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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  January 26, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PST

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tavis: good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. with so much focused on the economy and jobs, in tonight's state of the union address, et sometimes hard to believe this country is deep into two wars and one of which is the longest in u.s. history. first up a conversation about the war on terror. nearly 10 years after 9-11 with peter bergen, national security analyst for cnn and author of "the longest war." a conversation with best-selling novelist kim edwards who is out with her first book since her number one "new york times" best seller "the memory keeper's daughter." her latest is called "the lake of dreams." we're glad you've joined us. national security analyst peter bergen and author kim edwards coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better.
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>> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> nationwide is on your side >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. by kcet public television] [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: peter bergen is the -- is a national security analyst for cnn and a best-selling author whose latest text is called "the longest war." the enduring conflict between america and al qaeda. he joins us tonight from washington. peter, good to have you on the program, sir. >> thank you for your
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invitation, it was a. tavis: before i get into the book i wanted to begin with something that became a news story after your book was published and we'll dig into the text itself. we know now that the obama administration has told us that we're going to be into afghanistan until around the year 2014. many of us who believe that it's going to be longer than that. but they are knitting now on the record that we're going to be at least until the year 2014. so it's not just a matter of your book title, the longest war. it's the longest war getting longer. why has this story not been reported on more and what do you make of the fact this may very well be the most underreported story of this year, that we're going to be there until 2014? >> it was a, it's certainly been reported -- tavis, it's certainly been reported but not processed by the american public because it doesn't fit comfortably with the nare active of the nobel peace prize winning president, supposedly weak on national security, democratic party. this is a much bigger shift
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than the debate which you will recall which i detailed in my book in the fall of 2009 when the national security council met with president obama ten times to talk about the scope and scale of the surge of 30,000 troops into afghanistan. imagine, the experiment where republican president said we're going to be in afghanistan until december, 2014, we're going to be there in large numbers. i think the lebral side of the democratic party would be up in arms. instead, this is sort of been -- it's almost not being commented on in any great detail by many of the people you would expect to be concerned about this. tavis: so to your point about people who ought to be concerned about it, there are at least two groups of folk that ought to be concerned about it. certainly more than two but certainly i think the american people ought to be concerned about that. the media ought to be raising questions about that. so what do you make of the fact that this announcement pretty much came and went, again, it got reported on but no drill jun on it. and no demand by the american people and no outcry in congress. no push from the media.
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what do you make of that? >> well, i think partly most americans have turned the afghanistan story off. i mean, for -- we have 100,000 men and women in uniform there fighting a fairly tricky war. and yet the american public, it's just not front and center. the economy is so important for so many people. the war is not going as badly as iraq. it's going somewhat ok. and so it's just not a subject of political contention right now in the same way that if you go back to 2006, the iraq war, was just the absolute center of every debate that you could have. tavis: to your point, people are concerned and i understand it. perhaps even more concerned about the economy, about jobs. americans care most about pocketbook issues. but here's the rub. these two things are inextricably linked, are they not? >> well, they are and they aren't. i mean, the afghan war is
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expensive. $100 billion a year. tavis: exactly. >> however, that's about 1% of g.d.p. the american economy is a very large one. between the vietnam war we were spending 10% of g.d.p. on the vietnam war. so by historical standards, this is a relatively small defense expenditure. and of course we were attacked from afghanistan on 9/11 and we do have an obligation to try and get things more or less right there and not to turn it into switzerland but at least leave a relatively stable government both because we owe that to the people -- the afghan people where we overthrew their government and because we owe that to ourselves so afghanistan doesn't revert into a safe haven for the taliban, al qaeda, and every other islamic terrorist group in the world as it was before 9-11. tavis: i want to go deeper to the text and i'm wondering if you, peter, can disabuse me of this notion. if you were right about the fact, and i am right about the fact that this story has not gotten the kind of attention it deserves, there's not been the
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kind of outcry in congress or among the american people that there ought to be, about the fact that we're going to be there until 2014, disabuse me of the notion that the only way this story will become front and center and as important as it ought to be is when more american bodies start stacking up. what else would have to happen other than more bodies than we can tolerate coming back from afghanistan to put this story where it ought to be, this longest war? >> well, pretty good academic research to suggest that what americans don't like is losing. there is actually a much higher tolerance for casualties among the american public than perhaps is understood. so the iraq war started receiving a lot of attention from the american public because we appear to be losing in iraq. and once that was no longer the case, attitudes changed. so i think the story will get back on the front page, not only if there are casualties in higher numbers, but also if
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things appear to be going badly in afghanistan. right now, i think the jury is out for most americans and a lot of them have turned against the war. but it won't be really clear until the spring of 20 -- of next year how the war is really going. right now, we're in the winter fighting period where kind of casualties go down. there is much less violence because afghanistan is a mountainous country with a very severe weather. so basically the thing is in deep freeze right now. tavis: back to the book now. the subtitle "the enduring conflict between america and al qaeda." you make the point pretty aggressively in the book that if we're going to talk about the war on terror, the story has got to be looked at from both sides. the american side and the al qaeda side. why should the american people care about the al qaeda-backed story? >> well, why should americans care about the nazi-backed story in world war ii? if you doesn't have the nazi-backed story in world war ii, world war ii is not comprehensible.
