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A World Of Challenges; Author Meg Wolitzer Discusses Her Latest Novel, "The Female Persuasion". Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 5, 2018 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:18] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, everyday this week is served that yet another pressing foreign policy challenge, from Mexico to

Syria, Russia to Trump stand off with China. Former British Ambassador to the United States Sir, Peter Westmacott, and the former George W. Bush

National Security Aide, Kori Schake, help us navigate these choppy waters.

Plus Capturing feminisms generational intention, my conversation with the best selling novelist Meg Wolitzer about her new book "The Female


Good evening everyone and welcome to the program, I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. Few countries will be untouched or untroubled by the dramatic

events of this week, from Washington to Moscow, London to Beijing a lot has happened in a very short space of time.

The ongoing tit for tat between President Trump and China over new import tariffs spot more fears of a trade war and send global markets into a spin.

At the same time as he announced that he would also -- he also said he would send U.S. troops into the Mexican boarder and pull them out of Syria.

Meanwhile, over here, tensions between Britain and Russia threatened to boil over, after the poisoning of a former spy. Russia has demanded an

open session at the United Nations today as it France it tries to distance itself from this repel (ph) case.

Other worries coming from Britain too, a report by MP saying that North Korean ballistic missiles could reach the U.K. within the next 18 months.

Now, with me to discuss all of this, Britain's former ambassador to Washington Sir Peter Westmacott, and Kori Schake who was in the State

Department under President George W. Bush and she joins me from San Francisco.

So welcome to you both. Now, first and foremost, Kori, since you're over there in the United States. I would ask you what you made of the President

saying that he was going to send in the troops to the Mexico border.

KORI SCHAKE, FRMR. U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, American President have authorized the use of National Guard troops along the

boarder and, you know, and extreme circumstances before, so it's not as much of an outlier as it sounds, it also sounds like President Trump just

requested that border state governors do it, not that he tried to federalize the National Guard. So, it's a big headline but probably less

than it sounds.

AMANPOUR: Just quickly to drill down on extreme, do you see a massive national security threat that would require this rare deployment of

National Guard to the boarder?

SCHAKE: No, I do not. I actually think the President is playing very dangerous politics with both of our terrific neighbors Mexico and Canada on

trade, on immigration and on a number of issues. President Trump is burning through the good will that the United States has established with

other countries and it's going to be very costly to reinstate.

AMANPOUR: So you mentioned trade. I want to play for both of you as sound abide from President Trump about the trade issue and of course we also have

the Beijing's ambassador to Washington responding, let's just take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have a trade deficit of $500 billion a year. It's not something we can live with.

CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO US.: We believe this is another step in the wrong direction. This is unilateralist and protectionist action, we

will certainly fight back.


AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador Westmacott, we will certainly fight back. I mean as you this happening, you were the ambassador to Washington. What do you

think is going to happen on the global stage in terms of trade tensions?

PETER WESTMACOTT, FRMR. BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: It's understandable. I think that President Trump who is of course or something

with more country lift and feels that there's no such thing as fair trade if America is losing out and, you know, you're going to beat the bad guys,

that he should retaliate like this.

There is a hug trade deficit, I thought it was $379 billion, he says it is 500 billion, it is enormous and we all know that China does not play the

proper rules. So retaliating is kind of instinctive, but ambassador's way who I knew very well. Walkers in Washington, was saying, you know, calm

down this is a protections response. The problem is with the trade war with China. It tends not to be China but lose at (ph) most.

[14:05:04] It tends to be others economies and it is very interesting to me that as America has said what it said and China has retaliated, that

already you're here and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross saying, well let's calm down even after shooting walls, you end up with negotiation. So after

trade war of course were going to see whether we can deal with this, because ultimately to winner or losers and not many winners if this becomes

a real trade war.

AMANPOUR: Because exactly, everybody says this will affect the global economy and boomerang back onto the very American workers that President

Trump says he's trying to help.

So, can I just put to you both at this stage before we drill down in Syria and the back and forth on that. You know, President Trump not only talks

about America's source but Kori, he's talked about being a disruptor at least he did a lot in the, you know, run up to the victory and he's, you

know, Steve Bannon talked about it, but what do you think in this last more than 12 months? I mean has there been too much chaos, too much disruption?

