An Interview with Christiane Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour is the Global Affairs Anchor of ABC News, as well as an Anchor and Chief International Correspondent at CNN. Her breaking news dispatches and in-depth pieces enlighten audiences around the world about the most important events of our time, including the Arab Spring, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the race for the White House. She is also an active member of the Committee to Protect Journalists and on the board of the International Women’s Media Foundation. Christiane Amanpour spoke with Yale students on February 6th about her views and experiences. The following are exceprts taken from her on-stage interview with The Politic.

The Politic: There has been a lot of talk recently about a potential Israeli strike against Iran. The U.S is taking a more cautious approach and has instead been implementing economic sanctions. On the Colbert Report, you talked about the psychological warfare that has been taking place between the two countries. Could you talk a little more about that?

CA: I believe that there is a lot of psychological warfare going on from all sides. What is incredible is that for the past 30-35 years since the revolution, the United States has not had any diplomatic relations with the country that causes it some of the most challenges and problems, and which potentially could have been a partner and has been in the past. After 9/11, Iran helped, actually, in the transition from the Taliban to the democratic experiment there. At least since the early 90’s when the sanctions first began, there has been only one way of dealing with Iran. And that has been stick, stick, stick and no carrot meaning there have been only economic sanctions, and isolation in the hope that that would cause Iran to buckle. Now it hasn’t and we are now coming on ten or plus years on a policy that has failed. They are hurting, but it still hasn’t caused a change in behavior. But it is very unpopular in the United States, especially during a presidential election year, to talk about different measures such as incentives and potential, real negotiations such as trying to figure out this really severe problem in a way that could actually result in some fruitful change. The current strategy has not worked, so the question now is, will there be a military strike? It reminds me of the Iraq war where one set of sources were taken as the primary sources about the course of the war. There were many other voices who suggested that this war would not be as easy as some people were saying it would be. I would also say there is a very heightened level of tension and President Obama is under an enormous amount of pressure. Previous American Presidents have said that we will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Frankly, the Republican candidates have practically committed themselves to war if you listen carefully to what they have said during the debates. I also think though there are so many other voices who have said that it is not possible to do it without a serious retaliation and even if it is done, it would at very best delay, but not destroy or stop Iran from doing what it is doing. That assumes that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons because a nuclear program is allowed under the Non-Proliferation Treaty as long as they abide by some rules. I was able to sit down with some very top level Israelis and nobody yet can say for sure that Iran has taken a decision to militarize its program. There is no evidence from IAEA inspectors or other intelligence that any enriched uranium will be diverted from a civilian program to a military program. The worry for Israel, mostly since it lives so close, is that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon. They feel that they have to nab it before it actually gets out of “the zone of immunity” and Iran puts the operation further underground or is on the threshold of nuclear capability.

The Politic: You talk about this idea of moving from the stick to the carrot, but what does this stick and carrot combination look like?

CA: The metaphor is actually the basis for much successful negotiation. It involves taking the concerns of the other side seriously, when you can. Obviously the United States and the West have issues with Iran, not just with nuclear technology, but with their support of terrorism and position on the Israel/Palestine conflict. So Iran has to be required to give on those issues as well. But beyond that, in my conversations with the Iranian officials over the last many, many years, particularly during the reform years, I have found that Iran wants to have a different relationship with the United States with a “win-win solution.” They use the words “dignity,” they say “we will not be dictated to, we will not capitulate at all to you just telling us what we need to do.” Iran has legitimate security concerns which must be discussed, as other countries are threatening war with them. There’s another fear, of course, underlying Iran’s fears, which is that Israel and the United States are more concerned with overthrowing the regime than with any other issues I mentioned. They have seen many covert operations which helps explain their actions against U.S. citizens who have entered the country. When you have no diplomatic relations, you’re in a very tense situation. Nobody wants to see a nuclear Iran and nuclear arms race in that part of the world. But I just question the method of ensuring Iran does not go nuclear. And I’m also concerned, as a journalist, of the herd mentality setting in, of everybody going with what they believe is the inevitability of war causing them to glorify sources that bolster and justify that. As a journalist, I try to combat propaganda wherever it is and get to the truth, so I strongly believe that it is incumbent upon us to seek all of the sources possible, and talk to Iranian officials.

The Politic: What do you think the future of Egypt will be?

