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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  July 5, 2018 12:30am-1:01am BST

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our i'm babita sharma with bbc world news. our top story: anti—terrorist police have been called in to a small english town near the site of the skripal poisonings after two more people were exposed to the nerve agent novichok. the victims — a local couple in theirforties — are critically ill in hospital. the metropolitan police assistant commissioner said anti—terrorism officers were now leading the inquiry. footage of the boys trapped in a flooded cave system in thailand appears to show them in good spirits, as the operation to get them out safely continues. the us has been celebrating the 4th ofjuly, independence day, in traditional style, with parades and parties and for one man, spray—painting the stars and stripes onto his front lawn. it took arthur mccann about two hours to complete the work of art in massachusetts. that's all. stay with bbc world news. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk with sarah montague. welcome to hardtalk with me, sarah montague.
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throughout president obama's time in office, my guest today was by his side, one of his closest confidantes. his title was deputy national security adviser but ben rhodes developed such a close bond with barack obama he earned a reputation to be able to anticipate the president's thinking and white house insiders described him as the single most influential voice shaping american policy aside from the president. in his new memoir on his time in the obama administration, he says, i don't know anymore where i begin and obama ends. so what does he feel about the new occupant of the white house and what he's doing with their legacy? ben rhodes, welcome to hardtalk.
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thank you. how do you explain your connection to president obama? well, it's one of the reason why i wrote the book, to try to explore that but i think fundamentally, he was running for president in 2008 as an outsider and he hadn't built up the network of people that most people running for president do. hillary clinton had kind of sucked up the democratic machine and i was coming in as a relative outsider, newcomer at 29 years old. we shared a frustration. i got into politics for the same reasons, after september 11, the attackes, our government had gotten it wrong in the iraq war and with a number of other decisions so we entered into this process with the same shared sense of trying to make change. the other reason that is important is when you are a speechwriter, you have to get inside someone‘s head because you have to learn how to write in their voice, how they think and talk, so it was myjob, frankly, to be able to anticipate what he wanted to say and do. indeed, but people seem to suggest
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it almost went further. you have speechwriters for lots of politicians. was it that your personalities were similar? yes, we had some similarities in personality. we had very different backgrounds obviously. he is mixed race from hawaii, i am from new york. but i think we had a similar sense of frustration with, again, the way things had been going in american politics and foreign policy. we had a sensibility of being outsiders, even when we were in the white house, which sounds strange. we never lost that sense. how would you describe him? you talk about having similar personalities. how would you describe him? i would describe him as somebody
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who is ultimately at the end of the day a very pragmatic person, who wants to make decision and do things based on commonsense. if something hasn't worked in the past, we should he is also someone who has a bit of a unique background and could be misread from both the left and the right. the notion that he was, from the right, some kind of radical, was deeply misplaced. he was essentially an institutionalist. he had a fatherfrom kenya, got an education, went back and found there were no institutions. it was a politics devoted to corruption and patronage. that knocked his father out of politics, blacklisted him. obama believe he needed to make change through institutions. in the left, there was this sense that obama was never going far enough. they need to understand too that he was going to push the boundaries of how much he could promote positive change without upending the entire system. you mentioned it was seeing the american response to 9/11 that brought you into politics,
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but you've also written about the moment of 9/11, seeing the planes go into the towers that chnaged the course of what you wanted to do. i was 2a and in graduate school for fiction writing. working on local political campaigns too. and i though i'd become a writer and maybe go into publishing. and the first plane hit, and then i saw tower collapse. i knew in that moment, what i was going to do with my life ws going to be somehow about the response to those events. i went to an army recruiter. i had every intention of signing up but they didn't know what to make with me. there aren't a lot of creative writing graduates in the military.
