tv Tavis Smiley WHUT February 10, 2010 10:00pm-10:30pm EST
tavis: good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. despite president obama's vow to end the war in iraq, the u.s. continues there. joining me is thomas ricks, the author of the text about iraq, "fiasco," it is out in paper back with its follow-up, "the gamble." also tonight james horner. he is nominated for an oscar for his work on "avatar." he also worked on "titanic." he has the distinction for working on the two top hollywood films in thisist. -- in history. >> there are so many things that
wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better, but mostly we're looking forward to 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 insurance working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment th 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] >> thomas ricks is a pulitzer prize winning journalist who covers government affairs for the "washington post" and his
book "fiasco" and theollow-up, "the gamble," tom, good to have you back on the program. >> thank you. good to be back. tavi is adventure the word to use with what's happening in iraq? are we still on an adventure there? >> we are. it is far from over. we hope to get out. i don't think we're going to get out. i think we're stuck for many years. if there is a message i have for your viewers, this war has a long ways to go and there is a lot more credibility and tears that will be expended by the iraqis and by us. tavis: barack obama and hillary clinton have promised, they promised that we would get out. >> barack obama campaigned on that. remember he also campaigned on thinking -- he said i will take one brigade out a month from the day i became president. if he had done that, we woul be down on our troop levels.
we're at bush troop levels now. he hopes to get some troop levels down and i think he will get some out. i don't think he will do it as quickly as he wants. he uses the phrase "combat troops." there are no non-complat troops. they all carry weapons. i feel safer with an infantry squad in iraq than with support troops that run truck convoys with iraqi forces. those are vulnerable places to be in. those are the troops we will have after this august. tavis: when the president says combat troops, what is he trying to convey? >> i think he is trying to tell the american people i understand you want to get out of iraq. so do i. i'm doing the best i can here. tavis: still, when he says combat troops, does that mean
folks on the front line fighting? he must mean something by that. >> i think what he hopes to mean is i will get us out of fighting in iraq. tavis: ok. >> and i don't think that is going to happen. tavis: what is it that barack obama learned as president that he apparently did not know as candidate that has made it more difficult to do in reality what he said he was going to on the campaign? >> good question. let me answer it this way. i recently gave a talk at a major u.s. intelligence agency. under the rules of the talk, i can't identify. they said will you please come and talk about iraq and afghanistan? i said sure. what title of the talk do you want to use? i said iraq and afghanistan, how screwed are we? they said ok, that sounds good. i think barack obama found out just how screwed we are. that invading iraq was the worst
decision in the history of american foreign policy. you can't just come in and undo a mess like that. that the decision to invade this country preemptively on false premises is going to haunt us for deck tornadoes in a variety of ways -- for decades in a variety of ways. not just the money, $2 billion a week, every week that have deepened this recession we're in but in things like making it easier for iran to get nuclear weapons. weakening our credibility with other nations and making t more difficult to deal with afghanistan and terrorists when we took our eye off the ball and invaded iraq. once you make a mistake of that size, there are no good answers. you're going through years and years of what's the least bad answer? what's the least pain we can get and i think the answer is going
to be keeping a small number of troops in iraq for many, many years to come. not because of what it gets us because it possibly prevents us from having a civil war in iraq that becomes a regional war. tavis: i want to go back to the campaign because i think it is only in moments like these we can have the informed and construct i dialogue that campaigns don't allow us to have. you tell me which one of these is the case or whether none of these or all of these is the case. candidate obama was either one telling american people what they wanted to hear about getting out of iraq, number two, as a member of the senate with some intelligence available to him, he was falsely raising the hopes of americans, three, he was trying to mollify his liberal progressive democratic base so he could be elected or number four, he really just
didn't realize how bad things really were. i'm sure there are others i can put on that list. i'm trying to get a sense of how we were told one thing during the campaign and nothing we were told turns out to be square with the reality where we are now. >> i think a couple of things are square. it is the same guy dealing with the same problems. i remember watching senator obama deal with general petraeus in the hearings on the hill and what he said then was look, we gave them a chance. let's get out now. and i think that is basically still where he is at. the difference is as a senator you can recommend that and as a president you have to say ok, i'm going to do it and your adviser is saying feeling lucky?
what if that doesn't work? tavis: what is to the best of your knowledge, the condition on the ground in iraq as we speak and i ask that because depending on what you read on any given day, and do this for a living every day, i think i'm reasonably on top of at least what the news media is telling us but on any given day i'm not sure what the situation is, as they say, on the ground in iraq. >> neither am i and it is interesting because there is much less media coverage than there used to be. the 1960 saying, they gave a war and nobody came. cnn has a full time personnd some newspapers do but there is a very small press corps covering this war. tavis: why? >> i think the media believes the american people are bored and journalism is collapsing.
