The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Iraq scrambles to defend Baghdad as Sunni insurgents advance on the capital. While President Obama says the U.S. is looking for ways to help the Iraqi government, the White House rules out sending ground troops. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defends the deal to secure the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. A friendly-fire airstrike kills five U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan. The U.S. resumes drone attacks in Pakistan. A Nigerian Islamic militant group kidnaps more girls. And the start of the world cup is marred by protests in the streets of Brazil.A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Yochi Dreazen Managing editor for News at Foreign Policy; author of the upcoming book "The Invisible Front."
- Nancy Youssef National security correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers; she's back from a two-year posting as McClatchy's Middle East bureau chief.
- Jim Sciutto Chief national security correspondent, CNN.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The crisis in Iraq escalates as Islamic militants take over key cities. The Obama administration is considering direct military action. US drones hit militants in Pakistan's tribal regions and the World Cup opens in Brazil as protests there become violent. Joining me for this week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup," Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy. Nancy Youssef of McClatchy, and Jim Sciutto of CNN. I invite you, as always to be part of the program.
MS. DIANE REHMGive us a call. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHi, Diane.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENHi, Diane.
MR. JIM SCIUTTONice to be here.
REHMAnd Jim Sciutto, it's good to have you. Welcome.
SCIUTTOGreat to be here. Thanks so much.
REHMThank you. Talk about what's happening in Iraq and how much of the country the militants have taken over.
SCIUTTOWell, they've taken two major cities. The second largest city in the country, in the north, Mosul. As they move south from there, towards Baghdad. For a time, they took Tikrit. The government claims to have taken Tikrit back. But I think it's a very fluid situation there now. And they were also moving closer to Baghdad, close to -- there's an American presence at Balad, which is an Iraqi military base just north of Baghdad. And the US was forced to evacuate. US contractors from there yesterday.
SCIUTTOAnd keep in mind, these were contractors there to train up the Iraqi forces for the eventual delivery of F-16s later this year, which has been approved. So, just imagine the situation, had the F-16s already been on the ground there. I mean, it's a -- and that also gets to what are the administration's options to respond to this? Because, you know arming and training has been the strategy to this point. But of course, the forces, in term of responding to this threat, Iraqi forces, have not performed very well.
REHMWhat about Baghdad?
YOUSSEFWell, they're eager to march on to Baghdad, but where Mosul was very easy for them to take, Baghdad will prove to be much harder. Because there's a huge Shia population there that is already fending -- it's arming itself up for a potential attack. Ayatollah Sistani, the most prominent Shia leader there, called on Shia residents to take up arms to defend their homes and to defend the holy shrines, in case of an imminent attack. In addition, we're hearing conflicting reports about Iranian influence showing up in Baghdad, as an effort to defend the capital.
YOUSSEFSo that will be much, much harder. That said, when they took Mosul, just a few months ago, that was a very hard fought battle. And the swiftness with which they took Mosul was so unexpected. The fact that they didn't confront anything there. It's really hard to know what they'll face and how they're able to mount an offensive. I think the important thing to remember is the elements, the jihadi extremist elements that we've seen in Iraq, have generally fought like terrorists in the past. Isis is different in that it's fighting in a conventional military style. And so that changes how you calculate and how the Iraqi forces know to respond.
REHMAre we creating a whole new country, Yochi?
DREAZENI mean, I think that is, to a degree, what we're witnessing. We're seeing two things. One, Al Qaida in Africa, for a long time, in northern Mali, where I spent some time, they did hold territory. It was the first time in history that an Al Qaida group, not the Taliban, but an Al Qaida group, held territory. This is the second. So, World War I, borders were erased, new countries were formed. World War II, borders were erased, new countries were formed. Obviously, this is not a world war, but wars do this. And what we're seeing now is that borders that have existed for decades, that were sort of artificial in the first place, are beginning to disappear.
DREAZENThey're beginning to become sponged off, like off of a map of water. It is worth talking, though, when we think about Baghdad -- Isis is very smart. They're very smart tactically and they're very smart strategically.
REHMTalk about what Isis stand for.
DREAZENIt stands for -- basically, it's Islamic state in Iraq and Ash-Sham. It's the crossover group that operates inside both Syria and now, increasingly in Iraq. And again, has erased the border between them. In a literal sense, they made a YouTube video showing them bulldozing this earth in Burm that had technically been the border. So, literally and figuratively, it's gone. But this group is very smart. They operate and communicate mainly by human courier, because they know that anything communications, any phone call will be tapped.
DREAZENSo, they don’t use cell phones. They generally move in small numbers, so American overhead imagery is kind of useless. And they're very smart strategically. If you look at the map of Mosul, I spent about four months living there. I know the city quite well. They've taken only the Sunni neighborhoods and didn't go anywhere near the Kurdish ones. Because they knew if they did, the Kurds would respond. They've taken the Sunni heartland where they have support. I'd be very surprised if they moved on Baghdad. That's where they face a Shia line. Here, up until now, they haven't.
