tv Charlie Rose PBS July 7, 2017 4:00pm-5:01pm PDT
>> welcome to the program. i'm susan glasser of politico filling in for charlie rose. we begin this evening with a look ahead to the g20 summit and president trump's first meeting with vladimir putin. we'll talk with peter baker of the "new york times," karen deyoung of the post-and ed luce of the "financial times." >> president putin, this is the fourth american president he's met. he has a lot of experience reading people, he's ex-kgb. i think however he reads trump tomorrow will be consequential and have repercussions i won't predict but i will say are going to be very significant. > we conclude with an all in the family conversation with peter baker and his book, barack
obama. >> when you see a president leave office, for what his legacy will be, this is a unique president who seems to want to demolish the last guy's achievements in the way no other has done. richard nixon didn't undo all the great society lyndon johnson did, eisenhower didn't undo the new deal. president trump seems determined to take out parts of president obama's legacy. >> a look ahead to the g20 summit and president obama's legacy 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. >> glasser: good evening. i'm susan glasser. filling in for charlie rose who's traveling. in his speech in poland, president trump attacked the news media, president obama and american intelligence agencies while voicing the will of western nations to defend themselves against common enemies. the president's first stop. the meeting is when president trump and russian president vladimir putin will meet for the first time. joining me is peter baker of the
"new york times," karen deyoung of "the washington post," senior national security correspondent, and ed luce, the u.s. columnist for the financial times. i'm delighted to be welcoming all of you to charlie rose tonight. we're all delighted to be standing in, in his stead. i can't think of a better, smarter group to talk about the trump administration and foreign policy, and this is the beginning of this big second leg of his overseas adventures as president. peter, what do you think about what happened today in poland? this was a major moment for president trump, right? >> well, it is. first of all, the choice of poland is instructive. why does he go to poland before meeting with vladimir putin in germany? he goes to poland to try to reassure central and eastern europeans who have been dubious about his friendship with the president of russia and needed ria insurance and he gave what
his staff wanted him to give which was a robust speech in the center of warsaw, very pro-polish and said russia need to be in a destabilizing campaign. then he seemed not on script and was going to give an entirely different message. he was asked if russia meddled in the election what would you do about it, he said, i think it was russia, could have been people from other countries, nobody knows for sure, once again casting doubt, and attacking president obama for not doing more about it even though president trump isn't sure it really happened, and then mentioning the whole iraq war intelligence fiasco to say who really knows with these intelligence agencies anyway. so these mixed messages are really a very interesting product of the first day. >> it's the full spectrum trump. you have donald trump in many ways, you know, the obsessive,
micromanaging partisan figure, and then this very bombastic speech. i want to ask you about the speech. donald trump seems to have embraced the full-on clash of civilizations rhetoric in this speech. did you hear anything new in what he had to say? >> no, but the context of where he gave the speech. remember first stop in europe the poland. not france, germany or britain. poland, warsaw, where they have a government, the law an justice party government which is a catholic right-wing government. they refuse to allow in muslim refugees. the european union is suing poland because that's in breech of the european union rules. they share the globalist steve bannon world view that i think trump expressed in the speech. the speech talked about western civilization being under
etential challenge. he -- existential challenge. i would say this is a speech without mentioning our name that is aimed squarely at angela merkel saying i don't share your world view, this is not my world view. my world view is a west first, western civil violation first, if you like, sort of enlargement of america first. >> glasser: so do you think this was aimed at merkel or vladimir putin? did trump managed to send a message to russia and our nervous allies that we were still on their side? >> well, i think part of the speech was obviously aimed at putin and n.a.t.o. members. he did the obligatory support of article 5. he said russia needs to watch
what it's doing and stop threatening the west. but i think the crux of the speech was the clash of civilizations, and the clash that he outlined, to some extent, was the west versus dangers out there which he mostly defined as terrorists and extremists, but it was also this part of the west, his part of the west, poland's part of the west with merkel's part of the west. he said faith and family are more important than government and bea bureaucracy. he said the question whether the west has the will to survive, then he made it clear what that will meant for him, and it meant being anti-immigration, it meant standing up for values, but those values were not the values of globalization and the kinds of values that we normally consider, at least in recent years, as part of the west. i mean, he drew a really firm line in what was a pretty dark
