Sciutto and Lord…

Sciutto and Lord…

Photo credit: Janet Donovan

“I’ve been huddling with my publishers lately,” Ambassador Winston Lord told a fascinated audience at a book party in his and Jim Sciutto’s honor at the home of Juleanna Glover and Christopher Reiter in Washington, DC, “on how to make changes to the title of my book, on how we’re going to increase sales and to try to match Jim’s. We may change the title. Here’s the explanation: Before the book came out, we set up a press conference and one of my friends – I hate to drop names, but it was Tom Brokaw – got the book and the press release which said: ‘Kissinger, Kissinger book coming out.’  But Tom was seeing it on a small iPhone which truncated the title, cut off the last 2 letters. So Tom immediately got 100 copies, thinking he was getting 100 copies of Kissinger on kissing.”

Kissinger on Kissinger” by former Ambassador to China Winston Lord is a series of riveting interviews, America’s senior statesman discusses the challenges of directing foreign policy during times of great global tension. As National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger transformed America’s approach to diplomacy with China, the USSR, Vietnam, and the Middle East, laying the foundations for geopolitics as we know them today. Nearly fifty years later, escalating tensions between the US, China, and Russia are threatening a swift return to the same diplomatic game of tug-of-war that Kissinger played so masterfully. Kissinger on Kissinger is a series of faithfully transcribed interviews conducted by the elder statesman’s longtime associate, Winston Lord, which captures Kissinger’s thoughts on the specific challenges that he faced during his tenure as NSA, his general advice on leadership and international relations, and stunning portraits of the larger-than-life world leaders of the era. The result is a frank and well-informed overview of US foreign policy in the first half of the 70s—essential reading for anyone hoping to understand tomorrow’s global challenges.

Winston Lord with his father Amb. Lord

“I think tonight’s event is really about the definition of real courage,” said Winston (the son) when introducing the honorees.  “Think about Jim Sciutto and how he’s always been on the front lines. He’s always the first to go into the front lines whether it’s the Russian Army, or the Chinese Navy or in Iraq. But I think his greatest definition of courage is being a Mets fan – we can commiserate over that. Speaking of courage, the subject my dad’s book  has great courage as well, standing up to Mao and Brezhnev.”

“I think both of my parents have always understood that the Chinese relationship was very complicated,” he told Hollywood on the Potomac about growing up Lord. “But at the end of the day, what has resonated with me over time is how they always took into account human rights, and how important human rights was to the geopolitical world. My mom was at Tiananmen Square working for CBS News and left the night before the tanks rolled in. It wasn’t because she feared for her safety, it was frankly because all the western press thought it wasn’t news anymore.  That’s exactly what the Chinese government wanted. They wanted to make sure all the western press left. And so the next morning, that’s when the tanks rolled in. And so for me, its always been about factoring in human rights and the importance of that and treating anyone, regardless of where they’re from, or what their background is, with some empathy and humanity.  It hasn’t changed. I think you do have to recognize that you need to be tough on China.”

“I remember they’d be coming back from trips from the Middle East or Asia, wherever it was and I’d always greet them at Andrews Air Force Base,” he added. “You’d walk down steps and there’s usually a greeting line of dignitaries. Typically, when someone like a Secretary of State or a cabinet official comes back, there’s always a waiting line for them at the bottom of the stairs. That’s where I ducked under the ropes with our dog Tyler and ran to the front to be the first one to greet them when they came back. So I just have memories of that where my dad was going around the world with Kissinger and wanting to see him. These year later, I think it’s just the respect I have for what he and my mom had done to sort of keep human rights and keep the geopolitical strategy alive. My dad has truly been a service officer. He’s never been political. He’s worked for Reagan, he’s worked for Clinton. So to him, politics stops at the borders as they say.”

