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tv   Amanpour on PBS  PBS  July 4, 2018 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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♪ ♪ >> welcome to "amanpour on pbs." he was president obama's right-hand man serving as trusted adviser throughout his term and tonight ben rhodes opens up about life inside the white house. the decisions that shaped syria, russia, iran and much more and how barack obama really felt about donald trump's election. ♪ ♪ good evening, everyone. welcome to the program. i'm christiane amanpour in london. president donald trump has a huge european trip coming up next week with what's shaping up
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to be a contentious nato summit, followed by a visit to britain where he's likely to be met with massive protests and a one-on-one meeting later with vladimir putin. upon that could create even more tension with america's western allies. the relationship between the united states and europe has not been this fraught since the george w. bush years and the rift over the iraq war. repairing that rift and restoring america's global reputation was a critical focus for barack obama and my guest, ben rhodes, was at the heart of all that as deputy national security adviser and as a foreign policy speechwriter, rhodes served as obama's sounding board and spokesman for eight very full years. in his new book, the world as it is inside the obama white house, rhodes takes us into the inner safrp
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safrp sanctum and it is impossible to be spruk truck by how much obam with his successor donald trump and we start with the most memorable trump reversals. >> today the world has officially crossed the threshold for the paris agreement to take effect. >> as of today the united states will cease all implementation of the non-binding paris accord. >> today the united states, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with iran. >> am announcing today that the united states will withdraw from the iran nuclear deal. >> today, as the president of the united states of america i offer the cuban people -- [ speaking spanish ] >> effective immediately, i am
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canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with cuba. >> ben rhodes, welcome to the program. >> you're welcome. >> what goes through your mind when the signature achievements of president obama all overturned? >> first of all, look, at this point it's sad to have worked so hard on things to see someone attacking for -- there's no unifying principle to make those decisions for you other than obama did this so i'm going to undo it. i do think as i look at the three, because paris was brought into force, the rest of the world is still in it and the united states can come back in. >> and the u.s., wby the way is implementing its own. >> cuba, he cancelled it. no, we still have an embassy
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there. he's just not moving it forward. the iran deal is more black and white. i don't think that deal can survive without us. trump likes the theater of undoing all these thing, but it's more complicated than that. >> before we plunge into more atmospheric, let's take the iran deal because that was the signature of president obama and even in his campaign he said i will negotiate with countries like iran and north korea. >> yes. >> right now you're seeing president trump threaten his allies saying that they must cease all, oil imports from iran. they must cease doing any business in dollars with iran. europe, the allies are in a position with having to side with iran to figure out how to save the deal and the companies don't know which way is up and it seems like an unprecedented fight between allies. >> well, and the irony of it is that for trump to do the things that he says he wants to do, to impose those sanctions for iran,
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he needs allies more than ever. when we imposed sanctions on iran, they only worked because iran came along and china came along he's making it impossible to accomplish what he want which is is to pressure iran more. he's got the pressure of both worlds and he's losing constraint of the nuclear deal and bringing the rest of the world along with him to pressure iran. >> president trump keeps saying, you see, since i've talked to iran and i've pulled out of this and they've changed their behavior in syria and they're not looking so aggressively at the mediterranean, and i think they really believe that there will be regime change in iran. that's what they want, the administration. how do you analyze those, first of all those statements and what might happen inside iran? >> i think he's lying. as a matter of fact, i don't see any change in any behavior. we hear the supreme leader saying we should stop the nuclear program. regime change has been the fantasy of parts of the american right and prime minister netanyahu for many years. this is not a regime that is
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about to collapse and frankly, i think, if somehow there was regime collapse the people that would emerge from that are the worst people and the revolutionary guard there. >> president obama did not have a good personal relationship with prime minister netanyahu. now prime minister netanyahu is thrilled to bits because he thinks he has an ally in the white house. >> yes. >> do you see this middle east policy being directed by the israeli prime minister? >> i think the two most important people in american middle east policy are muhammad bin sal man and bibi netanyahu. >> the crown prince of saudi arabia. >> they are driving this. if you look at the gloves are off completely in yemen. the staff with qatar, and the prime minister of lebanon, that is muhammad bin salman's unconstrained with the full support of the united states and if you see the american embassy moving to jerusalem and then the
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killing of those palestinians in gaza, that is bibi netanyahu feeling unconstrained. so i do think in the absence of a lot of any -- any real vision or strategic clarity out of washington, that middle east policy -- >> do you take any sense of responsibility for that? famously, the saudis believe that president obama was abandoning the region which was selling the ally and it was pulling back from the red line that president trump himself established with syria or it was as they think cozying up to iran at the expense of the gulf allies. do you take any responsibility for the tension in the region? >> i wrestled with this a lot in writing my book. i mean, the -- i think that in the arab spring, we broke with mubarak and president obama took a big step that angered the gulf countries very much. we never really followed
