War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
President Barack Obama vows to pursue ISIS militants who beheaded American journalist James Foley. An Israeli airstrike kills three top Hamas commanders in Gaza. And clashes break out in Liberia over an Ebola quarantine. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The beheading of an American journalist is pushing the US to broaden strategies to combat ISIS militants. Israeli air strikes kill three top Hamas commanders in Gaza. And in Liberia, the government seals off an extremely poor neighborhood in the capital to combat the spread of Ebola. Joining me for the week's top international stories on "The Friday News Roundup," Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Mark Landler of The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, you're welcome to join us. Give us a call at 800-433-8850 if you'd like to be part of the conversation. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And happy Friday everybody.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAGood morning.
MR. MARK LANDLERThanks, Diane.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGood to see you.
FOUKARAI hope next Friday will be happier.
REHMI hope it will be happier, Abderrahim, I must say. Not so much good news out there. How do you think the world, Abderrahim, is reacting to the beheading of journalist James Foley?
FOUKARAWell, at least two levels of reaction. One is absolute horror on the part of those who do believe that it was him that was beheaded. And there is a level of skepticism, also, as to whether he was actually beheaded or not. With regard to the second level, I think by now, it's -- it doesn't make any difference, because the dynamics that have been unleashed since the news of his beheading, whether he was beheaded or not, have real implications. We've seen President Obama give a speech in which he talked about it, about the beheading.
FOUKARAHe talked about US action. He talks about ISIS being a direct threat to the United States. And there have been attacks, raids, on the positions of ISIS, the Islamic group in Iraq, purportedly behind the beheading. That has already solicited reaction from them, from the group on the ground. So the dynamics have been unleased, no matter what the reaction is.
REHMMark Landler, where is the uncertainty, if there is any, coming from with regard to whether James Foley was truly beheaded?
LANDLERWell, the video that was uploaded to the internet, you know, is edited in certain portions. And so, while you see the militant put a knife to James Foley's throat, there's a cut out. You don't actually see it physically slice through his neck. Although you do see the aftermath. I mean, I think American...
REHMYou see the aftermath of the lower part...
LANDLER...of his body.
REHM...of his body. You don't see...
LANDLERSo, there's enough ambiguity, there's enough -- it's not definitive enough for those who believe it's possible somehow that this was staged. It's not sort of the incontrovertible proof that you'd like to have, but as Abderrahim correctly says, it sort of doesn't matter at this point. Because politically, in the United States, it's registered as a horrific direct attack on an American citizen. And it's prompted all kinds of spillover effects.
LANDLERMost tellingly, I think, yesterday, when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, said rather flatly, that in order to defeat ISIS, or the Islamic State, you would have to go after them in Syria. It isn't enough to set them back or root them out of Iraq. He didn't say the US was going to do that, but he said that he believed that that was the necessary strategy, that that's where you had to go. And that actually puts this, this military campaign in a very different context than it was even last week.
LAKSHMANANYeah, I think that's right, and I think that it takes us to the next conclusion, which is if there are going to be US strikes in Syria -- I mean, keep in mind, this is the one year anniversary this week of that horrible chemical attack in Ghouta, which crossed President Obama's red line, that he had spoken about. You know, that he didn't want Assad to use chemical weapons against his own people, and then Assad went ahead and did it. So, I think it's challenging for the United States, because it's been a few years now that Assad has been fighting this opposition in Syria.
LAKSHMANANA long time ago, those who wanted to support the moderate opposition were pushing the Obama administration to arm the moderate opposition. The Obama administration said we don't want to do that, because we have concerns about the weapons getting into the hands of real extremists. Now we see who those real extremists are. So, to me, one of the most interesting trajectories of this whole conversation this week is will this mean, you know, the need to fight ISIS in Syria?
LAKSHMANANWill this mean that we're pairing up with Assad? And we've asked that question very clearly to the administration, and at every turn, they've answered absolutely not. He is the enemy, he is the one who made their rise possible. We're not going to be partnering with him. It's not the enemy of the enemy is my friend. I mean, one thing that sticks in my mind is that's true. Not necessarily. You know, there were times -- look at World War II. The Soviet Union was on the side of the Allied Powers and they were not our friend.