speech. >> that's right, somebody said it's the european carnage speech to be the book end to the american carnage. karen, i'm glad you brought that up because, to me, that sounds a lot like vladimir putin's definition of the west, and he often speaks in very similar terms about traditional values and our war against terrorism and defines russia in those terms, by the way, as allied with that kind of the west. i was really struck by that, that those themes that donald trump are sounding are not the kinds of themes that would be naturally reassuring to allies in western europe but are very similar ideologically to those of vladimir putin. you know, peter, do you think that, if this speech was meant to shore up nervous allies in n.a.t.o. and in eastern europe, that he succeeded in doing that? >> well, probably not. i mean, it would take more than one speech because, in fact, they understand that this was a
pre-scripted text that he was given, and he approved, obviously, and delivered, but, you know, that, as we've seen in the past, doesn't necessarily stand the test of time as the policy that will be defining his administration going forward. i think you're right about the connection between the way vladimir putin defines our values, western values -- putin would say "our shared values "-- and is a place of commonality for the two of them. will be interesting to see the two talk tomorrow. you saw mostly stoney silence with angela merkel as the two appeared before reporters. ed, i think you wrote the leader of the liberal world order will be hosting the president of the united states. angela merkel now emerged as such a dominant, important player in this whole conversation that that's the media you almost wish you were a fly on the wall for as much as the putin one. >> that's a good point. there are two wests in
competition. there is the one merkel is standing up for, which is a rules-based global order and is increasingly de facto being seen as the leader of, and then there is the more bannon-ite one. but i think your point, karen, about checking the boxes on article 5 of n.a.t.o. and asking russia to stand back in terms of hostilities in eastern ukraine, these were two sentences and one sentence respectively in a four or five-page speech that was about western civilization. so i think those were the things that the national security staff insisted trump sign off on. the rest was him. >> do you think there is room for cooperation? what did rex tillerson say before he left, right. >> this seems totally out of the blue, although there have been a number of sessions and negotiations going on behind the
scenes. thee rete quli, we have no talks with russia at all. the russians say they've canceled the deconfliction talks we were having so that planes don't run into each other over syria. american officials say the talks are better than ever and going on all the time. one of the things trump said before he came into office is he thought the united states and russia should cooperate against the islamic state, and that, of course, has gotten buried under all the other conflicts with russia. tillerson is trying to deal with that because of what's going on in syria on the ground. you have all of a sudden assad with his allies russia and iran taking away from pop rated areas in the west toward eastern syria where the islamic state is, while the united states to the northov that around -- north of that around raqqa, the capital
in syria moving against the ukes, so those forces are getting closer and closer together. so rather than warning off assad, russia, iran, we've said, okay, then let's cooperate, let's make sure we don't run into each other, and i think that's what tillerson at least is saying, that should be the subject of the talks between putin and trump. the white house has said nothing about what they want to talk about, and, so, will that be the subject of their talks? i don't think we know. >> well, in general, i want to get everybody in on this question because i personally am perplexed every day. people ask about trump's foreign policy, i don't know what it is and, in particular -- and in particular on russia. if you put a gun to the head of one of these white house officials, they couldn't tell you what our policy is toward russia. what do you think about that, karen? you've thought a lot about trying to write about trump and
foreign policy, do you think they have one yet? >> i think there are pieces of policy, but i'm not sure they come together in terms of a strategy. you know, i think that they would like to get rid of some of what they call the sort of minor housekeeping issues in terms of, you know, we took over their compounds under th the obama administration in this country, they won't let us build a new consulates in st. petersburg. russian security under obama was harassing u.s. diplomats, so they'd like to get rid of all that stuff. so you've had lower-level talks that have dealt with those issues. >> glasser: that's not really a policy. >> no, but in terms of they feel like they need russia, i think they still believe, as trump said during the campaign, that it doesn't make sense for us to have bad relations with russia, and i think most of europe would agree with that as long as we
holhold firm in ukraine and to a certain extent in syria. i think the ukraine issue is really important. i don't think the trump administration knows what they want to do about ukraine. trump has been all the over the map talking or not talking about it at all. you see other officials in the administration who have been very firm saying this will not stand, russian incursion in ukraine, the annexation of crimea, that is still, according to europe and officially the united states, that is bedrock strategy. i'm not sure it's bedrock for the trump administration. >> i think what you have to watch for is what does he say to putin about the meddling of last year's election? it's the first time the two of them will have met. since the intelligence agencies of the united states told president trump that the russian president directly ordered the medaling in the last year's election to benefit president trump in his election.
