Inflation is high. The GDP has shrunk. But the job market has never been better. The Washington Post's Damian Paletta helps make sense of the U.S. economy today.
Guest Host: Susan Page
President Obama for the first time says he will order air strikes in Syria against ISIS targets. In a televised address, he declares the U.S. will be relentless in destroying the jihadist group. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states agree to back military and financial efforts against it. The European Union imposes further sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. With just days before an independence vote, British Prime Minister David Cameron urges Scotland to stay in the U.K. And health experts criticize the global response to the Ebola outbreak as inadequate. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Sanger Chief Washington correspondent, The New York Times; author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
- Courtney Kube National security producer, NBC News.
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring."
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. She'll be back soon. President Obama authorizes airstrikes in Syria to find ISIS. The United States and Europe back new economic sanctions against Russia. And Britain's Prime Minister urges Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. Joining me for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, David Sanger of the New York Times. Courtney Kube of NBC and Paul Danahar with the BBC. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. PAUL DANAHARThank you very much.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEThank you.
MR. DAVID SANGERThanks for having us.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. You know, we had a lot of callers in the first hour who wanted to talk about the possibility of war in Iraq and Syria. I took only a few of those calls because that was a subject we wanted to talk about at length in this hour. So if you tried to call us in the last hour about that, try back. This would be a good time to discuss that issue. You can always send us an email at email@example.com. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet.
PAGEWell David Sanger, the president addressed the nation Wednesday night. One of the points he made was that we were not embarking on the kind of military action that we saw that led to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Did he make that case persuasively, do you think?
SANGERI think he did, but I think that along the way, he tried to convince the country that he was also heading into something that looked more like the light footprint engagements in Yemen and Somalia where the US has used drones and occasionally special forces to go do periodic attacks on terrorists. And this is a case where it fits neither the old Iraq war model nor the light footprint model. And I think where it is, where it falls on the scale in between, is the big mystery of these next couple of years.
SANGERSo why do I say that? It is not the old Iraq model, because it does involve a theory under which you flood in 100,000 or 150,000 troops, American and its allies, try to occupy the country, try to change the nature of the state. And then discover, after you've been there for five or six years, as we discovered in both Afghanistan and in Iraq, that our presence was, in fact, resented. But it's also clear that this is not about pinprick strikes. That you need to have a combination of American air power, American advisors on the ground.
SANGERDescribed right now as about 1,000 total troops, including security troops for the embassies and consulates. And over some time, an Arab force, and the big question is will that force on the ground, of Arab states, materialize? And then there's also the added question, which we can get to later, of how do you play Iran in all of this? Because Iran's the only one that really is on the ground in a serious way.
PAGESo Courtney, we saw the President call the Saudi king, talk with him on the phone, dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry to the region for meetings. What has been the international reaction so far?
KUBEIt's been somewhat muted. Secretary Kerry had a successful meeting, on the surface, in Jeddah yesterday, where several of the GCC nations came forward and they signed a communique saying that they would support this overall effort against the Islamic State, ISIS. And, but no one came forward with any real specifics. On Wednesday night, before the President's speech, some senior administration officials said that Saudi Arabia had agreed to the US using one of their bases to train some of the more moderate Syrian rebels.
KUBEBut then yesterday, Secretary Kerry, after his meetings with the Saudis, among others, the other GCC members, he came forward and said -- was asked specifically about that basing agreement and said, oh, well, it didn't come up in the meetings. So now it's sort of uncertain whether that's actually the case or not. Of course, having the Saudis on board would be huge for this international coalition. They're seen as sort of the leader of the Sunni world, the Sunni Arab world.
KUBEHaving them on board will help with the others. But even the other ones, the other nations that were part of this, have sort of come forward and said, well, we're not really gonna do air strikes. Well, we're not -- it's just not clear how they're gonna -- they're actually going to contribute to this other than signing on to a document, which also, interestingly, Turkey didn't sign on to. Even though they were at these meetings in Jeddah. So, they have some problems. Of course, there are upwards of 50, I think, Turkish diplomats have been taken by the Islamic State in Mosul.
KUBESo, of course they don't want to anger ISIS right now, and have their diplomats killed. But beyond that, the fact that Turkey hasn't necessarily signed on to the coalition is another signal that this may not be working in the right direction yet.
