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Special Relationship Status; Of Books, Libraries and Imagination; Imagine a World

Aired November 1, 2013 - 15:04:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our special weekend edition of the program. Tonight, two special relationships. In a moment, my interview with the new U.S. ambassador to the U.K., Matthew Barzun. And later a different but still special relationship, the one between books, imagination and our journey through life.

My first guest, the U.S. ambassador here, took up his post in August, right in the middle of an environment that is, to put it mildly, very challenging.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Here he is, giving a behind-the-scenes tour of the embassy in London.

MATTHEW BARZUN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.K.: And over here, of course, is a portrait of someone I think needs no introduction. Here's Sir Winston Churchill, cigar in hand, looking intently and purposefully over my shoulder every day. And I love it because it's a reminder of the man who coined the term "special relationship" back in 1946.


AMANPOUR: U.S. relationships, special or not, are sharply in focus as the global fallout over the NSA spying allegations continues. And after months of revelations by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, including the bugging of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, the whole furor has engulfed the Obama administration and led the president to order a review of intelligence practices.

Meanwhile, his global standing has taken a knock and rebuilding trust won't be easy.

All of this as the U.S. tries to recover from that other debacle, the one over the government shutdown. That's a lot for any ambassador to cope with, not to mention the fact that the president entered office apparently uncomfortable with the notion of one special relationship with any country.

Matthew Barzun came to the Court of St. James via volunteering on President Obama's first campaign and then chairing the Finance Committee for his reelection campaign last year. He has also served as ambassador to Sweden and he knows a lot about working with America's key allies in good times and bad.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador Barzun, welcome. Thanks for joining me in the studio.

BARZUN: Thank you for having me, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So this week has been dominated by stories of ambassadors around Europe being summoned by the governments and demanding explanations.

Why have you not been summoned?

BARZUN: Well, the --


BARZUN: -- United States and the U.K. have an incredibly close, as you know, intelligence sharing cooperation. And that dates back to World War II, up through the Cold War and continues right up today as we try to make the world and ourselves safe from proliferation from terrorism.

So we work incredibly closely together, and that's the focus of the conversations I'm having.

AMANPOUR: In the same vein, I want to play you a little bit of what Prime Minister Cameron was asked and his response in Parliament this week.


KEVIN BRENNAN, CARDIFF WEST, LABOUR: Can he tell the House whether his phone has been targeted and, if not, why not?


DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: There was a -- there was a very good moment at the dinner when one E.U. prime minister said how disappointed he was that clearly no one was interested in his conversations. I won't -- I won't reveal who it was.


AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador, a light moment about a serious topic, one that has grabbed Washington right now by the horns, and that is the fallout from tapping and monitoring leaders' phone calls, emails, et cetera, even allies.

And in fact, at Congress, James Clapper yesterday said this is business as usual. This is what we do.

Explain to us what it is that the U.S. and its allies do in terms of intelligence gathering.

BARZUN: Well, I think, you know, in Washington today, you've got delegation from the European Parliament there, engaging with the State Department, with the White House. You've got delegations from European countries there, engaging.

So the president, as he has said, takes this matter very seriously. And he's working on it. And it's part of the reasons that he's conducting this review, the White House review, and then also external reviews about how we strike the balance.

And he thinks it's really important that we find the right balance between, on the one hand, protecting the security of our citizens and our allies; and, at the same time, protecting the privacy that Americans and Brits and people all over the world share.

AMANPOUR: What do you make of what General Keith Alexander said yesterday?

Because obviously one of the other things that has grabbed the headlines has been these accusations printed in Spanish and French newspapers with the help of Glenn Greenwald, that the U.S. was spying on French and Spanish citizens and collecting tens of millions of phone calls and other such.

General Alexander said it wasn't true. This is what he said.


KEITH ALEXANDER, NSA DIRECTOR: The sources of the metadata include data legally collected by NSA under its various authorities, as well as data provided to NSA by foreign partners.

To be perfectly clear, this is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.


AMANPOUR: Does that present a bit of an issue? First, the fact that everybody accused the NSA of doing it, now General Alexander is basically explaining that actually it's our allies who are also doing it and that is what they do.

Could that sort of have a backlash, do you fear, as ambassador?

Do you think that that could put, let's say the leaders of France and Germany, in a difficult spot with their publics once they know that their intelligence are spying on them?

