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Interview With Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski; Interview With Award-Winning Playwright And Screenwriter Tony Kushner; Interview With Ugandan Opposition Leader Bobi Wine. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 08, 2024 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The truth matters. It always matters. We can't just learn -- choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should
know, we should know the good, the bad, the truth of who we are. That's what great nations do. And we're a great nation, the greatest of all
We're not perfect, but at our best, we learn from our past and we look to the future. A nation continuously striving to be a more perfect union. I'm
here to speak to another truth. It's because of this congregation and the black community of South Carolina and not exaggeration and Jim Clyburn that
I stand here today is your president because of all of you. That's a fact. That's a fact.
And I always -- and I've done my best to honor your trust. That means rejecting the small, narrow, cramped view America as well as lifting up a
bigger and broader view of America that holds that if you do well, I do well. We all do well. We all do well if every race and background of small
towns and big cities is doing better, when our freedoms are protected and we deny hate is a safe harbor where everyone has a fair shot at a life of
dignity and opportunity and where our democracy works for everybody that benefits everybody. I don't get these guys. Everybody does better. Even
those folks who disagree with us.
I'm keeping my commitment to you. That's the America we're building together. Instead of erasing history, we're making history. And it starts
with an administration I committed to. I said my administration would look like America, it taps into our full talents and strengths as a nation.
Starting with our incredible Vice President Kamala Harris.
When we came to office, the country is in the depth of a pandemic, which we lost over a million -- 200,000 people. So, we moved heaven and earth to get
the country vaccinated, saving countless lives.
When the economy on the brink, we spent -- we sent $1,400 checks into the pockets of people who are hurting badly to keep them going. I said we'd
invest in all of America. All American, and we are. The results are clear. Over 14 million new jobs, record economic growth, the lowest inflation rate
of any major economy in the world. But we have more to do.
We see this progress for all Americans. We have the lowest black unemployment rate recorded in a long, long time. More black Americans have
health insurance than ever, bringing peace of mind and dignity to their lives.
I remember when I was a kid. We lived in a three-bedroom house with four kids and a grandpop living with us. And my headboard in my room was up
against a little split-level home. That was a -- we weren't poor, we were - - anyway, we weren't -- we sure weren't worth the wealthy. And I remember really one night hearing my dad restless because the headboard was along --
my headboard was on the other side of the wall.
I asked my mom the next morning, I said, what's the matter with dad? She said, honey, his employer just told him they're dropping health insurance.
What that does is it deprives a man and a woman of their dignity. How do you look at your child and say, I can't cover you, I can't take care of
you? And now, as Jim pointed out, I won't go into it -- like I was going to because he said it better. Instead of about an average of $400 a month for
insulin for seniors with diabetes, we're now paying $35 a month. By the way, we're still making a profit three times. It cost $10 to make it.
I've been trying to take on --
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL HOST: You've been listening to President Biden speaking in Charleston, South Carolina, jumpstarting
actually his re-election campaign. He's returned to the site of the place where he got a full charge for his original campaign when Congressman Jim
Clyburn of South Carolina brought out the black community for President Biden and recharged what was then, in 2020, a flagging campaign. And now,
he's hoping that the same happens.
He's been talking about democracy, democracy, democracy and framing it in the assault on truth that he has been outlining throughout this speech, and
that assault on truth tries, he says, to erase history where losers believe they were victims and refuse to actually accept what happened.
So, this is really an important speech and we'll be discussing it in our program. He also was interrupted very briefly at the top by a small group
of protesters calling for ceasefire in Gaza.
And the president listened. And before they were escorted -- and actually, they walked out peacefully, he acknowledged the protests and he said, I
understand the passion and I've been quietly working, quietly working with the Israeli government to reduce, to significantly get out of Gaza. And as
we know, the president's secretary of state is there again, trying to reduce this war and most certainly, trying to prevent it from spilling over
into a wider war. As he said, it's really on the tipping point right now. So, so much at stake. "Amanpour" is up next.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the show. Here's what's coming up.
As Ukraine's support lags in the United States and Europe, Poland's new government vows to rally the West. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski joins
Then, Candidate Joe Biden returns to South Carolina hoping to recharge black voter support for 2024. We hear about this trip.
And one of America's most celebrated writers calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. Walter Isaacson talks war, antisemitism, and vengeance with Tony Kushner.
Also, ahead, Afro music icon and politician Bobi Wine on his brave opposition to Uganda's forever president, Yoweri Museveni.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It is a new year in Ukraine and already the consequences of softening U.S. support are being felt. "The Wall Street Journal" reports Kyiv is running
out of ammunition as the pipeline of money and materiel from Washington runs dry. The pain is being felt from the front lines to Ukraine's cities,
where 11 civilians, including five children, were killed in missile strikes in Eastern Ukraine this weekend.
But President Zelenskyy remains defiant as Correspondent Fred Pleitgen reports from Kyiv.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: In the new year, Russia tried again to bring Ukraine to its knees with airstrikes, large scale attacks,
special combined attacks aimed at overloading our air defense and striking critical infrastructure.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ukraine says Russia has stepped up attacks both on the ground and in the air in the past weeks,
killing nearly 120 civilians and wounding almost 500 more since December 29th, according to the U.S.