PAGEPaul Danahar, do you think the White House has gotten the response they needed to get from these other capitals, or do you think there's some concern about what they're hearing?
DANAHARThis is a coalition of the half-hearted. I mean, there's not much willingness going on here. I think the big problem is Turkey. Because Turkey, in many ways, has been the petri dish for ISIS. A lot of its leaders were hanging around in Turkey. They were going backwards and forwards. They were creating their infrastructure. So the Turks probably know a lot of these people. And the fact that they're not on board, at the moment, is a big problem when it comes to getting the right intelligence to be able to carry out these air strikes in Syria.
DANAHARThat we're now expecting, at some stage, in the next few weeks. And I think the key thing this week is that, you know, Obama was trying to say we had a strategy for Iraq. It was a Syrian strategy we didn't have. Now he's kind of confessed. You gotta have one strategy. This is one war, one organization. There may be some arguments about how you manage the governments in this territory you're fighting on, but ISIS is now, in its own terms, an Islamic State.
DANAHARWhat it means is they've got rid of the border between Syria and Iraq and you need to fight that war in the same kind of way.
PAGEHere's one of the big complications for the White House. How do you fight ISIS in Syria without helping Assad, who we have said must go? Is that a problem, David?
SANGERThe answer, how do you fight ISIS in Syria without helping Assad is, you don't. It's going to help Assad. Now, the President's got sort of multiple levels of difficulty here. First is, he did declare, as you said, that Assad had to go. But he didn't have a plan in place to get rid of him, thereafter. That was one of the many problems in the early days of the Obama Syria policy. The second was that until he gave the speech the other night, on Wednesday night, he was basically respecting the Syrian border at a moment that ISIS wasn't.
SANGERAnd he was facing the classic problem that ISIS then had safe haven in Syria, much as the Taliban, for example, had a safe haven in Pakistan, as we were fighting in Afghanistan. The way we dealt with that in Pakistan was drag the Pakistani government into an agreement that the United States could do some attacks in Pakistani territory. You weren't gonna get that kind of agreement out of Syria, so the President simply declared it. He said, this is now a borderless war to his mind.
SANGERHe's gonna fight ISIS wherever ISIS appears. And that's a very big change in strategy. It will inevitably raise the question why did the President wait so long to act in Syria? A question that Hillary Clinton herself raised in an interview...
PAGESo why did the President wait so long?
SANGERWell, several reasons. One, he didn't want to bolster Assad. Secondly, he wasn't sure which of the thousand or more Syrian groups would end up being the moderates he could support. And you know what? The answer to that question isn't a lot clearer today. It's a little clearer, but it's not a lot clearer today than it was a year ago.
DANAHARI would argue the problem that he's got is that if he'd acted a couple of years ago, when a lot of these brigades weren't as fractured as they are now. The problem was that when the money began to come in from the Gulf, people found out that if there were two brothers in one group, and one said, well, I'll create the brigade of this and you create the brigade of that, we'll both get money. And so the funding model that was allowed to form basically divided everybody.
DANAHARAnd then the problem was, the only people that had money and arms were the Islamic groups. And so you had the Free Syrian Army (unintelligible) fighting. Them running out of ammunition. And so they lost fighters. The other thing that's really important in Syria is if you fight for ISIS, you get money for your family. And your family gets social support. And in Syria, where there isn't anything else for these fighters, that's become a huge attraction.
DANAHAROn the question of attacking Syria, I think the thing that's interesting about Syria is if you don't rub Assad's nose in things, he'll let you get away with a certain amount. Look at Israel. I mean, Israel destroyed their nuclear plant. They both decided not to talk about it and they got away with it. They've carried out attacks in Damascus. And there's been a bit of noise, but they let them get away with it. And I think what we've got here is a bit of a model where you go after things.
DANAHARYou don't necessarily, you know, wave a big banner saying, look how stupid we've made you look. But they can get away with certain things without Assad doing anything other than a bit of bluster.
PAGEWell Courtney, we talked in the first hour about Americans' view of President Obama, especially on the issue of foreign policy. How about foreign leaders, foreign leaders to whom the President's now reaching out to help form this coalition? Coalition of the half-hearted I think Paul called it. How do they view the President and his leadership?
