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A transcript of Donald Trump’s meeting with The Washington Post editorial board

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump visited the editorial board of The Washington Post on Mar. 21. Here is audio of the full, unedited interview.

FREDERICK RYAN JR., WASHINGTON POST PUBLISHER: Mr. Trump, welcome to the Washington Post. Thank you for making time to meet with our editorial board.

DONALD TRUMP: New building. Yes this is very nice. Good luck with it.
RYAN: Thank you… We’ve heard you’re going to be announcing your foreign policy team shortly… Any you can share with us?
TRUMP: Well, I hadn’t thought of doing it, but if you want I can give you some of the names… Walid Phares, who you probably know, PhD, adviser to the House of Representatives caucus, and counter-terrorism expert; Carter Page, PhD; George Papadopoulos, he’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy; the Honorable Joe Schmitz, [former] inspector general at the Department of Defense; [retired] Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; and I have quite a few more. But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do, but that’s a representative group.
TRUMP: No, other than to say, we’re working hard, I think we’re all in the same business of trying to make our country better, a better place, so we have something in common. I’ve been treated very, very badly by The Washington Post, but, you know, I guess — and I’m your neighbor, I’m your neighbor right down the road, in fact we’re actually giving a press conference there in a little while, I think your people are going to be there. And by the way, Bob Costa is an excellent reporter, I’ve found him to be just an excellent reporter. I should tell you, because I have to give you the good and the bad. Not that he does me any favors, because he doesn’t, but he’s a real professional.
So we’re having a news conference today in the new building that’s going up, and the building is very much ahead of schedule, because it was supposed to open two years from September, and we’re going to open it in September. We could open it actually sooner but we’re going to break it in a little bit, so we’re going to open it in September, and it’s under budget, even though we’ve increased the quality of the finishes substantially, marble finishes, very high quality of marble, so we’re under budget and ahead of schedule. And I’m, you know, I am that way when I build, I know how to build, I know how to get things done.
The GSA [General Services Administration], I will say, GSA has been very professional, they’ve been very, very professional. They chose us over—I think they had more than 100 people who bid, you can imagine, because of the location, but they had over 100 people that bid, and it was broken down into ten finalists, and I got it. We got it because of the strength of my financial statement and also because of the strength of what we were proposing. So we’re having a news conference there today. What time is that, Hope?
TRUMP: 2:15. I hear a lot of the press is going to be there, we’re going to give them a tour of the building. It’s still a little bit rough — as an example, a lot of the marble surfaces all have sheetrock covering, and plywood covering on them, so a lot of people won’t see as much as they think. It’ll be like a miracle, you take it off and it explodes, like it’s finished, right? But that’ll be a fun news conference.
HIATT: If I could, I’d start by asking is there a secretary of state and a secretary of defense in the modern era who you think have done a good job? Who do you think were the best?
TRUMP: Well, because I know so many of them, and because in many cases I like them, I hate to get totally involved. I think George Shultz was very good, I thought he was excellent. I can tell you, I think your last secretary of state and your current secretary of state have not done much. I think John Kerry’s deal with Iran is one of the worst things that I’ve ever seen negotiated of any kind. It’s just a horrible giveaway.
HIATT: What in particular?
TRUMP: Well, I think, number one, we shouldn’t have given the money back. I think, number two, we should have had our prisoners before the negotiations started. We should have doubled up the sanctions. We should have gone in and said, ‘release our prisoners,’ they would have said ‘no,’ and we would have said, ‘double up the sanctions,’ and within a short period of time we would have had our prisoners back. And I think that was a terrible mistake. I think giving the money back was a terrible mistake. And by the way they are not using the money on us, they are not buying anything from us, they’re buying, you noticed, they didn’t buy Boeing, they bought Airbus, 118 planes from what I understand, but they bought them all from Airbus, they go out of their way not to spend any money in our country. So I wouldn’t have done that. And I think it’s going to just lead, actually, to nuclear problems. I also think it’s going to be bad for Israel. It’s a very bad deal for Israel.
HIATT: George Shultz, it’s interesting, was associated with a foreign policy of Reagan that was very much devoted to promoting democracy and freedom overseas. Is that something you think in today’s world the United States should be doing?
TRUMP: I do think it’s a different world today and I don’t think we should be nation building anymore. I think it’s proven not to work. And we have a different country than we did then. You know we have 19 trillion dollars in debt. We’re sitting probably on a bubble and, you know, it’s a bubble that if it breaks is going to be very nasty. And I just think we have to rebuild our country. If you look at the infrastructure — I just landed at an airport where, not in good shape, not in good shape. If you go to Qatar and if you go to (inaudible) you see airports the likes of which you have never seen before. Dubai, different places in China. You see infrastructure, you see airports, other things, the likes of which you have never seen here.
HIATT: Short of nation building, is there any role in promoting values or democracy? Or that’s not something…
TRUMP: Well, there is, I just think that we have values in our country that we have to promote. We have a country that is in bad shape, it’s in bad condition. You look at our inner cities, our inner cities are a horrible mess. I watched Baltimore, I have many, many friends in Baltimore, we watched what happened. St. Louis, Ferguson, Oakland, it could have been much worse over the summer. And it will probably be worse this summer. But you look at some of our inner cities. And yet you know I watched as we built schools in Iraq and they’d be blown up. And we’d build another one and it would get blown up. And we would rebuild it three times. And yet we can’t build a school in Brooklyn. We have no money for education, because we can’t build in our own country. And at what point do you say hey, we have to take care of ourselves. So, you know, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that but at the same time, our country is disintegrating, large sections of it, especially in the inner cities.
HIATT: So what would you do for Baltimore, let’s say.
TRUMP: Well, number one, I’d create economic zones. I’d create incentives for companies to move in. I’d work on spirit because the spirit is so low, it’s incredible, the unemployment, you look at unemployment for black youth in this country, African American youth, is 58-59 percent. It’s unthinkable. Unemployment for African Americans – not youth, but African Americans – is very high. And I would create in the inner cities, which is what I really do best, that’s why when I open a building and I show you it’s way ahead of schedule, under budget and everything else—I think it was the Rite Aid store, the store in Baltimore it took them 20 years to get it built, one store, and then it burned down in one night—we have to create incentives for people to love what they are doing, and to make money. And to create, you know, to really create a better life for themselves. And you can’t – it doesn’t seem right that you will have a situation like Baltimore, and many other places, let’s use Baltimore as an example, there are many Baltimores in this country. Detroit is maybe even a better example than Baltimore. But that you’ll have a situation like that, and then we’re over nation building with other, with countries that in many cases don’t want us there. They want our money, but they don’t want us.
HIATT: The root of many people’s unhappiness in Baltimore was the perception that blacks are treated differently by law enforcement. And the disproportionate – do you think it’s a problem that the percentage of blacks in prison is higher than whites, and what do you think is the root of that situation?
TRUMP: Well I’ve never really see anything that – you know, I feel very strongly about law enforcement. And, you know, if you look at the riot that took place over the summer, if that were stopped – it all, it mostly took place on the first evening, and if that were stopped on the first evening, you know, you’d have a much nicer city right now, because much of that damage and much of the destruction was done on Evening One. So I feel that law enforcement, it’s got to play a big role. It’s got to play a big role. But that’s a pretty good example, because tremendous amounts of damage was done that first evening – first two evenings, but the first evening in particular. And so I’m a very strong believer in law enforcement, but I’m also a very strong believer that the inner cities can come back.
HIATT: Do you see any racial disparities in law enforcement – I mean, what set it off was the Freddie Gray killing, as you know. Is that an issue that concerns you?
TRUMP: Well, look, I mean, I have to see what happens with the trial. I—
HIATT: Well, forget Freddie Gray, but in general, do you believe there are disparities in law enforcement?
TRUMP: I’ve read where there are and I’ve read where there aren’t. I mean, I’ve read both. And, you know, I have no opinion on that. Because frankly, what I’m saying is you know we have to create incentives for people to go back and to reinvigorate the areas and to put people to work.  And you know we have lost million and millions of jobs to China and other countries. And they’ve been taken out of this country, and when I say millions, you know it’s, it’s tremendous. I’ve seen 5 million jobs, I’ve seen numbers that range from 6 million to, to smaller numbers. But it’s many millions of jobs, and it’s to countries all over. Mexico is really becoming the new China. And I have great issue with that. Because you know I use in speeches sometimes Ford or sometimes I use Carrier – it’s all the same: Ford, Carrier, Nabisco, so many of the companies — they’re moving to Mexico now. And you know we shouldn’t be allowing that to happen. And tremendous unemployment, tremendous. They’re allowing tremendous people that have worked for the companies for a long time, they’re allowing, if they want to move around and they want to work on incentives within the United States, that’s one thing, but when they take these companies out of the United States. Other countries are outsmarting us by giving them advantages, you know, like in the case of Mexico. In the case of many other countries. Like Ireland is, you’re losing Pfizer to Ireland, a great pharmaceutical company that with many, many jobs and it’s going to move to Ireland.
RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST: But Mr. Trump, if I could just follow up on Fred’s question. I think that what he was trying to get at was the anger in the African American community that held some of the riots and disturbances this summer about disparate treatment and about … clearly you say you’ve read where there is disparate treatment. But it is pretty undeniable that there is disproportionate incarceration of African Americans vs. whites. What would you – is that something that concerns you?
TRUMP: That would concern me, Ruth. It would concern me. But at the same time it can be solved to a large extant with jobs. You know, if we can rebuild those communities and create incentives for companies to move in and create jobs. Jobs are so important. There are no jobs. There are none. You go to those communities and you can’t – there is nothing there. There is no incentive for people. It is a very sad situation. And what makes it even sadder is that we are spending so much money in other countries and our own country has vast pockets of poverty and a lot of this is caused by the fact that there are no jobs. So we can create jobs in places like Baltimore and Detroit. You know, Detroit made a move, but I don’t know but it just seems to be fizzling. I don’t know what is going on. I watched Detroit four, five years ago and it looked like they were really putting a full-court press on and it doesn’t seem to be, from what I’ve been told, friends of mine that are very much involved in that whole process that it doesn’t seem to be, doesn’t seem to be something that is being pursued like it should be pursued. But if we can create jobs, it will solve so many problems.
CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER/COLUMNIST: Can I follow up on that? I mean, to take the case of Baltimore, I mean one of the things that’s so remarkable about Baltimore and Detroit is that both of these cities, like many others have been – it’s not as if no one has ever said before we should have economic zones, it’s not as if no one has ever said before we need incentives and taxes etc., etc. And Baltimore received a lot of federal aid over the years. So I guess the question, then, is what’s different specifically about your approach to these issues from what’s been tried in the past, because a lot of effort has been put in just the direction you just described.
TRUMP: I think what’s different is we have a very divided country. And whether we like it or not, it’s divided as bad as I’ve ever seen it. I‘ve been, you know, I’ve been doing things for a long time. I see it all the time. I mean I see it so often. I see it when we go out and we have 21,000 people in Phoenix, Arizona, the other day, the division – not so much Phoenix, because that was actually very smooth, there wasn’t even a minor, they did block a road, but after that, that was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, when the road was unblocked everyone left and it was fine. But in Tucson, you can see the division. You can see the division. There’s a racial division that’s incredible actually in the country. I think it’s as bad, I mean you have to say it’s as bad or almost as bad as it’s ever been. And there’s a lack of spirit. And one thing I thought that would happen, and it hasn’t happened, unfortunately, I thought that President Obama would be a great cheerleader for the country. And it just hasn’t happened. I mean we can say it has. But it hasn’t happened. When you look at the Ferguson problems and the Baltimore problems and the Detroit problems. And you know there’s a lack of spirit. I actually think I’d be a great cheerleader – beyond other things, the other things that I’d do – I actually think I’d be a great cheerleader for the country. Because a lot of people feel it’s a hopeless situation. A lot of people in the inner cities they feel that way. And you have to start by giving them hope and giving them spirit and that has not taken place. Just has not taken place.