what will he say? he was asked about this in the press conference and not only did he cast doubt on the idea russia was behind it, he sounded angrier at obama for not doing enough about it or the intelligence agencies for, in his way, maybe overstating what russia did what whatever they may or may not have done. >> he picked fights with the intelligence agency, going back to iraq saying they were wrong. >> that's reversing all the way back to december before he got here. >> glasser: he was even arguing how many intelligence agencies, no, it was not 17, it was only 4. >> he said whoafn knows if there are 17. there are 17 intelligence agencies in the united states and they as a community are led by the office of the director of intelligence and he signed off on this report which was
produced by three agencies. it's a very small point about a very large issue that he doesn't seem to be that worried about. >> glasser: so they're meeting in germany with the new reader of the free world. she was hosting this. she obviously intended for this to be a very different kind of meeting. they settle on these things far in advance. let's talk about the g20. it's in hamburg, there are street clashes will there. it's really the capital of the german left. merkel thought she would be bringing together the leading industrialized nations to talk about unprecedented cooperation on climate change, to talk about strengthening global economic cooperation. instead, as far as i understand it, her advisors were begging trump not to make his decision about the paris accord, not to pull out in advance of this, they didn't want to rain on this parade. how does it help or hurt her in
her efforts to become reelected as chancellor of germany? >> well, this will be the third time she meets. she came here earlier in the year. he then met her in may at the g7 summit in sicily. he then didn't give the speech the n.a.t.o. people wanted him to give in brussels at the n.a.t.o. headquarters, he didn't make the article 5 pledge of mutual defense. a few days later he made it here rather grudgingly standing next to the prime minister. but she made it clear she's washed her hands of him. she's taken his reading. she said the fate of europe is in our own hands. britain as exited. signing the action in hamburg in addition to the protests on the street, the action is really in the bilaurels rather than the
g20 communique. what communique can have when the global priority such as global warming and free trade are things trump doesn't want to sign up to? so i think the real action is the trump-president putin bilateral, of course, but arguably more important is the second meeting between trump and xi jinping because that relationship is going south. >> that's coming up at a really interesting time. north korea just tested an icbm for the first time. president trump says he will take severe measures in response. he had dinner thursday night with the prime minister of south korea and japan but not as you say with president xi jinping deliberately excluded because he's gone somewhat sour on the president's ability or willingness to influence north korea. >> i think we're all feeling a perplexment. it's a large and awe gust club
of people. america's closest allies are at the top of it. >> glasser: being befuddled about what his policy and intention rssments let me ask you about the europeans before we turn back to asia. merkel, can she really be the leader of the free world? the germans as someone said to me recently are almost constitutionally wired not to take a position of unilateral leadership but to embed themselves in these multi-lateral institutions like the e.u., that that was their whole protective response in a way to the cold war, to the new institutions that were built after world war ii. they're not going to step up and step into some american vacuum. emmanuel macron, seems he's doing his best to control trump in some of these ways, but i don't see him as a leader either who can really challenge america. >> i agree with the premise of your question. she can be the moral or spiritual spokesman for western
liberal global values. there's just no possible way there will be a german fifth or sixth fleet patrolling the south china sea, the missile defense systems in south germany rather than america, so, clearly, the hard power element of it is america and america only. but i think she's clearly the leader of the spokesperson for the values that those who oppose trump support, and i was mentioning the club of the perplexed. the former prime minister of canada, my former colleague in the "financial times," gave a very unusual speech for a canadian foreign minister saying we're just going to have to chart our own sovereign course here, and merkel said much the same thing. when you've lost canada on foreign policy as an american presidents... karen, let me bring you in on this question of the north korea crisis. you read some of these headlines
and they're pretty alarming, this notion we're talking about the possibility of a military response and how horrific that would be. are there additional measures short of the military option that people agree is basically unthinkable for actually escalating a response to north korean aggression? >> well, i think there is widespread agreement that a military response sun thinkable and secretary mattis, the u.s. defense secretary, has pretty much said that. he has said thld spark an mead north korean attack on south korea, and it would be, as he said, a war like we've never seen in our lifetimes. so the question is what else can they do? there was a security council meeting yesterday at the united nations. i think that the western powers at least made it clear that they want new resolutions for new
sanctions, and they want to make sure hat the sanction wes already have are adhered to. one of the problems -- and trump has now -- the light seems to have -- the light bubble above his head that, after having said that his china policy was to be friends with china because china was the way to crack down on north korea, he has acknowledged now that that hasn't happened and, in fact, as he noted, i guess, yesterday or today, that chinese trade with north korea, despite new sanctions that were passed at the end of the year, has increased by 40%. so the question is now do they start sanctioning some of the people in china and some of the chinese companies that are carrying out this trade? and i think certainly the americans, the brits, the french are willing to do that at this point. and there is also a push to start talks, basically to say