REHMAnd what's happened to the Iraqi military in all these places? Jim.
SCIUTTOWell, this has been a real test of the Iraqi military. And in Mosul, certainly. This is, you know, it's not as well protected as Baghdad, but they had a very serious and well trained and well-armed military force that did not respond. And many of them dissolved. They dropped their uniforms, they dropped their weapons. They ran away. And this raises a real question about the administration strategy in Iraq. Because the strategy has been train and equip. Train and equip. And this is strategy that extends beyond Iraq to places like Libya, to Mali and of course, in two years' time, to Afghanistan.
SCIUTTOAnd if you -- and there's no place where we've spent more money or more years training the local forces than in Iraq, and if this is the response, it raises real questions about whether these forces can respond to the very real threat there. The other point I would just make about Isis is that Isis' goal here, in a way, is civil war. To create these divisions along ethnic lines. And they're having some success. And I spent a lot of time in Iraq after the invasion, and particularly in those bad years, the mid-2000s when there was an ethnic civil war going on. And to hear the Muqtada al-Sadrs, the Al-Sistanis, coming back, supposedly, to the rescue, I think is a real problem.
SCIUTTOIf that is the best hope now, you know, religious militias -- militias split along ethnic lines, if that's the best hope, that's a real problem for Iraq.
REHMSo, President Obama has said something like they're going to need more help from us. What does that mean, Nancy?
YOUSSEFYeah, he said two things from the Oval Office yesterday. He said, essentially, and I'm paraphrasing, that all options are on the table. And suggested that, as you say, that they would need help from the United States. The challenge is how the United States could help. So, what are some of the options? The ones we hear the most often is some sort of air campaign. An air campaign begs the question of what you would target. These are forces that are so hard to distinguish from Iraqis right now. Some of them have taken US equipment, so finding friend and foe becomes difficult.
YOUSSEFThey're integrated in the cities. And even if you hit, say an outpost, where they had placed themselves, you still need ground forces to go back in and hold that area. And the US has indicated that it won't send ground forces. Which means we're now depending on Iraqi forces, and we've seen how they perform. There's been talk about sharing intelligence. But you don't need intelligence. They're operating openly. That doesn't help you either. There's been talk of providing them more equipment. Or getting the F-16s...
REHMProviding who with more equipment?
YOUSSEFThe Iraqi army more equipment. Now, they're not able to hold on to the equipment they have, and training them would take quite a bit of time. And events are moving so quickly that the Iraq we see today will look different than it will next week. So, the options before the United States are quite limited, precisely because the forces on the ground cannot sustain whatever support we could buttress their efforts with.
REHMYochi, how much of the blame for this falls on the Iraqi government itself?
DREAZENAn enormous amount. There's no question that Prime Minister Maliki sees himself as a Shiite first and a sort of Iraqi second. He's a nationalist. It's not fair to say that he's just a tool of the Iranians, but he is someone who sees himself as a Shiite, believes Shiites have been repressed brutally, which they have been, and operates accordingly. So his forces arrest journalists, they arrest Parliamentarians. They've tried to arrest the Vice President of Iraq. They've tried to arrest Sunni ministers in their own cabinet, many of them then fled into Kurdistan.
DREAZENHe's done mass arrests of Sunni males. He's done mass killings. Nothing, obviously, remotely on the scale of Saddam Hussein, but there have been credible reports of Sunni civilians being killed in very significant numbers. You know, a dozen here, a dozen there. The dynamic, if we think back to what turned, when we think of the surge, the surge of troops followed the turning of Sunni tribes in Anbar against Al Qaida. That was the signal moment of this whole war. You had that dynamic. You had Sunni tribes friendly, in some degree, to the US. Friendly, in some small degree to Baghdad.
DREAZENUnder Maliki, that disappeared. He alienated those tribes completely. Now, those tribes think option one, we can take up arms and try to fight this new Al Qaida group and again, on behalf of a government we don't trust and a leader we don't like. Or we try to hunker down and let them do what they do and hope that they don't come after us. So, they're making a rational choice, given that they were abandoned by Maliki right after we left.
REHMAnd this is where Iran steps in, in support of Maliki?
YOUSSEFThat's right. And I would just add to that point -- Maliki is a US creation. We supported him. When there was question about whether he'd won the last election, the United States pushed for him to continue to serve his term, so I think there is an argument to be made that if the United States gets involved, perhaps the best condition that they can put down is that Maliki can no longer serve and still get US support, because he has been, as Yochi points out, so central to the problems that Iraq is facing. Even on very micro levels.
YOUSSEFThe US had trained a number of competent Sunni commanders. Maliki moved them out and replaced them with Shia ones, which contributed to the lack of trust that Sunnis had in the armed forces. And so, he's such a central part of the problem that it seems to me the best card the United States can play is to say that he cannot continue to serve and get continued US help.