LAKSHMANANBut I do think it's possible that we'll see both us and Assad and possibly Iran. You know, many different groups, people who we're not usually friends with, fighting against the same enemy, because they're so horrific.
FOUKARAI think you have to recall what the reaction here in Washington was when we first heard the news that ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, overran the Iraqi army a few months ago. The reaction was, this is, primarily because we have a Prime Minister in Iraq. At that time, it was Nouri al-Maliki, who has not done enough to bring everybody under the tent in Iraq. And we'll let the Iraqis sort it out. The moment we began to see real concern in Washington being expressed and being felt was the moment the Kurds in northern Iraq started to feel really threatened.
FOUKARAI think you have to recall that the Kurds, or the Kurdish area, is probably the only one success that the United States has had in that part of the world since 2003. And if you think about the lingering threat that continues to -- the Kurds in Iraq from ISIS in Iraq. And if you recall that ISIS has its power base, so to speak, from which it launched the attacks on northern Iraq a few months ago, in Syria, where the Kurds are, then you begin to get a real sense of where this entire conversation is going.
REHMDo you believe, Mark Landler, that the general's statement yesterday was a prelude, a trial balloon, a nudge to the Commander-In-Chief. Why did he say what he said if, in fact, the US is not going ahead with a strike on Syria?
LANDLERWell, I don't think that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff makes a statement like that by accident. This is also a general who's been, historically, very conservative. And in fact reluctant in previous situations in Syria to talk about air strikes. Secondly, you have to pair what he said with an interview that Ben Rhodes gave to NPR yesterday. The Deputy National Security Advisor, in which he was asked a similar question about Syria. And he said, we will not restrict ourselves by geographic boundaries when it comes to a critical US national security objective, which is protecting Americans.
LANDLERSo, when the White House and the top Pentagon official, in the same day, answer that question, leaving the door wide open, I think you have to assume that the administration is at least testing the proposition. What's interesting about this from a political point of view is you had a lot of Republicans, in particular, but lawmakers on both sides issue statements about rage about James Foley. And on the Republican side, several senators calling on the administration to do more and criticizing the president for not doing enough.
LANDLERNone of them said, with the exception of John McCain, what it was they'd like to see the president do. And any additional action, even air strikes across the border, raise all kinds of political questions in Washington. This is not a Congress that wants to see the US re-engaged in the Middle East. And if you remember, to elude to Indira's point about the one year anniversary of the chemical weapons attacks, when President Obama put that notion to -- up for a vote in the House, in the Senate, in the House.
LANDLERWhen he said he needed Congressional authorization, he was facing an overwhelming defeat before he was able to kind of deal with the Russians that avoided him having to go for Congressional authorization. Now I'm not saying this is a precise parallel. An attack on an American is a very different case than Assad gassing his own people. But the point here is, there's tremendous, deep seated reluctance to a deeper American involvement in the Middle East militarily. And I think the next days and weeks are gonna be very interesting to watch. Just what are people here willing to do?
REHMAnd the question of whether, militarily, airstrikes, what would they accomplish? What could they accomplish? Indira.
LAKSHMANANWell obviously, the idea is ISIS is this group that is different in many ways, from terrorist groups that we've seen before. Not only are they thought to be the richest, they've acted in many ways like an army. Not like just scattered militants hiding in caves or in the hills, as we saw Al Qaeda core doing before. But actually behaving and acting as an army, taking entire territories.
REHMAs a state, in fact.
LAKSHMANANAs a state, extracting taxation, extortion, from people. Taking over gas stations, oil fields, selling oil. Brokering it out through, obviously corrupt channels. Oil brokers in Iraq and Syria. So, you know, there's a whole new beast that they're dealing with. And I think what the Obama administration rightly realizes is that if you use air strikes to attack them militarily, to beat them back, as they have done with the Mosul Dam, which is now believed to be fully in the hands of Iraqi forces themselves.
LAKSHMANANYou know, that allows you, that buys you some time for the larger question of how you're going to deal with these militants.
