tv Charlie Rose PBS May 2, 2016 12:00pm-1:01pm PDT
>> rose: welcome to the program. we begin this evening with iraq and talk to nicholas burns, jonathan tepperman and michael o'hanlon. >> what's the explanation for this reengagement with iraqi politics? it's about i.s.i.s. the purpose of biden's trip is to shore up a key ally -- that's the prime minister -- it's to get the iraqi politicians to focus on fighting i.s.i.s. and not each other, which is what they're spending all their time doing now, and it's to make sure the battlefield gains, when they come, are held. what we've seen over the last eight years and more is that the iraqis, with american help, are pretty good at taking territory, but there terrible at holding territory because, whenever they make gains, the governance, the politics that follow are so terrible. >> rose: we continue with
andrew ross sorkin of the "new york times." >> with some perspective in historical context, we will look back at this period and say, frankly, that we actually have done better than we ever deserved to, almost, and i know nobody -- if you're going to be out there watching this, you say this guy is crazy to say this. >> rose: we conclude with ben harper, his new album is called "call it what it is." >> there's a song that says i feel like i wake up and aged a year because in fear to the dawn, i don't know how to say good buy to you. shea shot him in the back, don't act so surprised when they get vandalized, call it what it is, murder. i'm able to balance those where one doesn't shadow the other. >> rose: the middle east, president obama's economic policy and ben harper, when we continue.
>> rose: funding for "charlie rose" has been provided by the following: >> and by bloomberg, a provider of multimedia news and information services worldwide. captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: we questio -- we begins evening with the ongoing coverage of the middle east. yesterday vice president joe biden's first trip to iraq in five years. prime minister al-abadi is battling to stay in office. it reflects growing kerns about the consequences of the fight against i.s.i.s. joining me from stanford is nicholas burns, professor at the harvard kennedy school, previously undersecretary of state for political affairs.
here in new york, jonathan tepperman, managing editor of foreign affairs magazine, and uh thor of an upcoming book called the fix, how nations survive and thrive in a world of decline. michael o'hanlon, senior fellow at the brookings institution. i am pleased to have them all on the program. i begin with nick burns at stanford. what's happening in iraq and is it such a concern that the vice president had to make a surprise visit? >> iraq is in deep political and economic crisis and the fact the vice president made his first trip in five years, the fact that follows on recent visits by secretary of state john kerry and our secretary of defense ash carter shows the obama administration is acutely concerned about political stability there. they're facing several different crises. there is a political crisis where prime minister al-abadi has not been able to form a cabinet, to actually apont cabinet members because the parliament disagrees. this is due to some of the
sectarian and political rivals in the country. there is absolute gridlock in baghdad, the government literally grinding to a halt. second, of course, is the ongoing fight against islamic state which still occupies mosul, the second largest city in the country which still occupy as great majority of anbar province, the iraqi army which we spent billions to try to reconstruct and retrain, of course, has not acquitted itself in a very professional way and tried to take back territory and, third, i think a lot of people and the iraqis felt when we left in 2011, perhaps they would be able to stitch together the elements of a sound economy through oil prices where they're in the 30s and 40s, and when you combine the three developments, they have all been negative for iraq and, charl, in a wider sense, this points to a bigger issue for us as americans. you'll remember colin powell
citing the pottery barn rule, if you break it, you own it. we went into iraq in 2003 and we took down the government and for a while literally occupied the country. we no longer occupy it but have to have sop some sense of responsibility for what happens there because we were a big part in making iraq the country it is ink that's why thengths and ises vice president felt he had to go there, try to give solid, political support to the prime minister and see what we can do to help him through a very tough time. >> rose: where are the iranians in all this? >> in my view the iranians are playing a nefarious role. the united states is preaching to the iraqis, kurd, sunni, shia, maintain one state, don't break up into three separate parts. the iranians are seeking advantage for themselves. they are promote ago shia-led iraq. they are not friends of the kurds or sunnis. i think they are a devicive force in this and will continue to be so.
