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tv   Washington Week  PBS  April 14, 2017 7:30pm-8:01pm PDT

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robert: about face. president trump shuffles away from hard line nationalism to a more hawkish approach to foreign policy. i'm robert costa. we'll examine what's behind the administration's reversals and the decision to bomb afghanistan tonight on "washington week." >> the president of the united states -- robert: less than 100 days into his presidency, donald trump is moving away from the key themes that propelled him from candidate to commander in chief on russia. >> we're going to have a great relationship with putin and russia. >> right now we're not get along with russia at all. we may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with russia. >> on china. >> we can't continue to allow china to rape our country. and that's what they're doing. >> president xi wants to do the
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right thing. we had a very good bonding. i think we had a very good chemistry together. >> and the candidate who once called nato obsolete. >> so -- it's no longer obsolete. >> a new appreciation for u.s. military forces that launched air strikes on syria and dropped the mother of all bombs on isis targets in afghanistan. >> we have incredible leaders in the military. and we have incredible military. and we are proud of them. and this was another very, very successful mission. robert: plus, white house whiplash as steve bannon's position hangs in the balance after a falling without the key advisor and sun in law jared kushner. with examine the doctrine the molly ball of the atlantic. peter baker of the "new york times." vivian salama of the "associated
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press." and michael crowley of politico. announcer: sell braying 50 years. this is "washington week." funding -- celebrating 50 years. this is "washington week." funding is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today and research the technologies of tomorrow. some call them veterans. we call them part of our team. >> additional funding is provided by newman's seen foundation, donating all profits from food products to charity and nourishing the common good. ku and patricia ewing, committed
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to bringing cultural differences and from contributions from pbs viewers like you. thank you. once again from washington, robert costa of "the washington post." robert: good evening. friday marked day 85 for the trump administration. it was perhaps the most significant week yet for the president on the international stage. us military forces use the most powerful nonnuclear weapon in america's arsenal to target isis in afghanistan. the 21,000 blast nicknamed the mother of all bombs destroyed isis tunnels and caves in the province. going hard after isis was one of candidate trump. >> i know more about isis. i would bomb the [beep] out of them. >> he has leveraged the u.s.
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military. president trump: we are so proud of our military. it was another successful event. robert: the bombing in afghanistan came one week after the u.s. launched retalltory strikes on syria in response to the deadly chemical attack on civilians. u.s. navy strike forces were deployed to the korean peninsula, in response to kim jung-un's nuclear tests. >> the bottom line north korea has to change its behavior. that's an agreed position. nations that are working together on this -- robert: peter, is there any doubt that this mission in afghanistan was symbolic as well as strategic? peter: clearly had an effect beyond the borders in afghanistan. they banted a video -- want a video to be out because the president of the united states is at odds with syria, russia
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and north korea at the same time. he's trying to prove he's bona fide. 85 days in office. nobody sure what his doctrine in. on the campaign trail he sounded at times bordering on isolationist. he's trying to prove a point. i'm a tough guy. you better pay attention. you can be sure that they're thinking about that. robert: molly, is he a hawk? molly: i have no idea anymore. it's always risky to try to attribute too much of an intellectual infrastructure to a man who i think is fundamentally about his gut. that's part of the attraction of trump as a leader. but at the same time, it's been clear he has said this week that he went into this not knowing a lot about a lot of these conflicts. and i think it's also been cleerl all along that he was someone who really valued toughness and strength and how -- had a macho sense of the united states even -- it can't
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be denied that the america first philosophy he articulated very explicitly during the campaign was not about humanitarian air strikes. it was the opposite of that. it was a transaction nal policy. so i do think that -- that his behavior this week has confused a lot of people, myself included. robert: has it confused other diplomatic leaders around the world? >> i think so. they're studying the guy trying to figure out if there's a method -- i won't say madness but a method to the policy. if you're trying to collapse a bunch of tunnels and caves that's sys -- that isis tunnels are in, it's solved the problem. i want to be careful to draw too large a con demrution the use of that weapon. -- too large a conclusion. the use of that weapon, i'm not sure if he made that decision or