KUBEThere's tremendous skepticism right now about President Obama and about the administration. So look at -- take, for instance, Saudi Arabia again. They are, they are disappointed that the US backed Prime Minister Maliki for as long as they did. They're disappointed that the US turned their back, in their opinion, on Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, when he was falling. They're disappointed that the US did not step up to air strikes last year against Assad. And that they have not, more forcefully and more adequately supported the Syrian rebels.
KUBESo when you look at that, there is a track record. And it's not just the Saudis. You can go through the various nations. UAE has a lot of the same feelings. Egypt, obviously. So, there is not a lot of -- President Obama doesn't yield a lot of strength right now with these nations. The ones that are, at this point, are so critical to signing on to this coalition, just so this doesn't look like it's a US war against the Sunni Arab world.
SANGERYou know, this also creates a big opportunity for the President. Because from the time of the pivot to Asia, the President's clear expressions, both on the record and off the record, that he viewed the Mideast as a morass where there was little hope for American growth, opportunity, exports and so forth. And the effort to shift American focus away -- the Arab states have felt abandoned, just as Courtney says. And angry about specific decisions. And the one that they come back to the most was the decision a year ago to walk up to the line of striking Syria over the chemical weapons and not do it.
SANGERAnd I think -- I would argue that the outcome turned out to be pretty good. Most of the chemical weapons got out without the strike. But nonetheless, this is an opportunity for the President to demonstrate, in a very real way, that he is re-engaging. The other side of the deal is they have to engage as well.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. And when we come back, we'll continue our conversation. We're gonna talk about what's happening with Russia and Ukraine. We're gonna take your calls and comments and read your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the International Hour of our weekly News Roundup. And with me in the studio, Courtney Kube. She's national security producer for NBC News. Paul Danahar. He's the Washington bureau chief at the BBC. He's the author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring." And David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times. He's the author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
PAGEPaul, you were on a briefing just an hour ago with the U.S. Treasury Department talking about the new sanctions against Russia. What will they be?
DANAHARBasically they're going to be focusing on the same old targets, it's banks, it's the energy sector, it's defense-related entities. I think the interesting thing that they were trying to push was to say, we're going to go after these banks that are holding American debt. We're going to make it more expensive for them. And the hope is that will mean that they'll have to go to the Russian state to get the state to bail the banks out. And that will begin to hit the Russian government harder than some of the sanctions have been now.
DANAHARBut it was interesting, right at the top of the briefing they said, we're prepared to roll back these sanctions if we see some real solid change on the ground. If the ceasefire holds, if the Russians are actually sticking to their side of the bargain then they're willing in a month's time to review these all over again.
PAGEWell, in fact, Courtney, we may be seeing some changes on the ground, correct? Russia has removed, what, two-thirds of its troops from the border with Eastern Ukraine?
KUBEYeah, that's -- it's sort of unclear actually. The Ukrainian president said that something like 70 percent of the Russian troops were gone from the -- inside Ukraine. But then NATO came out yesterday and said, there's still 1,000 Russian troops inside Ukraine. There's still upwards of 20,000 on the other side of the border. So it's still kind of unclear.
KUBEWhat is clear is that the Russian bullying, or whatever you want to call it, the Russian presence is still there certainly. And that the presence that exists on the Russian side of the border is every bit as capable as has been for some time -- more so capable frankly than this past spring. So if Russia decided that they wanted to invade Ukraine today, the U.S. -- the international community of Ukraine certainly would have virtually no notice about it. It would just happen very quickly. And it would be a very capable force that could go in and -- right into Eastern Ukraine.
PAGESo David, what's the Russian response to these sanctions?
SANGERWell, one of the big mysteries here is to what degree was the ceasefire, to the degree it was real, motivated by the sanctions? And I think that President Putin felt, as the Iranians felt in the early days of the sanctions, that in some ways it bolstered -- the sanctions bolstered him politically because he could be seen to be standing up to the west. And, you know, that good feeling lasts until you try to go wire funds back to friends and family outside of the country. And as the Iranians discovered, there was a grinding nature to this.
