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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  November 22, 2014 4:30pm-5:01pm PST

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>> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas legal board of specialation. board-certified in your community, experienced, respected and tested. and by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy and by the alice foundation and viewers like you. >> i'm evan smith, his credits include the looming tower, an examination leading up to 9/11 and going clear, a deep dive into the church of scientology that was a finalist for the american book award. his latest book is 13 days in september.
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he's lawrence wright. this is overheard. >> so i guess we can't fire him now. >> i guess we can't fire him now? >> being on the supreme court was an improbable dream. >> it's hard work and controversial. >> this guy says, hey, he's goes to 11! [laughter] >> write. >> write write, nicjust as the d which you write, it's a historical piece but none the less, kind of in pieces, now we have this bit of wisdom. >> it's always well timed when writing about the middle east,
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unfortunately. >> at any given moment, if you write a book about the middle east it's perfect timing. >> you can count on it. >> it literally reconstructs the chronology of those days day by day. >> it's three chronologies, this is the most structural book, my most john mcfee type of book. >> i decided what was interesting about camp david, so many of issues we're dealing with now were on the table then. >> unresolved. >> right, the 13 agonizing days form the chapter, the chronology, but as we move through that present time, there's an -- another layer underneath that, which is the history of the modern middle east as seen through the eyes of the markble men at camp -- remarkable men at camp david.
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like moshadiyan and people who shaped the history and below that the plates of the bible, the torah and the toran, which continue to shape modern history. >> yep. >> i was trying to drag a line through each of these time periods to show how they moved in synchronization. >> it's remarkable on some levels and totally unremarkable on others. the issues in discussion were -- we think we have this fixed, maybe we don't think we have it fixed but calmed and then you turn around for five minutes and come back and it's not calm again. >> i think the problem is the opposite. especially nowadays, is the sense of jews and arabs are eternal enemies. never be at peace and that kind of thinking is the enemy of
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peace. and one of the things that i wanted to show in camp david, there was a moment where three very determined and tough men, flawed characters, sat down and overcame that kind of inertia and established a piece, it's not perfect, it's not comprehensive, as carter had hoped it would be, but it created a peace between israel and egypt, two countries that had been in four wars in a generation and there hasn't been a single violation of that treaty in the 35 years since. >> i mentioned the idea of the ever thus nature of this being this positive as expect. tear going to be enemies of peace, but let's go back to that time and come back forward. carter, reagan sadat as individual personalities really are terrific characters.
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>> as writer you're grateful. if you're asking for a character to write about, could you do better? >> one of the lessons of writing about camp david, we often hear you need partners for peace, as if there are perfect partners and here you had anwar sadat, who was an assassin, a nazi sympathizer and menachem begin, a terrorist who blew up a hotel in jerusalem killing 100 people whose troops he sent to the palestinian village where so many were massacred. these were guys were blood on their hands. >> right. and then you had carter, who was a flailing, unpopular president. if you wanted to take a cast of unlikely people, to make peace, you look at today's cast of characters and think, oh, they would never make peace.
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believe me understanding that context, nobody could believe it. >> it's proof of the old adage, in everys aspect of life, perfect can't be the enemy of the god. far from perfect as individuals and as a collection of people, many reasons to think this would not work. what happened. that it actually was made to work? >> well, start with jimmy carter and an unusual man, you know, he was -- he grew up in the rural south, in south georgia, the only jew he knew was his uncle in chattanooga, an insurance salesman who could chin himself with one arm. that was very impressive to carter. [laughter] and loved auto racing and that was the only jew that he knew. and the first time he met an arab was at the daytona 500 when he was governor. >> that's his experience.
