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Interview with Democratic Political Strategy and "Hopium Chronicles" Newsletter Author Simon Rosenberg; Interview with European Institute of Peace Senior Adviser and Yemen Conflict Expert Once Held Captive by Houthis Hisham Al-Omeisy; Interview with "Fluke" Author Brian Klaas. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 06, 2024 - 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: Folks, I promise you, I'm just getting started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: President Biden ramps up his reelection campaign, and I asked Democratic political strategist Simon Rosenberg why he believes the party
is stronger than people think.
And despite U.S. and U.K. strikes, the Houthis launched new attacks in the Red Sea. I asked a Yemeni political analyst if this Iran proxy can be
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do parents still continue to subject their children to this pain?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: -- a report on the brutal practice of female genital mutilation and the brave activists fighting to end it.
Also, ahead --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN KLAAS: A single thing can tip you over that edge and create an extremely consequential event that shifts how the world works.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: "Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters." Political scientist Brian Klaas tells Walter Isaacson about what the chaos
theory can teach us.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
A legal blow for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. A federal appeals court rules that he does not have presidential immunity and can be
prosecuted for trying to reverse the 2020 election. After winning Iowa and the New Hampshire G.O. primaries, he is a shoo in as their nominee. While
President Biden is tipped to win Nevada's Democratic primary today.
He notched up his first official victory in South Carolina three days ago, winning over 96 percent of the vote. The president touted his successes at
a campaign rally in Las Vegas over the weekend, running on the message of promises made promises kept. He also admitted, though, there is work to be
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I know, we know we have a lot more to do. Not everyone's feeling the benefits of our investments in progress yet. But
inflation is now lower in America than any other major economy in the world. In the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that is a fact, as are many other key indicators which are in his favor. Yet, the political landscape shows gyrating poll numbers. Is
this normal this far away from an election? And what kind of hard work does Biden have still to do?
Key Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg puts Biden's chances for re- election higher than most. And he's joining me now from Washington, D.C.
Simon Rosenberg, welcome. Simon Rosenberg, welcome to the program.
SIMON ROSENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGY AND AUTHOR, "HOPIUM CHRONICLES" NEWSLETTER: It's good to be here.
AMANPOUR: You know, I'm watching this and everybody overseas is watching this, and you can imagine America's allies, for all sorts of policy
reasons, are very keen to know that President Biden will be reelected for all sorts of rules of the international world order. What do you say to
them when they look at polls, for instance?
ROSENBERG: Sure. I mean, I think, look, my basic take on the election is that Joe Biden is a good president. The country is better off. The
Democratic Party is strong and been winning elections all across the country. And the Republicans are fielding the most unfit candidate in our
history, who has -- and so, I feel good about where things are.
There has been a lot of overestimation of Republican strength and underestimation of Democratic strength in recent elections. And so, when I
put all this together, and I was very accurate about what happened in 2022, I would much rather be us than them. And I think it's far more likely that
we win than the Republicans this year.
AMANPOUR: Tell us again about 2022.
ROSENBERG: Sure. So, here's the way to think about this. Since Trump became clearly MAGA in the 2017, 2018, you know Congress, Republicans have
struggled terribly in elections. We had a great election in 2018. We had a great election in 2020. We unseated an incumbent president and won the
Senate, which was hard to do in our system. And then, something very unusual has happened.
And in our system, when the party -- the party in power always loses seats when they're -- when they have the presidency. They lose congressional
seats. They lose Senate seats. They lose state legislative chambers all across the country. And in the last two years, the exact opposite has
happened. Something historic. We've defied history.
We had an extraordinary midterm where we actually gained a Senate seat. We gained governorships. We gained state legislative chambers all across the
country. And then, in 2023, we actually did better than we did in 2022. And we won in places like Ohio and Wisconsin that are difficult places for
Democrats to win.
And so, since Dobbs -- and it's my view that something really broke inside the Republican Party in the spring of 2022. And that since Dobbs happened,
the decision to end Roe v. Wade there's been a basic fundamental dynamic in our politics that's played out again and again in election after election,
which is that Democrats are overperforming expectations and polls and Republicans are underperforming. And you're even seeing that start to play
out here in early 2024.
AMANPOUR: I'm going to get into some of those detailed data and say -- but first, I want to ask you about the news. Because one of the main things you
say, Trump is a less attractive character and candidate today than he was in 2016.
Now, one of those things that Democrats feel is unattractive, but his supporters do not feel, is the 91 counts and the four indictments that he
has leveled against him. And now, that the federal appeals court has denied his desire to be given presidential immunity, saying that he is not immune
and that he can be prosecuted with all the rights of a defendant that he's just citizen Trump. Do you think that will impact, you know, whoever needs
to be impacted?
AMANPOUR: Obviously, it's potentially MAGA voters will, you know, come out for him as they have done in the past.
ROSENBERG: Yes, but I think what we're seeing in the early polling in Iowa and New Hampshire, which is what -- which is important because it's where
voters really had to pay attention, where ads were running, the candidates were campaigning.
Those -- the views that we saw in the polling in those early states really matter for 2024. And what we saw in both states was a sizable chunk of the
Republican electorate, 20, 30 percent depending on the way you look at it, who were unenthusiastic about ever supporting Trump, that if he had been --
if it was known that he was a criminal or that, you know, the -- all the problems that he's had.