REHMBut how, and to what extent, will Iran move in to support Maliki, Jim?
SCIUTTOWell, the report now is that you have Quds forces on the ground there, that they were instrumental in taking back Tikrit from Isis. Quds forces working alongside Shiite brigades of the Iraqi military. You know, it's a question. Iran has benefited from the US invasion of Iraq. They have a friend in the Prime Ministership. The Shiites on the rise. So, they've already benefited. They do not benefit, though, from a disintegrating Iraq, so they, in an odd way, US and Iranian interests, you know, they have some overlap here. The trouble is we're gonna disagree on solutions, for sure.
REHMJim Sciutto. He's Chief National Security Correspondent for CNN. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about the CIA drone strike in Pakistan. Stay with us.
REHMAnd as we talk about international events we were talking in the first segment with our guest Jim Sciutto of CNN, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers and Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy. Natasha writes, "The City of Baghdad has over 7 million people. With such a huge population why are so many men and women not willing to join the military to defend their country or their own freedom," Yochi?
DREAZENIt's a good question, although to be honest the issue isn't the size of the military. The Iraqi military is quite large and quite well funded and quite well equipped because we funded it, we trained it, we equipped it. The issue is how many of those people are willing to fight? So if you have a military of 500,000 people, which roughly give or take is the size of the Iraqi military, but 30, 40, 50,000 of them flee Mosul or flee Kirkuk, fleet Tikrit without firing shots? The number of the overall military is kind of irrelevant.
DREAZENIt gets back to the question though from right before we went to break which was, the militias that we know will fight are not the uniformed Iraqi military. They are the Shiite militias that take some money from Iran and maybe now get some money formally through the Iraqi government. When the three of us were all in Iraq, these were the militias fighting the civil war. They are willing to fight. So if you have 10,000 or 30,000 Iraqi troops that flee and you have 1,000 from the (word?) army who don't, that 1,000 would be a lot more effective.
REHMAnd who is wearing civilian clothes under their military uniforms?
DREAZENRight. This is just a great detail from one of the New York Times reports this morning from Baghdad. The State Department yesterday put out in a perfect bit of timing their travel warning for Iraq, which was really kind of American citizens try to avoid Iraq. And in it it mentioned the green zone, that that was sort of the one bubble that was quasi safe. The Times, they reported that the Iraqi soldiers guarding the green zone come to work with their civilian clothing underneath their uniform so that they could flee should they need or want to.
REHMHere's another from Peter in Texas. "A limited military engagement by U.S. forces in Iraq, which we certainly don't foresee right now, would not reverse conflicts that had been brewing between Sunnis and Shiites for centuries. President Obama pulled troops out of Iraq because Americans overwhelmingly wanted to stop sacrificing blood and treasure in that country. Talk about going back to Iraq is madness. Most Americans don't want this. A few airstrikes won't change the course of history," Nancy.
YOUSSEFYou know, I think Peter gets at this broader question of -- that sort of popped up this week. Senator McCain brought it up in terms of whether the United States should've stayed longer or kept a residual force and if that would've changed the course of events. We should remember that President Bush signed the status of forces agreement that ended the U.S. presence in Iraq in December of 2011. And the Iraqi government has been very adamant about not wanting the U.S. presence there.
YOUSSEFBut I think it begs the question pretty clear as we look in Afghanistan had a residual force stayed or had the U.S. stayed for another 9, 15, 20 years, would it have changed the outcome, when the structure and the leadership within the government itself is such that it's creating these factors? And I think that's one of the questions that the situation in Iraq is bringing up in Afghanistan, that is this something we as the United States must be ready for in Afghanistan where a U.S. troop withdrawal will lead to a fundamental change in dynamics on the ground.
YOUSSEFAnd so Peter's frustration is one that's heard all over the country. But I can't help but think about it in the context of Afghanistan and what it says about when the U.S. withdraws and can it change the outcome by staying longer or keeping a residual force.
SCIUTTOI would just say that Peter, in a way, has very well-described the administration's position on Iraq, which is that why should we get involved? How can we change the dynamic on the ground? I think that's where the administration has led. This is the president who withdrew the troops. But even as they look at military options now, airstrikes, you know, as the Pentagon is presenting these options to the White House, they are presenting them with a whole host of caveats, some of which Nancy referred to before, what are the targets.
SCIUTTOTargeting is a problem because we don't have Special Forces on the ground there to help lead the drones and, you know, the B-1 bombers, etcetera to their marks. But also a bigger picture, that it's the administration's view that airstrikes don't change the fundamental dynamic on the ground in Iraq or anywhere. Good, in their view, for going after individuals as you've done with success in the Pakistani travel areas, etcetera, but not for changing war fighting on the ground.
SCIUTTOAnd it's with that point of view that the administration is entering into this crisis. So to get over that I think it's difficult to imagine how they get over that feeling to proceed with significant military options.