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they couldn't really describe what i would be doing. what did you think you would be doing? i didn't know. i wanted to be a part of how we, the united states, would respond. it led me to washington being a journalist writing about foriegn policy. and it is when barack obama was a senator that he noticed you? yes, i had the luck to work for the 9/11 commission in the united states and this thing called the iraq study group which assessed the twin events that defined the first decade of the 21st century. so i had that expertise and i was a speech writer. obama needed to put together a team and i wanted to work for him and i started working for free, not even knowing if it'd lead anywhere. i'd write memos and speeches and that got me in the door to meet barack obama. there was the moment that he noticed you. was there something that you recall? you write about a particular meeting. there was this commonsense thread. i walked into a meeting where they were debating whether he should vote in the senate for a bill to fund the iraq war. i was so nervous that
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i didn't want to speak. i was afraid he was going to call on me because i knew i couldn't speak in paragraphs. when it came to my turn to talk, and he goes to everyone in the room, i said, you have a plan for iraq? he said, yes. i said your plan does x, y, z. he said, yes. why vote for this bill, you should vote against it. would he look weak if he didn't fund this? how would it be received? he said, wait a second, this is the straightforward approach. i don't believe in this, so i won't vote for it. came over to me, shook my hand, said, hey, i'm barack, i'm glad you're with us. since then, you left office, president trump has taken over, a great deal has changed. he's undone the iran deal, the tra ns—pacific partnership, the climate accord, cuba, there have been any number of complete changes. what do you make of those changes, things that you put in place? trump, in the absence
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of a coherent worldview, one of his organising principles, if obama did it, he will undo it. is that what is driving him? that is part of what is driving him, absolutely. if you look at iran, we see him pull out of the iran agreement, declaring it a disaster, even though it has inspections and timelines associated with it and requirements, to denuclearise and declares it a huge success. there is not a substantive basis as to why you would do one thing, pull out of iran, and then do the other thing with north korea. for me personally, the hardest thing is on some of these policies, particularly cuba where i had negotiated that with the cubans and the vatican, i knew we really raised expectations of people in cuba. i remember travelling
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there and people said to me, things are finally going to change for the better and i think those people are being let down and that makes me feel personally distressed. on iran, president trump has made the point that it's a horrible one—sided deal that should never, ever have been made. he has the support of israel in that, benjamin netanyahu calling it a recipe for disaster, a disasterfor our region and the peace of the world. trump has never articulated why it's a disaster. one of the reasons is that there is effectively an expiry in it. yes, but the fact of the matter is, if you were concerned about iran's nuclear programme, if the worst thing is you can say is that it expires in 10 or 15 years, why blow it up now? wait 10 or 15 years. that fact that it doesn't take on what iran may doing elsewhere with sponsoring terrorism. that completely fails to hold up when you consider that trump just went and embraced kim jong—un, said nothing about human rights and their assassinations
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in those countries. as far as iran is concerned, and in your book, this is your memoir, the world as it is, in that book, you made clear that in eight years there was nothing as fiercely contested in foreign policy as this nuclear deal. you haven't won people over. interesetingly, diplomacy was more contested than war in the united states. a lot of that again can be attibuted to the israeli prime minister, his voice matters a lot in the united states, who opposed this deal. the fact is, prime minister neta nyahu ideologicallly was is in a totally different place and didn't support that type of diplomacy with iran. our argument to him and congress opponents always was, if you are concerned about what iran does in the region, you should prevent them getting a nuclear weapon. you don't make nuclear deals with your friends. it comes down to the pragmatism
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you are talking about. let us look at syria which is arguably one of the biggest foreign policy failures from your time in the white house. what the president has done there, he did...there were reprisals for the use of chemical weapons, something that president obama didn't do. yeah, look, his concern was that a limited military strike wasn't going to do improve things in syria. you wouldn't affect the war, you weren't going to stop assad from killing his people with a limited cruise missile strike. trump's attacks in a way have blown that out. but president obama had stated red line. if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons being moved around or utilised, that would change my calculus or equation. and then they were used and nothing happened. yes, and i described my own wrenching experience of syria in the book, where i was a huge advocate for military intervention. including after that chemical attack.
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what he decided, and i wanted to let people into the decision process, that there was not a military solution. he wanted to make sure this was set up to succeed. what he found is he didn't have international support, he didn't have domestic support from congress and he had the us congress saying it would be unconstitutional. he made a determination. if i act in that capacity and without that support, what i think is an unlikely course in being able to change things in syria with the military,, it will definitely fail. it can't be sustained. he went to congress to get their support and couldn't. do you accept that as a result, he and america were seen to be weak. i accept that, there is no question but i also think he would say to me, going to war someplace to show that you do not look weak is not a good reason to go to war. if you look at american history, that is why we stayed in vietnam,
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for years after we should have left, bombing cambodia and laos, just to show we were tough and we weren't weak. he was willing to take that criticism rather than get into a war that he thought couldn't succeed. but there were consequences, not least spelt out by his own secretary of defence, robert gates. i think that russian president putin saw the united states withdrawing from around the world, i think the problem is that president obama's actions have not matched his rhetoric and it's sent a signal that the us was in retreat. do you accept that it emboldened russia ? no, and i want to be clear, nobody can be satisfied with this outcome but on that particular analysis, i think what putin was responding to and lashing out in ukraine in particular, was a sense that we were encircling him. that there had been two decades of nato and eu expansion, the us fought wars of regime change
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in iraq and libya and he interpreted the protest over yanokovich as generated by the united states. i don't agree, but i think putin was lashing out in ukraine and the elction because he thought we were pressing russia, not that we were withdrawing from around the world. now, you mention in the election, and the former cia chief who became defence secretary, leon panetta, said when putin conducted the cyber attacks during the last election, he felt he could get away with it without any kind of response. agains, it's that criticism that there isn't a belief president obama was going to do anything. well, the fault i find in our response in our response over the russian intervention is when we did make a public statement and a warning about it, we focused on the cyber attack, that they hacked the dnc, the democratic national committee, they released these emails.