>> rose:nd maliki has never left the scene? >> right. he was so strong-willed and so destructive. he's the one as a shia leader who could not get along with the sunni and kurdish leadership. he was poisonous in that relationship. under their current constitution, he's still technically, i think, the vice president. he says he doesn't want to come back to power. a lot of people don't believe him. prime minister abadi is beset on all side. muqtadaer, the shiite cleric, has been leading street protests against him. the kurds, of course, have been talking about if not full-fledged autonomy, independence. so you have a country that's breaking apart at the seams and is not in the interest, i think, of the united states to promote a partition of iraq and to -- into two or three states because, if we did that, it would be a major roll of the dice, what would be the impact on the syrians.
would that country then split? what would be the impact on lebanon? these countries were put together a century ago by the british and french with collapse of the ottoman empire. some of these borders are official, but if you begin to partition these countries, i think it's uncertain if that will fuel further warfare and further division. >> rose: the interesting irani is joe biden was once associated with the idea. >> that's right, but biden is a good soldier, so he's there tidying the administration's line. what i think is interesting about this trip is president obama is much interested less in general in domestic developments in middle eastern countries than his predecessors, iraq most of all because one of obama's goals was -- >> rose: nation building and all of that. >> all of that. one of obama's key priorities throughout his administration was to get the united states out of iraq, yet there we are again
with 4,000 troops on the ground, just sent apache helicopters and more special operations and in the last month three of the top four ors officials visiting the country. so why are they there? what's the explanation with the reinvolvement and reengagement of i.s.i.s.? politics. the purpose is the shore up an ally, the prime minister, to get iraqi politicians to focus on fighting i.s.i.s. and not each other which is what they're spending all their time doing now and it's to try to make sure that the battlefield gains, when they come, are held. what we've seen over the last eight years and more is that the iraqis with american help are pretty good at taking territory, but they're terrible at holding territory because, whenever they do make gains, the governance, the politics that follow are so terrible, there is so much divisiveness, that the areas quickly fall into disarray and sectarian tensions only intensify because, for example,
viet militias in the last year, as they've taken sunni areas back from i.s.i.s. have conducted ethnic cleansing to get rid of the local arab inhabitants. mosul is the great prize. mosul is the second-biggest city in iraq. it's the next target in the campaign against i.s.i.s., but mosul is a multi-ethnic city, a multi-sectarian city. everybody wants mosul. the shiites want mosul. the sunni arabs want mosul and the kurds want mosul. one of the thing the americans are frightened of is once the campaign begins, everyone will rush in and try to take the city for themselves. >> rose: michael o'hanlon joins us. you're listening to what is being said. what do you see is the danger now to the dissension in iraq and the lack of being able to advance forward and coming at a time in which my expression was
that the president and the american military and ash carter were thinking seriously about how do we enhance the campaign to take mosul? >> hi, charlie, thanks for having me. two points. on the issue of partition, i just want to reinforce what was said before and i would add the additional argument that if you were to imagine partitioning iraq and/or syria formally into a separate or two separate countries, you have essentially created a big sunni arab ghetto with no substantial resources in either country. that's not where iraq's oil is in the western and northwestern parts of iraq. it's not where syria's historical strengths of its great cities are out in the center and east, and, so, you have now a sunni arab state that is economically destitute and dysfunctional, and that can only be a recipe for more violence down the road. so that's my practical reason against partition. i could still imagine confederation working and that gets to the mosul question. so my second point would be the
real risk here at this point is not so much whether or not mosul will be liberated. it's already been held by the bad guys a long time so a lot of damage has been done and a few more months presumably won't change that a lot, but the question is who will stabilize mosul after i.s.i.s. is driven out and as just mentioned which sectarian group, which foreign power may have the greatest influence? i don't think we have a great answer to this. we have been foundering between shall we create a national guard or help the iraqis create a national guard that can locally recruited and stabilize a place like mosul, strengthen the police force, divide the city into different quadrant? obviously the iraqis will make the decision but our advice hasn't been consistent. i think the only realistic hope is to have the notions of confederation on the table but to understand whether it's confederation or the current arrangements, it will require collaboration among the groups, and that means the united states has to be a big part of this,
because for all our flaws and historical mistakes, we are sort of the only trusted, relatively neutral outside party. so i commend president obama for recognizing he had to send forces back. i commend vice president joe biden for traveling there. we're going to have to stay with this and if anything further identify our involvement in iraq's future. >> rose: to overtake mosul and shut off the route to raqqa that we have to perhaps enhance the number of troops that we have on the ground in iraq? we just added 250 special forces in syria, now you're saying going back to iraq, perhaps there -- it will be necessary to add more there if you want to stop the issues that are prevailing today? >> right, i'd consider adding more force force that campaign, but i think we need a stronger long-term military and political-economic alines. iraq is suffering horribly from depressed oil prices and everything else and i think we