“I worked and lived in Washington 40 years ago in the middle of Vietnam, Watergate. The atmosphere was toxic,” said Ambassador Lord. “Polarization, sounds familiar? But there were a few safe havens where the reds and the blues mixed together – you almost had the color purple, at least for a couple of hours to cross aisles not to cross swords. Talking about crossing swords, that brings me to Jim Sciutto because his fantastic new book  The Shadow War is about crossing swords, above all with the Chinese and the Russians. In my view, he is the top correspondent in television, or anywhere.  So Jim, the last thing I’ll say is that yours is about China and Russia. Mine has quite a bit on China and Russia. So I would have to say that anybody who buys one book has to buy the other. It just won’t make sense without it.”

“The final point I’ll make in terms of dealing with him (Kissinger) is the following story,” Lord added. “I used to write speeches for him so it would go something like this: He’d give me the topic, I’d go and give him the first draft. He’d call me in and say, ‘Winston, is this the best you can do?’ And I’d say, ‘I thought so, but let me take another wack at it.’ I’d go in a few days later with another draft and sure enough he’d call me in and say, ‘Winston, is this really the best you can do?’ I said, ‘Look I really thought so, but let me try it again.’ Well anyway, this goes on for 4 more drafts and I really am quite annoyed. So I go in there, and I know what’s coming so I’m ready for him. He says, ‘So, you’re absolutely sure that this is the best you can do?’ ‘I’ve tweaked ever semi-colon, every paragraph, I can’t improve this one inch.’  So he looked at me and smiled and said, ‘In that case, well now I’ll read it.’ “

The Shadow War synopsis:  Are we losing a war few of us realize we’re fighting?  Poisoned dissidents. Election interference. Armed invasions. International treaties thrown into chaos. Secret military buildups. Hackers and viruses. Weapons deployed in space. China and Russia (and Iran and North Korea) spark news stories here by carrying out bold acts of aggression and violating international laws and norms. Isn’t this just bad actors acting badly? That kind of thinking is outdated and dangerous. Emboldened by their successes, these countries are, in fact, waging a brazen, global war on the US and the West. This is a new Cold War, which will not be won by those who fail to realize they are fighting it. The enemies of the West understand that while they are unlikely to win a shooting war, they have another path to victory. And what we see as our greatest strengths—open societies, military innovation, dominance of technology on Earth and in space, longstanding leadership in global institutions—these countries are undermining or turning into weaknesses.

Chef Geoff, Norah O’Donnell, Juleanna Glover

“The book is about Russia and China. It’s about where we stand today in what is a momentous time and a difficult time for our country and a contentious time,” said Sciutto. “I still have hope that we can find a way forward, but I draw some wisdom from Ambassador Lord’s book and I think you really should read it because at this time, and yes I know it’s about Kissinger, here is a man who served in the highest levels of the State Department at a crucial time in our country’s history of dealing with China. Words that stuck with me is your definition of statesmanship being accommodation and encouraging character. I think that in this conflict or in any other conflict that those two qualities are ones that are necessary and also ones that you’ve embodied in your career as well.”

“I do just wanna share a story because folks ask about the origin story of the book,” added Sciutto, “Even before the book, the origin story of my interest in China started 30 years ago, almost to the day when I was at the end of my freshman year at Yale. It was May 1989 and as it happened at the time, this gentleman was serving as Ambassador to China and I had a sister who was also living in China at the time and my mother and father and another sister went to visit her in Beijing. They found themselves in the midst of this spontaneous and electric, pro-democracy demonstration unparalleled in China’s history and we have family photos of my parents and my sisters in the midst of Tienanmen Square. They left the day that martial law was declared and then the days that followed they were traveling around Asia.”

“As we came up to the 30th anniversary, I fished out of some of my mother’s belongings,” Sciutto noted. “She passed away years ago. She had collected the newspaper headlines around Asia, went with the front page stories on the events of June 4th, early morning hours of June 4th, 1989. Now for me personally watching that with my family there and watching it as a young student at Yale, it led me to dive into this country and say, ‘This is a place I want to learn more about.’ I did not know at that time that I was kind of signing on to be interested in it for three decades, but  I’m glad that I did. That sent me on a path to cover the news overseas and to continue to be fascinated by this place today in many good and positive ways. I spent some beautiful years there with our children, but also in tragic ways of course, like what we saw in Tiananmen and what we’ve seen since then.”