the policy now is denuclearization has to precede talks and that was the policy of the obama administration and theoretically the policy of the trump administration. and the question is, is there anything to talk about before this rather large precondition is met, which is basically you give up and then we'll talk to you. so i think there may be some movement in that direction, but first of all will come more sanctions. >> glasser: it's an awfully large similarmatic undertaking, isn't it, for an administration that doesn't have a fully formed state department, that doesn't seem interested in big coercive diplomacy, international coalitions. can they pull that off? do they have anyone in charge to have the north korea crisis? >> there's a state department envoy in charge of relations with north korea, and he's been traveling around and around and around. there were secret talks held in
oslo earlier this year that ultimately led to the unfortunate situation with otto warmbier, the american hostage, being released in a comba and his -- in a coma and his subsequent death. i don't think you see the national security council staffed up, you certainly don't see the state department staffed up beyond this one little envoy office. so i think that that's increasingly a problem, as cry sees spread across the world you don't have people in place who can deal with them. >> glasser: all this turmoil we've read about in the white house, when this crisis hits leak the north korea crisis or an international event like the g20 thing, do you discern as a reporter trying to cover them any actual consequences when it comes to what we're doing or not doing in our foreign policy? i mean, does it matter that trump and team seem to be so
consumed with all this internal intrigue? >> i think it does matter. i think foreign leaders take their measure of a president by how well he runs his own shop and they see what's happening and the palace intrigue is not lost on them, and they understand there are some inside an administration like this who are closer than others, that's why they want to talk with mattis or tillerson or mcmaster and they don't particularly reach out to steve bannon and some of the others. it's interesting to watch the north korea crisis play out because for a president who's known for bombast, for macho, chest-beating behavior on a domestic level, he's been relatively restrained so far probably because of some these advisors on north korea. he's been briefed on an appealing option in syria doesn't work in north korea -- i saw this in the paper this morning -- of the 300,000
artillery rounds north korea should shower on south korea in the first hour of a war, seoul is not far from the border. >> that's aside from the whole nuclear. >> that's aside from the deal they actually have nuclear weapons. so that's why, in fact, clearly even president trump who might not have known all this when he came into office has been sobered by some of the information his advisors briefed him on. so while they're not well staffed up and don't have the band width that a fully formed administration would have, he does seem at this point to be, you know, listening to secretary mattis and some of the others. >> you spent a lot of time in your career as a foreign correspondent in asia as well. do you sense this indecision or uncertainty on the part of the united states offers a new kind of opening for the chinese to play a different kind of leadership role in the world? and is that what xi jinping is aspiring to? >> i think xi jinping's first priority is the party congress in september where he will
cement his next five years as president with very, very strong powers, even by chinese presidential standards, and he wants to keep things calm until he's cemented his domestic political authority. but undoubtedly this is a major geopolitical winfall for china and china spent most to have the century getting major geopolitical windfalls. there was the iraq war, the 2008 meltdown and the trump election. so china has been growing bigger, faster, standing taller than it was expecting to by this point. but it's got a neighbor in india, modi. he appears to get on well with japan. japan is less passivist in its constitution. it's talking about getting far
more forward and bold roles for its military. so china is not operating in a vacuum even if the united states chooses to walk in a zigzag funny way around the chess board. it's a very, very nervous environment. it's a bit like sort of european nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. there are a lot of countries here that do not have ways of doing business with each other. and america is the one that's kept the peace. it's an opportunity for china but also danger. danger, opportunity, i think are two sides of a chinese character. >> glasser: there is an old saying, exactly, somewhere, you can say it, and there is an old russian saying which, after looking at the meeting tomorrow ahead of vladimir putin and donald trump finally sitting down with all this incredible buildup and expectation, i want
to close by asking everybody, what do we think? is donald trump ever going to move away from his admiration? is it likelier that they will end up really liking or hating each other, which has always seemed to me, you know, almost a 50/50 shot. what do you think, karen? >> i knew you were going to call on me for that. ( laughter ) you know, i think that it does make sense for russia to have a relationship with the united states. they need it in north korea. they need it in syria. they need it in a lot of other places around the world. i think that putin is -- and, you know, he's got a reputation the same as trump does as, in putin's case, as a wiley, smart operator, not a lot of laughs, somebody who's thinking several steps ahead. who knows if that's the real putin. i don't know. you guys served in moscow and