should consider trying to incentivize better behavior of iraqi politicians and security units with economic and security aid offering to give them several hundred million collars more than we already are, maybe up to a couple billion, at this crucial juncture, not as a permanent entitlement, but at this crucial juncture, and make that conditional on good cooperation across sectarian lines. much easier to say than do, but eded in our arsenal.f tools we >> rose: nick, the same question that's been here all along since the united states left. >> they are, charlie. so much attention has been given to our military role and obviously it should have been because of the intervention and the great number of troops we had there. but michael o'hanlon has put his finger on american influence and that's our political role. despite the fact we left largely h in 20 is 1, we're back in with
special forces. it's the political influence the united states has as a meeting point, as a force that can bring together in conversations the sunni, shia and kurdish leaders, which is very important in this equation. the second thing i think the administration is trying to do, because you see now more activity in syria, is to make sure that we have a combined strategy for both syria and iraq. both countries are in crisis, both countries have fractured. it's going to be difficult in the next five or ten years to see both countries reemerge as unitary nation states, but the battle against the islamic state has to take place in both countries. so you're seeing more american attention to iraq because with we have more historic influence there and frankly because we're welcomed in a way to support the iraqi army. but i think the recent moves by the obama administration to add even 250 special forces in syria is an important point, because you can't -- you've got to try
to weaken the islamic state in both countries and you've also got to watch the me t.s.a.ization of the irks and the other terrorist groups. of course, you know they have an outpost in libya. this is one of the problems, charlie, that's going to be handed off by president obama and vice president joe biden to the next american president, and it's going to be something i think that's with us for a long, long time to come. this is going to be a long conflict with the islamic state and a long effort to try to piece back together an independent syria and independent iraq. >> rose: let me move to syria and aleppo. you interviewed bashar al-assad. how strong is he today? his forces are trying to retake aleppo, crucial effort for them, and we're looking at the human destruction and pictures every day. who is helping him? who is part of the fight that's taking place there now? >> well, the first answer is that assad is stronger than when i spoke to him a year ago and stronger than when you spoke to him a few years ago and the big
reason is, of course, because not only are the iranians there but they have been there all along but, as everybody knows, the russians have stepped in. now, the russians is supposedly ended or reduced their engagement, but they've withdrawn very little of their equipment and material, and their troops and more importantly their planes are still engaged. so in the last few days, reports from aleppo are that the city, rebel-held areas are being hit, mostly civilian areas, by the way, hit not by just helicopters and barrel bombs, typically assad's air force, but fixed winged fighter aircraft shooting missiles strongly suggesting the russians and not assad. >> rose: where is the peace organization taking place in geneva or not taking place and will the cease fire hold or the
unraveling of it. >> we're not supposed to call -- it a cease fire. nothing is being accomplished, from what you've heard. as the situation on the grouped worsens and the cease fire collapses, if it hasn't already, it's hard to imagine good faith negotiation between the parties or substantial negotiation between the parties because there's no good faith to begin with. >> rose: michael and nick both, we have had some hope of u.s.-russian cooperation at times risen to a certain level and at times it seems to fall back, have reports today i guess that perhaps they're talking. where does it stand in terms of the united states and russia doing something to bring about at least negotiations? >> the main hope for u.s.-russia collaboration is if we redefine the vision for what we're trying to accomplish in syria, not a strong, central government where assad would go, because i don't think assad is going to go along with that, i don't think russia
is going to go along with that, but instead a confederation. we were critique ago formal splitting of syria a moment ago but a confederation with several autonomous zones and weak federal government allows ascad to remain in control in one sector. but assad is not in charge of the other autonomous sectors. i think russia can protect traditional prerogatives and we can work toward a compromise. even that plan is not achievable now but the most practical in the next couple of years. >> rose: nick? i don't think we can rely on the russian government. i think secretary kerry was right to try diplomacy with the russians, but they have knot withdrawn. they still have attack aircraft in the country and fighters on the ground with iranian hezbollah forces assisting the e syrian government. as jonathan said, that's been critical difference in boosting
assad's fortunes since september 2015. i don't know how many times we go back to the well and think russians can actually produce a diplomatic process that's meaningful because that process has broken down. the syrn sunni rebel groups see the assad group has not stopped, is bombing and we're seeing an end to the diplomatic process. what should we do? this is the hardest problem in american foreign policy right now, but you have 12 million homeless in a population of 22.5 million people, 7 million homeless inside the country, 5 million syrian refugees outside the country. we are the larger contributor to refugee relief in terms of dollars spent for the refugee camps in and around syria. we should continue that. i don't think that we should give up on the idea that at some point the united states, turkey and the sunni arab states should create safe haven, safe zones and no flight zones perhaps on
