Former President Barack Obama in a CNN interview on Monday expressed concerns about the current state of American democracy and criticized the Republican Party for embracing Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
“We have to worry when one of our major political parties is willing to embrace a way of thinking about our democracy that would be unrecognizable and unacceptable even five years ago or a decade ago,” Obama told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Republicans have been “cowed into accepting” Trump-led conspiracy theories that the race was rigged, which culminated in the January 6 Capitol insurrection, he said.
During the 2020 campaign, several Republican lawmakers spread falsehoods about the election and eventually challenged the results in Congress, mere hours after a violent pro-Trump mob laid siege to the Capitol.
“I didn’t expect that there would be so few people who would say: ‘Well, I don’t mind losing my office because this is too important. America is too important. Our democracy is too important,'” Obama said. “We didn’t see that.”
Obama added that he never thought the “dark spirits” he witnessed forming within the GOP over his two terms as president – such as “xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, paranoid conspiracy theories, [and] an antipathy toward Black and brown folks” – would take over the party.
“I thought that there were enough guardrails institutionally that even after Trump was elected that you would have the so-called Republican establishment” push back on him, Obama said. He went on to cite examples of Republicans toeing the line with Trump, including when many refused to speak out against his 2017 comments that there were “fine people on both sides” of a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.
“That’s a little bit beyond the pale,” Obama said.
Obama’s comments came during a wide-ranging CNN interview, in which he also discussed divisions in the country related to race and the media.
“I’m still the hope and change guy. My hope is that the tides will turn,” Obama said.
With negotiations on a major infrastructure package likely to stretch into June, the White House is poised to blow past its self-imposed Memorial Day deadline, which was meant to ensure significant progress on a bipartisan plan.
Senate Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) are preparing to make a $1 trillion offer as soon as Thursday. Another bipartisan group of six senators that includes Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) are preparing another offer to President Joe Biden in case those talks stall.
Manchin is insisting on more time to secure a deal, saying on Tuesday “this is the long game, not a short game.” The White House want to approve a multi-trillion spending package to upgrade roads and bridges, in addition to setting up universal pre-K, tuition-free community college, and cash payments to families.
But some Democrats doubt Republicans’ genuine interest in giving Biden a bipartisan victory and are wary of the ongoing talks turning into a time-consuming dud. They cite huge differences that remain to be bridged on the size, scope, and basic definition of infrastructure. Democrats are anxious to shepherd along new economic programs using their thin majorities in the House and evenly divided Senate.
Their potential to drag into the summer is prompting comparisons to negotiations over a decade ago between President Barack Obama and Republicans on overhauling the healthcare system.
“When I read the comments from Sen. Manchin asking for more time, all of a sudden I had bad flashbacks to Obamacare where there was a push and pull between the desire for more time and the reality that Republicans were never going for it,” Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told Insider.
Max Baucus, a former Democratic senator and one of the architects of Obamacare, said in an interview he was getting “somewhat” a case of déjà vu seeing the infrastructure discussions unfold.
“I’d keep pushing forward as hard as I could, but there’s not much time left. I’d give it a month or so and then tell Schumer to push reconciliation,” the former Montana lawmaker said, referring to a legislative tactic available to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to approve some bills with only a simple Senate majority.
“I doubt you’re going to see much bipartisanship in the end”
In 2009, the Obama administration chased support from a bloc of moderate GOP senators for the plan that became the Affordable Care Act. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus spent five months trying to draw backing from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the panel, for a more “durable” health law.
That effort collapsed amid sharp disagreements on tax increases and whether Americans should be obligated to buy health insurance. Republicans stepped up their attacks and cast the healthcare bill as federal overreach, with Grassley falsely warning of the government “pulling the plug on grandma” at an Iowa town hall that August.
Anger over how voters perceived Obamacare contributed to major Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, one that lost the House for Democrats and effectively crippled the next six years of Obama’s legislative agenda. Now, Baucus sees his experience as a cautionary tale as Democrats attempt to forge ahead with a massive two-part package to reconfigure the economy with new spending on physical infrastructure, healthcare, and education.
“I doubt you’re going to see much bipartisanship in the end. Frankly, a lot of Republicans would rather not see a bipartisan bill,” Baucus told Insider. “They say they would, but deep down they don’t.”
Baucus said he believes next year’s midterms are already factoring into the negotiations, in the sense that a party-line reconciliation bill from Democrats would almost surely include tax hikes on the wealthy and large firms, and a lot of Republicans “are going to run against those tax increases in 2022.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in an interview he was “very concerned” about Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s endgame on infrastructure, pointing to his recent comment about being “100% focused” on thwarting the Biden administration. The GOP leader also made similar remarks early on in the Obama administration.
“I’m always going to try and get a bipartisan approach, but it’s certainly a bigger lift after a statement like that,” he said.