The U.S. claims Russia has even used missiles procured from North Korea to attack Kharkiv in Northeastern Ukraine. Moscow hasn't commented so far, and
Ukrainian authorities investigating the wreckage say they haven't yet come to a final conclusion about the missile's origin.
Most likely, this missile was either supplied by North Korea or was produced recently using blueprints and technology supplied by Russia to
third countries or to North Korea, this official says.
Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrating Orthodox Christmas as he escalates his assault against Ukraine. Meeting with families of Russian
soldiers killed on the battlefield, and vowing to support the loved ones of all those he sends to the war zone.
You know that many of our men, our courageous, heroic guys, Russian warriors, even now, on this holiday, defend the interests of our country
with arms in hand, he says. I want to assure you, we will always have your back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was Correspondent Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv.
Now, tremors from Russia's large-scale attacks are also impacting Poland, neighbor to both Ukraine and Russia, and a critical NATO ally. Just last
week, fighter jets scrambled after Warsaw reported a Russian missile entered Polish airspace headed to Ukraine.
A new government there headed by the Former European Council President Donald Tusk is pushing for a full mobilization of the free world to help
Ukraine fend off Russia. Radek Sikorski is the new foreign minister and he joins me now from Warsaw. Welcome to the program, Foreign Minister.
Well, you're the foreign minister again, I should say. So, congratulations.
RADEK SIKORSKI, FORMER POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Hello, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And I want to know what are you and your government going to do to, as your Prime Minister says, rally the West?
You must, I guess, feel the shock and the reality of this pipeline that's drying up now for Kyiv.
SIKORSKI: Well, first of all, let me say how grateful we are to the people of the United States and personally to President Biden for rallying around
Ukraine in her hour of need. We rallied around the U.S. Poland sent a brigade to Iraq, a brigade to Afghanistan, and now, we are holding off an
aggressive dictator who is bent on recreating a European empire, a concept whose time has passed. And Ukraine is the internationally recognized
victim, recognized by the U.N. General Assembly.
And the consequences of Putin conquering Ukraine would be catastrophic. First of all, of course, for Ukraine, but also for her neighbors, for
Europe, and for the whole system of American alliances.
President Biden has been to Kyiv. The United States is present now militarily in Poland. The Ukrainians need to be given the tools to do the
job, and they're doing the job extremely well. For a few percent of an annual U.S. defense budget, they've already destroyed half the Russian
The cost of deterring Putin after he conquers Ukraine would be much, much higher than the cost of keeping the Ukrainians supplied now. So, I urge
U.S. lawmakers to pass the law that would enable them to defend themselves.
AMANPOUR: So, Foreign Minister, it's not just the United States, which is obviously the biggest backer, I guess, but it's also Europe. The promised
billions that you have put on the table have not materialized.
So, you just were there recently, and I wonder -- you see how Putin is reacting. He just looks much more emboldened in public life. You can see on
the map, the -- you know, the percentage increases they're making in various areas, they took back an important symbolic, anyway, town not long
ago. What are you hearing from inside the government of Ukraine? Are they - - how worried are they?
SIKORSKI: The Ukrainians are the only people who are entitled to feel tired by this war because they are dying and their cities are being bombed. But
on contributions, let's remember that if you compute the contributions of E.U. institutions and member states, which is how you should counted, the
U.S. and European contributions are about the same, about $75 billion.
And actually Poland, if you count the cost of helping Ukrainian refugees, Poland is number one in contributions on a per capita basis in proportion
to GDP. And even without that, we are number three or five.
So, a lot is being done by Europe. But, of course, on the military side, the U.S. is absolutely indispensable, and that's why Ukraine needs this
package of American help, and I hope that both parties in the U.S. Congress support it.
AMANPOUR: And we've been reading a lot. We have our reporters there in the east and elsewhere in Ukraine. You know, they get some access and we see so
many more injuries. So many more deaths from the front lines. We hear, you know, from soldiers and others who are trying their best under these
circumstances who, you know, yes, they're still at it, but morale is suffering if they don't have what they need to actually repel this
What do you -- what sort of atmosphere did you pick up when you were with the president when you were -- I guess you spoke probably to some of the
Ukrainian military leaders as well, because there was such a can do feeling even a year ago that doesn't seem to be as prominent right now?
SIKORSKI: Of course, wars always go through their ups and downs. The Ukrainians have reconquered 50 percent of the territory that the Russians
originally took from them. And this is not a story of success by the Russian army. They were so cocky as to think that they can conquer Ukraine
in three days. And here we are, almost two years, they've taken just a small percentage of Ukrainian territory in the south.
But Ukraine needs the ammunition. You cannot fight an invader with bear arms. And we should supply them because they -- you know, if their
sacrifice is in vain, then we will have to deter Putin ourselves. And it's going to be our soldiers, including American soldiers who are already here
who might have to be committed. So, it's, in every way, in our interest to help the Ukrainians defend their land.