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through. we got caught in the middle which is not where you want to get on foreign policy and egypt in particular and we kind of reverted to form in terms of supporting egyptian military, and having that during the country as they're sidelining secular activists and making this a binary muslim brotherhood choice which is what the gulf countries wanted and they poured a lot of money into egypt which help put the military back in control. i think we never really repaired that breach nor did we truly follow through on the democracy in egypt. that's not the one people think of and it's the one i think of and think what could be done differently? on iran, we had a different view. it's not that we wanted to be friends with iran, it's that we thought a nuclear deal was best way to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon. they basically wanted to have this war across the region between saudi arabia and iran and their proxies. we thought it was not in u.s. interest or in their interest. >> let's get back to election
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night. i'm going to play a little bit of a netflix documentary that caught you on election night. >> i just came outside to try to process all of this. um -- it's much to process. i mean -- i can't -- i can't even -- >> ben rhodes, uncharacteristically stumped and silenced. how did the president feel? how did you process it? >> he called me after the election and he said well, that happened. we were shell shocked, you know? as i'm walking home that night he sent me this e-mail that said there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the
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earth, groping for the biggest possible perspect they've we cannot be too overwhelmed by this result, and then he went through the process of couldn't the campaign have done better? how much did the russian meddling matter? the comey letter and he gotmo me philosophical about this and one is he said, perhaps i was ten or 20 years too early, speaking of the demographics was country, that demographically a guy like trump could get elected ten or 20 years from now. it will be a minority-like country, that can't be rooted in a sense of white grievance and what if we were wrong? what if people want to fall back into their rieb? . >> he had a couple of words with trump after the election. you know, i guess -- how did he feel that the man who had questioned his very birthright.
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>> yeah. >> the man who claimed that he was a muslim or whatever, was actually his successor and that's one question and then i get -- let me ask you that one first. >> you know, he was -- he was very disappointed by it. you know, because again, what he's most disappointed about is i worked so hard to -- to take this office seriously, and to carry myself with a certain dignity is that trump was a fundamentally unserious person and the stewardship of that office was being handed over to somebody who wasn't going to take it as seriously. >> and president trump -- president obama, you quote in the book, as calling president trump a cartoon character, more concerned about his crowd size than serious policy. one of the policies which he railed against and still rails against is obamacare and this is what president obama says he told him about it. i said to the incoming president just change the name and claim
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that you made these wonderful changes. >> call it trump care. >> he called into the oval office after that meeting with trump and he was really kind of bemused and he looked kind of confused and shocked and i said what happened in the meeting and he said, well, first of all, he kept wanting to steer the conversation back to the crowd size and i'm trying to brief him with health care and immigration policy and he's saying you and i can get big crowds and hillary, she couldn't get the same crowd, right? trump would activate open to his ideas and health care and immigration, and obama would say, well, yeah, make a few changes and call it trump care, but in retrospect, clearly, trump had no intention of being open to those policies. i think his manner as foreign leaders have experienced is that in the meeting he'd be quite solicitous at times. >> and he looks like he's on a binge to disrupt the alliances and to change or completely
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destroy these sort of so-called 78 global liberal world order. president obama said that he had advised president trudeau, and i wonder if you had seen him do that in the g7 summit and being literally abused by the twitter storm being called dishonest and weak. what are allies meant to do, do you think? >> you know what? i think they have to stand up for what they believe. we've seen different approaches. we saw president macron who i have huge admiration for try very, very hard to build a personal relationship, but all of the things that he cared about, the iran deal, the paris climate agreement, avoiding a trade war, trump ignored it and i don't think going the route of flattery and reaching out that at a certain point you will see allies say, if we can't count on the americans to be with us,
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which i would prefer as an american, they're going to have to stand up to trump, and i think that's going to happen more and more over the course of this year because people see he's made his choice and his choice is to pick these fights with us and to walk away with the order. >> so tell me then about the grand dame of europe, the european leader chancellor angela merkel. you talk a lot in the book about that last meeting and that, you know, president obama said angela, she's alone now and as they parted there was one tear in her eye and you say you've never seen her so emotional ever. she was stoic. describe how she must be feeling and what president obama thinks of her now being beaten up on twitter by the president of the united states? >> angela merkel is a great woman, and a great and historical figure, and for someone like that, who has weathered all of these crises and been shoulder to shoulder with the united states in standing up to putin and helped rescue the global economy and the eurozone crisis, taking in all these refugees, showing what