Yet other Democrats like Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said they weren’t troubled by the state of the discussions. “I think we’re on the timeframe that I always thought we’d be on,” he told Insider. “Thus far, it’s soliciting their opinions.”
Kaine continued: “Even if we go reconciliation, we will put things in that bill that will be extremely attractive to Republican governors, to Republican mayors, to Republican interest groups.” He said he thought it was possible for Democrats to “pick up votes we weren’t expecting.”
The White House used reconciliation to approve a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March. Biden met with Senate Republicans once in early February in a bid to broker a deal. But he ultimately abandoned those talks by the end of the month after they only put $618 billion on the table. No GOP lawmakers voted for the Biden stimulus law.
There are signs that Democratic leaders are loathe to avoid watering down bills for the veneer of bipartisanship. “Look at 200 where we spent a year and a half trying to get something good done, ACA, Obamacare, and we didn’t do all the other things that had to be done,” Schumer said on MSNBC in late January. “We will not repeat that mistake.”
Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that Democrats will move ahead with a “big bold plan” in July, suggesting reconciliation looms in the near future. Still, Capito said her GOP group would “not walk away” from the negotiating table anytime soon.
“I think you go as far as you can, but then there comes a time where the other side is just not seemingly negotiating in good faith, so you gotta stop and pass your own bill,” said Baucus.
Former President Barack Obama said in 2017 that the right-wing Tea Party movement consisted of “racist motherf—ers.”
That’s according to “Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaign to Defeat Trump,” an upcoming book by the journalist Edward-Isaac Dovere.
Obama made the comment near the end of the year, after the Obama Foundation’s holiday party in Chicago, the book said. He and his staff were winding down after the event, and they were picking his brain about the latest hurdles the Democratic Party was facing as well as other episodes he was writing about for his memoir, which was released earlier this year.
The former president’s staff “got him going by asking what it was like, after coming in working with Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein and other big bankers, to be made out as an anticapitalist by the Republicans,” the book said, referring to the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase and former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, respectively.
“Obama gave a long, reasoned answer,” Dovere wrote. “As for the Tea Party, Obama said, well, they were ‘racist motherf—ers.'”
Dovere’s book, which details the Democratic Party’s years-long effort to take down former President Donald Trump, contains several revealing anecdotes about what Trump’s predecessor thought of him.
“He’s a madman,” Obama once said of him. “I didn’t think it would be this bad.”
In another instance, he said, “I didn’t think we’d have a racist, sexist pig.” Other times, he would send emails to aides containing links to articles with the line, “Can you believe this?” He also referred to Trump as a “f—ing lunatic” and called him a “corrupt motherf—er” when it surfaced that Trump sometimes had phone calls with foreign leaders without any aides listening in.
Videos of the incidents were declassified in 2019 and the Department of Defense launched a special task force to investigate them last August. A report on the sightings is expected in June.
The former president said he asked about the topic when he became president.
“I was like alright, is there the lab somewhere where we’re keeping the alien specimens and spaceship? And you know, they did a little bit of research and the answer was no,” he joked.
Obama confirmed that there’s footage and records of unidentified objects in the skies.
“We don’t know exactly what they are, we can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so, you know, I think that people still take seriously trying to investigate and figure out what that is. But I have nothing to report to you today, ” Obama said.
Situation Room meetings about the 2011 mission to kill Osama bin Laden were titled “Mickey Mouse meeting” on official calendars to conceal their purpose, according to a new account of the raid.
Last Friday Politico published an oral history, written by Garrett M. Graff, of the bin Laden raid as told by 30 US political, military, and intelligence officials who were central to its success.
The officials said that in the run-up to the strike, which began on May 1, 2011 and concluded early the next day, many steps were taken to ensure that news of the raid didn’t leak.
Mike Morrell, who was deputy director of the CIA at the time, told Politico that the idea to label the meetings “Mickey Mouse meeting” came from John Brennan, then the White House homeland security and counterterrorism advisor.
“We also had the cameras and the audio in the Situation Room covered or turned off,” Brennan told the magazine.
Ben Rhodes, then-deputy national security adviser, also told Politico that he knew something serious was underway by looking at the titles of meetings listed on the Situation Room schedule.
“Suddenly, there was a very unusual pace of deputies – and principals – level meetings without a subject. I knew that there was something happening,” he said.
“At no other point in my eight years in the White House did that happen until 2016 with the Russian interference in the election.”
Former President Barack Obama was also keen to prevent any news of the mission getting out, especially if it ultimately went badly or failed.
On April 30, 2011, the evening before the raid began, Obama asked his speechwriter Jon Favreau to change a joke prepared for that night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where the president typically makes a speech mocking himself.
To hit back at GOP figures for mocking his middle name – Hussein – Obama was going to crack a joke in which he referred to “Tim ‘bin Laden’ Pawlenty,” Favreau told Politico.