But time is of the essence. The Russians have an advantage. I was told eight to one in artillery, in the number of shells that are aimed at both
sides. And of course, they are shooting at cities with area weapons, imprecise munitions, which means that it's guaranteed that they hit
President Putin, as you know, is also indicted by the International Criminal Court for, believe it or not, stealing children from Ukraine. I
never thought that I would live in a Europe in which a member of the Security Council of the U.N. is credibly accused of stealing their
neighbor's children. This is completely unacceptable, and I'm glad that we're in an alliance that seeks to prevent it, but we need to do the
practical thing to help the Ukrainians.
AMANPOUR: And actually, you know, former CIA director, former CENTCOM commander, General Petraeus told me that if Putin wins in Ukraine, he won't
stop there. And you probably heard some of President Biden's speech, really a very, very passionate speech about the consequences of everything that's
happening in the world on democracy. He's obviously talking about his own opponent in the upcoming presidential race.
But I guess your new government has also come in to try to disentangle your country from the forces of populism that have been, if I can put it that
way, governing for the last several years. What are you planning to do to bolster your democracy? And is that -- how -- can you do it?
SIKORSKI: Well, we have challenges, as do you. We need to restore meritocratic civil service. We need to restore independence and veracity to
public media. We need to restore the independence of the judiciary. But we are going to deal with all that.
What we also need, above all, is physical security. You know, Poland is located on a wide-open plane. And there are hostile troops 250 kilometers
from where I'm speaking to you, in Belarus, which has almost been swollen up by Russia, certainly in the middle military field.
What's at stake in Ukraine is the principle of not changing borders by force, but it's also the credibility of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization and of the United States too. And it can be done to bolster Ukraine, to bolster the morale of the West and of the forces of democracy
and of constitutionality. This can be done at a very small cost, relatively speaking.
And remember, there's also the practical element. We are testing the weapons that are being used to defend Ukrainian cities, for example, the
algorithms of Patriot missiles. And your equipment is actually proving to be much more effective than the Russian equipment. And I'm told $90 billion
of new defense contracts have already been placed in the United States since the start of this war.
So, on all those counts, we need Ukrainians to win this with our support, and the U.S. support is indispensable.
AMANPOUR: And just a last question. I mentioned that apparently a Russian missile passed through your territory on its way to Ukraine. And also, that
I think Poland has caught and convicted several pro-Russian collaborators, or whoever they might be, operating on your territory against Ukraine. Are
you afraid that this is on its way to spilling over the borders and into NATO countries?
SIKORSKI: Well, it's a full spectrum interference. Russia is conducting a hybrid war against many countries in Europe, has interfered in the Brexit
referendum, in election campaigns in France, in Poland, in the United States.
We tried to give Russia a choice to become a normal nation state. Russia was invited into the Council of Europe, into the G7, into various western
institutions, instead, it chose the path of rebuilding empire and of aggression against its neighbors. And that cannot pass.
And yes, it's not comfortable to be a front-line state. And it's not the first time a Russian missile has entered Polish territory. One of those
Russian missiles actually landed 10 kilometers from my own house.
Yes, we need strengthening our air defenses. We are buying American systems to do so. But the best insurance for Europe is for Ukraine to win this and
for Russia to revise its national ideology, to accept that the age of European empires is gone and is not coming back.
AMANPOUR: Radek Sikorski, Foreign Minister, thank you very much for joining us from Warsaw.
Now, U.S. President Joe Biden has been speaking in Charleston, South Carolina, a state that was critical to turning around his flagging campaign
in 2020. Now, a crucial stop on his road to re-election this year.
He spoke at the Mother Emanuel AME Church, the site of a racist massacre of black worshipers in 2015. As he hearkened back to that day, condemning what
he called the poison of white supremacy. Biden was interrupted by a few protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
He heard them out saying, I understand the passion and I've been quietly working with the Israeli government to significantly get out of Gaza.
So, with South Carolina's first in the nation Democratic primary coming up on February 3rd, Candidate Biden is counting on a strong show of support
from black voters amidst warning signs that support may be slipping. So, let's bring in our senior political analyst, John Avlon. He's joining us
from New York.
John, welcome. What do you --
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you. Happy New Year.
AMANPOUR: And you too. And, you know, there's so much at stake as this new year starts, as we've just been talking about Ukraine and the bigger fight
for democracy. And I was interested that Biden couched the beginning of his speech as a fight for democracy.
What did you make of the speech? And then we'll ask about, you know, the impact of going to South Carolina.
AVLON: Well, Mother Emanuel Church is less than a mile from my parents' house in Charleston. And so, it's an area I know well. And it has really
become a sacred civic space because of the massacre that occurred there, and what a reckoning that was. It was in -- I think, a relatively renewal
of an old idea that we've debated in the United States, often with violence, unfortunately, which is the resistance that exists to a
multiracial democracy that characterized the run up to the Civil War, certainly, but especially reconstruction and the violence around
overturning Jim Crow.
And we saw it at Mother Emanuel that day, and we see it in more benign and politicized forms to this day. And I think that's what Joe Biden --
President Biden was speaking to. In many ways, it's a companion to a speech at Valley Forge just a few days ago, kicking off his campaign where he said
this is about defending democracy. I think this puts a finer point on it.
