Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 6, Episode 27 - Trump & Syria - full transcript

Middle East was and still is a place with multi-level problems, so it is always quite tough to make a policy which will satisfy everyone's interests. But it's even tougher to screw things ...

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Welcome to Last Week Tonight.

I'm John Oliver.
Thank you for joining us.

A quick recap of the week.

We begin with Stupid Watergate II,
the least-wanted sequel ever,

closely followed by every
"Pirates of the Caribbean" one.

Another week of damning
revelations for the president,

with the biggest
coming on Tuesday.

The top U.S. diplomat
in Ukraine, Bill Taylor,

is directly linking Trump to the heart
of the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats say there
were audible gasps and sighs

as Taylor detailed the White House's
pressure campaign.

It's not even noon, right, and this is
my most disturbing day in Congress.

That is a big statement. Up until now,
the most disturbing day in Congress

was the day Orrin Hatch
got bangs.

I respect you for trying something
new, Orrin, but absolutely not.

Information emerging
in the Ukraine probe

does not look good
for the White House,

which is why Trump's supporters
attacked the impeachment process.

Republicans staged
an invasion of a closed-door hearing,

claiming they'd been shut out.

A claim slightly undercut
by the fact that 47 Republicans,

a quarter of those in the House,
were already able to attend.

And as if things could not
get any dumber,

there was this amazing story
on Friday afternoon.

One of president's top defenders,
personal attorney Rudy Giuliani

raising eyebrows after butt-dialing
an NBC News reporter.

Rudy Giuliani
butt-dialed an NBC News reporter

and could be heard saying
non-suspicious-sounding things like:

"The problem
is we need some money."

This isn't even a one-off. Giuliani
butt-dials reporters all the time,

one reporter tweeted: "everyone
has a good Rudy butt dial story."

Which begs the question:
how is he doing this so much?

It's difficult to butt-dial
someone with a smartphone!

Your butt has to unlock the phone,
scroll through your contacts

to find the reporter
and then dial.

How often does Rudy
sit on his phone?

How wriggly is he when he sits?

I don't know how this
is gonna get any stupider,

but I am sure that it will,
just as sure as I am

that Rudy is butt-dialing
another reporter right now.

Instead of getting dragged
down that wormhole,

let's move on to the other ongoing
fiasco of this week, Brexit.

The term coined to describe
Britain's exit from the E.U.

that combines the words "Bad idea",
"Really bad idea," "Extremely bad",

"Idea" and "Toodle-oo!"

"Toodle-oo" let's you know
Britain's involved,

otherwise the word's
complete nonsense.

The U.K.'s deadline to leave the E.U.
is this Thursday,

making it
a so-called Halloween Brexit.

It is the worst thing to be added to
Halloween since, lest we forget,

Playboy Magazine's 2014
"Sexy John Oliver" costume.

That was real.
What were you thinking, Playboy?

The original John Oliver
is already the sexy one.

You're putting a hat on a hat, guys.
That's a two-hat situation right there.

Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister and
dumb person's idea of a smart person,

has been promising
to meet the deadline,

insisting he will not
ask for an extension.

Can you make a promise
to the British public

that you will not go back to Brussels
and ask for another delay to Brexit?

Yes. I can.

I'd rather be dead in a ditch.

"Dead in a ditch." Now,
that might sound dramatic,

but it's an easy enough transition
for someone whose hair, wardrobe

and general aesthetic might be best
described as "big ditch energy".

Boris's hopes have
come crashing down,

as he returned from Brussels
with a new Brexit plan

and had to put it before
the House of Commons for a vote.

Hundreds of thousands of protestors
were marching against Brexit,

including one guy with a sign
that read, "I am so tired".

I don't know
that I've ever identified

with a protest sign at a rally
any more than that one.

Unfortunately for Boris,
Parliament passed an amendment that,

for complicated reasons that
you do not need to know,

forced a Brexit delay,
much to the delight of the protesters.

And then the moment when it was clear
there would be no Brexit deal today.

The agony continues,
doesn't it?

I know, yes, that's boring, but that's
the position that he's put us in.

I can think of nothing more
quintessentially British

than viewing agony as A, boring
and B, a victory.

Never change, you sad, grey,
repressed bastards.

Boris was now required to request
a three-month Brexit delay,

the thing that he would rather be
dead in a ditch than do.

While he flirted with ignoring that law,
he did obey it, albeit, with a twist.

The prime minister did as he was
told, but in his own style.

Here is the extension request sent
last night, a photocopy left unsigned,

followed by another letter
saying the opposite.