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and if you don't understand what al qaeda was trying to do on nivente -- on 9-11 or a sense of who osama bin laden is as a person or what al qaeda, the organization, was on 9-11, 9-11 appears to be more or less inexplicable. we've had a lot of stories, histories of the last decade or so, told largely from our perspective, and i try to inject the al qaeda perspective into this narrative. not to suggest moral equivalence so we understand what happened. tavis: there are three presidents who you dissect their administrations what they did, or did not do as it were with regard to this american al qaeda fight. let me take them one at a time. and top line these presidents in order. bill clinton. >> bill clinton i think had a reasonably good grasp on the al qaeda threat. responded to it somewhat ineffectually. didn't respond to the attack on u.s.s. cole. which was in the last waning months of his administration. and i would think -- i think
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that his -- he and his national security group generally speaking had a fairly good sense that al qaeda was a big problem. now, going to the bush administration, george w. bush, they come out of this history not looking at all good, particularly in the preamble to 9-11. they were preoccupied by iraq, by anti-ballistic missile defense which does nothing to stop terrorists and received a lot of warning about al qaeda as a threat. george w. bush took the longest parfittal vacation in three decades during the summer of 2001 despite all this information in the system that something was going to happen. condoleezza rice claimed that the administration was a battle station during this period but there's almost nothing to substantiate that. and they were enormously surprised on 9-11. they overreacted in many ways. some of the more egregious overreactions were corrected over time whether it was the coercive interrogation of detainees. the biggest overreaction of course was the invasion of iraq
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which would deserve a whole other discussion because it's such a large issue. and then president obama, i think, has -- there's a lot of -- there's a great deal of continuity between the second bush term and president obama's term. in office. whether it's not closing guantanamo two years after saying that it would be closed within a year, amping up dramatically our presence in afghanistan and amping up very dramatically the u.s.-c.i.a. drone program directed at militants in pakistan. so the rhetorical shift between the obama administration and the george w. bush second term. but in practice, the george w. bush second term was a lot different from the first term. and it's much closer to the obama term than i think anybody would have believed when obama was first elected. tavis: maybe it's the smooth consent that allows words to come out of your mouth so evenly and so nice to the ear that we really miss the point sometime. i think i just heard you say
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that barack obama, this nobel peace prize winner, has amped up in a number of significant ways, our war presence beyond even george w. bush. >> sure. look, president obama is authorized 100,000 soldiers in afghanistan. where george w. bush left office there were about 30,000 soldiers there. he's more than quadrupled the number of drone strikes into pakistan compared to the number that george w. bush authorized in his eight terms in office. he's also authorized a somewhat aggressive campaign in yemen to go after al qaeda in the arabian peninsula. and so and -- and taken coercive interrogations off the table. he has tried to reduce the number of prisoners and detainees at guantanamo. but he's -- he certainly hasn't closed the place. and it shows that some of these issues are -- quite a lot of continuity between the republican party and the democratic party on key issues
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of national security. but always matters for debate. but president obama has -- i think a number of the people who would have voted for him would be surprised by these developments. tavis: so finally here, given this longest war that you write about in this text, have any of our objectives, any of the initial objectives been met advice vee this longest war? -- vis-a-vis this longest war? >> i think so. al qaeda means the base in arabic and they lost their base in afghanistan as a result of the george w. bush invasion of the country. there were mistakes made. certainly in the early years of the occupation of afghanistan. doing it on the light, cheap, doing it light, not having enough boots on the ground. because of an ideological opposition to nation building. invasion of iraq gave bin laden sort of second lease of life. al qaeda in iraq which didn't exist under saddam hussein inflicted a tremendous amount of damage on iraq but itself suffered a strategic defeat