BARZUN: Well, what I would react to, to that clip and to the other one that you showed, is a lot of the explaining that's going on. And I think it's important to reflect on the fact that both here in the United Kingdom and back home in America, you see a open public debate about these topics.

You saw people on Capitol Hill in that clip. You see the president himself, his spokesperson Jay Carney, everyone engaging, not only in public formats like we've seen, but also through diplomatic channels, engaging on this important topic, so that we can find the right balance.

And I think as we see all that back-and-forth of news stories that we reflect on how these democracies are handling this really important issue.



BARZUN: That's a good model.

AMANPOUR: -- and one of the really important issues, obviously, is cooperation in, let's say, counterterrorism.


AMANPOUR: Do you fear, as an ambassador, representing the U.S. government, do you fear that now exposing some of what's going on -- and this was kind of a first confirmation that actually, yes, the U.S. and other intelligence agencies cooperate.

Do you think it might hamper the trust of other governments or other intelligence agencies in cooperating with the United States?

Do you think these leaks, do you think these -- this open system that you're now talking about -- could hamper that?

BARZUN: I think it's vital that we continue working closely together. It's not really my position to come in on other countries, but certainly as it relates to the United Kingdom and the United States, the partnership is incredibly close and it's working to keep us safe.

And in order -- but I think to the larger point you were getting at, it's also important -- and the president has said this -- that our publics and our democracies be comfortable with this balance between security on the one hand and the privacy concerns that we all share.

AMANPOUR: The publics are pretty angry right now that, for instance in Germany they're pretty angry once they heard that Chancellor Merkel was also being monitored.

You know, you've seen the film; everybody's seen the film, "The Lives of Others," about the intrusions of the Stasi era in Germany. I guess I'm asking, do you understand as a human being these sensitivities amongst various European populations to all of this?

BARZUN: Well, I would focus on the sensitivities to the publics -- I can speak more to America and maybe what's going on in the U.K. I think an important point to realize --


AMANPOUR: But you were ambassador to Sweden beforehand as well. So you've got a pretty big view.

BARZUN: Sure. Look, and this is really important and that's why the president takes these matters so seriously.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk about another thing, which, again, you've been right in the middle of and I'd be fascinated to know how you viewed this thing that made the rest of the world wonder about the United States, and that is the government shutdown and the inability to get its financial economic house in order.

The shutdown, as ambassador, you know, it was being derided here and elsewhere.

How did it make you feel to see what was going on and how it was being reacted to here?

BARZUN: This was, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, not our finest hour. This is not how our democracy back home is supposed to work. And I got lots of questions from students up in Edinburgh about the shutdown.

I think the good news out of it is that at the 11th hour, Democrats and Republicans did come together to get a deal done. And so now the focus is --


AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) kicked down the road, though.

BARZUN: Well --

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) January (inaudible).

BARZUN: -- (Inaudible) mid-December we'll see work on the budget and something done.

So I think it's --

AMANPOUR: You think there will be proper work and there will be a real proper (inaudible)?


BARZUN: I certainly hope so. I certainly hope so. And I think we can then reassert and reshow the democracy that we're so proud of and how it works.

AMANPOUR: You said that, you know, this wasn't our finest hour and it's not meant to be how it works.

But there is a line of thought right now that believes that perhaps structurally this is the way it's going to be, a Democratic president, a Republican House or vice versa or whatever, and this kind of institutional paralysis or inability to compromise is going to be the way of the future.

What are your thoughts on that?

BARZUN: I don't think that will be the way of the future. I think our system -- and I explained this to our British friends a lot -- our system is different from parliamentary systems and we have gridlock in a sense built into it.

So we have divided government and it's meant to work that way, as you know well, with checks and balances.

And I think it's important to make a distinction between our normal system -- and if you just take the issue of ObamaCare, and how it was thought out in the legislature and then it went to the top of our judicial system, to the Supreme Court, and then we had a presidential election where this was a top issue.

So you see all three branches of our government -- legislative, judicial, executive -- all playing their part. And then it becomes the law of the land and then we try to go implement it.

And so I think that is the way our system works. It is contentious; it is a bit like American football. I try to explain to my British friends that it's start and stop; it's adversarial.

AMANPOUR: But this is pretty --


BARZUN: It works for us.

