Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fareed Zakaria - The Secretary of State for Our Times?

New York magazine once described him as "silky and unflappable," "dimple-chinned, with expressive eyebrows" and said he could be both "the Indian incarnation of Cary Grant" and "the first Muslim Secretary of State."

Born and raised in Mumbai, Fareed Zakaria is the son of Rafiq Zakaria, who was deputy leader of India's ruling Congress Party when Indira Gandhi was prime minister, and Fatima Zakaria, a former Sunday editor of The Times of India. His childhood home was Rylestone, a Malabar Hill mansion built during the Raj for a British high court judge, and he received a classical English education at the Cathedral School, which is known as "Mumbai's Eton".

Zakaria later studied at Yale and Harvard, where he received a doctorate of political science in 1993. When he was 28, he served as managing editor (its youngest editor ever) of Foreign Affairs, one of the most widely circulated journals on international politics and economics in the world. In one interview, Zakaria said: “"I have enormous affection for England but it was never a country that I felt I could participate in, never a culture that seemed inviting to an outsider in that way," he says. "Whereas the extraordinary thing about American culture is that it really is wide open to outsiders."

He is currently the editor of Newsweek International where he is responsible for its 26 foreign-language editions and three English-language overseas editions -- actually one edition with three different covers -- targeted at Europe, Asia and Latin America. It also delivers him a global audience of approximately 3.5 million.

In 2001, Les Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Affairs and Zakaria's old boss told The New York Times he believed Zakaria had the potential to one day follow in the footsteps of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and become only the third immigrant -- and the first from a non-European background -- to hold one of those roles in the White House. Zakaria’s response? “"Les is a good friend [but] he has certain ambitions for me which are not maybe exactly ones I have for myself. How would I put this best? If something were to come up at some point of my life in terms of government service then, sure, I'd be interested. But the more important question one has to ask oneself is: do you want the seeking of a government position to be the goal of your life?”

Asked elsewhere about the speculation of him landing a cabinet position Zakaria replied: “But I'm not a 'party man,' and you usually have to demonstrate that kind of loyalty to be chosen for government office."

While true that he is not a party man, Fareed Zakaria did endorse Barack Obama on October 18. It was a thoughtful case he laid out but I was most struck by its closing part where he writes: "I admit to a personal interest. I have a 9-year-old son named Omar. I firmly believe that he will be able to do absolutely anything he wants in this country when he grows up. But I admit that I will feel more confident about his future if a man named Barack Obama became president of the United States." At home I wonder out loud if a campaign that touts change be willing to change the status quo when selecting a new Secretary of State? Here is hope, change and the American dream wrap in an exceptional package. If we want shock and awe and a new vision in foreign affairs at the onset of an Obama presidency, this one is difficult to top. How would it seem to the world if the next Secretary of State is a young (he is in his mid-40’s) naturalized American citizen born in India who also happens to be a Muslim? And he really does have a beautiful mind to boot.

Of course, the chances of Zakaria being picked as the next Secretary of State is anyone's guess. We know two things at least: 1) Senator Obama has been interviewed by Zakaria so they are not total strangers, and 2) Senator Obama has been reading Zakaria's latest book The Post American World. Which means - yup, nada! Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, in cyberspace, a movement has been started to Draft Fareed as Secretary of State. The website was reported first by the Times of India. I can't tell if its organizers come from India or elsewhere. It has about a hundred signatories right now.

Just one more tidbit - Zakaria is a frequent Daily Show guest and has appeared in the Jon Stewart Show as many times as John McCain (they're tied at eight for lead appearances)! The spokesman for Comedy Central says, "Fareed is great at taking complex issues from around the world and breaking them down in ways for everyone to understand."

When was the last time a Secretary of State has been described in those terms? Certainly not the incumbent in the 7th Floor.

Related Items:

Fareed Zakaria: The Daily Show May 6, 2008 View video at Fareed Zakaria with Jon Stewart! The author of "The Post-American World" paints a more upbeat picture of the country's outlook in the era of globalization.

Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World LA Public Library, May 20, 2008 View video at Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International, appears in conversation with Reza Aslan to discuss his newest book The Post-American World. Their discussion covers a range of topics of international concern, from the rise of China, India, and other emerging economic powers to the foreign policy of the United States and the ability of America to set the moral agenda. Reza Aslan is a writer and scholar of religions. Born in Iran, Aslan is currently a research associate at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy.

A Conversation with Fareed Zakaria Charlie Rose Show, May 1, 2008 View video at An hour with Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International about his book The Post-American World. Zakaria has a sophisticated mind and watching him make his way around the Middle East, Brazil, India, Iran, China, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Asia and discuss culture, the economy, geopolitics and America’s indispensable role – is fascinating as well as instructive. Ambassador Negroponte’s clip came after 38:00; Zakaria’s gave an insightful response.

For the rest of my tea leaves reading on the next Secretary of State, go here. To read more reactions around the world to Obama's win from NYT's correspondents, click here. Related Posts:

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