May 13, 2008

Compromising positions: Amanpour, Rubin will discuss ‘America and the world’

Christiane AmanpourCNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and husband James Rubin, a Sky News anchor and former assistant secretary of state under President Clinton, are in Louisville Wednesday to discuss how the United States is viewed around the world.The event, presented by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky/Southern Indiana, begins at 6 p.m. in the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall. Tickets are $25; call 584-7777 or go to kentuckycenter.orgLEO spent time on the phone with Rubin last week.LEO: What will you discuss?James Rubin: My wife and I have done maybe a half dozen of these in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. America’s relationship with the world has never been more important and hasn’t been discussed properly recently. The more Americans appreciate the importance of our reputation and the respect for the United States and the drop in admiration in recent years, the better we all will be. Only the public can convince the politicians that it matters when the United States takes positions or actions that undermine our reputation.LEO: These sort of events tend to draw the usual suspects — limousine liberals, pro-business conservatives — they’re smart and engaged, perhaps, but not necessarily representative of the larger community. That seems to be a limiting factor.JR: We do what we can. By talking to people who are not the classic New York-California types, not only do we, hopefully, contribute to their understanding, we also walk away with a better appreciation for where people are. There’s no substitute for hearing people respond to the questions like: Should we pull troops out? What about Iran or Osama bin Laden? Hearing actual voters and citizens in the modern era talk about that helps me understand where the country’s at.LEO: It’s often said the world changed on 9/11, but it seems more accurate to say our understanding of the world changed. Do you agree?JR: I think that’s implicit in what people meant by that. The danger was there before 9/11, but people began to understand it in a way they never had before. If there’s a silver lining, it’s a new appreciation that things in faraway places can come to America. Appreciating that and understanding that is the beginning of trying to resolve it. Until we convince Americans that what happens on the border of Pakistan or India matters, it’s hard to get support for things you need to do.Let’s take foreign assistance. Most Americans don’t understand what percentage of our budget goes to foreign aid. I often ask people what they think it is, and normally the answer is 5, 6, 7 percent. It’s actually less than 1 percent of our budget. To me, one of the ways to deal with Al Qaeda and support for it in places like Pakistan — let’s take a concrete example. We all understand there are these madrassas, schools where young Muslim kids are turned into killers by rogue imams who use this schooling to find suicide bombers. Why shouldn’t we, along with rest of world, try to assist the Pakistani government in getting alternative education? It doesn’t cost very much per person, and that is the pool of recruits that we, and the people in Europe, worry about.James RubinLEO: Barack Obama supporters say his election would send a message to the world that we’ve transformed our politics. Do you buy that?JR: Without getting into endorsements or non-endorsements, I think it is important for the next president to show something has changed dramatically. I think it’s possible that whoever is elected can show change, because it’s possible that any one of the three will do two things I think are crucial. One is on the environment — the rest of the world looks at us and they see a selfish country. We don’t see ourselves that way, but the rest of the world does — you guys are the biggest polluters of greenhouse gases and the least interested in limitations on them. I think whoever wins can change that.Secondly, prisoners. Watching our closest friends in Britain, even conservatives, the allegations of torture, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, really hurt the United States. Whoever the next president is has to do something about that. The candidates have all said they would. So when I get a question like that, I try to turn it to policy and avoid talking about specific candidates.LEO: I would argue that the mainstream media does a horrible job reporting on these issues.JR: Let me withhold on that until we’re there; it really is my wife’s business. She has very strong views on it. The short version is that she basically agrees with you.LEO: Do you think the ill feelings toward  the United States relate to anti-modernism? JR: As the greatest power, there will always be some resentment. We need to minimize that, and that means that having partners who will help us fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, deal with the environmental crisis, deal with drug wars, any number of problems, that means sometimes you have to compromise and accept their ideas on how to do things. We can’t expect to always get our way on every policy and still have people helping us. And I think that failure to compromise is one of the biggest problems we need to overcome.LEO: Some people think the war is more of a holy war — Christian values vs. Muslim values.JR: I haven’t been on the ground with the troops — my wife has. Some Christian leaders have suggested that idea. We should be wary of promoting the idea that that this is a holy war of religions, because it’s really a battle within Islam between those who want to live in the modern world and those who want to go back to the ancient world. We should be on the side of those who want to live in the modern world.Contact the writer at