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Trump: Military will protect US-Mexico border; Timothy Snyder on democracy, Russia and Trump. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, President Trump says he will put the military in charge of guarding the border with Mexico until

that wall is built. We get reaction from the Mexican ambassador to the United States in our exclusive interview.

Plus, as relations between the United States and Russia seem to go from bad to worse, my conversation with Yale professor and historian Timothy Snyder

about his new book, "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America."

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

US military forces patrolling America's border with Mexico, that's the latest from President Donald Trump amid the ongoing drama of America's

immigration crisis.

We do not yet know the details whether this will entail states sending in their National Guard units or Congress approving federal troops against an

as-yet unspecified national security threat.

But sitting beside his Defense Secretary General Mattis today, President Trump announced this move and threw in a few threats to neighboring Mexico

for good measure.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to be doing some things. I've been speaking with Gen. Mattis. We're going to be

doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big

step. We really haven't done that before or certainly not very much before.

But we will be doing things with Mexico. And they have to do it. Otherwise, I'm not going to do the NAFTA deal.


AMANPOUR: So, this comes after Trump took to Twitter over the holiday weekend, egged by the conservative media complaining that he has yet to

even start his promised border wall.

The president unleashed a drumbeat of threats over a human chain of some 1,000 Central Americans who are now trying to make their way to the US


They're mostly Hondurans who are fleeing violence at home. And the march is, in fact, an annual event, which is now in its fifth year. It tries to

draw attention to the plight of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

Now, today, the Mexican government issued this response, saying "Mexico's migration policy is a sovereign one, through which it seeks to ensure

legal, safe and orderly migration with full respect for people's rights. Under no circumstance does the Mexican government promote irregular


And the Mexican ambassador to the United States Geronimo Gutierrez joins me now from Washington. Ambassador, welcome to the program.

GERONIMO GUTIERREZ, MEXICAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, Christiane. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

AMANPOUR: So, let us take stock. Do you understand - what does the Mexican government understand by President Trump's statement just now that

he will militarize the border with your country? Send American troops there.

GUTIERREZ: Well, thank you very much. This gives me the opportunity to address this issue, which is important and has certainly called attention.

The first thing is that we have - the Mexican government has formally asked for clarification of the president's statements, both through the State

Department and the Homeland Security Department.

I have personally already spoken to Secretary Nielsen at DHS.

The important thing is that we both - both countries share the idea of having a secure border. We don't always agree in how to achieve that

objective. And I do expect that as in the next few hours we will get clarification on this issue.

It's certainly not something that the Mexican government welcomes, but as soon as we have further clarification, we can expect to have a better idea

about where we are.

AMANPOUR: So, when you picked up the phone to talk to the secretary of Homeland Security, did she have any idea that this was coming? Did you get

any charity from her?

GUTIERREZ: Well, my understanding, as you mentioned before, the National Guard has been called before in different instances in past years in a

supportive role. I would assume that that's what we're looking at.

The president will be meeting with Secretary Nielsen later today and we will continue our dialogue with US authorities today.

AMANPOUR: So, what will Mexico's response be if you do not get the kind of clarification that you wanted? In other words, will Mexico respond by

putting troops on its side of the border if, in fact, that's what's happening from the US side?

[14:05:10] GUTIERREZ: Well, Mexico is certainly a sovereign nation and we will act in our own best interest, as that's only natural.

In fact, the US and Mexico have a very strong cooperation on security matters, especially at the border. And we believe that we will find our

common ground to secure the border, but in a way that both - that it serves both countries' interest. That's what certainly the type of cooperation

that we have been engaging with in the past 12 or 14 months with the Trump administration and we hope that that will continue.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you because the original sort of anger from President Trump, amongst many others in this ongoing crisis over the wall, over

immigration, et cetera, is this human chain, this procession of Central Americans who are coming through Mexico, trying to reach the United States.

You just heard in that sound that I played of President Trump saying that it's up to Mexico to stop them or else we will you deal them a defeat on

NAFTA. So, what is Mexico doing about this?

GUTIERREZ: Well, I'm glad that you earlier referenced what is the Mexican government policy on immigration. The Mexican government does not promote

nor advocate for irregular immigration. It's certainly not in the interest of anybody, including Mexico.

What we seek is a migration that is legal, safe, orderly and that respects the basic rights of people. And that's what we're trying to achieve.

In this specific case of the caravan which, as you mentioned, has taken place before in previous years, what we're looking at is an event that

really calls the attention into the rights of migrants in Mexico.

As it was announced yesterday by Mexico's government, Mexican migration authorities have been working with the people involved in the caravan. We

have offered already humanitarian relief to them in Mexico and we're also looking at the status of the individuals, so we can proceed either with a

repatriation process according to Mexican law or offer that humanitarian relief that I just mentioned.

