tv Ben Rhodes The World as It Is CSPAN June 24, 2018 12:30am-1:46am EDT
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you don't want to be the one his phone goes off on national television. there is a standing microphone to my left for questions. when that time comes please line up test questions so everyone can hear. be help if you could fold up chairs and lean them against something sturdy when everything is done. it could be near bookcase or pillar. on to the program. maybe it's the symptoms of being in the midst of a presidency with conflicts within. by looking inside how the last executive branch operated under barack obama. perhaps no side has been it is awaited is that from ben rhodes. he's advisor who 2016 was described as having a mind meld with the president.
he was a speechwriter for obama for the 2000 campaign came to be the deputy national security adviser for strategic communication. the resumption of the diplomacy with cuba and the list goes on. now, out of the white house earlier this year he cofounded the policy committee and has written the book beside me, the world as it is, a memoir of the obama white house. this has received praise from within the obama presidency and from novelists who say that his writing shakes us out of the rut of ordinary perception finds hope in the face of most evidence. joining in conversation is another top foreign-policy thinker, jeffrey goldberg.
he's the author 2006 prisoners which details experiences working at an israeli prison and one prisoner he came to the befriend. as a conductor several landmark interviews with barack obama is spent his presidency. please me while commute i guess to politics and prose. [applause] [applause] >> good evening. >> welcome to politics and prose. thank you for coming out to large numbers.
we will try to cover all of american foreign policy from 1945 in the first five minutes and then we'll see what happens. to make it easy for you because you don't have experience with public speaking of the media, i thought i would start with the easiest question i could think of. there will move toward syria. the easiest question is this. what would have been the reaction if barack obama had saluted a north korean general? just describe it in voluminous detail what you think the reaction may have been? >> there is one time when we were traveling to saudi arabia where he went like this, for
years that was treated as bowing to the saudi's and giving away dignity. if he had saluted a north korean general he would have did been detained and return to the united states and sent to guantánamo. i probably would have been killed in a firing squad by the freedom caucus. people asked me what the most utopian aspect of the trump administration is. the outright hypocrisy. it's almost as if they're trying to find the things they use to criticize obama for but embrace it with trum. >> barack obama with you at his side, this is early, 2007 and eight, repeated controversies and they carried forward into the first and second terms. where president obama said, it's
okay to talk to folks. remember hillary clinton came down by saying you don't talk to iran for instance. so, what is wrong with donald trump meeting with the leader of north korea? >> i do not think anything is wrong with that. i prefer diplomacy. it doesn't matter how you do it. just make a few points, you have to prepare. i detail in the book that i cuba for instance, i met 20 times with cuba before they had obama castro in the room. with iran, we have probably hundreds of hours of meetings in the situation room with a
nuclear physicist to know exactly what we wanted to get out of the iran deal. what i have seen in the north korea talks is that they rushed to get to the spectacle ahead of the state summit without knowing what they wanted to accomplish were setting up an agenda. my concern is they gave the north koreans a lot of things. they conferred upon them with national legitimacy that they have never had just by meeting with them. they gave them the nuclear or the military exercise that we engage in with south korea. for years we've heard that they want us to stop those exercises. trump announces he is suspending those. in return we get a real formation of denuclearization that they have given us under every presidency.
