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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  April 8, 2019 4:30am-5:01am BST

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this is the briefing. i'm maryam moshiri. our top story: london has become the first city in the world to introduce an ultra—low emission zone in an effort to improve air quality. drivers of polluted vehicles, from motorbikes to lorries, striving for clean—air and the city coming into the centre of the city street, london becomes the first in the world to charge drivers of will have to pay to enter the area. polluting vehicles to use its roads. president trump is replacing his homeland security secretary. president trump announces kirstjen nielsen says she has he is replacing the woman in charge of his border policy. the secretary for homeland security, resigned with immediate effect. kirsten nieljsen, says she has resigned with immediate effect. anger has been growing within the white house at the failure to reduce the number of migrants entering the us illegally across southern border. a british woman could face two years imprisonment and dubai for insulting her ex—husband ‘s new wife on and the un—backed government in libya says more than 20 people facebook. have been killed in four days of fighting around the capital, an extraordinary meeting for an tripoli. extraordinary situation. shareholders agree to remove the jailed former boss. i'll be speaking to our forces led by warlord khalifa haftar correspondent in tokyo to get the latest twist are trying to seize the city, in defiance of international in the on—going saga. calls for restraint. you are up to date with the headlines. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk,
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with stephen sackur. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. the united states of america is still the most powerful nation on earth, but the way it's perceived by friends and rivals has changed radically in a generation. at the end of the cold war, american supremacy was unchallenged, and washington's commitment to multilateral global engagement unquestioned. well now, we live in a very different era. my guest is william burns, who served as a top ranked us diplomat for three decades, serving five presidents. is the us losing its capacity to lead 7
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william burns, welcome to hardtalk. it's great to be with you. you have retired, you were a top—ranked diplomat for more than three decades. do you think your career encompassed the period when diplomacy came to matter much less? i think at some ways it did, you're right. i began the book with a scene that was set in the george h w bush administration when i worked for secretary of state james baker at the madrid—middle east peace conference. and that really was the point at which american power and diplomacy was at their peak. but then, over the course of the following three decades, part of it was sort of the natural evolution of events, as other powers rose in the world.
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part of it had to do with unforced errors, particularly in iraq in 2003 on the part of american administrations. but part of it also reflected a drift in the priority that american administrations attached to american diplomacy as a tool of pursuing our interests in the world. i think after the end of the cold war, there was a sense of complacency. we went through a period of significant budget cuts driven by congress. then came the huge shock to our system in 9/11, and a further emphasis on military and intelligence tools of foreign policy, with diplomacy often times treated as an underresourced afterthought. it seems to me there is a structural thing here. when you set out in the early 1990s, you were labouriously writing long reports back to washington, putting them in a pouch and it would take days for your masters in washington to get them and read them. now in the environment of 24/7 news, social media streams, electronic surveillance, frankly the diplomat, your entire life devoted to it,
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that role is sort of gone? i don't think it's gone, but it certainly has changed significantly. and professional diplomats need to adapt. we are slow to adapt because self—criticism is sometimes in order, and the state department is full of people who, as individuals, can be very courageous and entrepreneurial. as an institution, the state department has rarely been accused of being too agile or too full of initiative. so the pace and volume of information today, as journalists and diplomats have to contend with, means there is still an enormous value in smart diplomacy, but it is in distilling that avalanche of information. let's talk about how smart diplomacy has been in your lifetime. you've written a very thick tome, which is a very interesting, detailed account of all the different diplomatic activities you've been involved with, primarily focused on the middle east and russia, which were your two
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real specialisisms. your contention is that america over the years has seen some really very effective diplomats in charge, from james baker, who you admired a great deal, through figures like colin powell to barack 0bama himself in more recent times. i would put it to you that actually, your account really represents how many mistakes and missteps were made during your professional lifetime. i tried to be honest about things i got right and things i got wrong. i tried to ground it not — as often is the case in memoirs, in writing what i wish i'd said or recommended, but rather what i was saying and thinking at the time, so i was able to get about 120 documents declassified, some of which are at
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the end of the book. so i try to present warts and all my successes and failures as a diplomat. i guess what's interesting is the degree to which you, and let's start with russia, could see that the us was probably getting wrong the structural relationship with post—soviet russia in the 1990s, getting it wrong because of the enthusiasm for the rapid nato expansion towards russia's border. you advised against that rapid expansion, and nobody appeared to be listening. why? i think if you look at the first waves of the expansion of nato in the late 1990s, you could understand. i was sitting in moscow trying to offer myjudgement on what the russian reaction would be. but from the point of view of a poll with an historic sense of insecurity, you can understand the attraction... but we aren't talking about what the polls were thinking, but the conclusions drawn in washington, dc in what was ultimately in america's national interest. and i'm focusing in on it because it
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matters so much today because of what we now see in the relationship between vladimir putin and the united states. i think in terms of nato expansion, as i point out in the book, the big mistake that i believe we made was in the spring of 2008 at the end of the george w bush administration, when we pushed quite hard for the opening of the door to formal membership for ukraine and georgia. and that's an issue that wasn't unique to putin, it runs across the russian political elite. and i think we had gotten into the habit of putting nato expansion on autopilot, and into the habit born of our experience in the 19905 where it seemed to us we could manoeuvre over or around any objection from moscow. already in this interview, you've used a word that seems to me quite important, complacency. there was, and you inherited it because long before you came to the state department, there was this notion of a pre—eminent america. do you think that notion
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of pre—eminence led to a form of complacency which has been corrosive in the last 20 years? i think it was that sense, which was the reality at the end of the cold war, the us was the single dominant player on the international landscape. and that bred a certain complacency, and that intersected with another deeply felt emotion, which was the shock to the system of 9/11, and the sense that the united states needed to ensure that an attack like that never happened again. and the bias then was towards prevention, towards acting, a form of muscular unilateralism that caused us to pay less attention to multilateralism. 0ne specific point that strikes me as interesting in russia, you met vladimir putin several times. now donald trump, who currently of course is guiding a very different approach to russia, at least on the face of it is different, because he wants to reach out to putin.