AMANPOUR: But does the humanitarian relief involve allowing them to continue to the US border?

GUTIERREZ: It does not. This caravan really calls our attention on something that is important. Mexico faces a challenge. Central America

faces a challenge. And the US faces a challenge individually with respect of these type of developments.

What we really, I think, this calls our attention is the need to better communicate and coordinate and hopefully align our asylum policies. There

has been a specific working group that has been formed by agreement of Mexico and the United States that it will start working group - it will

start working in the next few days, I hope in a couple of weeks at the most, and I think that will be helpful to manage the situation and any

other one in the future.

AMANPOUR: So, I wonder whether you were all surprised and maybe caught off-guard a little bit because you heard also President Trump threatening

NAFTA and Mexico's participation in NAFTA.

It seems you'd been experiencing negotiations that we heard, at least from the Mexico side, seemed to be going quite well. What is the status of the

NAFTA discussions underway right now and were you caught off-guard by President Trump threatening that NAFTA deal today?

GUTIERREZ: Well, the administration's position on the North American Free Trade Agreement have been public for quite some time now.

We are engaging in negotiations. The eighth round will soon take place. We do believe that NAFTA has been on balance a very successful agreement

for the three countries.

We do recognize that it's a 25-year-old agreement that can certainly be improved, updated and modernized. That is where the negotiating teams are

focused on.

It is in the interest of the tree NAFTA partners to help employment conditions throughout the region. We share that view with the

administration, our Canadian friends. That is what we're concentrated on.

NAFTA, it's not so much only about what we trade among ourselves, but it's really about how do we produce together as a region, to export to other

places in the world.

And it can be improved. Yes, that's what we're doing. But, on balance, it has been successful. And the relationship between Mexico and the United

States is a very comprehensive one. Certainly, it's a very dynamic - and it needs to be looked comprehensively.

But I think that NAFTA negotiation is on track. And at the same time, our security affairs are evolving on a daily basis and on separate tracks.

[14:10:10] AMANPOUR: OK. So, just the nugget was you believe that the NAFTA is on track . So, let me ask you then regarding security. President

Trump appears to think that this caravan of people, as he calls it, is a threat, potentially a national security threat.

Do you, since they're coming through Mexico, view these people as threat? Are they dangerous?

GUTIERREZ: No, they're not dangerous. I think it's very important to separate very clearly what we do have as shared challenges on transnational

organized crime and other security challenges from what is a humanitarian situation. I think it's important to keep those separately.

Every country faces security challenges. And, in fact, the ones that we do have are being addressed jointly through cooperation between US and Mexican


So, I don't see why we cannot continue to improve our cooperation.

AMANPOUR: Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you. But I just wanted to ask you finally because we're just slightly running out of time. I

wanted to ask you about - the president seems to be egged on, as I said, by the conservative media, his very conservative followers and supporters

about this wall.

How does that with you as a Mexican citizen, as a Mexican nationalist and, obviously, a government official and the whole idea that they still say

Mexico is going to pay for it one way or the other?

GUTIERREZ: Let me be very clear. Number one, we do believe in the importance of having secure borders. We will not always see exactly the

same way how to achieve that objective with the United States.

A relation like the one between Mexico and the United States needs to have spaces in order to agree to disagree. The issue of the wall is certainly

one of them. And as my government has clearly expressed already, Mexico, by no means, would be paying for a wall.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Ambassador Geronimo Gutierrez, thank you so much for joining us from Washington on this day.

Now, turning to tense relations with another foreign power, Russia. The foreign minister there, Sergey Lavrov, said today that relations with the

West might be even worse now than during the Cold War.

President Vladimir Putin is in Turkey today meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an American ally increasingly in name only, whose own

authoritarian tendencies are redirecting his gaze towards Moscow.

They'll be joined by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to discuss the war in Syria, among other things, leaving the US apparently on the


Now, after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was simply assumed that Western democracy would triumph. My next guest calls that the politics of

inevitability and he says it's in dire straits.

Timothy Snyder is author of "The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America".

Professor Snyder, welcome from Yale University in New Haven.


So, you have done a lot of work digging into the enigma that is Russia, and particularly Russia-Western relations. I just want to quote something from

your book. It's built around the idea that "if Russia could not become the West, let the West become Russia."

What exactly do you mean?

SNYDER: Well, the basic idea of "The Road to Unfreedom" is that ideas don't have to travel from west to east. They did for a while, but they

aren't anymore.

Ideas can also travel from east to west, so from Russia to the European Union or from Russia to United States.