just that they did not set it up right and gave away too much on the front-end. lastly we go out of our way to say we still have differences with cuba and iran. the comments he has been making about how kim chewing on his beloved by his people and how he is a strong leader and he wishes that he had -- it's hard to overstate the extent to which that legitimizes kim. one thing i had to think about is how is every word that we say going to be treated. with cuba, i knew anything barack obama said they would pick out the best things. i guarantee you the north koreans will be running on the loop to their own people the president of the united states saying kim jong-un is respected by his people. >> the oppressive regime will
use the president's words to actually cement in place the rule of this dictator. >> they will be playing back the tape of trump saying those things over and over again. >> it is a little bit of a meta- question in a way. you say the premature visits or meeting between the u.s. presidents and dictator confers legitimacy of the dictator. can i meeting with president trump bring legitimacy? it is a diminished coin and away. the north koreans may not benefit as much because the rest of the world looks at this as a bit of a circus. >> kim has now assumed the stature of the nuclear weapons program and meeting with what
the president it. the trump administration tried to built on sanctions and go around diplomatically and tried to get country to do the sanctions more robustly. that effort will now not move forward. if you are another country, by which you break relations with north korea when the president is cozying up to him. if you are china you are thinking i do not need to enforce the sanctions. now i see that kim is being embraced by the american president. i think it will have real-world consequences. >> one more question on this. how do you explain the fact that republicans and we could name many of them who would ride
president obama, often or sometimes justifiably for miscues and diplomacy and so on, how do you explain that they do not see your are not willing to see that donald trump's behavior is oftentimes a caricature of what they thought barack obama's behavior was? is it a level of hyper- partisanship? meaning there's only tribes and no observable truth? >> their main criticism was that he alienates the allies cozies up to adversaries. caesar to talk to dictators. we didn't do anything right the last week in that regard. i think you have to chalk it up to tribalism. i walked through this in the
book. the sense that anything we did, it happened while we were in office. they would be for something until we did it. the republicans were for intervention libya until barack obama did. they were for the intervention syria until barack obama did. it takes it form policy issue that used to be someone distinct from some of the other political issues in the country and puts it into a category of tribalism but i think his distrust dip. is probably reorienting the republican party's identity in ways that will be long-lasting. >> there are a couple of ways that trumps form policy -- there are no actual trump doctrine y
you. >> i thought you coined it? >> i wrote it down. , big difference. there are a couple of points name will know most people from the obama area disagree that trump represents a continuum. that's to say barack obama was not happy with nato allies and their unwillingness to pay their fair share. he even said to me on locations, a little bit of a dismissal on their willingness to pay up. he does, or did really believe that by talking to your adversaries you make things better. do you see any continuum in the way that donald trump is approaching the world from what barack obama did?
>> no. but i see is that there were similar frustrations that they both expressed. that we wanted other countries to bear a greater share of the burden for certain challenges. that we have been overextended in the middle east. but, that diagnosis led to entirely different cures. obama's response was to significantly ramp up our engagement around the world to try to enlist allies in new arrangements like the iran deal or the pair's climate to court to get more stakeholders in the international system. he has modeled his foreign-policy to broaden the countries of bearing the
responsibilities like counter isil campaigns. trumps reaction to the same diagnosis is that we're going to go it alone, we are going to break with our allies. we'll make demands of everybody and treat our allies the same way we treat our adversaries. while they may have expressed similar frustrations that americans may have had after 9/11 and the iraq war, the conclusions they drew were entirely different. >> let's go all the way back and then move to the big controversies of the obama era. let's talk about the first time you met barack obama. one question, did you ever think
he would win? >> i did. my wife is here somewhere. it was interesting. i was 29 years old. and one thing i wanted to do in the book was take advantage of the fact that i was a relatively normal person. i was not an established public figure. i was so nervous the first time i met him i could barely speak. but i wanted to get on his campaign. i thought he was a different kind of politician he had been against the iraq war. i was ready to do what i could to be on his campaign. i got offered a job as a speech writer and foreign-policy a. i told my now wife, then girlfriend. she didn't know that i should to
chicago and go into debt, but at least you'll be back on februar. what i said in the book is that it was a magic writing in the bottle to that oh eight campaign. even when we were 20 points behind in the polls in 2007, everybody believed we were going to win. part of that was youth or from david who made sure that without that. i had a misplaced certainty this was going to work out. >> take us forward. i think there are many people would like to know this, how does a person goes from anonymous aid to indispensable, not just speech writer to
indispensable advisor? carry us through that. >> the keyways come i was not trying to do that. if i had and trying to do that i do not think it would've happened. i basically did whatever they needed me to do. i did speeches and then politics expertise. i was this utility player they also describe in the book that there is an interesting realization that because i was a speechwriter your speechwriter
and by definition that's what you have to try to do. get inside the head of those your readiness speech were. i tried to understand the worldview and understand what he wanted to say and do. when you come into government you realize there are not a lot of people who are trying to do that. different agencies have their own institutional biases. barack obama did not have a lot of people around him. he was only in washington for a few years before he was president. i was someone unique in the sense that i understood what his thinking was. he trusted me and i do not have bias other than trying to say what he wanted to say. i did not have my eye on some job. in a way that made it easier for me to rise to the ranks. people knew i was not doing something because i was angling for the deputy.