RYAN: Mr. Trump, you’ve mentioned many times during the campaign, in fact including this morning, instances you feel where the press has been biased or unfair or outright false in their reporting, and you’ve mentioned that you want to “open up” the libel laws. You’ve said that several times.
TRUMP: I might not have to, based on Gawker. Right?
TRUMP: That was an amazing—
RYAN: My question is not so much why you feel they should be open but how. What presidential powers and executive actions would you take to open up the libel laws?
TRUMP: Okay, look, I’ve had stories written about me – by your newspaper and by others – that are so false, that are written with such hatred – I’m not a bad person. I’m just doing my thing – I’m, you know, running, I want to do something that’s good. It’s not an easy thing to do. I had a nice life until I did this, you know. This is a very difficult thing to do. In fact I’ve always heard that if you’re a very successful person you can’t run for office. And I can understand that. You’ll do a hundred deals, and you’ll do one bad one or two bad ones — that’s all they read about are the bad ones. They don’t read about the one hundred and fifty great ones that you had. And even some of the ones they write that are good, they make them sound bad. You know, so I’ve always heard that. I’ve heard that if you’re successful – very successful – you just can’t run for—
RYAN: But how would you fix that? You’ve said that you would open up the libel laws.
TRUMP: What I would do, what I would do is I’d – well right now the libel laws, I mean I must tell you that the Hulk Hogan thing was a tremendous shock to me because – not only the amount and the fact that he had the victory — because for the most part I think libel laws almost don’t exist in this country, you know, based on, based on everything I’ve seen and watched and everything else, and I just think that if a paper writes something wrong — media, when I say paper I’m talking about media. I think that they can do a retraction if they’re wrong. They should at least try to get it right. And if they don’t do a retraction, they should, they should you know have a form of a trial. I don’t want to impede free press, by the way. The last thing I would want to do is that. But I mean I can only speak for – I probably get more – do I, I mean, you would know, do I get more publicity than any human being on the earth? Okay? I mean, [Editor’s note: Trump points at Ruth Marcus] she kills me, this one – that’s okay, nice woman.
RYAN: Would you expand, for example, prior restraints against publications?
TRUMP: No, I would just say this. All I want is fairness. So unfair. I have stories and you have no recourse, you have no recourse whatsoever because the laws are really impotent.
MARCUS: So in a better world would you be able to sue me?
TRUMP: In a better world — no — in a better world I would be able to get a retraction or a correction. Not even a retraction, a correction.
RYAN: Well, now, you’ve been a plaintiff in libel suits so you know a little bit of the elements …
TRUMP: I had one basic big libel suit, it was a very bad system, it was New Jersey. I had a great judge, the first one, and I was going to win it. And then I had another good judge, the second one, and then they kept switching judges. And the third one was a bad judge. That’s what happened. But, uh…
RYAN: But there’s standards like malice is required. Would you weaken that? Would you require less than malice for news organizations?
TRUMP: I would make it so that when someone writes incorrectly, yeah, I think I would get a little bit away from malice without having to get too totally away. Look, I think many of the stories about me are written badly. I don’t know if it’s malice because the people don’t know me. When Charles writes about me or when Ruth writes about me, you know, we’ve never really met. And I get these stories and they’re so angry and I actually say, I actually say, “How could they write?” – and many stories I must tell you, many stories are written that with a brief phone call could be corrected before they’re written. Nobody calls me.
STEPHEN STROMBERG, EDITORIAL WRITER: How are you defining “incorrect?” It seems like you’re defining it as fairness or your view of fairness rather than accuracy.
TRUMP: Fairness, fairness is, you know, part of the word. But you know, I’ve had stories that are written that are absolutely incorrect. I’ll tell you now and the word “intent”, as you know, is an important word, as you know, in libel. I’ll give you an example. Some of the media, not all of it, but some of it, is very, very strong on – you know I get these massive crowds of people, and we’ll get protesters. And these protesters are honestly, they’re very bad people. In many cases, they’re professionals. Highly trained professionals. And I will rent an arena for 20,000 seats and they will come in – because there’s really no way – how you going to be able to tell – somebody said “oh you shouldn’t let ‘em in” – how you gonna know, you know? They walk in. [Inaudible] So we had an incident this weekend, which was amazing in Tucson, Arizona where a man, a protestor, wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit, another one dragging an American flag, was walking out of the arena, and an African American man who was a supporter was sitting there listening to the speech and we had to stop because they were so loud – they’re so loud, these people, I don’t know what they do, they’re trained voices or something. And they’re walking up and you saw it, because it was all over television, and the African American man became incensed I think the guy said something to him like you know what, like “screw you,” okay? Or worse. I think, because he looked over to him and said something to him and the guy just had it. Now, they were together, these two. The one wearing a Ku Klux Klan, the other dragging a flag or something, but the African American man, who I think was an Air Force person, I just read he had a pretty stellar life so far. And he just became incensed. So when I saw the television yesterday early in the morning I saw the Ku Klux Klan, I saw exactly what happened. By the time it got on to the national shows that was for the most part taken out. They just had this African American smacking, you know, fighting. And it didn’t make sense, you know, why, why. But if you saw it in the morning it made a lot more sense. We don’t condone violence at all but it’s very, very unfair reporting and we, you know…
HIATT: Sorry, when you say we don’t condone violence —
TRUMP: I say that.
HIATT: You say that. But you’ve also said, “In the good old days, he would have been ripped out of his seat so fast, you wouldn’t believe it.” Isn’t that condoning violence?
TRUMP: No, because what I am referring to is, we’ve had some very bad people come in. We had one guy — and I said it — he had the voice — and this was what I was referring to — and I said, “Boy, I’d like to smash him.” You know, I said that. I’d like to punch him. This guy was unbelievably loud. He had a voice like Pavarotti. I said if I was his manager I would have made a lot of money for him, because he had the best voice. I mean, the guy was unbelievable, how loud he was. And he was a swinger. He was hitting people. He was punching and swinging and screaming — you couldn’t make — so you have to stop. You know, there is also something about the First Amendment, but you had to stop. And, so, this one man was very violent and very loud. And when he was being taken out, he walked out like this, with his finger way up, like, “screw everybody.” And that’s when I made that statement. He was absolutely out — I mean, he hit people and he screamed and then he was walking out and he’s giving everybody the finger. And they don’t talk about that. See, they don’t talk about that. They say, “Donald, wait a second, Donald, don’t” —
HIATT: But your answer is you condone violence when the guy is really egregious and terrible?
TRUMP: No, I condone strong law and order. I’ll tell you what they —
HIATT: Rip him out of his seat, punch him in the face, isn’t that violent?
TRUMP: Well he punched other people.
HIATT: No, I understand that.
TRUMP: Fred, he punched other people. He was punching people. He was — one guy was, you know, I’d like to say —
JO-ANN ARMAO, ASSOCIATE EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: The Fayetteville protester who was sucker punched — he didn’t punch anyone —
ARMAO: He was being escorted from police, and he was sucker punched.
TRUMP: No. When are you talking about? When?
ARMAO: In Fayetteville.
TRUMP: I don’t know. I don’t know which one.
ARMAO: Yes you do.
TRUMP: I don’t know. Because we’ve had so many —
ARMAO: That’s the gentleman you said you were going to look into to see whether or not to pay his legal fees.
TRUMP: Oh well that’s a different — that’s different from the one I’m talking about. This one was about a month ago. This one was before Fayetteville.
ARMAO: Well, okay, Fayetteville, do you condone violence in that case —
TRUMP: No I don’t, no I don’t, that’s different —
ARMAO: Where the protester is being walked out —
TRUMP: By the way, that’s different —
ARMAO: But, yet, you explained it that he was giving the finger and so he provoked it, so he got sucker punched. And you are going to possibly pay for his legal expenses.
TRUMP: He did give the finger, and —
ARMAO: So that’s okay?
TRUMP: Well, a lot of people don’t — you know, the finger means, “F you.” A lot of people think — and you have children there, you have a lot of children that go, you know, they go with their parents — a lot of people think that’s very inappropriate. I mean, you know —
ARMAO: It’s certainly inappropriate.
TRUMP: Well, I think it is.
ARMAO: But does it — is it — does it qualify to —
TRUMP: So do you let him —
ARMAO: — to punch him in the face?
TRUMP: Again I don’t condone it. So do you let him walk out, he’s holding up his finger, telling everybody. Same thing happened, you know, the last one in —
HIATT: I guess the question is, when you then offer to pay the guy’s legal fees, isn’t that —
TRUMP: I didn’t offer —
HIATT: Isn’t that condoning?
TRUMP: No, I didn’t offer, Fred —
HIATT: You said you would consider it —
TRUMP: I said I want to look into it. I said I want to look into it. I didn’t say that.
HIATT: Isn’t that condoning?
TRUMP: No, I don’t think so.
HIATT: Doesn’t that convey a message of approval?
TRUMP: Don’t think so.
LEWANDOWSKI: To be fair, before every event, there is a public service announcement made about —
TRUMP: It’s true.
LEWANDOWSKI: — any potential protesters. That is made to everybody that says —
TRUMP: Strong.
LEWANDOWSKI: — please do not engage these protesters. You know, they may cause a disturbance. Please do your best, let local law enforcement handle this or security at that venue. The problem becomes, with a massive crowd of twenty or thirty or forty thousand people, the resources that are there don’t have the ability to get to all these people in a manner before the crowd reacts, because the agitators are inciting those people. So we are very clear at the onset, that there is a loud public notice that says, “please do not engage these people, please let them do their job, and let the local law enforcement deal with that.” That’s said at the very front end at every event.
TRUMP: Very loud, and it’s repeated over and over. Actually, I guess it’s on tape, but they repeat it over and over. One thing that was interesting this weekend. We had in Phoenix, Arizona, we had an interesting incident. We had people, we had a major highway coming into the arena. It’s not an arena, it’s a huge open space, 60 acres, and it was packed. And we had a major highway coming in, and people — protesters — stopped their car in the middle of the highway, chained themselves to their cars, and the cars — blocked. They were there for a while. A car was not able to move. They were backed up for 20 — I mean, like, just forever. And, it was terrible. And they were very abusive, screaming, you know, “screw you, screw you, pigs, pigs” — meaning to the cops. Sheriff Joe Arpaio — now that was his territory. Okay, he’s a tough cookie. Sheriff Joe saw this, he gave them a couple of minutes to move their car — they didn’t move them — cut the chains, arrested the people and just moved the cars over. I don’t know how they did it — just, they were gone in minutes after he came there. Minutes. It was amazing how quick. They actually had chains around their necks. They didn’t even know why they were there. People – somebody was interviewed, “Why are you here?” “Well, I don’t know, I’m not sure.” They didn’t even know.
Nobody ever talks about these people. They say, “Oh, Trump had a bad rally,” or something. You know there are two sides to it, and honestly, there is really one side of it – because you see how bad this was. So what happened is they arrested three people. There were probably a hundred or a hundred-fifty protesters, there were 21,000 people there, there were 150 protesters that were creating havoc. As soon as the three people were arrested, everybody else ran. That was the last we heard, and I made a speech for, you know, a half hour, 45 minutes – not one person stood up and started screaming at this speech. It was sort of an amazing thing.
Now Tucson was different. Different police force, different level of, you know, whatever, and we had numerous interruptions during the speech. You know, I’ll be speaking, I’ll be ready to make a point, and a guy will stand up and start, just screaming. Out of — from nowhere, for, like, no reason. Not even screaming things that make sense, and often screaming tremendous obscenities.
I know [Lewandowski] went in – he took a lot of heat a couple of days ago in that same rally because he went in to get – to quiet people down, and they had a couple of signs “F-you” – it just said “F-you,” meaning the word spelled out, and you have cameras there, you know, it’s on live television, and you have guys holding signs saying “F-you Trump” or just “F-you,” and they had numerous of those – there were, you know, probably ten of those signs throughout the arena.
And he went in to say, please would you move the sign, and the woman in front – and I saw it – this guy grabbed the woman in front, okay, he [Lewandowski] hardly touched him – he took him – If he touched him at all it was just grabbing the shirt a little bit. But the guy was a real wiseguy. And he was screaming obscenities. He did grab the woman in front and ultimately he was led out by the security guy, who was right behind him.
But the reason is that the police were slow to get there. And the point is this: You’re making a speech and you have guys getting up saying, [Editor’s note: Trump says the next few words in a hushed voice] “fuck you,” and the whole place goes, “Whoa,” and it incites the place. They incite the place, because then everyone goes, “USA, USA.” That’s why they’re all screaming “USA, USA,” or “Trump, Trump, Trump.”
You can have 20,000 people and you can have like two people. Usually – it’s amazing – usually it’s one person. I mean, it’s like they stage it. It’s very professional. They have like one person here, one person here, one person.
Okay, we’re talking about the media. So, I’ve never seen the media cover it from that angle. It’s always, “Trump had a” — and here’s the big thing, I mean, honestly, essentially nobody has heard
HIATT: But just – given the Supreme Court rulings on libel — Sullivan v. New York Times — how would you change the law?