“He’s like, ‘Why don’t we say his middle name is Hosni, like Hosni Mubarak?’ I remember just being like, ‘That’s not as funny.’ And Obama is like, ‘Trust me on this. I really think Hosni will be much funnier,'” Favreau said.
Dan Pfeiffer, then the White House communications director, said: “No one could figure out why Obama made that change. It seemed like a weird change.”
President Joe Biden on Sunday issued a statement marking 10 years since the raid that killed the terrorist leader, saying: “We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell – and we got him.”
At the time of the raid, Biden was serving as vice president under then-President Barack Obama.
“Ten years ago, I joined President Obama and members of our national security team, crowded into the Situation Room to watch as our military delivered long-awaited justice to Osama bin Laden,” Biden said in a statement. “It is a moment I will never forget – the intelligence professionals who had painstakingly tracked him down; the clarity and conviction of President Obama in making the call; the courage and skill of our team on the ground.”
He added: “It had been almost ten years since our nation was attacked on 9/11 and we went to war in Afghanistan, pursuing al Qaeda and its leaders. We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell – and we got him.”
After the 9/11 terror attacks, the US invaded Afghanistan to bring down the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. The execution of bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, was a major accomplishment for the Obama administration.
“We kept the promise to all those who lost loved ones on 9/11: that we would never forget those we had lost, and that the United States will never waver in our commitment to prevent another attack on our homeland and to keep the American people safe,” Biden continued in his statement.
Since bin Laden’s death, the US has reduced the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan, and Biden has committed to withdrawing troops from the country by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“As we bring to an end America’s longest war and draw down the last of our troops from Afghanistan, al Qaeda is greatly degraded there,” Biden said. “But the United States will remain vigilant about the threat from terrorist groups that have metastasized around the world.”
He added: “We will continue to monitor and disrupt any threat to us that emerges from Afghanistan. And we will work to counter terrorist threats to our homeland and our interests in cooperation with allies and partners around the world.”
Biden ended his statement by thanking the service members that have valiantly fought to protect the US.
“We will continue to honor all the brave women and men, our military, our intelligence and counterterrorism professionals, and so many others, who continue their extraordinary work to keep the American people safe today,” he said. “They give their best to our country, and we owe them an incredible debt of gratitude.”
As president, Barack Obama thanked Adm. William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who oversaw the raid that took down Osama bin Laden, by giving the military leader a tape measure.
While the unusual gift was reported in 2011 a few days after the May mission, both the former president and the retired admiral recounted the inside joke in more detail in their respective memoirs.
The bin Laden raid was executed by members of SEAL Team Six, who, after a great deal of planning and preparation, slipped into Pakistan early on May 2 (local time) and eliminated the man behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
When the SEALs returned to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, with bin Laden’s body after the early-morning raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, McRaven, who was then the head of Joint Special Operations Command, contacted Obama via video teleconference.
“McRaven explained that he was looking at the body as we spoke, and that in his judgement it was definitely bin Laden,” Obama wrote in his 2020 book, “A Promised Land.” “To further confirm, McRaven had a six-foot-two member of his team lie next to the body to compare his height to bin Laden’s purported six-foot-four frame.”
“Seriously, Bill?” Obama recalled himself joking to the admiral. “All that planning and you couldn’t bring a tape measure?” He wrote that it was the first light-hearted thing he’d said all day.
McRaven wrote in his book “Sea Stories” that when he and some fellow SEALs pulled bin Laden’s body out of the bag in Afghanistan after the Operation Neptune Spear raid, he took a look at the remains, noting to himself that the dead man was tall, just as bin Laden was said to be.
He turned to one of the special operators nearby, a tall sniper, and asked, “Son, how tall are you?” He caught the SEAL off guard and had to repeat the question, to which the SEAL replied, “Six foot two.”
“Good,” McRaven said. “Lie down next to the body.”
Apparently confused, the operator asked, “You want me to lie down next to the body?” The admiral repeated it, and the SEAL did as told. It was visibly clear the dead man was roughly 2 inches taller.
Talking to Obama over video afterward, he told the president: “Sir, I can’t be 100 percent sure until we do the DNA tests, but it certainly looks like him, and all the physical features match.”
He added: “While his face was contorted from the impact of the rounds, I did have a SEAL, who was over six foot two, lie down beside the body, and the remains were at least six foot four.”
He said there was a noticeably long pause after he made his remarks.
“So let me get this straight, Bill,” McRaven recalled Obama saying at the time. “We could afford a sixty-million-dollar helo, but we couldn’t afford a tape measure.”
“I had no comeback and I didn’t need one,” McRaven wrote. “The smile on the President’s face said it all. It had been a good night, and just for a moment we could laugh about it.”
After returning to the US, the admiral visited the Oval Office, where Obama, according to his book, offered him not only a “heartfelt thanks for his extraordinary leadership” but also a tape measure that the president had mounted to a plaque.
President Joe Biden is set to hit 100 days since his inauguration on Friday, and poll after poll shows that most Americans approve of the job he’s doing as commander-in-chief.