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there was this massive information war taking place where they were creating and disseminating huge volumes of fake news about hillary clinton that is flooding the social media feeds of tens of millions of americans potentially, i don't think we give enough of that context to people and it wasn't as much about punching russia back, we did that, we imposed sanctions and expelled diplomats. i think we could have done more was on conditioning the public on what russia was doing. obama's view was essentially that the people consuming that type of news were not inclined to listen to him, that if you're are reading stories about hillary clinton and how corrupt she is and she's not healthy, barack obama is not the person to tell you that that's fake news and that's not. you were urging him to speak out about it? yeah, and i said in my book, we are warning people about the cyber piece of this but we are not painting a picture of the fake news, which i had seen in the ukraine, how they had developed this
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capability to generate fake news in the ukraine war context. obama said to me, "look, if i say that — we can't say this is fake. trump will say it is rigged." that was his view. but you go further in your book because you talk about what happened onjanuary 5th, the leadership of the intelligence community filed into the office — this is a couple of weeks ahead of president trump's inauguration — for a briefing on russian meddling. in that, you say they painted a stark picture of a methodical, relentless campaign waged by putin on behalf of trump. did they suggest to you that donald trump knew about that campaign? they did not, and in fact, in the us government — at least the way it used to function — the fbi does not tell the white house about investigations of americans. i actually was shocked to learn about the fact of the fbi investigation into trump campaign collusion with russia. i learned about that in the press after we left.
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we knew about russian interference... yes, but in turn, what we are told about the extent of the russian meddling, i mean you're not suggesting that president trump knew about it? i do not know whether he did or not. we we told — first of all, we were told before the election that they were doing this, they were hacking these political organisations, releasing these e—mails, working with wikileaks, creating fake news. after the election, president obama ordered a review of all the intelligence that we had about this. what happened ? that ultimately led up to that meeting in the oval office. the picture that they pieced together between then and the election became more and more alarming, and what they were also finding were potentially these connections between trump associates and the russians. are you saying without that effort on behalf of the russians, president trump would not have won the vote as he did? you know, i think it is always hard to say after an election that this
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caused this but yes, i think there is no question that the russian interference had an influence on the election. whether it was the determining factor — you can never get in the minds of voters. what i do know is that if you have millions of voters reading stories and hacked e—mails provided by the russians and the whole election is decided by 100,000 votes in three states, it is quite likely that the russians swung the election. and that is a situation that could still exist? they will try to do it in the upcoming mid—term election, and trump's refusal to acknowledge that this even happened. he is the president of the united states and his own intelligence committee is telling him that this happened, and he is calling it a witch—hunt, is denying even the fact of that russian campaign on his behalf. there are those — not least your fellow democrat bernie sanders, he said of their meeting in north korea with kimjong—un that it was a positive step
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in the escalating tensions. will you give him any form of acknowledgement that that was a success? i wouldn't call it a success. what i would say is i prefer that to where we were, so i am glad that he is pursuing diplomacy with the north koreans. that is far preferable to a conflict with the north koreans. what i would say though is look, the iran deal took two years to tee up. he wanted the spectacle of a meeting and they didn't do their homework, they did not know what they wanted to get out of the north koreans. so what happens? the north koreans get international legitimacy that comes out of a meeting with the president, which they've never had. they get the sanctions released because if you are china, why would you enforce the sanctions after this summit? and in return, the north koreans promised to denuclearise — the same promise that they have broken to three us presidents, no timeline, no inspection.
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you say that president trump you think, in part, is setting out to undo the legacy of your time in the white house of president obama. why do think he's trying to do that? he had always had deep—seated hostility towards president obama, and keep in mind this is a guy who launched his career essentially on the birther movement, the notion — he was the chief proponent of the idea that obama was not born in the united states, demanded that he released his birth certificate, so the animus has been there all along. no iran deal, no paris deal, no tpp, i'm going to stop cuba opening — there is no consistency with these positions other than that they're the opposite of what obama was doing. and when you write about how republicans worked with obama, you talk about racism, you say it was there in the refusal of republicans to work with him eight years — something that obama was blamed
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for no matter what he did. do you think that president trump's opposition, not least which you mentioned was founded on the birther movement, was racist? absolutely. this is a man again that declares over and over again publicly that the first ever african—american president was not born in the united states, was born in africa. sometimes you have to call it what it is, that's racist. president obama never did. not publicly. did he privately? yes, and i say in the book that we would be discussing how to answer questions on a talk show like this and he would say "well, how much of the opposition to your presidency do you think is rooted in race?" or "do you think it is?" and he would say "yes, of course, next question." he didn't want to talk about racism in public. his judgement was that if he starts talking about racism in public like that, anything else he wants to talk about, no one is going to pay attention.
