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

Susan Rice served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser in the Obama administration. In a new book, she shares her story of raising kids while navigating some of the country’s toughest foreign policy and national security issues. Rice joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the Trump administration’s stance toward Syrian Kurds and bridging her family’s political divisions.

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  • 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:

    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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