REHMLet's talk about that CIA drone strike in Pakistan, the first in about six months. The targets and why resume these strikes now.
DREAZENSo they hit two compounds in the same day about eight hours apart. One, the fight that they had in the first were thought to be Uzbeks. Then in the second were thought for certain to be part of the Haqqani network. The Haqqani network is a group that operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, again, as with Iraq and Syria, a border that doesn't exist and was artificial in the first place.
DREAZENThey're the group that was thought to have been holding Bowe Bergdahl in Pakistan. And there had been some talk that the reason why the drone campaign in Pakistan had weathered a little bit and tapered off a little bit was to avoid either killing him or killing enough Haqqani fighters that they would say, enough, we're going to kill the one American we have. He's now obviously released. That's a whole other controversy which I know we've spoken about before.
DREAZENBut this is a group that is seen widely as the most tactically proficient and the most dangerous group in Afghanistan, the one that is best armed that can fight the most effectively. If there is to be any sort of calm in either country, this is a group that has to be either decimated or forced into negotiations.
REHMThere's some questions as to whether the U.S. is actually working with Pakistani authorities on this, Nancy.
YOUSSEFThat's right because Pakistan officials have come out vehemently against strikes because they're so unpopular with their populations who see these attacks as predominantly killing civilians and innocents and not the terrorists or extremists that they're targeted. But a couple thing happened this week that I think allow the Pakistanis to invite, albeit quietly, the United States to intervene which was two attacks on their airports in Karachi. And these were -- particularly the attack on Sunday -- there was one Sunday and one Tuesday.
YOUSSEFThe first attack was particularly brazen. Ten gunmen wearing police uniforms storming in, setting people on fire, 36 people killed and then following it up two days later. And the feeling is that those attacks happened at a time when that was sort of the death knell of any sort of peace talks that were going on between the Taliban and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
YOUSSEFAnd so the timing of these drone strikes on the heels of those attacks and at a time when people feel that the peace talks have collapsed. And potentially that there's going to be an attack -- a Taliban attack that is by the Pakistani government on Taliban spots in Waziristan. With Waziristan I think also to set the tone for a Pakistan that didn't raise as much objections as it usually does when the United States conducts drone strikes.
SCIUTTOTalking about the attacks in Pakistan, you know, this was -- a couple of weeks ago the thinking was that the Pakistani Taliban was down and out. They had a leadership -- split in their leadership. There had been mildly successful airstrikes by the Pakistanis in their home base up in the north. And then they carry out these very bold and very successful attacks. You know, it was the second largest city -- or actually largest city -- second largest city, busiest airport, etcetera.
SCIUTTOBut the trouble with Pakistan -- and I was speaking to a military official earlier this week and he said, in the understatement of the year, it's a difficult relationship with the U.S. because of Pakistan's deep and long-standing relationship with these groups, the Haqqanis included. And, you know, Pakistan has this kind of swinging back and forth where, you know, they only truly get worried when they themselves are under threat, right. And, you know, as these groups have carried out attacks with impunity across the border against Americans or against Afghans it's fine. When it threatens them then they call out for help. And that doesn't make for the best cooperation with the U.S. in terms of responding to this.
REHMAnd then you've got this friendly fire airstrike that killed five U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan this week.
YOUSSEFYeah, it was an exceptional case. I mean, they were -- as we know there are only 32,000 troops in Afghanistan but there's been a lot of joint exercises that go on particularly with Special Forces in which those troops go out with Afghans. And they had been on a daylong operation against Taliban fighters. And they were coming back that evening and the Taliban struck again. So the U.S. forces called for an airstrike. And this airstrike apparently mistakenly killed five U.S. troops and one Afghan.
YOUSSEFAnd so that you know how unusual it is, the last time there was anything close to this scale was 20002 when four Canadians were killed in a friendly fire strike. The only other case that I can think of involving an American is Pat Tillman. So it was so unusual one can't help but wonder if there was some sort of malfunction or miscommunication or misplaced coordinates. Because it's just been such an unusual thing, particularly in Afghanistan where airstrikes have become quite normal and part of the military campaign there.
DREAZENI mean, in this case there was a particular tragedy, a piece of GPS targeting equipment, the one the American special operation troops had malfunction. So he was trying to literally change the battery pack to recharge it. When he changed the battery pack it reset so the GPS coordinates that had been set -- let's say we're sitting in your studio. We had sent them two blocks away. It reset to suddenly -- it came back to the studio...
DREAZEN...which basically would cause this tragedy. Beyond the obvious human cost, which is horrific for the families of all six, you know, the Afghan and the Americans, this gets back to one of the risks of airpower. Airpower is only precise when you have someone to direct it to be precise. The Iraqis, part of what we were trying to train them to do was that they would have spotters, people on the ground who could help the U.S. care to strike where you didn't have to have a U.S. spotter doing it instead.