I mean, in Iowa, Nikki Haley's voters -- more Nikki Haley voters, which was 20 percent of the electorate, said they would back Biden than Trump. We've
never had polling like that in generations in America, where one set of voters in one party were so willing to support the voter -- you know, the
candidate of the other party.
Trump has demonstrated a lot of very early weakness. The turnout in Iowa was anemic, far less than they expected. There was not a lot of enthusiasm
for him there. In New Hampshire, he came in 10 to 15 points below public polling and underperformed dramatically in New Hampshire. He's had two very
weak performances so far.
And this goes back to my basic take, which is that when people are actually voting in election after election all across the U.S. since the spring of
2022, we've done better than expected and Republicans have struggled. And I think there is -- I think that Donald Trump is a far weaker candidate today
than he was in 2016 or 2020 for a whole host of reasons, right? His performance is diminished.
But importantly, getting to what you were asking, Christiane, I'll do this quickly, is that there's going to be six things that voters know about him
in this election that they didn't know about him in 2020. One, that he raped a woman in a department store dressing room. That's been litigated
and decided by a jury of his peers. Second is he committed massive financial fraud, which is about to be, you know, finalized here in the next
few days. Third is that he led an insurrection and he's promised now to end American democracy for all time.
Fourth, that he stole America's secrets, lied about it to the FBI and shared those secrets with other people. Fifth, that his family's taken more
money from foreign governments than any political family in American history. And finally, he singularly was responsible for ending Roe.
We have six disqualifying events that have happened that we're going to be able to use as people in politics to be able to push him further and
further away from the electorate, which is why I'm so optimistic that we can win this election this year.
AMANPOUR: So, with all that data that you've just given us --
AMANPOUR: -- would you explain then for people who are completely confused about the polls, why then do polls give him such a lead sometimes, a little
bit of a lead other times, Biden a little? I mean, it's really difficult to understand what the lay of the land is.
ROSENBERG: I agree with that. And I don't envy anybody trying to figure out our crazy system from abroad. This is a hard thing for those of us in
the system every day to make sense of. But the way to think about it is, the polling is showing today, to be fair, a close competitive election.
Trump is not definitively ahead. I mean, if you -- just in the last 10 days, there have been four major national polls showing Biden actually
gaining significantly. In three of them, he's actually substantially ahead.
So, the way I view it is we're looking at a close competitive election today, which is not surprising, because one party is having a real primary,
the other party -- our party, isn't really having a real primary.
It's not surprising that Republican voters are showing up more in the polling. That there's more intensity for Republicans in the polling, which
is, I think, making the polling a little bit more Republican than it would be -- than it will be unless, say, three or four months when Democratic
voters recognize that it's going to be Trump and Biden, and it's going to be time to engage.
You know, we've had this very unusual thing, where one party is having an election and the other party really isn't at the end of the day. And so,
the polling has been a little bit more Republican than, I think, it will be. But we'll see.
Look, we have a lot of work to do. I'm not sitting here being Pollyannish and telling you everything's going to be great. You know, we've got work to
do to win this election. But I would be -- you know, where I'm sanguine about what we're seeing is that I do believe that once the ad start and the
shooting starts in our system, we have a strong -- Joe Biden has a very strong argument to make for reelection. The country is clearly better off
than when he came to office, and Republicans have the most unfit disgraced person to run for president in our history. I think we should be able to
win this election.
AMANPOUR: So, the ads have started. And the opposition and people are saying that one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest, basically, it's
the economy and the border, immigration.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you about the current, I don't know what to call it. The current debacle in Congress over the Democrats agreeing to a
very far-reaching immigration in order to have the aid to Ukraine and Israel unblocked. And yet, now the Senate, and certainly the House, are not
going to pass it.
So, this is what Former Vice President Al Gore said to me about this particular issue. And I wanted to get your take afterwards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Now, Donald Trump says, oh, no, no, don't do that because the worst things are the better my chances in the
election. So, don't solve this crisis. If you balance the interests of the United States of America against this petty political desire to have a, a
disaster to enhance the election results, that's a pretty easy choice to make, isn't it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, what is your take? Do you think the Republicans will be blamed for scuttling a border deal, an immigration deal, that was very kind
to the conservatives, as it's been -- you know, as it's been reported, or not?
ROSENBERG: Yes. I think it's really important for political observers abroad to understand that the Republicans are not necessarily operating in
a place based on polling and strategy. Their leader is an impulsive, out of control, you know, diminished figure.
And I think what you're seeing is that this is a sign of desperation for them. They know they're -- they know that he's damaged goods. They haven't
been performing well in the elections. Their party is broke and out of money. They're having enormous issues with the operations of the party.
He's getting crushed in the courts right now.
And so, I think this is a sign of desperation. Because the biggest challenge the Republicans have right now is that all their major talking
points against Joe Biden, the economy was terrible That's not true. Inflation is too high, that's no longer true. Crime is rising, that's not
true, He's waged a war on energy, that's not true, right?
The core of their indictments of Biden have all evaporated because of Biden success as president. So, what they were left with was this border stuff.
And now, they've actually done something that I think is incredible, which is they're going to be campaigning on this idea that they want more
immigrants to come into the country, the border being chaos, and they want Putin to win in Russia. Good luck trying to run on that platform in this
country at this point. It's an absurdity.
So, this area where they had an advantage over us, I think they're blowing it and they're now giving us the ability to bludgeon them with not solving
a problem that they have argued aggressively is a huge crisis. So, I think the key here to recognize is that nothing you're witnessing here coming
from the Republican Party right now is from strength and power and confidence. It's desperation. They're weak. They're losing the election, in
my view, or will lose the election, and they're starting to do crazy things.