life insurance, communications, security for that person, just buying things like gasoline on the blact market can be expensive. it is a very expensive endeavor. the u.s. military has pulled out with their -- and i can't tell you what is happening in anbar province and nobody has a good handle on what's happening in basra, the biggest city in the south. so it is very hazy but this is what i see through the haze. i see an iraq that still has a lot of violence but we're not as aware of it. that is coming up on a big election four weeks from now. that will determine the shape of post-arican iraq but all the problems we solve before the surge are still there. the basic questions, how do you share oil revenue? ? what sort of government will iraq have? all of those things could lead to violence.
the only thing changing in the equation now is that the american influence, the presence is declining. and that's worriesome because it was the americans who -- the war of 2006. all of the factors are there. we'll see the elections. the crucial period will be the three months after the elections, april, may, june. will the new government be formed? will it be very sectarian? very shiite? how will the sunnis reacts? will they go back to violent opposition? will the civil war be touched on? tavis: what is the expectation at the moment? al malaki has waffled on the process. for lack of a better phrase. what is your expectation of what is going to happen in these elections? >> i don't know. i'm not really good at politics
in this country or that country. i speak military about politics. my guess, though, is that a government will be formed, that it will make the sunnis feel excluded and that in the course of this year, especially in june as our troop withdrawals really start to bite that we'll see whether iraq has a civil war this year. i think 2010 will be a turning point in the war like 2003 and 2006 was. it is scary because it is the first time we have had a turning point year in iraq yn which the american people and the media are not paying attention. tavis: scary is a word you used a moment ago and that the media is not paying attention. it is scary for me. when thomas ricks doesn't know what is going on, by all admission because there isn't enough coverage in the country, if you don't know then the rest of us around thcountry don't know, what it is danger of us
still being engaged in that part of the world, still spending millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers don't know what is going on? what is the danger in that? >> it reminds me of something that famous investor warren buffett likes to say. if you have been paying poker for an hour and you don't know who the patsy at the table is, you're the patsy. i'm worried that we're going to be the patsy. if you have troops on the ground and an iraqi general wants to call an air strike against some personal enemies of his, the troops on the ground say no, we're not going to do it but if you don't have troops on the ground you are suddenly being used by that iraqi general for his own ideas. i worry that we're going to be in that position. tavis: i don't know if this makes you feel better or worse or more informed or less
informed. it is something the american media has to take more seriously at least, from my perspective. thomas ricks' new book is available, "the gamble." good to have you on the program. >> thank you very much. tavis: good to see you. up next a man who has now scored the two biggest films in hollywood history, oscar-winning composor james horner. stay with us. james horner is one of the most prolific and successful composors an conductors. he has once again teamed up with director james cameron for what is now the bgest film in hollywood history. "avatar." here now a scene from aver tar. "avatar." >> to become hunters, you must choose your own --
♪ tavis: obviously, james horner, i'm not a composor, i just trying to figure this out. with a movie like "glory" or "apollo 13," you know what you're doing and you go to work putting the sound track together. "avatar" is like, i don't know what it is. it's out there somewhere and it is in cameron's mind and he is putting all of this together. so how does one go about scoring that as compared to something like "glory" or "apollo 13?" >> well, jim approached me with an abstract idea for a story and
he had started shooting it but didn't really have anything to show me yet, but we discussed concepts of what it was going to be and sort of put me on ice for a while but told me to think about ideas, about this world he was going to create and -- um, he needed sounds that were both familiar, yet exotic and music that was emotional, yet also stirring, yet also things we hadn't heard before. he gave me a whole pallet. tavis: i'm confused already. i would be like, jim, stop. exotic, yet familiar. what are you talking about? i'm sorry, gahead. >> no, no, no. that's how the two of us, we have this sort of shorthand between us and then i started seeing sequences and understood
what he was looking for. he needed some -- a music that would say to an audience this is the world of pandora. this is the world that i've created but you've never seen anything like this and you've never heard anything like this before. yet, it couldn't be too far out. it had to somehow pull an audience in and be somewhat familiar, at the same time giving you a sense of being very exotic. tavis: once you, in your head, at least, becausi still don't get it respectfully, once in your head you figure out where you're going with this, tell me about your process. your actual work process. how do you go about the work? >> well, in a normal film, um, i think about the characters, um,
i think about the storyline and i sort of go with like "apollo 13," the idea that and even "titanic," the idea that the audience already knows the ending of the movie. it is something that had happened in history. in a film like this, it is a slightly different thought process. my first thought is i wonder what it sounds like on this place and my first thought is really what instruments can i collect or what do the voices sound like? what do the sounds sound like? and i start collecting lots of sound before i start writing any melodies or things like that. tavis: stop, for a second.
