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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  June 11, 2021 4:30am-5:00am BST

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the british prime minister has said there is complete harmony on the need to solve post—brexit trade problems in northern ireland following his first face—to—face meeting with president biden. the two met in cornwall on the eve of the g7 summit. they also agreed a new atlantic charter. britain and the us have announced plans to deliver coronavirus vaccines to some of the world's poorest countries. president biden confirmed the us is buying 500 million doses of the pfizer vaccine to donate, while the uk said it would donate 100 million doses. the united states was worst hit by the pandemic amongst g7 democracies, over the first year of covid—19. the analysis, for the bbc by the health foundation, looked at updated excess death figures, by measuring deaths above expected levels for a normal year.
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now on bbc news, it's hardtalk with stephen sackur. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. president biden is in the middle of his first overseas tour, taking in the g7, the eu, nato and a session with vladimir putin. america, he says, is back — another way of telling the world the trump era is well and truly over. but how easy is it proving to be for team biden to set america on a new course? well, my guest is ben rhodes, the key national security —— well, my guest is ben rhodes, a key national security adviser to barack obama through his eight years in the white house. is the us in any position to lead a much—touted global alliance of democracies?
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ben rhodes in los angeles, welcome to hardtalk. thanks, stephen. i think it's fair to say that since you and your boss left the white house injanuary 2017, you have very publicly grappled with feelings of unease and alienation about what's happening in your own country and across the world. is that feeling of unease and alienation in any way eased right now? well, i think here in america, we dodged an enormous bullet whenjoe biden was elected. we were really on the precipice of, ithink, losing american democracy.
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and the reality, though, is that i still feel a lot of unease — we are not out of the woods at all. if you look at this country and around the world, that the threats to things i care about, including democracy itself. here every day, we see the continued illiberalism of the republican party kind of try to eat away at american democracy from within. and without, you obviously see the continued, really aggressive challenge to global norms and global democracies from vladimir putin and the alternative model of governing in society, really, being put forward from china. so, i still have unease, even if i'm in a better mood than i was before the election. right. as you say, challenges within and without. i want to start outside the united states and then move in, if i may. you were national security adviser — deputy national security adviser — for eight years. you got a very long, hard look at the way the world works during that time.
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i'm a little surprised that in your very recent book after the fall, you expressed so much, it seems, surprise about the scale of the authoritarian trend across the world. i mean, this is nothing new. why were you so taken aback by it when you started travelling? well, i definitely felt this while i was in government. there's no question at all that we've dealt, i think, over the course of those eight years, with a circumstance where — as i describe it in this book — the currents of history were moving in the other direction from kind of politics that barack obama put forward. i think, actually, what i came to be — it surprises, right, but what i certainly felt like i'd discovered the depths of travelling for this book and looking squarely at what was happening in places like hong kong and talking to russian opposition to putin and talking to democracy activists in hungary, and then looking pretty squarely at the united states
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itself, is how deep and structural the momentum was that was contributing to that authoritarian trend. how much of that had some connection back to 30 years of america being the hegemonic power in the world, and just how grave the danger was to democracy itself in the united states. and i think the challenge you have sometimes when you're looking at these from the perch of the white house is you see all these discrete challenges around the world, and then you see your own domestic political circumstance as kind of separate. i think what i really tried to put together in this book is that the illiberalism, the nationalism and the creeping authoritarianism in the united states is entirely a part of one trend that i'm seeing everywhere in the world. right, so, you're squarely saying donald trump, the phenomenon of trump should be seen in its global context. i want to focus for just a moment on the meaning and impact ofjoe biden. he's telling the world that america is back.