Biden’s approval rating in multiple polls is also far higher than where President Donald Trump’s favorability stood at the same point in his tenure.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found 55% of Americans approved of Biden’s performance in office, while 40% disapproved. Comparatively, the same poll from the final week of Trump’s first 100 days found a majority of Americans disapproved of the job he was doing (53%), with his approval rating at just 41% at the time. Throughout his time in office, the numbers-obsessed Trump never saw an approval rating in Reuters polling as high as Biden’s current level of support.
Meanwhile, recent Gallup polling put Biden’s 100-day approval rating at 57%, which far surpasses Trump’s approval rating of 41% back in late April 2017.
His leadership style is markedly different from Trump’s, who spent much of his presidency airing grievances on Twitter while shifting from one self-induced crisis to the next. Biden has taken a decidedly less belligerent tone, hardly ever tweets, and his administration has so far not been embroiled in a seemingly never-ending stream of scandals. These factors could all be contributing to the large gap in approval between Biden and Trump.
Gallup polling shows Biden’s approval rating is lower than some of his other recent predecessors at 100 days: Barack Obama’s stood at 65% at this point, while George W. Bush’s 100-day score was 62%. But he’s not far off from Bill Clinton (55%) and George H.W. Bush (58%) at 100 days.
Since the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had his work cut out for him coming into office at the height of the Great Depression, the 100-day benchmark has been used to grade presidents on their early progress (or lack thereof).
Biden was inaugurated in the midst of a global pandemic and on the heels of a fatal insurrection at the US Capitol that sent shockwaves across the world. He inherited a mess.
Though Washington continues to be dominated by hyper-partisanship, there appears to be growing optimism in the US – especially as it continues to show signs of progress with the pandemic under Biden’s leadership. A recent NBC News poll found 36% of Americans feel the country is headed in the right direction, up from just 21% who said the same in January.
Biden has repeatedly received top marks in polling regarding his handling of the pandemic, which appears to have contributed to his positive favorability rating from American voters.
In the days since he was sworn-in, Biden signed a historic COVID-19 stimulus package and the pace of vaccination in the US has improved dramatically. He’s also introduced ambitious plans on infrastructure and immigration as he continues the fight against the virus.
Under Trump, who consistently downplayed the threat of COVID-19 before being hospitalized after contracting it last October, the US was the epicenter of the pandemic. Under Biden, the US has emerged as global model for the vaccination process.
But Biden is facing increasing pressure to share the US vaccine supply as the virus continues to wreak havoc and overwhelm hospitals in other countries. Earlier this week, Biden announced he’d be taking steps to send more supplies to India, the latest pandemic hotspot where people have literally been begging for oxygen. The US is also set to send surplus AstraZeneca vaccine supplies abroad once the vaccine has received federal approval.
Beyond domestic issues, Biden has taken big steps on foreign policy. Earlier this month, Biden announced that all remaining US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11, marking an end to the longest war in US history. But he continues to face myriad challenging issues in the global arena, ranging from competition with China to achieving his goal of reviving the Iran nuclear deal.
The 100-day mark can serve a litmus test for presidential progress, but it’s also fairly arbitrary and doesn’t necessarily signify how presidents will fare overall – or how Americans will feel about them by the end of their time in office. When Bush left the White House in 2009, for example, Gallup polling showed his approval at 34% – substantially lower than where it stood at 100 days.
But based on the available evidence, Americans generally feel that Biden is off to a strong start as they begin to see a future not dominated by COVID-19.
Mathias Döpfner: You’re looking great, and healthy too. So, is life enjoyable despite the pandemic?
Henry Kissinger: I wouldn’t say enjoyable, but I came through the period well.
Döpfner: How has you pandemic experience been so far? How has your life changed over the last 14 months?
Kissinger: Well, my life has changed in that I took for granted seeing people socially or in the office. So I miss that easy contact. I have lost an intangible relationship with people around the world. I have a series of Zooms, but it’s not the same. The immediacy of human relationships has been lost.
Döpfner: You are living quite isolated in your country home at the moment?
Kissinger: Yes. We have had nobody over for dinner in over a year.
Döpfner: Do you think that we will appreciate personal interaction more once this pandemic is under control and people are vaccinated? Or do you think that, in the long run, it could change social interaction, with people traveling less, meeting less, having less personal conversations?
Kissinger: Videoconferences are going to replace meetings more than in the pre-pandemic period. Since I have been vaccinated, I am now freer to have an almost normal life. And my wife Nancy and I are planning to spend a month or so seeing friends. I have already had a dinner with old friends in New York. It was about a month of preparation. But things like that will be much more spontaneous from now on.
Döpfner: What is the pandemic experience going to change in the political context in the long run? Will safety win versus individual freedom? Will autocratic systems gain ground versus democratic centrist systems?
