Return to Transcripts main page
Reset on the World Stage; UKIP after Euro Win; Imagine a World
Aired May 30, 2014 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program.
"America must always lead on the world stage. If we don't, no one else will."
Those are the words of U.S. President Barack Obama this week in a speech that was billed as a major reset of America's foreign policy, but also a defense of that policy whilst he's been in office.
Giving the commencement address to a new generation of U.S. military officers at the West Point Academy, his message was that America would never flinch from protecting its vital national interests.
But the question of action and inaction in Syria hung heavy over his delivery. As he spoke, new evidence emerged showing the devastation wrought by barrel bombs that are still being dropped by the Assad regime.
And describing his dilemma over wielding U.S. military power, the president said, "Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail."
I asked Michele Flournoy whether President Obama is sending mixed messages. Now she's a former U.S. undersecretary of defense and she's often touted to be the first woman to head the Pentagon itself.
AMANPOUR: Undersecretary Flournoy, thank you very much indeed for joining me.
MICHELE FLOURNOY, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Very happy to be with you, thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now you heard the president's speech.
Did it suffer from overhyped expectations? Was this a reset?
FLOURNOY: Well, I think it was certainly an attempt by the administration to reset the narrative to get off the defensive back foot and to state a proactive vision of the U.S. role in the world, the U.S. leadership, make a good case for continued engagement.
But I think the real challenge is how does this speech, which is important, translate into new policies and actions? I think that's what people will judge it by ultimately.
AMANPOUR: Precisely. And I want to get to Syria in a second, but it just does seem that there are a lot of mixed messages there or a lot of sort of, you know, don't criticize me for wanting not to go to war. It's almost as if the president frames it in war or nothing.
FLOURNOY: It's a very nuanced message and it's hard to communicate because on the one hand, he's saying now is a time to end more than a decade of war and refocus on our economy here at home. But the United States, to protect its interests, has to remain engaged, has to be a leader. But leadership doesn't always mean military intervention.
So it's the subtle message and it -- there is a sort of push-and-tug within the message. And so I think different people will hear it in different ways.
AMANPOUR: All right. Now a lot of regional leaders will say to us off the record, they often obviously don't go public with this, but they do express frustration with one of the key issues and that is with Syria.
You know, there is a group of people who say we want to do more, but we can't do it without President Obama's leadership. And nothing that was said in this speech -- to my ears, anyway -- indicated anything different.
Did you hear anything different? And do you expect some new details to emerge?
FLOURNOY: The one thing that I heard slightly differently in the speech about Syria was what the president called for stepped-up efforts to work with all of the countries on the borders of Syria -- Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and so forth -- trying to work with them to try to deal with the refugee problems coming across their border but also try to contain the conflict and its spillover.
But he wasn't specific about exactly what that means. So we'll have to see whether there are any new initiatives there to bolster, you know, what the policy's been so far.
AMANPOUR: I wanted to ask you specifically about what the president said regarding the main American objective, his main objective was to make sure that terrorism didn't rise and threaten the United States. He said that in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda had been defeated. But he didn't really talk about what everybody else is talking about and that the inaction is -- in Syria is allowing the rise of Al Qaeda-like organizations there.
Don't you think that U.S. intelligence and Western intelligence is incredibly worried about that?
FLOURNOY: There is a lot of concern about the number of foreign fighters that are going to Syria for training and experience and a number of them are jihadists and have aspirations to take terrorism outside of Syria back home or to the West.
And so there's a huge amount of concern about that. I do think the president's emphasis on a refreshed counterterrorism strategy that focuses on building the capacity of partner countries to deal with the threat, you know, on their own soil, I do think that's an important step forward, something we have been doing, but we need to do more of, going forward.
But I think the Syrian problem really is going to be increasingly troubling going forward.
AMANPOUR: You said about Afghanistan, because obviously Afghanistan was one of the big issues this week; the president announced that somewhere in the region of 10,000 U.S. troops would remain over the next year and then they would, in turn, get halved and by the end of 2016, there would be a negligible force just protecting the U.S. embassy as is the case in every country.