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he's in europe as we speak, trying to convince europeans that he is, in essence, the anti—trump who is going to reset america on a course which perhaps will be much closer to ba rack 0bama's. do you think that is credible? does biden have the power, the ability to deliver? i mean, i think it's the right message for him to be delivering, to kind of reassure people and to make america at least familiar again as a country that embraces democracy globally and tries to rally collective action on things like covid or climate change. i think there are two challenges with it, two problems with it, that joe biden himself is not responsible for. one is that the world isn't just concerned about the fact that donald trump was president. the world is concerned about the fact that we elected donald trump president here in the united states. we could do that again. and that affects everything from probably the scepticism by the international agreements
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after painstakingly negotiating the obama years, things like the iran nuclear agreement, paris accords, and to just have the rug pulled out from under them by trump. they're going to be questioning — and there's nothing that joe biden can really do about this except get re—elected — they're going to be questioning, well, how long are they back for? are they going to leave again? well, there's no question... crosstalk. sorry to interrupt but the point you make is so germane, given that the messages coming from the macron team in paris, the merkel team in germany, are quite simply that — that we cannot be sure how long the biden approach to foreign policy will last. you know, we can no longer trust the united states in the way that we used to perhaps a decade or two decades ago. and look, that's fair. this is the kind of thing that you have to earn back over a long period of time. the depth — i mean, i described this antidote in my book of meeting with a collection of japanese business leaders, right? people who've come to count
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on the united states as the guarantor for their nation's security, kind of that that helps shape their foreign policy. and i thought i was going to have a conversation about foreign policy and all they wanted to talk about was charlottesville, virginia — the rally where people were marching in the streets, chanting, "jews will not replace us" with torches, and they were asking question after question about this. and what i realised it is, look, i'm sure thatjapan didn't agree with all elements of american foreign policy over the years, and things like the iraq war were incredibly destructive and destabilising, but what trumpism got at — and i don't think it began with trump, and that's another key part of this book — is that people are looking at the united states and it's fundamentally no longer looking like a stable democracy. that's more dangerous than getting something wrong on a foreign policy perspective. that's questioning can we trust these guys, given the enormous weight of responsibility the united states has for global affairs? can we trust them to negotiate and keep agreements again?
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but can we also just trust that they're going to be on a stable democratic trajectory? and no one president can earn that back, even if they did everything right in theirforeign policy. butjust one more question on the us and its transatlantic relations with the europeans, and it flips the equation the other way. we've talked about trust in europe toward america, but what about america's view of europe? when donald trump expressed such deep disdain for europeans because they wouldn't pay their dues, for example, for collective defence, underpinned by the united states' military, he was tapping into something really powerful inside the us. the same when he looked at the eu and saw weakness — not least because the east europeans are very different from the west europeans and they don't really have a collective and coherent approach to many issues. donald trump was on to something, wasn't he, which goes, again, beyond donald trump? and maybe the biden administration isn't going to look at europe and be as convinced that these guys in europe are the absolutely steadfast allies that they need
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to be. well, here's how i look at this from both perspectives, and this is why i think the summits are so important, despite the challenges america has and despite the challenges that europe has. we desperately need each other. like, whether or not we have challenges with one another�*s policies — and look, i think this defence issue, which is real, gets overstated because here's why we desperately need each other — the big things that are out there that need to be dealt with that had been underprioritised, what do we think about a rising china? what do we think about how to deal with, regulate emerging technologies from social media to artificial intelligence? what do we think about how to deal with climate change in the world? how are we going to try to mobilise collective action to vaccinate the world so that covid doesn't re—emerge in variant after variant? we just can't do these things alone. i mean, the united states couldn't solve those problems alone, neither could europe.
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and while i know that we don't have absolutely common positions on them — and russia, i should add in this mix, whether we deal with a revanchist russia that is clearly hell—bent on undermining, unravelling, really, any sense of liberal international order — if the us and europe aren't getting together in the room to try to figure out common positions on those things, then what is already an incredibly difficult set of challenges becomes really impossible to deal with. right. now, europe, of course, for decades was america's key focus of attention — not least during the cold war but maybe for years afterward too. there is no doubt that the focus of attention in washington isn't primarily europe. it is china. and the word routinely used to characterise china in washington is adversary. that's the way that china is perceived. now, what arejoe biden�*s options going forward when it comes to china policy? you write extensively about the degree of repressive, authoritarian politics
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imposed by president xi, and you particularly focus on hong kong. but frankly, it's hard to see what the united states is going to do to change china's current strategy. well, first of all, i think that what we have to be aware of is the reality that there are — you know, there are foreign policy and security issues where we have concerns about china. but then there's this question about what is the world gonna look like in 20 years or 30 years? and what i found so chilling about kind of inhabiting that hong kong experience is this kind of creeping blend of this mixed capitalism blended with technology and then wrapped up in, really, totalitarianism, where you have a circumstance in hong kong where the kind of total surveillance of the state that was encroaching on those
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people that evoked such a response from them was one in which they couldn't say what they thought or access information that they wanted to. they're being conditioned to think a certain way if they want to get ahead in society, and that way is whatever the chinese communist party wants. we have to reckon with the idea that that model may include —— we have to reckon with the idea that that model may have created wealth, but is that the world we want to live in? so, when we consider the response, this starting point for this has to be i believe, what is our motto? what do we stand for? how are we dealing with emerging technologies? how are we dealing with a democracy that feels so threatened by these kind of divisions that have emerged in our society, for the nationalism that has become increasingly prevalent in our society? crosstalk. what is the alternative? joe biden talks about we have to showed democracy can deliver. that's all well and good, but i'm talking more fundamentally about
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a model of society that we think is an alternative to the one that the chinese have that has a lot of momentum behind it right now. crosstalk. that surely is a point. it has a lot of momentum behind it. it has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, giving them much better life. what should the us strategy toward try to be now? because does the us focus on what it can do with china or does it focus on sending a message which is all about disapproval of china's political repression, of its authoritanism and an effort to isolate china? i think on the issues of democracy and human rights, i think it's time that we recognise if you looked at the last several decades, and if you looked at it from the outside in, and in fact i looked at the united states from a chinese perspective, and i considered where these people care about?
