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Interview with International Crisis Group's Asia Program Director and Former U.S. Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan Laurel Miller; Interview with Former Swedish Foreign Minister and Women's Forum on Afghanistan Steering Committee Chair Margot Wallstrom; Interview with "Hearts Touched with Fire: How Great Leaders Are Made" Author David Gergen; Interview With Acting Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. Aired 1- 2p ET
Aired May 16, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR live from Kabul in Afghanistan.
Here's what's coming up.
A world exclusive with one of the country's most powerful and secretive figures, deputy Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani on working with America
and the rights of women and girls here and why he is finally coming out of the shadows and revealing his face to the public.
Then: reaction from the West and the thorny question of how the international community should deal with the Taliban in order to help the
people hear. Laurel Miller joins me. She was America's former acting special representative for Afghanistan, and Margot Wallstrom, Sweden's
former top diplomat, who put feminism at the center of her foreign policy.
Plus: America's tortured relationship with the Taliban goes back decades. The former White House adviser to four U.S. presidents David Gergen on
America's moral failings here in Afghanistan and other lessons on leadership.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in Kabul in Afghanistan.
We have tonight a world exclusive for you. Deputy Taliban leader on the FBI is most wanted list, he is the nation whose -- he's been named labeled by
the United Nations an al Qaeda member. He is head of the feared extremist Haqqani Network. He is Afghanistan's current interior minister, Sirajuddin
He has never before done an interview with his face showing. He has never before sat for an interview with a Western news organization. And he has
most certainly not done an interview with a woman.
So, why is this important? It is clear that Haqqani wants to send a message to the United States and to try to open a new chapter in relations. Since
taking power nine months ago, the acting Taliban government has made many promises to get the international community to recognize them and to lift
They also want to be taken seriously amongst their own people as a legitimate government since America's chaotic withdrawal. The United States
government says that Haqqani has American blood on his hands, and there is a $10 million bounty for any reward leading to his arrest. He's wanted for
questioning in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel here in Kabul. That killed six people, including an American citizen.
And yet top Western officials point out that Haqqani's anti-terrorism measures are working and that he put women back to work in his own
ministry. Now, after 20 years of fighting America, Haqqani says the new Taliban government wants to work with the United States and with the rest
of the international community.
Here's part one of our exclusive conversation.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani, welcome to the program.
Now, you have only recently shown yourself publicly. Here, it was at a police passing out parade. This is your first proper interview. Why now?
SIRAJUDDIN HAQQANI, ACTING AFGHAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): Based on the current necessity, and because of this necessity, the local
and international community had concerns, based on the concerns that existed on local and international levels about a number of individuals who
do not want to be blamed for implementing the commitments that have been made with international community.
AMANPOUR: The only thing we really know about your thoughts now is something you wrote for "The New York Times" back a couple of years ago at
the beginning of negotiations with the Trump administration.
You wrote then that, "I'm confident, "and you said, "once this territory is liberated, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which
all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam, from the right to education, to the right to work are protected,
and where merit is the basis for equal opportunity."
I want to know whether you still believe that.
HAQQANI (through translator): The commitments that have been made, the situation at the time was a situation of war.
Opposing parties have provided a very bad picture and definition of our administration. We wanted to take over the government by peaceful means.
And the former government, with the assistance of some other circles, sabotaged our particular plan or program, the transfer of power under
Currently, there are a large amount of rumors and hearsay. And for this reason, a strong decision is under way, so that we can implement the
commitments that have been made by us within an environment of trust, so that we can implement those commitments.
AMANPOUR: Many times, I have spoken occasionally to Taliban leaders, even back in the 1990s, and they told me something similar, that it will take
And yet it never happened. Do you believe that young girls, secondary schoolgirls, will be allowed to go to school here in Afghanistan?
HAQQANI (through translator): I would like to provide some clarification.
There is no one who opposes education for women. And, already, girls are allowed to go to school up to grade six. And above that grade, the work is
continuing on a mechanism.
You may have heard that this is not opposed at the level of leadership or the Cabinet. But the issue has been postponed until further notice. In the
declaration provided by the Ministry of Education, there were some shortcoming within the preparation that were ongoing.
Work is ongoing on those issues. Through this interview and news channel, I am assuring that there is no one opposed to education, only that work has
started on the mechanism.
AMANPOUR: Could you tell us when you think that will happen? I know there has been a big meeting in Kandahar with your supreme leader, Mr.
Can you tell me whether any decisions were made over this past few days?