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there. but overall, we haven't been attacked again in any serious manner since 9-11. al qaeda has taken a lot of hits. and al qaeda and its allies more importantly are also losing the war of ideas in the muslim world. most muslims around the world recognize that these groups which position themselves as defenders of true islam in fact kill a lot of muslim civilians and don't offer them anything positive. and most muslims don't want to live in some taliban style utopia which is what bin laden and allied groups are offering. tavis: and a quick 30 seconds, peter, you mentioned his name, does it matter, does it mean anything, all these years later, as this longest war continues, that bin laden still runs free, what should the american people make of that? >> we spent half a trillion dollars on our intelligence since 9-11. bin laden's going to celebrate his 54th birthday on february 15. the fact that he is free, i think, is a victory for al
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qaeda. every day that he remains free. and i think if we somehow took him off the battlefield, it would be a real blow to al qaeda and the wider global jihadi movement that has bin laden as its leader. tavis: "new york times" best seller peter bergen has a new one out called "the longest war, the enduring conflict between america and al qaeda." peter bergen, thafpks for the text and the -- thanks for the text and the opportunity to talk to you about it, sir. >> thank you. tavis: next, best-selling novelist kim edwards. stay with us. kim edwards is an award winning novel ifflet whose first book "the anymorery -- novelist whose first book was "the memory keeper's daughter." second novel "the lake of dreams." good to have you on this program. >> i'm so glad to be here. tavis: honored to have you. i saw where you were quoted as why you loved "the memory keeper's daughter" you think
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"the lake of dreams" is even stronger. how do you come stronger than "the memory keeper's daughter,"? pretty good number one. >> you always want to challenge yourself as a writer and artist. and i learned from "the memory keeper's daughter" so i feel like i moved forward as an artist with this one. tavis: how does it work when you start a dream like "the lake of dreams" before "the memory keeper's daughter" which goes on to be a number one best seller and how does that process, that you started this one first but comes out second? >> i started it and i wasn't quite ready to write it. and actually i had started it before the memory keeper's daughter was published. not before i finished it. and so i was well into the "the lake of dreams" before. all the excitement happened about the memory keeper's daughter so nice to come back to it when i was done. tavis: this isen side baseball but i'm -- this is inside baseball but i'm excited to get in the heads of artists and authors. when you said "the lake of dreams" you weren't ready to do it, unpack that for me. what do you mean by you weren't ready to do it at that moment?
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>> i think stories, flobert has a quote talent is long patience. and you have to let the story ripen. i had this idea for "the lake of dreams" for a long time. when i saw haley's comet in 1986 i had this idea that it would be great to tie an ent generational novel together. so i collected that & a lot of other ideas along the way. but they hadn't accrued and formed that critical mass to become the novel yet. tavis: when you mentioned haley's comet, what's your process and how -- are you collecting things in the real world and then you spin that -- those real world items and interests into fiction? how does that work for you? >> it is kind of like that. like a mysterious process. but something will catch my attention and i'll make a note about it. i may write a few pages about it and i'll put it aside but keep it in mind. and then as time goes on other things will gather to it. if it's a magnet almost. and eventually there's enough to make the story. tavis: yeah. before we get into the text a little bit deeper, news
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yesterday, all across the country, i saw it last week so that last week, they started promoting that on monday, oprah was going to unveil this big family secret and so we now know that yesterday she unveiled on her show that she has a half sister. so people will be talking about that for a while now. but what is oprah or "the lake of dreams," what is it about family secrets that is -- so pulls not just family members but the rest into family secrets? what's that about? >> it's a universal. it would be hard to find a family that didn't have a secret in it somewhere. and sometimes we know about them and sometimes we don't. and sometimes we have an inkling that there's something hidden. but i think that it touches everybody's life. tavis: so i'll let you do the honors because these fiction books are always fassnathe to talk about and don't want to give away too much. i'm glad you're here. as the author of the text. you set up the storyline here then. >> ok. this is the novel is about -- told by lucy jarrett who when it opens is in japan. with her boyfriend yoshi.