SANGERI think one of the most interesting things when you look at the sanctions that were announced today, is the degree to which they call on tactics that the Treasury refined first in their sanctions with North Korea and then in their sanctions on Iran. And particularly this effort of denying banks the ability to basically get out-of-country credits which keep them afloat in their international transactions, and then force the government, as Paul suggested, to make a decision about whether to do a bailout because this includes now, as the list, one of Russia's biggest banks. That could be an expensive bailout.
PAGEYou know, it's interesting, obviously sanctions are kind of like drone strikes. They're something Americans can really support because it doesn't feel like you're putting American lives on the line. Paul, the history of them, did they show that they can be pretty effective in forcing other governments to make changes that we want to see?
DANAHARThey can be. It depends on the government. Look at what happened in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was under sanctions for years and years and years. And he was prepared to let his people suffer. I think the question is, do your people have any pressure on you as a leader to change your policies? And I think obviously there is a fair amount of pressure that can be placed on Putin, even though he holds Russia very tightly. So it depends country to country.
DANAHARI think the thing about what's happened in Europe is what he's achieved is saying to NATO, you know, you went too far. Europe you went too far. You can only push me this far. Take me seriously. So if nothing else, no one's underestimating Putin's willingness to go right out and push the envelope. And that is probably, in many ways for him, a big victory.
SANGERAlso remember that there are -- whenever you have sanctions there are -- the other side gets a vote too, okay. So in the Iranian case, we reduced the Iranians' ability to export oil. But it was at a time when you could get Saudi Arabia and others to step up. China was slowing down so you didn't see the great oil shortage that people had predicted at the beginning of the sanctions.
SANGERIn Putin's case it's a little bit different because Europe has direct gas pipelines from Russia. So as we turn the spigot on the sanction side, they have the choice about whether to turn the spigot on the gas side. Not an unimpeded choice. You don't -- if you shut off the gas you don't get paid for the gas. So -- but it's a difficult one.
PAGEAnd it affects European attitudes toward how far they want to go on sanctions.
KUBEYeah, it's not just the concern that Russia could cut off or stiphon (sic) the natural gas supplies to the European Union but it's also they could potentially cut off commercial airline flights over the territory if they wanted. Vladimir Putin has already cut off certain food stuffs coming into Russia. So that's hurt the U.S. economy already. It's over a billion dollars I believe that it's hurt for the U.S. economy since he started that. So the question is, how exactly is Vladimir Putin going to react?
KUBEThe Russian currency already fell to a new low yesterday just with the announcement that the European Union sanctions, which were actually announced last week, were going to go into effect today. So it does have an immediate impact on the Russian economy.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation. We'll start with Nathan. He's calling us from Pensacola, Fla. Nathan, hi, you're on the air.
NATHANHello. Thanks for taking my call. I'm just -- in regards to the battle we're currently talking about going in with ISIS, I just feel a little bit like we've been bated into this again. I mean, while I don't think nothing should be done, we're finally getting out of Iraq and Syria and these extremists behead one of our journalists. And now we're being pulled back into the fray. I can't help but feel like it's not in our best interest and we're in this perpetual roundabout where we arm who we call the, you know, more moral rebels or less extreme rebels. And they just end up being the ones who fight us again.
NATHANWe seem to just arm our enemies constantly. And I would say that if we were talking about doing anything, humanitarian aid for sort of the refugees would be my most important concern and not arming the rebels. When have we ever given guns to, like, rebel factions that haven't ended up turning against us? It happened with the Mujahedeen. It's happening again. The ISIS -- all of ISIS's weapons are basically American. And I just wondered how long we're going to perpetually involved ourselves in this conflict that we've also created with...
PAGEAll right. Nathan, thank you so much for your call. Paul Danahar.
DANAHARI think an interesting thing to look at is, you know, Obama talked at the beginning of his presidency before he became president about, you know, how do I decide whether I'm going to act in Congo or not act in other places. Where do we make the decisions about what we're going to do? The problem with the Middle East is it doesn't abide by the Vegas rules. You know, what happens there doesn't stay there. You can have a massive war in Africa in the Congo killing millions of people. You wouldn't even know about it.