HAQQANI (through translator): What I am saying to you is that, very, soon, you will hear very good news about this issue, God willing. We will specify
the time on the arrangement that has been provided by the leadership.
Work is ongoing on that. And you will hear very good news soon.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you? I don't know whether you have any daughters. But do you favor your daughters going to secondary school?
HAQQANI (through translator): We all believe that education has been created as a blessing from God, which has been made essential to both men
As I mentioned earlier, there is -- no one is opposed to education. The problem is education based on the Afghan way of thinking and understanding
the cultural aspect of Afghanistan. There is an issue of making an arrangement of Islamic rules and principle.
On a broader level, the situation that exists in Afghanistan concerning the issue of hijab, because, if someone is giving away their daughters or
sisters, they do that based on total trust. We must establish the conditions so that we can ensure their honor and security. We are acting to
AMANPOUR: I'm going to come back to this in a minute.
But, first, I want to ask you about the United States, because many people in the United States are obviously interested.
Now, you have signs and slogans that I have seen painted on the walls, some of them touting defeating the United States. Some of them say that you are
by the people, of the people
About America, do you consider America still to be your enemy?
HAQQANI (through translator): I would like to make a small clarification.
The period of the last 20 years was a situation of defensive fighting and war. When the agreement was made in Doha, we decided that we would not be
talking about this. In the future, we would like to have good relations with the United States and the international community, based on rules and
principles that exist in the rest of the world.
And based on that arrangement, we have made commitment with them. And, currently, we do not look at them as enemies. But, based on their conduct,
the Afghans have reservations about their intentions. From our side, the freedom of the country and struggling for the country's defense is a
legitimate right, in accordance with the international rules.
Currently, we do not look at them as enemies. And we have time and again spoken about diplomacy. We are committed to the Doha agreement. Like the
rest of the world, we want relations with them based on principles and diplomatic norms that they establish with us, and that they don't go back
AMANPOUR: We will get to some of those reasons in a moment.
But I do have to ask you, Mr Haqqani, because you know very well that you are under personal sanctions by the United States, which also has a
multimillion-dollar bounty on your head.
This is what a top Western official told me just before I got here.
He said: "We're in a new world. The guy" -- that's you -- "has a huge amount of American blood on his hands. He's got, in the Taliban, the
tightest ties to extremist movements. He was also one of the first to put women back to work in his ministry. We have seen his ministry take
promising steps to contain terrorism. To call it a paradox is an understatement. This is not just my opinion. It's the opinion of every
single envoy who works on these issues."
So, on the one hand, they believe you're a terrorist, I'm sorry to say. That's they who say that. On the other hand, they think they can work with
What do you say to that?
HAQQANI (through translator): I would say that this is a judgment that they should make.
I have mentioned this before, that they have fought us intensely. And in order to defend the country and ourselves, our response was the same deal.
But the commitment and the form of governance, in order to create secure Afghanistan, we sent a positive message to the world, and sent a positive
message to our nation, while the previous situation had concealed our real picture.
And, currently, praise God, under the conditions of freedom, our conduct is being revealed gradually to the international community. And, also, this
has been revealed to certain circles within the country who are thinking negatively about us.
AMANPOUR: One of the key pledges you made to the United States was that Afghanistan would never again be used as a basis for terrorism against the
U.S. or its allies.
Do you -- are you still committed to that? And how do you explain, in recent months, there have been attacks here, people saying that they belong
to ISIS, ISIS-K, increasingly bold attacks on education centers, even on masks, on a bus, even on a school? Some 100 or so people have been killed
in recent weeks and months.
I mean, that doesn't look like a very secure situation.
HAQQANI (through translator): The commitments that we have made, if you think about it, during the 14 months after Doha, even though there were a
large number of transgressions continuing from the opposing side against us, our leadership was making recommendations to us repeatedly that we
should stick to our commitment, as well as the fact that, until the liberation of Kabul, we were making effort to uphold our commitment and
come to power through peaceful means.
Here, we have internal threats, and some are deliberately elevating the threats to portray them as a cause of concern for the nation and for the
international community. There can be threats to the rest of the world that are orchestrated by a government, but we would like to strongly reassure
the rest of the world that our land will not be used as a threat to anyone.
AMANPOUR: And tune in for tomorrow's program and part two of this exclusive interview. We have much more about governance, democracy, and, of
course, more on women's rights, including this eyebrow-raising exchange:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Can I just get it very clear? Does your government accept that women need to work? It's half the population. You are in dire, dire
Women have the right to work under Islam and before you came here. You want to be known as a government for everyone, a legitimate government. Do you
accept that women have the right to work?