probably know more than i do. as tillerson said last night, look, this is a chance to start having a relationship, regardless of whether something firm columnist out of it or not. this meeting had to happen. they had to sit down in the same room, but, again, where trump is concerned, you just never know. >> yeah, i was struck by something william tallman wrote in politico today, basically summarize bid would be worse, that trump and putin get along or they don't? the idea the americans and runnings are at odds is also a very dangerous prop session. there are reasons why the two need to cooperate on various parts of the map. you know, overtly, a hose tell you new cold war relationship isn't what anybody would want, even president trump's critics either. the question are you clear eyed and open eyed about what russia
, is what they're doing, what putin wants and what his goals are? >> that's a lot of burden to place on a meeting that's going to run an hour or so with extensive translation. ed, i'll give you the last word. >> i agree with karen. you and peter are better qualified to answer the question. that being said, i will give an answer. i think putin, this is the fourth american president he's met. he's got a lot of experience reading people, he's ex-kgb. i think however he reads trump tomorrow in a half an hour to an hour's meeting will be very consequential. it will have repercussions i won't predict but i will say will be very significant. >> we have been around the putin story so long that peter you were there when george w. bush had his first summit meeting with vladimir putin and familiesly looked into his eyes and saw his soul and figured this is a man he could do business with. was that a surprise at the time? and how much can we really have surprises anymore?
>> well, it was a surprise at the time, but there was this desire on the part of the west, not just george w. bush, that putin be something he wasn't. they wanted him to be a modernizer, the consolidator of yeltsin's democratic revolution, even if he was a little bit of a retrograde, and he turned out to be much different than what people hoped. >> glasser: i think that's a great note toned it on. i have to say, this is a great conversation. i always love to talk trump and foreign policy with ed luce from the "financial times," karen deyoung from "the washington post" and peter baker, my colleague, my friend, my husband, and the "new york times" chief white house correspondent, thank you. >> glasser: we're back with peter baker from the "new york times." as chief white house correspondent for the "times," he covered president obama's two terms in office. i know this well because i'm his wife as well as his friend and colleague. his new book, "obama: the call of history," is a look back at
those eight years. you framed this up as an interesting moment in time for a book about president obama to come out while president trump is in the midst of trying to redefine or even demolish his leg se, and you asked -- legacy, and you asked can trump undo barack obama's legacy? what do you think? what does the evidence so far suggest when it comes to whether the obama years will survive the trump years? >> it's a great question because when you see a president leave office, normally you have a pretty good sense of what his or her legacy will be. this is a unique situation where you have a president basically seemingly determine brick by brick demolish the last guy's achievements in a way other presidents haven't done. ronald reagan talked about eliminating the department of education. richard nixon didn't eliminate the great society johnson had
done. eisenhower didn't undo the new deal. president trump seems determined to take out president obama's legsy. healthcare is the most prominent example, with the trans-pacific partnership trade deal, the paris accord, clean energy regulations by the e.p.a. and so on and so forth. in fact, you can say president obama's legacy is still unwritten because we don't know how it's going to wind up. >> glasser: was it too early to write the book then? >> no, it's never too early to write a book. i think this is a book that captures the eight years of president obama's ten your, both through pictures and text. this is different than many other books because it's a coffee table book with about 200 photographs from our crack photography staff, but there is also a mediocre text by one of the writers. >> but i want to get to this question, though, of what we come to understand about president obama and why it's really different, and that is really something that, you know, you've covered president clinton, president bush,
president obama, now president trump. that's a lot of years in the white house. i think one of the things that we're debating all the time, right, is how much is president trump really unique, really an outlier, really doing something entirely different to the american presidency versus being sort of in a chain, perhaps a surprising new element in that chain, but basically within the frame of the american presidency. >> well, i think president trump is very different than his predecessors. i think you can find similarities between barack obama, bill clinton, george w. bush, george h.w. bush and so on, not necessarily just on policy but specific ways they approach the job. president trump has taken a very different look at that. you couldn't think of two more opposite figures in temperament, personality and outlook on life than president trump and president obama. president obama was reserved, not a people person, not given to bombastic statements, sometimes cautious to a fault. sometimes his own staff would
grow frustrated by the lengthy policy reviews before he finally came to a decision, but he was a very, you know, controlled, disciplined figure. president trump is the opposite. he's impulse, unrestrained, there are no unfiltered thoughts. he sun managed by his staff, something his supporters think is a good thing, and he has decided to basically govern in the way he ran his reality television show. it's basically a very much ad hoc kind of sometimes unprecedented sort of, you know, type of presidency. >> glasser: yeah, but barack obama, just to offer the counterpoint, came into office also determined to undo george w. bush's legacy and talked a lot about restoring america's standing in the world. obama came into office determined to extricate the united states from what we eh saw as george w. bush's wars of choice in the middle east.