And so, it's -- that's how I see this playing out. I am shocked at what the Republicans have done in the last couple days. They've come out against the
border, you know, the border union, which is a core right-wing part of their coalition, has come out for the deal. "The Wall Street Journal" today
editorial page came out for the Senate deal. I mean, they're now going up against core parts of their coalition.
And this is why I think -- the last thing I'll say about this is I think the way to think about what we're seeing in the early days is the
Republican Party is splintering in the United States. The coalition is splintering. The non MAGA part of the party, which is 20, 30 percent,
didn't go along with Republican -- Trumpy Republican candidates in 2022. They didn't go along with Trumpy Republican candidates in 2023. And I think
they're going to really struggle to go along with this super Trumpy candidate in 2024.
AMANPOUR: And just finally, so that it doesn't sound too Pollyannish.
AMANPOUR: You said work has got to be done and Biden has said work has got to be done.
AMANPOUR: There is a feeling that the message that you're articulating is not being articulated by his people, by him yet, even to the point that
he's not -- he's going to sit out an incredible exposure, and that is the Super Bowl interview where presidents usually, you know, get their chance
to have a pretty friendly interview.
ROSENBERG: So, I will just say that I think the Biden campaign is not as far along as I think many of us would like. And that, you know, given the
gravity of this election and given Trump's capacity to create noise and distraction and dictate the daily discourse in the United States, we're
going to have to be very loud and very aggressive.
And I worked in the Clinton war room in '92 and, you know, I was, you know, trained as a young information warrior, as we call it in our politics, and
we're going to -- we've got -- we're up against a very loud and noisy machine on the other side, and we've got to start getting loud and being
And I think the Biden campaign is slowly, you know, getting to the point where it needs to be. I don't think they're going to be fully up and
running for another six to eight weeks, which in our system is a long time. I know for many countries, the entire-election is six to eight weeks.
But I think you're going to start to see -- by March, you're going to start to see really the full general election campaign. And it's -- and I think -
- you know, look, I think that Biden has a very strong case for reelection. I think we -- I assume that we're going to hear the beginnings of the
second term agenda in the State of the Union in early March.
And you put Biden up the slow and steady leadership, workhorse, not a show horse, clearly made the country better against this wild, unfit, you know,
crazy party. I think we should -- you know, my view is having done this now for more than 30 years, we should win this election in 2024. We should flip
the House. The Senate will be up for grabs until the very end. But I'm very bullish in our chances this year.
AMANPOUR: Really interesting perspective. Simon Rosenberg, Democratic strategist, thank you so much.
ROSENBERG: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And when we talk about leadership, we go now to the war in Gaza, where U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken continues his shuttle
diplomacy through the Middle East, trying to reach a ceasefire and a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas.
He's now in Qatar, where at a press conference, the prime minister says Hamas has given a positive response to a framework agreement. And here's
what Blinken said in response to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Together with Qatar and Egypt, we put forward, as you know, a serious proposal that was aimed at not simply
repeating the previous agreement, but expanding it.
As the prime minister just said, Hamas responded tonight. We're reviewing that response now. And I'll be discussing it with the government of Israel
There's still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Hamas has also put out a long statement saying that it has dealt with the proposal in "a positive spirit." Meanwhile, it also announced that
a senior commander was killed over the weekend in an Israeli airstrike on a property in Deir al-Balah in the center of the Gaza Strip, along with 13
members of his family.
Our correspondent, Nada Bashir, has more on the fighting in this area, where more civilians were killed in a separate attack on a mosque. And we
know, of course, there is a humanitarian disaster there and a climbing death toll. And you'll find some of these images disturbing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Surrounded by chaos and panic, the wounded lay quiet. This little girl's pain, masked by shock. It is all too
much. This mother shields her child's eyes from horror, telling him, don't look.
In the morgue at the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, the bodies of those who did not survive lay shrouded on the ground. The tiles beneath still bloodied.
A doctor here says at least 14 were killed as a result of a series of airstrikes by the Israeli military on this mosque in Deir al-Balah, in
central Gaza. In response to questions from CNN, the Israeli military says, it takes feasible precautions to mitigate civilian harm in its war on
Locals here are left to sift through the rubble, retrieving fragments of bodies. Those killed said to have been leaving the mosque following morning
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This neighborhood is full of people who've been displaced, all taking shelter in schools. Clearly,
there's nowhere safe anymore, not our mosques, not our schools, not in the streets. Nowhere in Gaza is safe.
BASHIR (voice-over): But just as there is no escape from the airstrikes, it seems there is also no escape from grief. The families of Gaza's latest
victims, old and young, left to share in their unending mourning.
Elsewhere, in this hospital in Central Gaza, at least 20 women and children have arrived seeking safety, forced to flee once again after being ordered
by the Israeli military to evacuate their shelter in Gaza City.
WALLA AL-ARBEEL, DISPLACED GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): The Israelis came and surrounded us with tanks. We were not able to go out.
There was no food, no drinks, no water. We were not even able to turn on the lights. We were scared they would see us.
ISRAA AL-ASHKAR, DISPLACED GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): They took all the men and started beating them. They stripped their clothes off and
took them to the tanks. After that, they told all the women to go down to the basement and they deployed explosives. They wanted to lock us in and
then blow up the whole building. They wanted to kill us. We told them that we are civilians, that there are children with us, that we have done
nothing to deserve this. We begged them, and then they agreed to let us out.