HAQQANI (through translator): Yes, within their own framework.
AMANPOUR: Which means what, in their own framework? Can they be lawyers? Can they be judges? Can they run for Parliament, like they used to?
I know they're working in hospitals. I know there's some teachers working. I know they're working in civil service and in your -- in your ministry.
But many tell us that they feel that the Taliban wants them to stay at home. And they're afraid of some of the edicts that has a very chilling
HAQQANI (through translator): We keep naughty women at home.
AMANPOUR: OK, you need to explain that joke, because people will think that's official policy. And maybe it is.
What does that mean, naughty?
AMANPOUR: There's a cliffhanger for you. Tune in tomorrow.
Now, the international community is closely watching how the Taliban government is actually treating women and girls on an everyday basis. Some
say aid to the new government should be allowed to flow only if there is real evidence of gender equity, while others believe there should be no
conditions, that the world has a moral duty now to work with the Taliban right away to prevent even more suffering.
For instance, the United Nations says nearly nine million people here risk famine-like conditions right now.
With me to discuss are Laurel Miller, who has served as America's acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Obama and
Trump administrations, and Sweden's former Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom. She put feminism at the heart of her country's foreign policy.
Welcome, both of you, to the program.
So, Margot Wallstrom, can I start by asking you what you -- your reaction to some of what Mr. Haqqani said about women and his pledge that nobody
disagrees with their ability to go to school, to work, et cetera? What do you make of that?
MARGOT WALLSTROM, FORMER SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, it has been a time of broken promises and a lot of disappointment, because what was
promised to women and girls in Afghanistan was a right to go to school or learn to drive or the dress code was not supposed to change.
And all of that has been broken. So, I think that we would like to see some results before we can believe the Taliban. And not only that. They feel
that they cannot claim their universal human rights, the right to life and liberty, to work and education and also the right to the freedom of
expression and opinions.
So I think things have really gone backwards in Afghanistan. And I think the international community also has to react. And they have to make sure
that, for example, the distribution of humanitarian assistance is done with the help of women, because, otherwise, you will lose money to corruption.
And women are less corrupt than men in Afghanistan. And they have to be involved in all of this.
AMANPOUR: Can I turn to Laurel Miller?
Because you have written quite a lot about this. And you were the acting special representative for this region.
We were at the WFP, one of the aid points yesterday. And we will have a report on the humanitarian crisis on this program tomorrow. There, we saw
women working. We did see women doctors and nurses in the main hospital. And we have seen women on the streets without the face covering.
And when I asked Haqqani today, he said, it's not mandatory. It's advisory. Now, I realize that any edict has chilling effects. What, though, is your
view of holding up recognition or working with them, given the critical humanitarian crisis that this government -- or, rather, this country is
facing right now?
LAUREL MILLER, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: Yeah, I mean, the reality is that Western influence over Taliban policies, over how they govern, how
they treat women is extremely limited.
And the tools that the international community has to express its disapproval of those policies are things like cutting off aid, preventing
the revival of the Afghan economy. And those are tools that harm the Afghan population, including women, and will have very little effect on how the
Taliban goes about governing.
There is nothing particularly surprising about the direction of Taliban moral policing. It was well-known that these are the kinds of views that
they have about how Afghanistan should be governed. And, frankly, it was well-known by the U.S., by the NATO countries when they decided to withdraw
from the country militarily, that this kind of government that we're seeing now was what was going to result.
So I don't think we're going to see the kind of huge flow of aid that there was to the last government. There's no question about that. However, I do
think it's important to continue to provide support for Afghan livelihoods to allow the economy to regenerate. Otherwise, the country is going to be
in perpetual humanitarian crisis.
That's not good for Afghans, and it doesn't achieve anything in terms of Western interests.
AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you? Because I know -- and I don't know whether your opinion has changed, but I know you have said that the entire Taliban
organization should not be sanctioned by the United States, maybe individuals, but not the entire organization.
My question to you first is, why not? What difference does that make?
MILLER: There has been some relaxation of the sanctions already, very significant carve-outs to the sanctions, and clarifications of their
The problem is that, on the whole, the sanctions are written very broadly, such that they could be seen as applying not just to individuals who have
engaged in particular behavior, but to apply to the whole government of Afghanistan. And this has a chilling effect on financial institutions,
other private sector entities that is continuing to effect this squeeze on the Afghan economy that the sanctions were never meant to have.