Kissinger: In this country, the majority of people have had health and safety concerns that they’ve never experienced before. And they have been very occupied with maintaining a lifestyle that they used to take for granted. At the same time, there are groups who are systematically urging a new governmental and national philosophy. And while they are not the majority or even close to a majority, they continue pursuing their convictions – while the rest of the country is focused more on day-to-day life, or on very short-term political issues.
Döpfner: Politicians had to make difficult decisions in the context of the pandemic. For example, legal restrictions concerning border controls and traveling that were considered to be impossible were suddenly possible. You might even say that authoritarian measures had to be implemented in order to save lives. The pandemic has reinforced political authority. And in a couple of countries, at least to a certain degree, people have been very supportive of that. Do you think that democracies are going to be more authoritarian?
Kissinger:A great deal will depend on the impact of vaccinations, where there is already a wide gap between America and Europe. In the US, daily deaths from COVID-19 have been receding; young people are now being vaccinated; businesses and restaurants are beginning to reopen. Much of Europe remains locked down and fearful. Vaccination is beginning to pick up in Europe, but it remains several months behind America. The exception, of course, is the UK. So, to return to the question of political stability, if vaccination successfully reduces the incidence of the disease then the pandemic will be perceived mostly as a health problem that was overcome. The danger is less that emergency measures taken to fight the pandemic will persist than that if infections remain high for a prolonged period, on either side of the Atlantic, we would then witness a crisis of confidence in leaders and institutions.
Döpfner: Talking about Europe, the EU has not been very successful, to put it mildly, in deploying vaccinations. The situation is pretty disastrous, and we are lagging behind America, England, even smaller countries like Israel or Chile. Europe seems to be a dysfunctional player in the crisis. Symbolically, it’s interesting that the Biden administration has restricted European travel to the US even more than Trump did. What impact do you think that will have on the current opportunity to re-establish a strategic transatlantic relationship between America and Europe?
Kissinger: In America, there has been growth in national consciousness in this period. It was already developing, encouraged by the previous administration. But more in the sense of indifference to foreigners rather than an active hostility towards foreigners. By contrast, in the period immediately following World War II, and for about 30 years afterwards, the idea that America and Europe were fundamentally linked was widespread, certainly in the educated classes. And contact with foreign countries in that period, especially contact with Europe, was a matter of course. This idea is much less prevalent nowadays. You don’t read reports on European elections in American newspapers anymore, and of course they don’t cover them on television. So, in that sense, a certain psychological separation has taken place.
Döpfner: You once said that, if Europe and America do not re-establish an intense transatlantic relationship, Europe will end up as an appendix of Asia. Do you see a concrete danger at the moment that this might happen?
Kissinger: On the American side, there may be a temptation – certainly in the immediate post-pandemic period – to believe that we can operate in a more isolated manner on the basis of our reasonably good performance towards the end of the pandemic period. The current administration has been making useful pronouncements – with which I agree – about the importance of relinking America and Europe. That’s important, but I don’t think we’ve found our way yet to a new practice of the Atlantic relationship. The nature of that linkage is often defined as a return to American leadership. But it may turn out that what Europe seeks is collaborative autonomy, not guidance.
Döpfner: But do you think that we might be facing disappointment ahead because we have naive expectations for the re-establishment of the transatlantic axis?
Kissinger: At the moment, what we are seeing from the administration is more the expression of an attitude than a detailed policy. There is a general desire to be linked again, and there is an amorphous concept that if we link in dialogue, then some level of operational cohesion will emerge automatically. But the differences between Europe and America did not just appear in the Trump administration. They had been growing already in the previous period, and on both sides.
Döpfner: In a way you could say that Obama took office at the start of America’s Pacific period?
Kissinger: Yes. In the immediate post-war period, there was a common thread, and there was also the common task of rebuilding Europe and of redefining the American attitude to its foreign policy. These were important national endeavors. But even in the Nixon period, when attempts were made to redefine formal links, it proved relatively easy to do that in the strategic field. But it proved difficult to develop an Atlantic Charter of political objectives. There was no hostility, but there was also a reluctance by Europe to define an organic relationship. Now this problem will reappear in relation to the fact that the challenges of the world have become global. There is no localized threat to European identity. So, in defining our global roles, I could foresee a possible temptation on the part of Europe to pursue a kind of separate policy from the United States.
Döpfner: What are the consequences?
Kissinger: In the short run, I can actually see many benefits for both sides. But in the long run, my fear is that an emphasis of both sides on autonomy will do two things. It will reduce Europe to an appendage of Eurasia. And through this, Europe will become preoccupied by the tensions that derive from the competition of Asian and Near Eastern countries with each other. And Europe could become exhausted by these efforts. At the same time, if that happens, America could strategically become an island at the conjunction of the Pacific and the Atlantic. It would then conduct the foreign policies typical for island countries vis-à-vis continental land masses, that is to play off the weaker against the stronger, which means there will be more focus on divisions than on the construction of the world. And even if that separation between Europe and America is very friendly, we and Europe should not exhaust our energies in a struggle about how to define common purposes. We don’t have to agree on every economic policy on every local issue, but we should have a common concept of the direction we want the Atlantic regions to go, historically and strategically.