BASHIR (voice-over): Troubling accounts like this shared with CNN by several women forced to flee Central Gaza.
The Israeli military has admitted it is detaining, questioning and stripping people it has identified as "terror suspects," but says they are
treated in accordance with international law. The military did not, however, respond to questions around the women's other allegations.
What comes next for these families and for all in Gaza is unclear. But there is little hope left. In Rafah, now home to more than a million
Palestinians, tent cities for the displaced continue to grow. This region, once said to be a safe zone, now facing relentless airstrikes.
Israel's defense minister has warned that troops will soon enter the southern city. They say targeting terrorist infrastructure. But there are
deepening fears over the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe and the looming threat of untold bloodshed in the South.
Nada Bashir, CNN, in London.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And just to note, since Hamas killed and slaughtered 1,200 people on October 7th inside Israel, civilians mostly, there have been,
according to the Palestinian health authorities, 27,000 Palestinians killed since October 7th.
Now, we turn to wider regional tensions. Yemen's Houthi leader vows further escalation if the war on Gaza doesn't stop. They claim their attacks on Red
Sea shipping are in solidarity with the Palestinian people there. And continued U.S. and U.K. strikes have not deterred them.
The Houthis certainly have experienced in weathering these strikes under years of a Saudi-led campaign against them.
Hisham Al-Omeisy knows this group very well, because in 2017, they detained him in the capitol Sana'a and held him for months. He's joining us now with
some analysis from Washington D.C. Welcome to the program.
Before I ask you about your particular, you know, encounter with them, tell us a little bit about who the Houthis are and why, after now weeks of
attacks against -- you know, against their military emplacements, it hasn't deterred them?
HISHAM AL-OMEISY, SENIOR ADVISER, EUROPEAN INSTITUTE OF PEACE AND YEMEN CONFLICT EXPERT ONCE HELD CAPTIVE BY HOUTHIS: Thank you. Well, to begin
with, the Houthis are a rebel group. They're a theocratic police state. And they've been hoping for this opportunity, for this confrontation with the
U.S. for a while now, for almost 30 years. They've been claiming that they've been fighting the colonial imperialist powers in the region. So,
this actually provided them with a golden opportunity.
And the strikes are not that effective against them. If anything, it's actually fueling their anger. It's actually galvanizing them. But also,
because their weaponry is very dispersed across mountainous ranges. And they're also locally producing some of those missiles.
Yes, components are coming from Iran. Components are coming from elsewhere. The trainers are coming from Hezbollah. But again, they have the local
capacity to rebuild and restock those piles. So, we are stuck in a loop of tit for tat that can go on for a very long period of time.
AMANPOUR: And of course, after the U.S. strikes on Iraq and Syria and on the Iran-backed militias there over the weekend, you know, everybody's
talking about how much control and direction Iran gives to its proxies in the so-called axis of resistance.
So, from your experience, what are the relative, you know, dependencies of these proxies on Iran?
AL-OMEISY: I think there's a bit of exaggeration, because a lot of people claim that Iran has very strong control over the Houthis when, in fact, the
Houthis have a longer leash.
The Houthis, yes, they're very well backed by the Iranians. They owe their rise to the Iranians. But the thing is that they also have their own
mindset. They follow the same playbook. They are -- they organize under the same axis of resistance, but they have their own objectives, their own
This is why they've been basically expanding within Yemen. They've been adopting their own narratives. They have their own religious tone,
rhetoric. And also, they have their own command and control centers that are dispersed across Yemen, which is also making it really difficult for
the U.S. and the U.K. to kind of debilitate their military locally. But again, Iran, though, backs the Houthis, it does not fully control the
AMANPOUR: And can I ask you, because a lot of people, including in the United States, are busy receiving Houthi information war propaganda,
whatever you want to say, TikTok videos and a lot, they have really managed to penetrate in the, you know, really indispensable sphere, which is the
How on earth did that happen from one of the most impoverished and, you know -- I mean, it's just, Yemen has been through so much. It's been
bombarded. It's terribly poor. It has -- you know, its people survive on international assistance. How does that develop one of the most
sophisticated propaganda machines in this war?
AL-OMEISY: Because, you have to remember, you're talking about Yemen. And as you mentioned, we're going through a humanitarian crisis where almost 80
percent of the population is in need of aid. There's a high level of illiteracy. But also, it's a very tribal area.
And on top of that, people have went through a devastating nine-year war. Grievances are deep. Emotions are high. Houthis are actually really good at
weaponizing those grievances. At basically pinning every Yemeni issue, Yemen's woes, against external foes. And where, in a country, people are
not big fans of foreign interventions, it is very easy to make them coalesce around and fight against the local -- the foreign invader, if you
will, the colonial imperialists.
And this is why the Houthis were very good at basically painting the U.S., the U.K., as they call it, the greatest Satan. And pitching themselves as
the vanguards of the Muslim and the Arab nation. The events in Gaza actually kind of fueled also that narrative, because now, to Yemenis being
bombarded with these images that are coming out of Gaza with women, children suffering, dying, the Houthis turn around and tell the Yemenis,
see what the West is doing. This is the real face of the West. Come and fight with us against these imperialists, against these colonials.
And of course, they kind of add some religious text, some Quranic verses to it as well, to kind of heighten those emotions and galvanize support. And
also recruit, enhance their recruitment drives. And that worked very well for them.