So, again, I mean, the U.S. has taken some steps to try to alleviate this. But I do think that, over time, the sanctions regime is going to need to be
modified to be more targeted.
AMANPOUR: And, Margot Wallstrom, you front and you are front and center of a new Afghan women's forum. And the stakeholders are not just
internationals like yourself, but also Afghan women, mostly, I think outside.
What are you hearing from them about how the world should engage with the Taliban and whether, at a time of such humanitarian crisis, conditions are
-- I don't know -- conditions might in fact end up losing lives/
WALLSTROM: Billions of dollars are pledged for humanitarian assistance to the Afghans.
And, of course, the way they are distributed, I think the United Nations and donor countries can actually make sure that women are engaged in
distributing this money, and that can be done and things can be monitored and reported.
And I think also, when different leaders from neighboring countries and from around the world travel to Afghanistan, they can make sure that their
delegations are also women, and they can continue to ask, where are the women? Because we need them. In Afghanistan, we need them.
So, I disagree agree with the opinion that nothing can be done about this, because money represents a very important asset to the Afghans and to the
Talibans as well.
But, of course, we also want to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches to all Afghans. And I also think that there -- they must be scared
of women. And, at the same time, women are needed to ensure that Afghanistan has a future. And there are already so many women judges,
teachers, doctors, scholars, mothers, citizens.
And they make up half of the population. So, how can Afghanistan thrive without them? And I think we just have to have some kind of policy also to
ensure that women can enjoy their human rights.
AMANPOUR: So I asked Sirajuddin Haqqani whether he was surprised and whether the Taliban government was surprised that the world consistently
continues to stand by and stand for women's rights, and that, unless they get this right, that they will not get the kind of recognition they want or
the sanctions lifting.
I asked him about that. And I also said that the promises you heard him make to me had been made in interviews that I had with the Taliban when
they came in, in the 1990s. And yet nothing really changes.
But he said that now almost no Taliban disagrees with the idea of women's education. And I have heard that from other Westerners, other people who
are working on this such as yourself. And they say there might be a split in the Taliban movement between the relatively pragmatic cohort in Kabul
and the much more conservative hard-line traditionalists down in Kandahar with the so-called supreme leader.
Laurel Miller, what do you make of that? Do you think that that could be the case?
MILLER: I think it's possible that this decision will be, if not entirely reversed, modified to allow more diversity in how the question of girls'
education is handled in different parts of the country.
But I'm not counting on that happening. The fact is, the Taliban has elements within the organization that have very conservative, restrictive
views regarding women's role in society. That is not a surprise, given what we know about them over many years. And so I think it's 50/50 that this
decision is modified.
I also don't think that they are going to barter away their views, ultimately, and their decisions on the role of women in society and other
social policy issues in exchange for much needed economic assistance, even though they know they need that assistance.
And, frankly, they're already getting, if not formal recognition, or at least normalization of relations, from countries in the region, from China,
from Pakistan, to some extent, from Iran, from the Central Asian countries. And that's a trend I think that's going to continue and is going to further
undercut Western leverage.
WALLSTROM: So this is what we have to do, I think, then.
AMANPOUR: And, Margot Wallstrom -- yes.
WALLSTROM: We have to try to influence -- we have to influence those countries, and we have to put pressure on them as well.
And I really think that it is so important to insist on not giving recognition to the Talibans unless this is being done. And I know that -- I
think I have an idea for you, Christiane, because maybe you can arrange also a meeting between the Taliban and scholars to have a discussion about,
what does religion really say? What does Islam say about women's rights?
And, also, invite women themselves, because they are also scholars and can contribute, and see if they accept that, and to start such a discussion as
well, because this has to change around. Otherwise, Afghanistan is just going down further. They are already on that slippery slope with the
economy and everything.
So we have to insist, I think. The rest of the world has to insist and also put pressure on the neighboring countries.
AMANPOUR: So, first of all, your suggestion is a very good one. I will try it. I'm not sure how much success I will have.
But, nonetheless, I mean, he sat down with me, a woman. He's obviously trying to make a point. But I fully get what you're saying, because we have
to see to believe, rather than listen, for sure.
But I want to ask you. You put feminism as -- I think you were the first one to make that a key plank of Sweden's foreign policy. And there was some
pushback. You know you had some pushback. There were some issues in Saudi Arabia.
There are many countries around this region which have perfectly fine relations with your country, with, you know, United States, with others
whether women are treated if not as harshly, getting close to that. So, that's one point which I'd like you to comment on.