Now you said just a couple of months ago that if we withdraw and the international community withdraws its aid, you'll see the potential for the Afghan government to collapse, the insurgency to gain momentum and territory taken over Eastern Afghanistan, basically recreating a safe haven for terrorist elements that still harbor an anti-U.S. agenda.
And all that effort and all that sacrifice and all of the progress you're back to new safe haven for terrorists is like it just makes no sense.
Has your view changed? Has President Obama done anything and said anything to change that opinion?
FLOURNOY: Well, I think the risk of managing any drawdown is that you lose the gains you fought and sacrificed so much to put in place. And I think here the positive thing about the president's statement is that we're not going to zero immediately; we're keeping a relatively robust force in.
I think the challenge is the timeline he put in place, which basically says that force will come down half the first year and then close to zero or several hundred by the very end.
And the question is whether conditions on the ground will support that, whether that's too ambitious a timeline for the Afghan National Security Forces or for dealing with the remnants of the insurgency that's still there.
And so I would have preferred an approach that really derives from progress on the ground, you know, gradual adjustments in our posture over time.
FLOURNOY: We do want to lock in the gains we've sacrificed for.
AMANPOUR: Well, there you go and so do the Afghan people, of course, as they tell us all the time.
Let me ask you about this inherent dilemma between a war-weary nation and the polls basically show -- the latest Pew poll shows that America should frankly mind its own business; 52 percent said that in 2013, whereas 30 percent said that in 2002.
So people are getting war-weary in the United States.
But by contrast, as you've seen, all the Afghan presidential candidates have wanted to have the U.S. troops stay, you know, as long as it takes and the Afghan people want that as well.
So where -- how does one resolve this dilemma?
FLOURNOY: You know, I think the American people are war-weary.
But I think when the case is made to them that lays out why engagement or how a particular form of engagement will protect their interests, for example, why a residual presence in Afghanistan carefully managed will actually prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States again, when you make the case to them, when that leadership is shown, more often than not they're willing to support a president or give them the benefit of the doubt.
So I think it is -- it takes a lot of explaining and making the case and bringing people along.
AMANPOUR: Ms. Flournoy, that case has not been made in public. That case that you're putting has not been made. In fact, the reverse case is being made, as President Obama has done, the case for leaving.
Again, Robert Kagan, who is also, you know, formally in the policy establishment and now with Brookings Institution, has just written, "There is no democratic superpower waiting in the wings to save the world if this democratic superpower falters."
Do you agree with that and what he's basically saying?
FLOURNOY: I do believe that we play a unique role in the world and I actually think President Obama believes that. He used the term "American exceptionalism" in his speech. He talked about the U.S. being the indispensable nation.
So I don't think there's any disagreement there.
The disagreement and the discussion is over what does that mean in action?
What kind of action between the all or nothing of total complete military intervention and occupation in a country, which I don't think anyone's calling for in Syria, and you know, complete hands off, you know, what is the right blend of diplomatic and economic and military or military assistance tools that should be used?
And I think that's where the useful debate has to be. The president has set some expectations with this speech that he'll be refining our policies in a number of areas. And I look forward to seeing what actions that those refinements bring.
AMANPOUR: Former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, thank you for joining me from Washington tonight.
FLOURNOY: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: And it was a week for policy resets in Europe, too, America's major trading partner. After the European elections saw the rise of anti-establishment anti-E.U. parties, the European political establishment met to consider this new threat. And we'll meet one of the most vociferous of the rabble rousers after a break.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
European leaders are grappling with a seismic shift in the political landscape after this week's E.U. elections. Though mainstream parties still do hold 70 percent of the seats, there was a dramatic rise in support for anti-establishment, anti-European parties, parties seen by some as xenophobic and, in some cases, overtly racist.
But just how much trouble can these parties cause for European policy? Some are even at odds with each other and the two key disrupters, Marine Le Pen, whose National Front won the most euro seats in France and Nigel Farage, whose U.K. Independence Party won the most in Britain, are vying to build the strongest coalition. He joined me for his first international interview this week.
AMANPOUR: Nigel Farage, welcome to the program and thank you for joining me from Brussels.