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she's 29 and at a crossroads in her life and not employed at the moment but she's a scientist and has been employed. she's not sure where things are going with yoshi and gets a call that her mother has been in a minor accident in her hometown of the lake of dreams. and she goes back. loosy hasn't spent much time there -- lucy hasn't spent much time there since she was 18, the summer her father drowned when she went to college and has unresolved feelings of guilt and grief about that. when she goes back to "the lake of dreams," one of the first things that happens is in the family house where her -- which her family has owned for generations, she finds in a cupboard some pamphlets that have to do with the suffragette movement and finds a relative that's never featured in the family stories. this sends lucy on a quest to discover who this person is. and over time, she does discover it and looks through archives and some. clues are in stained glass windows that she finds. she finds this a very
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compelling and heartbreaking story. that informs lucy about her own life and helps her resolve some of the things that were unsettling to her and to move forward. tavis: a number of things to go back and unpack if i can. >> sure. tavis: in no particular order. number one, what is it about her father's death that she feels guilty about? >> well, the night before he died, the night he died actually, she ran into him in the garden and he invited her to go fishing with him. she declined. and she declined in a very kind of teenage way. sarcastic teenage way. so that was the last time she ever saw him. she feels both bad about the way she interacted with her father but also as if she had gone, maybe she could have changed things. tavis: what is it about lucy -- i suspect that this character could have been written a couple different ways, it and it could have been a different kind of book but why for kim edwards was lucy find this stuff and get compelled, almost obsessive about having to go on this journey to find? just because you find something doesn't mean that you take on
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the -- take the tactic that lucy took to really start digging. why did lucy feel again compelled, pulled into having to take this journey? >> i think there are a couple of things. i think she's at this point in her life where she's a little bit restless. and this helps her eventually to sort of redefine who she is. and one of the ways that redefines who she is is that she discovers these very strong women in her background. that she never heard about. and whose lives can serve as -- to teach her in some way how to live her own life. and she can glean things from them for her own life. tavis: you mentioned the strong women and mentioned earlier the suffragette movement and why was that important to factor that particular issue into the storyline? >> well, i didn't initially intend to do that. but the book is set in the finger lakes region of upstate new york. the lake of dreams is fictional. but the area is real. and that's the area where the women's suffragette movement
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began in seneca falls. i know that area well because i grew up there. researching it and seeing it from adult eyes instead of a child's eyes became very fascinated with the history there. the very rich and interesting history. and the more i learned about the suffer jet -- the sufficient are a jet -- suffragette movement i became fascinated by their strength. tavis: beyond the suffragette movement being connected to seneca falls, are there other reasons why this fictional lake of dreams built around this real area makes for prime real estate for this story? >> i wanted to set it -- the water imagery is really important in the book and i want fod set the story by a -- wanted to set the story by a water image and it courses throughout the novel in different ways. one of the other reasons i wanted to set it there. tavis: you mentioned fictional. how did you come up with in beautiful title, "the lake of dreams"?
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>> that was a title i -- i found when i went back to some of those early notes that i talked about earlier that i was writing before i knew what the story was. that was a phrase that was in one of those notebooks that i kept and that would be a great title for this book. tavis: you're on leave from your day job. >> yes. tavis: university of -- >> kentucky. tavis: and i went to i.u. so we're not going to talk about that. >> we won't go there. tavis: the kentucky-i.u. relationship. tell me how you -- given that you have a day job and teaching other young people, how you end up stepping out on your own to do these novels? >> well, you know, in a way it's symbiotic. the teaching and writing. because when i teach, i use exercises for my students that i use myself and writing "the lake of dreams." and so i feel like i can offer that to my students but also very exciting to watch students grow and learn as writers. and experiment. and test their voices and test their range. and so i really enjoy that and feel like i gain a lot from it
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as a writer myself. tavis: what does that give you in terms of sharing to the students and what do you think the students take away from having a professor who is now as acclaimed as kim edwards is? >> he always talked to my students about the need to write for the joy of writing. i try to sort of actually -- disaggregate the acclaim from the act of writing. it has to have its own intrinsic value. because it's hard to do it and takes a long time. many years before you are ready to write a novel at all. and to venture out into the world in that way. tavis: was this -- when i say this, i mean now, these two best-selling novels that you have out, was this part of your dream or were you comfortable and settled with the fact that were you going to be a college professor and that was cool for you? >> i had a great life even before the memory keeper's daughter took off. i enjoyed teaching. my first book is called the secrets of a fire king. a collection of stories and it had done well. nothing like memory keeper's daughter.
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so i considered my life a great success and was very happy. and it's been wonderful. to have the kind of readership and to go around the country and to meet people and to talk to readers. it's been great. but it's sort of icing on the cake. good before, too. tavis: it is icing on the cake which leads to the final question. whether or not even though you laid out the chronology of how this book came to be, you felt much pressure after the success of the memory keeper's daughter where the lake of dreams is concerned? >> you know, it would be hard not to. tavis: sophomore jinx. >> yeah. that's one of the reasons it was such a great gift that i had already started this book. and by the time on the memory keeper's daughter took off in paperback i was deeply compelled by this story. so it did take me a few months when things began to settle down with the memory keeper's dautser i had to search to find to search for that con templative -- that contemplative part and turn off the internet and computer games
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and the story captivated me and i went back to it and forgot about the hoopla and able to relax into the narrative. tavis: you did it. lucy is on a fascinating journey in "the lake of dreams" written by we shall say now perennial "new york times" best selling author kim edwards. kim, congrats and good to have you on the program. >> thank you so much. it's been great. tavis: honored to have you. that's our show for tonight. good night from l.a. thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: i'm tavis smiley. join me for reaction do president obama's state of the union address and plus detroit's automatic 0 industry. that's -- detroit's auto industry. that's next time. see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a
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difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioned by the national captioning institute >> be more. pbs. >> be more.
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