SCHAKE: Yes, I think probably so. I think the president seems to believe that setting all of the boats rocking is invariably to our advantage and I

think that's probably not true. And it's especially not true on problems like North Korea where there's a very narrow margin for error before bad

things start happening.

And I also think the President by focusing so exclusively on the United States is insensitive tot eh cost that these policies bring for allies as

Peter was suggesting on trade policy and you were as well.

AMANPOUR: Well, and listen, you just mentioned North Korea and Peter has just been recently to Iran, and I bring this up because of course President

Trump is talking about potentially ripping up or puling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

And as I said the British believed that the North Koreans are capable eventually of reaching Britain, but that deal maybe had with them to

prevent them using that new capability.

In your mind first, what's your own concern that this deal would get, you know, rubbish by the President, and what do you think that will mean for

any meeting with the North Koreans?

WESTMACOTT: When I spoke into Iranian politicians in Tehran and one or two who've visit London recently I've certainly got the impression that they

think, all a sudden they want us to believe that President is in the business of destroying the -- what we call the GSPOA.

That he's not going through the motions of trying to find ways improving and all that to give himself cover for saying I've made it better, it's a

win for me, it's a lost for them, you know, we can carry on with it. People that I talked in British not the governments are not so sure and

nobody want (ph) seems be very clear whether the President really wants to kill the deal or not.

The fact the John Bolton is taking up his national security adviser and in four days time and he's quite a hawk in Iran suggest that it may well be

that this time the deal is going to be if not destroyed then (INAUDIBLE) says come on walk away from it. Doesn't necessarily mean it dies, the

Europeans might try and keep it going and it is, because frankly, none of us have an interest in nuclear arms raise in the Middle East. But the

Iranians I think are deeply nervous about that deal going down to drain.

And of course if it does, then it opens up also the difficulties for North Korea. If there is a deal to disrupt the North Koreans which maybe because

the North Koreans have begun saying we'd like to talk after all and Donald Trump said yes, I'd like to talk too.

You know, what price will they fit on a deal with the United States of America if America's word is no longer trusted and might be torn up, if the

President decides one fine day doesn't like that deal after all. As for the range of the missiles I would say that probably North Koreans had the

ability to fire long range missiles for quite a long time reaching probably American territory, European territory. They've chosen not to use it.

That's what I hear from the real experts and they've not used it because they maybe hard, they may be irrational, they're not suicidal.

AMANPOUR: It is so interesting and just to pick up with you, Kori, because you were in the administration which was the last to have some kind of

deals with North Korea and you also in the administration where John Bolton was the U.N. ambassador.

So what do you think will be the hardening or do you think they will be a hardening of American foreign policy coming up?

SCHAKE: Yes, I think that's likelier than not. I think the President seems to be increasingly confident that he was right in his judgments that

he campaigned on, on foreign and national security policy, and he wants to build the team more closely aligned but there no judgments about that. So

yes, I do think -- I do anticipate a hardening.

I also agree with Peter's judgment that on North Korea, we already have the right deterrent threat which is that any attack by North Korea on the

United States or its allies will result in military retaliation that the North Korean government will not survive.

[14:10:07] I think that continues to be the right threat to manage North Korea even as they cross the nuclear threshold, I don't think that makes it

any less precisive.

AMANPOUR: Let me just bring you both into the idea of Syria. You know, you talked about the President trying to get all his more like-minded

people around him to pursue his foreign policy. But I must say this week, the whole Syria issue, seems to be very modeled. Let me play for you a bit

of the sound bite after President Trump said they're going to pull troops out of Syria from Brett McGurk who's the point man on the fight against

ISIS. First we'll hear from him.


BRETT MCGURK, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR COALITION TO DEFEEAT ISIS: In terms of our campaign in Syria, we are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our

mission, and our mission isn't over, and we're going to complete that mission.


AMANPOUR: OK. So, our mission isn't over said Brett McGurk and this is what President Trump says about it.


TRUMP: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation. We will have, as of three months ago, $7

trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years. We get nothing. Nothing out of it. Nothing.