DANAHARThe Middle East isn't like that. There are too many issues there. It's not just about oil. It's about the allies that are there. And it's the fact that it attracts from Europe and America people that will come back and try and do you harm.
PAGEYou know, we've gotten a lot of comments along the lines of what Nathan was saying. Here's one email from Mike. He writes on our Facebook page, I think, "Please explain in common sense terms why the U.S. should take the lead and provide a coalition if they're willing, when the issue is a Muslim Middle East issue and the regional powers are so dysfunctional that they cannot mount a response. This sounds totally backwards and not a winning situation for the U.S."
PAGEAnd here's an email from Peter who writes from Stafford, Va., "Why isn't Saudi Arabia taking part in military options against ISIS? It's their neighborhood. They receive much military support from us. Is it because they don't want to be the target of terrorist retributions," Courtney?
KUBESaudi Arabia is in a difficult position with this because the Islamic State has already said that they think that the Saudi monarchy has moved too far away from the more extreme versions of Sunni Islam. So they consider the monarchy a target. But at the same time for their, you know, domestic politics, it would be difficult for the Saudis to be seen as fighting against any Sunni Arab population, no matter how extreme they are. So they are in a difficult position.
KUBEBut I think that Peter and the -- all the callers so far on this, they make an interesting point which is, I don't know that the U.S. necessarily wanted to leave this coalition. They would've loved for Saudi or for Turkey or for others to come in, but no one is stepping up to the plate mainly for their own domestic reasons.
PAGEYou know, David, President Obama certainly didn't seem enthusiastic about having to go down this road.
SANGERHe sure doesn't. And, you know, he has been highly reluctant, in almost every case that we have seen, to get involved for all kinds of good reasons. First, he was elected as the president who was going to extract us from what he called a dumb war, Iraq, when he was a Senator still. And he was the one who was going to try to terminate what he called the war of necessity in Afghanistan.
SANGERSo that raises the question -- and then he was reluctant to go into Libya unless the Arab League and others went into it. And ended up going in for a brief period of time and then later discovering that by not staying, you know, all he had done was create conditions that today have led to some pretty horrific chaos inside Libya, even though Gadhafi is gone.
SANGERSo he has not been persuaded, and I think probably still isn't in his heart of hearts, that even after you take this military action you have any control over the events that follow, particularly in a place like Syria that we all believe could then split up. So then the argument comes, what is the argument for going in? So Nathan, when he called before, said he could be comfortable with the humanitarian argument. And that was essentially the argument for going in and trying to help the Yazidis and Christians who were tuck up on the top of the mountain.
SANGERThe United States airdropped food but also attacked the ISIS forces or ISIL forces that were at the base of the mountain. And it managed to alleviate the humanitarian problem. The argument for doing what he's doing now, he uses a little bit of a humanitarian argument but mostly it's a national interest argument. And the argument is, this is a group that has announced that it will extend the attacks of the United States. We don't believe they have the capability to do that yet. They are not al-Qaida in 2000. But at the same time, you can't let that fester. What's that sound like? It sounds like George Bush's preemption policy.
PAGEIt was interesting that the president ended up speaking not deliberately, I think, but coincidentally on the eve of September 11. Thirteenth-anniversary celebrations of that terrible day took place yesterday. Here's a question I hear from listeners, Courtney, and that is, how long? How long will this take? What's the timetable for us dealing with this situation?
KUBEIt's funny, at the end of the president's speech the one thing I wrote down was, no timeline. And I don't think anyone knows. Anyone who puts any kind of timeline on this is guessing at best. When you look at -- if you look just at the situation in Iraq, which we all know is complicated in and of itself, where there's going to be an effort to -- about half of the Iraq security forces that existed eight, ten months ago are essentially gone. They've either melted back into the population or they have essentially moved on with the extremists.
KUBEBut -- so rebuilding the Iraqi security forces, building this national guard units in the west, the Sunni national guard units, that's going to take time. It's going to take months. Seeing if this new Iraqi government will actually be more inclusive, that will take months. And that's not even moving into Syria, which is the really difficult element of this ongoing war. It'll be years. We're in a perpetual age of a terrorist concern right now. 9/11 was just the beginning of this perpetual age.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Paul, let's talk about Ebola continues to spread in West Africa. Quite a dire warning this week from the World Health Organization about Liberia. What's happening?