TRUMP: I would just loosen them up.
RUTH MARCUS: What does that mean?
TRUMP: I’d have to get my lawyers in to tell you, but I would loosen them up. I would loosen them up. If The Washington Post writes badly about me – and they do, they don’t write good – I mean, I don’t think I get – I read some of the stories coming up here, and I said to my staff, I said, “Why are we even wasting our time? The hatred is so enormous.” I don’t know why. I mean, I do a good job. I have thousands of employees. I work hard.
I’m not looking for bad for our country. I’m a very rational person, I’m a very sane person. I’m not looking for bad. But I read articles by you, and others. And, you know, we’ve never – we don’t know each other, and the level of hatred is so incredible, I actually said, “Why am I – why am I doing this? Why am I even here?” And I don’t expect anything to happen–
RYAN: Would that be the standard then? If there is an article that you feel has hatred, or is bad, would that be the basis for libel?
TRUMP: No, if it’s wrong. If it’s wrong.
RYAN: Wrong whether there’s malice or not?
TRUMP: I mean, The Washington Post never calls me. I never had a call, “Why – why did you do this?” or “Why did you do that?” It’s just, you know, like I’m this horrible human being. And I’m not. You know, the one thing we have in common I think we all love the country. Now, maybe we come at it from different sides, but nobody ever calls me. I mean, Bob Costa calls about a political story – he called because we’re meeting senators in a little while and congressmen, supporters – but nobody ever calls.
RYAN: The reason I keep asking this is because you’ve  said three times you’ve said we are going to open up the libel laws and when we ask you what you mean you say hatred, or bad–
TRUMP: I want to make it more fair from the side where I am, because things are said that are libelous, things are said about me that are so egregious and so wrong, and right now according to the libel laws I can do almost nothing about it because I’m a well-known person you know, etc., etc.
JACKSON DIEHL, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Back to foreign policy a little bit, can you talk a little bit about what you see as the future of NATO? Should it expand in any way?
TRUMP: Look, I see NATO as a good thing to have – I look at the Ukraine situation and I say, so Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO, and yet we are doing all of the lifting, they’re not doing anything. And I say, why is it that Germany is not dealing with NATO on Ukraine? Why is it that other countries that are in the vicinity of the Ukraine not dealing with — why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially the third world war, okay, with Russia? Why are we always the ones that are doing it? And I think the concept of NATO is good, but I do think the United States has to have some help. We are not helped. I’ll give you a better example than that. I mean, we pay billions– hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are in theory wealthier than we are.
DIEHL: Hundreds of billions?
TRUMP: Billions. Well if you look at Germany, if you look at Saudi Arabia, if you look at Japan, if you look at South Korea  — I mean we spend billions of dollars on Saudi Arabia, and they have nothing but money. And I say, why? Now I would go in and I would structure a much different deal with them, and it would be a much better deal. When you look at the kind of money that our country is losing, we can’t afford to do this. Certainly we can’t afford to do it anymore.
DIEHL: About Ukraine, was it right for the United States to impose sanctions on Russia when they invaded Crimea and would you keep those sanctions on them?
TRUMP: I think the answer is yes, it was, but I don’t see other people doing much about it. I see us doing things about it, but I don’t see other people doing much about it.
DIEHL: And could I ask you about ISIS, speaking of making commitments, because you talked recently about possibly sending 20 or 30,000 troops and—
TRUMP: No I didn’t, oh no no no, okay, I know what you’re saying. There was a question asked to me. I said that the military, the generals have said that 20- to 30,000. They said, would you send troops? I didn’t say send 20,000. I said, well the generals are saying you’d need because they , what would it take to wipe out ISIS, I said pretty much exactly this, I said the generals, the military is saying you would need 20- to 30,000 troops, but I didn’t say that I would send them.
DIEHL: If they said that, would you go along with that and send the troops?
TRUMP: I find it hard to go along with—I mention that as an example because it’s so much. That’s why I brought that up. But a couple of people have said the same thing as you, where they said did I say that and I said that that’s a number that I heard would be needed. I would find it very, very hard to send that many troops to take care of it. I would say this, I would put tremendous pressure on other countries that are over there to use their troops and I’d give them tremendous air supporters and support , because we have to get rid of ISIS, okay, just so — we have to get rid of ISIS. I would get other countries to become very much involved.
DIEHL: What about China and the South China Sea. What do you think they’re up to and—
TRUMP: I think it’s a terrible situation, I think it’s terrible they have no respect for–
DIEHL: –and what should we do about it?
TRUMP: Well look, we have power over China and people don’t realize it. We have trade power over China. I don’t think we are going to start World War III over what they did, it affects other countries certainly a lot more than it affects us. But—and honestly, you know part of—I always say we have to be unpredictable. We’re totally predictable.  And predictable is bad. Sitting at a meeting like this and explaining my views and if I do become president, I have these views that are down for the other side to look at, you know. I hate being so open. I hate when they say — like I said get rid of the oil, keep the oil, different things over the years, when people are saying what would you do with regard to the Middle East, when we left — We should have never been in Iraq. It was a horr- it was one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of our country. We then got out badly, then after we got out, I said, “Keep the oil. If we don’t keep it Iran’s going to get it.” And it turns out Iran and ISIS basically—
HIATT: How do you keep it without troops, how do you defend the oil?
TRUMP: You would… You would, well for that– for that, I would circle it. I would defend those areas.
HIATT: With U.S. troops?
TRUMP: Yeah, I would defend the areas with the oil.  And I would have taken out a lot of oil. And, uh, I would have kept it. I mean, I would have kept it, because, look: Iran has the oil, and they’re going to have the oil, well, the stuff they don’t have, because Iran is taking over Iraq as sure as you’re sitting there. And I’ve been very good on this stuff. My prognostications, my predictions have become, have been very accurate, if you look.
HIATT: So what do you think China’s aims are in the South China Sea?
TRUMP: Well I know China very well, because I deal with China all the time. I’ve done very well. China’s unbelievably ambitious. China is, uh… I mean, when I deal with China, you know, I have the Bank of America building, I’ve done some great deals with China. I do deals with them all the time on, you know, selling apartments, and, you know, people say ‘oh that’s not the same thing.’ The level of… uh, the largest bank in the world, 400 million customers, is a tenant of mine in New York, in Manhattan. The biggest bank in China. The biggest bank in the world.
China has got unbelievable ambitions. China feels very invincible. We have rebuilt China. They have drained so much money out of our country that they’ve rebuilt China. Without us, you wouldn’t see the airports and the roadways and the bridges; I mean, the George Washington Bridge is like, that’s like a trinket compared to the bridges that they’ve built in China. We don’t build anymore, and it, you know, we had our day. But China, if you look at what’s going on in China, you know, they go down to seven percent or eight percent and it’s like a national catastrophe. Our GDP is right now zero. Essentially zero.
DIEHL: Could you use trade to cause them to retreat in the South China Sea?
TRUMP: I think so, yeah. I think so
DIEHL: What would you do?
TRUMP: We, well, you start making it tougher. They’re selling their products to us for… you know, with no tax, no nothing. By the way, we can’t deal with them, but they can deal with us. See, we are free trade. The story is, and I have so many people that deal with China –they can easily sell their product here. No tax, no nothing, just ‘come on, bring it all in, you know, bring in your apples, bring in everything you make’ and no taxes whatsoever, right? If you want to deal with China, it’s just the opposite. You can’t do that. In other words, if you want to, if you’re a manufacturer, you want to go into China? It’s very hard to get your product in, and if you get it in you have to pay a very big tax.
HIATT: So, if they occupied what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands, is that something the United States…
TRUMP: Well, I, you know, again, I don’t like to tell you what I’d do, because I don’t want to… You understand what I’m saying, Fred? If I… Okay, if I say ‘Well, we should go in and do this or that or that,’ I don’t want to, I don’t want to sort of… red flag all over it. I do think this: It’s an unbelievable thing that they’ve done, it’s unbelievable aggression, it’s unbelievable lack of respect for this country.
HIATT: This theory of unpredictability, I want to push a little bit, I mean – there are many people who think that North Korea invaded South Korea precisely because Acheson wasn’t clear that we would defend South Korea. So I’m curious, does ambiguity sometimes have dangers?
TRUMP: Well I’ll give you, I’ll give you an example. President Obama, when he left Iraq, gave a specific date – we’re going to be out. I thought that was a terrible thing to do.  And the enemy pulled back, because they don’t want die.  Despite what you read, you know, they don’t want to die — and they just pulled back, and after we left, all hell broke out, right? And I’ll give you another example that I think was terrible: when they sent, a few months ago, they sent fifty troops in. You know, fifty elite troops. Now, why do we have to have a news conference to announce that we’re sending fifty troops? So those troops now have targets on their back. And…you shouldn’t do it.  We’re so predictable: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re sending fifty troops into Iraq or Syria. And these are our elite troops. And they’re going to do this and that and that and this.” And those troops now are being hunted. If you didn’t send them, they wouldn’t – if you didn’t say that, they wouldn’t know. I mean, there are times when you just can’t be… You talk too much. We talk too much. I guess they thought that was good politically, to say we’re sending fifty troops? I don’t think it was good.
LANE: Can I ask you…Just going back to NATO, because…
LANE: As you know, the whole theory of NATO from the beginning  was to keep the United States involved in the long term in Europe to balance, to promote a balance of power in that region so we wouldn’t have a repeat of World War I and World War 2. And it seems to be like what you’re saying is very similar to what President Obama said to Jeffrey Goldberg, in that we have allies that become free riders. So it seems like there’s some convergence with the president there. What concerns me about both is that to some extent it was always thought to be in our interest that we, yes, we would take some of the burden on, yes, even if the net-net was not 100 percent, even steven, with the Germans. So I’d like to hear you say very specifically, you know, with respect to NATO, what is your ask of these other countries? Right, you’ve painted it in very broad terms, but do you have a percent of GDP that they should be spending on defense? Tell me more. Because it’s not that you want to pull the U.S. out.
TRUMP: No, I don’t want to pull it out. NATO was set up at a different time. NATO was set up when we were a richer country. We’re not a rich country. We’re borrowing, we’re borrowing all of this money. We’re borrowing money from China, which is a sort of an amazing situation. But things are a much different thing. NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe but we’re spending a lot of money. Number 1, I think the distribution of costs has to be changed. I think NATO as a concept is good, but it is not as good as it was when it first evolved. And I think we bear the, you know, not only financially, we bear the biggest brunt of it. Obama has been stronger on the Ukraine than all the other countries put together, and those other countries right next door to the Ukraine. And I just say we have, I’m not even knocking it, I’m just saying I don’t think it’s fair, we’re not treated fair. I don’t think we’re treated fair, Charles, anywhere. If you look everything we have. You know, South Korea is very rich. Great industrial country. And yet we’re not reimbursed fairly for what we do. We’re constantly, you know, sending our ships, sending our planes, doing our war games, doing other. We’re reimbursed a fraction of what this is all costing.
LANE:  You know, well, they say and I think this is on public record, it’s basically 50 percent of the non-personnel cost is paid by South Korea and Japan.
TRUMP: 50 percent?
LANE: Yeah.
TRUMP: Why isn’t it 100 percent?
HIATT: Well I guess the question is, does the United States gain anything by having bases?
TRUMP: Personally I don’t think so. I personally don’t think so. Look. I have great relationships with South Korea. I have buildings in South Korea. But that’s a wealthy country. They make the ships, they make the televisions, they make the air conditioning. They make tremendous amounts of products. It’s a huge, it’s a massive industrial complex country. And —
HIATT: So you don’t think the US gains from being the force that sort of that helps keep the peace in the Pacific?
TRUMP: I think that we are not in the position that we used to be. I think we were a very powerful, very wealthy country. And we’re a poor country now. We’re a debtor nation. How you going to get rid – let me ask you – how are you going get rid of $21 trillion in debt? You’re going to be at 21 trillion in a matter of minutes because of that new omnibus budget. So they passed that ridiculous omnibus budget. How you going to get rid of that debt. We’re spending that to protect other countries. We’re not spending it on ourselves. Because we have, we have armor-plated vehicles that are obsolete. The best ones are given to the enemy. We give them to our allies over in the Middle East. A bullet shot in the air and they immediately run and the enemy takes over. I have a friend whose son is in his third, his third tour over in Iraq. He’s over in, I mean he’s a very special kid, he’s a great kid. But he’s over in the Middle East, and, uh, Afghanistan, different parts of the Middle East, actually. And he said to me, I said to him what do you think. And he said, it’s so sad. He said the enemy has our equipment – the new version — and we have all the old version, and the enemy has our equipment, because they get into a fight with the so-called people like the Freedom Fighters, you know the whole Syrian deal, where we’re sending billions and billions of dollars worth, and they capture the equipment. In most cases the shots are fired and everybody leaves. And these are the people we’re backing. And we don’t know if it’s going to be another Saddam Hussein deal, in other words, let’s get rid of Assad with these people and these people end up being worse. Okay? But he said, they have better equipment. It’s our equipment. They have, I guess we send 2,300 Humvees over, all armor-plated. So we have wounded warriors, with no legs, with no arms, because they were driving in stuff without the armor. And the enemy has most of the new ones we sent over that they captured. And he said, it’s so discouraging when they see that the enemy has better equipment than we have – and it’s our equipment.