He sent one un-signed letter saying
what he was supposed to say

and a signed one,
saying what he really thought.

I know this is not the point, here,
but: how are signatures still matters?

We live in a time when robots exist but
if you wanna make something official,

you need to write your name weird.

ladies and gentlemen of the jury,

my client's name is
on the murder confession.

But I ask you this:
is it squiggly?

E.U. is weighing the extension request

and Boris spent the week
trying to sell his deal to MPs,

asking them to at least
support the bill in principle.

Which some of them said they were
willing to do, despite a hurdle.

- Have you managed to read it?
- No.

- Have you tried?
- No.

- You haven't tried to read this?
- Not yet.

- Or the explanatory notes?
- No.

- Or the impact assessment?
- No.

- Debate starts at lunchtime.
- At half past 12.

He was gonna sign off on
an important deal without reading it.

That's what 'NSync did in the 90's
and this guy stole millions from them.

Though, deal aside, they should have
known not to trust him.

Look at that guy!
If anyone is going to rip you off,

it's gonna be him.

After this week, there is no way that
Brexit will happen on October 31st.

Boris is now trying a different route
to gain support for passing a deal.

He's asking Parliament to agree
to a new election in December,

but it is not clear that
Parliament will even agree to that.

Many voters don't have
an appetite for it.

The delay in delivering Brexit

has made some people say
they won't vote ever again.

What about the 12th of December?
In the run up to Christmas.

- Is that a good date?
- No, not really, is it?

I don't know what to say about it.
I don't even watch it,

it's got on me nerves...

- You will be voting, though?
- Again? I won't bother.

- If there's a general election.
- No.

This is the most consequential thing
to happen to Britain in a generation

and it seems the current sides are
"I'm so tired", "I haven't read it",

"I can't be bothered"
and "I'd rather be dead in a ditch."

Good luck, Britain. And now this.

Newscasters React To The Houston
Astros Losing The First Two Games

Of The World Series,
In The Most Predictable Way Possible.

A shocker in Houston.

I told myself, I wasn't gonna say:
"Houston we have a problem."

Houston, we have a problem.

I think that is how they are
feeling in Houston this morning.

The Astros...
Houston, do we have a problem?

Houston, we have a problem.

Houston, we have a problem.

I hear "We have a problem"
and I'm kind of getting sick of that.

Houston, we have a problem.

We'll have more highlights in a bit.

- Houston, we have a problem.
- Great.

I'm sure
that was done many times.

Moving on. Our main story
concerns Donald Trump.

The first president elected without
any prior experience as a human being.

Trump had some major news for us:
that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,

the head of ISIS,
had been killed.

In classic Trump fashion,
he was able to take something positive

and express it in the weirdest
imaginable way.

Here is how
he described the operation.

They did a lot of shooting
and they did a lot of blasting.

Even not going through the front door,
you think you go through the door.

If you're a normal person, you say:
"Knock knock. May I come in?"

They blasted
their way into the house.

They had a big hole and they ran in
and got everybody by surprise.

What are you doing?

Did Trump only just learn
how soldiers work?

These guys are amazing.
They got these chameleon suits

and big shooties and blasties,
they don't say "Knock knock".

They don't do that
like a normal person.

They go through big, beautiful
holes. And they shout "Surprise!"

A lot of people are learning
about this for the first time.

You haven't yet heard Trump pay tribute
to one crucial member of the team.

A K-9, as they call... I call it a dog.
A beautiful dog. A talented dog.

I call them dogs, not like others
who call them "furry lizards"

or "barking cats" or "elephants"
but smaller and different.

To me, they are
and forever will be "dogs",

that's my term for them
that I made up!

While Baghdadi being gone
is clearly great news,

I'd like to focus on a different
decision Trump recently made

in the same region and one that
could have more long-term ramifications

and tells us much more about his
decision-making as commander-in-chief.

A move that alarmed many, even
his cheerleaders on "Fox & Friends".

The US is going to start pulling troops
from Turkey's border in Syria.

The White House says it's clearing
the way for Turkish troops to invade.

A disastrous series of events,
I hope the president will rethink this.

You know things are bad for Trump

when he's even lost the support
of "Fox & Friends", whose slogan is:

"President Trump's Dick Is 17 Inches
Long and Thick as a Tree Trunk!"

That's the real slogan.
What happened here was,

Trump suddenly and against
the counsel of nearly all his advisers,

pulled back troops along
the Syria-Turkey border here,

who had been working with
Kurdish-led forces to contain ISIS.