The other one is, in terms of pressuring -- as you said, we have to pressure the other leaders. We've had many of these Islamic leaders from
other countries on our program who have said loud and clear that education is not against Islam, that work is not against Islam. And they, we
understand, from western officials, are trying to convince the Taliban of that. Even, apparently, the Indonesian foreign minister was trying to
arrange a trip for her -- for the Afghan foreign minister to Indonesia to see how the world's largest democratic Muslim nation actually does it.
From your perspective, as a foreign minister, what can those foreign ministers do to influence the Taliban leadership here?
WALLSTROM: I think, Christiane, they can do a lot. And actually, today, we had a meeting with the envoy from the OIC, from the Organization of Islamic
Countries. And I do believe that they have an influence. And I mean, education is not an idea. Education is something that you do. It's sort of
allowing us to go to school. And I have seen that other countries, there are now nine other countries that have followed the example that I started
with pursuing a feminist foreign policy.
Just meaning that more women means more peace in the world and that they have to enjoy their rights, they have to have the right to be represented
and resources should go to meet also their needs. So, I think that this is something that gains more and more respect. And leaders around the world
understand that without half of the population, there cannot be peace or development. And that is also absolutely clear when it comes to
But we cannot give up. We just have to continue to put pressure on the neighboring countries, on the organizations and even engage in a discussion
about religion and the role of religion.
AMANPOUR: Laurel Miller, as far as the United States is concerned, and I'll ask you too, Margot Wallstrom, but first you, Laurel. You know, off
camera, off the record, people here say, basically, democracy is dead, there's never going to be anything other than an ideological movement, that
-- and again, I asked Mr. Haqqani this (INAUDIBLE) part two, they say -- you know, they want to and they will, you know, have some kind of
representative government. But there seems to be no sense of that happening.
And that in any event, as I said, given so much rollback of so many women's rights and so much of the world, what do you see as the best-case scenario,
Laurel Miller, as a former U.S. expert on this and now working for the International Crisis Group on this issue, what is the best-case scenario
for women's rights in Afghanistan now the Taliban is the official government?
MILLER: The best-case scenario is that a substantial number of girls and women are allowed and enabled to be educated. Because even the Taliban
takeover, and obviously, there's been a significant regression in women's role and right since then. But even before, it was the case that the
struggle for opportunity for women in Afghanistan, for rights in Afghanistan, was going to be a generational struggle. And its Afghan women
who -- and Afghan families and Afghan men, who are going to have to be at the forefront of the struggle.
If women are not enabled to be educated, their ability to participate in that struggle will be undercut to a very traumatic degree. And so, I think
the best case and really only hope for long-term evolution of women's role in society is for them to be educated.
I have to say, the effort to try and get others to influence the Taliban, religious scholars, officials from other countries is a very long-standing
effort, it was tried many times during the war as well to try to persuade them that their fight was on Islamic, and they are quite impervious to
those outside messages. It's worth trying. But they hinge these decisions not solely or even mainly on interpretations of Islam.
These decisions hinge on interpretations that they have of what they view as being the right and proper Afghan culture and they listen to their own
clerics. They don't listen to clerics from outside of the country. So, I have to say, I'm not particularly optimistic that they're going to be
persuaded in that way.
AMANPOUR: And briefly and finally, Margot Wallstrom, your country, many western countries and counties from all over the world spent, you know, the
better part of 20 years pouring, you know, trillions of dollars into this country. And in one fell swoop, it all just went crashing down. What does
that tell you about the effort to try to raise a democratic estate in Afghanistan?
WALLSTROM: Well, actually, there is one success story in all of this, in the international community's efforts in Afghanistan and that is that girls
could go to school. So, I think the right education is, of course, key as we've just heard.
But I must say also, one of the success stories when it comes to my country is the fact of the Swedish-Afghan committee or commission, I don't know how
you translate into English, they are the ones who have succeeded because they have reached out into the countryside to small villages, they have
insisted on girls going to school, they have created -- they have done confidence building. And also, won over some of these Talibans and they are
now allowing girls to continue go to school.
So, I think it's a matter of how do you work in that context, in the Afghan context and everyday life? And if you can prove that this is the way to a
better future for your children, both girls and boys, then that's the way forward. And of course, also to allow --
AMANPOUR: Yes. And we have heard --
WALLSTROM: -- to go to work.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And of course, we have heard there has been so much protests around this country in the villages, in the towns, by religions
and many, many other people, so much protests about this suspension of girls going to secondary school. We will wait to see what happens, of
Now, the United States and the Taliban's tortuous relationship has roots in the Reagan era when the CIA funded Afghan guerrilla fighters, the
Mujahideen, to resist Soviet occupation at the time.