DANAHARWell, this is now not just the biggest outbreak. It's bigger than all of the other outbreaks put together. And the problem is that people have now become so scared in their own communities that they are often hiding from the local communities around them because they're worried about being ostracized. They're worried about their whole family being kicked out of the village.
DANAHARAnd so now the thing about Ebola is it's only very, very contagious at the final stages. But because people are so worried about having their whole family stigmatized by it, they're not finding out about these people until they get to the final stages when they are the most risky to everybody else. And the question is, you know, can these drugs that people are working on, get sorted out in time to stop it getting worse? Probably not.
PAGEJust in the past hour there has been an urgent appeal by the World Health Organization speaking in London for more health workers from around the world to go to the region to help. You know, David, there's been criticism for the U.S. and other nations in the world for not doing enough to address this health crisis.
SANGERYeah, and I think that some of that was inevitable. But actually I've been surprised at the speed with which the White House took this on, not only as a huge health concern but a huge national security concern. Obviously through air -- you know, none of us live in isolated countries anymore, and through airplanes and elsewhere this can spread. The work that's been done on these experimental treatments, which seem to work effectively against at least a couple of the Americans who were air evacuated out, I think may ultimately show the wave of the future on this, if they could actually test and produce this fast enough.
SANGERBut I think that as the -- when you think about how the U.S. has reacted over the past 100 years to other contagions and ultimately pandemics, I think this one's been pretty rapid.
PAGEIt's interesting how we now see a crisis involving an Ebola outbreak in Africa as a national security concern, Courtney.
KUBEYeah, and I think that might be where some of the criticism comes from is President Obama last week on Meet the Press called it a national security concern. And then -- and said the military would be helping. And then the response to that was this 25-bed field deployable hospital that won't have any personnel.
PAGE...which is not for people, yeah. It's for health care workers only, yeah.
KUBERight. Which is an important mission obviously, but at the same time, the U.S. military was going to put the hospital in there, set it all up and then leave. They aren't even going to leave any personnel there to staff it. So -- but, I mean, you know, as David was saying, the U.S. has sent upwards of $200 million already. USAID is working to get more personnel, more help. They're bringing people from other African nations. The U.S. is acting as, like, an air bridge to bring people from other African nations to help.
KUBEWhat I sort of hope comes out of this is it seems like there's this deficit that exists, and maybe it would be the World Health Organization, of some sort of a readily deployable quick-reaction-force health team when you have something like this that comes up. You know, the U.S. military would often be if it was some sort of a mass casualty event. The U.S. military could obviously respond. But something like this where you have a disease, an outbreak where they could come in quickly and hope to contain it.
KUBEThis has been going on for several months now and we're over 2400 people that we know of who have been killed, 5,000 infected. If some kind of a group had gone in there two or three months ago, who knows what kind of an impact they could've had.
DANAHARYeah well, I mean, the Cubans are starting to send some of their doctors in. But the reality is that the health infrastructure in Africa is appalling. People don't even have the basics of health care. And if they want to get it they do have to go quite a long ways. So you are in an environment where there's just not even the basics. And a lot of these cases have happened in rural areas. And then they finally got to the urban centers. And it's killing off the people that are trying to save them. Many of the casualties have been the health workers that are trying to keep these people alive. So you're losing talent as you try and deal with it. It's an incredibly difficult disease to try and fight.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll talk about that Scottish referendum and how it's likely to go next Thursday and how the British government has tried to argue for unity. And we'll take your calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News, David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, and Paul Danahar, Washington bureau chief for the BBC, for the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup. Later this month, President Obama will go to New York, address the U.N. General Assembly, as he did last year. Paul, remind us what he told us last year at that occasion.
DANAHARLast year, after a lot of criticism that he didn't have any foreign policy that anyone could kind of put their finger on, he said, for the rest of my administration, the big two foreign policy issues for me are going to be the Middle East peace process and getting rid of Iran's nuclear weapons. The first one's dead in the water. The second one seems to be on life-support machine, no one knows where that's going. And now, he's -- I mean, in the speeches he's been giving recently, neither one of them seem to be a big issue for him anymore. There's been a complete 180 it seems in where he thought he was going to be a year ago, from now.