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>> so he did go to israel while he was governor. and golda maye lent him a station wagon and went to the west bank visited settlements and he did acquaint himself with the situation there. it was in the holy land, as he thinks of it, he conceived the idea that god placed him in office to bring peace to the holy land. that presumption, to start with. walter mondale, who was vice president, told me on the first day of office, carter said we're going to try and bring peace. and the universal advice from his advisors was, let's wait until your second term. >> the classic second term goal. >> let's not try that right now. so to start with -- it started with carter, he had the determination and persistence and maybe the delusion he could
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do this. and he is working with two very eccentric men, sadat, longed for peace. >> yeah. >> israel had captured the sinai in 196 and sadat tried to recapture it in '73 and scared the israelis, you know, just was a -- took them out of their sense of smugness, and that they had -- the sinai, they were at that point, you know, they were setting up dive shops on the red sea and so on, pretty much annexed sinai and suddenly the egyptian army comes pooring across and reshapes the thinking but not necessarily toward peace. you know, in the thinking of a lot of israelis, we can't afford to give up sinai.
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>> yep. >> that's our 100-miles of sand between us and the main egyptian forces where would we be in the egyptians had started at the edge of our border? he was -- sadat was really unusual in his determination to seek peace and went in november of '77 to address them in jerusalem. you can't imagine what an earth shaking thing this was. >> of course. >> an arab going to -- israel wasn't even on the arab maps. didn't talk about it. and flew from cairo and the egyptians didn't know what to think. they weren't sure it wasn't a terrorist. >> right, a prank. the plane full of explosives and the airport ringed with snipers just in case and the israeli
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national orchestra didn't have sheet music for the egyptian national anthem and had 0 tune in to learn how to play it and out of the blue couldn't this is airport airplane and it was unheard of. >> yeah, yeah, yeah. >> and sadat descends in -- you know, then he goes to address the conessa and tells them they have to give up the occupied territories and we're not going make a separate peace. menachem begin is only in office for a year, when this happens, his election was the greatest surprise in israel's his. he was -- the prime minister, first prime minister of israel called him a little hitler, he was a face fascist, a racist and
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they were embarrassed and summed he's elected the prime minister. it's called the great reversal in israel. he was an obstructionist and his goal was to expand the country of israel. not contract it. >> the idea they would somehow give up, totally against what he stood for. >> these were men were very -- >> so the individual personalities, you couldn't imagine coming together and the circumstances seemed completely unlikely. >> well, it was rosalynn carter's idea to take -- >> she's actually a very important part of the story. >> oh, yeah, she was very helpful to me. you know, this started as a play. >> indeed. >> and the producer was carter's media advisor and took me to plains and introduced me to the president and first lady. >> first time you'd been? >> no, i met carter a couple of times before and interviewed h
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him. >> not mrs. carter. >> and this how they built in 1952 after he retired from the navy, incredibly modest and behind the couch is a pitcher that -- a picture that carter painted. looked like something from "good night moon." [laughter] >> so the producer says, mr. president, larry, he writes for the new yorker, he wrote a piece about scientology. i read that and found it most intriguing knowledge let me observe, you just did your carter. that was very nicely done. [laughter] not bad at all. >> so mrs. carter said since when did you start reading the new yorker? i read it every week! [laughter] how many characters am i going
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to have on stage and i realized i had a fourth one in her and i need he had someone who could talk to him like that. they have a lively relationship. >> she ended up being a good tart part of the story and the story is carter and begin and sadat and brzezinski and others, it's such a wonderful throw back to a time that seems like a long time ago, but as you note, very correctly, we're still talking about this so much and while the personalities may be different, the issues are many the same. >> the camp david accords were in two parts. one is israel and egypt and that's the peace that's been established and not been violated violated. the second part was a framework for peace between israel and the palestinians and that's not been implemented and every single attempt to bring peace between them since then is simply an
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attempt to finalize the camp david accords. that part that's never been completed. >> and the area of the world we're talking about is just a mess. >> yeah. >> we sit here against the backdrop of the president's speech, how are we going to deal with the new terrorist threats and the most problematic threat since 9/11, it's said, and some way, the situation with israel is kind of to the side at the moment although unresolved. it's hard to know what to make of this part of the world. you've written extensively about this part of the world. you yourself lived in egypt and you know, generally speaking that part of the world you don't know enough to comment on it. what do you make of this. >> i've been trying to work out