Juleanna Glover and Jim Sciutto

Has anybody been able to figure out what our relationship should be with China? Does anybody get it right?  We sat down with Jim to find out.  Here’s what he told Hollywood on the Potomac.

“I think since the opening in the 1970s that successive administrations of both parties have on the whole handled China quite well, although we’ve had trouble lately. We’ve gone ahead and developed relations with them, while Taiwan has preserved its security, become a democracy and an economic powerhouse. So we’ve managed to help Taiwan survive and yet we’ve opened up with China. We’ve gained some benefits, certainly had some economic benefits. They’ve change their views on certain issues like nonproliferation, they’ve worked with us in some other areas. So it hasn’t all been, as the conventional wisdom says now, they are taking us to the cleaners. Now having said that, they’ve gotten more aggressive in the last few years and we’ve got to be firmer in our response. We hoped they would evolve into a more open society and a more responsible world citizen. We’ve been disappointed in that and they seem to be going backwards. It doesn’t mean we weren’t correct to try. But now we do have to step up our game. Trump is right to make it clear that we have a problem, strategic and competitive. I agree with getting their attention, because we have real trade problems. I think he’s got to go after the big problems like technology and not just how many soy beans we can sell. He’s not going about it the right way; we want to get our act together at home, we’ve got to work with our allies, we’ve got to stay in multi level institutions – they help us. We want to protect ourselves as a democracy. And all of those he’s tearing apart. So he understands the challenge, but he’s going about it the wrong way.”

Karin Tanabe and Christopher Reiter

“In the midst of it, certainly the current tensions with Russia are enormous – on the election interference and acts of aggression prior before the current trade war. But what you find is that so many of these points of tension, they’d all come out of nowhere. These things had been building for years. And part of the message of the book is that we have missed signals over the years, decades really of Russia’s growing aggression against the US and China’s growing aggression. And again, part of the message of the book is that successive administrations of both parties missed those signals and persisted in something of a delusion – I think you can use that word – that the countries would get better or nicer and friendlier over time or more like us all the time. But they have their own interests, they have their own beliefs. Part of the fallacy of the United States government is we think that we can make somebody else’s country into ours when it’s really not.”

“With great intentions, there have been benefits – Nixon going to China,” Sciutto summarized. “Internationally China has its own ambitions and those ambitions are in competition with our ambitions. The idea that China wants to play by our rules was a little bit delusional, you know, because they see our rules as screwed in our favor and they’re willing to break them. One thing about the book is it’s not intended to be political.  In terms of the approach to China and Russia, mistakes were made by administrations of both parties, Republican, Democrat, going back to Clinton through Bush, through Obama, through Trump. Each administration imagined that with both Russia and China, they knew how to get it right. They would be just tough enough, they’re just friendly enough or just personal enough with Putin or whoever the leader was at the time. They each came in thinking they could do something and Bush came in and then kind of saw that it wasn’t working out and Obama came in and saw it wasn’t working out. Of course Trump came in with the same confidence.”

Kevin Chaffee and Karin Tanabe

“He was not learned the lesson,” he said of President Trump. “One of the messages of the book is that the US is making mistakes and persisting in delusions, even when there’s evidence to the contrary. This administration seems to be making those very same mistakes on a number of fronts. Either the president doesn’t see it or he’s convinced he was right. The US needs clear leadership. It needs confidence. It needs toughness at times where it’s appropriate. It doesn’t mean abandon diplomacy, but it does mean that you have to stand up for what you believe in, what you think is important. And when China and Russia mess with you or undermine you, or try to supplant you, you have to have the confidence to push back. Frst of all, you have to have the wisdom to see it and then you have to the confidence and the character and the courage to push back and that’s been lacking. Russia’s equally dangerous.”