Döpfner: The EU has not delivered on its promises: no over proportional growth for its economies, weak in managing security challenges, disappointing in its management of the euro crisis. Most importantly, the two big international challenges of the recent past have been very poorly managed by the EU. One is the refugee crisis. And the second one is now the pandemic, particularly vaccination. Could that become an existential threat for the EU?
Kissinger: The EU has not yet managed to create a political identity and a political consciousness as an organic unit. The decisions are made by balancing political preferences in an essentially administrative manner on a case by case basis. So, at least from my perspective, there is no vision that can be described as a specifically or uniquely European vision.
Döpfner: What could the European vision be?
Kissinger: For hundreds of years, Europe has contributed ideas about political structure and political vision. Many of the great ideas about freedom and democracy originated in Europe. At that time on the philosophical level, Europe was largely unified. Now, it seems the EU has a greater ability to concentrate on economic and technical issues than on historic issues. But if Europe is to participate in some unified sense in international affairs, it needs to develop the capacity to generate ideas that are at the same time specifically applicable to European circumstances and also of relevance to the rest of the world. My vision and dream of the European-American relationship has always been that we will manage to establish a unique conceptual relationship within which tactical differences can exist – and should and will exist – but in which they do not become the anchor point of the policy on each side of the Atlantic.
Döpfner: Which America is Europe going to deal with? I am curious to find out how you see the conceptual changes of the current Biden administration, both with regard to domestic and foreign policy.
Kissinger: The leading groups driving foreign policy within the administration are trying to restore what they consider the traditional pattern of the European-American relationship based on frequent, even constant, consultation with some consensus emerging. They have not yet fully addressed the fact that significant internal changes have taken place in the last 20 years on both sides of the Atlantic. And that these changes emphasize national interest more than is common in American conceptual thinking about foreign policy. Thus the content of the dialogues with America has flattened out while they’re still taking place, and while the institutions remain. The previous administration accentuated differences because of its conviction that America could not be mobilized without an emphasis on national interest. The dilemma with that way of thinking is that in the present technocratic world, the national interest requires a global basis. It’s no longer possible to have a national interest that is confined to the immediate circumference of one’s own country. And that is a task in which America has to engage itself as it pursues the Biden-type policy.
Döpfner: What are you thinking about?
Kissinger: When I was in office, because of the Vietnam War which we inherited, the divisions were very intense and, for policymakers, occasionally painful. But in a way they were family divisions. The leaders of the liberal Democratic side were personal acquaintances with whom I had gone to Harvard and met regularly. In the present period, there is a systemic questioning of the historic values of America. There is a point of view to the effect that American society has been immoral from its very beginning. Advocates of this view maintain that the American internal challenge derives from the historic structure of American society and history. They believe America’s institutions – the Senate, the Supreme Court, perhaps even the Constitution itself – have to be remade from the ground up. This is a revolutionary frame of mind which is being pursued very systematically and very effectively. It is not a view that is held by close to 50% of the population. But it is a view that is intensely held and is perhaps dominant in the academic and media community. It is therefore becoming extremely influential.
Döpfner: Would you say there is a growing intolerance for different views in those circles?
Kissinger: With respect to the issues that the adherents consider most important, there is very limited tolerance. It’s a revolutionary view in the sense that it aims for victory, not compromise. And those who hold different views are ejected from participation.
Döpfner: By the year 2028, the expectation is that China will replace the US as the largest economy. A couple of days before Biden took office, the EU signed an investment and trade protection deal with China. That must have been perceived in Washington as a provocation. What does that tell us about the future of the American-European relationship versus China?
Kissinger: The administration is trying hard to keep the relationship within traditionally accepted limits. But it faces the situation now where public opinion has become convinced that China is not only a rapidly growing country, which is true, but also that China is an inherent enemy, and that therefore our main task is to confront it and to reduce its capacity to be a major country. But China has been a major country for thousands of years. And in different historical epochs. And so, the recovery of China should be not surprising, and its consequences are that America, for the first time in its history, is facing a country of potentially comparable capacities in economics, and with great historic skill in conducting international affairs. This was not the case with the Soviets. They were actually weaker than the United States in military capacities, and they had no economic position in the international field at all. So, with respect to the current crisis, there is almost a certain nostalgia for the issues of the Cold War.
Kissinger: Yes. The big issue to look upon is not just to prevent Chinese hegemony, but to understand that if we achieve that objective – which we must – the need to coexist with a country of that magnitude remains. Let me say a word about the assumed global domination of China.