REHMIndira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more, take your calls, emails. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the Friday News Roundup of international news this week with Mark Landler. He's White House correspondent with the New York Times, Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic and Indira Lakshmanan, diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News. I want to ask about the -- another American journalist who's believed to be held by ISIS, Steven Sotloff. What do we know about him, Mark?
LANDLERWell, we don't know a lot. But what we do know is grim. There was a tweet that was posted last night by this group, by ISIS, or whom we believe to be a tweet from them. And it said that the United States could expect to see the body of Mr. Sotloff quote "delivered by courier." There is no news or no report of a body being received by U.S. officials in the meantime. But it suggests that we could be at the beginning of a chain of these types of executions.
REHMHow many hostages are currently being held? Do we know?
LANDLERI think of journalists or photographers I believe the number's four. But there may be a larger number because I think there's some other non-journalists that are being held.
LAKSHMANANWell, I think it's four Americans. Although the administration has never confirmed that number, that's the number that's been reported for Americans. But there are believed to be 20 journalists who are being held in Syria or in Iraq by these groups.
LAKSHMANANI mean, what I find so interesting about all of this -- and Mark brought up the tweet -- is the social media sophistication of this group is, again, beyond anything we've ever seen before. And the horrors of that beheading video, which I intentionally did not watch because, you know, I don't want to engage in watching that kind of brutality -- you can't ever erase it -- but I understand that the production values were incredibly high. That it began with images of Obama addressing the country and they had made it look like grainy security footage, like caught footage sort of in the way that Homeland, the TV show, begins.
LAKSHMANANAnd then once they came into the part with the hostage himself, that it was very sharp HDTV and that there was, you know, music and voiceover. And everything was done with such sophistication -- of course, we haven't even brought this up -- but the English accented, the east English accented voice of the executioner, or perhaps just the voiceover person. And they have used social media. They hijacked -- remember during the World Cup they hijacked the World Cup twitter handles to spread their message?
LAKSHMANANI mean, they have so sophisticated in their use of social media. And we hear from European officials that this has been very effective in recruiting to the cause perhaps as many as 800 British Muslims and hundreds from North Africa and throughout Europe. So a very scary proposition.
REHMAnd perhaps a good many from the United States as well.
FOUKARAWell, we know of at least one documented case and that was the guy from Florida a few weeks ago who was enlisted and who actually was purportedly behind a terrorist bombing in Syria. But, you know, to the point of the sophistication, you have to remember that in addition to what Indira has just said, people flocking to the ranks of ISIS from various parts of the western world and non-western world, where they have the knowhow and the wherewithal to help with the fight on the side of ISIS.
FOUKARAWe have to remember that in Iraq, for example, they joined hands with the remnants of Saddam Hussein's army. I mean, these are people who have incredible knowhow in terms of strategizing military offensives, the remnants of Saddam Hussein's army.
FOUKARASo the sophistication goes in so many different directions, which brings me, if I may quickly, to the earlier question that you raised, is there a military solution to this? Well, given the life span so far of ISIS -- I mean, they've been around since at least 2004 in Iraq, that's the thick of things really going wrong for the Bush Administration in Iraq. And given this level of sophistication, given the other elements that they have tied up with such as the remnants of Saddam's army in northern Iraq and possibly elsewhere in Iraq, it doesn't seem to me like there's a military solution to this.
FOUKARAI mean, even if the second journalist is confirmed dead, that puts the Obama Administration in a difficult position whereby we know Obama harnessed opposition within the United States to further American entanglement in the Middle East and elsewhere. He harnessed that to make it into a political position. And now, that decision has come back to haunt him. I don't see him deploying enough military within Iraq to be able to defeat ISIS militarily.
REHMMark, what do we know about this attempted rescue?
LANDLERWell, the White House and the Pentagon have briefed on it and offered a number of details. There was a raid earlier this summer in July, around the July 4th weekend. Two dozen special forces, Delta Forces were helicoptered into a location in northern Syria. They fought their way close to an oil refinery. There was a firefight with Jihadists with ISIS fighters. And they came to the point where they thought that they would find the hostages, including Mr. Foley. And when they got there the hostages weren't there.