AMANPOUR: You agree, right? This is a pretty bad situation where the government could be shut down, where most, you know, reputable economists and world leaders says that actually even if they, you know, defaulted, if the debt ceiling thing hadn't been worked out, it could have triggered a worse economic crisis than in 2008, just at the time when the U.S. and other countries are showing sort of green shoots of growth.

BARZUN: Absolutely. And everything I said about our system of checks and balances was not in any way trying to suggest that what we saw in the twin -- the government shutdown and then the debt brinksmanship -- was a good thing. It wasn't a good thing.

And I think the president put it quite bluntly. He said it encouraged our enemies; it emboldened our competitors and it depressed our friends, who count on us for steady leadership. And I certainly saw that with friends here in the U.K., who do look to us, who work with us on the range of issues.

You touched on some: Middle East peace, Syria, the big trade deal we're trying to do, all these things we need to work together with the U.K. We have no better partner in the world than the U.K. to work on this.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Ambassador Matthew Barzun, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

BARZUN: Thank you so much, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nice to talk to you.


AMANPOUR: And European allies are telling President Obama the spying debacle will require him to engage in some very intense confidence rebuilding.

But coming up, a really important relationship, this time between reading and the stories of our lives, author, screenwriter and comic strip cult hero Neil Gaiman will tell us about his true love: books, and how they've become a cause really worth fighting for, word by word.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And changing gears, we're going to talk about books and words.

Europe's newest and largest library has recently opened in Birmingham right here in England, and who opened it? None other than Malala Yousafzai. She's the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban because of her love of books and learning and her fight for girls' rights to an education in Pakistan.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI, EDUCATION ACTIVIST: A world without books is like a body without a soul. And I say a city without books and a city without a library is like a graveyard.

Let us not forget that even one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.


AMANPOUR: I interviewed Malala and I felt first-hand the power of a child with a book. But she also exemplifies the threat that anyone with a book poses to extremists everywhere.

It's no coincidence that burning books is often one of the first acts of a dictatorship. Burning books is like burning memory, history, a people's very existence, as I witnessed when Sarajevo's magnificent Austro- Hungarian Library was shelled and burned during the Bosnian War.

The heroism, though, of ordinary citizens making up a bucket brigade to douse and save their books, their treasures, is perhaps an even more powerful statement.

Now the novelist and screenwriter Neil Gaiman has made a passionate case for the power of books, of libraries and of imagination. In a lecture presented by the British advocacy group, The Reading Agency, earlier this month, Gaiman says that leaders who would close libraries in the name of ideology -- or in the name of austerity -- are closing the gates to the future.

And Neil Gaiman joins me live now in the studio.

Thank you for being here.

NEIL GAIMAN, AUTHOR AND SCREENWRITER: Thank you for inviting me.

AMANPOUR: So with your passion, just how did you react to listening to Malala? You know, she's 16 making such a convincing case.

It's so convincing and it's so true. That's the -- it's one of the things that absolutely fascinates me like right now, is giving books to kids, educating the young, giving them access to reading and to fiction is one of the most important things we can possibly do.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it is really under threat?

GAIMAN: Yes. I really do. And I think it's under threat, though, not because of evil. I think it's under threat because, A, you have austerity and, B, there is an absolutely mistaken idea that a library is shelves of books somewhere and why do you need shelves of books?

You can have a million books on your iPad, so why would you worry about this thing? Let's close it and save money.

And it misses everything I think that libraries are good for and librarians are good for and libraries as common spaces, libraries as places where you can discover what you like, where a child can walk along, pull books off a shelf, where those who are not Internet savvy can go and discover books.

AMANPOUR: And you've talked about the unique experience, the journey, the imagination that books, libraries, can give a child.

Tell me about that.

GAIMAN: I was -- I was a booky kid. I will never forget the joy of getting my parents to drop me off at the local library on their way to work and just going in and reading my way through the children's library, going and exploring in the card catalog back when they had card catalogs, pulling books off the shelf and then nervously edging out into the adult world.

And dealing with librarians, discovering the joy of things like the inter-library loan, where you can tell them you want a book they don't have, and they will go and get it for you.


GAIMAN: Absolute magic.

And I think the most important thing is that you are teaching a child how to imagine. The imagination, it's a muscle. It's a really important thing if you want to build the future, if you want to create a literate generation, if you want to create a generation that is not criminal.