AMANPOUR: Kori, what on earth can we derive as policy from that? Is ISIS defeated or isn't it? Will they stay the course or won't they? Are they

in to see end of Assad or aren't they? What do we take from those opposing views there?

SCHAKE: Well, unsympathetic to the President wanting to keep the military mission narrow and focused on the defeat of ISIS.

The tragic truth is that Bashar al-Assad's government is winning the civil war in Syria with the brutal assistance of Russia and Iran, and they are

willing to run greater risks and commit austerities to produce an outcome that they're much more committed to than we are. And the force is fighting

Bashar al-Assad have never coalesce than to a political coalition of the kind that could govern the country.

So, unsympathetic to the President reflexes and it does sound to me like he's taking a very different policy approach than we have taken in

Afghanistan or Iraq, where we have partnered with local forces to improve governance and social cohesion to make the societies less vulnerable to

terrorism and also to shoulder a greater share of the burden of fighting it on there part.

Sounds to me like what the President wants to do is limit our involvement to punitive military action without doing any of the positive things to

make the societies more robust. And of course, the result of that is that the society -- that we will very quickly look in distinguishable from what

we are fighting against to the society.

AMANPOUR: And talk about punitive measures, Peter Westmacott, let me play for you a sound bite from the outgoing National Security Advisor, H.R.

McMaster, about Russia and how to try to stop Putin's influence.


H.R. MCMASTER, OUTGOING U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Russia brazenly and implausibly denies its actions and we have failed to impose sufficient

costs. The Kremlin's confidence is growing as its agents conduct their sustained campaigns to undermine our confidence in ourselves and in one



AMANPOUR: So, what do you think, in our last remaining minute, is the way to get the Kremlin under control if I could say like that, I mean to script

our case that the U.N., you know, potentially discussing today. Russian wants to say, Britain did it.

WESTMACOTT: First thing I would say that McMaster's line on Putin and Russia is much tougher than that it is boss. The President don't think

that is significant, let's see how things go in the future. John Bolton, in fact, is pretty tough on Russia as well. So, it may be the some of the

language will change.

I think that what is really important about dealing with Russia is the international community must stand up to it, must show Putin the cost of

paving like this. It was destroying other democracies or murdering a (INAUDIBLE) or critics abroad, or in streets of Moscow, but the cost isn't

worthy. This kind, there's no right or wrong in his mine. This is about what can I get away with in order to make Russia rich and in order to make

Russia great again and feared.

So, we, the rest of us, that's why the international response is being so powerful must say, that's not worthy and must surprise him by the strength

of international sentiments against it. He's going to play games to the OPCW in Hague, he's going to play games in --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The chemical weapon security council.

WESTMACOTT: And trying to shift the argument, trying to suggest the British made it up or although we did it. And yet, at the same time, the

spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry been saying, watch out, anybody who's critical at the boss, your life is in danger, if you start

being unpleasant to us in other countries.


[14:15:06] WESTMACOTT: In other words, we should do it. It's a clear message to dissidence and the opponents not to speak out. And not to

agreed to do anything against the regime but they will then deny --


WESTMACOTT: -- by lying through their teeth (INAUDIBLE) to the responsibility. We must get that the regime get away with that.

AMANPOUR: Let us see how this unfolds. Peter Westmacott, Kori Schake, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

So, from the world of real politic to the world of larger truth perhaps in an era of instant reactions, hot takes. My next guest is a devotee (ph) of

the warm take. Today, marks six months exactly since the New York Times posted its first bombshell report on then Hollywood titan, Harvey

Weinstein. Best selling novelist Meg Wolitzer says timing couldn't better.

Her latest book "Female Persuasion", tells the story of a budding student activist and her relationship with a mentor, a 60s era feminist. But

Wolitzer tells me that she never said out to write a book for the moment. She just sees novels as a side dish to the main course our crazy world

keeps serving up.


AMANPOUR: Meg Wolitzer, so welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So let us start with "The Female Persuasion", a really interesting title, and of course landing at the time of, you know, six

months into the MeToo movement. You have a protagonist, the main character Greer and one of the main things that happens to her is an assault on


Tell me why that was your sort of central thesis for this book?