Kissinger: There is a big difference between the Chinese perception of history and the Russian perception. Russian leaders have historically been insecure, because they have spent their history defending themselves against potential enemies on all sides. They have therefore, since becoming strong, identified influence with physical domination. China has a more complex view. The Confucian view, which shapes Chinese thinking side by side with Chinese Marxism, implies that if China performs at the maximum level of its capacities, it will generate a majestic conduct which will produce respect in the rest of the world – making it agreeable, at some levels, to Chinese preferences. In the Empire period, foreign countries were graded by the degree of their proximity to Chinese cultural precepts. There existed a department for grading these countries, and it conducted foreign policy. China has historically and recently supported this attitude with military actions to remind adversaries that this is not just a philosophical debate. But if you actually study the Chinese military actions, since the period that the communists took over, they’ve all been for psychological effect. They were often very tough. And we must be prepared to oppose Chinese hegemony. But we, at the same time, should remain open to a policy of coexistence.
In dealing with China, different schools of thought have to be sorted out. There’s a group who thinks the Chinese capacity for foreign policy must be confronted at all levels from economics to Chinese internal politics. It ascribes current Chinese policies to the current Chinese leadership and strives for bringing about a more accommodating group. I, on the other hand, believe that such an attitude generates a maximum of resistance. Of course, free societies must continue to conduct world affairs compatible with their principles and free of the threat of hegemony. But coexistence in the current world of technology is a necessity, because it is impossible to visualize a war between major countries who have significant AI technology that will not destroy cultural life as we know it. So that will be the debate in America and maybe in the world.
Döpfner: A truly reliable alliance between the United States and Europe would be essential for America. Do you think a strategic disagreement with regards to China can be a real threat to the transatlantic relationship?
Kissinger: If Europe pursues a policy of taking advantage of American-Chinese disagreement, it will make confrontations all the sharper and crises all the more overwhelming. I am not in favor of a crusade against China. But I am in favor of developing a common strategic understanding so that the situation will not be inflamed further by constant maneuvering for advantage.
Döpfner: But if China becomes the globally leading economy, it seems very likely that it will also have a major impact on political values and political systems in countries that are economically dependent on China – which will be almost all of the non-American rest of the world.
Kissinger: Well, I don’t think it’s the entire world or even the dominant part of it.
Döpfner: We can debate about Russia. But Europe, Africa, Australia?
Kissinger: No, I am assuming that the societies you mention have enough self-discipline and confidence that they will not permit such an outcome.
Döpfner: You are saying Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has the power to have significant impact on our culture. The new instrument strategically and the new form of warfare is not weapons, it’s basically data. In that regard, China has an unfair advantage. They are collecting tons of personal data as part of their regulative system putting the interest of the Chinese Central State first. The likelihood that China is going to win the race of AI is not small. Are you afraid we might end up with a unilateral AI governance dominated by the Chinese?
Kissinger: Five years ago, I didn’t know anything about AI.
Döpfner: Now you’re writing articles about it, you’re an expert in it.
Kissinger: I am a student of it. It is fascinating not only economically, but also philosophically, because it will change the nature of human thinking about reality, which will affect all of us. The U.S. needs to maintain a high level of performance in AI. But there are two levels: superior AI can mean you can crush any competitor who operates on market principles. But you’re wrong in saying that the Chinese are bound to be superior to us in the AI field. We have many of the assets of creativity in the AI field. But we have to understand AI in its totality. In the world that you envision, there will inevitably be a competition between AI powers. “High-tech powers” is a better way to say it. And the propensity of high-tech is towards monopoly. That needs to be overcome.
Kissinger: And, therefore, there is this propensity to crush the opponent. Now coexistence depends on neither side seeking to destroy the opponent while maintaining its values and objectives, and each side needs to place coexistence ahead of a quest for domination. This requires an understanding between the leaders of high-tech societies. We must learn from history. Europeans in particular know the consequences of wars that can neither be won nor ended.
Döpfner: But do you think there could be peaceful coexistence?
Kissinger: I know it is our duty to attempt it. Right now, in the West, high-tech is developed almost for its own sake. People are fascinated by it, and they keep building it. So, given our propensity for and our demonstrated ability in this field, I am confident that we should be able to maintain a competitive position.
Döpfner: I agree, that that dual competition will remain for the foreseeable near future. However, it is also a realistic scenario that one day a unilateral system with one force basically dominating, either the US or China, will emerge. In this context two questions raise. First, will AI serve the people, or will people be serving AI? Many people like Elon Musk and others, who know AI extremely well are worried about the latter scenario. Second: Is AI serving the economic well-being of big tech platforms and companies, as in the United States, or is AI serving the well-being of a central state, which basically controls and uses AI for the total surveillance and control of its people? And I think this is a very fundamental difference, and it has a huge impact on the consequences of AI.