One of the great obstacles to the fulfillment of democracy's ideal in the United States is white supremacy, is white nationalism, is, in some cases,
Christian nationalism when it is combined with a racial animus as we've seen too many times. And sometimes you've got to listen carefully to hear
those strains. But if you know your history, if you're willing to confront it clearly, then all becomes more evident.
AMANPOUR: You know, John, he clearly in his campaign knows their history. Valley Forge was obviously an important turning point, I guess, in the war
for independence. It's in Pennsylvania.
AMANPOUR: As you say South Carolina, a very important place in the whole civil rights struggle and also in that, you know, poisonous white
supremacy. Do you think, though, that, like it did last time, it will jumpstart what critics are calling a flagging campaign already?
AVLON: Well, the polls show that his campaign is flagging. That's not just a question of critics. I do think it's important to point out, though, that
in the 2022 midterms, there were a lot of pundits and folks who said that President Biden's pivot to talking about democracy was a surefire loser,
that instead, he should be talking about the inflation economy, kitchen table issues that are where people live indeed.
But he took that risk, calculated risk, and was rewarded for it. Exit polls show there was no red wave as had been often predicted. Democrats did
better than expected. And Democrats have outperformed expectations in polls in every election since, particularly special elections.
I think the problem for the Biden campaign isn't just perceptions of the president's age and vigor. It is flagging support among African Americans,
Hispanic voters, and even younger voters. The campaign is betting those folks will come round when we get to November 2024, particularly if the
nominee is Donald Trump.
But given that this is an election in which democracy seems to hang in the ballots, this all feels to many Democrats and close observers like a risky
bet given that the Biden team seems to be on the back foot. We'll see what happens in Iowa next week, New Hampshire after that, whether the
Republicans can wrest control of their party from Trumpism.
But one of the things the Democrats need to do is form a broader coalition that brings in disaffected Republicans and independents as well as
Democrats in their base. This is an attempt to do that. But they're just getting started and it's always later than you think in politics.
AMANPOUR: I want to play just a little bit of the speech. We've chosen a small soundbite from his speech in which he's focusing on the notion of
truth. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The truth is under assault in America, as a consequence, so is our freedom, our democracy, our very country, because
without the truth, there's no light. Without light, there's no path from this darkness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: John, it's -- he never mentioned -- I don't think he mentioned Trump's name, at least what I could hear, but he talks about how the whole
story of the 2020 election is one that is absolutely, you know, one that is coated in lies by Donald Trump and that they refuse to see that it was a
legitimate election. They portray themselves as victims.
We hear right now that there's a podcast that's just happened with Michelle Obama, former first lady. She's saying that, you know, she's worried, you
know, sick about the 2024 result, it's the only thing that keeps her up at night. And yet, you know, Trump continues, you know, posting these lies all
over the place.
Is there a way to break out of that? And what -- you know, what responsibility do we all have as the interlocutors, really, the
intermediaries between a candidate and the public?
AVLON: We have a fundamental responsibility. And I think it's a civic responsibility that connects journalists, but also citizens.
There is an assault on truth that has been going on for several years. It is fomented and crystallized often by Donald Trump's lies, and they need to
be called that, but they're amplified via social media, which amplifies often the most conspiracy theorist version of events, the most
confrontational version of events, amplifies people who played the base.
And I think that's something that we're still getting our hands on around. You know, I think the days of gatekeepers and Walter Cronkite saying that's
the way it is are long gone, but that's exactly why I think we need to strengthen guardrails around our democracy, guardrails around democratic
norms. We need to call out lies for what they are as we simultaneously recognize that Trump and the drift towards hyper partisan media and maybe a
fragmentation via social media has been successful in selling outright lies to people who are susceptible to that kind of confirmation bias.
We see new polls every day, Christiane, in the last several days, you know, that a third of Republicans believe January 6th was an inside job, That's a
lie. That the President Biden was not legitimately elected, that's a lie. And leading Republicans acting as handmaidens to Donald Trump and
supporting his campaign before a single Republican has voted, despite the fact that they know that Donald Trump lies about those things and so many
As Donald Trump was said -- to have said when the House Whip Tom Emmer came around to endorsing him after Trump had scuttled his own bid to become
speaker of the house, they always take the knee. And so, I think that's a corruption within the Republican Party in particular that they need to
confront. But we need to shine a light on the hypocrisy that exists between what so many of those politicians say in public and what they say in
This is a dangerous moment for democracy. Truth depends on reasoning together that requires recognizing common facts and that's under threat
AMANPOUR: And it requires breaking through. Let me just play for you what one of his biggest allies, Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, has
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I have no problem with the Biden administration and what it has done. My problem is that we have not been able to break
through that MAGA wall in order to get to people exactly what this president has done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, John, you've been an adviser before. What do they need to do to break through? Because there are a lot of accomplishments, whether it's
the economy, inflation coming down, unemployment down, you know, prices down, it's -- the record is pretty good. If you look at it objectively.
AVLON: Yes. Look, President Biden, if you look at it objectively, has been a consequential and effective president. He's been far from perfect, but
perfect's never on the menu. I think what Jim Clyburn's saying, and you're right, I mean, President Biden wouldn't be president if it weren't for
Clyburn's endorsement at a critical moment in the Democratic primaries, is saying that they haven't messaged effectively to main street America.