WOLITZER: Well, you know, although this book is coming out in the moment of MeToo, obviously I was working on it not just for a period of months but

period of years like three years. These are issues that are new. I mean these are issues we've been thinking about and talking about for really

long time. Female power, misogyny, what it means to be a woman in the world, how to make things better, how to make meaning in your life.

I start my character on campus as a young woman because I think its coming of AIDS (ph) story, it's about that feeling of being a women and sort of

realizing that there are some times when you might be objectified, when you might have something happen to you that you don't want, and how do you

process at it.

Greer is someone who is shy and she doesn't understand what is going on, why is this person groping me at a frat party in college, and her face is

really, really hot. And she start to think about her body and herself in the world, and it's a real coming of age story moving forward as she meets

the famous feminist and makes meaning for herself.

AMANPOUR: Just two observations. Obviously, the way you described Greer that she was frozen, paralyzed, didn't know what to do when that groping

happened, that sexual assault. And that is what we hear so often from the victim for instance of Harvey Weinstein, who claimed that he did that to

them. And so that is really something that's come out into fall, the idea of being frozen and paralyzed in the face of this unbelievable assault.

But secondly, you now talk about Faith who is Greer's friend, and a famous feminist, so quite an infamous feminist in your story. I wonder if I could

just play you a sound bite of what Gloria Steinem on this issue when I interviewed her awhile ago.


GLORIA STEINEM, ACTIVIST AND FEMINIST: The people who say that fight is over is the same people who use to say to me it's impossible. You know,

it's against nature. And now their current form of obstructionism is over. No, no, no, we've just barely began.


AMANPOUR: Part of your book, describes also the kind of intergenerational conflict if you like between the Gloria Steinem era of feminism and the

much younger generation. Where do you come down on that because, you know, it came up in the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton and her supporters were

sort of described by the younger generation as out of date?

WOLITZER: Well, you know, as a novelist, one of the things that I get to do is sort of traffic and new ones, which is something that I really,

really like. I haven't -- in mid life, I'm someone who has been young and has been a hot faced girl and is someone who has been older and as had

younger women that I've tried to help but I've been very, very help by older women.

So, I basically feel that, as a novelist, I'm sympathetic because I'm looking at what is it like out there for different people. You know, of

course, there are conflicts between generation and between different groups of people.

Women of different generations grow up in a different world but I think the feminist want equality and that is something that threads through the book

very, very, strongly.

AMANPOUR: Yes, indeed and tell me about Nora Ephraim, the great writer, the script writer, the director she of course -- her first directing job

was base on your book. This is you life, she called her film "This is My Life". That must have been amazing for you.

WOLITZER: It was incredible. Nora, was a great friend and she is someone who is one of he dedicatees of my novel because, I thought about the women

who are really encouraging and wonderful to me when I was young. She was one of them.

[14:20:08] She cared very much about helping people but it wasn't just out of kindness although she was very kind. It was out of a kind of enthusiasm

for everything. She made me laugh a lot and she made me feel I guess, you know, there is the sense in the novel and also I think for a lot of younger

women of other people who give you permission.

AMANPOUR: And she said something amazing and this for me to read it back and so long ago in 1996 during the commencement address she said I probably

particularly to the women, "Above all, be the heroine of your life not the victim." And I think today those are incredibly profound words because,

you know, we're talking right now in the midst of a whole gender pay, crisis, we're talking about it in the midst of a whole sexual abuse, the

MeToo movement, you know, have women now do you think started to be the heroines of their own lives and no longer accepting to be the victims?

WOLITZER: I think so. I think that the idea of saying something that you feel is unfair. Saying what happened to you but speaking up about it,

understanding it, talking about things is always the best way to go.

Talking about things and now I think what's happening is that other people are listening, so that maybe people can speak up more clearly, they can

speak up more freely without feeling, wait a minute, like Greer does in my book like did this really happened to me, wasn't an assault? Is this

something I should just accept?

No, it isn't something you should accept and there are other people out there who would listen and I think that it's -- look it's scary to speak

up. It's scary to speak up and say I was wronged or this is unfair or I don't like the way you're treating me, but I think that the more you talk

about things -- the more people talk about things the more they can sort of control their lives.

AMANPOUR: I want to pick up also on part in the extra ordinary piece of rights that you did, you describe me "The Second shelf", the phenomenon of

"The Second Shelf" where women's literature is sort of consigned to what they think women's literature should be.