What I meant in that particular quotation is that Russia has not managed to establish a certain kind of regime with a rule of law, with shared social

advancement, with predictable meaningful democracy.

And the way that it's resolved that failure is to export it to other people, to the European Union, to the United States. This serves a

domestic political purpose because you don't want Russians thinking that better things are possible elsewhere.

And it also serves as effective foreign policy because, if you can disintegrate and confuse the legal order in Europe and United States, then

those places will no longer be able to offer any kind of a counter to what you want to do yourself.

AMANPOUR: You've outlined their strategy, but their tactics. So, we know about the interfering in Western elections. You also point a lot to what

happened in Ukraine. Give me more examples of how the rest of the world can become Russians, so to speak.

SNYDER: I mean, the philosophy and the strategy and the tactics are really all one thing. And one should give the very intelligent people in the

Kremlin credit for this coherence.

[14:15:09] The philosophy is that nothing is really true. The facts of the world don't really matter.

The strategy is something called strategic relativism. The idea is that you want to convince people at home and abroad that nothing is true,

everything is relative, everything is subjective, and, therefore, there's no point in acting. Democracy is a joke. The rule of law is a joke. We

might as well stay in our couches.

The tactic, the way you convey this is that you get into the minds of your adversaries, whether they're European or they're American. You find the

existing fault lines, whether those are social or whether those are racial and you play on them, and you try to convince people that the only thing

that's really going on in the world are the momentary psychological enmities.

There's no point thinking about the real world, about facts, about how to make things better. And so, in that light, policy towards Ukraine - that

is a traditional invasion combined with cyber information war against the European Union and US, or the campaign to support Brexit or the campaign to

support the far right inside the European Union or, for that matter, the cyberwar against the United States in 2016, which led to the election of

Donald Trump, these are all pieces of a larger picture.

The picture is one where Russian reality, an oligarchical regime where citizens aren't supposed to really believe in anything except their own

nation, that this model can be spread everywhere.

AMANPOUR: So, do you think then - I mean, you're outlining a very planned, clever, as you said, strategy that you say the Kremlin is unfolding on the


But on the other hand, couldn't you say that they often overplay their hand. They got a lot of sanctions, which they still haven't got rid of

because of Ukraine.

They now have practically the whole of the Western world united and others around the world in anger and expelling diplomats over the Skripal

poisoning here in London.

Have they shot themselves in the foot and overplayed their hand?

SNYDER: I have to say, I think, all in all, they play what we would normally see as a very weak hand very well.

If you look at the 20th century measures of strength, economics and technology, Russia is actually extremely weak. There's no reason we should

be talking about Russia as much as we do if those are the indices of power.

What Russia has managed to do is to change the rules of the international game, so that power is much less about economics which helps you build a

strong military. It's much less about technology which allows you have a sense of progress and it's much more about how we feel about ourselves.

It's much more about our sense of trust, our sense of fear.

In this sense, Russia is winning at the higher level because that's a form of politics in which they're the most comfortable.

If you look at the practical day-to-day reality of American foreign policy to Russia, it's actually astounding how often they win on the basic issues

they are winning.

They want chaos inside Washington DC. They've got it. They want a weak American Department of State. They've got it.

They don't want Americans to investigate dark money. They don't want Americans to close the loopholes which allow foreign intervention in

American elections. We're not doing that.

They don't want us to change our basic reliance on fossil fuels because fossil fuels are the source of the power of the Russian elite. We're not

doing that.

On all the basic issues, including investigating cyberwar itself, which would seem to be absolutely fundamental, since the cyberwar of 2016 was a

violation of American sovereignty, on all of the basic issues, it's actually striking how they're winning. We've just gotten used to the fact

that they're winning.

AMANPOUR: Well, professor, that really is quite chilling because you are describing a supine West, the part of the world with the rule of law, with

all sorts of checks and balances and institutions that are meant to maintain, as America has always called itself, the exceptional nation,

exceptionalism. What are you saying about that then?

SNYDER: I think in order to be exceptional, you have to behave exceptionally. Part of our problem in the last 25 years, since the end of

communism, and this holds in different ways for both the US and for the European Union, is that we've taken for granted that various kinds of

progress were automatic.

We're now facing a test. If we allow ourselves to be convinced that nothing is true, everything is permitted, it doesn't really matter, if we

all become cynical, then our institutions will collapse.

Our institutions depend upon beliefs. They depend upon virtues. And they also depend upon depend upon people, including new generations, who are

willing to see new challenges and react to them.

So, the West is a set of institutions and beliefs around those institutions. The question is whether we can gather ourselves around those

beliefs and revive them.

[14:20:00] AMANPOUR: Where do you think the West went wrong if it did in the sort of post-Soviet world? Everybody called it a great triumph for

democracy, the Wet. As you have written also, the end of history was declared after the Berlin wall fell in 1989.