You know, there are persuadable voters, Republicans, who are persuadable, independents, obviously, by definition, persuadable and even disaffected
Democrats. You're not going to reach the hardcore third of Republicans who will support Donald Trump no matter what. But the messaging has been
I wrote a column about this for CNN just into the new year about, are you better off than you were three years ago? Think about where America was
three years ago, January 2021, reeling from January 6th, COVID death toll in the United States at its highest level, the economy in shambles.
America's in far better shape.
But the Biden team has not been sufficient in terms offering soundbites and statistics that are sticky to help his -- help just make that stick. And
Donald Trump is a very effective communicator through repetition. He's a hype man. He's a marketer. Joe Biden is not at that level, but this is
really about, again, defending democracy by having common facts and they need to up their game. I think there's no question about that.
AMANPOUR: John Avlon, thank you so much.
Now, as we mentioned, President Biden mentioned the Gaza war during his speech, where he said he was working to try to significantly reduce
Israel's footprint there, and the war on Hamas continues to reach grim heights.
Speaking during his latest trip to the region, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken today said he is deeply, deeply sorry for the almost
unimaginable loss suffered by Al Jazeera's Gaza bureau chief, Wael Al- Dahdouh. His son, Hamza, was killed on Sunday, along with freelancer Mustafa Thraya.
The Israel Defense Forces, the IDF, confirmed that they were killed in an airstrike, saying they were targeting a terrorist. Wael's two other
children, his wife and his grandchild, were all killed three months ago in an Israeli airstrike. And here is what he had to say as he laid his son to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAEL AL-DAHDOUH, AL JAZEERA'S GAZA BUREAU CHIEF (through translator): The world must see with their eyes and not with Israel's eyes. It must listen
and watch all that is happening to the Palestinian people. What has Hamza done to them? And what has my family done to them? What have civilians in
the Gaza Strip done to them? They have not done anything. The world is blinded by what is going on in Gaza.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: While himself was injured in an attack just weeks ago that killed one of his colleagues, and Secretary of State Blinken also says that he's
focused on trying to prevent a wider conflict in the Middle East that could, as he said, easily metastasize.
Next, Tony Kushner is one of America's most celebrated theater and screenwriters, and a film that he co-wrote nearly 20 years ago is getting a
second look amid this war, Steven Spielberg's "Munich."
This is the story of an assassination of Israeli Olympic athletes at the 1972 Games by Palestinian terrorists. It's also the story of Israel's
secret mission to hunt down and assassinate each of those assassins. In one scene, though, Israeli agent, Avner, is face to face with a group of
Palestinians. This exchange with Ali and the topic of vengeance has been noted as strikingly relevant today. Here's the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You people have nothing to bargain with. You'll never get the land back. You'll all die old men in refugee camps waiting for
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a lot of children. They'll have children. So, we can wait forever. And if we need to, we can make the whole planet unsafe
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You kill Jews and the world feels bad for them and thinks you are animals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. But then the world will see how they've made us into animals. They'll start to ask questions about the conditions in our
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was an 18-year-old script. Tony Kushner joins Walter Isaacson now to discuss the war, antisemitism, and the purpose of art,
especially in this climate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CO-HOST, AMANPOUR AND CO.: Thank you, Christiane. And Tony Kushner, welcome to the show.
TONY KUSHNER, AWARD-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT AND SCREENWRITER: Thanks. It's a pleasure to be here.
ISAACSON: It's been three months since the Hamas terror attack on Israel. And I just read a piece in "The New York Times" by Lisa Schwarzbaum who
said, the best way to process it is through the movie "Munich" that you wrote, co-wrote, and Spielberg directed. Tell me how you're processing it
and how that movie, "Munich" helps you process it.
KUSHNER: Oh, I'm not processing it very well. I mean, I think it's a staggeringly upsetting and confusing time and a very, very frightening
time. I, you know. I feel sort of crushed every day by horror at what's happening in Gaza, at the circumstances that the Palestinian people in Gaza
are living in. I'm very worried about Israel and what its actions in Gaza have done to its international reputation, to its historical reputation.
I'm very worried about what's happening in the United States.
I'm a big supporter of Joe Biden, but I have to say I'm very disappointed so far in the administration's response to the bombing of Gaza.
ISAACSON: Wait, wait. Why is that? Because they've not been harsh enough about the civilian casualties?
KUSHNER: Well, I mean, yes. You know, the president started out, you know, I think mistakenly embracing Netanyahu and sort of saying, we're with you
all the way, and then, you know, uttering these kinds of fairly tepid platitudes about, you know, let's be careful about what we do next because,
of course, everyone knew the minute we heard about the horrors of October 7th that the response was going to be horrendous and that Gaza was going to
be bombed and that thousands of people were going to be killed.
I didn't imagine that it would rise to the level that it's risen. It's 22,000 people, according to the Hamas health authorities. And the
president's response has been, you know, to sort of dig in in a way that's surprising to me. Because I think he's a profoundly decent guy and I think
he leads often with his heart and sometimes that leads him to do very brave things. And I feel that he should have been much firmer about stopping
this. And so, some of the blood is on our hands at this point.