the jordanian and turkish borders. very difficult to do but the consequence of not doing that might contribute to further erosion of the refugee crisis. and i still think we should be, of course, trying to support moderate syrian rebel groups so we have some weight and leverage when those political negotiations come and i think, in the next administration, whomever we elect and i hope it's not going to be donald trump because i don't think he's capable of dialing dealing with a situation like this, we're going to have to be a factor in the politics and diplomacy of syria. we shouldn't want to leave it, i think, charlie, to the russians and the iranians. >> nick made an important point and there is broad consensus outside the united states and our allies and in the political establishment here. secretary clinton, for example, supports the idea of safe havens or no fly zones. the problem is the administration has shown no interest in that consistently and obama reinforced that when he was in germany last week speaking to chancellor merkel even show though he has no
interest -- >> rose: the difference between the two of them is not as large as we thought. >> correct, correct, but obama is determined not to do anything that's going to draw the united states deeper into the conflict in way that it can't then get out of and he consistently held that line and will, i think, continue to, or that's certainly the sign throughout the rest of this administration, that's why you see small numbers of special forces being sent in but not much more. >> rose: thank you jonathan, thank you nick, thank you michael. >> thank you, charlie. >> rose: back, stay with us. >> rose: moving from foreign policy to the economy, the recovery from the great recession is one area the president feels he does not get enough credit. that's the takeaway from andrew ross sorkin's cover story in this weekend's "new york times" magazine. he's a friend of this program and i'm pleased to have him back at this table. welcome. >> thank you for having me. >> rose: first of all, everybody in journalism is jealous of you. >> no. they're jealous of you, charlie.
>> rose: you've had an opportunity to talk about the economy. >> yeah. >> rose: how did that come about? >> late last year, i started thinking, somebody needs to do an assessment of the past eight years, and obama's tenure as president, what's happened in the economy and i went to the white house and said somebody howled do it -- well, i said i should do this -- (laughter) -- and to do it needed to have an opportunity to try to spend time with the president and really try to get his thoughts and understandings of what actually worked and what didn't, what the challenges were, and really try to get his -- because i don't think we get to hear -- you know, we hear from him all the time, but to really hear about the different decisions throughout and now looking back how he felt about them and i thought the opportunity to educate the public was inordinate and happily they agreed. >> rose: here's what you say in the piece -- over a series of conversations in the oval office and air force one and in florida, obama analyzed
sometimes with startling frankness nearly every element of his economic agenda since he came into office. how does he see it? because when i talked to him about his back and looking at the latest, he always says that saving the country from financial disaster was the most important aspect of my presidency. he goes on to talk about healthcare and foreign policy, but it was, in fact, saving the economy. >> and i think you're absolutely right. it singularly is saving the economy, but the great challenge for him today is if you listen to all of the folks trying to get elected, or just about anybody else, you could be convinced that we are either living in some kind of great depression. i mean, you will hear donald trump tell us we're living in a third-world nation and even certain democrats. even hillary clinton made some comments. bill clinton made certain comments about the economy, and that is in the context of wages. for the most part. but to me, to really measure the
man's legacy and to measure this past eight years, the only way to do it meaningfully is to compare it both to history and to where we came from. and, to me, that's the missing piece. and it's very hard for people papalpably to feel that. viscerally, they think of the current circumstance. people forget what it was like in 2008, 2009, 2010, when unemployment in this country was 10% and so, people, can complain and have every right to complain -- >> rose: and there was near panic. >> absolute, and when i say panic, i don't want to suggest we were close to bread lines but we could have been and the idea of looking at what the other side of the cliff lookreich, people don't think about that. there was a great line. i was talking with barney frank and he talks about a bumper sticker made by him in 2010 which could be applied to obama
which is, without me, it would have sucked worse. it's not a great slogan, it's hard to sell but i think that's the challenge of the president. i think 20, 30 years from now, people may appreciate the point but it's hard today to feel it. >> rose: paulson made the point, i had the hardest time it could have been worse.have it's counterfac chiewrl and we'll never know. hank paulson deserves an enormous amount of credit for trying to stabilize thing and setting so much of what ended up happening over the past eight years, i give him an enormous amount of credit. >> rose: one critical aspect of the recovery was the stimulus program. here's what i learned from your piece among many things is it was an $800 billion stimulus program. i always heard they wanted more but didn't think they could get more from the republican congress, but you tell me turns out they got a lot more when you
add in the elements of in terms of almost a trillion-two. >> a trillion-four. there is a couple of things people forget about what's happened over the years. yes, the original stimulus, $800 million, and by the way not just republicans were against it, there were democrats that didn't want to go that large either. at the same time, people forget there was a big move afoot especially among republicans to lower the deck. so they wanted to cut, cut, cut. so you had this sort of two very conflicted ideas taking place at the same time, almost anti-stimulus measures. so, yes, if you add up all of the tax cuts and other programs and measurers that were taking place, you get to the equivalent of 1.4 trillion which is a lot more than frankly most to have the democrats and progressives can conceive of today especially when you hear a lot of the rhetoric around what takes place. >> rose: he also says, if you ask most people about the deficit, they think it's gotten worse, but, in fact, it's gone down. >> now, in truth, the deficit has absolutely gone down.
