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Interview with Former U.S. Defense Secretary and Former CIA Director Leon Panetta; Interview with U.S. Pacific Command Former Deputy Commander Retired Lieutenant General Dan Leaf; Interview with University of Chicago Institute of Politics Senior Fellow David Axelrod. Aired 1:00-2p ET
Aired April 12, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The United States of America will continue to be your partner in building the future the young people of our world
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: President Biden comes to Northern Ireland to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Peace Agreement, but he's also having to reassure allies
about that embarrassing Pentagon leak that threatens to overshadow his foreign policy. I speak to the former CIA director and Defense Secretary
Then, 70 years after the end of the Korean War. Is it time for the us to make peace with Pyongyang? Retired U.S. air force Lieutenant General Dan
Leaf joins us.
Also, ahead --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: I think if he succeeds, he will be an emblem for Democrats. If he doesn't,
he will be -- it will be exploited by Republicans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Much at stake for Chicago's new Democratic mayor, Brandon Johnson. Michel Martin speaks to former Obama strategist, David Axelrod,
about how he plans to bring down poverty and crime.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
In Northern Ireland, President Biden hails the power and the possibilities of peace 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement ended The Troubles. That
was three decades of sectarian violence between protestant unionists and roman catholic nationalists when 3,500 people were killed, mostly
civilians, and when a province was ruled unhappily from London.
The president's speech marked the very real successes since and the power of smartly deployed American diplomacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: So, let's celebrate 25 extraordinary years by recommitted to renewal, repair, by making this exceptional piece the
birthright of every child on Northern Ireland for all the days to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Swiftly then traveling south of the border to the Republic, Biden was eager to reconnect with his Irish roots. Correspondent Nic
Robertson is in Belfast and he's joining me now live.
Nic, Let's just talk first about the rather short Belfast visit. He did meet with the two, you know, main leaders and the others. Did he make any
inroads in getting, you know, the devolved government there to actually rule and get back to work?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: On the surface, you'd have to say no. He certainly had a warm reception from the nationalist Sinn
Fein Party, Michelle O'Neil, the leader there. There was a very special moment President Biden coming here.
But the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Jeffrey Donaldson, who, of course, his party is holding out and won't go into that power sharing
government that President Biden pointed out as an important institution that grew out of the Good Friday Belfast Peace Agreement, and he --
President Biden said he didn't want to be presumptuous, but he thought that parties should go back into it.
Jeffrey Donaldson, after President Biden spoke, said that he didn't think that President Biden's speech had moved the dynamic at all, the political
dynamic, although he did agree with President Biden that business is the way forward, but his emphasis was on having better trade between Northern
Ireland and Mainland U.K.
I think the smart money here at the moment believes that after the elections in early May, the local elections, Jeffrey Donaldson might try to
shift his party to accepting this compromise over Brexit, the Windsor framework. It would be perhaps destructive for his own party way to show
his real political hand right now. And we know that when he was at the White House during St. Patrick's Day celebrations just a few weeks ago, he
did speak with President Biden, perhaps at more length then.
AMANPOUR: And of course, you know, it wouldn't be a functioning democracy if they can't actually rule themselves and are continuing to be ruled from
London. But let me ask you about Biden's fairly short trip. What is he doing in the south or rather in the Republic? That's where he's, you know,
putting most of his attention.
ROBERTSON: It is. Today. County Louth, just south of the border, Carlingford and Dundalk, both areas that his family hails from the Finnegan
side of the family, Owen Finnegan, who emigrated to the United States was the great, great grandfather of President Biden.
Tomorrow, he'll spend the day in Dublin. He'll meet the president. He'll meet the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, the prime minister. And then, he'll
address a joint assembly of the (INAUDIBLE), the parliament there, both houses, with a speech.
Friday is in County Mayo. Again, more relatives in Bellavary in County Mayo, and giving a big speech outside of Murdoch Cathedral Friday evening.
A cathedral, by the way, where one of his relatives actually sold the bricks that are used in part of that cathedral. It was a sale of those
bricks that actually allowed and paid for that strand of the family to emigrate to the United States. So, a lot of history. And I think a lot of
that is really family -- interest family time for the president.
AMANPOUR: I mean, there's always an anecdote. That's a good one, Nic. Thank you so much. Continuing a long tradition of American presidents,
obviously, visiting both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
But the administration is also in major damage control mode, trying to reassure allies about a highly embarrassing leak of Pentagon and
intelligence documents that the CIA director, William Burns, calls an urgent problem to investigate. Here he is speaking at a university in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: The issue that you mentioned, the deeply unfortunate leak of classified documents is certainly as intense as
anything. That's something that the U.S. government takes extremely seriously. The Pentagon and the Department of Justice have now launched
quite intense investigation to get to the bottom of this now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, CNN has not seen all the documents and therefore, cannot confirm their authenticity. But there are very real concerns about how the
leak might impact a whole range of issues, including the Ukraine War.