AMANPOUR: Before I get to the cover of what you've just brought in, I want to just follow up on what you've just said, and you've quoted it before, what Albert Einstein said, that "If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

GAIMAN: What I love about that is it's telling you a bunch of things. First of all, it's telling you read to children. I think that's an obligation.

I think as parents, as friends, as adults, the joy of reading to children, the joy of doing the voices, the joy of finding some time where you are not being distracted by telephones, by televisions, by all of the glorious distractions of the 21st century and you make some time and you read and tell stories, is huge.

And it tells children that they can go into these books, into these forests of words. They can take these 26 symbols and a handful of punctuation marks and build them into stories themselves.

AMANPOUR: And you've spoken very convincingly, for instance, to students in the United States, among others, and I was really struck by what you said about the perils of success and the virtues of making mistakes and failures and learning.

And you said that once upon a time, you misspelled the name Caroline, and from that, I presume, came "Coraline," your book --

GAIMAN: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: -- and the famous, famous film. Tell me a little bit about mistakes and what kids should know growing up.

GAIMAN: I think what you need to -- one of the things you need to know is that mistakes are fine. There's nothing wrong with mistakes. Mistakes demonstrate that you're actually out in the world and you're doing something. You are active. You're engaged.

I worry because I meet people who want to be writers or they want to be artists or they want to be musicians, but they're sure it has to be perfect. And that terror of trying to be perfect stops them doing anything. They do nothing.

What I try and tell people is use your mistakes. Treasure your mistakes.

I remember typing a letter to somebody named Caroline and looking down and I'd mistyped it into Coraline. And I thought, that should be a name. What a great name! I wonder what somebody like that will be like?

And the next thing, I wrote my book and then several years later I'm at the Academy Awards seeing if we were going to win. We didn't. But it was great.


AMANPOUR: What about, you know, scaring the pants out of children?

GAIMAN: Oh, I think --

AMANPOUR: With that book?

GAIMAN: It's such a great English tradition, though, great British tradition. It -- I -- for me, it was "Doctor Who." For me, as a little kid, it was the joy of watching "Doctor Who" from behind the sofa where they couldn't get out and get you.

And it taught me something really fun, which is it's OK to be scared in small doses. It's OK to be scared safely. And it teaches you to be brave.

"Coraline" is all about being brave.

AMANPOUR: And you brought "Sandman."

GAIMAN: I did.

AMANPOUR: That's your comic.

GAIMAN: It's the first --

AMANPOUR: It's the first one that's come out in more than a decade.

GAIMAN: It is. I wrote the last --

AMANPOUR: -- see if we can --

GAIMAN: -- "Sandman" in 1996, it was published. And now it's the 25th anniversary. And I thought, 25 years after the first one came out, I have to come go back and write more.

So I'm getting six episodes and the beautiful covers, some of the most wonderful art by a glorious artist named Jay H. Williams III (ph). And I'm -- and the fun thing is getting to bring these characters out again.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's really great to talk to somebody who has such a passion for not just obviously what you do, but for the words and for the libraries and we're going to take a short break, but we're going to come back, and we're going to do a tribute to libraries.

Stick around.


AMANPOUR: And prophets of doom who predicted the demise of libraries can look back exactly 44 years ago today, when a simple message "LO" was sent between two computers linked by a network that came to be known as the Internet. The message was meant to say "log in." But the system crashed after only the first two letters.

An omen perhaps, that for all its promise the Internet cannot replace another search engine that never failed and only requires a card and an imagination?

We'll explore that, as I said, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, with Neil Gaiman as our guide, we've just explored the creative power of books and the quiet places where we can read, think and dream.

So again imagine a world without libraries. In the age of the Internet search engine, when one click can take you from Plato's cave to the planet Pluto, some fear that the library was a dinosaur doomed to extinction.

But a new history of library architecture by James Campbell with beautiful pictures by Will Price reminds us that libraries have always been a citadel of learning in a sea of change. In the Middle Ages, public libraries like this one in Italy were rare and the books were so large and so precious they were kept chained to the desks.

Thanks to Gutenberg and the printing press at the dawn of the Renaissance, books became more accessible, able to be displayed on shelves like these at the Codrington Library at Oxford University.

And libraries like this one in Paris, once the exclusive preserve of monks, became public spaces, where scholars, students and book lovers could sit for hours with the world an open book. From the ornate book-lined walls of an Austrian abbey to an ultramodern incarnation in China, libraries remain very much alive.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.