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a language to -- the logic of the war and the logic of peace and right now we're in the logic of war and there was president obama explaining to the american people why we have to go to war in iraq again. although he doesn't like to call it war. but that's essentially what we're being asking to go. and in the logic of war what he's proposing is perfectly reasonable. as long as you're fighting against this kind of military force, then, you know, military force seems to be called for. but if you notice, the one thing that's succeeded is the peace between israel and egypt and we don't talk about making peace. we're talking about making war. and so what -- how could we resolve this? we're essentially talking about several areas of conflict that could be peacefully resolved. one is the israelis and
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palestinians. that's not an impossible problem. in my lifetime, growing up in the segregated south. i grew up in the cold war and the soviet union was dissolved. anything this possible. >> history changes and people -- you get the sense, sometimes, that the participants in this conflict feel their battle is entitled to be eternal. don't the personalities matter? as you say, sadat and begin unlikely people to be at the table. to broker peace. different personalities might have had different attributes going in that -- a reason to be more optimistic and may not have accomplished it. mr. yaw hue inetanyahu is said a
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difficult person, or are the issues so retractable. you're say, correctly, civil rights, came and went, soviet union came and went, this could come and go, but the personalities seem not -- >> this is why i'm trying to create this language for me to explain this. i think within the logic of war, you know, just recently, you know, netanyahu led the strike on georgia aand within the logic of war when you have missiles flying, then you retaliate. but missiles will always fly out of gaza until peace comes. and the other big area of conflict is the islamic civil war we're stepping into the middle of. >> correct. >> and instead of just trying to degrade and eliminate isis, what you really need to be working on is reconciling the two halves of
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islam. the sunnis and shi'ites. as long as they're in conflict and as long as senior saudi arae using proxies to fight each other and trying to build up their own initiates. we don't know in iran is going to get a bomb but we know that the saudis announced their own nuclear program. we see where this is headed. >> right. >> we have to reconcile those forces. if we don't work on reconciliation within islam and between the israelis and citizennians -- why should we be involved at all? >> i would like to agree with that, i would love to agree with that. but i do think it would be
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better in many ways in iraq were to call upon its neighbors who were endangered by this same force and say to saudi arabia and iran, let's form a coalition of the w willing who will help out our neighbor. and if they have a common enemy, nobody is more threatened by isis than saudi arabia and iran and they know it. this is an opportunity for these two great enemies to find common cause and try to find a way to reconcile. i think by our stepping into it and saying, no, we'll do it, everybody is now saying, that's a good idea. [laughter] and they did such a great job of it before. you know -- great track record. but the question becomes we have a common enemy with iran, we
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have a common enemy with a couple of folks with whom we haven't had the best relations, if we go in there and try to solve the problem, are we just going to retreat back to the old ways it was? >> unfortunately, we do have an interest in having peace in this area. it's not as great as it was during the first and second gulf war when energy prices were skyrocketing. right now, the oil prices have dropped. >> gas is about $3.20 and here in texas, it's not so bad. >> no, partly because of energy independence and lowered consumption in china. but you would think with the conflict in the petroleum regions, gas prices would be jumping up. that's not such a big thing but israel is still a concern and part of our core issues in this country. >> yeah. in some ways comes back to what we were talking about, right?
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>> you can't just bonbon that and the other -- you can't just abandon that, and europe is more dependent on that flow of petroleum and russia going to the ukraine, it raises the geophysical stakes. >> yeah. you have a wealth of material. >> it was thrown out in front of us. we have a couple of minutes left, i want to ask you about the progress of something that's public, though you haven't talked much about it, and that's a series for hbo that you're working on that's about texas politics. you want to talk about a wealth of material. i don't have to make up anything. [laughter] >> this stuff practically writes itself. this is an outgrowth of a play you wrote called sunny's last shot but it's set today and it's about the contemporary world of politics, not the world you wrote about back then.