CA: I have a deeply optimistic view of the future. I think that Egyptians are like you and me. They span all ages, all classes, genders, and religions. Do I think that inevitably the fall of Mubarak has led to the fabric of democracy? Not quite yet. But I think they are on the right path. The military right now is the biggest problem. When everybody was so happy that Mubarak had stepped down, I said that they had now traded a military-backed president for the military.

The Politic: Do you see the military giving up power?

CA: No, not for the moment. They feel great pressure from the street. But they are acting just like the Mubarak regime. Whenever they feel under pressure, they blame foreigners and they round up a bunch of foreigners, in this case Americans, who they threaten to put on trial. It’s the same thing you see in Russia under Vladimir Putin: blame foreigners. The underlying concern about Egypt’s future is the role of Islamism in this part of the world. Again, I’m not as pessimistic as many people are. I do not foresee Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco becoming Iran, where a so called democratic revolution brought in a fundamentalist regime that stayed. We’ve interviewed the Islamists over and over again. They renounced violence a long time ago. The first wave of democracy in that part of the world will have the religious face because that’s the only place where people were able to organize. It was in the mosques.

The Politic: What implications do you think the change in government will have for relations with Israel?

CA: In terms of Israel, I think two things. I believe that the peace treaties between Egypt and Israel and Jordan and Israel will not be overturned. I’ve asked every one of these Islamic officials, and they’ve said, it’s a national treaty, and in our interests. Having said that, foreign policy in Egypt will pay much more attention to the street. So there will not be this wholesale doing what America wants, doing what Israel wants, without question. I’m not saying that they will turn as enemies toward Israel and the United States, but the street will have much more of a voice in foreign policy. If you were to be really pessimistic, you think it’s going to be Iran 1979 in 2012. If you’re optimistic, you are going to look at Turkey, which is Islamic but secular and has done as much as it can to thwart the power of the military and to be less authoritarian.

While the military was initially celebrated for their part in the overthrow of Mubarak, their hold on power has worried many democracy activists.

CA: I have to say after almost two months of this, I am absolutely disgusted. I was in Bosnia for years; I reported every single day on inaction in Bosnia that led to genocide. Men and women were being slaughtered in the age of satellite television and you could see it on the nightly news every single day. I also remember Rwanda, where inaction and lack of coverage led to a horrible genocide. While I hoped the situation in Syria might resolve itself in the first couple of months it is now imperative that the West intervenes somehow.

The Politic: What does that intervention look like?

CA: The West says we can’t do a NATO no-fly zone because the Syrians are not using aircrafts against their people. My view is that they have to continue to try to get Assad out. When the Secretary of State of the United States and the President of the United States say Assad must go, then that is a serious demarche. They have to then put some kind of power behind those slogans. As angry as you can be at China and Russia for failing to even condemn what the Syrian president is doing, it has to be more than just angry words. We’ve had these words from the White House and from the State Department for nearly eleven months and nothing has happened. So I think there has to be some change. Try to open humanitarian corridors for people to come out. Just keep the pressure up. I think there was a misguided impression that to interfere in Syria could lead to a civil war. If it’s not civil war now, I don’t know what it is. I also think there was an impression that Syria was too important to regional stability to mess with. Even the Israelis, as they said in a senior briefing the other day, believe Assad’s time is up, he’s got to go. And furthermore, they don’t believe his departure will be bad for Israel or the region. They don’t believe that a fundamentalist Islamic group is going to replace the Assad regime. I think that it is now unavoidable, unconscionable, and immoral not to intervene. And if the West disrupts Assad, it could also help them in other goals given their statements that Assad is an ally of Iran and Hezbollah. I think maybe Turkey can be prevailed upon to do more. When we were in Bosnia, there was a blanket United Nations arms embargo on everybody, designed to stop the better-armed Serbs army from attacking Muslim populations. But what it meant was the side with the advantage had that advantage entrenched, and the side with no weapons were lambs to the slaughter. And now the opposition in Syria, which has not really been militarized until they were forced to because they were under such sustained attack, needs to be armed. I don’t see any other way about it. If the West can act in Libya, then they need to act in Syria. 100%.

The violence in Syria has taken a toll on the country, especially in Homs which is pictured above.

The Politic: More generally, you have been talking about intervention, so do you have any specific idea for evaluating Obama’s foreign policy thus far? Do you have any thoughts about both Obama’s foreign policy and also on this idea of when intervention is justified?

