Susan Rice says U.S. has ‘sold out the Kurds’ with Syria move


JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Rice is best known for
serving in high-profile roles in the Obama administration, first as the U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations, and then as the president’s national security adviser. But her new book, “Tough Love: My Story of
the Things Worth Fighting For,” reveals her personal side, a working mom raising young
kids and caring for her parents, all while navigating some of the country’s toughest
foreign policy and national security issues. And Susan Rice joins me now. Welcome to the “NewsHour.” SUSAN RICE, Former U.S. National Security
Adviser: It’s great to be with you, Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, I do want to ask you about
the book, but there’s a whole lot in the news right now that relate to an area where you
spent a lot of time, and that’s the White House. And I want to ask you about what’s going on
in Syria. President Trump spoke to President Erdogan
of Turkey, essentially agreed that U.S. troops in Northern Syria would get out of the way. Turkey saw that as a green light. They have come into Syria. But now the Trump administration is saying,
well, we are going to put sanctions on you if you go too far. What do you make of this strategy? How do you think the Turks will respond? SUSAN RICE: Well, first of all, I’m not sure
what our strategy is, Judy. I mean, it’s quite disturbing. We have sold out the Kurds, who fought on
our behalf against ISIS with our support. This was a very unusual and economic arrangement
that we made, where the United States’ contribution was very low in terms of personnel on the
ground. We provided training and advice and support
to the Kurds, who were taking the fight to ISIS, quite effectively. The president’s decision to pull out those
American service men and women in Northern Syria was more than a green light. It was a red carpet. And we have seen what the Turks have done. They’re waging a relentless fight, 100,000
people displaced. And now for the administration to turn around
and say, but we really didn’t mean it, strains credulity. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well — and I interviewed this
week Secretary of State Pompeo, who said — after previously saying the Kurds were U.S. allies,
is now saying, yes, they are a threat to Turkey, they are terrorists. That’s the administration’s position now. SUSAN RICE: That’s — you know, think about
that; 11,000 Kurds gave their lives fighting ISIS with the expectation and the promise
from the United States that we would be there for them. We have not viewed these elements of the Kurdish
SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, known as the YPG, as people that we believed posed
a terrorist threat to us or others. They were, on the contrary, fighting ISIS
when the Turks wouldn’t. The Turks allowed thousands of ISIS fighters
to flow through Turkey into Syria. And now to hand over the fight to the Turks
and pretend they’re going to take it to ISIS and secure those prisoners is — it’s just
not credible. JUDY WOODRUFF: The other — of course, one
of the other big stories we’re following right now, the impeachment inquiry into President
Trump. As part of that inquiry, the former ambassador,
U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is testifying today, part of a subpoena by the Congress. And we know that she has said that her firing,
she said, was after President Trump wanted her out of that job for many months, and she
said it was all based on false claims, she said, by people with questionable motives. My question, though, is, don’t presidents
have the right for whatever reason to have the ambassador they want? SUSAN RICE: Well, yes, of course, the president
appoints ambassadors, and they serve at his pleasure. But you know well and many of our viewers
know that the career ambassadors, the apolitical ambassadors — and that is what Ambassador
Yovanovitch is — are rarely the subject of political scrutiny by the White House. So this raises a lot of questions. And it suggests that whatever concern the
White House had about Yovanovitch or that Rudy Giuliani had wasn’t about her job performance. It had something to do with whatever interests,
business or political, that the president was pursuing in Ukraine, and, apparently,
she stood in the way of them. JUDY WOODRUFF: You write in the book — and
we said, “Tough Love,” it’s about your life, your work in the Obama administration — about
failure. You write at one point: “We did fail, we will
fail. Our aim has to be to minimize the frequency
and the price of failures.” How do you contrast the failures of the Obama
administration with the criticisms you’re making now of the Trump administration? SUSAN RICE: Well, In the first instance, I
was speaking about the business of making foreign policy broadly, not — wasn’t referring
to any particularly administration. But I’m also quite candid about where I think,
in my experience, we succeeded and where we failed in the Obama administration. I think the Obama administration’s record
is a very positive one, when you weigh it in the aggregate. The president of the United States helped
to right the global economy in the wake of a financial crisis. He took the fight to Osama bin Laden. He got the Paris climate agreement, the Iran
nuclear agreement. But we had very difficult challenges in places
like Syria and elsewhere. So, I don’t know of any administration’s record
that — where they bat 1000. But I think that the lesson is, we have to
be willing to serve to the best of our abilities in the interests of the U.S. government. And what I’m so concerned about, as I look
at this administration, is now we’re seeing every day more evidence that the actions coming
out of the president and the White House are not serving the national interest, however
well-guided or misguided, but rather serving the personal interests of the president. JUDY WOODRUFF: You at one point write about
the — you, of course, write about the 2016 election. As we know, the intelligence community has
now concluded with great confidence Russians did interfere. Meantime, the Trump administration is pointing
fingers at the Obama administration, saying — saying, quite frankly, you folks should
have done something to stop it. You do write that your administration — and
I’m quoting — substantially underestimated the severity of Russian social media manipulation. How big a mistake was that? SUSAN RICE: Well, it was a mistake, in the
sense that we didn’t have that information at the time. It came to light, as you will recall, beginning
in 2017, the extent to which their social media farms, the bots, the actions that they
took on both sides of contentious issues, including race, including immigration, guns,
and gay rights. So we didn’t see that. It wasn’t as visible as the hacking of the
e-mails, the efforts to infiltrate the election systems, and the activities that were more
transparent of Russian television and Sputnik and the like. So, if you look at the intelligence community’s
assessment that came in January of 2017, it’s notable because it doesn’t mention the social
media influence, as we understand it now. So that was a gap in our understanding. Now we know it. And I think the challenge is, what more can
we do about it? And I think there’s more that Congress can
do, quite frankly. There’s more that the social media companies
can and must do. JUDY WOODRUFF: You do write with candor in
the book about your family, your — both your parents and your two children, your husband. And one of the things that struck me is, you
— in writing about the country’s political divisions, you write about how they exist
in your own family. You have a son who is very conservative in
his political beliefs. How do you navigate that as a family? And what advice do you have for I’m sure people
who are watching who have deep political divisions in their own families? SUSAN RICE: Well, I appreciate the question. We have two kids. The older one is quite conservative. The younger one is a progressive, closer to
the views of her parents. And we have robust discussions. We raised our children to think independently
and to be confident in their views. And, for better or for worse, that’s what
we got. But we’re quite proud of both of our kids. They have the courage of their convictions. And they’re not afraid to be engaged on issues
that matter. And so how do I — what is my advice? My advice is, we have to listen to each other. We have to respect each other’s views. We have got to search for common ground and
not close one another out. We are a family that, despite our differences,
is very tight. We love each other. And we have decided, very deliberately, that
that love and our commitment to the family is going to override our political differences. And that’s what we need to do, quite frankly,
Judy, on a national basis. We can’t take the view that, because you and
I disagree over politics or religion, or whatever it is, that we’re dismissing each other as
Americans. If that happens, our country’s going to fall
apart. And there are people who are benefiting politically
from pulling us apart. We, as Americans, can’t allow that to happen. We have got to have the same sort of fierce
love of our country and tough love, as I like to say in the book, that we try to apply in
the family context, challenging as it sometimes is. JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Rice. The book is, as we say, “Tough Love: My Story
of the Things Worth Fighting For.” Susan Rice, thank you. SUSAN RICE: Thank you.

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