A source close to President Zelenskyy tells CNN that some of their military plans have now been altered as a result. The former CIA director and the
former defense secretary, Leon Panetta, gives us his take on the world-wide ripple effects.
Welcome back to the program Secretary Panetta.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY AND FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Good to be back with you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: You know, we still don't know. You heard your successor, William Burns. We've heard from the national security spokesman, Ben -- sorry, John
Kirby, that they do not know where this happened, how it happened, how much of it has gotten out there. How -- and has been out for a while now. It's
not like it popped up yesterday. What's your assessment of the damage that's been caused?
PANETTA: Well, it is hard to fully assess the damage when we don't have the additional information we need on the how and the why and the who that
were behind this leak. But I think it's fair to say that any leak of highly classified information is going to damage our national security,
particularly impacting on the sources of that intelligence who these are sources that put their lives on the line in order to gather intelligence,
and they are now vulnerable.
But secondly, this is also timely intelligence. It deals with the information over the last two months on the strengths and weaknesses of
both Russia and Ukraine. So, there's no question that it's going to impact on the military decisions that are going to be made in these next few
AMANPOUR: Does it strike you as odd, even though as you correctly say, we don't know the who's the how's, et cetera, but that itself is pretty
strange, isn't it? I mean, you knew almost immediately when WikiLeaks happened, and that was the last big dump of real-time intelligence. You
know, almost immediately after the Snowden, it was different, but those leaks as well. Is -- are you surprised that they're surprised and caught
PANETTA: Well, this is information that appeared on a social media app. I think Discord is the name of it. And you would think that we would be able
to have the forensics to determine exactly how this leak occurred. I'm sure that the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the FBI are applying as many
resources as possible, because, frankly, we don't know whether or not there's additional information out there.
And if there's more to come, this could be particularly damaging. Not only with regards to what happens in Ukraine and the decisions that are made
there, but also the impact that it has on our allies where we've already had to explain this intelligence to South Korea, to Israel, to the UAE and
two others that are involved.
So, I this could be -- there could be even more damage to come if we don't plug this leak as soon as possible.
AMANPOUR: Well before I get to the substance of what it might do, actually, in real-time to a current war, what does it mean -- what would --
what could happen to those allies? In other words, what could their reaction be? I mean, would they -- what would they do? I mean, and they're
obviously angry, but what would they do?
PANETTA: Well, we went through this with Snowden when there was a tremendous release of classified material at that time, some of which
impacted on our allies, and it takes a lot of repair work to basically restore trust, restore confidence. It's going to take a while. After all,
we are dealing with classified information. This is very sensitive information. All countries obviously spy on one another, but the fact that
it's made public impacts on credibility.
And so, to restore that credibility is going to take time. And ultimately, the only thing that can ultimately deal with this is that you have to be
able to show how this happened, that you weren't at fault, that somebody deliberately did this and that ultimately, we are going to be able to
restore the confidence in our classified information again.
AMANPOUR: Just very quickly. You know, the government -- and I'm not sure, I think you're probably in government when the Snowden leaks happened, and
there was a promise to make sure there was never any kind of leak like this again. What went wrong?
PANETTA: Yes. Well, you know, there are a lot of concerns about classified information. How presidents handle classified information. We're dealing
with classified documents so that President Trump, President Biden, Vice President Pence had. We're now dealing with this leak of classified
information that obviously involved some very sensitive information.
It raises serious questions about whether or not we are, in fact, providing real security here in order to protect the most important and sensitive
information we can gather. If we don't, then it's going to create even additional problems in terms of our relationship with the world that is
facing a lot of danger points.
AMANPOUR: In the meantime, as you correctly point out, there are some very, very real considerations about the war in Ukraine that had been
revealed in this dump. And that is, not least, that the U.S. is, at least, according to these things, which we haven't authenticated, concerned that
there is no winning this war by the Ukraine side anytime soon, that Ukraine's air defense network could collapse by the end of this month,
giving Russia an opportunity to strike with impunity. And CNN reports, as I said, the Ukraine is changing some battle plans against Russia.
So, with your secretary of defense hat on, what is the most appropriate next step, given the fact that the U.S. and its allies have put so much on
the table to actually back a Ukraine victory?
PANETTA: Well, you've got to keep your eye on the target here with regards to what's happening in Ukraine. I think it's -- it is very important that
Ukraine be able to put into effect an offensive against the Russians, to be successful at pushing the Russians back in the Donbas, if not Crimea.