>> you came into the administration more hawkish than you left. is that the influence of barack obama, did you see him at all in his worldview. >> that is a good question. it was a convergence of the influence of barack obama and the realities that i had to confront in the middle east. i came in and described someone who looked up to the liberal, humanitarian view of foreign-policy that emerged in the '90s and early 2000's. i had to reckon with the fact that in the for several years we are in office i saw our military
being capable but being unable to shape events and other countries. an obvious example is libya. after the fall of qaddafi things go wrong. we spent a lot of times designing the high water mark of the counterinsurgent theory which was improving the lives of people inside of countries like iraq and afghanistan. you cannot help but reckon with the fact that for all of our military might we could not put together broken pieces. i describe in syria being there
after living the example of afghanistan, iraq, i would say the meetings while we could blow up the runways obama would look at me as he what happens when they rebuild the runways and if you really wanted to change things you would have to go all the way in. frankly the track record of the resolve was limited. it was part barack obama and part circumstance. where i had some change, i think i read to wrecked it my idealism. feeling somewhat frustrated at the ability of the conflicts in the east. it is when i turn to countries like cuba and vietnam. it was not that i changed his mind, this that we need to pay attention and find affirmative things to do in the world.
things not in the middle east. we have so much coming out of us every day that we have to carve out time and you need to make this a priority. i also know it is not going to be on your to do list. let me to this. so, i hope that what i was able to do was brought in what he was focused on. >> you say he did not want to engage in an effort of going to broken places and fix them. that was the george w. bush experiment and it did not work. but looking at the thinking of the iran deal, this notion that if we just opened up and they give us some nuclear -- will give them funding and opening that will change their society for the better. there is a bit of contradiction there. you do not want to go to certain middle east countries that iran
is different. you could fix, was there too much idealism? >> i can't stress enough that what was beat into us by barack obama is that the nuclear deal we were doing to prevent iran from getting a nuclear weapon. we were trying to solve a distinct problem. that is what this is about. it is about keeping a bad regime through getting a nuclear weapon. it was more likely that iran could evolve in a different direction. but that is a ten or 15 your proposition. we are not going to test now.
having covered this at the time, we did not think we did and iran teal and a year or two later they would be with that regime. we did believe that we would keep them from getting a nuclear weapon and in ten or 15 years before these provisions it would be more likely iran would evolve in a different direction. they will have changes within their leadership in that time. i believe what trump did would make it more likely they do not move in a different direction. >> let's look at the idealism. there was a hope, not only with iran and you are correct, obama was calibrated in the way he talked about the possible outcomes of iran.
with cuba, burma and vietnam, these countries, because of actions taken by your administration, they have better relations with the united states than they had previously. but they haven't changed. there was a thought that the cuba opening would leave lead to some liberalization. burma has gone backwards in some ways. how do you square those openings? in iran were trying to remove the nuclear threat from the middle east. >> you are right with cuba and burma but cuba and burma, i think cuba has been changed. i think the difference in 2013 s
human entrepreneur to say when they knocked on my door tuesday be at the communist party rally tomorrow i would swallow and now i go but know i have my own business but according to i'm busy and by cuban standards it was an opening do have more power to be more connected to the world. it is significant. even with trump rolling things back it will lead more but this is the key point that americans are so impatient but in my wildest dreams i would not have thought cuba would somehow be a democracy in any way shape or form within five years or maybe even ten but
the lives of cuban people would be better with more access and you would begin that evolution so part of that is having the patience to stick with the policy it was a much more complicated issue because on the one hand did have a significant transformation there was a democratic election but a partial transition the military was in control. but the uncomfortable reality is the tragedy taking place reflects the views of the people of that country which
is a terrible thing to think about. so the military chose to demagogue. i see this as a trend around the world to say politically the one thing we could do is have a muslim minority ethnic group. so there and then to apply more pressure on them once they start down that road. but in all these cases, if you are promoting democratization in countries that don't have any institutions that are ready to transform themselves in a short period of time, you
have to be willing to stick with policy engagement. >> there is a shorthand some of us used to describe foreign policy through the two previous administrations george w. bush and barack obama. if the tragedy of the george w. bush administration was an overreaction to a set of events and that could be under reaction with the cataclysm of syria. administrations spent the last couple years of the second term try not to get on the slippery slope. you really do believe american intervention any level would have made things worse for the
syrian people? but this question is so boiled down to this one episode. add in 2011 and 2012 with that onset of the crisis with foreign powers involved. did we miss a window where some time of more diplomatic initiative so to be more aggressively engaged to forestall this into the civil war. one thing i have to wrestle with i was so directly involved with when we called
for a side -- assad to go was it assumed he would fall? he was supposed to go and we believe he should have been the leader of syria but we may have foreclosed that option by calling for him to go at that point in at least trying to pursue some diplomacy. >> there is a moment in there where he said it would be foolish or naïve to believe there is a group of farmers or dentist would overthrow the iranian and russian backed autocratic regime. i call this fatalism because no revolution starts with the 8d
airborne. and what explains that pivot in such a conservative way? >> and then due provide arms and military support to the opposition? developed in 2012 and agreeing to that in 2013 the people propose the purpose was not to win the civil war. everybody knew russia and iran would put in much more but to get relationships with the opposition to make them more relevant on the battlefield in the diplomatic process also that uncertainty to that time. because the deputy and
principal committee those policymaking bodies that use to function. and i remember this issue to provide military support to the syrian opposition. but the element of the opposition that is the best fighting force so is oak to american foreign policy we went to shine a light on the terrorist but we don't like iran and decide but they are the same people so the complexity was constantly there from the very beginning.