polls will show 73% of americans think the deficit has gone up under obama and it's absolutely the opposite. there is, of course, the issue our overall debt has gone up, and that's a real issue. but, at the same time, if you told -- i had somebody send me an email say what about the debt? the debt's gone up. and i wrote back and said, yes, the debt has gone upper but, frankly, if we tried to make the debt lower, i'm not sure unemployment would be where it is today either. so all of these are very complicated issues, and especially you think about dodd-frank, obamacare, all these other things that took place under his tenure and their impact on the economy and i think there have been so many confricting ideas that were never put together and we try to do that in this. >> rose: he speaks to the critical point that to the notion -- unemployment is down 5%, while overall financial performance, the dow jones has been way up, all of that, there
are so many people who feel left out and who feel like it's not working for them and when they look at some statistics, they, are in fact, right. >> they are absolutely right. there is empirical baycies -- in real dollars, the american family today is $4,000 poorer than they would have been when clinton left office. >> rose: $4,000 when he left. yes. so that's an absolute truth. but one of the things, and i thought this was the most insightful thing i heard the president tell me about when we were in florida at the time he mentioned this, his understanding and appreciation that the financial crisis which we go back to when we think about wall street was as much about wall street as unearthing and unmasking much larger structural problems in our economy than we imagine that effectively had been masked by all this debt and he talks about the idea there were people who lost their job in manufacturer
but got jobs in construction because of all the debt and because the housing boom. so they didn't feel it, they didn't really see it. so all of a sudden, we have this crisis, and now we're dealing with much larger issues. wages start to stagnate not in the past ten years, not in the past 20 years. they start to stagnate in 1978, and that's -- 1979. that's a larger challenge. >> rose: the year before ronald reagan game into office. >> yes, and people forget about it. have to put it into historical context. >> rose: there is this, too -- he feels he hasn't communicated well. >> it's become a bit of a common refrain. >> rose: yeah. there is part of me that absolutely agrees with him. i think there were moments where he could have communicated better? he acknowledges it, though. >> he acknowledges. >> rose: h.two mitigating facto.
he had a hoard time in 2009 and 2010 telling the american public how terrible it was because it's a self-fulfilling prophecy to some degree. if he comes out and says the world is going to world in a hand basket, the world starts to go to hell in a hand basket quicker. i'm not sure if people understood how bad it was, but critics will say, and i talked to a number of them, who will say over and over again, it's a cop out, an excuse. this is one of the great or ou s of our time and his thought he didn't communicate it is the people were just stupid. >> rose: the business community, there is a great disconnect, he says to you if i hadn't gone into politics, i would have wanted to create a
business. >> most people wouldn't believe that. having spent time with him, i absolutely believe it. i think he thinks ploabl more like a -- probably more like a venture capitalist. i think he would like to do a startup. i secretly wonder, when he leaves office -- >> rose: write the book and then start a company. >> i wouldn't be surprised. i mean, i think that's possible. >> rose: why is the disconnect between him and business? he knows a lot of business includes silicon valley, includes a lot of sectors of the economy. >> i think there is two things going on. one i think is early on he made a political choice which was that he felt he needed to be very critical of the business community, no question. he absolutely did publicly. this is critical. >> rose: let's separate the business community from wall street. >> correct, but they often get conflated. people say, oh, he hurt their feelings. he laughs about it at one point. he talked to steve profitten and
talked about the bankers and called them fat cats. he talked about how a hedge fund manager's son came home and said, daddy, are you a fat cat? and people say, boo-hoo, why do we need to worry about their feelings? but i think there was a period early on where he did not engender himself to that community. but at the same time i think the market has done well and the economy better, so despite all of the complaining -- >> rose: but they haven't changed their attitude. >> he would argue it was ideology and attack story. >> rose: a billionaire hedge manager said the divisive polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a wide gulf as much visceral as philosophical between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help him. it is a gulf that is at once counterproductive and freighted with dangerous historical
