Ep. 137 - Jim Sciutto

Update: 2017-04-10


Jim Sciutto, CNN's chief national security correspondent, talks with David Axelrod about the impact his Jesuit education had on his worldview, the complex nature of the U.S.-China relationship, the key question that world leaders and diplomats are asking about the Trump administration, and the pressures he's feeling as a reporter in the Trump era.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

and the the the and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod the the uh just wanna remind u again at the axe has been nominated for two webby Awards and you will decide our fate if you guys like this podcast then go on to webby Awards and the two categories in which we were nominated were best interview slash Talk Show and Best host one that is particularly close to me if you go on and vote both those categories that would be great gym shoe though even as we speak I'm looking across the room and there he is on CNN talking about the events of the last few days in Syria Jim shooter came by the Institute of Politics last week before the raid against a side to bring to bear his twenty years as a international correspondent for ABC that chief national security correspondent for CNN and two years as a senior aide in the American Embassy in Beijing China the Middle East these are areas he knows as well as any and we're chance to talk about all of that and his life came by the Iowa the the gym pseudo out among other things my fellow New Yorker welcome welcome here I I see a product of Regis High School in New York a Jesuit school yeah yeah how we have that impact on your on your worldview is the there's no certainly no other school that I went to that was more influential on the way that I think as in the way I've tried to let Yale may resent I know say to my male friends but it was the Jesuits a special breed yes the world's learning that now with this pope with France's you see in him I mean they're intellectuals who really influence the way I think about the world and and they are questionnaires by nature and I think that that some of that probably led me the way that I went to my career path it's about challenging thinks why why that way that's the way I was taught the things I was fourteen but there's also inherited that there's a Miss mission is a Jesuit mission to the Regis Matos men for others and and um I don't claim to be you know claim to be any sort of charitable hero by any means but that in my life I've tried to find a mission where you can make a difference and I know that that you so's is part of it and who's going to drill the Jesuits are the lead really know what I want to go into great school with with the Sisters of Charity they actually trailed stuff in your home on my knuckles are still red from my Catholic grade school the Jesuits you know this is about asking questions and convincing and um and making you feel that you know that you have you'll roll and you have an ability to make a difference and as a way to do that yeah well this pope has been sort of trance formation and bringing Jes whut ethic to to the Vatican and I think and you could speak to this ahma like I'm a Jew from New York you're a Catholic from New York but the has the from of just from a kind of marketing standpoint I think he's re energized a lot of younger Catholics a lot of my Catholic friends who see in him what they want the church to be absolutely and Catholics wanted that for some for for for years right I mean I've been sad about my church it to this day I will confess you know I don't go to church when I grew up with when every Sunday and every every feast day my mom made sure that that happened I haven't done that I do my best to do your confession here too I am I hope you listen if you'll take it home but um that you know a lot of us were longing for that to me the Catholic Church as you know whence went through is still going through immense problems in its child abuse being one of them but its response to child abuse but also disconnect from change you know this is the thing about Jesuits as well and talked about mission and I talked about inquisitive this but it's but it's also Jesuits oddly enough an almost ironically as Catholics that are open minded right this is the thing you had a lot of it's a very tolerant group of people you know I was not tall certainly wasn't taught that the Catholic Catholic is the only white face and that's the funny thing about the Jesuits even the Pope wouldn't sit down and say This this is and I think is that spirit of tolerance that has been appealing in addition to the notion of giving of oneself of of you know his willingness to his ability to serve ah downplay his own stature in and doing the things that people very much associate with Christianity generally well you know it's a message I think for our time the Catholic faces of Faith and he said this which is that Catholics should be defined by the things that they're against right whether whether it be divorce write to or homosexuality right knee he's he's opened his arms to a lot of things that his predecessor certainly did not think the time and are not just our politics is a nation but just our culture isn't a show where that message boy it certainly valuable yeah no question about it no question about it you um you said that being a Jesuit is one of the reasons that lead you to your career but I assume the other pieces that your mom was a journalist no question a she you know huge influence a journalist female journalists at a time when she was she was a pioneer really she's a little girl in the fifties she worked first for radio station there to BHS and she was and then she went to New York and that was a dream and she worked mostly for magazines at the point but again this was a different culture when it came to women in any professional work split workplace particularly in she faced that there was a huge challenge for her role model for me and for my three sisters but also inspiration in terms of career but also I think in terms of the way you live your life because beyond from a very young age she encouraged us to write not necessarily because we would be right for newspaper Sunday but just to because when you write you think and you're processing now and you're