LANDLERAnd so there was, I believe, one American wounded. There were several ISIS fighters killed. There's been a fair amount of controversy in the aftermath about the White House's decision to disclose this and to disclose as many details about it as they did. Some in the Pentagon are arguing that that actually hurts the ability of the Pentagon to conduct future raids.
LANDLERBut, you know, it's -- as one of the -- I think it was General Dempsey or one of the Pentagon generals said, this is the kind of difficulty, this is what happens when you launch a raid in a very murky situation. Sometimes you don't get it.
REHMAnd you mentioned that the UK has identified the voice or the voiceover as being British. How are they moving to really identify?
LAKSHMANANYeah, that's a fascinating question and some of my Bloomberg colleagues did a really good piece today that goes into detail about the high-tech tools that are being used in combination with...
REHM...looking at his hand.
LAKSHMANANYeah, looking at the -- just the little bits of skin that are exposed. So you see his hands -- the executioner, you see his hands. You see his eyes and the bridge of his nose. You know, normally what's interesting is with all this high technology, just with the eyes alone you can basically -- that can be used to determine 90 percent...
REHM...construct the face.
LAKSHMANAN...of constructing the face. The problem is you need the eyebrows. And this was something that was not visible because of the balaclava that he was wearing. You couldn't see the eyebrows. Still I think they can get a lot of information from the eyes, from the hands, from the voice. They're using all sorts of, you know, recognition. They have databases. They're combing through passports. They're looking through their files on British Jihadists who have gone, who have come back.
LAKSHMANANSo, you know, there's a lot of information they're sifting through that is going to be fascinating to see what they come up with. I think the larger question though is, why were we not able to rescue those people? And that brings us to the question of, well obviously our human intelligence is lacking on the ground if we thought they were there and they weren't there. Because supposedly the rescue attempt was launched after some six other European hostages, four French and two Spanish, had gotten out many reports say because their governments paid ransom.
LAKSHMANANAnd that's become another huge issue in the aftermath of this...
LAKSHMANAN...that the U.S. government refuses to pay ransom. And, you know, the question we -- one colleague of -- former colleague of Mark's, David Rohde who was a hostage of the Taliban in Afghanistan, wrote a really interesting piece yesterday, a first-person account in Reuters in which he raised the question about whether by refusing to pay ransoms, is the U.S. dooming hostages from its country with being killed?
LAKSHMANANOf course the United States government comes back and says, well, if we pay then we're merely not only filling their coffers but encouraging the militants to take more and more hostages.
REHMBut doesn't the UK pay? Don't other countries pay?
LAKSHMANANNot the UK.
LANDLERThe UK does not pay. Other European countries do. And in fact...
REHMUnder the table or how do they do it?
LANDLERThey conduct secret negotiations...
LANDLER...that are unpublicized. And they -- the Germans, the French, they pay. And, in fact, we had a story in the New York Times a few weeks ago where we said that some 125 million may have been paid to al-Qaida, al-Qaida like and other militant groups by Europeans over this period of time. So the kidnapping business is a big business. I mean, and that -- and it always has been for militant groups. But these people practice it in a very systematic, well-organized and relentless way. And it does raise a very difficult question for the U.S. and the Europeans.
LANDLERBy paying ransoms you perpetuate this system and you make the risks of reporting in these places almost intolerable and not, by the way, just for journalists but for NGOs and other people that might want to go into these conflict areas. So it is something that we need to talk about. I'm not sure the answer is we should all throw in with the Europeans and begin paying.
LAKSHMANANBut it's a really tough question. The French journalist whose government did pay said yesterday, you know, he's not going to make a judgment on it but he's very glad to be alive. But the point I was trying to make earlier was simply that we had information from these journalists about where these people were believed to be. That information was no longer current. So my point is, we obviously need better human intelligence on the ground if we're going to launch any rescues operations.
LAKSHMANANAnd John McCain was one of the people who jumped all over the Obama Administration and said, the president wanted to take his troops out of Iraq. And this is why we don't have a human intelligence, blamed it back on the president saying, if we still had a presence in Iraq we would have that intel.