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the true meaning, i think of western values are by welcoming people into germany, to have now an american president literally attacking an american ambassador who is actively trying to undermine her, she deserves far better than this. this is a woman who has been with us, and i think the rest of the world will look at this and say can we trust america anymore? if this is how they treat their friend, the people that have stood by their side, can we trust them? >> president trump himself has made the 2% of gdp for the nato budget a hallmark. we have a nato summit coming up next week. he's obviously going to put that on the table again and it started under president obama in 2016 and here in the uk, in fact, do you fear. is there a fear that the united states might, under trump, pull out of nato or abandon article 5. he did reinforce it last summit last year, but have things
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changed? >> i think they have. he reaffirmed it, but he seemed to be dragged into the position of reaffirming it. he seems more intent on beating up on nato allies, and if you're an eastern european country and your survival depends on the america five commitment and you are seeing the hedge and you have putin bearing down, i think they'll be much more susceptible potentially to russian influence. >> think some of the countries will stand up to putin, but some of them you've already seen are beginning to develop their own independent relationships of putin and russia. and so the danger, i feel is not that nato collapses, but once the article 5 commitment doesn't feel firm to people and frankly, the u.s. is the guarantor of this, you will see less investment in countries and we've gotten more out of those countries than trump likes to act like he's done nothing for us. the only time article 5 was invoked was on 9/11.
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they didn't want to be in afghanistan and they fought and died with them there. the next time we need them they're probably not going to be with us and that's how it will hurt us. >> you mentioned president putin. the next big meeting will be between president trump and president putin in helsinki in a couple of weeks from now. there are all sort of expectations and sort of trying to think of what this meeting will be about and who will give what to whom. one of them suggests that president trump egged on by bibi netanyahu and the saudis will try to ask putin to get iran out of syria in return for america allowing assad to stay in place. have you heard that? >> yes. yeah. >> and some recognition of crimea. >> recognition of crimea? >> both dangled that recently. >> the deputy secretary of state said no way. >> i would think no way, but that's what the russians are going to learn, right? >> i think that's right. i think that the saudis and the
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emira emiratis have some way where they can realign with putin and it ignores the reality that we completely failed. >> you were all in for putin in syria. >> we tried and failed. >> big time. >> yes. >> a mistake. >> we -- the only course we could find with diplomacy to deal with assad had to involve the russians. i think you can find mistakes along the way there including the beginning and we didn't go back to this, but i don't know that we were not at the beginning before things really went into an all-out civil war there. by the time we were engaging the russians on this, late in the administration it was in some ways, too late. >> i detect a certain movement of your position, you know. we talk about we should have potentially gone in somehow and been more aggressive before this turned into a massive civil war.
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you know your administration's being criticized among many in the foreign approximately spoli in syria and you've always defended what you've done there. so do you think you should have done something different in the beginning? >> everybody focuses on the military question which, you know, we debated christiane, many times and there was a question at the beginning that we probably presumed that it was going to go. we had mubarak had gone, bin ali and we moved quickly to call for him to go, but by doing that without a clear strategy that we're going to put means behind it, we kind of closed the diplomatic window in a way. our ability to make some deals with the syrians and the iranians and the gulf countries and everybody in the region about how to potentially forestall the civil war, we kind of lost that window of opportunity probably because we
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were reading the events as leading to assad's fall. the russians and iranian, though, were backing him in a way that in other words, other leaders had support. i think people can go back and question every step along the way and i think people should get the diplomacy wrong at the beginning and sometimes the best thing you can do is stop the war before it happened. maybe we couldn't, but i think we should look at the 11th and the 12th. >> and you said the red line under your breath, but that is what everybody points to this administration toward big failure and the big thing will be answerable and the big opening it gave to assad, iran and russia and of course, the region taking its cue about your administration from that failure and even allies believe that as isolationist and america first and going alone as the trump administration is that they traced the pullback to that failure to enact your own red
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line. >> are you prepared to admit that was a massive strategic failure? >> so i took people into the decision making after the red line attack. i think new details about what obama was doing which was essentially, he's already scentingicscent skeptical that you can solve this with the military, and we couldn't fix those countries. then he's thinking, what do i need in place? i need domestic support and international support and a week after that attack, you know, it didn't materialize. internationally the british parliament voted against joining us and angela merkel voted and they couldn't have the investigation done and it was the unconstitutional act without congressional authorization and as unsatisfying as it is, i also think it is true that the obamas weighing not just whether if there was a case for intervention, but if i intervene like this can it work?