Our presence there helped protect
Kurdish civilians from Turkey,

ISIS and the Syrian government.

Our troop withdrawal
had immediate consequences.

Turkish forces moved in
almost as soon as we left

and over a hundred civilians
have been killed,

with nearly 200000 displaced,
a catastrophe.

This move has been
nearly universally condemned.

It's been criticized by Bernie Sanders
and Elizabeth Warren,

Mitch McConnell
and Lindsey Graham,

the last of whom
did not mince his words.

To abandon these people
is a real shit show

and I'm hoping Trump
will reconsider.

He's about to make the biggest
mistake of his presidency.

A shit show!

Lindsey Graham always looks like
he's just said that exact phrase.

I come into this Bojangles'
every Sunday,

and I have never
seen service like this.

My chicken is damp,
my biscuit is cold

and my day is ruined.

This is a real shit show right here.
I will take my order to go. To go!

I am flustered!

When the consequences
of a decision are that dire

and the condemnation
that widespread,

it might be worth asking:
what exactly happened?

Why did Trump decide to do it?
What might the ramifications be?

Let's start with what happened.
The situation in Syria is complex,

you can be forgiven for not
fully understanding it.

What is much less forgivable

is pretending to understand it
when you clearly don't.

It's a very semi-complicated,
not too complicated if you're smart,

but it's a semi-complicated problem.

Good, it's only semi-complicated,
is it?

I'd forgotten that Trump
spent the '90s as the senior fellow

for Middle Eastern studies at the
Foreign Policy Research Institute

and not losing all his dad's money and
trying unsuccessfully to bang Madonna.

I forgot that, 'cause
I'm not smart like him.

There are more factions involved
here than we have time to cover,

but the important group
are the Kurds.

There are about 30 million of them,

spread mostly across Syria,
Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

They are the largest ethnic group
in the world without a country.

They're a minority wherever they live,
putting them in a precarious situation.

They have been close military allies
with America in the past.

Which is why it was odd to hear Trump
justify abandoning them like this.

Somebody wrote in
a very powerful article today,

they didn't help us in the Second
World War, with Normandy,

they mentioned names
of different battles.

But they're there to help us with their
land and that's a different thing.

Let me just get this straight:

you are mad because the Kurds didn't
help the U.S. fight in Normandy?

The fuck does that have
to do with anything?

There were also
no Kurds at the Battle of Gettysburg,

or helping us get to the moon.

All suspiciously Kurd-less missions.
Where were the Kurds?

Neil could've used their help
holding his ladder.

They were all busy, were they?
All of them?

The Kurds have fought multiple
times to help America,

including in both
the Gulf and Iraq wars.

The Kurds fought with the U.S. military
in at least two more wars

than Donald Trump
ever fucking did.

We turned to the Kurds in 2015,
to help us contain ISIS in Syria.

We provided training and air support

and they were the front-line
troops doing the close fighting.

It was a very tight partnership.

The U.S. military trusted their allies
so completely

that the Kurds were calling
in American airstrikes.

It's true. The Kurds would point at
something, and we would blow it up.

An incredible level of trust.
If I had that power, to put it mildly,

there would be
no more Applebee's.

They know what they did.

The Kurds' sacrifice
in that fight was significant.

While at least six Americans died
fighting in that region,

the Kurds suffered
11000 casualties.

That alliance is one
of the reasons why ISIS,

which controlled this much
territory in Syria in 2015,

has since lost all of it.

A key reason that we were able
to take out al-Baghdadi

was thanks
to intelligence from the Kurds.

They fought bravely with us

and the situation in northeastern
Syria was relatively stable.

In an instant, Trump threw
that all away. So, why?

Why did he do that? To hear him
tell it, it's pretty simple.

I don't want to be in Syria forever.
It's sand and it's death.

Since when does Trump avoid
areas of sand and death?

He owns a golf club in Florida,
where the average age

is "opposed the Civil Rights Act".

The guy loves sand and death!
That is part of his reductive argument

that America should not be stuck
in endless wars

and that the troops
should come home.

Which is at least a real,
coherent foreign policy position.

The problem is, the troops
aren't actually coming home.

Since May,

we've increased the number of them
deployed to the Middle East by 14000.

Just days after his Syria decision,
Trump made a big announcement.

We are sending troops
and other things to the Middle East

to help Saudi Arabia.

But are you ready?
Saudi Arabia, at my request,

has agreed to pay us
for everything we're doing.

That's a first.

One, this probably won't surprise you,
they have not agreed to that.

Two: even if they had, that would be
a weird thing to brag about!