HIATT: I’d like to come back to the campaign. You said a few weeks ago after a family in Chicago gave some money to a PAC opposing you, you said, “They better watch out. They have a lot to hide.” What should they watch out for?
TRUMP: Look, they are spending vicious … I don’t even know these people. Those Ricketts. I actually said they ought to focus on the Chicago Cubs and, you know, stop playing around. They spent millions of dollars fighting me in Florida. And out of 68 counties, I won 66. I won by 20 points, almost 20 points. Against, everybody thought he was a popular sitting senator. I had $38 million dollars spent on me in Florida over a short period of time. $38 million. And, you know, the Ricketts, I don’t even know these people.
HIATT: So, what does it mean, “They better watch out”?
TRUMP: Well, it means that I’ll start spending on them. I’ll start taking ads telling them all what a rotten job they’re doing with the Chicago Cubs. I mean, they are spending on me. I mean, so am I allowed to say that? I’ll start doing ads about their baseball team. That it’s not properly run or that they haven’t done a good job in the brokerage business lately.
RYAN: Would you do that while you are president?
TRUMP: No, not while I am president. No, not while I’m president. That is two phases. Right now, look, you know, I went to a great school, I was a good student and all. I am an intelligent person. My uncle, I would say my uncle was one of the brilliant people. He was at MIT for 35 years. As a great scientist and engineer, actually more than anything else. Dr. John Trump, a great guy. I’m an intelligent person. I understand what is going on. Right now, I had 17 people who started out. They are almost all gone. If I were going to do that in a different fashion I think I probably wouldn’t be sitting here. You would be interviewing somebody else. But it is hard to act presidential when you are being … I mean, actually I think it is presidential because it is winning. And winning is a pretty good thing for this country because we don’t win any more. And I say it all the time. We do not win any more. This country doesn’t win. We don’t win with trade. We don’t win with … We can’t even beat ISIS. And by the way, just to answer the rest of that question, I would knock the hell out of ISIS in some form. I would rather not do it with our troops, you understand that. Very important. Because I think saying that is very important because I was against the war in Iraq, although they found a clip talking to Howard Stern, I said, “Well…” It was very unenthusiastic. Before they want in, I was totally against the war. I was against it for years. I actually had a delegation sent from the White House to talk to me because I guess I get a disproportionate amount of publicity. I was just against the war. I thought it would destabilize the Middle East, and it did. But we have to knock out ISIS. We are living like in medieval times. Who ever heard of the heads chopped off?
HIATT: Just back to the campaign. You are smart and you went to a good school. Yet you are up there and talking about your hands and the size of private …
HIATT: … your private parts.
TRUMP: No, no. No, no. I am not doing that.
HIATT: Do you regret having engaged in that?
TRUMP: No, I had to do it. Look, this guy. Here’s my hands. Now I have my hands, I hear, on the New Yorker, a picture of my hands.
MARCUS: You’re on the cover.
TRUMP: A hand with little fingers coming out of a stem. Like, little. Look at my hands. They’re fine. Nobody other than Graydon Carter years ago used to use that. My hands are normal hands. During a debate, he was losing, and he said, “Oh, he has small hands and therefore, you know what that means.” This was not me. This was Rubio that said, “He has small hands and you know what that means.” Okay? So, he started it. So, what I said a couple of days later … and what happened is I was on line shaking hands with supporters, and one of supporters got up and he said, “Mr. Trump, you have strong hands. You have good-sized hands.” And then another one would say, “You have great hands, Mr. Trump, I had no idea.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I thought you were like deformed, and I thought you had small hands.” I had fifty people … Is that a correct statement? I mean people were writing, “How are Mr. Trump’s hands?” My hands are fine. You know, my hands are normal. Slightly large, actually. In fact, I buy a slightly smaller than large glove, okay? No, but I did this because everybody was saying to me, “Oh, your hands are very nice. They are normal.” So Rubio, in a debate, said, because he had nothing else to say … now I was hitting him pretty hard. He wanted to do his Don Rickles stuff and it didn’t work out. Obviously, it didn’t work too well. But one of the things he said was “He has small hands and therefore, you know what that means, he has small something else.” You can look it up. I didn’t say it.
MARCUS: You chose to raise it …
TRUMP: No, I chose to respond.
MARUS: You chose to respond.
TRUMP: I had no choice.
MARCUS: You chose to raise it during a debate. Can you explain why you had no choice?
TRUMP: I don’t want people to go around thinking that I have a problem. I’m telling you, Ruth, I had so many people. I would say 25, 30 people would tell me … every time I’d shake people’s hand, “Oh, you have nice hands.” Why shouldn’t I? And, by the way, by saying that I solved the problem. Nobody questions … I even held up my hands, and said, “Look, take a look at that hand.”
MARCUS: You told us in the debate ….
TRUMP: And by saying that, I solved the problem. Nobody questions. Everyone held my hand. I said look. Take a look at that hand.
MARCUS: You told us in the debate that you guaranteed there was not another problem. Was that presidential? And why did you decide to do that?
TRUMP: I don’t know if it was presidential, honestly, whether it is or not. He said, ‘Donald Trump has small hands and therefore he has small something else.’ I didn’t say that. And all I did is when he failed, when he was failing, when he was, when Christie made him look bad, I gave him the– a little recap and I said,  and I said, and I had this big strong powerful hand ready to grab him, because I thought he was going to faint. And everybody took it fine. Whether it was presidential or not I can’t tell you. I can just say that what he said was a lie. And everybody, they wanted to do stories on my hands; after I said that, they never did. And then I held up the hand, I showed people the hand. You know, when I’ve got a big audience. So yeah, I think it’s not a question of presidential …
MARCUS: He said he regrets …
HIATT: Okay, let’s move on here. Let’s move on.
TRUMP: I did feel I should respond. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. But I felt I should respond because everybody was talking about it.
RYAN: You [MUFFLED] mentioned a few minutes earlier here that you would knock ISIS. You’ve mentioned it many times. You’ve also mentioned the risk of putting American troop in a danger area. If you could substantially reduce the risk of harm to ground troops, would you use a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS?
TRUMP: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…
RYAN: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?
TRUMP: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here.  Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?
HIATT: Sure, then I’d like to let a couple of them get in questions.
LEWANDOWSKI: We have got five minutes, hard out.
HIATT: Okay.
TRUMP: Oh is it?
CORY: Yeah. You have a meeting you have to get to.
TRUMP: Okay we do.
ARMAO: I’m Jo-Ann Armao. I cover D.C. events. I  want to ask you a question about what you think about D.C. voting rights or statehood.
TRUMP: Okay. I’ll talk about that.
TRUMP: Hi, Tom.
LANE: I’m Charles …
TRUMP: Yes, I know Charles.
STROMBERG: Steve Stromberg, editorial writer.
TRUMP: Right.
MARCUS: Ruth Marcus.
TRUMP: Right.
RYAN:  Fred Ryan.
TRUMP: Right, right.
DIEHL: Jackson Diehl.
TRUMP:  Good.
JAMES DOWNIE: James Downie, digital opinions editor.
TRUMP: Hi, James.
MICHAEL LARABEE: Mike Larabee, I’m the op-ed editor.
CHRISTINE EMBA: Christine Emba.
TRUMP: Hi, Christine.
JAMIE RILEY: Jamie Riley, letters and local opinions.
TRUMP: Good, yes, yes.
KAREN ATTIAH: Karen Attiah, deputy digital editor.
HIATT: Karen, you want to get a question in?
ATTIAH: Uh, yeah, I mean speaking again of the system of what a lot of people would say are some of the uglier components of your campaign; a lot of people have said you’ve been running a very divisive campaign as far as racial divides, you’ve noted you know your comments about Muslims, about Mexicans, immigrants and such. You have information that the country is becoming browner, is becoming younger, is becoming blacker. What in your vision of president, in your presidency, how would you bridge these divides and how will you address a– how are you going to run on a message of inclusion of all Americans?
TRUMP: Well, first of all, if you look at some polls that have come out, I’m doing very well with African Americans. I’m doing, actually if you look at the polls, a lot of the polls that came out, in the, um, what do they call it? Exit polls, like from Nevada and other places, I’m doing very well with Hispanics.
ATTIAH: I think some of the polls are saying you’re doing [in the] negatives.
TRUMP: We do, if it’s illegals, in other words, if it’s everybody, but people that are legally living here, I’m doing very well. In other words, people that are here, like Hispanics that are in the country, I’m doing very well. People that vote. Like people leaving voting booths and all, I’m doing very well with them. I want to be inclusive, but at the same time, people should come here legally. They should be here legally. And I think the reason I’m doing, that I will do well, especially once I get started, don’t forget I haven’t even focused on Hillary yet. And, and as you know, you know I’ve had polls that are against me, but I’ve had many polls that say I’d beat Hillary, but they’re not that, that, they don’t mean  anything now because it’s too early. Because I haven’t hit her. I’ve only hit her once, and that was eight weeks ago, but, I haven’t started on Hillary yet, and when I do I think I’ll be able to make my  points. I mean, you know, but, but I think that just to try and answer your question: Uh, I am the least racist person that you will ever meet. Okay. That I can tell you.
ATTIAH: But do you feel that your messages, your rhetoric, are dangerous and divisive for this country? How do you feel they’re ….
TRUMP: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so. With the Muslim thing I think it’s a serious problem. I’ve had Muslims call and tell me you’re right with the Muslim thing, I think it’s a serious problem.  And it’s a problem that has to be addressed. I mean, there’s tremendous hatred. Even the, even the guy they caught in Paris. He was being hid out by other Muslims, and everybody is after him, and he’s living right next to where he grew up.  There’s a serious, serious problem with the Muslims and it’s got to be addressed. It’s temporary, and it’s got to be addressed. And you know you may think of it as negative. Many people think it’s very positive.
HIATT: How would you identify people to keep them out of this country?
TRUMP: Well look, there’s many exceptions. There’s many – everything, you’re going to go through a process. But we have to be very careful. And I was really referring in particular, you know, to migrations – Syrians, the whole migration, where we’re going to take in thousands. And I heard in the Democrat debate, I heard 55,000, okay. 55,000. Now they say it’s really ten [thousand], but it’s already 10, and I just don’t think we can take people into this country. You saw what two people did – the woman and the man, whether she radicalized him or [inaudible] – but you saw what two people did, and I just don’t think we can take people in when we have no idea who they are, where they come from. There’s no documents, there’s no paper, and we have ISIS looming over our head, and we have tremendous destruction. We lost the World Trade Center, we lost the Pentag – you know, we had a plane go into the Pentagon, etc.
ARMAO: D.C.: You told Chuck Todd last year on “Meet the Press” that you love D.C., you love the people, that you want to do what’s best for them. They think what’s best for them is statehood or at the very least voting rights. What is your position on those two things?
TRUMP: I think statehood is a tough thing for D.C. I think it’s a tough thing. I don’t have a position on it yet. I would form a position. But I think statehood is a tough thing for D.C.
ARMAO: Tough politically?
TRUMP: I think it’s just something that I don’t think I’d be inclined to do. I’d like to study it. It’s not a question really – maybe Chuck didn’t ask me like you’re asking me – I don’t see statehood for D.C.
ARMAO: What about having a vote in the House of Representatives?
TRUMP: I think that’s something that would be okay. Having representation would be okay.
HIATT: Last one: You think climate change is a real thing? Is there human-caused climate change?
TRUMP: I think there’s a change in weather. I am not a great believer in man-made climate change. I’m not a great believer. There is certainly a change in weather that goes – if you look, they had global cooling in the 1920s and now they have global warming, although now they don’t know if they have global warming. They call it all sorts of different things; now they’re using “extreme weather” I guess more than any other phrase. I am not – I know it hurts me with this room, and I know it’s probably a killer with this room – but I am not a believer. Perhaps there’s a minor effect, but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.
STROMBERG: Don’t good businessmen hedge against risks, not ignore them?
TRUMP: Well I just think we have much bigger risks. I mean I think we have militarily tremendous risks. I think we’re in tremendous peril. I think our biggest form of climate change we should worry about is nuclear weapons. The biggest risk to the world, to me – I know President Obama thought it was climate change – to me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That’s – that is climate change. That is a disaster, and we don’t even know where the nuclear weapons are right now. We don’t know who has them. We don’t know who’s trying to get them. The biggest risk for this world and this country is nuclear weapons, the power of nuclear weapons.
RYAN: Thank you for joining us.