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so how much racism did you see against him? i saw a lot. i mean, look, he faced a stridency of opposition — some of it was over, by the way — i mean some of it was not subtle. southern congressman standing up and yelling "you lie!" in the middle of his speeches, the birther conspiracies, the kind of toxic conspiracy theorising constantly about the obamas, the double standards. obama played golf, it was all about how dare he? trump plays golf every weekend. do you think that is rooted in racism, because there were people in the country that did not like his politics and a large portion of the country did not like his politics? yes, absolutely, but i think you would have to be wilfully blind to think that none of that was about racism. donald trump's coalition
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is overwhelmingly white, it is not — and rooted in states like the american south, that have long histories of racial politics. so for you now, and you do still work with president obama, what is it like watching what you created, what he did in the white house, being undone? it is difficult, you know. i have to say though you develop, when you have spent eight years in the white house, a bit of a sense of the longer view of these things. they can — the pendulum can swing backjust as hard as it swung towards trump. the next president can come back and sign the paris climate agreement and reopen the cuba policy. to me it is morejust the office of the presidency, the way he conducts himself in office is kind of unrecognisable to me. so it is more difficult than if it was some other republican who didn't like our policies doing it. it's the fact that trump shows such disregard forjust the stewardship of the office. and if it is, if president trump is president in the white house
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for one term, are you suggesting that actually itjust could be just a blip because somebody else could come in and... i think there is a huge difference between one or two terms, as i describe in the book. a lot of the biggest change is in the second term because it takes us a long way to get things done, it takes years to build support and, in government, to get things done. i do think though that even long—term, trump is going to do a lot of damage, notjust to the obama presidency but to the expectations that americans have of their leaders and, frankly, to the way that the rest of the world looks at us. i think the rest of the world is looking at the situation and thinking it is notjust trump, but how did the rest of the country elect trump? he is notjust picking fights with our allies, he is doing things
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that are imprudent. i think america has got to build back some trust. ben rhodes, thank you for coming on hardtalk. thanks a lot, i enjoyed it. hello. 29 degrees celsius was the high yesterday. that was in northern ireland. there will be a dramatic dip in the temperature here during the day ahead. we had and will have a dramatic drop in temperature for parts of scotland. you can see we had a few shower clouds yesterday. we had a few light showers across the southern half of the country. a smattering of rain for some of the gardens. we will see perhaps a little bit more during the day ahead. the change in scotland and northern ireland was brought about by this band of cloud. the odd spot of drizzle. the noticeable change
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is a dip in temperature. for many of us, temperatures are higher than wednesday morning. a bit more comfortable for sleeping, i'm sure. this weather system is not bringing much weather. just a line of cloud. most of the rain is further north. but it is bringing the fresher atlantic air in. you can see the delineation between the hot air and that is the atlantic influence. that is why temperatures in scotland and northern ireland could be 10 degrees lower than those yesterday. there should not be as much weather on that system. more cloud as it goes gradually east through the day. things will brighten up. cloud is building for the south to be a few showers in the pennines. more likely in the southern half of the uk, parts of wales in southern and central england. they could well be heavier than yesterday. thunder, given the heat building. it looks like the heat will be higher on the temperatures by a degree or two for the bulk of england and wales to be
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a contrast after the 29, only 18 or 19 during the day ahead. there will be a refreshing sea breeze around the coast. thursday and friday. the change in the wind on thursday today should see the low cloud shift away from the east coast more quickly. early—morning mist will burn away. then it's a lovely day. the odd shower in the east. temperatures are gradually starting to recover across scotland and northern ireland as we lose the atlantic influence, building the heat by the day and therefore by night. it will be uncomfortably hot. many of us once again with temperatures in central and southern areas getting towards 30 degrees. high pressure ensures lots of dry weather through the weekend. the fly in the ointment is more cloud at times, producing patchy rain on these weak weather fronts towards the north and west. hot further south. refreshing sea breezes around the coast. still strong sunshine. looks as though fine weather
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will last into the early part of next week. this is newsday. i'm babita sharma in london. the headlines: british police confirm that a couple who became critically ill have been exposed to the nerve agent novichok. the pair were found unconscious on saturday in amesbury in southwest england close to where the former russian spy sergei skripal and his daughter were poisoned by the same nerve agent in march. i'm sharanjit leyl in singapore. also in the programme: footage of the boys trapped in a flooded cave system in thailand appears to show them in good spirits as the mission to get them out continues. and the us secretary of state mike pompeo is heading back to north korea, for another meeting with kim jong—un.
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