so how is it different between what obama wantedo do in terms of his legacy, his predecessors and what he wants to do now? >> i think president obama didn't pear down specific programs president bush put in place. he came in office intending to move a different direction. in fact, even then, he didn't move as radically a course correction as he advertised in the campaign. he kept the drop strikes and in fact expanded them, he kept a lot of the counterterrorism policies, surveillance, military commissions. guantanamo bay remained open though he talked about wanting to close it. on foreign policy, there was a little bit more continuation in some ways. different courses, not a radical change, he did not undo some of the programs part of president bush's legacy like the creation of the department of homeland security, like the pet far aids program, things like that. no question he wanted to be
anti-bush but he wanted to move forward rather than sit still and undo things in the past. >> glasser: you heard people say in washington if you take away the bombast, rhetoric and twitter feet, which is a lot to take away, but if you take those things away that, in fact, there is some real continuity, more than you might imagine, between obama's foreign policy and trump's foreign policy, at least when it comes to the middle east and use of military force, there is a deep skepticism about engaging america too deeply in the mores that is the middle east. there is a true line that you can discern between the realistic approach to the world. do you agree with that. >> i think president obama observed after election that president trump in some ways was a validation of his desire to keep america from being too enlangled in the middle east, from getting into all the wars in syria, iraq, afghanistan,
libya. president trump echoes that, though he had the strike against syria in retaliation for the chemical weapons use which president obama avoided. broadly speaking, president trump has not been eager to send american ground troops to the middle east or find ourselves policing the internal policies of governments in the middle east. he's basically tried to keep us out of it, even though he's still waging a pretty aggressive war on i.s.i.s. and the terrorist operation there is. >> so i know it's pretty impossible in way to have a conversation about barack obama these days that isn't also a conversation about donald trump. >> right. but let's try the exercise just for a second here. so, actually, when you started working on this book, it was before it was clear at all that donald trump would be the next president. >> yes. >> glasser: so it was then just an exercise of sort of putting a bow, in fact, around the eight years of the obama presidency, trying to add up what it amounted to in the end.
obviously, a key part of obama's historic legacy was cemented the day he was elected in that he shattered this incredible barrier of becoming the first african-american president, but what'd you learn in the course of working on this obama book especially as it became more clear at trump was a potential successor to obama? that's not something obama ever envisioned, but how did it revise your view of the obama presidency, which you watched unfold in real time? >> yeah, what's really interesting about president obama is what we want him to be. you know, we impewed upon him what our ideas of who he is. he said in 2008 i'm like a record shack test -- a roar shack test. liberals wanted him to champion government activism and opposed everything president bush had
done. centrist and some republicans believed his rhetoric he wanted to be a bridge builder and would end the blue-red america divide that was polarizing the country, and i think what we see after eight years -- you know, he spent a lot of that time defining his own identity and, you know, radically shattering expectations of everybody because he wasn't any of these things we thought he was and even now his identity changes by the month. it's sort of very interesting to see, right. for a time he was seen as sort of kind of a disappointment by liberals, an outrage by conservatives, his pole numbers were mediocre. couldn't get out of this mores in the middle east, syria was a disaster, healthcare programs were problematic. by the time he left office, his numbers started to go up. why? probably because of his successor. i think the contrast helped him. people say well maybe he's not as bad as i thought.