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he admires him, we know that, and he seems to believe that one—on—one personal diplomacy, as we've seen in those extraordinary summit meetings, like the one in helsinki recently, trump seems to believe that by being with putin, spending time with him and establishing a relationship, that can have a structural impact on the moscow—washington relationship. do you as a diplomat believe that can and does matter? personal relationships certainly matter, they matter with autocrats in particular, because of their singular domination of another political system. there are necessary but not sufficient, and the concern i have about donald trump's approach to his relationships with autocrats like putin is that in his effort to curry favour, to almost indulge in ingratiating himself with leaders like that, that's perceived by putin and kimjong—un as a sign of weakness and manipulability.
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so the focus on personal relationships is important, certainly george hw bush and james baker understood that well, but it must be coupled with a hard—nosed business of diplomacy, which means building leverage and trusting professional diplomats and others to help carry through policies, as well. without that, i think diplomacy becomes narcissism. it's not a diplomacy of institutions. let me switch from russia, which you are a russian speaker, that was one of your specialists, the other was the middle east because you're an arabic speaker, as well, and you spend a lot of time in the middle east. you were involved in different capacities right through the 9/11 period, the invasion of iraq, all the way through to barack 0bama's policymaking on syria, bringing it right forward to 2011 onwards. again, it looks like a tale of missteps, mistakes, and frankly, of strategic lack of direct on. you were part of it? i was.
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i think we got some things right, certainly going back to the madrid peace conference just after the end of the cold war. i think the iranian nuclear agreement, which sadly we've abandoned in the last couple of years, was a significant step forward for american diplomacy. so there were other moments where we got things right. you have written about the iraq invasion of 2003, you've described how you wrote memos laying out all the potential problems that you saw with the toppling of saddam hussein. you stayed, despite the fact that the administration clearly did not listen to your advice. one has to say, you were something of an enabler? that's true, i had a conversation that i write about in the book with a senior colleague in the state department. we talked about that, and almost inevitably,
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that's the role that you fall into sometimes. how important is it, if a senior figure like yourself truly feels a policy to be deeply misguided and damaging to the national interest — how important is it to draw a line and say, "if that line is crossed, i'm out of here? i' i have enormous respect for those of my colleagues, there were three over the iraq war in 2003 who resigned from the foreign service. there were 20 over policy in the balkans in the early 1990s. i have enormous respect for that decision. however, i also think that continuing to do the best you can and being honest about your concerns inside a discipline profession is also important. whether i got that balance right or not, i'm not sure to this day. but we did try in the run—up to the iraq war to be honest about oui’ concerns. two colleagues of mine and i had the most depressing brainstorming session of my career in the summer of 2002, where we tried to puncture some of what we believed were the recklessly rosy assumptions about what the day after saddam hussein's overthrow would look like in iraq. and it was more a hurried list of horrible is than
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a coherent analysis. but we tried to list all the things we thought could go wrong. we entitled that memorandum "the perfect storm". in reading it in hindsight, we got it about half right and half wrong. but it was an honest effort to express oui’ concerns, and that's an obligation i think for professionals. what do you think, if one adds up all of the us‘s middle east strategic key policies of the last 25 years, from israel and palestine attempting to be the peacemaker but utterly failing, one must conclude — iraq, the invasion and removal of saddam hussein, but the leaving behind of such a mess that it spilt over into syria and arguably was the cornerstone of the creation of isis and the jihadist movement. syria, the greatest humanitarian tragedy in the middle east of recent times... at the end of all that, it looks like the involvement of yourself has to conclude that
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you and many others oversaw a catastrophic damage to us credibility in the region and the world ? well we got a lot of things wrong. as i said, we got some things right during that period. i think american diplomacy has its limits, and i think one of the things we learned over those three decades is the limits of our agency in the middle east. and i think all too often, both leaderships and peoples in the middle east, as well as americans, got accustomed to seeing american decisions as central to their future. the arab spring was a reminder that people in that region have agency of their own. so i would be the last person to argue we have a pristine record in the middle east, we did not, through administrations of both parties. but i think we need to learn the lessons of that experience,