The U.S. military
doesn't charge for protection,

because it isn't a mercenary force.

It's why the eagle on the U.S. seal
carries arrows and an olive branch,

not arrows
and a credit card reader.

The idea that we'll send troops
to a country that pays us

is in keeping with Trump's short-term,
purely transactional worldview.

Same philosophy led him
to suggest withdrawing troops

from South Korea,
they don't pay enough,

or to pull out of NATO
because other countries

aren't contributing
their share.

Sorry, Kurds, unless you give
Trump something he wants,

like Hunter Biden's email password
or Melania Trump's phone number,

you can apparently
expect fuck-all from him.

So, if this wasn't done out
of some grand principle,

why did it happen,
and happen so suddenly?

It seems Trump's decision followed
a phone call with President Erdogan.

For years, Turkey has struggled
with a Kurdish militant group

called the PKK, who are
unquestionably extreme.

The State Department considers
them a terrorist group,

and Erdogan believes that a Kurdish
group we've been working with

are basically the same as the PKK
and he wants them either dead

or nowhere near the Turkish border.

This isn't a new problem,
we've been basically managing

to balance our interest
in containing ISIS

with our need to manage
Erdogan's concerns for years now.

It has been difficult,
but we've basically done it.

Until Erdogan got on the phone
with Trump earlier this month

and told him he wanted to move
against Kurdish forces in Syria.

Trump said:
"Fine. We'll run away then."

That is a decision that has baffled
many, including Mitt Romney.

Erdogan basically said:
"We're coming in. Get out of the way."

America blinked.
Am I reading that wrong?

No, Mitt.
You're actually not.

Much like the rest of America
discovering your secret Twitter account

was named "Pierre Delecto",
that's real,

you are very much
not reading that wrong.

"Pierre Delecto" sounds like a name
that would've come up in "Pulp Fiction"

if that conversation about
French McDonald's kept going.

In France they call the quarter
pounder a "royale with cheese"

and Grimace, "Pierre Delecto".

But it is truly troubling,

the extent to which Trump has
just rolled over for Erdogan.

He called the Kurds, who fought
and died alongside the U.S. military,

"no angels".

While Trump did apparently try
to prevent a Kurdish slaughter,

Erdogan seemed to feel
comfortable ignoring him.

A letter surfaced
from President Trump to Erdogan.

He warned against
a Turkish military offensive,

and said, in decidedly
undiplomatic language:

"Don't be a tough guy.
Don't be a fool!"

Erdogan threw away the letter

and launched the assault
into Syria the same day.

Holy shit.
He didn't just ignore him,

Erdogan threw away
a piece of mail that day.

That alone is ice cold. He probably
also throws away birthday cards

directly after reading them,
like a monster,

instead of keeping them on
the kitchen counter for a week

and then throwing them out because,
what else are you going to do?

Frame it?
Of course not, it's a piece of trash.

But not for a week.

Even if you think Trump was right
to withdraw troops from the area,

it makes sense to do it in a way
that will cause the least damage

to the region,
your allies and your own interests.

Trump did none of that.

Our withdrawal was so rushed,
we had to leave a lot behind.

Watch this Russian reporter,
wandering around a U.S. base,

just hours after the troops had left.

They left here yesterday
at four A.M. Look here.

I am currently at the U.S. kitchen.
American soldiers used to eat here.

The fridge is full. Coca-Cola.

Not only did we dump
our allies without warning,

we left a refrigerator full of Coke
for whoever took our place.

Maybe the most interesting part
was watching the reporter ignore

the fridge full of Pepsi
right next to it.

Even to Russian reporters
the answer to "Is Pepsi okay?"

is a resounding nyet!

America left the region
the same way

you leave a party after you clogged
the toilet, quickly,

leaving everything behind, and forcing
someone else to deal with all the shit.

The consequences have been dire.

Kurdish-led forces were in charge
of guarding many ISIS prisoners.

We forced them to abandon their posts
to fight for their lives.

And the thing that any six-year-old
could tell you would happen next,

happened next.

The White House is trying to downplay

how many of the 10000 ISIS prisoners
in Syria may have escaped.

There were a few that got out.
A small number, relatively speaking.

And they've been largely recaptured.

That's not what the president's special
envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, said.

The number is now over 100.
We do not know where they are.

Over 100 ISIS prisoners escaped,
and we don't know where they are.

Or at least, they don't know.
I have a surprise for everyone here.

Ladies and gentlemen:
the ISIS prisoners!

Where are they?

Fuck. Shit
Fucking fuck.

They were supposed...