ISAACSON: Do you think that sometimes this criticism of Israel, people are saying it's motivated partly by antisemitism, you've tried in letters
you've written last November, I think, to separate antisemitism from being anti-Israel, but is this getting harder to do now?
KUSHNER: The weaponization of the charge of antisemitism which is by the right, which is not a new thing. But I think that, you know, there's still
absolutely no question support of the Palestinian people criticism of Israel is in no way antisemitic, it isn't anti-Jewish, it isn't even anti-
I mean, you know, the Israeli press is full of -- you know, Haaretz, I mean, they're -- you know, they're, the Israelis are -- the Israeli press
is certainly full of self-criticism, and this is a time profound internal conflict in Israel. You know, it's a -- it's not a country that operates
with a single voice. And there's a fiction that's been created by the right in the United States that it does and therefore, everyone in the United
States, especially all American Jews, have to speak with a single voice of absolute blind support for Israel and whatever it's doing. And I think this
is a danger for any country to not tolerate dissent.
And so, it's not any more difficult to say that students protesting and using the term Intifada are not anti-Semites. Intifada is not an
antisemitic term. And the danger to Jews, and there's always danger to Jews, we're a very small minority and we have a very unique position of
having been targeted throughout -- you know, at least for the last 2,000 years and suffering terrible oppression and persecution.
But our -- the danger to us, I think, almost always comes from the right, not the left, and I see no danger to Jews in people arguing that the
Palestinian people need to be treated, you know, in accordance with international standards of decency and according to their human rights. And
I think it's a great danger to Jews for Jews to not speak out in support of the Palestinians because it -- you know, I don't think that being Jewish is
a tribal identity. I don't believe that. I don't believe in tribalism. I think it's always a mistake. And you know, Jewish ethnic, ethical teaching
doesn't draw the line at -- between Jew and non-Jew.
ISAACSON: You talk about calls for intifada, and you're saying that's not really an attack on Jews, but do you think it's now, especially on college
campuses, those chants, become an attack on Jews, antisemitic?
KUSHNER: Well, look, I'm -- I've gone to teach on a college campus. I have not -- I've been very busy in the last few weeks. I have not gone to
college campuses to -- I have seen no evidence that there's a huge increase of attacks on Jewish students. I think there have been some reports of
altercations between Jewish students and other people, but I don't see a great danger. It doesn't strike me.
ISAACSON: So, you're not worried about the rise of antisemitism in the next three months?
KUSHNER: I'm very worried about the rise of antisemitism. I'm worried about the rise of antisemitism with people like Trump sitting down and having
dinner with Kanye West and that creature, whatever his name was.
ISAACSON: But you're not worried about antisemitism on the left?
KUSHNER: Anywhere that antisemitism appears is a concern for me. If I see evidence of antisemitism, I have -- almost all of my friends are on the
left, I have a number of Palestinian friends, none of them are anti- Semites. If they were anti-Semites, I wouldn't be friends with them, and I would imagine they wouldn't want to be friends with me.
There's a great deal of anger against Israel. There's a great deal of anger against the Jewish American community. It is -- I mean, I'm not minimizing
the sort of scariness of anger directed at Jews anywhere at any time can feel like it will boil over very easily into antisemitism, because
antisemitism is such a pervasive theme in western consciousness.
But I think with -- you know, with goodwill and discernment and using your faculties of reason rather than emotion, it's easy to understand where the
anger comes from, and easy to also see where our real enemies are.
I mean, the spectacle of Elise Stefanik, who supports Donald Trump wholeheartedly, which means that she supports the replacement theory, which
is just fundamentally an antisemitic theory, getting up and yelling at the presidents of these three schools about their weakness on antisemitism is
ISAACSON: Over the years you've worked with Steven Spielberg, working through a lot of these issues, especially Jewish identity, I think, from
"Munich" to "The Fablemans." Tell me what it was like working with him and what were the themes that you all were trying to develop?
KUSHNER: Well, we never sat out and talked about themes. We just sort of liked each other from the first time we started talking, which was about I
had published with Elisa Solomon an anthology called "Wrestling with Zion," 58 Jewish -- progressive Jewish Americans talking about the Middle East
conflict, about the Palestinian Israeli conflict.
And Steven read the anthology and called me and said, I have this movie that I'm working on, would you like to try and write the script? I thought
that Lisa Schwarzbaum's essay about it, by the way, was magnificent.
The one thing I would add to what Lisa said, because Steven and I decided to watch "Munich." neither of us had watched it since it first came out 20
years ago. When we were making "The Fablemans," we decided that we would go to his house and watch it.
And I was stunned by something that -- this is why I love working with him. There isn't -- it's a very bloody movie and a lot of people die in it.
There isn't a single death in the entire film, even in a scene in Beirut where there's just dozens of people being shot and killed, Steven never
shows you a single death as a kind of entertainment.
He introduces -- and I don't know that he did this consciously, we didn't talk about it, but every single person who dies has -- there's a moment
right before they die that forces you to recognize that person's humanity, which is why the movie is so upsetting. And it's really unique in that way,
and I think it's a great response to unfortunate tendency in Hollywood to use human destruction, the destruction of human lives as a kind of, you
know, like, way of amping up the stakes and getting people's heartbeats faster.