Because frankly, that's the only way, ultimately, we are going to bring this war to an end, is to either get Russia to withdraw or to have Putin
ultimately decided to negotiate. And the only way that's going to happen is if Ukraine conducts a serious and effective offensive.
Now, this information, you know, it's been speculated that it could have been released by the Russians because it makes the Ukrainians look bad. On
the other hand, the Ukrainians could very well have released it in order to basically mislead the Russians. We just don't know. But the fact that that
information is out there and raises the prospect that we could have a long- term stalemate in Ukraine, I think can impact on the support element that is so important to making sure that Ukraine continues this war and,
ultimately, is successful at.
AMANPOUR: Well, that --
PANETTA: So, that's the concern I have.
AMANPOUR: Yes. That is a huge concern. And to that end, the Ukrainian prime minister has been in Washington alongside the U.S. defense secretary,
Lloyd Austin. And this is what the Ukrainian prime minister asked for again, more weapons, please help us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENYS SHMYHAL, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: We will win this war. But to achieve it faster and with fewer casualties, Ukraine still needs intensive
military support, more air defense systems that minimize the impact of Russian air strikes, more heavy artillery, mortars and ammunition for them.
We also ask you for reconsider the possibility of providing Ukraine with long-range -- longer-range missiles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, these are very important things. You know very, very well how important they are and how they've been asking for a while and how they
still need them. Now, Evelyn Farkas, who was in the Pentagon under the Obama administration, she said that there's no way Russia is going to get
Ukraine back. But maybe this league "will give the NATO and the U.S. a kick in the pants." Those are her words. To get Ukraine precisely these kinds
weapons that the prime minister is asking for. What do you think?
PANETTA: Well, I don't know what the hell else has to happen here to make sure that there is a kick in the pants with regards to providing the
weapons necessary. I mean, we've been through this. We know that these weapons have to be provided, we know that the United States and our allies
are critical to providing these weapons systems, whether it's air defense, whether its missiles, whether it's fighter planes.
Those weapons have to be provided in a timely fashion, because if we're going to see an offensive conducted in the spring, and that is not -- we
are now in the spring, it's a few weeks off, Ukrainians cannot be successful unless they have the full range of weapons that they need in
order to sustain an offensive. That is the absolute bottom line that will determine, ultimately, what happens in the Ukraine.
AMANPOUR: So, what gives, Secretary Panetta? We have been asking this question. I'm sure you've been asking it and talking about it for months.
This -- everybody knows this is what has to happen. Why is it not happening? Is it really just a question of ability or is there some other
political reason why they don't want to give Ukraine what it takes to do the necessary?
PANETTA: Well, you know, it there's -- what happens here is that there is a sense that Ukraine has indeed been successful with what they have
received. They've stopped the Russian invasion. They've been able to regain territory that the Russians achieved. The Ukrainians and the fighters have
done a great job in this war, and they're winning this war.
And so, there may be a kind of, you know, what else do we have to do here? The Ukrainians are doing fine. I think in this kind of situation you've got
to always operate on the basis that tomorrow you could suffer a serious defeat. And therefore, you've got to do everything necessary to not only
bolster this offensive that needs to take place but to give the Ukrainians all the weapons they need in order to succeed.
This is a critical and pivotal war that is going to determine, not just the future of democracy in Ukraine, it will determine the future of democracies
in the 21st century.
AMANPOUR: And finally, therefore, given that this is about, you know, relative strength. What does this league do for Russia? I mean, the one
success -- well, of many successes U.S. and NATO have shown over the last year is the absolute knowledge, minute by minute of what's going on around
the Russian space, right, intelligence, defense, all the rest of it. What is this now say to the Russians and due to that kind of window?
PANETTA: Well, you know, obviously it gives the Russians probably what they already know, which is that we do a pretty good job at being able to
gather very sensitive intelligence on exactly what's happening with the Russians. They are a depleted force. They're having problems with command
and control. They're having problems with logistics. They're essentially losing this war.
But the fact that we have this information and that they might not know -- they might know now what the sources of those information maybe could very
well give them the ability to stop some of the sources that provide this critical information. That's the danger right now, is that the Russians are
going to be better informed about the sources of information we use in order to gather this intelligence, and that could be dangerous.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you one final question, because we're turning next to exploring the crisis on the Korean peninsula and particularly with North
Korea? You, of course, were secretary of defense and CIA director under the president. He regarded North Korea's "the top national security priority"
for the incoming Trump administration in 2016.
Should the Biden administration more focused now on how to relieve, you know, at least one major tension in the world and particularly in that part
of the world?
PANETTA: Christiane, we're living in a dangerous world where there are a lot of flashpoints with Russia and Ukraine, with China, with North Korea,
with Iran, with terrorism. There are a number of flashpoints that we've got to confront.