REHMSo where do we go from here? Will the U.S. be able to enlist the help of other countries if there is some kind of military action against Syria?
FOUKARAI think the U.S. would not engage, in my opinion, military action in Syria without being absolutely sure of, you know, help from the regional neighbors of Syria.
REHMAnd you think they'll get it?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, if you take countries such as Saudi Arabia, for example, the Saudis have been sort of traditionally ambivalent about what goes on in Iraq, especially when it comes to Islamist groups. This time around, they feel the heat from the advances of...
REHMThey're in danger as well.
FOUKARAAt least that's their assessment, that they are in danger. So based on that alone, I would think that Saudi would be help. If I may just quickly say something about the hostages and paying for them. You know, it seems to me that this is one of the vulnerabilities of democracies. If you have a democracy and you have some of your own citizens being held, do you pay? If you pay it's a problem. If you don't, overtime it becomes a domestic politics problem because the pressure would compound on you as the government of a democratic country to do something.
FOUKARAThe French have chosen to pay. I don't know if the Obama Administration has paid or will choose to pay. But clearly if you have four journalists, four American journalists held by ISIS for ransom, that puts this administration in a very tricky position.
REHMWhat about members of Congress, Mark. Is there any urging from them to have the U.S. pay?
LANDLERI've yet to see a member of Congress step forward and say, we should begin paying ransoms.
REHMAt least publically.
LANDLERAt least publically. And I'm not sure privately what evidence there is. I mean, it's possible I suppose that a Congressman with a constituent might feel that way but certainly not publically.
REHMMark Landler of the New York Times and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Indira, the ceasefire in Gaza ended and Israeli strike killed three top Hamas commanders. How significant a blow to Hamas?
LAKSHMANANVery significant. It seems to -- you know, a lot of Israeli newspapers are writing about this turning the tide about Israel having the upper hand despite Hamas continuing with its rocket strikes against Israel. And we saw -- you know, there was one rocket that hit a synagogue in Ashkelon today I believe. You know, there were others that have fallen on the ground and not hurt anyone.
LAKSHMANANWe're now to the case of something like 2100 Palestinian casualties, a few scores of Israelis, mostly soldiers. But by Israel killing off the top three Hamas leaders as well as the family of the main leader -- they were searching for the leader himself and we don't know what his fate is at this point -- they seem to be sending a message to Hamas that if you want a war of attrition, we're giving you a war of attrition. Israel has more resources. It can keep going longer. People have done calculations of the number of rockets that Hamas had, that they've used, that Israel has, you know, disabled. There are only a few hundred left.
REHMAnd this morning the Associated Press is reporting that Gaza gunmen killed 18 alleged spies for Israel including seven who were lined up behind a mosque and shot after midday prayers. They claim these are collaborators.
FOUKARAWell, I mean, this, in a way, is really the crux of the matter, whether what Hamas are saying about these guys being executed or not. But the issue of human intelligence on the ground, you could have the most powerful army, and the Israelis certainly do, you could have the most sophisticated weaponry, and certainly the Israelis do and they have lots of it. If you don't have intelligence on the ground, that's not good enough. That's not going to help you.
FOUKARAAnd I think one of the determinations that the Israeli prime minister has made is that while we are negotiating in Cairo, let's see how we can send Hamas a powerful message. And certainly getting three of its leaders is a very powerful blow in the short term. Because we know, on the other hand, that all it takes Hamas, for example, is one operation similar to the one that they actually conducted on Israeli territory a few weeks ago, the Israeli public opinion to be asking questions.
FOUKARAWe have seen the ratings of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu go from 82 percent to 63 percent to 53 percent, according to an opinion poll by channel 2 in Israel. And that's the real conundrum that he faces. But the issue of human intelligence and what Hamas does about it or what Feta did about it in the West Bank in the past is obviously crucial to a military effort.
LANDLERWell, what's been interesting to watch about this latest round of ceasefire negotiations is it's almost less a negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians than it is a negotiation among factions of the Palestinians. Today the PA leader from the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, is meeting with Khaled Mashaal, the exiled Hamas leader. And then he'll fly to Cairo and the Egyptians will broker talks that again are mostly among Palestinians.