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the idea of the desire to make profit within the chinese market and economy? the idea of prioritising national security issues? and the idea of technological innovation. clearly outweighed as a priority any concern for democracy and human rights. the united states has gone to the mat of the purchase of american soybeans from china more than we have undemocratic issues. so, i do think that the united states and like—minded congress around the world, democracies, need to be prioritising issues like what's happening to the uighurs at a much greater level, and i think biden has moved things in that direction. just a quick word. as we're discussing the authoritarian strain around the world, we might have to have a quick word about russia and vladimir putin. you were in the room for a number of meetings between obama and putin. we saw donald trump try to take a different tactic. he very rarely criticised
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putin in person. we now havejoe biden facing a vladimir putin who is still insistent that russia will continue to assert its aggressive control over its regional sphere. what can biden do about that? again, it's very hard to see, for all of your talk about how american needs to stand up for principles of democracy and freedom, it's hard to see where the leverage is. well, none of this is easy. all of this is going to take a lot of time. i think with putin, you have to recognise he is who he is. he's been living in one direction for over 20 years now. it's an increasingly assertive direction, at home and abroad. look, i think in response, first of all, we have to recognise what has putin been trying to do most aggressively? he's trying to undermine our
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own democracies and societies. through cyber attacks, through disinformation campaigns. what we had to do is get our own house in order. we pursue things like sanctions, and that's all well and good and necessary, but i also think what we have to do is turn the attention on him a bit more in terms of... i talked to alexei navalny for my book. you know, what did he do? he exposed putin's corruption. he understood that was put in�*s vulnerability. i think the united states can do a little bit more spotlighting on just how corrupt the system is. going after that dark money, not just through sanctions, but through enforcement. you could have done more, could you not, when you were deputy national security adviser to barack 0bama? sure, absolutely. iam i am amazed that you only met alexei navalny when you went on this tour of authoritarians and the activists opposed to them after you had left the white house.
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why did you not have strong contact with navalny before that? well, on that front, i think navalny very much wanted to be his own man. he said he didn't want to be the kind of russian opposition figure who turned up in washington and met with people and testified in front of congress. part of his concern, and i get this, navalny could speak to that voter in russia who supported putin, because he shared some of the same grievances about how the cold war ended and what happened in the �*90s with what was perceived as a corrupt sell—off of the soviet union's state assets. but i will say, you're right. there's some of these tools that we didn't fully reach for, that i'm now proposing, but this is the reality. putin has been on a steady escalation. 0n disinformation, some of that is at home. crosstalk. let me push you on one other element that perhaps you now would say you should have pushed harder on.
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if america is to be credible and coherent with its message going forward, that it and like—minded countries will push for freedom and democracy around the world by walking the walk at home, then surely the united states can no longer in pursuit of its national security interests support and play political ball with repressive regimes like saudi arabia, like sisi's regime in egypt. under the obama administration, you didn't walk away from those kinds of governments because you saw it as in america's national security interests to be friends with them. in the future, does america have to cut ties with those kinds of governments? yeah, we have to fundamentally change. look, i argued for doing this in the obama administration. i didn't win that argument,
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but i tell a story in the book about a mand name mohammed, egyptian american. he was thrown in prison when he was protesting the coup in 2013 that removed mersi. he was tortured after being shot. he's tortured in the most gruesome ways. he goes on a hunger strike. the egyptian authorities put an isis recruiter in his prison cell. and mohamed is sitting there debating the merits of non—violent versus violent resistance with an isis recruiter. the reason this government, that we give billions to from the united states is doing that, is because they wanted to radicalise their own opposition because it justifies their suppression, and that's what needs to change. the united states should not be given military assistance to governments like egypt. the united states and the united kingdom should not be selling arms to a government of mohammed bin salman in saudi arabia. i do think this has to change. you're right, and as someone who's been in power,
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i'm trying to speak more honestly and openly in ways i think its past time we do. how can the us lecture people about democracy when some of our most high—profile allies here are clearly anything but? very interesting point. so, now, before he end, let's quickly talk about what you call the home front. that is, the politics inside the united states of america. if america is to be credible as the ultimate defender of freedom and democracy around the world, it has to be seen to uphold those principles at home. one problem you have is that donald trump did actually win the election in 2016. we don't know what can happen in 2022 in the mid terms, and 202a. it's possible the republicans may be led by donald trump and win again. many millions, tens of millions of americans, legitimately support donald trump. in your book, you portray them all as frankly, brainwashed by fox news and alt—right social media. why do you cannot find it