DREAZENThe Iraqis are manifestly un-capable of doing it. So the question is, how do you find who to bomb, even if you choose to bomb? There's no political decision to do it. If there was, how do you do it? And that's the reason why this is such a mess.
YOUSSEFYeah, it really was. I can tell you, having spent all week at the Pentagon, really just shocking at the Pentagon because the expectation at this point, I think for Americans and even Pentagon officials, is that most of U.S. troops are on base, not going out and doing these missions. And so I think the country, and certainly the Pentagon, has kind of become -- come to expect that we don't have to endure these kinds of mass casualties from this war.
YOUSSEFThe last one was in December and that was a plane shot down. And so it was just so unusual. As Yochi points out, these depend on precision spotters on the ground. But from the U.S. military perspective, this is something that had been mastered after 15 years of war.
SCIUTTOWell, it also undermines this false idea that airpower, airstrikes are the military option without a cost, right. I mean, it's still risky. It still requires personnel on the ground that are under risk. But it also has the possibility of civilian casualties which, you know -- so this is informing the administration's decision-making on Iraq now as well.
REHMAnd we are told now that President Obama will speak at 11:50 today. So we'll find out what perhaps his plans are for Iraq. Yochi Dreazen of foreign policy is with me. He's author of the forthcoming book "The Invisible Front." Nancy Youssef is national security correspondent for McClatchy News. She's just back from a two-year posting as McClatchy's Middle East bureau chief. Jim Sciutto is chief national security correspondent for CNN. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHMLet's open the phones and take a few calls, 800-433-8850. First to -- let's see, let's go to James in Brownsville, Penn. You're on the air.
JAMESThanks, Diane. I'd like to ask your panel if they can give us some insight on the leader of the ISIS, al Baghdadi. They're comparing him to Osama bin Laden and saying he's a great leader and he's been fighting the Americans since 2003. My second question is, how do intelligence people miss all this uprising? I mean, you know, I kind of read the news and listen to Diane and listen to the radio. I mean, I knew there was trouble there, but do we have anybody on the ground to see the magnitude?
JAMESI mean, I'm not trying to be a James Bond guy or a MI-6 guy and what's going on with the CIA, but how come we were caught flatfooted on this with the CIA?
SCIUTTOSecond question for --well, let me do just a little bit about al-Baghdadi. He is the guy who's too radical for al-Qaida, right. Think in that terms. He's so -- you know, not that al-Qaida -- God knows al-Qaida, brutal in their tactics, but beheadings, public floggings, this kind of thing alienates the local population. So in terms of tactics and politics as well, caused this split with al-Qaida core, with Zawahiri. In effect he wouldn't -- Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda core since bin Laden's killing, he wouldn't play by Zawahiri's rules. That led to this kind of political split from the mother ship as it were.
SCIUTTOBut he's also very aggressive and ambitious. You know, behind -- the architect behind joining the Islamic state in Iraq with the Syrian groups and now you have this cross border threat. He's tremendously popular and he's also smart tactically. He forms his brigades into country single-nation brigades in other words. So, you know, Uzbeks are fighting with Uzbeks. You know, Syrians fighting with Syrians. So you get this kind of sense of unity. Smart stuff. It's been effective on the ground. As Yochi mentioned, he also -- as what Yochi mentioned earlier, you know, they do things like they don't speak on cell phones, etcetera. Smart tactically.
REHMAnd how come we knew nothing?
DREAZENYou know, we have a piece today by my colleague Shane Harris that basically says we're spending $52 billion. And we haven't just missed this. We missed the Russian invasion of Crimea. We missed four months ago or three months ago when this same group conquered Fallujah. And we missed three months later where they now conquered Mosul, Tikrit. These neighborhoods are around Baghdad.
DREAZENYou know, part of it is that they are very technically proficient. One part that doesn't get quite enough attention is that during the height of the U.S. operation in Iraq, the most effective spying was not done by the CIA. It was done by the Joint Special Operations Command, the command that oversees Delta Force, the Navy SEALs. They had their own spy networks inside of Iraq. They worked hand in hand with the CIA Special Activities Division which was the CIA paramilitary.
DREAZENBut the actual -- you know, to the caller's point -- to James' point about James Bond, the actual spying was often done by Joint Special Operations Command military troops, not the CIA. Those troops are gone. So you do still have CIA personnel in Baghdad. As in every country the embassy is the main base for the CIA present in that country. They can't move the operatives there because of the security situation. They don't have small bases, military bases to co-locate with. And the better spies, the military spies are gone. And so we have the multi, multi, multibillion dollar spying operation that failed.