PAGEYou know, David, that was one of the surprises, was it not, in the Wednesday night address, that I don't believe he said the word, Iran.
SANGERHe didn't, which is somewhat remarkable, because the Iranians, of course, are the only other major force opposing ISIS that's actually on the ground in Iraq right now through their Quds Force. And how many Iranians are actually there is a matter of dispute. The Iranians deny that they have ground forces. But it seemed fairly clear that they were behind the liberation of at least one city in Iraq a week or two ago. So this raises the interesting question.
SANGERWhat do you do when you're on the same side of this conflict, have common interests with Iran -- first time we really have common interests since the Iranians approached us 13 years ago after the 9/11 attacks and offered to be of some help, something the Bush administration ultimately rejected -- when you are also imposing sanctions on Iran and you're heading toward a deadline of November 24 for these negotiations on a way to slow or stop Iran's uranium enrichment? So this is all going to come to a head in the background of that U.N. meeting you were describing.
SANGERAll the Iran negotiators arrive in New York next Wednesday. President Rouhani is going to be in New York. You'll remember that last year, on his way to Kennedy Airport, he had a phone conversation with President Obama. It was the first time that the leader of Iran and the leader of the United States had spoken in 30 years -- since before the Iranian hostage taking. And the big question here is, would there be reason for them to meet and begin to move toward that one goal that Paul mentioned is still up and active from last year's speech? They might.
SANGERBut I have to tell you, all of the things that you have heard, in public at least, from the Iranians since the extension of the talks was announced in July, have suggested that the Iranian position is hardening. And American officials tell me that's what's happening in private as well. So the chances, I think, of an agreement between now and November 24 are probably worse than I would have said at the beginning of the summer.
PAGECourtney, go back to Paul's point about the change in priorities for the Obama administration in the space of the year. This is a subject about which David has written in today's New York Times. Is that just the result of circumstances out of his control? Or does it reflect that he did not, in fact, have a full-hearted investment in what he told us a year ago?
KUBEI think that it's difficult to see how, at the end of the Obama presidency, anything other -- at this point anyway -- that anything other than the Iraq and Syria crises will be the defining foreign-policy story of his administration at this point. It -- you know, and who knows? Things can always change. But at this point, his speech that he gave on Wednesday is going to be a defining speech for his presidency, not just the second term, but the entire presidency.
KUBEBut going back also to what David was just saying about Iran, you know, they are a tremendously complicating factor right now in Iraq and Syria. Number one, they obviously were strong supporters of Bashar al-Assad. And they were strong supporters of Maliki in Iraq. So these Sunni nations -- many of them that the U.S. wants to sign on to this coalition, see Iran as a much bigger threat than ISIS. So how can -- it's another one of the complicating factors to getting this coalition actually working together.
KUBEAnd we know that the Iranians, as David mentioned, had troops -- they had Quds Force troops on the ground in Amerli that actually helped, where the U.S. airstrikes and humanitarian drops went in. The Iranians helped to save those people and to stop Amerli from being overrun.
DANAHARI mean, we have to look back at -- I mean, nine to ten months ago, you know, if you spoke to people in the State Department and they were complaining about the Saudis running around Washington, whinging to everybody about America and its plan to come and have deal with Iran.
PAGEWhinging? Whinging? What kind of word is that?
DANAHARWhinging was the word that was used to...
PAGEWhat does that mean?
DANAHARIt means constant moaning and sniping, basically.
PAGEIs that like a British word or a diplomatic word? Because I don't know the word, whinging.
DANAHARMaybe it is. But it was a word I used.
DANAHARWell, you hear a lot of it in Scotland at the moment. So we'll get to that later. But you're now talking about, you know, a group of people that was complaining and complaining and complaining. And now Obama needs to kind of get them onboard to do something that he wants to do. I mean, the relationship with the Arab world at the moment is appalling. It has been for a year. And all of the things he wants to do, need the support of people like the Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks. And you can't trust any of them, because every time they do a deal with America, they go back on it. And so trying to have a foreign-policy legacy relying on people that you just can't trust is going to be incredibly difficult.