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the generals. on the larger point, i do think peter is right that trump wants to. even if the mop was part of this, trump is trying to solve difficult problems by projecting toughness to make kim junk u.n. -- kim jung-un think about it. it's not clear to me whether it really is going to solve these really hard problems for him. robert: vivian, welcome. who's driving this policy? is the general? vivian: he wanted that. he was respectful to the generals. he placed a lot of generals in the highest position in the cabinet. i think he's listening to them. he's taking their advice very seriously. but at the same time there's a little bit of donald trump in this. and that's that way back when he was still candidate trump, one
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of the big things is that the world is going to respect us again. we lost the respect. and we're going to visit again. that was a big part of the move in syria that he wanted to regain that respect and to show that he can't be pushed around. in afghanistan i don't think that was that much the case. it was a little bit more of the generals influencing his policy. there's an act of war going on there. there was a threat and they acted on it accordingly. >> there's something interesting about this. he launches the first big military operation in his presidency against syria. we had this bomb this week. what have we not seen from him? we've not seen him talk about it. right? this is a person who uses his twitter account to go after basically anybody within the boundaries of the united states who offends him including actors and commeedyens and senators and nobs who should be left alone if you're the president of the united states. he has not trolled bashar al-assar or putin. tells us a couple of things that
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his instincts from the campaign trail who said we shouldn't get involved in wars is still there. maybe he's trying to keep his involvement in syria limited. perhaps when he's doing all these things are just simply impulse, he does have moment where is he can show discipline on the twitter feed -- robert: let's remember that in one 24-hour period this week, the president did a 180 on a number of policy positions including china. he backed away from his view that beijing was a currency manipulator and america's enemy. instead he sees their president diffusing north korea's nuclear ambitions. nato was -- has said that they're obsolete. but he said now that it's necessary for global stable. molly: a lot of these things are
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a complete 180. he attacked hillary for wanting to go to syria. to peter's point part of the problem, not with him -- not tweeting or not talking about it is he hasn't really explained himself. he hasn't gone before the american people to say here is the coherencey. the dumb pundits on tv can't see it. give us a framework or if there's not a framework just a situational explanations for these different moves. instead it has much more of a feeling and reporting supports this, my reporting, peter's reporting that he's learning on the job. that there are a lot of things he just didn't know going in and that are changing his mind. robert: vivian? vivian: the learning curve was huge with president trump. he didn't have a lot of foreign policy experience. a lot of people close to him didn't have a lot of foreign
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policy experience. it's shown that he's restrained himself on social media. it date bask to the healthcare issues and how that failed and he took a step back and said maybe i should keep a lower profile on a lot of issues, not just foreign policy. he really realizes that this is a very situation that there are lives at stake. and so he is really controling what he says about it. >> i think you're exactly right. some of it is learning. you're getting classified briefings, intelligence briefings and you're having men and women in uniform come to you and present to you with perspectives that you wouldn't have encountered unless you were in the white house. a lot of that is a sense of responsibility that anybody would feel, this is now on my watch. who are those people coming to brief you? generals who are rementing people or -- representing people who are putting their lives on the line for the united states, for their country. people are going to be killed in conflicts and that has to
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concentrate your mind. finally, i think this was reported. we heard that ivanka came into the oval office somewhere after the chemical attack in syria and basically said, look at the pictures of these women and children. this is horrible. what are you going to do? that accountability. you're behind the desk. and people are saying, this happened under your watch. what are you going to do? it's understanding how you would change your world view quickly especially if you came in with limbed -- limited experience on world policy affairs. >> the one that happened a week or so ago killed 80. it didn't make it any better. but it does suggest that when the president said as a private citizen, 2013 is not our business, we shouldn't do it. and then he said we are. it's because you are in the office. but it has not yet developed into a broader coherence. what is the doctrine we said