David Gergen served as an adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. His new book, "Hearts Touched with Fire," details lessons on
leadership from the past. And he joins Walter Isaacson to discuss why the torch must now be passed to the next generation.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, David Gergen, welcome to the show.
DAVID GERGEN, AUTHOR, "HEARTS TOUCHED WITH FIRE": Walter, it's good to be with you. It's an honor.
ISAACSON: Christiane has been reporting from Afghanistan. So, I wanted, in our discussion of leadership, you've written a great book on leadership, to
talk about the leadership failures you think happened in Afghanistan.
GERGEN: Sure. Thank you, Walter, for asking that question because we're in danger for forgetting about Afghanistan as we've become so preoccupied with
Ukraine. But Afghanistan remains a serious problem for the United States and for the Biden administration. In my judgment, it was the turning point
for Joe Biden as president. I think because there was such a high moral content to the question of how to get out of Afghanistan safely and to
bring Afghanistan allies with us.
And given the moral equality of the equation to leave people behind was a real dereliction of duty and it's been -- if you look at how the military
view sanction (ph), you don't leave people behind. You know, you are all one unit. And so, I think a failure came first and foremost for the lack of
planning, you know, lack of sort of -- you know, kind of figure out what might happen.
You know, Napoleon, famously before any battle would figure out five or six ways it might unfold. So, it could go lickety-split to where was the
problem was and fix it very quickly. And here, we weren't prepared like that at all. We had a plan which shouldn't work and we had no plan B as far
as I can tell. At least not one that could end quickly.
But to leave all those allies of the United States, people who were interpreters, people who put their own lives on the line to work with
Americans, we had to hope that it would bring democracy to Afghanistan, to leave them behind was -- it was such a disappointment. And I think it
really ought to remain one of the classic case studies that you study in a place like West Point. But very importantly, also study in business schools
and public policy schools and elsewhere about what the responsibilities of leadership are.
ISAACSON: You know, you talk in "Hearts Touched by Fire" with the importance of having a true north, a moral compass. Do you think that this
was a moral failure but it was a practical need to get us out of Afghanistan?
GERGEN: Well, I think getting out of Afghanistan is a general proposition it was not unwise. There were many reasons why it would be good to get out
of Afghanistan. And Biden had made it clear that he wanted to do that. But I think it's how you do it that becomes all important.
Ideas are plentiful, the execution of ideas is really hard. And I think when they didn't appreciate what was coming, they closed down that -- you
know, the other airport, which really shut down the number of people who could get out safely. And we had chaos, and people being trampled to the
ground by what was happening at the lone airport we did have.
You know, and so, all of that came together, especially the fact that there are families now still in Afghanistan who are still in hiding and Taliban
is shredding its various promises to be respectful. You know, it's cracking down quietly and are getting away with (INAUDIBLE).
ISAACSON: The people around Joe Biden, you know, are very expert in foreign policy.
GERGEN: They are.
ISAACSON: They've been on Senate staff. But it's not a team like Lincoln had according to Doris Kearns Goodwin of a team of rivals who had been
plentiful. Do you think that's a problem of leadership?
GERGEN: Yes, I do. I think you need more conflicting voices. You know, it helped a lot during the Cuban missile crisis. That President Kennedy had
voices inside who could disagree. You know, we move from a first solution to the Cuban missile prices, we had a unanimous view of basically to bomb
out of the shadows. We move to a quarantine because people began to question that first few. And among the people who questioned it the most
were people who are very close and really understood crucial. And I think that we simply don't have.
We have people who are experts, but they haven't done the big league kind of negotiations for the most part. We were greatly aided in the past by
people of this stature or near stature of a Kissinger, over George Shultz, over Jim Baker, you know, of Condi Rice, of Madeleine Albright, I think
those people were given more respect simply because they've been there and have been playing in the big leagues and sort of become masters of the
game, so to speak.
ISAACSON: In your book, you talk about how a great leader needs a look at one big thing. You mentioned, you know, how each president has done that
well. Well, the one big thing that Biden said during his campaign that he was going to do is bring us back together. And he seems uniquely qualified
to do so as somebody who had worked across the aisle so much. And instead of doing a laser light focus on ending some of the poison in divisions in
our society, he ended up pushing a whole lot of different things, some would say even move too far to the left. What do you think?