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the limits of our agency, but also learn where we can focus constructively. let's now talk about donald trump. and i don't wish to make it sound like i'm simply focused on all the negatives and i'm using hindsight in a very easy way for a journalist to do. i've discovered i've gotten a lot smarter since i got out of government. the fact is that donald trump ran a campaign in 2016 when, as he addressed foreign policy issues, he told the american public that they've been failed by the foreign policy establishment for the last generation. they've given you a set of received ideas, a status quo mentality which has not worked in america's national interest, and he would be different, shaking things up. as we've discussed things in this interview, it seems to me that donald trump had a point? i think anyone who got elected president of the united states in 2016 was going to have to reckon with a landscape on which our record was pretty mixed. it was also going to have to reckon with a pretty big disconnect
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within american society between people like me, card—carrying members of the washington establishment, and lots of american citizens who, when we preach the virtues of disciplined american leadership in the world, in my experience most americans don't need to be convinced of the value of american engagement in the world. but they do need to be convinced if frankly, your exercise of your experience and insight has failed. and if donald trump is telling them that the state department is full of people who are elitist and don't understand america's real interest, and the intelligence agencies as well, because he included them, and he would do things very differently and get rid of all these elitists, operating his own foreign policy and intelligence gathering in a different way. that's what he said, and in a sense that's what he's doing, and we talk about his russia policy, his confrontation with china over trade, we could talk about his different approach to north korea and iran. he's shaken up all of the received ideas that you practised which didn't work.
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i think some of those ideas worked, and some didn't. but the point i was trying to make before is that most americans don't need to be persuaded of the value of american leadership in the world. what they are sceptical about, and what trump took advantage of, is the disciplined part of that. they see indiscipline, and the way in which american administrations and professionals have made choices over time. so in a sense, trump was asking the right questions, i just think he's supplying the wrong answers. because if you look at the public servants of the united states today, the state department in the intelligence community in the military, they are deeply patriotic, committed, they have enormous amounts of expertise that you need to draw on, not disdain. and when donald trump was asked last year about whether he was concerned of the number of senior vacancies in the state department,
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his response was, "not so much, because i'm the only one who matters". that is not a prescription for playing an effective american role in the world. so those were the right questions, any elected president would have had to address them. but i think what he's supplying are the wrong answers. we are hollowing out our ability to compete effectively on a landscape which is far more competitive and contested today than it was when ijoined the foreign service. let's talk about that new landscape, it seems to me the one challenge we haven't talked about, the one that matters more arguably than the others, is china. that's certainly true. do you think it's time to confront, co—operate with, or contain china? i think the notion of containing china doesn't make much sense. what i think american policy ought to do, working with partners and allies around the world, is try to shape the environment into which china rises. and there are lots of countries across asia today that are concerned that china's rise comes not at the expense of their prosperity
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and security. so the us naturally has an opportunity not so much to contain china, although we do need to push back against predatory chinese trade and investment practises. donald trump is right to do that, but you need to couple that with affirmative vision of what is the kind of asia you want to see? i think we have lots of assets on which to draw, to try and create not only that vision... but do you think the foreign policy machine was very late to see just how important front and centre china needed to be? i'm just quoting here a colleague of yours from the 0bama administration, kurt campbell who said very recently, "as the assumptions driving us—china policy have started looking increasingly tenuous and the gap between american expectations in chinese realities has grown, washington has unfortunately been largely focused elsewhere". i think since 9/11, a huge preoccupation was the middle east.
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so to that extent, what kurt said is right. but again, i think addressing the question of pushing back against certain chinese practises is only one part of a sensible strategy. the other part is to make common cause with other countries who share some of those concerns, and to create an architecture in which you create incentives and disincentives for china, as well. that would've the virtue to the transpacific partnership, knitting together a0%. .. which donald trump chose to walk away from. what we see in china today is grand ambition. the president said he wants china to be a global leader in terms of comprehensive national strength and international influence. we see the belton road policy, we see the 5g and hi—tech commitment which is making china a world leader, which worries the us more than any other nation.
