise man's declaration
that "the most important political distinction among countries concerns not
their form of government but their degree of government."

So many of the world's problems -- from terrorists in Waziristan to the
AIDS epidemic to piracy in Somalia -- are made worse by governments that are
unable to exercise real authority over their lands or people. That was the
central insight of Samuel P. Huntington, the greatest political scientist
of the past half-century, who died on Christmas Eve.

Huntington is most famous for "The Clash of Civilizations," but his
scholarly reputation properly rests on his earlier work. His analysis of
political order had immediate, real-world applications. While studying the
topic, he was asked by the Johnson administration to assess the progress of
the Vietnam War. After a tour of that country, he argued, in 1967 and 1968,
that America's strategy in South Vietnam was fatally flawed. The United
States was trying to buy the support of the population through aid and
development. But money wasn't the key, in Huntington's view. The South
Vietnamese who resisted the Viet Cong's efforts did so because they were
secure within effective communities structured around religious or ethnic
ties. The United States, though, wanted to create a modern Vietnamese
nation, and it refused to reinforce these "backward" sources of authority.
Sadly, this 40-year-old analysis describes our dilemma in Afghanistan

Huntington noticed a troubling trend. Sometimes, American-style
progress -- more political participation or faster economic growth --
actually created more problems than it solved. If a country had more people
who were economically, politically and socially active yet lacked effective
political institutions, such as political parties, civic organizations or
credible courts, the result was greater instability. Think of Pakistan,
whose population has skyrocketed from 68 million in 1975 to more than 165
million today, while its government has proved ill-equipped to tackle the
basic tasks of education, security and social welfare.

Living through change, people have often stuck with their oldest and
most durable source of security: religion. That was the most important
message of "The Clash of Civilizations." While others were celebrating the
fall of communism and the rise of globalization, Huntington saw that with
ideology disappearing as a source of human identity, religion was returning
to the fore.

My own relationship with "The Clash of Civilizations" is complicated.
When I was a graduate student, I was asked by Huntington to comment on a
draft of the essay. A few months later, shortly after becoming managing
editor of Foreign Affairs, I helped publish it. I still think Huntington
got some important things wrong, but much in that essay is powerful and

My relationship with Sam Huntington, however, was uncomplicated. I
admired him through and through. He was a pathbreaking scholar, a generous
teacher and a devoted friend. His work was remarkably broad. His first book
practically invented the field of civil-military relations; his last was on
demographics and culture. He was also broad-minded. While many academics of
his age and political persuasion -- temperamentally conservative -- were
seared by the campus chaos of the 1960s, Huntington saw the student
radicals as part of a recurring tradition of American puritans, righteously
enraged that American institutions didn't live up to the country's founding
principles. He closed one book by noting of such critics: They "say that
America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They
are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a
disappointment only because it is also a hope."

I learned from the books but also from the man. I never saw Sam
Huntington do anything deceitful or malicious, or sacrifice his principles
for power, access or expedience. He lived by the Anglo-Protestant
principles he cherished: hard work, honesty, fair play, courage, loyalty
and patriotism.

In Robert Bolt's play about Sir Thomas More, "A Man for All Seasons,"
the young Richard Rich wonders whether it is worthwhile to be a teacher.
"If I was [a fine teacher], who would know it?" More answers, "You; your
pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that."

Comments (21)

thetruthseeker Author Profile Page:

Off everything is that is going on today, as small as the current genocide of the Palestenians by the Israelis; Mr Zakaria talks about Mr Huntington as the greatest political scientist.


You are a sham, a cover given by the media for a Muslim to bash his own people for it would be otherwise too obvious. You are no different than the lesbian Irshad Manji, she is lesbian and you a brown noser. I guarantee that Sr. Zakaria has already disowned Fareed in his grave. Shame on you.

glopez1 Author Profile Page:

Dear Friends,

Again, it is a pleasure to have a chance to discuss ideas, especially as those of us with a social sciences background can reflect on how best to perceive our present circumstances. I am pleased that kwpendlet has expressed his love for me, but please be assured we have no undue relations.

I am mystified that our learned friend would take this opportunity to somehow attempt to denigrate me, and to completely mis-state the concerns raised about intellectual cover for bigots. He then proceeds to rant that criminals attacking Latinos and African-Americans are part of those groups. However, he misses, or chooses to miss, that there have been recent cases of gangs of Anglo youths in Pennsylvania and Long Island, New York who have recently beaten or stabbed Latinos to death for the offense of being Latinos. The statements of people in Pennsylvania trying to justify such killings is chilling and ghoulish. It is what was feared from the race-baiting so nakedly on display in "Who are we? The Challenge to America's National Identity" I mourn that a social scientist would present such a sad final word, it was a sorry follow-up to "The Clash of Civilizations."