remembering them but you're also building kind of a framework me the other thing that she she had your sisters go to many of them become journal they didn't want a doctor one ones involved and diversity diversity and corporate social responsibility as an actress so we were like well like all over the place got the bases covered we do but I think all of us have I think she taught us is an openness to the world and a desire to to see and explore our world and try to make a difference it is a great thing about journalism is it gives you I mean you're out there and you're asking people about their stories and wiring it's it's it's a great thing my mom a also one of these pioneers who is a reporter eight pm which was newspaper New York in the forties and she was one of the few women in the newsroom and became a magazine writer ultimately want other things but it was tough for women at that time too you had to be determined to do that work to get ahead and she tells the stories I mean if you talk about massage me today Amy then you know you're an object right and that the ticks the ticks a steely woman to do that and also for kids right in the sixties and seventies and balancing raising children with having created a time when you know there were no there was no childcare in the office right and you had yet to make it to make it work when you went you went off to Yale as I mentioned before a new study Chinese history what led you to Chinese history while tell you this is a true story I was I was a freshman at Yale nineteen eighty nine and my mind one of my sisters was actually living in Taiwan at the time and my parents and another of my sisters went to visit her and then went to Beijing in late May nineteen eighty nine to two and they found themselves in the middle of the Tiananmen demonstrations and we have family pictures my parents and sisters in the middle of Tiananmen by the students you know there's this moment of celebration feeling like they were on the cusp of history of changing the country they left paging the day martial law was declared and then a few days later of course you had the massacre in it and this happen to be the time when choosing my major it's the end of your freshman year and at the time ninety percent of the kids studying history at Yale which of course is if you have no idea what you want to do with your life we're going and sort of political history or European history not like you know I do on the study Chinese history don't want to just listen I didn't there Joel was just by dint of their accounts of what happy experience of it yet it's funny the few weeks ago was emptying out some of my mom's old stuff my mom passed away ten years ago I came across she saved a bunch of newspapers from then from Asia they were in Asia that I'm sort of in Japan afterwards in later but the headline coverage from the region and she wrote about herself to just being a SU set an accidental witness to history I think that that was also part of how I found myself to journalism too because as you said you know this is this is your way to explore the world world witness history and and help you know the old cliche right the first draft of history yeah you you did some journalism though as well well you are I did so after college and again I still have no idea I had ideas but I didn't have a great career plan so you know what better plan than to apply for fellowship prayer so when I went to Xuan Hong Kong as a Fulbright fellow which is a fantastic program one of the greatest gifts I was ever given and up staying there to work as a journalist in Hong Kong for a dinky little TV station that still had typewriters in the newsroom and this was the nineties they still had it and you know got paid nothing but was able to travel around the region and cover what was going on at the time it was it was a kids tree was a young young journalists tree and I don't want to jump ahead in the story but you had several postings in journals including here in Chicago and then London as a foreign correspondent for ABC but you took a break from journalism and you actually entered government as an aide to the ambassador to China so you've been steeped in China for very long I know it's funny I jokingly family worst I am right that we have some destination relative risk is a four or five posts of two to my sister's myself we spent time in Asia for different reasons at different times but but it's always fascinated me as as a place and I know that I might I just come back from a decade in London covering covering the world really but principally the Middle East and principally the wars in the Middle East and we'll talk about that and I came back to I thought it was time to come back to the U S and I found myself a little bit suffocated by Washington and I didn't expect to you and be the first my Friday there's that should be a help group for that um a little suffocated and I got what was certainly not unexpected offer to go work for who for the at the time the new ambassador to China Gary Locke and it was us met because you were at the moment we met at the White House correspondent noted it was not not a plan and plan professional encounter come and I had a fascination with China and I and II I felt I still feel that this is the principal superpower relationship of our time as pose with Russia now it's a principle that but you Big sweep of things the Chinese China relations with China is is probably more determined I think so especially when you think the design we wish it were the size and the degree to which our economic future and for me was it was an opportunity to see from the inside and and there was a family aspect to this too that my wife bye bye good luck and just for her talent was offered the ABC job to the Beijing correspondent the same time and were thinking we had two kids moved to Washington we asked a friend of ours and we just moved back to states and here we and they gave my wife actually some good advice because they had faced a decision like this a few years before those of you know what we realize the decision came down to the the remodeling our kitchen are going to China will likely go to China because the Chinese will both have an adventure it was great was great image but came back with us his glory are a