The only way we're going to be able to do that, very frankly, is to rebuild alliances. That's what we did with NATO. I think it's been successful in
supporting Ukraine. We need to build a similar kind of alliance in the Pacific. To deal, not just with China, but also with North Korea.
If we can sustain a strong alliance with South Korea, Japan, Australia, India and others in the Pacific, I think that is the best way to make clear
to North Korea that any step they take that is aggressive towards South Korea spells the end of their regime. We need to make clear that we have
the deterrence capability to be able to go after them.
And I don't know whether we're going to be able to bring them to the negotiating table. I doubt it. But we certainly have to make clear that we
have a strong deterrent in place that can defend, not only South Korea, but the Pacific as well from North Korea.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Panetta, thank you very much indeed. And we're going to turn next to the possibility of negotiation, which you don't think holds
must much hope.
But it has been decades since the end of the Korean War. The United States, though, is technically still at war with the North, and there are fears
growing that Pyongyang might conduct a nuclear test.
In a show of force, the United States military flew nuclear capable bombers to the peninsula, sending a clear message. And so, with the worst risks
still on the table, how can the temperature be lowered there? It's been tried many times, most notably back in 2008 under the George W. Bush
administration, CNN got extremely rare access to the Yongbyon Nuclear Plant, and I even witnessed Pyongyang demolished that famous cooling tower
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voiceover): This is the top secret Yongbyon Nuclear Plant where North Korea used to make energy and has made plutonium for nuclear weapons.
AMANPOUR (on camera): Shall we? OK.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): This is the last place we thought the North Koreans would ever let us film. But they want to make a point to CNN and to the
AMANPOUR (on camera): It's black as anything in there. It's scary as hell.
AMANPOUR (voiceover): In February 2007, North Korea agreed to disable Yongbyon in exchange for fuel oil, trade and being removed from the U.S.
list of state sponsors of terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (on camera): So, that was back then. Later, President Trump tried in two meetings with Kim Jong-un, but nothing seems to change the status
quo. The former deputy commander of American military forces in the Pacific and retired air force Lieutenant General Dan Leaf joins me now from
Honolulu, Hawaii. He was trained as a nuclear warrior, and he believes that it is time to try to make peace, to try out that negotiating tactic again.
Lieutenant General, welcome to the program.
Just tell me why you think --
LT. GEN. DAN LEAF (RET.), FORMER DEPUTY COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND: Aloha.
AMANPOUR: Why you think this is the right thing to do? You heard what former secretary of defense -- maybe you did hear Leon Panetta's saying he
thought that it would be very -- probably very low chances of getting your -- you know, your vision achieved.
LEAF: Well, I think there are two primary reasons to try something else. The first is kind of obvious, everything else has failed. We're approaching
the 17th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that simply stopped the fighting in the Korean War. It was intended to hold us out of conflict
until formal peace agreement was solved. So that's part one. We were still there. In July. It will be 70 years.
Part two is we're at a different place with regard to the Korean threat. And while I respect Former Secretary Panetta's emphasis on alliances and
deterrence, they're both important, we're one bad decision away from nuclear war in -- with North Korea. They have the capability in terms of
weapons. They have the capability in terms of delivery systems, and they have the authority, and even in a dictatorship, you have to have some
guidelines. They passed a law that allows first strike.
One bad decision. When I lived in Seoul, our home on Yongsan Military Compound at the time, was 57 seconds away from the nearest North Korean
rocket launcher. Those now can carry nuclear weapons. So --
AMANPOUR: All right.
LEAF: -- it's time to act.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, let's just -- you know, you've written very, you know, obviously, personally and strongly about this in a recent column for the
"New York Times." And you -- you know, you describe yourself as a nuclear warrior. Much of my 33-year career was spent as a nuclear warrior. Tell me
what exactly that meant.
You were in the sort of strategic command. What -- how were you trained? What might you have done? Walk us through what that meant at that time.
LEAF: Well, the bottom line is, I had to think about things we don't want to think about. As a young lieutenant, I trained and certified to attack a
Warsaw pact target with my F-4 Phantom. Then, later, as a wing commander overseas, I was responsible for the storage, security and maintenance of
actual nuclear weapons that were held in a war reserve.
As the vice commander at Air Force Space Command, we oversaw all of the ICBMs in the U.S. arsenal. And then, of course, at Pacific Command as the
deputy commander and briefly, the acting commander, we have unique national decision-making responsibilities. So, I've thought about nuclear war more
AMANPOUR: What would it look like? And I asked you that because I know it's been written in history, and I know that people have seen what
happened, at least our generations, see it in pictures, in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
But right now, you have just mentioned correctly that Pyongyang has issued a new law enabling a first strike. We see, in Russia, the president hinting
the possibility of a tactical nuclear strike. We understand that in Russia, the -- you know, the state media is sort of almost preparing people for
that possibility. What would it look like?