CA: I believe in intervention but not in an intervention that is not thought out. My issue with intervention now after watching it for the better part of twenty years is that I do not believe that enough thought and patience has been given to coherent intervention. It is not just whack-a-mole and leave. When you commit forces, whether it is in the air, ground or sea, there has to be a coherent strategy and vision, which has benchmarks and time allotted to them. Unfortunately, the political system in the United States is not committed to that kind of patience. Ten years is a long time; the war in Afghanistan is the longest war the United States has fought. I submit that this war would have been over many years ago had the focus not changed to Iraq, and there had been a much more coherent civilian and military effort to stabilize Afghanistan. It was always a straw-man to say “Oh, we can’t do this because they don’t have a tradition of democracy and we can’t make a Jeffersonian democracy.” Nobody was asking you to do that. They are just asking to stabilize the country and make sure that your blood and treasure and effort and time is coherently spent so that after ten years when the country is rightly tired with war and when so many people have been killed, you don’t just pull out and see all that you have done potentially whittle away. For these reasons, I am also concerned about Iraq.

The Politic: You talk about the American political system contributing to a bad foreign policy. I would be curious to hear more about that. How can we change and adjust that system to better allow for a coherent foreign policy with a long-term focus?

CA: Foreign policy has grown too superficial in that often there isn’t enough time put into the really hard work. Nationbuilding has come to be a dirty word. Whatever your opinion on nation-building is now, it is clear that the Marshall Plan of post-World War II has benefitted the United States, creating a stable, democratic and strong Germany. The people of the United States are not vested enough in foreign policy as they are generally shielded from being involved in what it means to be a great power. We are at fault in the media because our bosses believe that you don’t care. Therefore, we have no intelligent strategy for reporting the matters that matter most to the people of this country. Others are at fault. The education system in this country believes that you don’t need to learn about what happens outside your borders until you come to a university. I could go to the least privileged corner of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran, or the slums of Nairobi, or dysfunctional failed state Somalia, and there kids as young as five or eight will tell me chapter and verse about what is going on in the United States. Yet that is not happening here. I strongly believe that unless the body politic – the people of the United States  – are invested in what is going on, it enables the politicians to get away with not doing the right thing. When President Clinton talked about the deployment of NATO forces in Bosnia, he talked about a year or six months of deployment. I thought to myself this is silly, this is a joke. He is only saying that because it is politically expedient, and sure enough, they were there for thirteen, fourteen years. The fact that you can only say I will intervene in this place for a limited time and then leave prevents this unbelievable superpower, with the best ideas and best ability to bring change to various countries, from fulfilling its promises and reaching its potential to create stable, productive nations.

The violence in Bosnia required a sustained U.S. intervention to overcome.

CA: It was very bad to be accused of not being objective, and still is bad, so when that was written about me in the New York Times I was stunned with tears in my eyes. I thought about it, and I was angry that that had been said, but I realized I had been objective. What I had done was told the truth, and I had not created false equivalencies between the aggressor and the victim. People had said that because they had felt very, very uncomfortable about what we had been reporting. It meant they had to do something, and they didn’t want to. Not the Clinton administration, not the British, not the French, not anybody that was involved wanted to make the hard decision that would require serious intervention. All they wanted to do was bring medicine to people who were being slaughtered at the end of the 20th century. These people looked just like us; they weren’t aliens. I often asked  – if they had been Christian

instead of Muslims how long would it have taken for intervention. In any event, it caused me to redefine my definition of objectivity. It means reporting the truth, it means giving both sides a fair hearing but not inferring that both sides are equal. It did not mean doing this dreadful thing, which people mistakenly think that objectivity is and what I abhor, that is giving both sides equal weight; especially when one side participates in a wholesale assault on international and humanitarian law through crimes against humanity. You don’t just go into a Bosnia or a Kosovo or a Syria and say “oh this is just a terrible civil war and we can’t do anything about it.” Usually that’s not the case. And when it came to Bosnia, the

Europeans said, “this is just centuries of ethnic hatred and both sides are equally guilty,” well that was just a lie. So we pointed out the lie and we were called impartial. I ask people who ask me, “what about using your objectivity?” Well, if I were reporting in Nazi Germany would I have said, “oh Mr.Hitler had a point.” No.


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