very well be a distinguished journalist in her own right for freebies for ABC it was a family adventure I certainly learned a lot she learned a lot the kids came back speaking chinese we traveled region and I wouldn't rate it wouldn't rain for a So this is the kind of a pro fishes moment to talk about this because as we record this conversation the president's about to sit down for a summit with President Xi and we have the North Koreans firing missiles off an ever closer to the possibility of an Intercontinental missile that could hit the U S Hwy what is the state of play both between US and China right now and on the issue of North Korea this playing out on China first is undetermined right I mean this has been a difficult relationship for years neither side has quite figured out this conundrum which is which you're a rising power and existing power right and and you know that creates tensions that are real creates economic tensions but military tensions in in the region the Obama administration of course you know work work hard at this for eight years and left with with some continuing issues and one being the man made islands North Korea the South China Sea just in the South China Sea and North Korea still unresolved cc of the new administration coming in his public positions during the campaign and on traders Row bellicose absolutely shaken up they've been they've been abusing us for years I mean very strong words on a turnaround and then even on you should North Korea if they don't help us to do it on my own you know this this is Trump's at Lisa's public his public position the trouble is that the multiple administrations of different parties for really decades of struggle with this and haven't quite found the way forward so what's not clear is what's truly going to be different about the Trump administration approach we've heard the rhetoric now that that rhetoric has toned down a bit you have interest only the departure of Steve and yes the National Security Council yes read on the eve of this summit my speculation uninformed was this was a signal to the Chinese that there was going to be a different posture than they feared because Steve and is the most vocal critic of China in the President's Council yeah and you hear this talk that it that deep down he he he he believes that conflict with China's inevitable right and um I mean he's not alone in that but that's the way that can become a self fulfilling absolutely no question so it'll be interesting to see um what is presented where do they attempt to find common ground North Korea is the most immediate threat you this you this from folks like former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as he left from the Obama administration apparently one of their parting notes to the Trump administration was North Korea is your most pressing national security risk and I hear that from that national security folks all the time ISIS terrorism no question Russia North Korea is the most immediate this is again where yes the US and China both say they want to hold North Korea back but at the same time they also have competing interests right because China isn't particularly happy about a unified North Korea if that youre five Korean peninsula that was ever to happen North Korea's really China's region love the folks in the Chinese military old school like we kind of like having North Korea as a friend plus from a military standpoint of China looks at the U S is its prime competitor North Korea is a nice distraction for the US as well because if we're route up in there that we can't be entirely focused on on challah mixed bag though I know China is is perturbed about the anti missile system that the US is installing South Korea because they feel like it's in some ways a hedge against them so you know Moore stepped up U S presence as a result of North Korea apps is also viewed as a threat to China so it is a mixed bag for them it is no question it's which is a point I presume I mean I don't know what the president will say but it if you are advising him you would make those points absolutely of those things where it be nice to say if we were just tougher on them than we can get what we want right but the but the difficulty is you have competing interests on a number of issues that are never going to be rectified so what's the potential common ground which is really what diplomacy is how rude nobody gets a hundred percent of what they were never can you can force your will especially in a relationship like that why that's why this idea a you know it's not of real estate deal right are there areas I mean for one you can argue that the nuclear threat is the primary desire for us controlling that nuclear threat and you can see that it's not just China but also Russia other other countries would feel the same way you could you say well we don't know it's less important for the US to have a unified North Korea right because China doesn't typically when on its border is that the way you could say that's a live that's a priority for for down we're going to focus on this now make a concession there you know those are some of the outlines but there are lot of smart people who've tried this for years and haven't quite been able to find now though because the sense of urgency has to be different now because with the Koreans creeping up on potential the potential of hitting Los Angeles yes Francisco then it becomes really a fundamental courses were talking before the Chinese like to lecture America on what their core interests are Taiwan in Tibetan of that yes here's the thing is we're seeing this week we saw use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria right is not the first time the Syrian regime runs came with the nuclear weapons chemical weapons pretty bad right North Korea used in fact a chemical weapon an airport to kill yes kill someone you know in an airport in Malaysia the leader's half brother exactly you know as as these things get used more often it makes it easier to use it the next time that nukes are different animal but if you look at North Korea's military plans they have in their outlook it's believed by the U S small scale can put small scale use of nuclear weapons tactical nukes were not just sending a missile to Los Angeles which