LEAF: It would like nothing we can imagine. So, I mentioned living in Seoul very close to North Korean rocket launchers in terms of disk time and
distance. But Seoul -- Metropolitan Seoul has roughly 14 million people. Imagine nuclear weapons in that environment. And I've been to Hiroshima.
Christiane, I'd like to emphasize that I'm not dismissing the dangers of nuclear Russia or conflict from China, Taiwan, U.S. spreading to a nuclear
outcome, if you will, they're just not as urgent. One bad decision, as I said, from North Korea, and we're in a nuclear war.
LEAF: And they can reach the United States. Go ahead.
AMANPOUR: Sorry. Yes, yes. You said that they can reach the United States. But the question now is, as we laid out, several U.S. presidents have
tried. There is a peace on the Korean Peninsula Act in Congress, but it hasn't moved since 2021. What actually has to happen? And is it really in
Kim Jong-un's interest to remove himself from this hermit like kingdom, which is the raison d'etre for 70 plus years of family rule?
LEAF: Boy, that's a really complicated ball of yarn you just laid out. So, let me see if I could pull the right threads. What really has to happen,
first of all, is we have to narrow our focus to something that's achievable. We kind of treat -- have treated North Korea -- and it's a very
difficult problem. So, I'm not being dismissive -- like a cat chasing a laser dot. We're looking at provocations. We're looking at opportunities.
We're looking at will the sister or the daughter be the next leader of North Korea?
We should focus on the fact that we're one bad decision away and we need to -- as a very first step, not a panacea, not a solution, pursue a peace
agreement. A way to do that, since presidents have found it difficult and the politics of the executive branch make it difficult to sustain the
interest in commitment, and we saw that with the Trump administration, is to have a congressional mandate to pursue peace.
And that's -- the Korean -- the peace on the Korean Peninsula Act is imperfect. It needs work, as I said in my article. It needs more structure,
but it should clearly mandate the pursuit of peace within limitations. Because, right now, if we would just say, North Korea, we'd like to
negotiate a peace treaty, and they'd be all over the map. They'd be asking for this, asking for that.
A congressional mandate should define the limits of the negotiation to simply establishing a peace treaty. And by the way, not an arbiter -- not a
unilateral declaration of peace. That's not enough.
AMANPOUR: OK. To -- you know, to sort of like uncomplicated my own ball of yarn, I want to take this next thing. And this is you, and this is the
counterargument that you yourself wrote in 2017 at the Oslo Peace Forum. You wrote, the dynastic Kim family regime in North Korea survives because
of the notion that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea stands alone. The simple rationale that guides all the actions of the leaders of the
government of North Korea and ensures the servitude of its citizens is that the whole world is out to get them, partly out of jealousy and partly from
So, again, I guess what's -- why would they want to enter a kind of -- any kind of peace agreement that makes them, you know, part of the world and
just another country?
LEAF: Well, there is no guarantee, but we don't know until we try in a serious way to achieve a peace treaty. And I think there are incentives
embedded in the pursuit of peace, like the chance for economic progress for North Korea.
I really -- you know, I can't say -- I can't speak for Kim Jong-un, but we have to try, and we can provide incentives that don't require negotiation.
And I'll give one example. The maritime boundaries on the West Coast of North Korea are an aberration. They're left over from the armistice and the
years afterwards, they're not fair to North Korea.
You know, I'm not endorsing the Kim family dynasty, I'm just saying they're not right. And they pursuit as part of this percent of a treaty of
normalized boundaries would be a good starting point. We can't get into chasing sanctions or the other things, but establishing a peace treaty will
allow us to pursue the process of reconciliation, which we've never tried, to address that that core belief that raison d'etre (ph) for the North
Korean regime, and then, begin to get onto the real balls of yarn, denuclearization and improving the human condition in North Korea.
AMANPOUR: You mentioned that --
LEAF: We talk mostly about the nuclear threat --
AMANPOUR: Yes. You mentioned the human condition. Obviously, for their own people it's dire. But, of course, Kim Jong-un and his regime, and for 70
years, have conducted the most appalling human rights abuses. I mean, the most appalling human rights abuses that I think turn off a lot of western
interlocutors. That's another side of this.
But what I do want to ask you is, given your former, you know, status in the Pacific Command, are you concerned, not by the de-escalation there, but
by the escalation and possible axis between Russia, China, North Korea?
LEAF: Yes, I'm concerned about that escalation and the evolving relationships between Russia, China and North Korea. I'm most concerned
about the immediacy of the North Korean threat without dismissing the role -- an axis. Good play.