John Kerry

John Kerry, the sixty-eighth Secretary of State of the United States, was born to a temperament of wintry rectitude. He is descended from the Winthrops, who helped found the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the Forbeses, a Brahmin clan that made its money in railways and in exporting tea, silver, and opium to China. His father was a diplomat. Kerry attended St. Paul’s and Yale (where he was in Skull and Bones) and, as a naval officer in Vietnam, earned three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, and the Silver Star. He dated Jacqueline Kennedy’s half-sister, sailed with J.F.K., and married twice into substantial fortunes. Despite the codes of his class, however, Kerry was never entirely subtle about his ambitions. When he was in prep school, his classmates used to play “Hail to the Chief” to him on the kazoo.
In 2004, when Kerry lost the Presidential race to George W. Bush, who is widely considered the worst President of the modern era, he refused to challenge the results, despite his suspicion that in certain states, particularly Ohio, where the Electoral College count hinged, proxies for Bush had rigged many voting machines. But he could not suffer the defeat in complete silence. He was outraged that Bush, who had won a stateside berth in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, used campaign surrogates, the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, to slime his military record. He was furious, too, at Robert Shrum, his chief strategist, and other campaign advisers who had restrained him from hitting back.
“For a long period, after 2004, every time he even half fell asleep all he saw was voting machines in the state of Ohio,” Mike Barnicle, a close friend of Kerry’s and a former columnist for the Boston Globe, told me. This summer, Barnicle spent time with Kerry on Nantucket, where Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz, have a house on the water and a seventy-six-foot, seven-million-dollar sailboat called Isabel. “We were sitting in the bow,” Barnicle recalled, “and we were talking about a bunch of different things—about Iran, about what the President of Iran was like—and I said, ‘Other than not being President, this is pretty good.’ There was a security boat sailing off to the side of us. Then he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I realize how badly Shrum screwed me.’ ”
A few weeks ago, between Kerry’s trips to Europe and the Middle East, I had dinner with Kerry and Heinz at their house in Georgetown, a twenty-three-room mansion decorated with Early American portraits, Dutch still-lifes, and an amiable yellow Labrador retriever named Ben. (The Lab has the Twitter handle @DiploMutt.) I asked Kerry how long he carried around a sense of anger and resentment.
“I didn’t carry it,” he insisted. “I didn’t. I didn’t. My wife was mad at me that I didn’t carry it longer.”
From across the table, Teresa Heinz said, “I’m still carrying it.”
The Secretary of State looked up from his halibut. An ill wind of panic swept the oblong plain of his face. From the thick thatch of gray hair to the improbably long and thrusting chin, Kerry’s visage is immense and, in its implacable resting expression, resembles one of the monolithic heads that rise from the loam of Easter Island.
“Well, I’m not,” Kerry said.
His gaze turned to his wife, wordlessly imploring her to keep quiet. Heinz is seventy-seven, five years older than her husband, and, in 2013, she suffered a seizure that she has attributed to an earlier concussion “that was not properly treated at all.” It’s not easy for her to get around, and she appears infrequently at public events, but she spoke clearly and ardently throughout the evening, much as she had during the 2004 campaign.
She was not quite done. “I knew from looking at the . . .”
Kerry uses many terms of endearment for his wife; now he called her by the telegraphic “T.”
“T, let’s not go . . .” he said gently.
As she tried to speak again, he shut it down.
“T, T, we’re not . . . I didn’t want to spend time there,” he said. “I just consciously did not spend time there, and I moved on, and I moved on as rapidly as . . . It’s over. It’s behind me. . . . I could have done some things a little bit differently. We didn’t. But I’m not going to feel regret the rest of my life.”
In early 2013, after twenty-eight years in the Senate, Kerry succeeded Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. He is seventy-two, and this is almost surely his last high-ranking job as a public official. As he put it to me, “I have fourteen months left on the clock.” He has already made his historical mark by acting as the Obama Administration’s chief negotiator in the nuclear talks with Iran. That deal, which is designed to prevent Iran from building an atomic weapon and sparking a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East, was signed two months ago. But it was never a foregone conclusion. This time last year, the White House was running “Plan B” meetings about what steps to take—deeper sanctions, potential military strikes—if the talks failed.

His admirers and his critics in the diplomatic world describe Kerry in similar terms: tirelessly optimistic, dogged, rhetorically undisciplined, undaunted by risk, convinced that if he can just get “the relevant parties” into “the room” he can make a deal. “John Kerry picks his battles, and he invests body and soul in tackling conflicts where the human consequences are very high,” Samantha Power, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, told me. “When he engages, he is all in.”
Kerry has shown repeatedly that he will use any lever as a means of diplomatic persuasion—including his defeat in 2004.
In July, 2014, Afghanistan faced a potential civil war as the candidates to succeed Hamid Karzai as President—Abdullah Abdullah, a physician and the former foreign minister, and Ashraf Ghani, the former chancellor of Kabul University—charged each other with trying to steal the election. A few years earlier, Kerry, serving as Obama’s emissary while still in the Senate, had talked Karzai down from reckless decisions by recalling his own political upheavals; now he needed to do something similar.
On July 12th, Abdullah met with Kerry, in Kabul, at the American Ambassador’s residence. Abdullah’s supporters in the Northern Alliance and among various warlords—Ghani had his own warlord constituency—did not want him to back down. It was left to Kerry to argue that, despite what was delicately described as “electoral improprieties,” confrontation had to be avoided.
“I ran for President and I lost and now I’m Secretary of State of the most powerful country in the world,” Kerry told Abdullah and his entourage, according to an aide’s contemporaneous notes. “I know your anger. I know your frustration.” He pressed Abdullah not to walk away from politics, lest the country tumble into chaos and “the next generation” lose its chance.
The United Nations carried out an audit of the election and determined that although there had been fraud on both sides, Ghani had won. Abdullah was still not prepared to yield. On September 17th, Kerry called Abdullah from his office at the State Department to persuade him to concede and accept the face-saving position of “chief executive officer” in Ghani’s government.


He asked Abdullah to put his phone on speaker so that his aides could hear. After flattering Abdullah for his strength and importance in the country, Kerry said, “I will share with you a very personal experience: When I ran for President of the United States, in 2004, against George Bush, in the end, on Election Day, we had problems in the state of Ohio on how the votes were taking place. I even went to court in America to keep polling places open to make sure my people could vote. I knew that even in my country, the United States, where we had hundreds of years of practicing democracy, we still had problems carrying out that election. The next afternoon, I had a meeting with my people, and I told them that I did not think it appropriate of me to take the country through three or four months of not knowing who the President was. So that afternoon in Boston I conceded to the President and talked about the need to bring the country together. . . . One of the main lessons from this is there is a future. There is a tomorrow.”
Several days later, Abdullah Abdullah conceded and joined the Afghan government.
Kerry and Heinz have no shortage of residences; in addition to the houses in Georgetown and on Nantucket, they live in an eighteenth-century five-story pile on Louisburg Square, in Beacon Hill; in a family compound on Naushon, a private island off Cape Cod; in a fifteenth-century English farmhouse that was reassembled on the bank of Big Wood River, in Sun Valley; and on a ninety-acre farm called Rosemont, outside Pittsburgh, where Heinz spent time with her first husband, H. John Heinz III, the Republican senator and condiments scion, who died in 1991. When Kerry ran for President, her fortune was estimated at around a billion dollars. Kerry and Heinz keep their financial assets separate, but, had Kerry won in 2004, they would, together, have been the wealthiest family ever to occupy the White House.
As Secretary of State, however, Kerry spends much of his life onboard a worse-for-wear government jet, a Boeing 757. Both Kerry and Clinton have often had the humbling experience of the plane breaking down: a blown tire, a leak in an auxiliary fuel tank, “electronic problems.”

Kerry is six-four and walks with a pained roll in his gait. He has had both hips replaced—his ice-hockey days at Yale took a toll—and he is still recovering from an accident last May, in which he steered his racing bike into a curb, crashed to the road, and shattered his right femur. He travels in a cabin in the front of the plane, where a couch unfolds into a bed, allowing him to stretch out to read briefing papers and to make calls on a secure telephone line to foreign leaders and to the White House. He doesn’t sleep much, but sometimes he brings along a nylon-string guitar and relaxes by playing Beatles songs, Spanish laments, and show tunes. (Argentina will be delighted to hear that “Evita” is a favorite.) When he’s on one of his diplomatic “death marches” through some rarely visited region—recently, it was five Central Asian nations in two days—he likes to bone up with a “crash course.”
“I usually Google a country, find an interesting article or two, read about it, get some history,” he told me. “I want to know where I am. I want to know what made this place like it is. What is it about Samarkand that’s special?”

In late October, I joined him on one of the death marches, a Thursday-to-Sunday trip from Andrews Air Force Base, outside D.C., to Berlin, Vienna, Amman, and Riyadh. His job is to give strategic advice, help execute White House policy, tamp down crises, and reach agreements; to stroke allies, send clear signals to powers considered more problematic, like Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and China; and to forge potential relationships with old enemies like Iran.
The Obama Administration, working in the political safe haven of a second term, has won two recent, if divisive, victories: the deal with Iran and the opening to Cuba. It also has a “bucket list”: reaching a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria; stepping up an internationally coördinated fight againstISIS; and advancing the fight against climate change. This trip was designed mainly to get wildly disparate parties from the West, Russia, and the Middle East to begin negotiations on Syria. In particular, the trick was to get Iran “in the room” without losing its sworn enemies, the Sunni nations of the Gulf.
Kerry’s persistence and self-assurance, coupled with excruciating economic sanctions, is what helped him succeed with the Iranians. It’s also what led to nine months of fruitless, chaotic, and, arguably, corrosive negotiations that broke down last year between the Israelis and the Palestinians—negotiations that almost no one, not even the President, believed would lead to a breakthrough. Kerry argued that the hellbound trajectory of events was heading toward calamity, and he had to try; his critics said that the conditions were not ripe, and that the effort amounted to a diplomatic vanity project. Kerry’s Middle East adventure was precisely the kind of initiative that Hillary Clinton, who was intent on running for President, and who is, by nature, more risk averse, was disinclined to take up as Secretary of State.
The President has admired Kerry’s energy and sense of commitment since they worked together on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, although, a number of sources told me, he occasionally ribs Kerry for his more headlong efforts. And yet the two have markedly different temperaments and views of what the United States should attempt to achieve, particularly in the Middle East. Obama sees the region in the throes of historical turmoil—Sunni versus Shia, civil war in Syria, threats to national boundaries drawn by France and Great Britain a century ago, threats to the stability of Lebanon, Jordan, even Saudi Arabia. Having seen one intervention after another fail, he is determined to act with restraint. “Kerry, on the other hand, sees no historical trends that can defeat us,” Philip Gordon, a veteran National Security Council official and Obama’s principal adviser on the Middle East from 2013 to the spring of 2015, told me. “His optimism is such that he thinks, We will confront this! We will deal with it! There’s got to be a solution. We just need to find it and lead people there.” Gordon does not say this with admiration.
We landed at a military airport in Berlin. Kerry got into an Embassy car and headed to a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who happened to be in Germany to see Chancellor Angela Merkel. In recent weeks, there had been an alarming uptick in street violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank—stabbings, shootings, rock throwing, face-offs with troops—and at least some of it was due to rumors that the Israelis wanted to exert more control over the Temple Mount, in the Old City, or what Arabs call the Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. Some Israelis on the religious right want to build a Third Temple there; some Arabs claim, wrongly, that the site, now dominated by the Al Aqsa Mosque, never had any Jewish historical importance.