AMANPOUR: Yes, Hisham Al-Omeisy, as you know better than I do, there is a massive unresolved fight between the Houthis and the other group, which is
the internationally recognized group. And you came a cropper, right?
How did you run afoul of the Houthis when you were in Yemen and what happened to you? What kind of people are they? What kind of an opposition
were they before all of this?
AL-OMEISY: The Houthis are really good at capturing opportunities. The way they actually came into Sana'a and hijacked the government was riding on a
popular wave of discontent.
We had a lot of issues with the local government. There was a lot of nepotism, a lot of corruption. The Houthis came in and promised social and
structural reform. But when they came in, they became the very monster they promised to fight against, and they became a very repressive regime.
And when they took over, they promised equality. They promised to fight poverty, but they actually brought over poverty. They actually brought over
crime. They actually brought over repression. And when I was in Sana'a and I was basically kind of pointing out towards facts like, we are suffering -
- 80 percent of the population is suffering, but the Houthis are eating well. They're living lavishly.
And I got multiple warnings from the Houthis and their followers that I should keep my mouth shut, that I should also focus on the Saudi-led
coalition, because the Saudi-led coalition was also actually committing a lot of crimes also in Yemen, with the bombardment of schools, orphanages,
basic infrastructure. But I also wanted to highlight the issues with the Houthis, and that did not sit well with them. They tolerated that for a
while. But eventually, they basically kidnapped me and forcibly disappeared me.
And this is happening now again. This is the thing. Everybody's focusing on the Houthis and what they're doing, coming to the defense of Gaza, which is
fine. But the thing that does not -- basically should not whitewash what the Houthis have done and continue to do. The Houthis are again riding a
popular wave of discontent now, not just locally, regionally, with the events in Gaza, with the lack of action in Gaza.
But what people need to understand is that they also have their own ulterior motives. They have their own agendas. And they're trying to
achieve their own goals. This is not just about coming to the aid of Gaza.
AMANPOUR: Hisham Al-Omeisy, thank you very much, indeed, for that analysis.
Turning now to a brutal practice still carried out around the world, including in Yemen, female genital mutilation.
This is International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, and we're focusing on Sierra Leone, West Africa. where more than 80 percent of women and girls
have gone through it. But in this special report for CNN's "As Equals," Correspondent David McKenzie meets an activist who's battling to change
that. And of course, we must note that viewers will find some of these images disturbing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across Sierra Leone, there's a hidden horror.
MCKENZIE: What's happening?
RUGIATU TURAY, FOUNDER, AMAZONIAN INITIATIVE MOVEMENT: We are going to Cambia. There is an incident of a young girl that died after initiation.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): We're traveling with activist Rugiatu Turay. Her life's work is ending female genital mutilation, or FGN. Traditionally, the
cutting is kept secret in the initiation to the all-female Bondo society.
A society that is a rite of passage for girls and young women, where they also learn valuable skills from members.
TURAY: Somebody grabbed me at the back and they seized me naked.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): Turay was excited about joining the Bondo society. When she was just 11, she learned the truth.
TURAY: I felt the sharp cuts. I started fighting. And when I woke up, I saw my sisters, the two of them, on the floor bleeding. I could not walk
for seven days because I lost so much blood.
MCKENZIE: Did you already think then that this should stop?
TURAY: It was from that experience that I started talking to my friends.
Good morning, good morning.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): Talking to anyone who will listen.
TURAY: Just yesterday we got this information about this 13-year-old girl.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): In the holding cells, the girl's own mother, police arrested her, the cutter or sowei, and her grandmother. Arrests like these
in Sierra Leone are extremely rare.
In the village where she died, most have fled. Afraid of the police, afraid of the consequences.
Salamatu (ph) Jalloh was just 13. Police believe she bled to death. She's been here alone for four days.
When I went inside and saw my daughter's body, I felt devastated, says her father. I didn't feel good. I'm confused. The stench is all over here.
TURAY: Why do parents still continue to subject their children to this pain? Parents that I know love their children so much. And they always
MCKENZIE: And why do they?
TURAY: They looked at the cutting as being the Bondo itself.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): To separate the two, Turay and her organization go village to village. She targets the soweis who are paid to cut, trains them
in new skills, convincing them to put down their knives and lead bloodless Bondo ceremonies.
Turay is slowly succeeding, where for decades, international organizations have failed.
TURAY: You cannot fight something you are not part of. I am part of the community. I know what they do. I know. I talk out of experience. They
understand me, I understand them.
TITY SESAY,'BLOODLESS BONDO' INITIATE: I run away because my mother and my aunt want me to join the Bondo with cuts.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): It's still up to brave young women like Tity Sesay to resist the social pressure and to convince others as well. But the U.N.
still estimates more than 80 percent of women and girls have gone through FGM here.
SESAY: The third is a tradition. I say this tradition is very wicked. This is a wicked tradition.
MCKENZIE: It's a huge mountain to climb still. Do you think you can climb that mountain?
TURAY: In Sierra Leone, we've gone too far climbing the hills. We've gone too far.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): Going far, building schools to educate and empower young girls. Helping soweis lead the charge to a better tradition.
Celebrating protecting their sisters and daughters.
TURAY: We will climb the mountain and all of us will be at the mountain top to say FGM has ended. And it will end in our generation as we speak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: David McKenzie there with such an important story. And as we know, FGM still continues even in the West in some local communities. And
there's a big battle by activists to stop it.