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what we don't see it america responding with a similar outward looking global tech driven vision. where's the american belton road? the challenge here, and this would've been what the transpacific partnership would have in part supplied, is that sense of an affirmative american view shared by lots of other countries. the same is true in pushing back against chinese trade practises. rather than start second and third—front trade conflicts with the european union and japan over steel and aluminium, it would make more sense to make common cause with them, as well. so i think china has a lot of its own challenges to deal with domestically, as well. so our relationship with china, the single most consequential on the international landscape today, will be a combination of those areas where cold—bloodedly, we need to work together, and also there's areas where we need to compete. this is what the chinese seem to think of america today, there's a very interesting quote from an international relations professor in shanghai. he says, "america does not
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want to lead at this time when china clearly does want to lead". did he get that right? i hope that's not the case, but i think that's the perception at some times when the chinese leadership looks at the erratic and uncertain leadership of the current administration. so i think the united states has a huge capacity to lead, a lot of assets on which to draw, but we just need to have the vision and drive to be able to accomplish that. the vision and drive — i want to bring it back to the personals as we come towards the end. we talked about your own career in diplomacy. you retired before donald trump came into the white house. what would you have done if you were still a top—ranking serving diplomat, and donald trump came into the white house with his approach, his philosophy to foreign policymaking ? would you have quit? it would've been really hard to continue to serve, and a number of my colleagues
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from my generation, who were still serving during the transition of administrations, made that choice. i encourage my colleagues who are still serving in government to continue to serve and do the best they can, because i think american interests require that greater profession. never mind the discussion we had about enabling, the degree to which you need to have redlines which you can't cross. in terms of your values, what you think america represents? especially as a senior official, when you have to publicly go out and defend policies, i would've found it very difficult. and finally, in terms of the values that we talk about, do you think that is still the most important advantage america has over nations like china, with their big ambitions? the american values have something to them which chinese interests and values do not? i don't think they're so much american values as they are a set of values widely shared in the world, the value of open political and economic systems.
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in my experience... even with authoritarianism ? in my experience, we get a large farther through the power of our preaching. we don't set a good example on either side of the atlantic today where we seem to be having simultaneous nervous breakdowns. but i do believe in the value of those virtues of the way in which we look at organising our own societies, and how societies should interact with one another. but we must do a betterjob of demonstrating that we can actually live by those values at home. william burns, thank you very much. my pleasure. thanks so much.
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hello there. the weekend brought us some very mixed fortunes in terms of the weather. for many parts, it was pretty cloudy and drizzly, particularly in the north and east. there were some clear skies though further west. this was the scene as the sun set on sunday night in barnstaple, in devon. as we head through the day on monday then, still some mixed fortunes. a lot of dry and fairly sunny weather developing but there will be some rain around, particularly in the south. we've got a slow—moving weather front which is going to be with us for the next few days. here it is. during the day on monday it'll be draped from south—east england through parts of the midlands, wales up towards northern ireland. so it's ths zone that will stay quite cloudy. so it's this zone that will stay quite cloudy. first thing in the morning, most of us looking frost—free butjust a touch of frost, i think, for some of the sheltered glens of scotland first thing. through the day, we keep that weak weather front, bringing some cloud and showers from south—east england through the midlands, into wales, perhaps one or two showers
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getting into southern parts of northern ireland. elsewhere a lot of dry and sunny weather. a few showers for the isles of scilly, perhaps towards the channel islands as well. a little bit misty and murky around some of these north sea coasts, but elsewhere, after a murky morning, the mists should clear to leave plenty of sunshine, particularly for the likes of western scotland, northern ireland and north—west england. temperatures between around about 10—17, so still reasonably mild through the day on monday. monday night and into tuesday then, this weather front sticks around in the south so more of that heavy rainforsimilarareas, southern england, south wales as well. again, it's looking like a frost—free night and we are likely to see some mist and fog forming. also some low cloud just pouring in off the north sea. so some of these north—east north sea coasts could well stay quite murky once again. but lots of sunshine developing elsewhere. but we have got that stubborn front bringing more rain along the south coast of england, into south wales too. and you'll notice, by tuesday, that things are starting to turn a little bit cooler so top temperatures around 9 or 10 across the east of scotland. perhaps 13 or 1a down towards the south—west. but it will turn colder through tuesday night and on into wednesday and that's because we start to import this air from scandinavia.
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so an easterly breeze developing and a drop in temperature. by the time we get to wednesday, there will more sunshine for most of us. still a little but murky around some of these eastern coasts and just the remnants of that weather front bringing a bit more cloud towards the south—west. but elsewhere, a lot of dry, sunny weather, light winds too, although temperatures not great for this time of year. many of us, particularly towards eastern coasts, are stuck in single figures. and if we look further ahead towards the end of the week, it's looking mostly dry but still rather cool for the time of year, with temperatures generally around 9—13 degrees. that's it for now, bye—bye.
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