United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols says following the recent inauguration of President Joe Biden as the 46th President, his country is taking concrete steps to resume its role as a world leader and will remain in the World Health Organisation and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord soon.
Nichols (BN) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the programme, In Conversation with Trevor, that the US has proved that its democracy and institutions are solid and that they were able to resist attempts to overturn election results on January 6 in favour of the former President Donald Trump.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
TN: Ambassador Brian Nichols, welcome to In Conversation with Trevor. You are appearing for the second time. Let me start off by saying congratulations for the smooth inauguration that took place on the 20th. Congratulations!
BN: Thank you so much,
Trevor, it’s great to be with you.
TN: So, Brian, we have witnessed over the past 14 days, the 6th of January what I call the worst of America and the 20th of January the inauguration that we all witnessed being the best of America. Talk to me about your state of mind and emotions as you watch two of those events the 6th of January and the 20th of January.
BN: Well, as the president said in his inaugural address, America’s democracy has been tested but we have risen to the challenge. We have proven that our democracy is strong and that our institutions are solid and that they are able to resist the naked brazen assault that we saw on January 6th. The president, vice-president and so many people in our democracy have risen to the challenge and we expect our nation to move forward with a renewed commitment and understanding to the importance of democracy and its institutions.
Obviously, the events of January 6 were a shock to all of us, but we were able to persevere. Members of our Congress valiantly continued their work to certify the election showing personal bravery. So many Capitol police showed personal bravery, members of our national guard to secure the area and we also saw the (then) majority leader of the Senate, Senator (Mitch) McConnell, condemn the actions of those protesters and call out the former president for egging them up and creating that situation as did the number three in the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives representing the team.
TN: So, Ambassador, what we saw happening on the 6th of January was sadly a culmination of what has been happening over the past four years. Things like President Joe Biden spoke about at inauguration, which is truth, respect and decency; had disappeared and instead, we had what one would call the alternative effects or alternative reality coming in to a large extent. Some form of division coming in, what’s your sense as to ‘did things have to get to where they ended up?’
BN: Well, let me say the vast overwhelming majority of Americans are peace-loving and respectfully committed to democracy. The president’s call to move forward, his efforts to unify our nation, I have total confidence in him and the entire leadership team going forward. This challenging moment does not define us. How we respond and move forward is what will define us and I am confident in President Biden and Vice-President (Kamala) Harris’ leadership moving forward.
TN: We do hope that America indeed does move forward, but you must realise that it’s going to take a lot of heavy lifting in terms of the fact that we are talking about a difference of seven million in terms of votes between President Biden and the former president Trump. In any case, Ambassador, 77% of Republicans were maintaining until the inauguration that they believe that the election was stolen. How tough is that going to be going forward?
BN: I think that as time goes on the facts of what happened become clearer and clearer and the former president had the opportunity to make his case in 62 courts around the nation. Sixty-one of those courts ruled against him. Officials from both parties certified the elections in the 50 states and four territories.
We have a decentralised electoral system and that’s a big benefit of our system and that there is no one button to push to change things. It’s thousands of people at local and state level who come together and then deliver the results in the Electoral College, then that is certified in our Congress. I think this was a hard-fought election, unfortunately the president at the time was not transparent, was not telling people the truth about the reality. He had the opportunity to present those facts that he had and they were rejected by 61 out of 62 court cases including two cases that went before the United States Supreme Court.
So I think that the evidence is clear in that regard and I think the important thing is that we have a united approach going forward to strengthen our democracy, to look for areas where we can ensure going forward that we address the issues that would impede transparency, that would be subject to these kinds of challenges that the commitment of the president and Vice-President Harris is to strengthen our institutions and to move forward to build American democracy with confidence but with humility.
TN: One would say, I personally never thought that I would see what I witnessed on the 6th of January. I never thought I would see an American president refusing to accept the results of an election. Even now as I was watching the inauguration, I had goose bumps to see finally what we have always thought America was finally coming to fruition. Which brings me to a point, Brian, you know great constitutions are great, great institutions are great, but great institutions and great constitutions faced by men and women who are not principled will not stand?
BN: I think that constitutions are crucial for democracy because people can be flawed, but you won’t always have a paragon of democracy in every position. But I think the system of checks and balances that we have in the United States, our constitution has stood up this stress test and we survived. We are the better for it and moving forward. We will renew our commitment to continue to strengthen our institutions and continue to move forward in a way that allows us to realise the promise of America and the vision of our founders.