Next, how does randomness shape our lives from the personal to the geopolitical? Brian Klaas, a political scientist and professor at
University College London, is the author of the new book, "Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters."
Walter Isaacson speaks with him on what chaos theory can teach us about the way the world really works.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CO-HOST, AMANPOUR AND CO.: Thank you, Christiane. And Brian Klaas, welcome to the show.
BRIAN KLAAS, AUTHOR, "FLUKE ": Thanks for having me here.
ISAACSON: Your new book is called "Fluke." The subtitle is "Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters." Let's start by just explaining, what is
KLAAS: A fluke is a highly consequential event that happens by chance or is arbitrary or random. And so, I argue in the book that our world is
shaped by these and our lives are shaped by these much more than we imagine, but we just pretend otherwise because it's much nicer to imagine
that we have neat and tidy stories to make sense of our world and our own lives.
ISAACSON: Well, one example I think you use is the Arab Spring, a Tunisian vendor. Explain how that does that.
KLAAS: Yes, so you've got a sort of moment in the Middle East in late 2010, where there's a lot of people who are pretty angry at their
dictatorships. And all of a sudden, one of those angry people decides to light himself on fire in Central Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi. And this spark
creates a conflagration that basically consumes the entire Middle East, leads to several regimes collapsing, and then also, the Syrian civil war,
which hundreds of thousands of people died in.
And so, when you think about this, you think about, you know, would this have happened but for this trigger in Tunisia? And I think this is the sort
of way that our world works, is partly between order and disorder, where you have these trends and these sorts of aspects where you get towards
what's called the tipping point or the edge of chaos, and then a single thing can tip you over that edge and create an extremely consequential
event that shifts how the world works.
ISAACSON: Well, let me push back on talk about things which you address in the book, which is -- and let's take the Arab Spring. The world seemed
ready for that. As you said, there was all the kindling was there for it. Had that one Tunisian event not have happened, isn't it likely that there
still would have been an Arab Spring and that these random events actually don't cause things? They're just like the tiny spark and there'd be other
KLAAS: Well, I don't think so. And I think the nature of the spark matters as well, right? So, the visceral nature of this protest did create protest
movements in Tunisia, and then those spread further, right?
Now, what you are right about, and this is something I do explain in "Fluke," is that there's this thing called self-organized criticality or
the sand pile model, which I'm borrowing from physics, which helps make sense of how these triggers or avalanches can be produced.
So, if you imagine sort of adding a grain of sand to a pile over and over and over, eventually, that pile of sand gets so tall that a single grain
can cause an avalanche. And what I'm arguing is that in the Arab Spring case, for example, the grain of sand, the sand pile was really, really
tall. So, it just took that one extra person to cause the collapse.
Now, I think there's a problem here because I think that we have designed a world that is particularly prone to these avalanches because the sand pile
is extremely high by design. And what I mean by that is that you have this sort of system that operates with optimization and efficiency as its main
priorities. And this means that we have no slack in the system.
So, you know, a couple of years ago, a gust of wind hit a boat in the Suez Canal and twisted it sideways. And it caused over $50 billion of economic
damage, which was never possible for one boat to do in the past. And so, you know, I think what we're doing is we're basically creating a world in
which those avalanches, those sparks, as I put them before, are more consequential and more likely to upend our social lives.
ISAACSON: So, is the problem the sand piles that have become precarious, or is the problem the one grain of sand that happens to come in?
KLAAS: So, it's both. And they couldn't exist without each other. Because, you know, if you have somebody like themselves on fire in Norway tomorrow,
it's not going to cause a revolution, because the system has slack and people are happy, right?
Now, in the Middle East, there are people who are unhappy with their dictatorships for a very long time, and there weren't mass protests and
there weren't large-scale civil wars, and then all of a sudden, they happened all at once.
I go through an example in the book of something similar to explain this dynamic of the onset of World War 1, which many historians have debated.
And I talk about the sort of, you know, the standard story is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, where he sputters to a stop
right next to his assassin. And that's the fluke that triggers the war.
Now, of course, you had to have all sorts of other things in place for that to actually happen. This series of alliances that made it more likely that
a single death could actually create a world conflict. But I also talk about in the book how he almost died in a hunting accident many months
before that when he was in England. And if that had happened, I don't know if World War I would have started. But I certainly know that it would not
have happened in the same way.
And I think what we often do is we have this sort of binary categories. The war starts or it doesn't. And actually, what I'm arguing through chaos
theory is that the way the war starts is also important. So, if it's triggered by an assassination or if the guy gets killed in an accident, in
a hunting accident, that will affect world history.
And I think instead what we try to do is impose these really, you know, sort of storybook narratives on how the world works. And they write out
this noise that I actually think is highly consequential in how the world works.
ISAACSON: One of the other examples you use is Donald Trump being at the White House correspondent's dinner and being the subject of a Barack Obama
scathing comic routine. And so, he decides to run for president.
Using that type of, OK, that was a fluke that had lots of consequences, doesn't that have a bit of a danger of people like me, who was covering
things at the time, we miss something big in this country, which was a deep resentment that was going to lead to somebody like Donald Trump, and for
that matter, Donald Trump was somehow or another going to get in this race one way or the other? Don't we miss the importance of the big forces when
we look for the flukes?
KLAAS: Yes. So, I agree with your highlighting there, because I think that one of the things that we do need to be aware of is how high the sand pile
is, to go back to the previous analogy, right? So, we have an obligation to explain our world with what I think are two things.