REHMWow. I mean, it's so shocking to hear that and yet one wonders what President Obama can say that would change the thinking of the American people in regard to doing anything right now. What would be the purpose? What would be the goal of going back in there even from the air, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, I'll just speak hypothetically, how about that? So ISIS, I know people see it as a regional threat, and it is so. Remember that ISIS's goal is to form an Islamic (word?) , to redraw the borders such that it has its own sea. And in a way it already does with its own borders, its own army, its own flag, its own laws. And some might say that that's not a threat to the United States. But if they have all those resources, they’re certainly not going to just kick back in their own country. At the minimum, they pose a threat to our allies and broadly they potentially pose a threat to U.S. interests.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy News. On that happy note we'll take a short break. And when we come back, take more of your calls, your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are told that President Obama is going to speak at 11:50 Eastern Time. And the reporting thus far is that his statement is going to be in regard to Iraq and exactly what we might or might not be doing in that country. Let's go back to the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Fassil in Rochester Hills, Mich. Hi, there. You're on the air.
FASSILHi. I had a quick question for your panelists. One of them mentioned earlier how ISIS was basically redrawing the maps of the Middle East. And I was wondering, you know, the Kurdish militia recently took over Al Kirkuk. You know, they're basically defending it against ISIS. And I wanted to know if that's the first step towards an independent Kurdistan? Or if the Kurds are actually just doing their national duty and trying to protect the Iraqi state?
DREAZENIt's a great question. I mean Kirkuk is often described as the Jerusalem of the Kurds. They have wanted the city for generations. They were getting ready more than once to use force to get it. They were willing to go war to get it. They got it in an hour without fighting. It's an extraordinary thing that isn't -- it's easy to forget just how mind-boggling some of this stuff is. This was a city that there literally was almost a war over since 2003, year after year after year. And the Kurds took it overnight without needing anything, without needing any violence.
DREAZENThis, for the Kurds, is the best moment probably in the history of them as a semi-independent people. They have Kirkuk. They have the most powerful army in Iraq. They have a good relationship with Turkey. They have their own oil pipelines. They've got their own economy, which is booming. For them, they can now say to Turkey, with whom they've had a bad relationship, we're the buffer. We're the ones that stand between you and a group that -- ISIS recently raided a Turkish Consulate and kidnapped the children of the Turkish diplomats. Kidnapping the kids of the diplomats obviously does not play well in Turkey.
DREAZENSo the Kurds can say, with a straight face, to a Turkey willing to listen, we're the buffer. We're standing between you and them.
YOUSSEFI think that's a great summation. I would just add on, Kirkuk, one of the reasons that it's so desired by the Kurds is oil. And that it's a source of oil revenue. So that's something to keep in mind as we look at the strategic importance of Kirkuk.
REHMAnd let's go to Kevin in Virginia Beach, Va. Hi, there. You're on the air.
KEVINHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
KEVINI, first of all, praise for you for consistently representing rational news media and not letting people off the hook with rhetorical run-around and non-answers.
KEVINI just wanted to quickly comment on the Bowe Bergdahl story. I am an eight-year infantry veteran with 10th Mountain Division, 431st Infantry. When war fighters are downrange, there can be a very, very short distance between honor and horror. With questioning whether or not Bowe Bergdahl was acting honorably, the bottom line is -- and most war fighters understand this concept -- that you can love your country and not be in love with your government. You know, there are 214 million people in the United States. There's 2.6 million in service.
KEVINAnd what -- legislative and executive branch makes up about 550, 552 people. So it doesn't really matter exactly how and what happened. He gets to come home. He is a service member. He volunteered. That there are persons in major media outlets and significant persons in legislative branches making extraordinarily partisan arguments as to why this service member should not have been brought home is just reprehensible to me, as a service person.
KEVINHe gets to come home.
REHMThank you for your service, Kevin. Jim.
SCIUTTOWell, I'll tell you, Kevin. You heard very similar emotion from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in hearings two days ago, when pressed by members of the House Armed Services Committee. You know, clearly, as a veteran himself, he bristles, like you, at the demonization of Bowe Bergdahl before an investigation. And just personally, myself, I spent a lot of time in Iraq, including with the 10th Mountain Division. I spent a lot of time with soldiers. I've spoken to soldiers at some of their most difficult points in war, fighting. They're complicated people, just like everybody else.
SCIUTTOThey've seen horrible things. And they sometimes have complicated -- understandably complicated views of their job there, what they've seen. And I think we're seeing that now as we're seeing some of the letters that Bowe Bergdahl wrote home. You know, and what I hear consistently in the Pentagon is, listen, this guy spent five years alone, right? I mean, many of the other, you know, the Vietnam Veterans, they were with other soldiers. The Farc hostages, were with other Farc hostages. He was alone. He's got a long path back to recovery.
SCIUTTOGive him a chance to do that. The investigation will follow. And I certainly hear a lot of people in the building in the Pentagon who say, give this guy his chance. And they really bristle like you at some of the criticisms.
YOUSSEFI think it's interesting Kevin's comments come today, just hours after Bowe Bergdahl has returned to the United States. And part of his recovery, they sort of put it in three phases at the Pentagon, and he's now entering phase two, and one of the things -- or phase three, excuse me. One of the things that they talked about that complicates his return and complicates his recovery is the media reports.