Kerry met with Netanyahu with the modest goal of dialling back the rhetoric about the Temple Mount on both sides, getting the Israelis to make it clear that the complex status quo was not going to change. But Netanyahu had just infuriated him by giving a speech suggesting that the grand mufti of Jerusalem in the thirties was the ideological inspiration for the Final Solution. “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time,” Netanyahu told the World Zionist Congress, in late October. “He wanted to expel the Jews.” Netanyahu said the mufti didn’t want German Jews to come to Palestine, so, instead, he advised Hitler to “burn them.” The mufti was, in fact, anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi, but the notion that he was the ideologist of the Holocaust was preposterous.

“Lately, I feel like the only time I have to myself is when I’m having sex with Brian.”

Although Netanyahu “clarified” his comments on the mufti before arriving in Berlin, Kerry’s circle did not see the performance as an aberration. Most of the ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet are on the record opposing a two-state solution. American officials speak of Netanyahu as myopic, entitled, untrustworthy, routinely disrespectful toward the President, and focussed solely on short-term political tactics to keep his right-wing constituency in line. Netanyahu seems not to care if he insults the Administration. Ron Dermer, his ambassador to the U.S., secretly arranged with John Boehner for Netanyahu to speak before Congress without alerting the White House; Danny Danon, his envoy to the U.N., blamed Obama’s “lack of leadership” for Turkish and Iranian aggression; and Ran Baratz, whom Netanyahu appointed last month as his media chief, wrote on his Facebook page that the President was anti-Semitic and that Kerry had the mental abilities of a twelve-year-old.
Kerry sometimes speaks vaguely of trying yet again to forge an Israeli-Palestinian settlement—“There are worse things than getting caught trying”—but his last attempt left him badly disillusioned. His public comments now make it clear that only if Israel and the Palestinians come knocking will he get involved in a negotiation. In 2014, as Kerry shuttled from capital to capital, one Israeli cabinet minister told me, “We are only doing this for you!” Moshe Ya’alon, Netanyahu’s defense minister, was quoted in the Israeli press saying, “The only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.” Kerry, Ya’alon said, “turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor.”

The relationship further soured when Netanyahu brought his campaign against the Iran nuclear deal to the floor of the U.S. Congress. “The frustration with the Israelis on a lot of issues has been sky-high,” one senior U.S. official told me, characterizing the mood at both the White House and the State Department. American officials are frustrated in various ways with the Palestinians as well, but, as the official said, “they don’t have any power in this dynamic. The Israelis have all the cards.”
As a diplomat, Kerry is duty-bound to describe raw reality in upholstered platitudes. And so, after his long session in Berlin with Netanyahu, he said, in a voice that had been rendered a scratchy whisper by too many hours of talking, that the meeting left him “cautiously encouraged.” He hoped to “resolve age-old differences in a frozen conflict.” He wanted the “parties” to “pull back from the precipice” and go down a “road that takes people somewhere.” And so on.
State Department aides said that sources of Kerry’s exasperation with Netanyahu range from the injustice of settlement building in the West Bank to the way he employs Yitzhak Molcho, his lawyer and confidant, to stifle even the most inconsequential negotiation. Kerry’s special envoy Frank Lowenstein told me that Kerry will “play through the whistle,” and persist with the Israelis and the Palestinians until the end of his time in office, but he added, “The window for a two-state solution is closing, though none of us who’ve worked on it will regret that we tried to save it.”
Kerry believes that Israel, along with the occupied territories, is headed toward becoming a “unitary state that is an impossible entity to manage.” He is particularly concerned, he said, that the Palestinian Authority could collapse; that, in the event, the P.A.’s thirty thousand security officers would scatter; and that chaos and increasingly violent clashes with Israel would follow.

“I understand the passions that are behind all of this—I get it,” Kerry told me. “If it were easy, it would have been done a long time ago. I happen to believe there is a way forward. There’s a solution. It would be good for Israel; it’d be great for the Palestinians; it’d be great for the region. People would make so much money. There’d be so many jobs created. There could be peace. And you would be stronger for it. Because nobody that I know or have met in the West Bank is anxious to have jihadis come in.
“The alternative is you sit there and things just get worse,” Kerry went on. “There will be more Hezbollah. There will be more rockets. And they’ll all be pointed in one direction. And there will be more people on the border. And what happens then? You’re going to be one big fortress? I mean, that’s not a way to live. It seems to me it is far more intelligent and far more strategic—which is an important word here—to have a theory of how you are going to preserve the Jewish state and be a democracy and a beacon to the world that everybody envisioned when Israel was created.”
I asked him if he could imagine an end to the State of Israel.
“No, I don’t believe that’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just, What is it going to be like, is the question. Will it be a democracy? Will it be a Jewish state? Or will it be a unitary state with two systems, or some draconian treatment of Palestinians, because to let them vote would be to dilute the Jewish state? I don’t know. I have no answer to that. But the problem is, neither do they. Neither do the people who are supposed to be providing answers to this. It is not an answer to simply continue to build in the West Bank and to destroy the homes of the other folks you’re trying to make peace with and pretend that that’s a solution.”
In the evening, Kerry flew from Berlin to Vienna, where, in meetings with his Russian, Turkish, and Saudi counterparts, the focus would turn to Syria. Some of the reporters on the State Department beat recall with nostalgia a time when Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice regularly came to the back of the plane to brief them, often on the record. Kerry is prone to senatorial over-talk and the occasional gaffe; recently, he had to walk back an infelicitous statement that there was a “rationale” to the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff, as opposed to the more recent attacks in Paris. White House officials have made it clear that his bouts of verbal indiscipline are unwelcome, and his trips to the back of the plane are less frequent. Recently, at the Saban Forum, a Middle East conference in Washington, D.C., Martin Indyk, Kerry’s former aide, interviewed him onstage and began by saying, with a smile, that he would be the only one asking questions, because Kerry’s staffers “were worried about your answers.”
The State Department beat is trying. The reporters are sardined into the back of the plane for endless flights and, upon arrival, spend hours waiting in hotel and airport holding rooms, interrupted by bursts of stenography. While Kerry met with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, at the Hotel Imperial, we pecked at the birdseed of the pool report, a couple of precisely quoted non-quotes. The pool reporter concluded with this plaintive note: “That’s it. My recorder was running for a total of twenty-two seconds.”

But the talks were of real significance. Kerry was trying to persuade his interlocutors, especially the Saudis, of the wisdom of including Iran, which has worked with the Russians to prop up Assad, in future talks. The developments in Syria were clear enough: at least two hundred thousand dead, four million refugees, millions more displaced. The regime—backed by Iranian troops, Hezbollah guerrillas, Russian air strikes on rebel outposts, and support from the Iraqi Shiite militias—has regained its footing and maintains a hold over up to two-thirds of the population. ISIS is under increasing attack from coalition air strikes and Kurdish ground troops, but it has moved the fight abroad.

“You’re right—the shipping isn’t free. They’ve folded the expense into the cost of the item.”

The dispiriting reality of American foreign policy in the twenty-first century has been neatly summarized in Politico by Philip Gordon, the former N.S.C. official: “In Iraq, the U.S. intervened and occupied, and the result was a costly disaster. In Libya, the U.S. intervened and did not occupy, and the result was a costly disaster. In Syria, the U.S. neither intervened nor occupied, and the result is a costly disaster.” Some foreign-policy experts, from Leon Panetta, the former C.I.A. director, to Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, predict that the conflicts that have emerged from the Arab uprisings will lead to a “Thirty Years’ War,” a protracted, regional bloodletting reminiscent of the religious wars in Central Europe that began with the fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1618.

The violent swirl of uncertainties brings out the President’s native caution. The most consequential political act of Obama’s early career was a brief appearance, in 2002, at an antiwar demonstration in Federal Plaza, in downtown Chicago, where he declared that the impending invasion of Iraq was “dumb” and would “require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” That speech set him apart from both Kerry and Clinton, who, as senators, voted to give Bush the right to use force in Iraq, and it set the ideological template for his foreign policy, not least on Syria. Vali Nasr, a former State Department adviser to Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, told me, “Obama hasn’t changed his position from 2011. He is always concerned that it’s a fool’s errand, a slippery slope to another Iraq, pouring blood and treasure into another conflict.”
Kerry’s senior aides are not hesitant to say that both as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Secretary of State he has disagreed strongly with Obama on Syria. “Obama prioritizes avoiding any entanglements where it is uncertain that such an intervention will work,” a State Department official told me. Kerry, who sees that the crisis has threatened the stability of Jordan, Lebanon, and other states in the region and has provided ISIS with a base, in Raqqa and Ramadi, has, the official said, “much more faith in our ability to avoid a slippery slope.”
From the beginning of the civilian uprisings in Syria, in 2011, and the regime’s escalating and bloody reaction, many of Obama’s advisers have argued for a more aggressive policy: arming and funding the “moderate rebels”; air strikes on Damascus; taking out Assad’s helicopters and planes, which drop barrel bombs packed with shrapnel, explosives, and, sometimes, chlorine; the establishment of safe zones and a no-fly zone. In 2012, the C.I.A. director, David Petraeus; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey; Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Samantha Power, who was then a national-security adviser; and Secretary of State Clinton pressed Obama to support vetted rebels against the regime. Kerry—who was influenced by the relatively successful, if belated, interventions in the Balkans, in the nineties, and also by the calamitous decision not to intervene in Rwanda in 1994—joined this chorus when he replaced Clinton. But no one could convince Obama that deeper involvement would avoid a repetition of the Iraq fiasco.
Kerry was a critical actor in the most humbling episode of the Syrian drama. Obama had warned Assad that he would be crossing a “red line” if he used chemical weapons, saying that such an act would “change my calculus.” In August, 2013, a year after the “red line” warning, Assad’s forces, according to Western intelligence services and an independent U.N. commission, fired rockets armed with sarin on Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, killing hundreds. The U.S. prepared to attack with cruise missiles. In a speech insisting that Assad give up all his chemical arms, Kerry referred to the “lessons” of the Holocaust and of Rwanda. General Dempsey said, “Our finger was on the trigger.” Obama warned of an American attack, although Kerry, following the President’s minimizing lead, allowed that the strike would be “unbelievably small.” Then, without consulting Kerry, Obama stepped back, saying that he would have to get congressional approval before an attack on Syria. He had concluded that it was worse to go to war than to be seen as weak.
Obama’s aides say that the debates over Syria are always over the cost of an action versus the cost of inaction. Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, told me, “The President has spent more time on Syria than on any other issue in the Situation Room, often testing different theories and propositions. But no one has ever been able to answer the second and third questions: If you do X, then what? If you were to take more assertive military action against Assad, what happens the day after, when Assad is still in place and we have not engaged militarily even more robustly? There’s an expectation to see it through. There is an escalatory logic that leads the U.S. to take responsibility for Syria. He’s open to different proposals, but where do they lead?”