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this week, the doctrine is no doctrine. it's very situational. that unpredictability is an asset and liable. it's an asset if you intimidate some adversaries. maybe we ought to back off if it means your allies don't know what they can depend on and it could be a liable. >> you could be disstabilizing the mad man theory. he said it on the campaign that he wants to be unpredictable. in addition to not understanding the strategy. we haven't seen any account for the consequences. there hasn't been any attempt to explain what's going to happen next? or especially with the refugee problem that you're arguably exacerbating in syria in which trump has been aggressive saying we're not going help with. robert: as the president navigates through this thicket of tough decisions, of policy there isn't a parent power struggle between steve strategist steve bannon and the
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president's son-in-law jared kushner. this week, president trump distanced himself from bannon. when asked if he still had confidence. he said, i like steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. he said i'm my own strategist and added steve is a good guy. but i told them to straighten it out or i will. trump is loyal but he also doesn't like to lose. peter, who are the players who are shaping this move toward a more hawkish approach in the white house? peter: it's not steve bannon. he's been consistent about not getting involved. he doesn't want to get involved in sects and tribes and he lost that night this particular week. on the other side, you do have a son-in-law and jared who did
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have an emotional reaction to those pictures. you have h.r. mcmaster, his national security advisor, a three-star general who's turning out to be a pretty influenceable figure. and james mattis you've shown on the screen, his defense secretary. you hear a lot from the establishment that would scare a republican and democrat some sense of reassurance that the people around him seem to have some seasoning and some experience, how far they're able to shape that with him is not clear. robert: what does your reporting tell you about kushner himself? he's very quiet. doesn't give a lot of interviews. what is he doing? vivian: he's very trusted. ivanka gets the prize as far as the people he con fidse in the most. he has shaped the more moderate circle surrounding the president as thaze increase and get more powerful.
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you have gary cohen from goldman sachs. he's increasingly taking a much bigger role. he's been doing a lot of the negotiating with the healthcare. he was in the room for china which obviously has economic ties as well. you even see some of the others like peter navarro is one person i think is helping the president's policy on china. he wrote a book called "death by china." he wasn't in the room for any of the china meetings whereas gary cone and jared kushner they were in most of those meetings. you can see a populist group that steve bannon brought in to be sidelined as we get further into this administration's time in office. robert: how is the president responding? >> well, i think if i were a trump voter, i would be pretty upset if foreign policy would be one of the issues i was focusing in. trump responded by going to the swamp as he calls it would be
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the responsible center. in a lot of ways i'm seeing a foreign policy that doesn't look all different than what you would have got frn hillary clinton, jeb bush, marco rubio. there's this trump theatrics at the top. what i'm wonder is what we might policy that's rather eign conventional, the kind of foreign policy that would you expect from mattis or mcmaster sort of nexus where you have this, you know, these antics from the president and people are scratching their heads over what did he mean by that. but increasingly say because i talked to jared and that's the level only which the real policy is made and where the communications happen with foreign countries. that's what it looks like right now. robert: this muddled scene in the white house has consequences beyond white house. tillerson meeting with his counter part revealed the divide over syria's six-year civil war
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and that divide's only wydened. >> the current state of u.s.-russia relations is at a low point. there is a low-level of trust between our two countries. the world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship. robert: the biggest issue now for the u.s. and russia is solving their differences over syria. molly: and this is another 180 from the campaign. this is one of the actually few issues that trump was 100% consistent about on the campaign trail. being friends with russia. admiring vladimir putin. feeling that there are area where is the united states and russia should be collaborating and this animosity that was maintained not just by the obama administration but by most of the republican party toward the russia regime was somehow some how police placed. this is another way in which he has come full circle and come to rest where most of washington was before. i would hesitate to assume that
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the place trump is today is the final resting point of his views because he does steam do this sort of government by reality show where the competing factions are in favor or out of favor and how he decides to really govern depends on who he's listening to at the time. so i don't think we can know that just because this is where he is today, this is where he's going to be. >> i think he still has the idea that he's going to be frenleds with putin. what he said publicly in the interviews and in the press qunches the nato secretary general. he said things about russia but not putin. he didn't personalize it in a way he's very capable o doing. the next day he put out a tweet saying don't worry, it's all going to work out. robert: so is it all theater? there's been some criticism from the president's opponents that some of this russia tough talks distracts from some of the investigations about possible collusion between putin and trump associates last year. >> not even -- not just the idea