One is that sometimes there is much more arbitrary and accidental forces that do matter, right? And we're constantly told to focus on the signal and
ignore the noise. And the argument I'm making is that the noise actually has some pretty profound consequences for the way the world works. But it's
also thinking about why are we more prone to flukes than we are in the past, right? I think we've upended the way the situation in in sort of
global affairs has used to work compared to how it works today.
So, for example, when you think about, like, the vast stretch of human history, most people dealt with uncertainty in their daily life. They had
to deal with the question of, you know, how you find food, or whether you're going to be eaten by a saber-tooth tiger, but the world didn't
change that much year to year.
And what we have now is we have a world where, you know, Starbucks is always the same, but democracies are collapsing and rivers are drying up.
And I think that to your point -- to your question is suggesting that we've created a world with less slack So that you have these long-term trends
that create worlds in which flukes can actually have high, high consequences.
So, if we had dealt with the problem of the lingering resentment in the American public, then Trump might have had a joke told about him. He might
have run for office and he would have gotten 0 percent of the vote. So, I think that the combination of order and disorder or flukes on these long-
term trends, they're the way that the world actually works.
And I think what we do instead is we tend to focus on the sort of big explanations, the long-term explanations for social change, and I think
these pivot points that can start with a joke do actually change the world.
ISAACSON: You say that one of the mistakes we make in looking at history or looking at our times is that we impose -- I'm not sure you use the word
imposed, but we have a narrative arc that we tend to believe in, and that leads us to believe in conspiracy theories. Explain that to me.
KLAAS: Yes. So, humans are basically pattern detection machines, right? We've evolved to have brains that latch on to patterns. And that's because
having a false positive, where you think there might be a saber-toothed tiger lurking in the grass when you see it, you know, rustling, that's not
going to lead to your death. But if you have a false negative where there is a pattern and you don't detect it, so you see rustling in the grass and
you don't think there's a tiger there, you will die.
So, evolution has basically overengineered our brains to be sensitive to patterns. Now, this relates to conspiracy theories because sometimes random
events happen, and also sometimes small changes can have really big impacts, and our brains are basically allergic to that line of thinking.
So, when you look at something like Princess Diana's death, which was a big moment in British history, there is this sort of resistance to the idea
that you have, you know, a small, banal car accident causing these major events in geopolitics or in world affairs.
And the same is true for QAnon. When you think about, you know, conspiracy theories like QAnon, it's a story that makes sense of this sort of hidden
truth, of a hidden pattern that you can be inducted into. And the debunkers, the people who tell you facts about the conspiracy theory,
they're telling you there is no story, right?
And so, our brains are much more likely to gravitate towards not just a story, but a really good story. I mean, the story is a thriller if it were
fictionalized. And so, I think this is the danger about conspiracy theories is that we tend to make sense of these sort of seemingly unrelated data
points with a stitching together that ends up being a really seductive conspiracy theory, and it's one of the reasons why they're so sticky.
I mean, one of the problems we have is it's so hard to debunk them because you're telling the storytelling animal, which is what humans are. Ignore
the story. There is no story. And I think that's one of the ways that is most useful to think about the persistence of these theories that sway our
politics and unfortunately, creates real world action based on the lie.
ISAACSON: When it comes to the reach of conspiracy theories, how does the U.S. compare to the rest of the world?
KLAAS: The U.S. has more of a problem with conspiracy theories than other peer countries. And that's because politicians have popularized them more
than in other peer countries. So, I live in the U.K. I'm from the U.S. and you see a mainstreaming of conspiracy theories within political parties
more in the United States than in the rest of Europe and so on.
And so, I think this is a danger that does exacerbate the problem when elites or people who are in politics start to peddle conspiracy theories as
a way to win votes, and that is a uniquely American phenomenon. Not that is -- that's a phenomenon that's much more prominent in the United States than
in other peer democracies.
ISAACSON: And has it gotten worse in terms of conspiracy theories? Or is it no worse than it was during the Salem witch trials?
KLAAS: So, we've always been pattern detection machines. The difference is how we get information. So, when you think about the internet, I think
there's a really profound shift that the internet has produced, which has never happened before.
So, every other form of technological revolution around information has expanded the number of people who can consume information, right? So, the
printing press, the radio, the television, et cetera, all of that created a larger audience. But the people who could produce information and theories
about the way the world works was still pretty small. And you had to actually seek out conspiracism in -- you know, in the distant past. It was
harder to get.
Whereas now, because anyone can produce information and it can spread really, really fast on the internet, you have the proliferation of
conspiracy theories that were exposed to more often, and algorithms that often amplify them.
So, a person who would not have sought out a conspiracy theory in the past is now being shown one by design from, you know, tech algorithms and so on.
And so, I don't think it's that we've changed, I think it's the way that our information pipelines operate has shifted. And that's made them more
influential in modern politics.
ISAACSON: One of the ways people think about how history changes is partly grand forces, it's partly the role of people, it's partly as you do in this
book, the role of flukes. But there's also, as you've described in the book, the role of technology. That suddenly movable type printing comes
along and you can have a reformation way in Europe. Tell me how your book fits into the role of what technology is doing to change our lives.
KLAAS: Yes. So, technology is a huge driver of change in the human experience, but I think that one of the things that we don't appreciate is
how timing of technology also matters, right? So, I do use this example in the book where I talk about the printing press and how it locked in the
English language of this specific snapshot in time, and the language has changed a lot less since then, because the technology solidified how the
written word had to be printed, right? It became standardized.