so when you imagine what it soun like, in "avatar," you start collecting instruments, to your point. what kind of instruments? give me an example what you start collecting to give you to sound that you're trying create. >> well, in the case of the sequence that we just saw, wind instruments and in other instruments i wanted to have the sound of human voices but i didn't want the sound of a regular choir, so i got a couple of women to sing with a very pinched quality and then just had them sing -- recorded on themselves again and again and again and sort of made a choir of these women singing which gives it sort of an african children's sound and it is a wonderful quality, when jake first learns how to fly and some of the instruments besides wind instruments, percussion
instruments or i will take instruments and i will sort of fine tune them digitally so they don't sound like drums anymore or flutes anymore but they have this sort of other worldly sound that you -- that sounds sort of familiar but sounds kind of different. and jim used a lot of those kinds of sounds in the forest at night so when things light up with that luminesence at night, there are not really any sound effects, that is all music if there. tavis: something that we should all consider, perhaps with greater regularity, which is the notion of what film would be like without music. first, you'd be unemployed. >> i would be unemployed. tavis: that's number one. but beyond you being unemployed,
i'm trying to get you to talk to me about how important music is when we go and see films. >> it is very important and ideally, i don't think people should be aware of the music working. i think ideally, the best thing that can happen when you come out of a movie is you don't say what a great score. i think what you should say is what a great movie. that the score is so married to the film that the experience of the two of them combined is what makes the magic. if you listen to one without the other, it is just a movie or it is just a sound track. it is when both of them are run together that the magic happens and that happened with jim and i on "titanic" and it happened in "avatar." the magic of the emotions come out and are brought out really
by the musicnd music is the only thing that can really make those things come out, the love interest or the sense of loss and the excitement. the special effects are always going to work by themselves watching them. but the inner stuff of the film, the heart and soul of the film really can only be narrated by music. tavis: when you started -- you have been at this for a while now, scoring films. when you started, what was the benchmark then for how you would measure your success? and i'm asking what the benchmark was then because once you get the oscar, the academy than that before your career is over, i'm sure, you now have scored the number one and number two
biggest films of all time. i mean, take me back to when you started. give me a sense of what the benchmark was. was it the accolades? the on hors? the scoring a block -- the honors? the scoring of a blockbuster film? >> getting the next job. simple things like not getting fired. tavis: deeply profound. i just wanted to get another job. >> i had no aspirations at that points. i just wanted to be successful at what i did and i come from the classical music world. and so i just wanted to be successful at writing for film and i loved writing for film and to me, it is like sort of building ship or building models. every film is different and you get to write with the director's
blessing because you are working for somebody, which you can never forget, but you get to write almost everything you want and every film is different from each other. and that's how i sort of slowly climb the ladder. tavis: with your classical background, i think of you and jon williams who did wonderful scores down through the years. how has the game changed? you have been at this for a while. how has film scoring in this town changed? regard for r a change? the process of it changed? give me a quick lesson on how this has changed over the years? >> i have to be very careful when iance this question. the one thing that has changed is the era of writing pencil to paper has changed. we're now in an era where a lot of software has been written and machines have been designed that enable people to come up with
music, not even necessarily compose music but just come up with music that may not know about music or may learn about music from just using the machinery. so sometimes i think what happens is the filmmakers gets caught up in the technology and lose the emotional quality and i'm not being old-fashioned. i'm just saying the technology has changed. it's changed the way cameras are shot. it's changed the way special effect are used. in two years, jim's movie is not going to cost $300 million to make. tavis: the studio wishes $300 million. >> it will be half that price because the technology is going to make it come down in price. tavis: when i say $300 million,
it doesn't really matter. it has made so much money. when you see the film. you ugh or you cry or you scream or in some way emote. thank you, james horner, for pulling that emotion out of you. nice to have you on the program. >> thank you. tavis: that's our show for tonight. catch me on weekends on our pod cast. until then, good night from l.a. thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley on pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with the legendary director garry marshall on his latest project "valentine's day". that's next time. we'll see you then. >> there are so many things wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better.
but mostly we're looking forward to helping build stronger communities and relationships. because of your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. tavis and nationwide insurance, working 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. >> we are pbs.