When I spoke with President Obama last year, he made a similar point. “It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq,” he said. “And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.”
Nearly everyone I talked to in the Administration considered the “red line” aftermath to be a diplomatic fiasco. The Syrian government did, however, give up its main chemical stockpiles when its ally Russia stepped in and pressured it to do so. Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, worked with Kerry to close the deal. Meanwhile, Assad remains in power. The Administration, which started out saying that he must step aside, is now willing to see Assad play a transitional role in a political settlement before leaving the stage at an undetermined point. As one abashed U.S. official told me, “The meaning of ‘Assad has to go’ has evolved.”
So has Kerry’s view of Assad. In 2010, before the Arab uprisings, Kerry met several times with Assad in Damascus, at Obama’s request. The Administration wanted Kerry to see what kind of Syrian-Israeli agreement he could help forge. Assad expressed concern that the economic isolation of Syria, and its crippling unemployment, was building up enormous strain and that the regime could fall to a fundamentalist-led revolt. Walid Muallem, Assad’s foreign minister, told one of Kerry’s aides, “If we don’t succeed in opening up our economy, you’ll come back here in ten years and you’ll meet with Mullah Assad.”
Assad told Kerry that, in order to make peace with Israel, he had to get back the Golan Heights, territory lost in the 1967 war. For that to be considered, Kerry replied, Syria would have to cease the transit of arms through Syria to Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and to Hamas, in Gaza.
“We basically delivered him a pretty strong message of, ‘You better stop this or else,’ ” Kerry told me. “But I also engaged with him, because he wanted to talk about another subject—a relationship with Israel in the future. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this publicly, but he was ready to make a deal with Israel. And the proof of that is a letter I still have that he wrote and signed proposing a structure by which he was willing to recognize Israel, have an embassy there, make peace, deal with the Golan, et cetera.” (A representative of the Syrian government denied that Assad ever wrote such a letter; he also denied that Assad took any oppressive measures in 2011.) Syria asked Kerry for economic assistance, including a pipeline to Iraq and aid for technology and health care. When Netanyahu was told of the discussions, he was reluctant. “Bibi came to Washington, and one of the first things out of his mouth in the Oval Office was ‘I can’t do this. I’m not going to—I just can’t.’ ”

“Oh, those are the lobbyists who get us our government subsidies.”

The issue was rendered moot in March, 2011, when the revolution began in Syria. As the Syrian regime increased its level of cruelty from month to month—beginning with the police torturing young protesters and moving on to the indiscriminate killing of many thousands, using barrel bombs—all talk of the “soft-spoken British-educated ophthalmologist,” of Assad as the reformist hope of Syria, was eclipsed.
Kerry shook his head at the memory of it. At dinner in Damascus, Assad had told Kerry and Heinz about how his mother could no longer go to a local mosque dressed in a skirt. He talked about how female college classmates, professional women, were now in hijab. “We want to be a secular country,” Assad said, according to Kerry. “We don’t want to be inundated by this.”
Kerry went on, “I had an impression that this guy had serious business plans, growth plans, development plans, wanted to change.” When I pressed him to describe Assad in terms of his crimes, he backed off. “You know what? I want to try to talk common sense to him through this process, and I do not want to get into any—it’s just the inappropriate moment for me to . . .”
Both Kerry and Heinz said they had heard from their Syrian sources that Assad’s mother or his brother, Maher al-Assad, the family enforcer figure and an Army general who commands the élite Fourth Armored Division and the Republican Guard, urged Bashar to crack down hard on the protesters; otherwise, the family and the Alawite regime were finished. Kerry thinks of Assad as the toxic product of his family and his political environment, a kind of rational autocrat who set out to reform his country but, when faced with the prospect of joining the list of deposed Arab dictators, acted in the predictably monstrous way of his father, who, in 1982, slaughtered twenty thousand people in the city of Hama to put down a Muslim Brotherhood uprising.

Assad, Kerry said, “made enormous, gigantic mistakes, and I think they are disqualifying mistakes.” Kerry continues to use bloodless terms like “mistakes” because he hopes he will soon be dealing with Assad—either through Russia and Iran or through the media, or even a negotiating team from Damascus. Either way, his job, as he sees it, is to persuade. The American position is still that Assad must go, but, in order to keep Russia and Iran in the discussion, Obama and Kerry have fudged the question of when.
“I believe Syria can be put back together still,” Kerry told me. “But I think this is the last shot to try to do it. I think that if you can’t do this it could break up into enclaves and Iraq could—I mean, you could see a lot of things happen. This is not the Thirty Years’ War today. But, if allowed to fester unabated by the peace process or by a solution, this could become a kind of Thirty Years’ War, because it could develop into a bona-fide, full-fledged Sunni-Shia conflagration.”

Vienna is a scene of satisfaction for Kerry. It is where he signed documents for a nuclear settlement with Mohammed Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister. Obama had ramped up economic sanctions and launched cyber attacks against Iran well before Kerry joined the Administration, but when Kerry was still a senator he was involved in a series of secret American-Iranian meetings, brokered by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, of Oman, which prepared the way.
The tension in the negotiating rooms was sometimes unbearable. Opposition to the talks raged from Jerusalem to Capitol Hill, and Zarif made it known, both as a tactic and as a matter of fact, that he faced immense pressure in Tehran from hard-liners who wanted to break off negotiations. “The subtext all along was possible war,” the State Department official told me. It was discussed openly. During one exchange in Lausanne, when the two sides were arguing over Fordow, a secret underground uranium-enrichment site, Kerry asked, “Why do you care so much? You have facilities elsewhere.”
Zarif said that the Fordow installation, which was built under a mountain near the city of Qom, was an insurance policy in case Israel or the United States attacked Iran’s other sites. Kerry replied, “I don’t want to be crude about it, but that won’t save you.” The Americans in the room knew that Kerry was referring to a thirty-thousand-pound bomb called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, which is capable of destroying a facility like Fordow.
The agreement could, in time, collapse if Iran is caught violating it, but Obama and Kerry were making a bet that they could both prevent a nuclear Iran and empower more modern elements in the Iranian élites who may, after the passing of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, and his hard-line cadre of ayatollahs, liberalize the regime.
In Vienna, in the gaudy, chandeliered haunts of the Imperial, Kerry was now trying to build on that treaty. After a long day, he emerged from his sessions with the Russians, Turks, and Saudis muttering some diplomatic word globules: the meetings were “constructive and productive and succeeded in surfacing some ideas, which I am not going to share today,” and warm congratulations to Austria on the occasion of its national day, and, as for how long Assad will stay in power, “we can agree to disagree.”
The talks were more eventful than he let on. As always, some time had to be allotted for posturing and venting. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, repeatedly reminded the room of Assad’s butchery, referring to him Homerically as “the man who’s killed three hundred thousand people.” Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, scoffed at the idea of a “moderate” opposition and refused to accept a specific time line for Assad to step down. And it would not be a party if the Russians did not remind everyone of the chaos created by the American invasion of Iraq.
“I hear it all the time,” Kerry told me. “I hear it from Lavrov. I mean, we work professionally and we go at things in a constructive way, but he doesn’t let me forget Libya or Egypt or Iraq, and the ‘color revolutions’ ”—in Ukraine, Georgia, and other states where the Kremlin leadership believes the U.S. has fomented revolt. “I roll with it, but it’s important to understand it. I mean, if you’re going to try to work something with Russia, you need to understand the degree to which these things matter.”

The farrago of competing national interests, the legacies of historical blunders, the fantastical cast of characters, the sheer bloodlust, the prospect of regional if not global conflict—all conspire to make Kerry’s task in Syria nearly impossible. But now, after years of moribund diplomacy in the face of horrific bloodshed and waves of terrified refugees, he seemed to be making incremental progress. Not only were he and his negotiating partners talking; they were also heading toward getting Iran in the room. “A gathering of a group of unthinkable countries,” Lavrov called it.
Certainly, there was a greater sense of urgency in Washington, in Moscow, in Europe, and in the Gulf. The Iran nuclear deal, despite opposition in Israel, in Saudi Arabia, and in the U.S. Congress, boosted the credibility of American diplomacy, and of Kerry in particular. Vladimir Putin—in order to prop up the Syrian regime, regain leverage in the Middle East, and restore a sense of post-Soviet Russia as a world power—has returned in force to the Syrian issue, unleashing warplanes on rebel positions, in the name of the fight against ISIS. With terror attacks abroad and the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees, the Syrian crisis is no longer a “foreign” matter for Europe or the United States; it has come to seem a matter of national security.

“Frankly, we’re at a loss, so we’re looking for someone young and stupid to tell us what to do.”

Back on the plane, Kerry sat perched on the edge of his bed, and told me, “We’re trying to break a crazy stalemate.” There was a weary desperation in his expression. He knew that the Russians and the Iranians could not endorse the idea that Assad was finished—even if they believed that, ultimately, he was. There could, however, be talks about “political transition.” No one, Kerry was saying, wanted the government institutions to “crash,” the way they had in Iraq. “And, if you don’t want the government to crash, you can’t have Assad goboom.”
Kerry could not yet know the true motivation of Putin and the Iranian leadership in agreeing to send emissaries to talks in Vienna: “Are they there only to prop [Assad] up and forever, or are they there helping to try to engineer something to happen? And so I’ve been trying to put that to the test.”

Finally, his voice gave out—I could no longer hear him above the engines of the jet, and he appeared to be in pain. He winced by way of farewell and left me to return to the back of the plane.
When Kerry was appointed by Obama to head the State Department, he made a point of meeting with his predecessors. As a young man, he’d loathed Henry Kissinger. To him, the Nixon Administration represented all that was most cynical about American politics.
Kerry returned from Vietnam a decorated veteran and, as he told the Times, “an angry young man.” He became a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and, with his forthright style of confession and outrage, he won the admiration of antiwar leaders. On “Meet the Press,” Kerry said that he had “committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed”: shootings in free-fire zones, harassment, search-and-destroy missions, the burning of villages. Wearing his fatigues and his decorations, Kerry testified, in April, 1971, for two hours before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and asked a question that was quoted around the world: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
Kerry said, “Someone has to die so President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, ‘the first President to lose a war.’ ” The Nixon Administration, he said, “has done us the ultimate dishonor. They have attempted to disown us and the sacrifices we made for this country.”
Nixon was repelled and, at some level, impressed. Talking on the phone with his counsel, Charles Colson, he said that Kerry was “sort of a phony, isn’t he?” But even H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, told the President, “He did a superb job on it at the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. A Kennedy-type guy, he looks like a Kennedy, and he, he talks exactly like a Kennedy.”
But while Kerry made his name in a radical voice, he was always a man of the establishment. More than any diplomat or politician this side of Bill Clinton, he has an abiding faith in the value of personal relationships and of his capacity to persuade. All he has to do is get the parties in a room and he can’t lose. Obama, by contrast, has no more cultivated relationships with foreign leaders than he has with Republican leaders. Where Obama is skeptical, Kerry is almost sentimental in his optimism. He has even made his peace with Henry Kissinger: “I seek his advice—he’s a brilliant guy.” He recounted a lunch that they had recently, at which Kissinger told him, “The difference between you and me is that I think that personal relations don’t matter much. I think interests matter.” Kerry replied, “I think interests matter, of course, but I think personal relations can help matters—they can be influential.”

No one seems to inspire Kerry’s outrage, including the worst of his negotiating partners. “I think they want to be valued for who they are and understood for where they come from and what their life is about,” he told me. “I think if people have a sense that you know what they’re about, they can build some trust with you. . . . I think if you can show them that you understand what their challenge is, how they have to sell it at home or how they have to, what it means, the sacrifice they might have to make to do X, Y, or Z.”
As a senator, Kerry, who grew up worshipping J.F.K., initially suffered through a vexed relationship with his senior partner, Edward Kennedy. The Kennedy people privately mocked Kerry as stiff, pompous, a “show horse,” as Michael Janeway, the former editor of the Boston Globe, once described Kerry to his face. The Kerry people resented Kennedy for grabbing credit for every joint initiative. But, with time, Kerry gained respect in the Senate, particularly for serious work on issues ranging from forging diplomatic relations with Vietnam (along with John McCain) to his investigation into the way the Bank of Credit and Commerce International helped General Manuel Noriega, of Panama, launder his drug money.
Sometimes Kerry could play maddeningly to type. During the 2004 campaign, an interviewer for GQ asked him, “What’s the best bottle of wine you’ve ever had?” A slicker pol might have mentioned a superb Florida Merlot or an unforgettable Ohio Pinot, but even a novice would know to choose a domestic wine, preferably one in a battleground state. “Probably a Latour 1961,” Kerry answered, thus assuring his campaign the Bordeaux primary.
But he is hardly a prep-school cartoon. During the campaign, for example, theGlobe discovered both that Kerry’s grandfather was Jewish and that he committed suicide, two facts that Kerry had been unaware of. His family came from distinguished lineages but had little money. Kerry’s first marriage was troubled; his wife, Julia Thorne, suffered from severe depression and wrote that her mind was “ravaged by corroding voices, my body defeated by bone-rattling panics, I sat on the edge of my bed minutes from taking my life.” When he was separated from Thorne, Kerry had what Teresa would call his “gypsy period,” with no fixed address, hustling to see his two daughters, in Boston, while he was working in Washington. (Thorne died of cancer in 2006.)
One of the governing clichés about Kerry is that his four months of combat in Vietnam and his return as a leader of the antiwar-veterans movement shaped his career as a legislator and a diplomat. Kerry told me the war showed him “that we can make some terrible mistakes when we don’t think it through right. I can remember being in Vietnam watching Melvin Laird, Secretary of Defense, flying over me as we went down to do some completely staged ‘invasion’ because the original invasion place had too many Vietcong. These kinds of things stick out at you. It’s the reason that Joseph Heller and ‘Catch-22’ have particular meaning for a lot of us.”