But I'm equally concerned about the human condition in North Korea. And while it's not our fault, our -- the U.N. -- the U.S. or South Korea's
fault for that human condition, if we don't aggressively pursue a solution or at least complicit. And I -- you know, I feel that in my heart, it's
going to sound funny coming from a grizzled old fighter pilot, but the human condition is appalling and we can't use the reason that it's too hard
to make peace -- to not make peace. And the reasons why we should make peace are far more compelling than the reasons why not.
AMANPOUR: I just want to play -- and we don't have much time, but I want to play this one soundbite from Kim Jong-un saying, as you pointed out,
that they have fundamentally changed their doctrine on nuclear war. Let's just play this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (through translator): The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter a war, but our nukes can never be
confined to the single mission of war deterrent, even at a time when a situation we are not desirous of it all is created on this land.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Literally, we have 30 seconds. What do you think? Do you think they have the capability and that he would do that?
LEAF: Yes. And that's my concern, and we have to go after a solution, and the solution starts with a peace treaty.
AMANPOUR: General Dan Leaf, thank you so much for joining us.
And now, a noteworthy week for the windy city. President Biden and his party have picked Chicago to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention,
and the city also has elected a new mayor, he is Brandon Johnson, a progressive, former teacher who campaigned against racial and economic
disparities. And he won by a margin of less than 20,000 votes. He now inherits a city that's struggling with soaring crime rates.
David Axelrod is a former advisor to President Barack Obama, founder of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and host of "The Axe
Files" podcast on CNN. He spoke to Michel Martin about what this victory means amid the many challenges ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. David Axelrod, thanks so much for talking with us.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: Hey. Happy to be with you.
MARTIN: So, we've just learned, as we are speaking now, that Chicago will host the 2024 Democratic Convention. I guess, congrats.
AXELROD: No, I think it's exciting news for the city. I remember the 96th convention made a huge impact on our city and some lasting improvements.
So, this is a great -- it's a great opportunity to showcase the city.
MARTIN: I was going to ask, is it congratulations or condolences? Because, obviously, for those of us who get to visit, it's like -- it's awesome, but
I'm just wondering if it's awesome for the people who live there?
AXELROD: Well, my experience in '96 was that people were really pleased to showcase the city, especially, you know, we had the 68th convention in
Chicago, which lives in infamy in American history for the disorder and chaos that erupted there. So, it was a chance to sort of exorcise that in
'96. And I think people really appreciate it. But it is a challenge for the city as well, and for the new mayor, who will preside over this in his
MARTIN: Should we read anything into it? What does the choice of Chicago say about what the Democrats think their message is going into the 2024
election year? Because, obviously, a lot goes into these decisions. So, what does the choice of Chicago say?
AXELROD: Well, I think, first of all, it says that the Midwest is an important battleground. It is you know, Chicago -- Illinois abuts
Wisconsin, which is perhaps the swingiest of all swing states in some ways. And Michigan is nearby.
So, for -- and these are two states that a Democrat must have. So, I think it speaks to the political importance of the region. I also think being in
the middle of the country is a statement rather than on the coasts. I think Democrats have had a challenge winning over voters in what has become known
as flyover country. This is a way of saying, we're in touch with the entire country.
MARTIN: So, let's talk about the mayor who -- as you said, the new mayor will be presiding over this monumental event next year.
MARTIN: As we are speaking, it's only been about a week, but Progressive Candidate Brandon Johnson. He's a former social studies teacher. He became
an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union. He won the mayoral election in Chicago, besting Paul Vallas, who is a former CEO of Chicago Public
Schools. The polls seem to indicate that Mr. Vallas had the momentum. He seemed to have a lock on the undecided, and Brandon Johnson pulled it out.
How do you understand his victory?
AXELROD: Well, first of all, polls can be misleading and these polls were pretty close, even though they gave Vallas an edge. So, it was always going
to be a close race because of the way the city is divided.
The question for Brandon Johnson was, could he consolidate the African American vote in the city and could he continue to inspire and build on the
support that he got in the general election? Because these were the two finalists in the general election among young white progressives, and he
was able to do both things. He got about 80 percent of the African American vote as opposed to about 20 percent in the first round when there were
seven African American candidates, and he inspired greater turnout among white progressives, particularly in the north side, Lakefront, Wards of the
And third, he did relatively better than people thought he would among Hispanic voters, breaking almost even with Vallas. And those three elements
gave him a winning multiracial coalition.
MARTIN: I was going to say, because black voters are not enough to win in Chicago. I don't know that people outside of Chicago know this, it is not a
majority black city.
