Interview with Dan Rather

Legendary U.S. news anchor Dan Rather has accused the United States of neglecting its relationship with Russia. He told RT that America's government and media still misunderstand Russia.

Russia Today:It is stating the obvious that Russia is not portrayed in a positive light in the US -some say 'it's the era of the new cold war', or the 'the times of cold peace'. What do you think, where we at?

Dan Rather: First of all, it’s a pleasure to be with you. I am most honoured to be with you. The situation between the United States and government in Russia at the moment is one that every American should be concerned about. Because I do not personally agree that we are in a new cold war era. I am old enough to remember the cold war and this is not a new cold war era. It is a whole new era for which I think we need some new name, but the biggest problem in terms of American foreign policy, in my opinion, is that there’s been neglect of Russia. There are reasons for this – in what happened with 9/11, our focus with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also a kind of myopia as regards China. Everything outside the war effort itself seems so focused on China that there has been neglect of Russia. So we are in a new era. I consider it a dangerous era because of so much misunderstanding – much of it comes from the U.S. government and the U.S. media. I do not except myself from that criticism, I include myself in that criticism, but the ignorance of what has been happening in Russia over the last twelve to fifteen years should be of concern on both sides of this – both in the United States and in Russia. In terms of struggling for world peace, taking on such problems as non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Russia is an absolute essential partner for the United States in achieving some of these goals, but over the last twelve or fifteen years, and I would say particularly in the last four to six years, the gap in understanding has grown greater and that’s due both to the government and to the media in this country.

Would agree that America should be just concerned about the state of its own democracy before lecturing others about democracy?

D.R.: At least, a large part of that is fair criticism in my personal opinion. We have our problems with our democracy. We are still a young country based on the principles of freedom and democracy but not yet three hundred years old, compared with Russia – you have a culture, a history that goes back far beyond that. But I do think there is something to the criticism – that we should lecture less. I don’t like the word ‘lecture’ and I don’t like when we are seen as lecturing anybody else in democracy. But I do ask for some understanding that the love of freedom and democracy as well as we can practise it is deep and abiding within every American. And there is no understanding the United States without understanding how deeply we feel about these things. Now because we do feel deeply about them we sometimes overreach, that is we try our very best to have others make their democracy, make their society in our own image. And having overreached in a number of times, and continuing to sometimes overreach, our best hope is that people can forgive that when they see it happening. We do have problems here – we have problems with voting machines, I know this whole business of super delegates is very hard to understand, but our position is, one can like it or not like it, you can agree with it or disagree with it, our position is, there is no such thing as a perfect democracy. We are still striving to make ours as best as it can be. And the American people as a whole – sometimes we may separate our government policies from the feeling of the people as a whole, American people as a whole feel so deeply about freedom and democracy, we do want to help others when they want to achieve it. As regards Russia, and democracy in Russia, it’s hard to draw a list, but I would say that number one concern with Americans who never think about Russia at all is the issue of censorship. We may debate how much censorship there is or there isn’t, but the view in the United States is that censorship has been tightened, considerably tightened on behalf of those in power and the state, and that’s a problem. But I come back to the word ‘lecture’. I don’t like the word ‘lecture’, I don’t think that the American people want to be lecturing anyone. As a people, as a society, our position is, we want to be helpful when we can, we want to point out our own flaws and also hold our own politicians and those in power accountable when they overreach.

RT: For the first time ever, you have a woman running for president as well as an African American, which is an equally attractive idea. But in your article, you mentioned the incident in which candidate couldn’t correctly pronounce Russia president-elect Medvedev’s name. Can the candidates really assess what Russia is about? Does this reflect a lack of knowledge about Russia in the US?

D.R.:  Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no’. And keep in mind that when that incident which you refer to occurred, you are talking to one of the most experienced politicians in American life – we are talking about Senator Hillary Clinton, and when neither she nor her challenge of the nomination – Barack Obama – could discuss what’s happening in Russian even to the extent of correctly naming the new president. I think it gives you an indication of how much lack of knowledge there is in the country as a whole. Because after all, if a senator Hillary Clinton did not know these things, what does it say about the rest of the population?  I will say that if that same discussion had happened on the republican side, you probably would’ve had pretty much the same result. Look, where we’ve been in terms of leading politicians in this country, when it comes to Russia we’ve been through a long period of neglect. And neglect in reading about what’s happening in Russia, neglect in answering – seeking the answers to the questions about what’s happening. And the result of this neglect has been a growing lack of knowledge. And it came to the fore for all to see when that discussion to which you referred between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama and the questioner Mr. Russert. It was an indication of how great the gap is. And lack of knowledge leads to lack of understanding. Lack of understanding leads to misunderstanding. And I think that’s the reason so many people think that we are if not in the new era of the Cold War, at least on the brink of a new and increasingly dangerous situation of misunderstanding. Because we know what big misunderstandings can lead to. And we all hope and pray that it doesn’t lead to the ultimate new Cold War. But there is that possibility. And again – you saw it in microcosm in that incident with question to Senator Clinton and Senator Obama.

RT: You mentioned that the US and Russia should work together “strategically” – what do you mean by this? What do you think of Medvedev? Do you think he'll be any different from Putin?

D.R.: The first thing is to talk and not to see each other as enemies. One can be a competitor and not be an enemy. There’s a lot of talk about the United States seeing Russia now as a new opponent as we saw them during the Cold War. Having said that I consider that to be extremely dangerous and not in the best interest of the security of the United States of America or Russia. So, the first thing is to talk. The second is to pay attention to what is happening inside the respective countries… I may be wrong about this, I could be criticized for saying it I think there is more understanding within Russia and the Russian government about what is happening in the United States at this moment than there is with the American government and the American people as to what’s going on in Russia. Having said that the reasons for that – 9/11 and one should never underestimate the impact of 9/11 has had on individual Americans and on the country as a whole and events flowing from 9/11, perhaps we can be forgiven for this and it’s a fact that it’s been our main focus and has been for seven years. But back to the point of what can be done. First – talk.  Second – seek knowledge, which will lead to understanding. Look for those ways in which we can say in effect – "All right, we disagree about the following fifteen things. But let us find some things upon which we can agree and work together to accomplish a better world based on based on things that we agree. For example, United States and Russia have a mutual interest in stability in North Korea and what’s happening inside North Korea. We have mutual interests there. We have mutual interests in Iran. I think most Americans don’t understand that Russia has to be in many ways as concerned about Iran as we are. So, those are two examples. Afghanistan. There is no way the United States can accomplish anything close to its mission in Afghanistan without the help of Russia. Nuclear proliferation, which is an important subject for Russia, Russian people and Russian government, for everybody as much as it is in the United States. These are areas in which we could work together. Exploration of the Arctic is another area. I originally did a program on HDNet, for which I now work, about what’s happening in the Arctic. And under president Putin, as you know, Russia made a renewed effort to explore the Arctic, to open up the Arctic – giving the global warning that some transportation routes are available there. There is an area in which the United States and Russia could cooperate, work as if not friends and allies, not even as competitors, but certainly not as enemies; to do with the Arctic the same thing as has been done with the Antarctic, which, as you know, has been internationalized. So, these are the ways in which the new president could improve relations.  But the main thing for a new president of the United States is to pay attention to Russia, to seek real knowledge and understanding of what’s going on there.