Why did we give them shovels?
Doesn't make any sense.

As I was saying,
over 100 ISIS prisoners have escaped

and we have
no idea where they are.

It gets even worse here.

When you give a green light
to an authoritarian,

terrible things can happen
and terrible things very much did.

We saw for the first time alleged
atrocities carried out

by Turkish backed Arab militias.

This video today appears to
show Arab militias executing a Kurd

by the roadside as they shout
"Allahu akbar"

and proudly saying:
"Film me."

That is horrifying, a potential war
crime and completely avoidable.

Even in the face of scenes like that
and over a hundred civilian deaths,

Trump has tried to spin the carnage
as evidence of his tactical genius.

It was unconventional
what I did.

I said: "Sometimes you have
to let them fight a little while".

Then people find out
how tough the fighting is.

Sometimes you have to let them
fight, like two kids in a lot,

and then you pull 'em apart.

The fuck are you talking about?
That is not true for Syria.

And it's also not true for kids,
you weird monster!

Trump revealed what we've
essentially always known,

he's not just a shitty
president and a shitty person,

he's a shitty dad.

Thank god he never had
to raise any children.

Thankfully, the worst of the violence
appears to have abated,

but that is largely because,
after the U.S. left a power vacuum,

another major player stepped in.

Russia's Vladimir Putin tonight became
the new kingmaker in Syria

as he and President Erdogan carved up
the country between them.

Putin now has
a larger foothold in the region.

The Kurdish fighters who were
once allied with us for so long

have now flipped sides and struck
a deal with Syria's Bashar al-Assad,

to avoid being wiped out.

Trump has made a snap decision
where the big winners are Putin,

Erdogan, Assad and ISIS.

That is a group that you do not
want to be friendly with.

I believe they were all at a Cowboys
game with Ellen this weekend.

We're all different.
And that's okay.

Trump may not be bothered

that he's empowered so many
authoritarian leaders.

We know he has
a soft spot for them.

After Erdogan disregarded Trump's
warnings, launched a bloody campaign,

once he'd agreed
to a temporary cease-fire,

Trump went straight back
to praising him.

I want to thank and congratulate
President Erdogan.

He's a friend of mine and I'm glad
we didn't have a problem,

he's a hell of a leader

and he's a strong man,
he did the right thing.

Yeah, he's a strong man.
He's a strongman.

That's not a fucking compliment.
That's a synonym for dictator.

That image might sum up
the insanity of this whole situation.

The president, thinking
he's projecting strength,

fawning over an authoritarian for
deigning to pause a slaughter

that the president
himself had enabled.

It is so easy to criticize anyone's
policy in the region. It's complicated.

Any move is going to have ripple
effects, intended or otherwise.

Syria was one of the biggest problem
spots in Obama's foreign policy.

I'm not saying that it is easy
or even possible

to get a situation this difficult
completely right.

But it's hard to get it this wrong.
We took a stable situation,

betrayed a strategically vital ally
and damaged our reputation.

Watch how the Kurds treated a U.S.
convoy leaving the country.

Kurdish civilians, until now,
close U.S. allies

throwing potatoes

and yelling insults at American
troops ordered out of Syria.

These images tonight show
one of the lowest moments

of America's reputation
in the Middle East in years.

The lowest moments of America's
reputation in the Middle East.

A guy in the Middle East
once took off his shoe,

threw it at the president and
while the people around him watched,

took off his other shoe,
and also threw that at the president.

The more you look,
the more worrying it gets.

This was an unforced error. Trump
chose to do something this sudden,

this impetuous, and this damaging
and he's not going to change.

Imagine what he might do in
a crisis not of his own making.

That is one of the terrifying things
about the prospect of a second term

or, indeed,
the remaining year of this first one.

There is nothing more dangerous
than someone with a massive power,

a dictator fetish
and an inability to think

in anything
but transactional terms,

and who is stupid enough to think

that this is all
"not too complicated if you are smart."

And now this.

Ahead Of His Retirement,

A Look Back At Speaker Of The House
Of Commons, John Bercow,

Who Only Ever Wanted One Thing.

Order, the House
is very overexcited.

Order! Ms. Cherry,
this is very unseemly heckling.

Order, there's simply too much
noise in the chamber.

Order, very rude for members,

Let's grow up.
Order, resume to your seats. Order.

- I haven't finished.
- Order!






I just want to take the opportunity
to confirm to the House

that the state of my throat,
which is purely temporary,

is not down to the consumption
of a kangaroo's testicle.

That's our show, thanks for watching.
See you next week, goodnight!