tv Tavis Smiley WHUT July 7, 2009 8:30am-9:00am EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. president obama arrived in russia today, which many consider one of his most important overseas trips to date. at stake, that stake of u.s.- russian relations. first up tonight, our conversation about the president's trip to russia with david ignatius, columnist for the washington post and author of the new spy novel, "the incremental." also, actor jeremy renner is here. we're glad to have joined us. columnist david ignatius and actor jeremy renner, coming up
right now. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and relationships. with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working together to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- tavis: david ignatius is a widely read columnist for "the washington post."
his latest book is called "the increment," and this will be turned into a feature film. david ignatius joins us tonight from washington. david, nice to have you on this program. i want to get to the book. let me start with the news of the day. specifically, regarding the president being in russia. you wrote in yesterday's column in "the wasa imposed," "the obama's note -- the obama magic is so evident in other trips is not likely to be seen in russia. it will require intense discussion and serious give-and- take, something that neither side is ready to offer. i think i understand that. but why don't you unpacked that? >> i was in moscow and i had a chance to speak with russian officials who are close with prime minister putin and
president dmitri megadeath. i came away with the sense that the russians are really angry. there is a chip on the country's shoulder, a sense of resentment left over from the end of communism. they feel they were beaten up in the 1990's and the united states did not help them. they keep that we think -- they keep thinking that we're pushing nato and the protest and we're not listening to them. they're upset with our efforts to encourage what they think of as anti-russian feelings in neighboring countries, the ukraine and georgia. they are angry. as a result, they are not prepared to talk about the things that we care about. the top of our list is iran. we take iran seriously. one russian official said to me, "we thank you have a media about iran. maybe you are still worried about the indians. that is your problem, not ours." it was very dismissive, almost
vulgar. i came away thinking this is not an easy problem. president obama and his earlier trips, just the force of his personality, his charisma, his ability to use words i think has really created excitement overseas. russians are in a more orderly and resentful mood it and it will take more than his charm -- they are in a more ornery and resentful mood and it will take more than his charm to break through it. we have to listen to their problems. tavis: tell me what that process ought to be. that assumes that it can be done. let's say progress can be made. >> i think it can be done. we got into the habit in the 1990's when russia was so weak after the fall of communism of thinking we really did not have to take their views seriously. we did not. we just ignored them.
they said we're not happy about nato expansion. we said, so what? they said we are not happy about georgia and georgia's provocations, as they see them. we said basically, so what. we do not have that luxury anymore. if we want russia as a partner on issues like iran and north korea, there is no way to make progress without having to listen to them. we have to take when they say this is an important security concern for us, we have to listen and respond. tavis: i don't know that i need to fill in this question more. there are big guns in russia, and the question is whether president obama is talking to the right one? >> i think president obama made a mistake. he has been shote -- so sure footed. he made one, in my judgment, tryi to play the two russian
leaders of each other. he spoke of what the president, dmitri medvedev, as a modern figure, a person with whom he had a good relationship. then he spoke of the prime minister, vladimir putin, as a man who still has 1 foot in the old days of the cold war, almost dismissive of prudent's world -- way of looking at the world. of the problem is that the real power in the world is vladimir putin, he is calling the shots. they disagree it instantly, it is vladimir putin who wins. putin is the real ruler because russians like the way that he puts things. they like his toughness and anti-americanism. i think obama was trying to sweet talk the russians a little bit. we like this one, we do not like this one. that is not going to work.
tavis: how does he saw that problem? the money he solves the problem recognizing it as a unified leadership. he makes progress by listening to what they both tell him about russia's security concerns and tried to respond creatively. tavis: let me shift now to the book, because we have been talking about iran already. the book is about, connected to iran. give me the top line on the book. >> tavis, in this new and novel, " the increment," i imagine that an iranian nuclear scientist who for complicated reasons, but really because he detests the regime that is running iran, he decides he's going to share information with the cia, dropped a dime on the nuclear program. he does it by communicating with
the cia on the internet. you can go to the cia's website and you will find there is an invitation to people overseas to commit treason, send us secrets. i am told by my sources this is used quite a lot, people do send us things on the internet. i am imagining an iranian who does that, and then i am imagining the american cia officer who receives this information. it is sensational stuff, which could push us toward war with iran, details about their programs, which is seen as a reason for may be taking action, very much like iraq, where as we all remember arguments about iraq's weapons of mass destructions provided direction for the war. the hero of my story is determined not to let that happen again. he has lived through the mass of iraq's. -- he has lived through the mess of iraq.