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that the tough talk is a distraction but phil gordon who was national security council director for the middle east under president obama wrote an article for politico in which he said, we have to take serious think idea that the missile strikes themselves were an attempt to divert attention from those investigations to show that he's willing to do something that would make russia upset. phil gordon is ay credible person who is floating a very pro vockity theory that he ordered military action. of course, this is a washington pattern where, you know, one side accuses the other of taking military action to distract from their problems. people said that about bill clinton when he ordered some missile strikes i think it was against iraq during the monica lewinsky problem. i don't think it's all theatrics. if you listen to the tone from the russia media, they're very upset. the problem they have is that you could have some kind of an accident in syria, maybe one of
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our planes hits one of our planes or something similar like that that starts to careen out of control. it's dangerous to be in this position but i do think peter makes an excellent point. i'll be interested to see when trump and putin are in the same room. it's going to happen i think in june. i think it's very possible that putin will have a canny approach to donald trump that might change this story dramatically. >> remember, he's the dealmaker. he wants to bring everybody together and the handshake and everyone go their own way and everybody will be great. i think it's wanting to distract from the investigations. but president trump really responds to what the media is saying about him. suddenly it's a win after syria. it was good news. he acted on something. there was a lot of celebration even from some of his biggest critics. for him that is a huge part in it especially after a couple of weeks of just like constant you know, short falls, i guess you
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could say. he wanted that and he needed that. and so i'm sure he welcomes the distraction. whether or not he intended it to happen, he definitely welcomes it. he's thrilled. robert: one more flip. while the president spent the week focusing on foreign policy issues, the story that the white house just can't get to go away russia and its meddling in the presidential election took yet another turn this time it was caused by trump's own c.i.a. director who accused wikileaks of colluding with the government. >> it's a nonstate hostile intelligent often abetted by actors like russia. >> it's not just the president. you look back and congressman pompeo he was embracing the wikileaks work, secretary clinton's campaign last year. you see people throughout the administration taking this hawkish direction, more
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anti-wikileaks tone. >> if you're in power, it's different than when you're not in power. he's talking to these analysts about talking to these spies saying this is not what happened. it's not politics on our part to say that is what hand. you heard rex tillerson say in moscow that russia meddled even at the russians were denying it. wikileaks is not the friend of any government. and so, you know, but we don't know -- robert: possibly the russian government. >> the problem is it's so murky. and wikileaks remains a mystery we haven't solved. robert: is there a political cost for president trump and his allies as they change their tune on all these issues? you've been following all the special elections very closely. what are voters thinking and seeing as they watch this administration change its whole approach. >> the signals are very clear. i do think there has been so
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much noise and so much news and an overwhelming sort of flooding the doan with this person that a lot of americans have turned off the tv and go about their lives. the cycle of hyperventilation -- if you look at donald trump's aprumpe rating still -- approval rating still low but around the number he got in the election, 44%. not a lot of people are jumping ship at this point. however, there does seem to be an energizing going on in the left. we saw the unexpected close special election in kansas. there's others coming up now all in light red to dark red districts and places like georgia and montana. and so of course, we're going to be watching those to see what kind of tea leaves we can read. robert: now they're anti-wikileaks in this administration. >> i think -- the accountability you have when you're sitting on the outside and you're enjoying
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the theater, it's great. and you're not -- you know, i think trump didn't think of the implication. he said i love wikileaks and now he's getting intelligence briefings and realizing that this can bite him. there's a reason the russians have information on him. get out ahead and start to discredit it because you might be the next target. robert: thanks, michael and everybody. and welcome to "washington week," vivian. our conversation will continue on our "washington week" extra after 10:00 p.m. on /washingtonweek. from all of us here on "washington week," happy easter and happy passover.
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