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can you say two or three words about that. >> i'm writing the pilot and we were a little ahead of ourselves but i'm having a great time. i just love it. it's a blast to write about texas politics. >> yeah. >> and you can't get -- i mean, you don't have to travel very far because they're all -- and they're so eager, you go down to the capital, i'm writing a show for hbo, oh, man! [laughter] i got to talk to you! >> do you think jimmy carter was excited about the new yorker, they hear this and -- >> sometimes as a reporter you're spending so much time trying to get people to talk and here i've got -- >> get them to shut up. that's a bigger problem. >> but i've been very well taken care of by all sides. everyone wants their oar in the water. >> their story told, sure.
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>> texas is an unique entity but the issues we deal with in the legislature, are issues that everybody faces. >> there's a universal aspect to that, no doubt. >> but the special colorization and the characters that are uniquely provided in this state -- >> it's paid some of our bills for many years. i'm thinking about this, tv in some ways is the last fronteer for you. you've -- frontier for you. you've done amazingly well at writing book and written well thought of plays, whether it's a conventional play like the siege in the anticipation of things to come or film verse, like my trip to al qaeda. you hit all of the button and television which in some ways is the new movie, this is still apparently fun for you, energizing as you continue down the path.
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>> i made a resolution to only do things that are important or fun. >> one or the other. sometimes both. >> sometimes you're lucky. but life offers many opportunities and how you choose what you're going to give your life to -- >> yeah. >> -- and it's puzzling for people who look at my career, why are you doing that when you did this? >> yeah. >> and i don't care, you know. [laughter] >> it's your choice. >> it's so easy to live -- you know, under the expectations of other people. >> yeah. >> and only do one thing. i -- i enjoy expressing myself in different venues and i -- i like, you know -- i really enjoy writing comedy and so on, and when -- you know, the looming tower came up, i felt absolutely obliged almost as a mission to go find out what had happened. >> sometimes you find the material and sometimes the
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material finds you and the nature of the world you're focused on most often over there, there's so much material that's bound to find you. and you've been for many years the expert on these topics. i'm thrilled about the book. it's great to see you in circulation. i hope it's a big success. and the hbo thing, i'm excited about that. >> you and the actors calling me. [laughter] >> i have some thoughts about casting. we'll talk. larry wright, great to see you. [applause] >> visit our website at to find interviews and q & a's with gets and archives with past episodes. >> my alternative service was teaching at the american
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university in cairo and roberta and i got married during that period of time. we were there in 1970 when nasser died and sadat became president. >> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialation. board-certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected and tested. and hillco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and hillco health. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and viewers >> garrison keillor: toi derricotte grew up outside
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detroit. with the poet cornelius eady, she cofounded cave canem, an organization committed to cultivating and supporting the work of african american poets. she says, "truth telling in my art is also a way to separate myself from what i have been taught to believe about myself-- the degrading stereotypes about black women." >> blackbottom. when relatives came from out of town, we would drive down to blackbottom. drive slowly down the congested main streets-- beaubien and hastings-- trapped in the mesh of saturday night. we were freshly escaped, black middle class. we snickered and were proud; the louder the streets, the prouder. we laughed at the bright clothes
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of a prostitute; a man sitting on a curb with a bottle in his hand. we smelled barbecue cooking in dented washtubs and our mouths watered. as much as we wanted it, we couldn't take the chance. rhythm and blues came from the windows, the throaty voice of a woman lost in the bass, in the drums, in the dirty down and out-- the grind. ♪"i love to see a funeral, then i know it ain't mine." ♪ we rolled our windows down so that the waves rolled over us like blood. we hoped to pass invisibly, knowing on monday we would return safely to our jobs, the post office, and classroom. we wanted our sufferings to be offered up as tender meat, and
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our triumphs to be belted out in raucous song. we had lost our voice in the suburbs, in conant gardens, where each brick house delineated a fence of silence; we had lost the right to sing in the street and damn creation. we returned to wash our hands of them; to smell them whose very existence tore us down to the human. ( applause ) thanks so much.
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