which would be catastrophic of course but more difficult than putting a tactical nuke in an artillery shell right and putting on so and these are steps that are conceivable for North Korea and to be in the calculation the president said well if the Chinese don't do with this we'll we'll deal with it implying that somehow there was a military solution to this but if the US were to hit North Korea presumably North Korea would immediately hit Seoul absolutely and they have if you look at the plans and I you you have so many weapons trained to make it extremely costly for the U S A to M for our ally North Korea South Korea and Seoul to have heavily populated city of several tens of thousands of U S troops there as well not to mention untold number of Americans and South Koreans that would they would die in a conflict like that this is this is this is the real deal yeah the Chinese can't have been happy about the North Koreans firing off another missile on the eve of this meeting between she and Trump no question and then you but you wonder you know there's this question of how much leverage does China used that's one question but also the question of how much leverage does China have an enormous amount of leverage and it could economically right it could surprise like ninety percent of their fuel supplies lot of their food you could stop that tomorrow right you could bring the bring the regime to its heels but then China about collapse of the rain and flooding floods of people obey orders well and this is something that just is Kim Jong un and North Korea his father and his father before that play that figure you know against the US they played against China to you know and they know that it's you know this is way better than me that people always talk about how crazy you know the North Korean leader is that the truth is not that crazy in a ruthless no question but from a primer but it's a rational though brutal plan of survival this work for them against the odds are you willing to take a short break and we'll be right back with Jim shooter are you hiring do you know where to post your job to find the best candidates posting your job in one place isn't enough to find quality candidates if you want to find the perfect tire you need to post your job on all of the top job sites and now you can with zipper recruiter dot com You can post your job to two hundred plus job sites 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because it comes into play again but tell me from your experiences during that period of time what you learned about what the U S options are in in real in real life and what the consequences of these decisions are to the point of departure for that book was I in two thousand and five during the the subway bombings of the seven seven attack and then if you may remember two weeks later there was a failed attack very similar with a bomb just didn't go off on a bus the subway is just by by dumb luck and as it turned out one two of those failed bombers lived down the street from me they were discovered in a flat in Notting Hill that's where they were arrested after after they know the attacks didn't come off and it just struck me is here I'm living in Hill in London which is the sort of you know you know used to be Neighborhood Notes The notes got a posh neighborhood but but you would think its worth to read it and you know another's going to play around and yet he's a few bombs themselves that's another well exactly exactly um you were two kids from that neighborhood who were going to kill themselves and take a lot of people with them and why is that where did that how's that possible it just got me down the path of looking at them looking at extreme isn't on the places that we normally look for it and try to break that caricature that it's just crazy wild eyed lot longer to do nudes from Iraq who are drawn into this movement and in fact its second generation Muslim teenagers in the UK and I had of going and talking to the unexpected folks mainstream Muslims who have this anger against the US some if not all of whom by any means goad the path of extremism or violent extremism jihad but many who look at the US is a bad actor and why is that and why was it well it is a number things at one point the book that it's not purely or even principally religion from from my perspective from from their perspective and I'm not justifying it to say explain it to me they look at it as a matter of policy to look at the US as as an actor that targeted them because of their face and that that for all its talk of being a democratic multicultural power had it in for the Muslims and bombs Muslims and kills innocence and uses military power against Muslims and this is principally because of Afghanistan and Iraq yes but but but also relationship with Israel the way they look at it it's it's and this is I traveled around went to Egypt I went to Tooele to Lebanon I profiled in their Christian girl and eleven on who had this view of the US you for her clearly wasn't right now um but in addition to that it was also compared it to the nineteen sixties youth culture movement that is was identity is well it's a cause that that young people in particular but not exclusively young people were attracted to as as a way to push back its perceived humiliation to give them something to define themselves and part of the reason I wrote it was that I thought that the caricature doesn't help solve the problem now there's no question they're folks who fit that character Yoon I've dealt with them folks I was in Paris route for the Shirley A bill attacks for the for the tax afterwards I've seen and covered dozens of terror attacks and met the people and seen the bloodshed these are bad people can convince them you know many of them but then there are other folks that you have to address the ideology because you can't solve it purely through military force you just can't and well in fact you could make the argument that if you're overly force that you exacerbate the problem and that's what that's what many of them would tell me and that now it's it takes a very or woman to get that balance right you know and there's no question
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Ep. 137 - Jim Sciutto

The Axe Files with David Axelrod