secondly, people come around to appreciate things after a president leaves office they didn't necessarily appreciate when the person is there. >> glasser: are there moments or events in the obama presidency that you think will take on a bigger part of the narrative over time than they currently occupy? are there things we're not talking about now that are part of the obama narrative that we will see as part of the obama narrative ten or twenty years from now? >> i think the middle east is the thing we'll see ripple through time. he took the thing president bush left him which was obviously a pretty tumultuous region, roiled by the iraq war, roiled by these conflicts between radicalism and a more moderate type of islamic leadership, and he hoped to solve it. he thought he could make a difference. if anything, it's probably a bigger mess after he left office, through his fault or
anyone elses. how that plays out in 10, 20 years. libya was a crucial moment where he chose to intervene, wanted n.a.t.o. to take the leerksd but as soon as it was over did everything he could to get out and left a pretty big mess there. we saw bush's form will didn't give the result he wanted, obama's formula didn't give the result he wanted, and america is stuck in the region whether it wants to be or not. >> glasser: it's interesting we're having this conversation about american leadership in the wrld and has donald trump pulled back from american leadership in the world, but we were having the exact same -- a version of that conversation in the early years of the obama presidency as well and, remember, it was republicans back then who were saying, you know, obama doesn't believe in what makes america truly exceptional and why won't he just come out and say america is exceptional and why is he ashamed of having america lead in the world?
and now we're having a different version of that conversation but still it's a similar conversation. >> it is and goes to our own national insecurity. the idea make america great, the donald trump slogan. when did he stop being great? if obama said that, he would be accused of undercutting america. but it goes to the sense that something is lost, something has been left behind, that we weren't what we once were. whether it's true or factual or not, it's certainly real. that colored president obama's presidency, it's coloring president trump's presidency, and it's part of this post-cold war hangover. we had a pretty clear mission through 1991. we had to defeat communism, save the world. where are we taking america? what's the great superpower leading? what is our role in the world? you can see in president obama's legacy a struggle to define america in this new era. >> glasser: you said something
intriguing which is maybe obama has more in common with george w. bush and bill clinton than basically the three post-cold war era than you might imagine. it's extraordinary to say if you think about the fact that obama got elected as a repudiation of great britain's approach. but when you line them up against trump, you've covered all the white houses. would you lump those three presidents together in some way? >> i would. all three believed in the liberal international order, in the notion of american leadership in the world, in different ways. president bush is accused of unilateralism in his first term. by the time he left office, he was building alliances, working with the asians, working with europeans on issues like russia and the the middle east, and i think all three basically had a fundamental agreement with the consensus that we see in
washington. trade is another great example. president trump san outlier on these things. he doesn't actually believe multi-laterallism. he doesn't believe the big, sweeping trade deals. he doesn't believe globalism as defined by the last three administrations. what he does to change that and whether it's permanent or not is the big question of our time. >> glasser: i would love to know what barack obama would have to say about you comparing him so closely with george w. bush. but you also covered -- >> he would hate it. my guess is his book won't make that argument when it comes out. but you've covered all these white houses as a reporter, too. try to give us a little bit of a sense -- because certainly, you know, watching you cover them over the years, i've noticed this, but how much -- is it a like to cover each of these white houses and what's truly different about trump now? one of the things is people are idealistic. they come to washington and think the team you sympathize with will naturally be easier to
get along with and that somehow reporters will get a better shake in a democratic administration. up until now that's not always been the case. >> no, i wouldn't say that's the case. i got yelled at just as much if not more by the obama white house than i ever did by the bush or clintonen white house. they were awfully tough on reporters at times and i think we covered them pretty toughly back and i think that tension is natural. it's there. it's supposed to be there. it's written into the program. what's different now is it's basically been put on a megaphone where a president who, you know, obviously has a antipathy toward the press is willing to say it out loud and in visceral terms. i don't think clinton or bush or obama were any less enamored with the press in certain moments. they had their frustrations. they didn't make it their modus aventedy of their administration. there are boundaries they wouldn't cross. this is a president who doesn't