YOUSSEFBecause they've had to now, before he landed in this country, let him know some of the things that are being said about him. And you talk to people who either believe it was right or not, it doesn't matter, the press and the attention and the partisanship that has surrounded it, from everyone's perspective, complicates his recovery.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Thomas, who says, "As a veteran of the Iraq War from 2004 to 2005, I fully feel the war fatigue that most people in America feel. My question is this. What are our strategic interests in Iraq? And are they worth more treasure?" Yochi.
DREAZENThe strategic interests for Iraq and for Syria unfortunately dwarf anything remotely approaching what we had in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Iraq matters tremendously. Syria matters tremendously. Not just because of oil, not just because Israel is nearby, not just because our closest allies are in the region and they will get pulled in. Jordan is being overwhelmed by refugees from Syria. It's government is wobbly. The Gulf States are funneling money in toward Syria and soon to Iraq, because they are afraid of their own stability.
DREAZENSo, much as we would like -- everyone, I think, is exhausted. The whole country is saying, we don't want this. But at the same time, unfortunately, this is not a part of the world to which we can just say, enough. We're turning our back. We're leaving. It's one of the things that the Obama administration, when you talk to them privately, where they bristle. They say, like, the country is with us. And universally, by every poll, that's true. The vast majority does not want to go back. But there may not be a choice. And that's sort of the deep tragedy of this.
REHMAnd here's an email from Robin. "Why wouldn't we, the U.S., want to support a partition of Iraq into Shia, Sunni and Kurd? This possibility seemed to be reasonable back at the time of the Iraq War. It still seems plausible."
YOUSSEFWell, let's talk about what the Sunni state would look like. It's who would be leading it. Let's just talk strictly about the Sunni state. We're talking about people who have no problem with mistreating women, who are extremists, who will charge taxes of their residents ad hoc, who have no problem with brutalizing their people. So I understand the question. At some point, you think, if they can't get along, why not divide the region along a sort of natural border? But the problem is, what kind of Sunni state would emerge, and the threat that it poses to the region and to U.S. allies.
SCIUTTOAnd just, does it work? Does it solve all the problems? Look at Sudan. You split that country along ethnic lines, and now within the smaller South Sudan, it has its own divisions. You know, the idea that in the 21st century, you know, you brought up the First World War earlier, Yochi -- the idea in the 21st century that this -- the only route to peace is dividing people up by ethnicity is a real depressing thought.
REHMIn Egypt, you had the inauguration of a brand-new President, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. It was marred by sexual violence in the crowd. What happened, Nancy?
YOUSSEFSo, Tahrir Square has become a very dangerous place for women. I can tell you that I stopped going in Tahrir Square, particularly at night. It's become literally a training ground for people who sexually assault women, because it's -- the crowds are so big and there's no real law enforcement. And so what these men will do is push people around you out of the way and sexually assault you -- to the point that there are groups of men and they're assigned different jobs. Someone's assigned to take off your top. Someone's assigned to take off your bottom.
YOUSSEFIt's really horrific and there's nothing, as a woman, you can do to protect yourself. And so, in this climate -- and this has become common -- the Egyptians have sort of pushed it aside in terms of -- or tried to deal with it minimally. And there was a video that came out that showed a 42-year-old woman enduring this, being raped, in front of her daughter. And the video went viral and it forced Egypt to confront what everybody has known has been happening there for months and months. And so, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who is the new president, went and visited the woman at the hospital and brought her flowers and suggested a commitment to tackling this issue.
YOUSSEFBut it's really part of an endemic problem in Egypt, which is a lack of law and order and justice that has only gotten worse since the fall of the regime. Because order, as we know it, has dissipated in Egypt.
REHMIs this going to make a difference? He says that those found guilty of harassment in public or private will face up to five years in prison, maximum fine of 50,000 Egyptian Pound. What is this going to do to change the culture, Yochi?
DREAZENIt's come -- all comes down to, I mean, on a superficial level to enforcement. I mean, if you do have -- you know, what Nancy's describing is horrific for all of us who are sitting here listening a friend of ours describe it. But if you're thinking about having -- do you have police in Tahrir? Do you have police in other villages. But even if you do, can you stamp something out that is endemic to a culture? You know, just one broader point. You often will hear someone in describing Hilary Clinton say, her focus is on women's issues. And that phrase is a pejorative, as if women's issues are something that, if you do it, it's not particularly important.
DREAZENThen we look around the globe right now. So we have sexual assault endemic to Tahrir Square. We have cases in India of girls being raped and then hung from trees.
DREAZENWe have the Boco Haram horrors of these other girls, another way of now being kidnapped. So this question of women's issues, which is often just sort of shunted aside, like it's this catchall that doesn't matter, we should all be thinking about how much it does matter. I mean just how horrific it is -- India, Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt. And these are serious, serious horrific things.