precedent. that's powerful language to the president of the united states in an open letter. >> as you discuss inequality and you discuss the almost class warfare that's gone on and the # 9% and the 1% -- >> rose: and the support for bernie sanders. >> and you see it. >> rose: millions and millions of people. >> it's absolutely real. on that score, you know, i can't argue that he somehow brought all of these sides together. >> rose: so in the end, what is the andrew ross sorkin argument for him? >> the andrew ross sorkin argument is ultimately with some perspective and historical context, we will look back at this period and say, frankly, that we actually have done better than we ever deserved to, almost, and i know nobody -- people are going to be out there watching this saying this guy is crazy to say this, it's terrible out there, and there are parts of america -- i was in lexington, kentucky, there are places that are struggling,
absolutely -- >> rose: and it's influenced the political debate of this campaign season in part. >> absolutely. >> rose: the administration has been tapped into by trump on the one hand and sanders on the other. >> i would like to say there is two american dreams going on now. one american dream which is alive and well which is the mark zuckerberg american dream, the idea anyone can go from something and shoot the moon. >> rose: exactly, $50 billion when you're 30 or something. >> the other american dream, the almost leave it to beaver american dream, the idea if you try hard enough, it's going to work out, you're going to get a job, a house, a spouse, two kids and a dog, and that's what's challenged today. but there are much larger global forces that orq that it's hard to say that one man, a president will ultimately in this new world -- life the relative, the world is relative, where america is compared to all the other countries, automation, you talk a lot about technology on this
show, there are a lot of things going on that make this a tough job. >> rose: just to tap it, because i liking the being in the company of andrew ross sorkin, in germany, the president said globalization, frustration, the nationalistic politics, here's the president in hanover talking about the subject. my thanks to andrew ross sorkin, you should read his article in the "new york times" the sunday magazine this weekend. look at this, we'll be back. >> the politics are tough and the reason is because the benefits of trade have often been diffuse. even well-structured trade agreements create some disruptions. it may be good for 90% of the economy. it may create all kind of jobs and export opportunities because export jobs tend to pay better, but people don't see it as much. they don't feel it. the average person who's working for a company in the united
states that exports doesn't necessarily know that they're exporting, they just know they're making a great product. if u.s. consumers benefit from lower cost goods that improve their quality of life and keep inflation down, that's not something they know, but when they see that plant close, they do know that. oftentimes, if the plant has closed because of automation as opposed to trade, it's hard to make that distinction, so part of our job is not to dismiss kerns about globalization, they are real and they are legitimate, it is to argue how do we make globalization which is not going to be reversed anytime soon work for ordinary people, how do we make sure that it's working for communities all across america or here in europe? and that is something i'm convinced we can do, but you know, we've got to get the facts
out. >> rose: ben harper is here, the three-time grammy award winner has been called a reluctant protest singer. his new album covers a wide range of topics including race in america and aging. it is called "call it what it is." this is the first record with his long-time band the innocent criminals in more than seven years. the atlantic calls the album unpredictable, weird and brilliant. here is ben harper performing "call it what it is" in our studio. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ they shot him in the back ♪ now it's a crime to be black ♪ so don't act surprised ♪ when it gets vandalized
♪ suffering ♪ ain't easy ♪ call it what it i it is ♪ ♪ call it what it is ♪ call it what it is ♪ murder ♪ gun control ♪ mind control ♪ self control ♪ we've dug ourselves a hole ♪ call it what it is ♪ call it what it is ♪ call it what it is ♪ murder ♪ murder ♪ got to call it what it is ♪ call it what it is ♪ call it what it is ♪ murder
♪ call it what it is ♪ call it what it is ♪ call it what it is ♪ >> rose: i'm pleased to have ben harper at this table for the first time. a welcome and a big welcome. >> thank you. a big thank you. >> rose: tell me about the song "call it what it is." >> some songs tap you on the shoulder, and tell you it's time to get this done, time to get this on record in this way, and you -- some you haveo to cobble together, but that was one that came out in one push. >> rose: really. yeah, one sitting. >> rose: what doyou expect
people hearing the song will think? >> i try not to be overly concerned about what people will think or how it's perceived because otherwise it consumes you in a way that's not productive. >> rose: because it is a reflection of your own feelings and emotion and thoughts and poetry. >> absolutely. >> rose: is writing easy for you? >> writing is natural for me. >> rose: yeah. it's not easy but it feels -- it's become a natural part of my day and of my life and of the way i filter emotions and ideas and sound. >> rose: how often does it come, though, that the song chooses you or the feeling that, as it is with this? >> i'm for the most part consumed. >> rose: yeah. on a daily basis all day every day in a way that almost inhibits other components of my life. however, you learn to compartmentalize it. >> rose: yeah. because if i didn't, i would just be humming into a tape recorder all day. >> rose: in terms of your own