NIGEL FARAGE, UKIP: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So you won the most out of the British parties in the European elections and the far right parties, eurosceptic parties, have done pretty well in Europe.
I spoke to Marine Le Pen on Friday and talking to her also about whether you or she would go into an alliance. Now both of you seem to say no. I asked her about your accusation that her party was prejudiced and anti-Semitic and she basically said, well, you know, you've been accused of the same kind of thing.
Let me play you what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARINE LE PEN, LEADER, FRANCE'S FRONT NATIONAL: -- Cameron saying this -- him calling him racist, calling him a drunk. And so he's just trying to get us into a trap, saying these arguments of which he is victim himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What's your reaction to what she said?
FARAGE: Well, I have no wish to pick a fight with Ms. Le Pen, but she seemed determined to try and pick a fight with me.
Look, I think she's done a good job with the French National Front; I think she is different. So those that went before her -- and I've said that time and time again.
But the party has baggage, all right? And yes, we've had accusations leveled at us, grossly unfairly, because some very junior minor members out of our 40,000 membership have said or done offensive things on Facebook or Twitter late at night.
But let me just put this to you. At the end of last week, Ms. Le Pen's own father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of that party, said -- he said we can solve the immigration crisis in France with the Ebola virus. All right? And I'm sorry to even give you that back as an answer, it's so offensive in every regard.
So if Ms. Le Pen was to leave the Front National and start from scratch, I may look at things differently. But all the while there are people like her father around saying things like that, we will not be doing business with them.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the founder of your own party, because again, this goes to the heart of some of the criticisms about you.
Professor Alan Sked, who founded the party with you, "The party has become a Frankenstein's monster," he said. "He designed it as a non- sectarian, non-racist party with no prejudices against foreigners." And he says right-wingers and he includes you in that have taken it over.
And as you know, the youth spokesman for your party also resigned not so long ago, calling it a cynical racist party, that it's become that.
FARAGE: Well, look, I'm sure, that of the vast audience, watching this show, there's actually none of them have ever heard of Dr. Alan Schedule until you've just mentioned his name. He was leader of the party; he was the founder of it in the early days. We haven't seen him or spoken to him since 1997.
And I'm afraid in business, if you lose a deal, you say, well, forget that; let's move onto the next one. In politics, when people lose their chance, it's quite a common thing. They spend the rest of their days trying to attack or slag off perhaps the party that was there before.
AMANPOUR: I want to know, though, how you react to a very reputable study that was done here by University College London. You know it; it was done last year. And they talk about your issues, immigration, welfare, taxes and all the rest of it.
So they say that immigrants who arrived here after 1999 were 45 percent less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than U.K. natives in that same period of 2000-2011 and that at that time, E.U. immigrants contributed 34 percent more in taxes than they received in benefits.
You know, you seem to portray them as takers.
FARAGE: There is a -- no, I don't, actually, because many of them are coming young and bright, and that's not the issue. And actually, the immigration debate benefits is in fact a very small part of it.
But the usefully whole figure, what it did was it took what somebody earned, yes, and then what they paid in tax and said they pay far more tax than they take.
What it didn't do is to cost in that we now have a welfare system in Britain that is not just there for people who are out of work or disabled or whatever it may be; we actually have a welfare system that anybody on minimum wage is actually getting welfare in work benefits.
And that means child benefit for your children, regardless whether they live in the U.K. or elsewhere, and whole system of tax credits that bump up the pay of the low paid.
AMANPOUR: If a voter was told that actually these immigrants were 45 percent less likely to receive state benefits or tax credit that they contributed 34 percent more in taxes than they received in benefits, wouldn't that make a difference to some of the -- let's face it -- anti- immigrant stuff that you save?
FARAGE: Generally I think it's fair to say that open-door immigration has been pretty good for the immigrants. They generally have done pretty well.
AMANPOUR: And pretty good for Britain, too.
FARAGE: -- displacement. No, because there has been a huge social displacement. You know, even if we were, you know, 0.1 of a percent of GDP better off per annum, what about the fact that youth unemployment has doubled in the last 10 years and that for millions of people out there working, they've suffered wage compression on a scale we haven't seen in this country for about 150 years?