LANDLERAnd really what's at issue here is that at some point Hamas is going to have to make a calculation of whether it needs to accept a Palestinian authority presence and security presence back in Gaza, if only because its own people are now so -- suffering such depravation and the degree of anger and resentment is growing to such a point that they may find as Hamas is an organization that they lose their populace.
LANDLERI mean, Hamas' great victory several years ago was when they pushed the PA out of the West Bank and at the -- out of Gaza rather. And at the time, people pointed out that the PA -- you know, they sort of got their eye off the ball. Hamas was doing a better job of providing services and building up local political support. A lot of that has gone away. And that's the big question that Hamas faces beyond the immediate question of a ceasefire deal.
REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here. And when we come back we'll open the phones. You can be part of the program. Give us a call, send us an email, send us a tweet.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones. We'll go to Shokan, NY. Hi, Debra, you're on the air.
DEBRAHi, Diane, thank you. I've been out of the country for two months in Europe. And I flew home to New York yesterday. And I was running to catch my plane, I ran into, you know, one of the newspaper shops in Heathrow Airport. And I was struck by just the lull of British newspapers, virtually every one of which had a huge photograph of the executioner standing behind James Foley.
DEBRAAnd I grabbed a couple and I read on the flight home. And, you know, I think several things struck me. One was sort of the horror that was being expressed by columnists and by the newspaper people at the executioner apparently being or possibly being British Muslim. How could Britain be breeding such ferocious jihadists within their country? And the second prevailing them was the use of social media now to recruit, as a recruiting tool.
DEBRAAnd the point being that sometimes -- I guess the social media is now becoming so sophisticated that breeding or recruiting jihadists within the country, no longer requires going to Syria for training or wherever the training happens. But the question arising what kind of internal terror within British borders could be on the horizon.
REHMAnd indeed, Indira, you talked about the incredible use of social media.
LAKSHMANANRight. And the whole recruitment of British militants is a fascinating one. I mean, I saw one story saying that it's possible there are more British Muslims who are now working with militants than actually serve in the British armed forces. There are 600 British militants in the armed forces, and the numbers have ranged between 200 to as many as 800 British militants who are fighting with ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusram and other groups like them.
LAKSHMANANSo it's a very frightening thought. Now, David Cameron, when he became prime minister, did talk about this as being a serious issue but no actual plan was put in place. No white paper, you know, nothing new was done. Obviously, the government is now having to redouble its efforts to work against internal terrorism, internal militancy. But, you know, it's an interesting question because Britain already had its own not quite 9/11, but it had those attacks, you know, in Britain that were their own 7/7 attacks on the public transport.
LAKSHMANANSo they've experienced this at home. And the social media, as the caller points out, is a huge thing. They've tried to make these videos look like video games. They've tried to encourage European Muslims, don't just sit at home and have your, quote, "fat jobs." Come out here and become immortal, become part of the solution, you know, and you'll immortalized on video, in YouTube for everyone to see.
LANDLERI mean, this episode has a horrifying echo of one that I recall a year ago or so or a couple of years ago in suburban London, where some British jihadists attacked a military person and decapitated him on the street...
REHMI remember that.
LANDLER...on the high street in the middle of the day.
REHMI remember that.
LANDLERAnd then sat down and waited for the police to arrive. So, for the Brits, it's not a new phenomenon. And it -- but it's clear from David Cameron's reaction that it's -- this is going to prompt a tremendous amount of soul-searching in Britain.
REHMLet's go to Patty in Baltimore, MD. Hi, you're on the air.
PATTYYes, good morning. Events regarding Gaza and ISIS are horrendous. But my perspective is that there would be no ISIS if George W. Bush had not invaded Iraq and there would be no violence in Gaza if Israel had not occupied Palestinian land.
REHMAll right, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAWell, I think Patty has a point to a certain extend. Al Qaida, although it had existed in other parts of the world, did not exist in Iraq, at least as far as we know when Saddam was the president of Iraq. The invasion of 2003 opened up all sorts of fronts in Iraq. Remember that one of the problems with the invasion is that it occupied Iraq, but very little preparation was made for how to actually monitor and protect the borders of Iraq.