obsessions and your own sort of daily engagement, how much is writing and how much is performing, how much is practicing. >> writing and practicing are a huge part of it because that's what proceeds -- precedes the performance. that's what propels it. >> rose: is it as much fun as performing? >> it is. >> rose: it really is. every aspect of it. >> rose: i feel the same way. getting prepared for an interview is as interesting as doing it. >> i love that. yes. and it's that urgency of learning about where music can take you, having done it so long, yet having it still reveal new aspects of it. >> rose: why is this your proudest professional accomplishment? >> "call it what it is" is my proudest musical accomplishment because i feel that it is an arrival for myself and for the
band the innocent criminals. >> rose: an arrival at what or where? >> a creative arrival at a record where no stone was left unturned. >> rose: mmm... y i feel i said it the way i wanted to say it, every sound, every note, just -- it just feels different. it feels special and i guess you sound a little bit out of what can when you -- out of whack when you are critiquing your own art. so it's not for me to say. it's for the fans to say, for time to say, but if i do have a small vote, it's the best innocent criminal record. >> rose: but you can say, look -- you can look this album in the eye and say, i gave it all i have. >> oh, in a way that i had never done before. and also there was a lot of laughter in this record. there was a lot of celebration that went into this record, and there were cameras all over the studio, so many you'd forgotten they were there, hidden in
places and that's the truth in the tape. they've caught up a document riin this record and it shows us in our natural habitat having a great time. some people say you have to have friction to make great art, you have to have discord, and there wasn't. you know, there were some disagreements at times, but it was so -- all in the name of progress and bringing out the best in this record. >> rose: when the atlantic calls you a reluctant protester -- >> that's the one part of the article i disagree on. >> rose: why? because i'm not. >> rose: not a reluctant protest singer? >> i'm a protest singer but not reluctant. >> rose: you and your bandmates have known each other 20 years. >> yes. >> rose: what does that give you? >> gives us a secret code, a brotherhood that comes out in the recipes, in a record like this, especially after this long. there's a certain amount of finishing each other's creative musical sentences that goes on
on stage and on record that makes it different. >> rose: i just want to come back at this. there is a sense in talking to you that this record represents something really special in your own i've liewption. >> thank you for hearing that. >> rose:a sense of reaching a place you have been wanting to go. >> yeah. >> rose: a sense of being able to give it everything you've had, blood, sweat and tears, and putting it here and listening to it and saying, that's where we want to go and we gave it to you, hope you like it. >> that is it. and from the emotional -- there is a song i wake up feeling i aged a year because i sleep in fear of the dawn. head full of dreams make the day seem twice as long. i don't know how to say goodbye to you, that to they shot him in the back, now it's a crime to be black, so don't act prized when
it gets voonldized, call it murder. i hope it doesn't d but i tried to balance it. >> rose: you suffer from music saturation disorder. >> yes. as a kid i was raisemade the clairmont folk music center and it's one of the most special music environments in four walls. my parents started in the '40s. we were too poor to have baby sitters and that music store was our baby sitter. we were there every day after school. my grandfather put me to work sorting out screws and nuts and bolts and different woods. the ebony goes here, the maple, mahogany. and i was doing that from the time i can remember. in that music store, there's a lot going on at once and a lot of sound and that sound encoded me genetically early on and i would be sitting in school and hearing that music store while
trying to learn algebra. >> rose: it's like that experience married your dna. >> that's it. >> rose: i know exactly what you mean. i grew up in essentially a country store 100 people between ages of two and ten. and that was my education, that was my society, that was my community, that was everything. >> okay. >> rose: and that's where it was demanded of me as a young -- the youngest person in the room, the store, to be curious. >> your family's country store. >> rose: yes, yeah. wow. >> rose: to be curious. whereas yours was a demand to absorb music. >> yes. >> rose: but it certainly influenced you. when you look at the instrument that you play. >> yes. >.>> rose: why is that right for you? >> that instrument is right for me because what calls to one destiny is not to be denied. and that sound from the youngest