There's a profound grief in the film. That's why I think Steven is a great artist. I mean, you see it in all of his movies, it's in "Jaws." When the
shark blows up at the end, there's this stunning moment where you see the fin underwater spinning through this cloud of blood, and it's a moment of
grief for this magnificent creature has been destroyed, and it undercuts the triumphalism of the end quite a bit.
You know, it's -- I love working with him. I consider it a great honor and one of the great blessings in my life that we've developed this working
ISAACSON: You know, a lot of great artists in history, you know, Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind, sort of grew up as outsiders. He grows up in a
small village, gay, left-handed, born out of wedlock. You grew up down here in Louisiana, Lake Charles, not too far from here, gay and Jewish. And how
did that shaping of being an outsider affect your art?
KUSHNER: You know, there was a very proud, very small Jew while you're from Louisiana, also. So, you know, I mean -- we, the Jewish community in Lake
Charles, Louisiana was large enough to have a temple and services and an identity and it was a very proud identity and no one apologized for being
I have said many, many times that when I came out of the closet as a gay man, the model that I used for claiming this identity that had been -- that
was being sort of, you know, disparaged and rejected and despised by the majority was the model that my parents had given me as a Jew, that, you
know, if they don't like you, it's their problem, it's not you, it's them, you know, they need to change, you don't need to change, you need to be who
you are, and I think it was an important lesson to learn.
I mean, I -- you know, I also grew up during a time of busing and integration and what is now called social engineering that even Richard
Nixon sort of went along with. And so, my high school was integrated and that taught me a lot about, when a society makes a decision to really go
after a great social evil like racism in the Deep South, astonishing change can happen.
And I watched it happen in my high school and it -- you know, that changed my life. I mean, I saw my cousins in New York all went to segregated high
schools. I went to a high school that was 50 percent black and 50 percent white. So, I grew up believing profoundly, and I still believe in it, that,
again, when we apply ourselves, we can take situations that seem absolutely irresolvable and impossible to fix, and we can fix them, we can make things
better, but we have to go at it with a will.
ISAACSON: One of the great milestones in terms of gay, lesbian rights was Angels in America. I think, what, 30 years ago or so?
ISAACSON: And now, do you think there's been a backlash against those rights?
KUSHNER: I think that, you know, like all rights that have been granted, including, you know, the right to an abortion, the right now to health care
it's -- we're learning, and I think it's a -- it's, for me, a very moving lesson that once people have been given a right, they won't let go of it
easily. I think that that's certainly true of same sex marriage and of the acceptance of gay people in American society.
The Republicans have tried to figure out a new way to, you know, bout (ph) with these really repulsive accusations of child molestation and grooming
and all of this stuff. It's coded language. We haven't gone all the way back to Pat Buchanan getting up in 1992 and making homophobic jokes at the
Republican National Convention. We may get that next time. I don't know.
But I think there's pushback, but everything that I read indicates that -- you know, I mean, obviously we know now after the, after Dobbs and the
overturn of Roe, that no rights are secure. I mean, to go back to, you know, a Jewish theme, what we learn every year at Seder is that in every
generation, a new pharaoh arises seeking to destroy us. And the fight for justice and liberation and the end of oppression is constant and has to be
constantly renewed. You can never say, OK, we won. Now, we can be secure.
ISAACSON: When you were young and you thought about becoming a playwright, I read that you were a little worried. You thought it might be a bit
trivial that art wasn't serious enough. After all these years, do you think art, and especially being a playwright, is serious enough and can actually
help change the world?
KUSHNER: I don't believe that artists should believe that art can change the world. I don't believe you should art thinking you're going to change
the world, because I think that art has tremendous power, but mostly I think its power is not in the way that it leads directly to action. I think
it's an indirect power.
Politics is the necessary evil of political action is pushing aside all of the contradictions and complexities of life and saying. here is the best,
here's our best guess at where to move, how to act. Art in a certain sense doesn't do that. It says, let's look at all of the complexities and all of
the contradictions. It doesn't silence any voice. It says, let's bring in the whole sort of plethora of perspectives and spend time thinking about
how overwhelming human experience is, how overwhelming life is.
I think most human beings find art somewhere and engage with it. And I think it fills your capacity and strengthens your capacity to be human and
to -- and then, you wake up out of the dream and you go forth into the world, I think, more capable of figuring out the right way to move because
you've learned not to filter out too much of the confusion and contradiction before you make the decision. So, you -- that's where wisdom
comes from, I think art can produce. Wisdom is the short answer to your question.
ISAACSON: Tony Kushner, thank you so much for joining us.
KUSHNER: Thank you, Walter. It's a real pleasure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, people power in Uganda, Eastern Africa. Born into poverty, Bobi Wine first rose to fame as a musician. But in 2017,
he put his career on hold to enter politics, and was elected to parliament in a landslide victory.
Two years later, he set his sights on the presidency, running against the aging incumbent, Yoweri Museveni, who has held an iron grip on power in
Uganda for decades. A new documentary, "Bobi Wine: The People's President," followed his campaign for five years. It's been shortlisted for an Oscar.
And Bobi Wine is joining me now from New York.