L. Gilbert Lopez, J.D.

fgo0449 Author Profile Page:

Mr Zakaria,
Thanks for the pleasure of reading this article. For your insight both on the character, his thoughts and opinions and from the clear and readible way you express yours
Felipe Gómez.

AnjuChandel Author Profile Page:

Mr. Zakaria, your description of Sam Huntington as the "greatest political scientist" could raise a few eyebrows, but I agree with the fundamentals of his "The Clash of Civilisations". The world is witnessing a similar trend in alignment of identities - and politics - on religious lines as professed by him which is sad but is a reality, nevertheless.

amtak Author Profile Page:

As a graduate school classmate of Sam Huntington I agree with your description of his personality: never deceitful or malicious, nor willing to sacrifice principles of hard work, honesty, fair play, courage, loyalty and patriotism for any reason whatsoever. Whether he could be labeled "the greatest political scientist of the past half-century", however, may be in the eye of the beholder. Frankly I think you are his equal; and there are others that I regard as more prescient. Sam, after all, spent his whole career within the narrow self-satisfied bounds of Harvard, never really familiar with life as most people live it and see it. That was the problem with the "clash of civilizations" theory; it was macropolitics that doesn't quite mesh with micropolitical realities. I took the other path, living and working and designing development activities with poverty-driven societies, then teaching those realities in universities where it mattered. Any other sort of political science seems to me rather redundant, in that theory rarely influences the course of any civilization and very often fails even to describe accurately what happened to it or within it, or why.

kwpendlet Author Profile Page:

glopez1 - I love people like this fellow glopez1. He somehow blames a political scientist for the actions of individuals. Let us be frank, most Latino crime victims are victims of Latino criminals. Just as most African American crime victims are victims of African American criminals. While I recognize the benefits of different perspectives and cultures in our society, one thing is clear, this country has become great based on the ideals, attitudes, cultural norms, and creativity of people from Central and Northern Europe - and people of other parts of the world who have adapted to thing like Europeans.

glopez1 Author Profile Page:

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

It is most kind that you speak well of a former mentor at this passing. The greatest political scientist of the 20th century? Perhaps you err on the side of undue kindness, but such a flaw would be hard to criticize.

Professor Huntington's last work was not principled, and rather shameful, in portraying Latinos as some type of menace to national identity and consensus. The nicest description is misguided, and more to the point, it gave intellectual cover to bigots to demonize people. He should have been proud of the recent killings of Latinos by gangs and mobs.

jweley Author Profile Page:

Thanks for that fine tribute to Sam Huntington. His contributions were as substantial as you indicate. In an era of liberal academic wishful thinking about the nature of the world and the limits of American power Professor Huntington got it right though his realism far more often than most of the others. I had the distinct pleasure of contributing to a major NSC study under Sam's direction and I for one appreciate his support for our efforts. I know that there are many others who can offer the same sentiments.

samrev Author Profile Page:

The simple truth is that the US should not be a peacemaker in the Middle East unless its interests are strongly affected. The Palestinians and Israel are bound to come to a modus vivendi if neither side feels realities can be reversed by American mediation. America has already repeatedly demonstrated its sheer incompetence in the Middle East. In other words, Israeli victories should not be reversed by diplomacy in a manner that continues instability and kicks the problem ahead to a later American election.

Fei_Hu Author Profile Page:

Posted on January 5, 2009 13:02

CommonSense46 : \History shows that we won every military confrontation we had with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. We failed because our leaders never set Victory as the goal:
You are another appologist for the Vietnam war.
There was no intent to have a VICTORY..
OR could there be one created..

The same ham-handed mechanisms that our US CIA and State put in.

Such as Dicator Leadhership in to
Iran(Shaw), Vietnam (Diem an then Kho), elSalvadore, Pamana (Noriega), Iraq (Sadam and now the new leadership), Columbia, Afghanistan (Taliban then current) and hired OBL..with the Taliban to fight the Russians.

All eventually rejected the US.
No flowers for us..

The same ham-handed way we are in Vietnam..we are in Iraq..The same people the same idiots..

These are the same guys that hated the Truman Plan during WW2..and were against desegrating the Military, allowing gays and lesbians to become full citizens, despised by both Theocons and Neocons, toppling other countries to support DelMonte and Chaqita, trashing our financial systems..I can make this list go on forever.

You are just another person validating greed and stupidity of the Theocosn and Neocons..

I personally think you are lying you were ever near Vietnam..

Fei Hu

mikehaas Author Profile Page:

You might want to ask political scientists who is the "greatest political scientist of the twentieth century." Huntington would not be on the list of the top 100. Harold Lasswell is the top political scientist of the twentieth century. His influence on policymaking far exceeds Huntington, who was merely a publicist for unscientific ideas.