FOUKARAThese are huge borders. So you have people coming into Iraq through -- from Syria and from other parts of the neighborhood. But how far do you go with the ifs? You know, that's the -- that's the other question.
FOUKARAWhen -- how far back do you take the if? What if Saddam had not, you know, pursued the policies that he had pursued? Thus, sort of, you know, what if he hadn't invaded Kuwait, prompting the U.S. to go in there? What he hadn't done all the things that he's done? Certainly, the invasion of 2003 has opened dynamics. But then again, in the case of -- transpose that to Syria. Bashar al-Assad, three years ago, gave the world, particularly the western world a roadmap of what he was actually going to do, including turning Syria into Afghanistan. Nothing was done about it.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Richard. "How is it that ISIS forces are such a powerful fighting force while Iraqi army troops need U.S. training to compete? Who trains the ISIS military? How did they repair and resupply the U.S. armaments and military vehicles they use? Mark?
LANDLERWell, Indira alluded to it earlier. They now have access to oil, oil fields. So they have fuel, which is critical for any army.
LANDLERAnd ransoms, so they have access to cash. They also have ties to disaffected Ba'athists and other Sunnis, some of whom have military training that they're able to give them. And as to that question of the Iraqi army and its access to American military training. I mean, the sad truth about that is that that army, for the large part, is not a reliable partner at all, has largely melted away in the face of the ISIS threat.
LANDLERThere's a few small parts of it that still function well. The special forces that recaptured the Mosul dam performed well by all accounts. But it's obviously an extremely murky situation, and ISIS has access to a great deal of resources.
REHMLet's talk a bit about what's happening in Africa and especially Liberia where the numbers of deaths there from the Ebola virus in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, 576 from Liberia, 1,350 altogether. And now the government of South Africa has said it will ban entry for non-citizens from Ebola-affected countries. And that includes Guinea, Kenya and Sierra Leone. This is something the World Health Organization has begged countries not to -- that they not close their borders. But the threat has become so real.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. I mean, it's terrifying. It's a five-month epidemic, now the worst outbreak of Ebola that we have seen. As you say, 1,350 people dead. But in all, 2,500 people that we know of who've been infected. I mean, the one small bit of good news in the United States was the recovery of this missionary doctor and his missionary colleague from Samaritans Purse, which was, you know, as -- they said miraculous. But certainly incredible because they were using an experimental drug.
REHMAnd also transfusion with the blood of an Ebola patient who had recovered.
LAKSHMANANYes, really interesting techniques.
LAKSHMANANI don't know -- you know, not being a doctor, I don't know the details of what they're doing, but there certainly a lot of talk about whether that could be replicated elsewhere. You know, obviously not everyone who has Ebola dies from it. But I think what's most challenging about all this is the government response. What do you do? You know, you want to have your hospital wards handling this in an appropriate way.
LAKSHMANANAnd you see people in these hazmat suits. So, you know, a lot of these doctors are taking precautions even so many of them have ended up dying. But then when you have soldiers and police cordoning off an entire poor neighborhood and essentially, you know, dumping sick people there and saying, you can't leave, you know, that raises some very major questions about how that about how that could be done.
REHMAnd then you have this clash between the police and the people, one angry mob looted an Ebola isolation unit and contaminated items were taken out of that, Abderrahim.
FOUKARAWell, I mean, what we have now is obviously the militarization of an epidemic. Liberia is a good case in point. The quarantine that Indira was talking about. When you have the army, not just the police but the army, actually surrounding an area where Ebola is widespread, that poses the question of in a country which is already driven with political conflict and tension, what does this mean for any possible talk about, you know, democratization in that part of the country?
FOUKARABut I think even sadder than this for -- Africa is a very unlucky country, because remember what happened here early August. You had a U.S.-Africa Summit. And everybody was talking about the great potential that this continent has, great economic potential, including for the United States. And then all of a sudden, you wipe the slate clean and all you hear about is Ebola in Africa, which means very few people will be, you know, taking the risk of investing in Africa, travelling to Africa. And we're not even talking about South Africa, a powerful country. We're talking about really poor countries like Liberia and Guinea.