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>> it will be for the history book and endless studies will be done on that. let's talk about the trade war. everyone thought president trump was using rhetoric and it was a tactic and numbers are being flung around and actual allies and competitors are threatening retaliation and he says things like, i didn't even know when i talked to prime minister trudeau. i just made it up and i just said we had an estimate and i didn't know. all these things. it's fascinating to read what you wrote about the meeting with president xi of china when you were with president obama and this is what he said about trump. we prefer to have a good relationship with the united states, but every action will have a reaction, and if an immature leader throws the world into chaos, then the world will know who to blame. i thought that was one of the most interesting comments by a leader in your whole book. >> and this is in november of 2016. obama was warning about trade. i think trump was serious about this trade and xi kind of stepped back and fold the his
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hands and he took the measure and what he was saying is exactly what happened which is if trump goes down this road we will take your place. we're going to pick off your allies, you know? we're -- they have an initiative that extends all of the way from china to africa to southeast asia, central asia and the middle east and you know, he knew that it would be an opportunity for him. yes there's risk, but trump picking a trade war because they don't have politics, right? so they can assume a lot of pain, but when they start squeezing pieces of the american electorate. they know american politicians will back down. he's sitting in a much stronger position. the only way to have a trade war with china is to get all your allies on your side and trump is giving away the leverage we have. >> by leveraging the trade war against his own allies. >> europe, korea, canada. >> canada. it's been so long, but the chinese leader is suddenly the
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spokesperson for global vision. he's showing up at davos talking about free trade and sitting with the wto and that is very deliberate. china wants to make maximum use of these trump years to do as much as possible to have international order in the global economy and to be anchored in your view. >> i almost don't dare ask you whether you see light on the horizon, but i will ask you at the end of this conversation about a really sweet sort of retrospective when president trump came over here and he, of course, met the queen and they really bonded. >> he really loved the queen and i describe him, after the first interview at buckingham palace, he said they just chatted about, first of all, xi met every person there was to meet for the last six years. this was the only person you can talk to who has literally known everybody, but the other thing that was interesting is she reminded him of his grandmother who raised him who was kind of a tough, pragmatic and plain-spoken woman. he really saw the person who he
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loved as much as anybody in the world in the queen and it was an interesting juxtaposition of a woman who has met everybody and a woman who is so plain spoken and nonsensical that she reminds him of his grandma? >> how do you think it will go? >> the queen takes measure of people pretty quickly and she doesn't suffer fools. she'll be highly appropriate, i'm sure, but i don't think it will be as warm as the relationship with the obamas. >> and what's next for you after eight years of being right at the center of power and decision making, what happens next for ben rhodes? >> yeah, i've caught up on some sleep since writing this book. i would like to tell other people's stories. i would like to do more writing. >> foreign policy writing? >> foreign policy, but i want to talk to people around the world. how are they impacted by these policies? my friends podcast and i might join them in an america group. so i want to try other projects,
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and i want to try -- i worked for somebody else for a decade and it's kind of liberating to be able to do my own thing for a little while. >> we'll say good-bye watching those amazing pictures with the president with your infant daughter lying on the ground in the oval office. there you go and the other one -- >> the elephant costume. look at that. >> that's beautiful. >> yeah. >> all right. ben rhodes, thank you very much. >> thank you. >> and with that tour of the world, that is it for our program tonight. thank you for watching "amanpour on pbs" and join us again tomorrow night. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪
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katty: you are watching "beyond 100 days" on pbs. it has been raining hard in thailand, and that's not good news for rescuers trying to save the boys trapped in a cave. christian: officials say there will be a no risk policy in getting them out, which means they could be there for a long time. katty: a doctor and a counselor have been sent to be with the young soccer players, along with food and supplies. >> these are the kids i have trained. they are strong. i built them up to play at a professional level. katty: but how to get them out, when water is rising, they don't know how to use scuba gear, several cannot even swim, and the caves are treacherous? christian: also on the program, all eyes,


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