GERGEN: Yes. Well, I think, you know, you can't blame Biden for having, you know, a left in the Democratic Party, that's been sort of traditional.
I do think that he would have been better served had he -- had his focus gone on bipartisanship and done -- had taken very steps.
You know, early on, I think it would have been wise to start using Camp David to bring people to their who were of different views and beginning to
work with the leadership on the other side of the aisle and to make some concessions early on to Republicans in exchange for some concessions on the
part of the Republicans to do things that both sides can agree on. There were a few things they could.
And I think it got away from him because he started trying to do so many things and he was being pummeled from so many different angles. It appeared
that if you were watching closely, he was changing his policies to fit the people who came after him and put pressure on him. And that is never a wise
policy because it just invites more pressure from different groups and a lot of resentments.
When I hear from friends who are in the administration is that what Biden ultimately did was bring a lot of people at home Senate office staffs. And
so, you had people who are masters of the hill but it never really worked in the executive branch as -- in the same way. Not very many. And that lack
of years at that level is a problem.
You know, I would point to one of my mentors, like Jim Baker. I thought as chief of staff to Reagan, he had it about right, he really helped Reagan
bring -- have an assortment of people across the board so that Reagan was able to resist pressures from the right and indeed, have a relationship
with Nancy Reagan. I mean -- between Kate Graham and Nancy Reagan that really helped him in the governing process. And you don't see any of that
There was a time when Kate Graham could invite people to her house and the matter who they were and no matter their background, they would all show
up. And you knew if you want to Kate Graham's, there were going to be people there who will not like you, who disagreed with you. But they came
because out of a sense of there is a higher loyalty here.
ISAACSON: You talk about the need for experience, elder statements to be running things. And yet, the theme of your book, in some ways, is how we
really have to pass the torch now to a new generation. There have been older people clinging to power too long.
GERGEN: Yes, and I'm glad you brought that up. There's no question my mind that we're on an unsustainable path here in the United States and we need
to change directions. And when I think of the people who are most qualified to change direction overtime or not the people who were in power today.
You know, I think as time goes on and people get older, I think they have a responsibility to step back. And from my point of view, I just turn 80, for
example, and I can just see, you lose some of your focus, you lose some of your memory, your brain. It does not bring quite the same way. You're a
little -- you become very fearful of falling. There's a lot of things that begin to happen to you in your age.
And (INAUDIBLE) indeed in your 70s that I think the leaders who are in charge today, we shouldn't be ruled by (INAUDIBLE) going forward. The
United States is facing -- and a hugely powerful country we face very, very complex problems. We need fresh energy. We need fresh ideas. We need fresh
blood. And I think the earlier that we passed the torch to the younger generation, that would include generation X, by the way, who have been --
the people who have been waiting on the sidelines somewhat impatiently as recently as they should be. But I think they need to turn it back.
What I would suggest is, have -- you know, have one or two older people around. You need somebody in the mix, some with gray hair person in the
mix. You don't necessarily need them running people -- running things but you need to create a mix of people. Reagan was a prime example of that. He
brought a lot of people in from California. But as you, he got a whole group of people call The Pragmatist, led by Jim Baker, to be there with him
and to bring voices of experience.
And so, Reagan had a nice mix and contrast that with presidents who just brought their buddies, it doesn't work very well just to bring your bodies.
ISAACSON: And when you look at the people leading in the House, in the Senate even, you look at Mitch McConnell, you know, you look at Diane
Feinstein, who is staying on even though she's in her late 80s, and you could look at Nancy Pelosi in the House, you said that it's a problem
having a country run by people pushing 80. Do you think Joe Biden should not run again?
GERGEN: I think he ought to be leaning towards now running just as Donald Trump should be leaning towards not running. I think the country needs
time, you know, to think this through. But as a general position, I would come down on the side of saying, Mr. President, you've done some great
things in life. It's time to -- time has moved on. We need your continued advice. We need your council. We need you --- we'd like you to do some
special diplomatic missions for us. But the time has come to, respectfully, for -- to pass the torch. And I think that same thing, obviously, clearly
ought to apply on the Republican side with Donald Trump.
And -- but there are other people who are octogenarians too. In the Senate, we still have -- we don't have enough voices who are young in the House and
the Senate. I think the encouraging thing, Walter, and I try to say in the book, is I'm a short-term pessimist. I think the next few years are going
to be rough. But I've increasingly become a long-term optimist because I do see people, young people, coming up now, especially the veterans coming
back from Afghanistan and Iraq, I think they make great leaders.