CommonSense46 Author Profile Page:

I made a tour of Vietnam also. Mine was sponsored by the US Army Infantry. Our demise had nothing to do with backward communities. I worked and fought alongside these people, admire them greatly and can say without fear of contradiction that they fought because the Viet Cong were barbaric, a terror, torture and destroy policied force. Mass slaughter, torture, kidnapping, extortion, and extermination were their policy, not and exception. History shows that we won every military confrontation we had with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. We failed because our leaders never set Victory as the goal: Never gave the military the mission of actually winning or allowed they to create a strategy to do so. They focused on the Korean solution as precedent and wasted our lives over this failed policy. MacArthur had it right then, and has it right now; "There is no substitue for victory!".

Our solution to the Korean war was a national tragedy that still infects the body politic and creates terror in the world. How much better would the world be today if we had sucked it up and won?

pervezak Author Profile Page:

Mr Zakaria,

The Pashtuns don't follow the Quranic injunctions when it comes to their women and external affairs. The Pashtunwali code is still much more powerful than the recent incursion of sectarian Islam into the Pashtun society. The Americans could still be succesful in bringing peace to the Pashtun society IF they can understand this code. Democracy, Pashtun style,is the bedrock of Pukhtunwali code and they should build on it. The computerized electoral role can come later. Huntington would have loved this approach. The difference between a truely free society and a so called failed state is very narrow.

PJW5552 Author Profile Page:

Thank you. In a world marked by multiple and unique cultures, we forget tolerance is a virtue. We ignore working with instead of demanding of others should be our goal. In a species where we are all 99.9% similar, we latch onto the 0.1% difference and use it to justify our rights, our beliefs, our views above all else. The mistake we make is believing we need to reduce that 0.1% difference and make it even smaller.

Fear, greed, hate and anger prevail because we embrace policies that encourage them. Cooperation, peace, compassion and hope would be in stronger evidence if only we embraced their positive attributes.

tryreason Author Profile Page:

Each of us has two beasts residing within. The reptile that would eat it own young to get ahead and the mammal that loses the will to live when its deprived of its social connections. Balancing the individuals wants and needs against cultures prerogatives will always be a guessing game for homo-sapiens and their governments. Hopefully we can evolve fast enough, in acheiving good governance, to avoid becoming victims of our own weapons technology and our unabashed greed, intolerance, racism, fear and nationalism. It is a race we are once again losing!

robfield Author Profile Page:

The same basic emotions that drive the stock market drive the political process all over the world GREED and FEAR.

dlandry1 Author Profile Page:

Mr. Zakaria,

Agree or mildly disagree I invariably look forward to your thoughts and analysis. I believe Professor Huntington was, in all likelihood, exceptionally proud of you.

deputytothelord Author Profile Page:

All through the human history,local,tribal, national or global struggles have been generated
by basic instincs to control and expolit resources:i.e land ,labor or capital.Egyptian Empires,Jewish Kingdoms, Romans, Arabs, British, Europeans and now Unied States and others are following the same 'Control and Exploitation Model'.

Hameed Naz

ramellae Author Profile Page:

"Living through change, people have often stuck with their oldest and most durable source of security: religion. That was the most important message of "The Clash of Civilizations." While others were celebrating the fall of communism and the rise of globalization, Huntington saw that with ideology disappearing as a source of human identity, religion was returning to the fore."

Isn't this what Obama said about underemployed Americans who could find no solutions from government.

hgcsato Author Profile Page:

It must be a joke. Huntington was a proponent of divisive politics and some sort of a us-vs-them kind of mentality. He had "advice" to group South Vietnamese to gang up against North Vietnamese...never figured out that they are all Vietnamese, one nation! He thought people in the world are simple-minded and they can be categorised in two simplified groups.

His idea of "clash of civilisations" did pan out. But he forgot the biggest and most obvious element as he uttered his grouping of 6 teams in the world: he forgot that in a globalised world in need of convergence, one must try to find ways to set aside differences and have a dialogue and convergence on commonalities....but again, the Harvard bunch are so self-appreciating that the trees stop them from seeing the jungle!

Hardeman1 Author Profile Page:

Mr. Zakaria,
If "the most important political distinction among countries concerns not
their form of government but their degree of government" is viable, then America's support of Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes is correct. While we as individuals may be sickened by supporting the House of Saud, according to your explanation of Huntington this may be the wisest path acceptable to its people.

Therefor how can we be even handed in the Israel Palestine conflict when the state that has most of our institutions and supposedly our values yet acts from a religious base just as their "enemy" does. Ten eyes for an eye and ten teeth for a tooth will never create a form of government that can endure in harmony with neighboring states.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.