believe in the same boundaries. >> glasser: going back to get another crack of the stuff of daily journalism by going wack and doing a book, were there stories you feel like we missed at the time that we didn't do as good a job as we could have? obviously there's a pretty robust debate taking place now over the coverage of the russian hacking of the election in 2016. were there things that you began to see that narrative popping up earlier than you realized? >> i think the russian thing is the best example. we didn't realize the time or spend enough time making clear just how divided the administration was over what they should do about this, just how deep the evidence was they were dealing with and the factors that were at play for a president who was watching his successor being chosen in a very compromised environment. you know, we've seen more debate about that since they left office than we have -- than we saw at the time. i think as the media, it's a
shame we didn't do a better job of airing some of that at the bait in realtime, tough as it would have been. >> glasser: let's talk about russia for a second. you and i were in moscow, green, inexperienced foreign correspondents for the rise and beginning of vladimir putin's presidency. i think we would have been both shocked to realize he was still in power 17 years later. but, you know, we've seen now three different american presidents basically come into office and say i want to do better with putin then struggle to do so. obviously, tomorrow, donald trump and vladimir putin will meet for the first time face to face in this presidency where russia occupied so much of the stage. but obama in particular with a very frustrating example. i remember well, you know, your coverage of the first year of the obama white house and their reset with russia and how heated
and upset they were at any critical coverage from journalists about the fact that putin might not actually be willing to engage on the level with this reset. and the obama white house was absolutely determined to have this new policy. they saw it as this brilliant, you know, definitive end of the cold war and it didn't work out like that at all. what did that episode teach you as far as covering the white house? were we too gentle on the obama white house when it came to that reset with russia? did they get played? >> i think on the reset we were pretty skeptical from the start. i remember getting yelled at by obama people who were upset at us for being so skeptical. you know, when we said, these are relatively minor policy concessions that russia has made that the trump team thought is the biggest thing since sliced bread, they would get mad at us
back. i remember phone calls from the white house about a meeting with putin and st. petersburg and i mischaracterized and that in fact putin was never planning to have a genuine reset with obama, didn't respect obama. signing that we would see this president now going to meet with putin. you know, the press is appropriately skeptical because we have been through this before and seen it before and we understand that putin doesn't see the world the way america sees it. u. so i want to close this by getting back to obama and what you think his legacy will be. obviously, trump is setting out to undo both legislatively and by executive order what he can do of some of obama's accomplishments.
what do you think will withstand that sort of initial trumpian and republican onslaught and taking a somewhat longer view? it's not enough to say, well, barack obama was the first african-american president. what do you think, having covered the whole thing, we're going to be reading about barack obama 50 years from now? >> some things you can't undo as the next president, right? he inherited economy on a great debris and brought it back from the abyss. the auto industry which was about to go into the toilet rescued. osama bin laden who escaped american man hunters for a decade was found and killed. things like that can't be changed by the next administration. i think that the disappointments of his administration are things that are going to live regardless of what the next one that comes along. the legacy of syria is what you would here about the biggest
disappointment, the thing they felt couldn't get right, counteddent stop and aches to see hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced. those things don't change as a result of the next administration. whether healthcare survives, we wasn't won't know. congress could reach an impasse that leaves the current program in place, same thing with dodd-frank and other things. sometimes presidents are remembered by what they tried to do even if their cheeflts don't last through the next administration anyway and i think president obama made clear the priorities he set and wants to outlast his time in office. >> glasser: tough question to tend conversation -- do you think that, given the threats to his legacy, barack obama bears some measure of responsible for donald trump as his successor, the repudiation in many ways of what he was trying for? >> yeah what david axlerod says
is we don't elect replica, we elect the opposite person, and trump is certainly an opposite person than obama, and they'd also defend themselves by saying we had a weak candidate in hillary clinton. but you can't completely eliminate the fact that the t was ready to elect anotherhat person running explicitly as a third term of barack obama. there was a reason why many americans decided they had enough of that and wanted something different. so at least some of that will be left at his door historically. he said his big disappointment is he failed to reconcile the blue-red america divide. >> it's wider than ever. f you look at polls prior to donald trump, no president was more polarizing in polls than barack obama even though he didn't set out to be a polar polarizing president, he was one. this would be the biggest point domestically and what people
would look at in how the election played out to succeed him. >> glasser: peter baker, white house correspondent for the "new york times," his new book, "obama: the call of history." >> rose: for more about this program and earlier episodes, visit us online at pbs.org and charlierose.com. captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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