LANDLERYeah, there was a very interesting exchange at that U.S.-Africa Summit that I thought encapsulated the point you raised earlier about South Africa closing its borders to people from West Africa. Charlie Rose asked the Africa -- panel of African leaders about how severe the Ebola threat was. And the president of Tanzania answered the question by saying my country is in East Africa, this virus is in West Africa.
LANDLERAnd the president of Senegal spoke up very quickly and he said -- and Senegal is a West African country that has not been hit as of yet with this. He said, Ebola is not an African disease or an African virus, it's a threat to all of humanity and it has to be confronted that way. And I thought that crystallized the way we ought to be thinking about Ebola. The one other interesting this I've read in the past few days is it also raises questions about the incentive system for drug companies to develop vaccines or medications.
LANDLERThis experimental drug that seems to have saved the Americans, they'd run out of it. So they're not able -- it's not a question of whether they want to give it to the Africans, there isn't any available. And that goes to the question of how are we incentivizing the drug industry so that enough research and development is being done in areas like Ebola. I read in the New Yorker an article that pointed out that you can buy 100 different kinds of high cholesterol medicine because it's marketed to wealthy people in the West. You can't buy or find enough Ebola medicine because there's no market for it.
LANDLERAnd so, how do you create a market? How do you incentivize companies to see a business in something like this?
REHMDon't you think they will now?
LAKSHMANANWho's going to be paying for it?
LAKSHMANANI mean, Mark makes an excellent point.
REHMThe governments got to help there.
LAKSHMANANIf the governments, you know, can pay the highest price for it. I mean, we have seen this problem with malaria over the decades as well. You know, as Mark says, you have all sorts of different forms of Viagra and cholesterol drugs and also to things that wealthy Americans and Europeans are willing to pay for and there's competition and different drug companies come up with each their own.
LAKSHMANANBut even among the governments, we're not talking about large amounts of money that people have. I mean, HIV is an interesting example because that's one where they were able. The drug companies were able to come up with cocktails and mixes and countries led by Brazil really set an example of buying the drugs for their people. But we have see...
REHMBut don't you think...
LAKSHMANAN...something similar like that.
REHM...if Ebola does somehow travel to the U.S., somebody is going to come up with a drug and come up with...
LANDLERIn the meantime, the idea that's been floated is that governments should get together and pool money to basically create an effect enormous prizes to the company that comes up with an effective treatment for Ebola, a $50 million prize, $100 million prize, that's one idea that's been floated. Apparently, it's worked in other cases in the past. But your point is the right one. The moment it gets to Europe or the United States, then I think the economics would shift overnight.
REHMAll right, let's finally go to Liz in Tallahassee, FL. You're on the air. Liz, are you there? I guess not. Let's try Ed in Rockford, IL. You're on the air.
EDThank you. I just have some comments about my thoughts of Gaza Strip and Hamas and Israel.
REHMAll right, sir, I'm going to ask you to be very brief, we're almost out of time.
EDAll right, thank you. Hamas was elected by the people and they are reacting with the rockets offensively because the way Israel is treating the Palestinians in occupation and abuse of the Palestinians. It's only the expected response.
FOUKARAI mean, look, this conversation will go in both directions until we're all blue in the face. One thing that I would say is that if thinking that branding Hamas a terrorist organization after they won this election that the listener is talking about was going to drive a wedge between Hamas and most Gazans, that didn't work. And I -- and it doesn't work for the simple reason that Hamas has a presence on the ground.
FOUKARAIt does many different things. One of them is that it controls the media in Gaza. No one can compete with that, not the Israelis, not the Americans, not any of the adversaries of Hamas. And therefore, you know, for the Israelis to argue that we're going to hurt Gaza so much that, you know, Gazans will turn against Hamas, I'm not so sure about that.
REHMAnd on that happy note, we're going to close for the week. Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, Mark Landler of the New York Times, thank you all.
LANDLERThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. Have a great weekend, everybody. I'm Diane Rehm.
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