it wasn't one army to support absent of extremist to easily provide to win and wet obama came to wrestle with when i was still very activist about syria i had foreign correspondence from the middle east to give a view of what was happening in particular and that might compel them to act so i said let me bring in some of these people one after another they painted the stark picture many different forces fighting that only the iranians and the russians but the turks the saudi's and others everybody thought he was should be doing more. now they will really get it.
and then to look at the complexity that we will be just one more army in the civil war. unless we are willing to remove assad ourselves the net is the same civil war with us owning it. but that is legitimate. >> one more question. a very interesting chapter in your book about race and president obama. i don't want to highlight too much as people should read it for themselves but i'm under the impression this is the most frank discussion and how
he felt during the first african-american president. so now we call that racial reaction so talk about that. what you convey in broad strokes is president obama was not as unaware as those white perceptions as he made it out to be publicly. >> i described in the book i didn't mean that to be a plan. >> and remember that. racism and was ever present it wasn't like we sat around to talk about it in these moments
with the interviewer the press conference with its opposition view motivated by race of course it is. next question. because in part how do we reduce tensions around black lives matter and he would say stop shooting on the black full. next question why wouldn't we? >> so he learned early in the presidency that skip gates was more impact fall than people know. was that preeminent
african-american academic and he said it was stupid. they were so excited to be talking about race on cable television with multiple days and fox going into hysteria. and then trying to fix the economy. i cannot do this every couple weeks. to get us out of the financial crisis. i cannot afford this spectacle and just unbelief it was difficult for him to engage in issues.
and certainly very angry about that birther movement and furious he had to show his birth certificate. but cable television gave so much airtime to that. so it was like the jackie robinson you gone the first african-american to do this so i just have to do this job twice is better as a white person would have to intake this and keep my head down and late's presidency found new ways to talk about this. like his visit to the prisons my brother's keeper initiative with criminal justice reform, he found a voice that was different than the financial crisis.
those who are surprised by the election. >> and they were a little surprised it was white people who thought barack obama's election would transform reese in america and not largely ethnic where can people they'd never believe that. because of that experience to be african-american in this country he was far more than that could lead to tropism and i remember some anecdotes of
hearing where i was at with casual racism it shocked me but not him that that would happen. but there is an understanding of the omnipresence in american society. that i did not fully appreciate. >> we will start taking some questions. please ask your question in the form of a question. >> but late is the obama years
from the campaign to ask what the differences was to their approach to syria and her answer was to put in the no-fly zone. so my question is is that too simplistic? does that have any merit whatsoever? that was a small point. >> the reality is the no-fly zone is our own military to actually set up the no-fly zone you would have to destroy all of the syrian air defense including russia and then you are flying planes.
it is a much more complicated thing to do. but in his mind then to consistently say this is not a viable option with the no-fly zone we going into all-out war. that means bombing syria and the personnel with hardware on the ground but that they would and just keeps hearing civilians so obama thought it wasn't a viable option.