AMANPOUR: You've just mentioned unemployment. Actually, you are running against a backdrop where the British economy is doing better than quite a lot of its neighbors, even in the United States. You've got unemployment at a much more manageable rate than it is elsewhere in Europe. And your aim presumably is to do well in Britain, to be the party of opposition, to get into parliament.
You don't have any seats in Westminster now.
What is your plan for the economy? Because in the end, British voters, when it comes to a general election, will want to know about what you're going to do about the economy and the "FT" says that you have up until now said nothing constructive about the economy.
So I want to know is that deliberate and how will that play in a general election?
FARAGE: I have quite deliberately in the run-up to the European election, tried to keep the national debate confined to the constitutional question of why have so many of our lords made in these buildings open door immigration, membership fees, regulation.
I've tried to keep onto those issues. Now the European elections are over and we have less than a year to go before the general election that of course I've got to talk at a far broader canvas.
In brief, we want the -- we want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, not because we dislike Europe or Europeans, far from it, but because we see much better opportunities for the British economy outside the E.U.
AMANPOUR: Obviously your platform is about too much control from Brussels and trying to get out of the European Union. Now the House of Commons Library has concluded that perhaps you could justify somewhere between 15 percent and 50 percent of laws made in Brussels. But there are lots of regulations and not any acts.
So most of them, they say, are quite minor.
But I guess the question is you've been incredibly successful as a protest party against the mainstream at this time.
Are you anything more than a movement?
Can you move your 3 percent of the vote in the last general election here up into a place of wherever it might be, 15 percent or somewhere where it could be breakout? Some people doubt it.
FARAGE: Well, of course people doubt it. People have doubted our success at every single step of the way. We have just scored 28 percent of the vote in a national election beating the Labour and Conservative parties comfortably.
AMANPOUR: But you agree that this is a process vote in Europe, right?
FARAGE: No, I don't. No, I absolutely --
AMANPOUR: -- do you think this will be translated in the -- in the -- in the general election?
FARAGE: Our own polling shows 17 percent of UKIP voters vote as a process (INAUDIBLE) just had enough of the whole shooting match; 61 percent of the UKIP voters vote UKIP because they believe in what we stand for and they think we're offering positive policy solutions.
So the political establishment can say it's a protest vote; that's their comfort blanket. The reality is we're changing politics in Britain and we haven't finished yet.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Farage, you were privately educated at Dulwich College. You're the son of a stockbroker. You turned to be a stockbroker and now you're into politics. I mean, you are also establishment.
FARAGE: Hang on. I spent 20 years working in the private sector. And I look at the front bench of the other three parties in British politics, and virtually none of them have ever had a job. They've gone straight from university into a research office and into being members of parliament.
I've got experience of the business world myself. And that makes us very distinctive from the other political parties. We are in touch with the electorate.
AMANPOUR: All right, Mr. Farage, thank you very much indeed for joining me from Brussels tonight.
FARAGE: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: And as politicians from Europe to the White House discuss the fate of nations, we'll remember a poet laureate of the voiceless and the underprivileged in America, Africa and all around the world, a tribute to Maya Angelou when we come back.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world without Maya Angelou. Hers was a voice for the voiceless, a stirring, reverberating sound that could speak to the powerful as she did at President Bill Clinton's inauguration on a cold January day back in 1993.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYA ANGELOU, POET: Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever To fear, yoked eternally To brutishness. The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day You may have the courage To look up and out and upon me, The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What couldn't she do? Writer, actress, singer, dancer, civil rights activist, teacher and three-time Grammy winner.
But she was more than a performer and a public personality. The world was her stage, whether it was for writing a news magazine in Cairo or helping run a school of music and drama at the University of Ghana, or marching side-by-side with fellow feminist, Gloria Steinem, to mark the 20th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's iconic March on Washington.
Back in 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama presented her with the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, acknowledging her painful childhood and her improbable rise from those ashes of violence and racism to educate herself and engage the world in six languages, inspiring others around the globe.
Two hundred years ago, another poet, Percy Shelley, wrote, that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."
There could be no finer example than Maya Angelou, who has died at the age of 86.
And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website, amanpour.com, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.