But there's another set of people not less talked about, and that is people of color, especially black women. They have become moral standard bearers
in the country on issues of equity. And I'm glad they have stepped forward with it. You know, I don't share their politics, usually, the left of me,
but I celebrate the fact that they've gotten into the arena and are pushing for change. We need more change agents among the young. They can really be
helpful over the long-term and integrate in the society and bringing us back together.
ISAACSON: Well, your book begins, I think, with Greta Thunberg, with the kid from Parkland High School, where there was the shooting. What do you
think is different for this new generation seeped in social media for how they're going to lead?
GERGEN: Well, social media for starters. We've learned that on one hand, social media can be a way to use the springboard to prominence and to
stardom. You know, look at AOC and, you know, coming of a barn, running for Congress and having a national voice and having an important voice,
international discourse. She just came out of nowhere. You could never have done that in an earlier time.
On the other hand, we also know it's a double-edged sword, like most innovations. And you're the expert on that innovation. But so often, you
know, it's used for setting up disinformation campaigns. We don't even know who's paying whom to get these -- put these lies into our mainstream. But
what we do know is that people are buying into the lies at a surprisingly high rate, so that I think one of the reasons Biden has had a difficulty
governing is he started out with 30, 40 percent the country believing he was an illegitimate president. That's a very weak foundation on which to
build a robust presidency.
The world is moving so quickly today that I think one of the most important qualities of a new leader today is adaptability. How do you -- and that
sort of order goes to the Afghanistan point. How do you adapt quickly to a very changing environment? That is a key question that comes up again and
ISAACSON: For 40 years, David, you have been sort of a symbol of rising above partisanship, working for both Democratic and Republican presidents.
Why has the partisanship become so polarized, so bitter today?
GERGEN: I will be asking that question for a long time, won't we? The -- it is partly -- so, the social media has as a role in this. I think,
Walter, there was a swing of the pendulum. After -- we had the -- coming out of World War II, there was so much pride in the country, so much a
sense of America is very special, American exceptionalism became a huge sort of underlying basis of who we were and what we are trying to
accomplish. And the range passed fairly quickly after the (INAUDIBLE) years. The reign has passed to a new generation, the World War II
And from Kennedy through George Bush Senior, we had seven presidents. Every one of those presidents served in uniform. Every one of those presidents
was in World War II one way or another. And it really influenced them when they came out, and I think they have a different sense of what the country
can be. I think that the baby boom population, generally speaking, has been split since early childhood. The Vietnam War split us down the middle. It
was just an axe (ph) right down the middle of our generation. There has never been -- we've never put it back together.
ISAACSON: Your book is called "Hearts Touched by Fire," why did you choose that title?
GERGEN: Well, you are such a good historian, you'll understand this. But one of my -- you know, I went to law school. And one of the people, sort of
a hero in law school in those days was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He was a distinguished jurist in the Supreme Court from Teddy Roosevelt on through
But anyway, when he was, he's young 23 years old, Lincoln issued a call for volunteers for the -- it's the first call for the civil war. And Holmes
could've ducked. You know, family, a lot of rich families, the sun was able to duck. And Holmes came from a prominent family. He could've ducked, but
he decided not to.
He volunteered. We went into battle. He was grievously injured on three different occasions. Left for dead in the third. Left for dead on the
battlefield. And it was a mere miracle that he recovered. And so -- but 20 years later, he gave a speech, Memorial Day speech, at the -- reflecting on
his generation and what they got from service in World War and the civil war. And he spoke proudly and happily and as if it was a great experience.
He said, people should live with -- in the passions of their time. That's what makes life rich and make you -- can make the difference.
And so -- and he was talking about his generation. He said, we were fortunate. We were fortunate to be called in an early age to serve our
country. And our hearts were touched by fire. And I think the leadership is ultimately about service. And servant leadership is, you know, now become a
popularized view of what kind of leaders we ought to be creating. And I think that's right. But I do go to the point that if you want to live a
life that's a rich life and look back upon it, you to be able to be proud of what you've done. There's no better way to do that than to begin by
serving your community when you are young.
If you do that, I can guarantee you, you'll get the bug most of you and you'll want to come back and do it again and again. The people I know who
have thrived on public service has been the among the happiest people I've ever known
ISAACSON: David Gergen, thank you so much for joining us.
GERGEN: Walter, such a treat to be with. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And tomorrow, we're going to have more on women's rights with my interview with the Taliban leader and also, our report on the desperate
humanitarian catastrophe here.
That's it for now though. Thank you for watching and good-bye from Kabul.