You talked about how so many men's books are published in really bold type phase and bold colors and you -- a couple of your books have taken on the

same practice. You got this massive vibrant stripes, bit white lettering there is nothing shy about this cover.

WOLITZER: Well what I said in the piece "The Second Shelf" is that sometimes books by men had big covers that sort of, you know, with those

letters that you described that sort of said to the reader this book is an event and sometimes there would be books by women that had covers that I

jokingly called "little girl in the field of wheat" and they seem to suggest that this is a less important book and may be it suggested that men

wouldn't want to read it. Of course books that literature is for everyone. I mean I should've called my novel "The Everyone Persuasion" perhaps, but I


The thing is like I went to a book party years ago and I think I opened the piece this way and I -- a man and that they're asked me to sort of tell him

about my books that I describe them as being about family marriage of sort of sex different issues and after I talked about it or he said, oh you

should meet my wife shed be interested and he kind of got out of there as fast as he could. He wanted nothing to do with me, and though those issues

were particularly female.

It was a study in the "New York Times" that's the fiction -- reading fiction feature empathy. I absolutely think it's true.

AMANPOUR: We've seen in history women office take on men's names and just recently I spoke to JK Rowling of obviously the Harry Potter fame to hear

that she was once tempted. This isn't what she told me about it.


AMANPOUR: Why the initials?

JK ROWLING, AUTHOR, "HARRY POTTER" SERIES: Because my publisher -- they published Harry Potter, they said to me we think this is a book that will

appeal to boys and girls and I feel great and they said so could we use your initials? And because basically they were trying to disguise my



ROWLING: And I also see that last about three second.


AMANPOUR: I mean it is extra ordinary to hear somebody as famous as her think that, you know, she once was tempted to take on a man's (INAUDIBLE).

Let me just quickly ask you are boys in school reading the great female novelist, the Bronte's and all the others Jane Austen?

WOLITZER: Probably not, probably not, and of course everyone should read things that show you what is it like to being someone else, but you want

people to be able to read about other people's lives whether it's other genders, other races. People living in other countries, especially in this

moment of what people are calling the hot take and sort of I'm the master of the warm take. Because I want to sort of look slowly at what is this --

what is my character's experience like? What is it like being a young woman today? What was it like for my older character growing up as a

second race feminist? How do we know what inside other people? I think fiction teaches us that and I really wish that boys could read those books


AMANPOUR: Obviously, your books have been best sellers and certainly this one is really remarkable for in the moment as people say, but there have

been some who have suggested that maybe the moment has bypass the book, let me just read what the New York critic has said.

[14:25:11] "The events of the pasty few months, and the fierce discussions about feminism that they have engendered, have proved to be far more

electrifying and complex then anything that Wolitzer depicts here. Surpassed by the present that it aims to depict, the novel feels amiable

and mild by comparison, already quaintly out of date".

How does that sit with you?

WOLITZER: I didn't try to write a novel of the moment I mean this isn't one of those books like you have something terrible happened and then a

book comes out like mass produce the next day about it. This is a slow, you know, intimate take about things that on stool over period of time.

I think of these issues because they're so old. They're not going to feel over the moment in that way. I mean, you'd have to do kind of a Mad Libs

and sort of put in sort of various names that are in the news. Harvey Weinstein or whatever, that's not at all what this novel does.

I really like -- what a novel can do is just sort of immerse you in this world that needs to be pleasurable, it needs to be fun as well as powerful.

I mean, you know, how do you accomplish both of those things? I think it's through character sort of trying to make meaning of their lives saying, you

know, this is what I'm in the middle of.

Red is a novel. I hope that it feels immersive. I hope that it feels like a world you want to be in. As for me being in the moment of sort of being

on the internet all day, I love to go to fiction as a sort of none on escape from it, but as a sort of a side trip or side dish if you will to

everything in our world. There's another way to kind of understand it and I hope my characters provide that light.

AMANPOUR: Keep on serving us up those side dishes. Meg Wolitzer, thank you so much indeed also of "The Female Persuasion".

WOLITZER: Oh, thank you.


AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember you can always watch us online. Good bye from London.