he has lost his own son who was a marine and iraq. he has decided that he wants to find out with this person is doing, the scientist to sent the anonymous message, and getting him out so he can talk to him. that is really what happens through the course of the book, the effort to find this young man, talk to them at an enormous risk. he has to use help from the british who have resources in iran that we do not to do this. but it is really the story of these two people, and each of them trying to do what they think is right and in the process be trained the usual patriotic -- they are betraying the usual page roddick definition. -- the usual patriotic definition. tavis: a couple of all follow- ups, number one, tell me more, i
learn something, about this open invitation from the cia to rat out certain people, sir institutions. i never knew that existed or that people made use of that. it as a writer, as one who was inside the beltway covering these issues, what you make of the fact that the cia has a place on their website for people to rat? >> i am all for it. we live off of people who were willing to drop the dime, tellus secrets that matter. in the old days, these people were called walk-ins, because often they would just walk into the embassy or consulate and asked to speak to an unofficial. then they would begin a relationship. today, in this new world of the internet, they are known as virtual walk-ins. the cia calls them vw's, and
they come across the transom all time, sending us information. it is very difficult to know whether you are being set up. something arrives, is a real, is a fake? is it designed to tricky, bring you into a trap? all the usual problems with counterintelligence exists with this internet information. but the basic question, how do i feel about inviting people to share secrets? hey, man, i am all for it. tavis: secondly, we know why iran is so interesting for us as a news story every day. what makes them great fodder for a novel? >> i've visited iran in 2006 as a journalist, wrote columns from their fort "the washington post."
i found the place so fascinating and different from what you would imagine. we have seen things. what interested me the past several weeks is the surprisingly open society, a place where people can be very critical of their leaders. when i went to the holy city south of tehran, i heard ayatollahs they're announcing the leader, saying he was on the wrong path, did be trained the islamic revolution -- that he was betraying the islamic revolution. these are the same ayatollahs who are leaders, denouncing the regime for what he feels our mistakes. it is a place where there is much more debate and format -- ferment. i have been so moved watching the iranians in the streets, risking their lives. it has been tragic to watch the protests suppressed, but i think
it will continue. i think something now has really broken and iran that cannot be fixed. the regime has lost the trust of its people. once that happens, then you have change. tavis: shifting gears, even though we have talked about war, with us and others, robert mcnamara, the defense secretary, is now dead at the age of 93. to your mind, is mcnamara a hero for acknowledging that he made a mistake in vietnam? a villain for what he did in vietnam? or is that in oversimplification? >> as with any powerful human story, you cannot summon up in the either/or, he wrote/a felon. -- hero/villain. i grew up in washington. my dad worked for mcnamara at the pentagon.
this story of mcnamara, his intelligence, toughness, in some ways his arrogance, and then terrible mistakes of the vietnam war. i watched very closely. i knew mcnamara and his family since i was a boy. i think my own personal feelings are what gifted people day were when they came to washington working for jack kennedy. they believed they could really create a new country, such big dreams. they got caught in the vietnam war. mcnamara himself was so confident he was going to get through this with intelligence, figure it out. he cannot figure this out. he got deeper and deeper in this tunnel of the vietnam. i watched as a young man the burden weighing on him, all the fathers. but nothing about mcnamara's death, -- when i think about
mcnamara's death, human beings make mistakes he made a tragic one. he tried the rest of his life to understand what went wrong and to atone for what he did. tavis: the author of the new novel, "the increment," david ignatius. up next, from the new film "the hurt locker," actor jeremy renner. stay with us. in the critically acclaimed new film, "and her locker," -- "the hurt locker," jeremy renner stars as a bomb squad expert. here now is a scene from the movie. >> i got the suit, just go. you have 45 seconds. go! >> everybody get back!
get back! go! get back! >> there's too many locks. i cannot do it. i connected it off. i am sorry, ok? i am sorry. i am sorry! get down, now! tavis: to that scene, quick, what did you take away from how one stays called in a job like this? and it's that kind of chaos. how do you stay calm? >> i cannot answer that question. these guys are focused. they're focused on the task at hand. i'm only an actor playing that role. as an actor, i had to have the focus to render safe that ied.