And you describe a conflicting philosophy, the politics of inevitability that the West has versus the politics of eternity held by Russia and

elsewhere? What do you mean by that?

SNYDER: You've put your finger on, I think, the basic intellectual mistake after the revolutions of 1989.

The thing that I'm calling the politics of inevitability is precisely the idea which so many of us held that history was over, there are no

alternatives and somehow automatically democracy, liberal ideas of rights, free trade were going to spread around the world.

We had a quarter century of thinking like that, of thinking that it didn't really depend upon us personally because there were certain laws of history

which were going to make sure that things went in the right direction.

When you hit a shock, when it turns out that that's not true, you have a temptation to fall into another set of ideas, which I call in the book,

which I call in "Road to Unfreedom", the politics of eternity where you start to think politics is not about progress, it's not about the future,

it's about the past, it's about how the same people threaten us over and over and over again.

Russia has already moved into that model. In United States, under President Trump, we're moving in that direction as well with our constant

invocation of America first or making America great again, of a politics which begins from internal enemies rather than from a vision of how America

might, in fact, be a better country.

So, the main thing we got wrong was our complacency. So, the main thing we got wrong was thinking that history or economics was going to do the

political and intellectual and the moral work for us.

Now, we recognize we have to do that work and maybe that's a good thing.

AMANPOUR: We spoke almost exactly a year ago shortly into President Trump's first year. And there were the elections in Europe coming up.

Everybody was wondering what would happen in France and in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

And you told me at that time that things were going to get worse for the next 18 months. So, I wonder how you judge now, in hindsight? We saw that

France didn't go to the extreme right racist party of Marine Le Pen. We saw that the similar candidate in the Netherlands did not win.

On the other hand, highly populous groups did win in Italy and racist groups or neo-Nazi groups are the opposition now in Germany. Where do you

come out on balance?

SNYDER: On balance, what I say is that this is a time of rebuilding. And the rebuilding will take years, and not decades. And I think - years, if

not decades.

And it's a mistake to wait for each election as being a sign that things have finally turned around. That's always a temptation to think that the

Trump election means that things are doomed in one direction or, if Macron wins, that means that things are wonderful in the other direction.

In fact, we're dealing with a long-term challenge and a long-term trend. There's bad news everywhere. There's good news in other places such as

Slovakia recently. There's been some good news.

But what I would say is that this is a moment for a kind reconsideration in both the US and the European Union and in the UK for what it is that we

actually stand for.

Waiting for the next election is another form of the politics of inevitability. We just hope that the trends are going to rescue us. The

trends aren't going to rescue us. It's going to be the good people like the lawyers filing suits or the reporters carrying out investigations or

the young people who choose to run for office who are finally going to make things turn around.

But it's going to take work, it's going to take encouragements, it's going to take some focus.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe that the checks and balances and the institutions in your own country, in the United States, are strong enough to withstand

the kind of pressures that you are worried about?

SNYDER: Not on their own. Not on their own. That's the whole point. Some of our checks are not working. The legislative branch of our

government, which is supposed to be branch number one, is not serving as a very effective check on branch number two, which is the executive.

The Judiciary may be a bit more effective.

AMANPOUR: Just one final question. It's clear where you stand on politics. But what do you say to those who say, well, you don't like the

current crop of people who've been elected. Certainly, it's obvious you don't like President Trump's policies.

But, I guess, people voted for him because they didn't like the alternative. What's your answer to that?

SNYDER: I've got a very strong view about the sovereignty of the United States. I care a great deal about the sovereignty of the United States.

And what happened in 2016 was exceptional because a foreign country, the Russian Federation, in particular, found ways to intervene in our


It seems that before we break ourselves down into political loyalties and parties, we have to get that right. We have to be a sovereign country

ruled by law first and then we can have our political disagreements.

[14:25:12] I'm happy to agree that the alternatives put up in 2016 were imperfect. But what I wouldn't concede is that politics is only ever about

the clash of imperfect candidates.

Politics is also about things that are more important. It's about the virtues that we stand for and it's about the rules, the laws that we choose

to live by.

So, it is possible to be very patriotic and have that very patriotism lead you to a concern about the behavior of an individual.

I don't have strong feelings about Mr. Trump one way or the other, but I would like the president of the United States to be an example of the rule

of law here and an example of democracy here.

That's what I would very much like to see regardless of the party.

AMANPOUR: Timothy Snyder, author of "The Road to Unfreedom", thanks so much for joining us.

SNYDER: It's been my great pleasure. Thank you so much.

AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast at any time and see us online at

And, of course, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.