Bobi Wine, welcome to the program. You know, we just had --
BOBI WINE, UGANDAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Yes, it's good to see you again. And we just had the great Tony Kushner on, talking about politics and power and art, particularly, you
know, to move people. Where does your art, your music, you know, stand in your political campaigns and your political efforts?
WINE: Thank you very much. My music opened my eyes. Open the eyes of the masses, especially the young people and landed me into trouble. Good
trouble. It is my music that has always been my platform to communicate. It is the way that I reached out to the world, is what endeared me to the
people. And ultimately, it is what I moved to put in practice by joining politics.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to play a little a little clip from the documentary. And it is called, "Bobi Wine: The People's President." And as I said, it's
been shortlisted for the Oscars. Let's watch the clip. You're addressing crowds at an election rally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WINE: I said, it is not a secret anymore. That we want to remove Museveni from power. On Wednesday, we are going to defeat Museveni in Arua in a
democratic election. People power.
CROWD: Our power.
WINE: People power.
CROWD: Our power.
WINE: Our power.
CROWD: People power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You know, you have put yourself at great risk because it is not easy to challenge an incumbent who's now been in power for 38 years. What -
- you know, are you still going to be challenging? Are you still going to be running for president? What is your intention now?
WINE: Thank you, Christiane. We are definitely going to continue challenging General Museveni in every available way, every moral and
And of course, by 2026, if we've not gotten him out of power, we'll definitely challenge him to a free and fair election. And that is why we're
here to seek the more attention of the world to help the people of Uganda assert their democratic right.
AMANPOUR: So, I just going to read these stats, you know, back in 2020, you told me that you resent -- you represented the people who are searching for
change, but you know, Museveni won, 58.38 of the vote and you had 35 percent. And, you know, there's been widespread allegations of fraud and
You had these lyrics in one of your songs, which I put to the president. It was back in '21. You said, what was the purpose of liberation when we can't
have a peaceful transition? Freedom fighters became dictators. Just take a listen to how he answered me when I put that to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOWERI MUSEVENI, UGANDAN PRESIDENT: That is wrong. We have been having transition. We've been having transition by having elections every five
years. We have elections. And if the people didn't want to give us a mandate, they would vote us out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, do you think it's possible to actually, you know, break through this?
WINE: Well, General Museveni said famously in 1986 when he took over power that Africa's problem, and Uganda in particular, are the leaders that
overstay in power. Unfortunately, 38 years later, he does not want to hear what he said, or he tries to change what he said, just like it happened in
the book of Animal Farm, where animal -- where pigs ultimately said that all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
Of course, General Museveni has continuously abused power. He has rigged elections. The United States and European election observers were not even
able to oversee the election of 2021, which is very clearly followed up in that film. And all the brutality that was unleashed to us, all to make sure
that General Museveni keeps power.
Of course, it's a shame, however the people of Uganda, who are majorly young people, refuse to give up. We continue to pursue a democratic and
peaceful mean of changing power. And we believe that if the world stands with the people of Uganda, we can ultimately get a peaceful transition from
General Museveni's dictatorship to a democratic Uganda, which will have power, you know, in the hands of the people and the leaders will be
accountable to the people. That is what was struggling for.
AMANPOUR: You know, I read from the director's notes that one of the reasons you wanted to make this film is also to try to convince world
leaders, like democratic leaders, not to keep propping up Museveni's government, not to keep sending aid.
And I wonder what you think and what you would do if you're a president, because in May the parliament in in Uganda Passed the Anti-Homosexuality
Act, which apart from being very brutal on the victims, also has -- you know, it has impacted the economy of Uganda. The World Bank says it won't
consider fresh loans, you know, things like tourism and business have been affected by that, you know, by segregating a whole section of your country.
What do you think Uganda can do to reverse that law?
WINE: First of all, I've said it severally that ours is a struggle for human rights for all Ugandans from all walks of life. That said, I must
also mention that the LGBT issue in Uganda has been politicized. It has been turned into a political tool.
General Museveni, like most dictators in Africa have turned that issue into a weapon, a political weapon, against political opponents. It's for that
reason that I would request you to understand if I cannot comment further on that issue, because a law has been passed in Uganda, and anything that I
say here can be used against me back home by the regime.
But I'll still say that we continue to struggle for human rights for every Uganda, for every person in Uganda from all walks of life.
AMANPOUR: And very briefly, in 10 seconds, do you plan to go back anytime soon?
WINE: Yes. I'm going back to Uganda. I am in the United States because we are trying as much as possible to make our plight known. We are very glad
that we were able to have this film out here. I'm thankful to National Geographic Channel too for having -- giving us this platform --
AMANPOUR: All right.
WINE: -- for having given us this platform to tell our Ugandan story. And I hope this reached out to all people, especially, policymakers, to inspire
them to change their policies towards Uganda, to make sure they don't continuously prop up a dictator who abuses rights and abuses democracy.
It is a shame to see --
AMANPOUR: OK, Bobi.
WINE: -- world leaders while democracies standing -- shoulder to shoulder with a renowned dictator.
AMANPOUR: And that is all we have time for tonight. So, thank you for that final word, Bobi Wine.
Thanks for watching. Goodbye from London.