What Vietnam did not instill in Kerry is a sense of ideological consistency. Campaigning for the Senate in 1984, he declared that he would have voted to cancel the B-1 bomber, the F-15, the Trident missile system, and many other weapons systems, only to say later that such votes would have been “ill-advised,” even “stupid.” He disagreed with the Reagan Administration’s adventures in Central America and George H. W. Bush’s decision to build an international coalition and repel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, in 1991. But he supported intervention in Kosovo and, in 2002, with tortured logic, voted for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq: “I mean, I supported disarming Saddam Hussein, but I was critical of the Administration and how it did its diplomacy and so forth.” Then he voted against the eighty-seven-billion-dollar appropriation to fund reconstruction, as well as military operations, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This next song’s about pain.”SEPTEMBER 5, 2005

“He always told me he wanted to be informed by Vietnam but never imprisoned by it,” David Wade, who was a Senate aide to Kerry and, until recently, his chief of staff at the State Department, told me. Vietnam, rather, was an emotional touchstone. On trips with friends to the Vietnam Memorial, Kerry pointed out the engraved names of soldiers who died after the Paris peace talks began. “He would talk about how people died while they argued over the shape of the negotiating table,” Wade recalled.
If Iraq and the general failure of the Arab Spring taught Kerry anything, it is a greater wariness of the idea of democratic crusades. “Having an election does not make a democracy,” he told me. “We learned that with Hamas not too long ago. And I don’t think we’ve always practiced that very carefully, and I think we need to practice it very carefully, frankly. If people are on a path and making legitimate moves and choices, I’m content to not push the curve beyond its ability to bend. And I think we have to be smarter about that.”
Asked whether the idealism of Woodrow Wilson was too powerful a strain in American foreign policy, he replied, “Yeah, a little bit, probably. I mean, I love Wilson and I love Wilsonian idealism, but it’s very idealistic.”
In the next two days, Kerry kept up his pace. First, he flew to Amman, where he met with King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader. Neither the Jordanians nor the Palestinians were in any mood to meet with Netanyahu, but the issue was violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank and, in Kerryspeak, how to “bring down the temperature.” The meetings, particularly with the Jordanians, were delicate—the King needed to show his subjects that he retained influence over the Temple Mount. And the press conference that Kerry held, alongside the Jordanian foreign minister, at an airport in Amman, was a neatly choreographed jig of indirection. At one point, Kerry, who had done his part to express excruciating evenhandedness in counselling both the Palestinians and the Israelis to ratchet down the “incitement,” watched with stolid irritation as the Jordanian foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, staggered off script. Finally, Kerry scribbled a note and handed it to Judeh, who blinked a few times and wrapped things up. But not before remarking on the obvious: “As always in this part of the world, things have a tendency to erupt.”
The press conference did not reveal that Kerry and Judeh had called Netanyahu and persuaded him to declare publicly that the Israeli government had no intention of changing the status of the Temple Mount—which he did in a video on Facebook. But this was only after hours of cajoling and “flyspecking” statements with Netanyahu and his aides—a process that caused the State Department official to joke that he had “a P.T.S.D. flashback” from the failed 2013-14 peace talks.
Kerry walked to his plane, which took off into the darkening sky for Saudi Arabia. We arrived late in the evening, which was perfect, because Saudi officials, like moonflowers, bloom at night. The foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, greeted Kerry on the tarmac. “There was an appropriately masculine embrace,” the pool reporter noted. “They each grabbed the other’s upper arm. And the traditional Arab kiss on each cheek, though there was no actual skin contact. You could say it was more of an air kiss.”
After talking for a while at the airport, Kerry and Jubeir got in cars and headed to Diriyah Farm, the country residence of the Saudi king, Salman. Salman has been on the throne only since the death of Abdullah, in January, but he is seventy-nine and in spotty health—he reads his talking points off an iPad. Intelligence agencies are already at work trying to sort out who might succeed him.
Kerry entered an opulent reception area that the pool reporter aptly described as a sunken living room the size of “an N.H.L. rink.” Aides in robes sat along the walls. “Glance at the men,” the pooler noted, “and you know that it has been a long time since Richard Burton”—the nineteenth-century British explorer—“observed that he had never seen a fat man in the desert.” Finally, Kerry met the King, in a smaller room.
“I’m happy to see you,” the King said, through his translator.
“I’m happy to see you,” Kerry replied. “This is my favorite palace. I love this place.”
“This is our original home town,” the King said.
When Kerry became Secretary, the Saudis were still angry at the Administration for, in their eyes, betraying a reliable ally-autocrat like Hosni Mubarak. What if the House of Saud came to such a pass? The Saudis were also dismayed by Obama’s reluctance to attack Syria. Turki al-Faisal, the former director of Saudi intelligence and a member of the royal family, said, in 2013, that Obama’s failure to follow through on his “red line” warning “would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious.”

The focus of the meeting, for Kerry, was to nail down what had been raised in Vienna the day before, persuading the King to include Iran in the talks on Syria. The King’s security council—including the foreign minister, the Crown Prince, the deputy Crown Prince, the head of intelligence—listened intently as the two men talked. Salman seemed to leave the question of Iran a little more open and told Kerry that he should now meet with the security team. Kerry’s team was hopeful, thinking that Salman had given them room to maneuver.
With the King gone, the Saudi advisers, despite their ritual expressions of distaste for Iran, agreed to be in the same room with Zarif at future meetings in Vienna. This would not be first-level news around the world, necessarily, and the war went on, and the waves of refugees kept arriving in Jordan and Turkey and on the shores of Lesvos. But, for Kerry, these were the kinds of moves—a pawn seizing a center square—that just might lead to an endgame.
The flight from Riyadh to Andrews was scheduled to take fifteen hours, with a refuelling stop in Ireland. At Shannon, the plane pulled up to a deserted terminal. Dressed in jeans and a Yale hoodie, Kerry settled down at a table near the bar and ordered a hot toddy and a plate of salmon sandwiches.
“Damn, these are good,” he said.
The proprietor of the bar, who introduced himself as Declan, presented Kerry with a bottle of Irish whiskey and a dram of advice.
“My father died when I was just a few years old and my mother didn’t drink,” Declan said, “but whenever I was sick she would take a spoonful of this and put it in hot water. Works like a charm.”
Kerry smiled professionally, but he was long past charming anyone. He was exhausted, and there was little left to his voice. Yet he kept talking; as he stole glances at a Manchester United game on the TV above the bar, he obsessed about the next week’s trip to Vienna, the players at the table, what was possible.
As a diplomat, Hillary Clinton wins credit inside the Administration for visiting a hundred and twelve countries and helping to transform America’s image in the world after the catastrophic Bush years. She led efforts to open relations with Burma, brokered a 2012 ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and drafted economic sanctions on Iran. But she was as restrained in her ambitions as she was disciplined. Kerry, by contrast, is considered relentless, sometimes to a fault. There is no concealing his eagerness to make a deal; to a critic, his style is reminiscent of the customer who sternly tells the salesman, “I’m not leaving here until you sell me a car.”

“My career doesn’t reflect what my passions are as much as where my health insurance is.”DECEMBER 19, 2005

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national-security adviser, said that the President appreciates Kerry’s “willingness to dive in without knowing how the story is going to end. You’re not going to achieve an Iran deal without that.” Kerry hates being cut out of the action. He was, Rhodes admitted, “annoyed” that the opening to Cuba this year had almost nothing to do with the State Department. “That was the only way it was going to get done,” Rhodes said. “That was the Cuban preference. They wanted to deal with the White House.”
But if there is to be any kind of diplomatic progress in Syria it will depend largely on Kerry and his negotiating partners. A week after prevailing on the Saudis to sit at the same table with Iran, he returned to Vienna. Multilateral meetings customarily begin with a round of opening statements from every party in the room, and Zarif and Jubeir, the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers, laid bare their radically different narratives. In talks with the U.S., Zarif had reminded Kerry of the C.I.A.’s role in the 1953 overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister, and now he reminded Jubeir that fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Jubeir, for his part, had already remarked on Iran’s role in terrorism in the region. The Americans might have found all this amusing had it not been reminiscent of the worst moments of the nuclear talks. When the subject shifted to Syria, the atmosphere hardly lightened. The two blamed each other for fomenting fundamentalism and exploiting the chaos everywhere in the region.

Several times, the American delegation wondered if Zarif or Jubeir or both would walk out. As the afternoon wore on, one foreign minister, who was growing exasperated, turned to one of Kerry’s aides and said, “When is his hard stop?”—meaning, when does Kerry have to leave for his next flight?
“Not until ten,” the aide said.
The foreign minister sighed. The meeting lasted seven hours.
The victories were small. In the communiqué, Iran and Saudi Arabia allowed themselves to be listed together as participants—a first. The document also carried dog-whistle language about “transition” in Syria but without a time line for Assad’s departure. It mentioned the need to preserve “the rights of all Syrians,” which was meant to assure the Alawite minority, which rules Syria, that there would be no slaughter if Assad gives up power. Any election would have to include the Syrian diaspora, which would lower Assad’s odds of winning.
There is every reason to be skeptical about the effort. What roles will the warring parties in Syria play? How can Russia and Turkey possibly walk toward a common goal after the Turks shot down a Russian bomber? The rebels are deeply fractured—what’s in the talks for them? Who represents them? Under what circumstances would Assad, who, thanks to Russia, is now in a stronger position, step aside? If he is replaced by another figure in the Alawite regime, why would Sunni factions accept that person? And, if there are elections, what would happen if Assad—the ultimate recruiting tool for ISIS—wins? Why would the jihadi militia Jabhat al-Nusra lay down arms?

There will be more meetings in hotel conference rooms, as the war continues and ISIS makes its plans. But, as Kerry’s team was quick to point out, this had been a completely moribund area of diplomacy for the previous two years. When the meeting ended and Kerry read out the language of the communiqué, there was applause.
“Not celebratory, exactly, but significant,” one aide told me. “We’ll see where it goes.”
In the weeks since, Kerry has remained aloft. One day, his plane settled in Samarkand, where he patiently endured a forty-five-minute lecture from the dictator of Uzbekistan. The next day, he was in Ashgabat, the surreal, peopleless capital of Turkmenistan, a hermetic state where the post-Soviet dictator renamed the days of the week and devoted a national day to the muskmelon. Kerry had flown to Santiago to take part in a conference to save the world’s oceans. Then he was in Paris, in the wake of the terrorist attack at the Bataclan concert hall, to join talks designed to rescue the earth from overheating to the point of global catastrophe.
“I absolutely love this job,” he told me more than once. “It is so much fun.”
Very occasionally, he steals away to relax (to go to the gym, to attend the Harvard-Yale football game) or just to reflect. When he retires, Kerry said, he’ll write a book and stay involved “somehow” in public affairs, particularly environmental issues. But he doesn’t think about retirement. The butchery in Syria goes on, the Middle East is in a state of dissolution. At dinner at his house, Kerry was talking yet again about his optimism, the prospect for a ceasefire, the end of Assad. I asked what would come next. There aren’t any Thomas Jeffersons waiting to assume power.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe Alexander Hamilton is, who knows?” He laughed and said there was no reason that someone from the secular educated élite could not emerge: “I think the notion that the ophthalmologist from London is somehow the only guy who can run Syria is insulting to Syrians.”
On Veterans Day, he went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the grave of one of the closest friends he lost in Vietnam—Richard Pershing, the grandson of General John J. Pershing, the commander of American forces during the First World War. When he got there, he saw that there was a crowd around Black Jack Pershing’s grave. Rather than attract attention, he ducked behind a tree and chatted for a while with a military bugler who was there to play “Taps.” After the crowd dispersed, Kerry walked in his pained, ambling way along the rows of graves, countless graves, stone after stone marking war after war. 

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