REHMAnd let's go back to the phones to Steve in Mobile, Ala. Hi, there. You're on the air.
STEVEThank you, Diane. You're like our National Parks Service, an underappreciated national treasure. Thank you for taking my call.
STEVEI wanted to talk a little bit about it, and I'm not sure that it's widely known, but of the strategic importance of Iraq, not militarily but socioeconomically. I had a -- this is anecdotal, and I apologize for doing this. I don't have any statistics on this. But I was helping a U.S. client about three or four years ago with a foreign entity that was having a problem. They drilled an exploratory well in Kurdistan on a field that we called a scrub deal. Nobody else wanted it, nobody else bid on.
STEVEAnd they were accumulating large quantities of oil because each of their wells were producing 200 barrels a day at a cost of under $2.00 a barrel. And they didn't know what to do with it because there was no oil-share agreement. If these are the scrub fields that are producing 200 barrels a day at under $2.00 a barrel, you can imagine the oil reserves that are underneath the rock. They've got to be -- everyone over there has told me there's more oil under there than there's left in Saudi Arabia.
DREAZENI mean, this is one of the reasons why there had always been this thing about, we're going to war for oil. There's no question, Iraq has the oil to be one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East. When you go to Basra, Basrawis look to other big cities -- the other petro cities, Dubai, Abu Dhabi. And they say, why is our city this much of a dump? We are wealthier than the Emirates, we are wealthier theoretically than the Kataris. Basra is terrible. It's got raw sewage. It's got broken roads. So the caller is exactly right. There's tremendous wealth. A lot of it's been lost to corruption. A lot of it hasn't yet been tapped.
REHMAll right. To Rob in Miami, Fla. Hi, there.
ROBYeah, how you doing?
ROBI just wanted to be real quick there. I know the time is going. But I was listening to Mr. McCain -- Senator McCain this morning on Morning Joe. And, you know, I'm just compelled to call you, because I remember Bill -- I remember Mr. Gates saying that if the American government, any administration or president that decides to go back into the Middle East has to be nuts. So could you respond to that in terms of Mr. McCain, or Senator McCain is wanting to do in staying in the Middle East indefinitely? Thank you.
SCIUTTOWell, it's a fair question, because of course it's easy to take shots at the administration as you have these challenges in Syria, Iraq, et cetera. But what is the specific proposal from McCain? I mean McCain has said fire the National Security team. Bring back Petraeus and others. And he wants to use military force there. But what is the next step? And it's, you know, you have very little specificity on that side as to what the successful measures would be to respond to this.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's take a final call from Diane in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. You're on the air.
DIANEHi, Diane. Thank you for having me on the show.
DIANEMy question has to do with this group ISIS. So the media, on the one hand, is showing them as this al-Qaida offshoot. They're more extreme than al-Qaida. But yesterday, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was spotted in Mosul. And as we all know, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was almost the number two guy under Saddam Hussein. So my question is, what's the Baath party involvement in all this. And I ask that because the takeover of Mosul was so swift, so strategically well thought out, so tactically advanced, that I just don't think that these are insurgents running around in pick-up trucks taking over the country.
DIANEI think there's a more methodological, well thought out, organized organization behind...
YOUSSEFWell, Diane is absolutely right. It is a lot more sophisticated and organized than we knew of in al-Qaida. And to the point about Baathist involvement and Sunni involvement broadly, while we saw nearly a half a million people flee Mosul and they faced the attack, there a number of people who supported what happened. Because remember they don't trust the Iraqi security forces, as Yochi mentioned earlier. They see the Malaki government as loyal to Shias first and Iraqis second.
REHMAll right. And finally, let's turn to the World Cup in Brazil, kicked off Thursday, violent protests.
DREAZENYeah, there have been violent protests. Incredible. In a country we think, Brazil, we think beaches and parties. There have been protests now for months because of the just extraordinary amount of money that's been spent on this. There were -- one the stadiums where the U.S. is playing, in a city called Manaus, that building this one stadium cost $300 million, because there are no roads. So to get the equipment to build the stadium, you had to take it along the Amazon River. They'll play four matches there and then it may never be used again.
DREAZENSo, you can understand that in a poverty-stricken country, there's fury at seeing $300 million here, $500 million there. It's the old joke that at some point it becomes real money.
DREAZENAnd to a poverty country, it's real money.
REHMYochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy, and Jim Scuitto of CNN, thank you all.
SCIUTTOThank you. Great to be here.
REHMAnd have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr talks about his new novel, "Cloud Cuckoo Land," and why he says his job as a writer is to reveal our interconnections as people, and as a planet.
Rep. Adam Schiff discusses the Democrats' agenda heading into the midterms, the January 6th investigation, and his new book, "Midnight In Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could."
Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times science and global health reporter, discusses vaccine safety, parent hesitancy, and what vaccinating this age group could mean for the future of the pandemic.