AXELROD: In terms of population, the city is really kind of a third, a third, a third. But in terms of voting population, the dominant voters, the
white vote. But what really happened here was Brandon Johnson inspired young voters, young white progressive voters who did not embrace Vallas.
Vallas ran almost entirely on the issue of increasing policing in the city. He wanted 1,800 more police in Chicago. And that was -- that got him pretty
far in the race in the city that's very -- that's deeply concerned about crime.
But Johnson had a more nuanced position, which was that the city needed more than policing, that they needed to relieve police of the kinds of
social work type interactions that police are often asked to engage and that sometimes lead to unwanted, you know, confrontations, and that the
city needed to focus more on the economic status of communities that were forgotten on the south and west sides of Chicago. There are a lot of
younger white voters who deeply believed that.
Beyond that, Michel, the -- you know, one thing you learn in politics in the modern age is that videotape is often not your friend. Paul Vallas did
an interview 14 years earlier in which he -- or 13 years in which he was thinking about running for office as a Republican in Chicago against a
Democratic officeholder, and he said, if I run again, it will be as a Republican. I've always been more of a Republican. And he also said that he
was personally opposed to abortion. Those things we're very, very incendiary to these young progressive voters.
And you put that together with his closeness to the police union, he became persona non grata to a lot of these young voters who were mobilized behind
this young black progressive candidate.
MARTIN: Do you think that there are national implications for this? Because it's not a secret that Republicans have been hoping to hammer
Democrats on the issue of crime.
MARTIN: And it's not like it's not an issue. I'm just reading from a piece from the beginning of April, shootings and homicides are down from a year
ago, but Chicago's homicide rate remains five times higher than New York City's, 2.5 times higher than Los Angeles's. And then, in 2022, crime in
Chicago rose in almost every other major category, including robbery, burglary, theft, motor vehicles. Now, look, Chicago is not alone in this.
AXELROD: That was a piece I wrote the day of the election in "The Atlantic." And listen, crime and public safety is issues number one, two
and three in Chicago. And, you know, Brandon Johnson had to make some amends to this as well because in the wake of George Floyd, he, as a member
of the County Board, was very outspoken and said, at one point, defund -- defunding police is a political goal. What he was referring to was shifting
resources to other elements of public safety and of community health.
MARTIN: So, how come his last -- his previous statements about defunding the police didn't drag him down in the same way that Vallas' statements
AXELROD: Well, partly because -- his past statements on defunding police didn't sink him because, in part, he walked them back and made very clear
and debate after debate that he wasn't going to defund the police. That, in his last debate, I think he said he wasn't going to take a dollar away from
So, he had to make some accommodations to the public mood on this and make clear, not just to the public, but to the police themselves, that defunding
police was not his program. But I do think that another lesson of this is that policing is complicated, and it's not just a matter of the number of
police you have, because, after all, Chicago has more police per capita than any of the major big cities, certainly far more than Los Angeles, more
than New York, and yet, it has a deeper problem with violence.
So, more police isn't the only answer. Smart policing, how you deploy police, but also, other things come into play, that was Johnson's message.
Obviously, a winning coalition of voters accepted that message and felt comfortable with what he was saying about public safety.
Now, the question is, how does he perform? He has to appoint a new police chief within a short period of time after taking office. He's going to have
to win over the police, the very right-wing head of the police union, said 1,000 police would resign if Brandon Johnson were elected. He needs the
police, as the last mayor, Lori Lightfoot, came to understand. You need the police to be fully engaged and willing to work with you to solve the public
safety problem. They did not feel that way about her. It cost her. She lost in the first round here.
Brendan Johnson has absorbed those lessons. And now, the question is, how does he perform and how does Chicago perform in terms of public safety
moving forward? Because he will be -- if Chicago fails, undoubtedly, Republicans will try and hold him up and his past statements as emblematic
of the Democratic Party. I think he knows that this is one of the challenges, perhaps the major challenge that he faces, certainly in the
MARTIN: Talk a little bit more, if you would, about Lori Lightfoot, the outgoing mayor. She was elected with such promise and such --
MARTIN: There was so much excitement around her, an African American woman.
MARTIN: Outwardly -- you know, openly queer. You know, it just seemed like a big moment. So, what happened there?
AXELROD: Yes. Lori Lightfoot was elected in a landslide in -- back in 2019. And there's a great deal of hope for her. First of all, I think she
was a strong and interesting personality. As you point out, the first openly gay mayor of Chicago, but she also was elected kind of as a loner.
She was a former prosecutor. Her message in that campaign was she was going to clean up corruption in Chicago.