tavis: when i saw that scene, i thought if you are ever going to ask me, and nobody should ever do this, but if anybody ever asks me to defused a bomb, you have to be quiet. all this screaming and yelling, i cannot concentrate. >> think of something you are really good at. are you a good cook? think of a skill that you are really good at because it is easy these guys are not afraid. they know what they are doing when it comes to something like this. they know it inside and out, backwards, forward, even before they walk up to it sometimes. that is easy. the chaos around, there is no distraction because this is your focus. the only thing in this room is this. however, i am just an actor playing that role. the interesting thing i found
most about it, and it was not the bomb, it was the guy, his time on target, spending time down range, squatting over as they say. there were about a guy shooting at them. they did not like to be shot. tavis: the top story for the film? >> essentially, the backdrop is the iraq war. it is about warfare. to me, is about three guys to do a fascinating job, ordinance disposal, volunteer part of the army, which makes it even more fascinating. these three characters, you follow them and their journey, through life and death and their job and up being one of the most fascinating jobs on the planet and most dangerous. tavis: having played this role, i recognize your an actor, but what is your take about why
somebody would sign up or volunteered to do this? >> i asked that question a lot, and always got a different answer. some people were career military, just wanted up. pay. i think some a little bit more than others, a heightened sense of accomplishment, maybe. iit was what date did after. they were still working on base. i met some of those guys, ordinance. they were police officers. if you become the job. it is your life, it is your job, it is hard to go back to something, punched out and go home. wife takes a turn and it is hard to go back. i think some touched on that. tavis: tell me something specific about the character that you play. >> james is close to that guy. it is what he was born to do.
it is what he is greatest at. there are a lot of sacrifices that one has to make, obviously doing something like that. it is very complicated. i still did not know all the answers to what makes him tick. there is no decision to be made if you do what he does. tavis: there is a lot of buzz on this film, which caught me by surprise initially, only because there have been a number of iraq films that have not worked, but there is something about this story line, something about this buzz that the others have not done so well. what is your sense of what that is? >> initially, because it does not really touch on war or politics at all. there is no sneaking message of loving, heating anything. it is about these people.
i feel like in cinema, if you are engaged with the people, you are engaged. it is not matter what it is. i have seen some other films about the iraq war that a thought or decent. this could be about three bullfighters, my friend, it really could. an exciting, dangerous job that not a lot of people know about. it is about these characters. if you fall for these characters, you will enjoy the movie and it will stick with you. it just happens to be that is prevalent and it is happening right now. tavis: i spoke with the director about this movie not long ago, and i said to her, i was fascinated. i was surprised at how they could do a film that was this complex and avoid the politics. it is hard to do something like that about iraq today.
they did a really good job of staying away from politics. how did you come at -- how did you connect to the struggle? >> really, i do not think there is much store. it is a cryptic day, a cryptic details, these three guys in their rotation. there's hundreds upon thousands of other people doing the same thing, but these guys' journey in the last 38 days. it just puts on the ground. -- just bootas on the ground, and it just yank un and brings you for a ride. tavis: you have these guys, and hats off to all the women and men who serve our country, and yet you have a woman who is directing this film about these guys, and they are such guys.
what do you make of that? >> as a woman, physically for her, i think everyone had to do the same thing during the 125- degree heat. she astounds me. she is filming. she is extremely intelligence. she is a voyeur, painter, and she just needs to capture. she does not need to know much else. when your a voyeur, you are really good at assessing things going on around you. she knows there are conversations going on right now, she is hyper aware of everything, and all she has to do is capture it. she directed us in a conversation like i'm sitting here with you, tavis, just a conversation, and let us do our thing that we train to do on our own. tavis: she walked off? >> and she has a career of making stellar action movies. tavis: that is a special gift.
is really interesting to see how she got in that world of these guys, understood it, on some level brought it to life. >> i think these are detailed, mature accounts of what happened, have happened, and continue to happen. tavis: 01 to close with after pulling this guy, you are still not sure you do not understand him. what is that like to spend that much time invested in yourself -- invest in yourself and still not say, i do not understand this guy? >> it is a weird feeling to never have a finish line. is fulfilling. it is like a relationship with the character. it is always growing. i do not think about him too much anymore, only talking to you about it, and never once in awhile when i look at film. it is fulfilling. tavis: fascinating, interesting. jeremy renner is his name.
the new film is called "the hurt locker." it is probably the most talked- about film expected to arrive of all the ones that have come out. check it out. in theaters as we speak. jeremy, nice to have you here. that is our show for tonight. a catch me on the weekends on public radio international. access to ready a podcast on our website, -- access our radio podcast on our website, pbs.org. good night from los angeles, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley on pbs.org. tavis: i am tavis smiley. to me next time for a look at the memorial service -- join me next time for a look at the memorial service for michael jackson and my conversation with berry gordy. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and relationships. because with your help, the best
is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working together to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--