Kissinger: In the competition between China and the West, a key objective has to be to prevent it from becoming an all-out AI conflict. Which means that, while both sides may have the theoretical capability of winning, neither side chooses to exercise it-they should limit it by some kind of understanding. I’m laying out a task, not a detailed program. Strive for it, because the alternative of an all-out conflict strains the imagination. The United States must always have an adequate defense. But in the high-tech world, it must also work for coexistence. We cannot do it as a unilateral act. This is the challenge of our time.
Döpfner: Europe and particularly Germany play a pretty irrelevant role in that context. A century ago, Germany wanted too much leadership, and today, it doesn’t want enough leadership or doesn’t take enough leadership?
Kissinger: Well, in the 1930s certainly, Germany wanted too much – it wanted dominance. Since the end of the Second World War, Germany has rebuilt itself by reliance on the Atlantic Alliance, and I had the privilege of participating at the margins of that effort. But it has gone through the process of defining a new identity several times since the end of World War II. First to build the Federal Republic of Germany, then for Reunited Germany, then for a European Germany. And now the issue arises of a global Germany, and there is little historical precedent for that role. Germany has the resources and the history to be a major factor in the future. It needs to make up its mind on how it perceives its global role.
Döpfner: At the end, a pleasant topic. There has been one constant over the last almost 100 years and that is that your favorite soccer club is Greuther Fürth. Now, four days before your 98th birthday this year, there is the possibility on the last match day that Greuther Fürth could move up to the Bundesliga. Your favorite birthday gift?
Kissinger: A great birthday gift. I haven’t lived in Fürth in over 80 years. But I follow Greuther Fürth, and I have already made a tentative plan that, if Fürth makes it to the Bundesliga, which does not look very likely, but they are not without a chance, I will travel to Fürth to visit my grandfather’s grave and attend a game if the pandemic permits it.
Döpfner: You should come no matter what happens. If you look back to your childhood, was there a reading experience that was life changing for you? Is there one single book that you could mention that had a particularly strong influence on your way of thinking and your way of living?
Kissinger: No, in my childhood, the preoccupation of my family was how to survive, how to arrive at a situation where one could plan a normal future. Which is why America was such an important element throughout my life. Later on, when I was in America, Spengler’s “Decline of the West” had a major influence on my thinking. Not because of the prediction of decline, but because of the perception of looking at every civilization as a unit and not in terms of separate individual actions. And because of his analysis that the architecture, science, and every other aspect of our culture have certain basic themes.
Döpfner: If you had to decide for the politician of the last 100 years who left the most positive impact on the world who would that be?
Kissinger: Winston Churchill. He saved Europe.
Döpfner: You are, a German who had to leave his home country because Germans organized the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews and many members of your family. You made your career in America and became an international political figure of great influence. And throughout the decades, you have kept this very special interest in Germany and the importance of the American-German relationship. More than that, you have kept a deep emotional affection for Germany. Can you explain why and how that was possible?
Kissinger: I don’t know if I have ever formally addressed this issue. My family suffered more than I did, because I was younger. Despite the losses of close relatives and friends, my father always retained a nostalgic feeling for Germany. In 1965, I received an award from the city of Fürth, and my father came along. To my amazement, he chose to volunteer an extremely conciliatory speech in German emphasizing the positive things he remembered. I never really explored with him how he reached that decision. And in my own personal life at the end of the war, when I was a very young man in counterintelligence who had been entrusted with great powers, I decided that if it was wrong to treat Jews on the basis of their ethnicity, then it was wrong to do that to Germans too. And, by serving in Germany, I had an opportunity to start to work on a new relationship. And it evolved into an important part of my life.
Young Americans overwhelmingly dislike former President Donald Trump. And, according to a new Harvard Institute of Politics poll, 30% of Americans between 18 and 29 years old believe history will judge Trump as the “worst” president in US history.
Just about a quarter of young people – 26% – assessed the former president positively, while 56% said history will view him as “bad,” “terrible,” or the “worst president ever.” Eleven percent said he’ll be seen as an “average” president.
Even young Republicans are divided on whether Trump should play a central role in politics going forward. Just 56% said they want Trump to “play a key role in the future of Republican politics.” And when asked to choose between the GOP and Trump, 42% of young Republicans said they are supporters of the Republican Party over the former president. About a quarter said they’re primarily Trump supporters and another quarter said they support both the GOP and Trump.
The majority of these young conservatives are sympathetic or subscribe to Trump and his allies’ false claims about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Two-thirds of young people believe President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, but just about a quarter of young Republicans think Biden was legitimately elected. Twenty percent of young GOP-ers believe Trump won reelection against Biden – and this number leaps to 35% among young Republicans who live in rural areas.
At the same time, Biden has attracted historic support from young Americans. The 78-year-old former vice president has the highest approval rating among young people of any first-term US president since the poll was first conducted 20 years ago.
The Harvard poll surveyed 2,513 US residents between 18 and 29 years old from March 9 to March 22, 2021. The margin of error is 2.6%.