But she came to office with no political relationships. And she had a very hard edge to her. She -- she's someone who is more apt to extend the
clenched fist and the open hand, and she ended up alienating a lot of the political partners that she needed in order to move the city forward. And
all of that in addition to rising crime rates in Chicago, which were related to the pandemic, but nonetheless, on her account, they conspired
against her, and she had a very high disapproval rating by the time the election rolled around.
But I will say this, she led the city -- nobody can plan on a pandemic, greeting them when they take office. She led the city through a very
difficult time. She did an, I think, excellent job on the pandemic. But the public safety issue just overwhelmed her. And in the end of the -- at the
end of the day, she paid a price for it.
MARTIN: I just want to go back to the piece that you wrote prior to the election. You wrote that Chicago needs a healthy dose of what each man
offers but can choose only one knowing that neither has the whole package, you're talking about Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas there.
AXELROD: Vallas and -- yes.
MARTIN: So, tell me what is missing with Brandon Johnson's victory.
AXELROD: What's missing is just experience. Paul Vallas had, you know, 40 years of experience in government. He had run major government agencies in
Chicago and elsewhere over those years, and he brought that knowledge and experience to the job, that also was a comfort to, you know, the business
community. And one of the other challenges that Johnson is going to have is that he doesn't really have a relationship with the business community in
the city. This is at a time when some major companies have moved their headquarters out of the city. He's going to want to reverse that.
So, in addition to building relationships of trust with the police, he also has to build relationships of trust with the business community without
compromising his progressive approach.
MARTIN: So, you have some experience with, you know, young progressive person with not as much experiences with other people think that person
should have necessarily, for you, know a big job.
MARTIN: I'm talking Barack Obama, of course.
MARTIN: And I'm just wondering if there are lessons that you would impart from your experience with, you know, this monumental and transformational
political figure that you think Brandon Johnson could learn from.
AXELROD: First of all, Obama had sort natural executive kind of instincts, even though he didn't have a great deal of executive experience, and one
hopes that that Johnson will as well. But part of that was the ability to get good people around him, to get, you know, a variety of opinions and
call through those and take the right steps to be open to that. So, that is part of it.
But on your point, Obama's view was always that if you can move the ball forward, if you can get things done that are going to help people, then you
probably need to be willing to compromise because 100 percent of nothing is not as good as 60 or 70 or 80 percent of something.
And Brandon Johnson comes from a labor background. So, he understands negotiations, and that you do have to compromise when you're in office. And
the trick is, do not compromise those principles that are fundamental to who you are. And you know, some may argue that Obama did. I strongly
disagree with that. But certainly, Johnson has to keep that in mind. Be willing to compromise, be willing to listen, be willing to understand what
other people's concerns are, try and act on those and do it within the framework of who you are and what you believe.
MARTIN: Just kind of looping back to where we started our conversation, progressives want to see something different. You know, they will say,
look, what's been tried hasn't worked. You know, the same things have been tried over and over again, more policing, harsher policing, et cetera,
hasn't worked it. So, try something else. Whereas other people say, we can't afford that. We can't risk it. It's too scary out there. People
really feel their quality of life is being seriously compromised.
AXELROD: Yes. The reality is -- and I think Democrats need to acknowledge it, both things are true. You need effective policing. There is a need for
police in communities. There also is a need to evaluate what we're asking of police and are there better ways to handle some of the things that we're
asking them to handle, that often can escalate in ways that aren't necessary.
And then, finally, are their root causes that you can attack in Chicago? We have a big problem with street gangs, and a lot of those gangs are young
men, you know, in their late teens and early 20s, who have nothing else to do but hang out with gangs, and they make a little money, you know, whether
it's through the drug trade or other ways, and they have a sense of community there.
The question is, how do you get those young men out of that life and give them a sense of hope, opportunity that they don't have today? Violence
prevention is a big part of the prescription here. And now you, have a mayor who seems deeply committed to exploring all those avenues. And, you
know, I think if he succeeds, he will be an emblem of for Democrats. If he doesn't, he will be -- it will be exploited by Republicans.
But you're right, we tend to weaponize problems too often rather than coming together around solutions. And hopefully, on this one, we can.
MARTIN: David Axelrod, thanks so much for talking with us today.
AXELROD: Great to be with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, a visit to commemorate an enduring alliance and to honor his ancestral roots. President Biden walks a path
through Ireland that's well-trodden by American presidents before him. But perhaps none better known or better loved than President John F. Kennedy.
Just five months before his assassination back in June of 1963, Kennedy captured Irish hearts with his vintage warmth and humor as he sealed the
deal between two nations, one people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: If the day was clear enough, and if you went down to the day, and you looked west, and your site was good
enough, you would see Boston, Massachusetts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: His traditional droll humor speaking there on the coast of Ireland.
That's it for now. And if you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it as on our podcast. On your screen now is a QR
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Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.