Now, I think about this a little bit with the pandemic right now, right? So, let's imagine that the exact same virus mutated in Wuhan in 1985. The
economy would have been radically different compared to how it unfolded in the 2020 pandemic, because working from home on Zoom was impossible in
So, technology is one of these things that has these grand forces. And yes, there's going to be innovation. Some of them are going to happen
regardless, because it's just going to work. And I think that, you know, some innovations are inevitable. Fire was always going to be discovered by
humans. The timing might have been a little bit different. But the moment of the discovery, I think, is really important, as is the person who
And I think, for example, smartphones would have unfolded a little bit differently if Steve Jobs had not been one of the people who was behind
their innovation and popularization. So, you know, I think there's a sort of interplay between these grand forces, these individuals, these
accidents, and the moments, or the eras in which the technology emerges. And all of the matter. I think if you just hold one of them constant, you
don't actually have the exact same world unfold.
ISAACSON: One of the great technological forces that's about to hit us, or has already hit us, is artificial intelligence, especially personal A.I.,
where everything can be personalized. I can use chatbots, and news organizations can, or people who are trying to run political campaigns can.
How is that going to fit into your theory?
KLAAS: Yes. So, I think it's a danger. And the reason I think it's a danger is, you know, you go back to the philosopher David Hume several 100
years ago. He basically raised this problem of how can you know that the past -- the patterns of the past are going to be predictive of the patterns
of the future? And that was already something people were worried about with reason in the past.
Now, I think they have even more reason to be worried about it because our world is changing so quickly. And yet, A.I. is still trained on past
patterns, right? I mean, this is the kind of stuff where machine learning is derived from training data and it says, this is how the world works.
The problem is, you can start to get into trouble, A, if you think that you have certainty in an uncertain world, which I think we do, and A.I. doesn't
solve that problem. And B, if you think that the past patterns will be predictive of the future, and then the world shifts, right?
And all of us understand this idea intuitively because, you know, meteorologists will tell us, oh, there was 100-year flood. And we say, OK,
why is there 100-year flood every three years now? It's because the underlying cause and effect patterns have shifted.
And so, if A.I., you know, development is not careful to this problem, I think we can engineer a world of false certainty of hubris around these new
tools that gets us into serious danger that's avoidable.
So, I'm -- I think A.I. is going to be exceptionally good at solving problems in what I call closed systems. You know, medical diagnoses, for
example. But it might have some dangers embedded in it with open systems where the past and the future are not aligned. And the training data of the
past is actually very misaligned with the underlying cause and effect dynamics in a different world that's unfolding as we speak.
ISAACSON: How can an understanding of the role of flukes lead us to have a more resilient society, and let me even add a more resilient personal life?
KLAAS: Yes, I like this question because, you know, I think differently about the world and my own life having written this book. I was not the
same person three years ago. And the reason for that is because I think I - - you know, I grew up in the U.S. where I was sort of told you have to sort of just make your own path. This sort of individualist mindset, the
American dream and so on. And it's a culture that is extremely focused on control, right?
And I describe in the book how I was living, you know, what I described as a checklist existence. And I think when you start to think about the role
of these forces that are sometimes arbitrary, accidental, and random, and also the chaos theory, the ripple effects of our decisions, it starts to
liberate you a little bit, right? It starts to make you feel like, you know what, it's maybe OK if I don't have so much top-down control. And that's
what I've internalized as a lesson from the book.
In terms of society, I think the main lesson is resilience. I think that we have the tools to give us the illusion of control more than ever before.
Because we have so much predictability and stability in our daily lives that we start to think that our world is also stable. And in fact, it's the
opposite. The stability in our daily lives is happening at the same time as the world is changing faster and more profoundly than ever before in human
So, in my view, this is something where politicians, economists, et cetera, need to understand that they are creating a world without slack, and the
flukes are always going to be there. So, instead of imagining that we can have this top-down control, I think we have to have a little bit less
hubris and also accept the limits of what humans can and cannot control. And I think that's true for ordinary citizens as well as for politicians
who are calling the shots.
ISAACSON: Brian Klaas, thank you so much.
KLAAS: Thanks for having me on the show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And so interesting to reflect on how all those small chance happenings can actually change our lives.
And finally, tonight, sing me a song, suspended piano man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: No, no, that is not Billy Joel, it's the Swiss pianist, Alain Roche. Hanging 32 feet above the ground as dawn breaks in Munich.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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AMANPOUR: He's performing a piece that's called "Winter Solstice," which he plans on doing every morning before sunrise for more than a hundred
days, changing the music a little each day to reflect the sounds of nature moving with the seasons. Until finally, the piece will become "Summer
Solstice," when of course it'll be lighter and a few degrees warmer.
That is it for now. And make sure to tune in to the show later this week to catch our interview with the cast of the hit play "Kim's Convenience." It's
performing to sellout crowds at the Park Theatre here in London, and it's hoping, of course, for a West End run next.
And I'll speak to its creator and star, Ins Choi, as well as his cast members, Jennifer Kim and Miles Mitchell. We discuss why the play, which
became a hugely successful TV sitcom, is striking such a chord with audiences, and how it's also a step forward for Asian representation in the
If you remember, not rather, and remember, that if you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast and
can always catch us online, on our website, and all-over social media.
Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.