>> you mention the second term you are looking for affirmative projects are you in a similar position and again if you had a job in a given free reign to pick three affirmative projects. what would those be? it says that you like entourage. why? [laughter] >> some people thought obama liking mackle more but but to be honest if you are in a job like i had there is a certain escapism you are looking for with entertainment the more mindless it is is what you're looking for at 10:30 on a wednesday night spending 15
hours dealing with the most awful stuff in the world. but i did like to have those conversations about entourage. [laughter] but that is a great? the first one. and the reality is for that to decline pretty significantly as a whole but i believe it was the first agreement that was global that the country was involved in it with other issues that would benefit from that type of global agreement
and just to name a couple with the pandemic that architecture that could save millions of lives if you could replicate that global coalition with information sharing with the paris agreement related to global health security i think there is a similar effort we tried to get out with refugee settlement that is the project to say how you deal with the crisis where you have a small number of countries for bearing an enormous amount of the burden that then politically i still feel like the united states the region i
was most interested in and i feel like there is a lot of room to significantly enhance the integration between the united states and the cooperation between southeast asia and like to try to approach that a regional mindset. but to be opportunistic to see where the opportunity could emerge. it's probably too late to do anything like sri lanka or a democratic transition to get more engagement. that is important or our
values but also to back up huge parts of the world. so opportunistically but the movement gaining momentum so that is where you try to focus some attention. >> what about those diplomats? >> and there is no way the cuban government is behind the attacks. and then the cubans were trying to do anything they could. they were sounding agreements
i went down there multiple times. and the notion at the same time to have the migration attempts that everything they were doing was to preserve the relationship. >> what about the canadians? [laughter] i thought based on the intuition that are working with some cubans. to think they could be doing that. to be trailed by russian spies with a bizarre experience where a couple of people walk right up to the to take the
iphone instead 6 inches from me and took my picture. they wanted us to know they were watching. to break that u.s. cuba relationship i would put the russians at the top that what happened in china made me think this has gone terribly wrong that somebody might have a surveillance capability and it causes the health effects. and then to do that intentionally and that is very effective.
>> and with those that are historic and those that for their adult life and between all of those and the second point to be constructive engagement that we should have done more to bring about. really to me we should not be in afghanistan i don't know what we are accomplishing. and that we are making it better.
be fighting a war in afghanistan and basically al qaeda doesn't exist anymore and you would think that is strange. so i hold myself to that standard we have done more to disentangle ourselves but lie people see more risk and of the your politically but when you stay things go wrong. in terms of the next administration who knows. i am not optimistic. >> but i do think very quickly that the foreign policy to
saudi's and bodies. that makes me pessimistic. >> we have time for the next three questions. [applause] >> mine is closer to home. to always be the elephant in the room that they knew that trump could be elected that i want to ask you you participate in this speech and then in charleston and then can he run and when?
and in nigeria. and so i end the book on the hopeful note that what is the impact he had on the lives of the people around the world? how did he change his own perception. now 20 or 30 years from now in the way john kennedy cited. a different way to promote values but authenticity is the most important thing nobody will do that like obama and
with universal value of human rights is on their own way. and ultimately that will be active. but because under this administration the next person who does it will have to be authentic and how they do it and then literally to bounce off. >> we heard you talk about this how the department of state is decimated from the bottom down. they are not converted. and then to participate in internships. and then working toward
american diplomacy while not being disappointed. >> very quickly because if you join now you will rise through the ranks so that is an important option. number two you are too frustrated there is a set of opportunities, many ways to promote values that you care about. a lot of need for good talent. and then to deeply prioritize the beginning and spend a lot of money and time on recruitment with that
apparatus of the diplomacy we lost thousands of years of experience and deeply out prioritize bringing in young people they don't understand the impact that should be top priority of the secretary of state of the president if he does not have that. >> it is said that russia basically won the cyberwarfare and the obama administration warfare reaction was sheepish they did not go all throttle to attack back. can you talk about deliberation treating political versus warfare? also what could have been done differently? >> so we did treated as cyberwar but it was information more.
and look at before the election it is all on the cyberattack hacking, e-mail wind that was a fraction and firing into politics not to do much at all but that theme capability that now i raise the way president obama is people should have enough information. people consuming the first of all and then to separate that
out? and then to tell people the stories but people consuming that they are inclined to listen to barack obama. and the person to get that on your facebook feed using obama is like anybody. that was his belief and to do more to spotlight knowing to have many tools. to stop that from happening. and going forward to have a much more aggressive effort. and that has happened.
back and i was wondering after such a long period of time we are constantly working under an emergency situation how is your understanding of human being shifted and how has that attitude any future? >> that is the best question to be much more sick lung --dash mystic then it was ten years ago. the politics or government and media not the government but
then to feel the system and now just outright dystopia. so at the same time i found myself more optimistic about the people that i i mean i got to meet the amazing diversity of people that learning from those people and communities have been wanting to come to the united states and grateful we are providing assistance
mac why did you want to bring republicans and democratic party retreat? i had a concept should think about people who disagree with you and understand why. maybe they are right about something and if you just talk to people who agree with you you're not really learn anything. so we've had the meetings we all get together in a room and basically they say the same thing and then and then to say we are convincing ourselves. why do we bring in the republican pollster or strategist? we can find someone.