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within yourself to be more empathetic to those people in your country who don't see the world the way you do? i'm empathetic to them. i do think a lot of those people have gotten a raw deal in a lot of ways. what i will not compromise on is people who want to overturn american democracy. that is how radical it's gotten. that is a lot of people, notjust trump. they are not the majority. they are not the majority of the country. right now, they are trying to rewrite voting laws to make it harder for anybody who doesn't think like them or look like them, particularly black and brown people, to vote. that's happening in over 20 states right now. and they've tried to do exactly what i described in the book viktor 0rban has done inside of hungary, where you get to redraw your own districts and choose who votes and who doesn't. they even have laws they want to pass about elected officials being able to overturn the results. this is happening
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out in the open. crosstalk. i don't empathise with that. but you don't... don't you have a responsibility to think about the kind of america that you and your kids are going to live in? using the language you use, comparing people who have voted for donald trump to neo—fascists, to racists, because you frankly say racism underpins a lot of current donald trump supporting opinion in the us, you are, rather than building bridges and seeking a way to bring america together, you seem to be essentially arguing for a long—term conflict, confrontation within your own country. i, that's not... that is not what i would say about all trump supporters. like, i came of age in politics writing speeches for barack obama about us coming together. red states and blue states, that is what i would prefer. if you look at, and it is
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the case that a bunch of people are living in an information ecosystem in my country, it's notjust fox news. it's online, it's talk radio, and it is very radical. qanon, the conspiracy theory that says a cabal of child sex traffickers is running the world government... it's bigger than some religions. and we shouldn't ignore that. that's a big problem in our society has to deal with overtime. i believe putting forward the belief america should be a multiracial, multiethnic democracy where people from all over the world can share an international identity. that's fundamental. i'm not willing to compromise on that. we are out of time, but it's going to need a really short answer. is america fixable? can it be the america you always dreamed it could be? yes, because america has always been a contest
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between these different stories. american democracy is doing the work of trying to live up to the story that we tell about ourselves, and i think we can do that. we've done it before, we could do it again. ben rhodes, it's been a pleasure talking to you. thank you for being on hardtalk. thanks. hello. for the last couple of days, some of the coastal areas in the south and west have been plagued by fog. this was the picture in camberwell, on thursday, for example. equally, thursday had more cloud in the east but the sunshine broke through. a very similar set—up to the south of this weather front through the day ahead, but behind it we are going to introduce something a little bit fresher. we will notice the temperatures won't be quite as high and i don't think we will feel
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the effects of that before the end of this night. it will be warm and uncomfortable for sleeping for many of us. these are the night—time temperatures. now, as we go through friday, a lot of low cloud and hill fog around to this weather front. brightening up to the north. a fair few showers just sweeping in across the north and west of scotland on the brisk breeze. sunshine developing to the south of the weather front but it will come and go as the cloudy zone sinks southwards, introducing the odd spot of rain and drizzle. the temperatures will be two or three degrees down on those of yesterday and still warm and muggy and with coastal fog across the south in the south—east. we should get a lot of play for the second day of the second test. butjust be aware that weather front is coming southwards. so it could just at times produce the odd spot of rain or drizzle. going into the weekend, high pressure building in again but our weather fronts will always be around northern and western areas, so it is here where we are likely to see more cloud and slightly lower temperatures. while with more sunshine
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materialising, we will have got rid of that weather front, that weak weather front with spots of rain, all that rain to start lifting our temperatures again. very similar, low 20s to mid 20s, at the high teens further north. come sunday, picking up the southerly wind. it is pumping in cloud into northern and western parts of the uk but more sunshine with the drier air further south and east. and it's here that we are likely to see temperatures leaping up into the high 20s, pushing towards 30, but even east scotland gets very warm indeed. then as you can see for a selection of some of our towns and cities, the temperatures do tend to ebb away, particularly in the west as we go through into next week. very similar for the likes of reading, peaking on sunday and monday. as ever, there's more online.
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hello, this is bbc news. i'm victoria fritz, with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. presidents and prime ministers from the world's leading democracies are in cornwall, ahead of the g7 summit. covid recovery, climate change and trade are all on the agenda. famine in northern ethiopia — the united nations' humanitarian programme says months of conflict have had a devastating effect on the tigray region. excitement across a continent — the delayed euro 2020 football tournament is set to kick off in rome. the end of a reality tv era — keeping up with the kardashians airs its very final episode after 1a years.

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