of age -- in an instrument store that was full and rich with sitars and every rhythm instrument, every type of guitar, electric, acoustic, there was a sound coming from this instrument that pulled me in and would not let go. >> rose: grabbed you. grabbed me in a way that is as mysterious to this day as it would ever be and i've often said why would people hear a tuba the first time and devote their lives to the tube ba. >> rose: i used to keep an apartment in paris. >> i do not blame you (laughter) >> rose: and to see you and talk to you, if someone said to me you're french, i would believe them. by now, i may be. >> rose: you're known well there. >> yes. >> rose: there is a connection there. >> direct connection. >> rose: what is it? first place that en masse received my music word for word,
note for note. >> rose: did you know leonard cohen? >> i have met him on numerous occasions. >> i've always wanted to sit at the table with him. >> the man doesn't touch the ground. >> rose: he doesn't. he comes into my family's music store on occasion. >> rose: in california. absolutely. >> rose: what was the hardest thing about this? >> the hardest thing is now. >> rose: yeah. you know, it's hard not to be somewhat concerned about how it's received. you want it to be heard, but it's -- >> rose: you know, this is the truth, it really is. >> please. >> rose: you have taken this from here, put it here, and then you've given it out there. that's what you've done. >> that's it. that's it, and now it's up to you. youngster to make your way in the world. good luck. >> rose: yeah. are you hopeful? or is it happening that, because
of the success in places like france and places like australia, overseas, you know, that that experience is now being felt here? >> that's a big point. i think what may limit record sales in this day and age may be recompensated albeit in a different form through the way that now the world is interconnected and music spreads that much faster word of mouth, it's the press of a button. so again, where sales may go if a different direction, awareness may be at an all-time high. so we'll see how that then balances out. >> rose: you said something that fascinates me, skate boarding is the only thing -- the only thing that gives you the silences and silences your thoughts. you're a skate boarder?
>> well, rodney mullin is a skate boarder. i'm a skate enthusiast. >> rose: travel with your board? >> everywhere i go. it took everything not to throw it in the van and bring it today. >> rose: that would have been great. everywhere you go, you find a place to -- >> everywhere i go. >> rose: what is it about the experience to you? >> the first thing i found in my adult life that thoroughly and honestly clears my head. >> rose: really? yeah. >> rose: in terms of themes, tell me, what does this country need to understand about race? >> before harper lee died, i had a private -- i was in the privacy of her home, the old-age home in monroeville. >> rose: right. how did that happen? >> that happened -- a dear friend of mine, extraordinary writer daniel vol and his wife cecilia peck and gregory's daughter, they're dear friends of mine, i first met miss lee at
veraneek peck's home, queen of the world. >> rose: gregory's wife. and harper just rolled in on the train because she wouldn't fly. she had just gotten off the train and had her bits and pieces -- >> rose: so friends long after the book was out, movie made, the friendship continued into their old age in. >> yes, in a beautiful, rare and special way, the way that veraneek and harper got on, it was ageless and timeless. it was wonderful to watch, and the way harper was with all greg's grandkids, it was something special to see. harper pulls in, and it's a celebration, and everyone's around a table like this, and veraneek would hold these
suppers that you just couldn't believe it. you would be at the table with quincy jones and sidney poitier and harry belafonte and harper lee, and these dinners, you know, you -- >> rose: i can't imagine how that must be. >> and harper took a fascination, i had worked with the blind boys of alabama. >> rose: right. so we had an alabama connection. she said, next time i see you, you've got to sing for me. so we made that pilgrimage to harper's for me to sing to her and spend the day. miss alice even showed up. she thought daniel and i were a couple of bible salesmen. man, she was ready to chase us off fist and cane, charlie! >> rose: a day you don't forget. >> neither here nor there. but harper looked at us and the firs thing she said is you two drove here together? we said, yeah. she said, you're staying the night here?
i said, no, miss lee, we're driving to birmingham tomorrow to see the sights. she said, you two are driving to birmingham tonight? you two, a black man and a white man? she said, i need you two to be incredibly careful. she says, just because the laws change doesn't mean people change. and she was genuinely concerned. >> rose: thank you for coming here. >> thank you for having me. >> rose: thank you for sing for me and for the show and the audience. i hope to be a friend and hope to join your journey. thanks. and harper, thank you for joining us. see you next time. for more about this program and earlier episodes, visit us online at pbs.org and charlierose.com.