When Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, delivered the 15th annual Leopold Lecture last week, he began by zeroing in on the election and U.S. foreign policy. The talk, presented to packed Harris Hall auditorium, occurred before Tuesday's election, a contest he acknowledged to be among the most important in American history.
"For the first time since the 1960s, foreign policy is the most significant issue," he suggested.
Zakaria, also an author, current ABCNEWS analyst and former managing editor of the journal Foreign Affairs, exhibited a wide-ranging grasp of global affairs and politics as he spoke on the war in Iraq, Islamic fundamentalism, past and current American foreign policy and future security crises.
In trying to explain the roots of terror in the Middle East, Zakaria described a region — separate from the rest of the world — where young Arab men see the changes other countries enjoy. These men face a society offering no political voice, little economic opportunity and what he called a "youth bulge" in which 65 percent of Saudi Arabia is under the age of 21 and 70 percent of the entire Middle East is under 25. Similar demographics often have preceded significant troubles, he noted, citing the United States in the late 1960s.
"They see the world transforming, " Zakaria said, "but they can't participate in it."
A viable alternative for many is Islamic fundamentalism, he said. Citizens cannot organize a political party or start a newspaper. They can't even join a Rotary Club.
"But the one place they can congregate is the mosque," he said, "using the language of Islam. And religion becomes the language of political protest."
Turning his attention to the response at home, Zakaria posed an American dilemma: how to transform without engagement.
"We'd like to change the world without having to deal with the world," he said.
He looked back to the post World War II years when, under the Marshall Plan, the United States engaged its defeated enemies in Europe, helping rebuild cities, nations and economies.
Zakaria closed by asking the broader question to which many seek an answer: How do you defeat terror and ultimately change the world for the better?
"The United States has to listen to the world," he said. Ask, what is your struggle and how can we be a part of it? And having engaged the world, it will have transformed it."