TN: I must push that point, Brian, that America dodged the bullet, the world dodged the bullet, watching those domestic terrorists marching into the Senate. I held my breath as Vice-President (Mike) Pence read the results of the certification of the College vote and when he finally pronounced, I breathed a sigh of relief, that’s how close this thing got, Brian, talk to me about that?
BN: At crucial moments, the people who were charged with defending our democracy, with carrying out their duties, did so. Former vice-president Pence did so, his colleagues in the Congress did so in the large majority and our officials at the local and the state level repeatedly did so even under duress and under pressure from the highest office at that time. So that gives me great confidence in the American people and their commitment to democracy, the rule of law. I know that during the confirmation hearings, several of our new cabinet officials coming in they asked about both the officials coming in if confirmed and the members of the Senate talked about the importance of strength in our institutions and making sure that we look for ways to further bolster them.
TN: Like I said, Ambassador, I think the world breathed a sigh of relief watching the inauguration. But the truth must be said that the past four years, Ambassador, have weakened America’s standing as the beacon of hope, the beacon of the opposite way as the city on the hill. What message do you have for the world at this particular moment, looking still in disbelief although hopeful about America’s role going forward?
BN: The president has been very clear that America is going to move forward in the world. You alluded to the 17 executive orders he signed on day one. That role in the world he certainly went straight toward about that. We will remain in the World Health Organisation, we will be rejoining the Paris Climate Accord.
So we are taking concrete steps to resume our role in the world and we are taking concrete steps even today at the time of this filming. I just want to note that two things happened today that I think will be of interest to your viewers. One is that I had the honour to hand over 20 brand new ventilators to the Solidarity Trust of Zimbabwe that will be used in four hospitals to help Zimbabweans dealing with this horrible Covid pandemic.
And my condolences to all Zimbabweans who lost a loved one in this incredibly difficult time and our leading infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci announced that we will be participating in the Covax, the global consortium to support vaccine deployment to low and middle income countries which is overseen by the WHO.
TN: Speaking of that, Brian, maybe we could go into detail in terms of clearly the uplifting message that President Biden shared with the world during the inauguration is a sense that there is a plan for re-engagement with the global stage. Speak to me outside the Covid initiative which is absolutely welcome. There is the reinstatement of the global unity in the National Security Council which in itself sends a very strong message outside. There are also issues around border control and lifting the Muslim ban, are there any other issues that we ought to be expecting coming from the Biden administration that shows a different, rather a change of direction as far as foreign policy and engagement is concerned?
BN: The president has four decades of experience in working on foreign policy issues and has been all over the world and he is bringing an incredibly experienced team with him, secretary-designate Tony Blinken, Linda Thomas Greenfield who is well known to many of your viewers who is formerly assistant secretary of state for African Affairs will be our permanent representative to the United Nations if confirmed and the domestic policy council Dr Susan Rice also has held that role. So there is a lot of people in this administration, deputy secretary- designate Wend Sherman and the list goes on, who are well-versed in international affairs and affairs on this continent .
TN: Let me talk to you now about Foggy Bottom (headquarters of the US Department of State), which is where most of your bosses sit and the sense that you know there has been to a very large extent low morale, vacant posts frequent whenever and so forth. I suspect that there’s going to be a lot of sighs of relief as far as diplomats such as you are concerned. I am now looking at you ambassador sitting here and saying are there things that you couldn’t do over the past three years that you will be able to do in Zimbabwe going forward because the heavy hand of Foggy Bottom is going. To be slightly much more professional, speak to me about change in course as far as your array of projects in Zimbabwe are concerned.
BN: Let me just stress that it’s very early days. The secretary of state-designate has had a confirmation hearing, but he has not had a vote yet as of the time of this filming. I am very optimistic that he will be confirmed expeditiously as will his leadership team and I think it’s more appropriate for me to wait until they have taken up their duties, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate before I can unveil any significant changes in our policy framework here.
What I will say is that in my conversations with members of the Congress and their staffs from both parties, there has been a remarkable unity of views about Zimbabwe. They again rest on the issues of respect for democracy and its institutions, the rule of law and human rights as well as market-based economic policies.