PAGEDavid, you said that the prospects for actually reaching a deal with Iran by the November deadline now looks less likely than it did before. Could Iran emerge as a new crisis that -- which takes on -- seems more serious than even the one we face now with ISIS?
SANGERWell, you know, it depends on who you ask about what's the more serious threat. So, in that story that you mentioned that's in today's Times, I quoted the Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs, who said -- Look, ISIS is a five-year problem. And if Iran gets the bomb or even the capability to build one, it's a 50-year problem for us. Certainly Iran has a reach -- a regional reach, a missile reach -- that goes far beyond anything we can imagine ISIS having today. So part of this is a question of what you think is your long-term threat, what you think is your urgent threat. You know, frequently in Washington, the urgent squeezes out the important.
SANGERAnd, you know, Courtney said before that this speech on Wednesday could well define the next remaining 28 months of the Obama presidency and she's right. But you can also imagine that 20 years from now, or 25 years from now, we may look back at this era and say -- You know, the most important question about Barack Obama's presidency was how he handled the rise of China. Or the most important question was, how well he handled a weak Russia that was seeking to strike out beyond and re-expand some of its borders. And so it's a little bit hard sometimes for presidents and for all of us as journalists to sort of step back from the immediate crisis of the headline and say, which of these is actually going to be defining years from now?
PAGEWe've had a caller -- a listener called to complain about a word I used. She complained that I used the word, celebration, related to September 11. Commemoration would be a better word, she says. That is exactly right. That was more the word I intended to use. Let's go to the phones and talk to Mark. He's calling from Cantonment, Fla. Hi, Mark.
MARKHello. You know, I was involved in the Balkans there, where Russia was still putting Syria -- or the Serbians, and we were with the Bosnians and Kosovars. A Russian major was killed there with our bombs, while he was -- they had snuck in a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system. I don't know if anyone remembered that. Then we were involved on the opposite side with the country of Georgia, with Russia. Then the Crimea. And now, Ukraine. And if we bomb Syria, which is a client state of Russia, who supplies their helicopters, aircraft, weapons and everything, we will -- could that be a bridge too far?
MARKI'm looking at a -- the first Afghan War with Russia and Afghanistan, where we supplied sophisticated missiles to the mujahedeen and took out Russian aircraft, turned the tide there. They could do the same thing to us.
PAGEAnd, Mark, before you go, when you say you were involved, does that mean you were serving there?
MARKYeah, I'm a 20-year veteran. Yes.
PAGEAll right. Well, thank you for your service. Thank you for your call. What do you think, panel? Paul.
DANAHARWell, I mean, I think the reality is that the Russians had people on the ground in Afghanistan. And Obama's made it very clear he's not going to be putting any combat boots on the ground, or at least not very many. So I don't think we're going to see a scenario where we're going to have the Russians piling in loads of weapons -- I mean, they already are piling in loads of weapons -- but to directly attack Americans, because there won't be that many Americans there. The reality is that Russia has managed to sustain, along with Iran, the Assad regime, because no one was prepared to put anything else on the other side. And they'll carry on doing that.
DANAHARBut I don’t particularly think that a proxy war is what we're going to see being fought out in Syria. This is going to be bombs from the air. They probably have a pretty good idea of what targets they want to take out at the moment, because they must have been watching this place for ages. Certainly, the Israelis know. The Israelis have an incredible knowledge of the different groups in Syria, because it matters to them. So I think when they do it, they'll do it over a big area. But they'll know what they're going for.
PAGEMark, thanks so much for your call. Let's talk to Jeannette, calling us from Pikesville, Md. Jeannette, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JANETHi, thank you. It's Janet. The U.S. military guarantees that injured soldiers are taken care of. And they guarantee benefits to the soldiers' families if the soldiers are killed. And I think that the health care workers working against Ebola are equally as heroic. And I think they ought to be guaranteed the same health care and care for their families.
PAGEJanet, that's an interesting point. Because we know that these health care workers often go over there and volunteer and are kind of on their own when it comes to -- if they get sick.
SANGERThey are. And, you know, there are some health care workers, of course, who are working within a U.S. health care, you know, force. But most of those that are being -- that are going right now into the Ebola crisis I think probably aren't covered.
PAGEAll right. Let's talk to Wal, calling us from Raleigh, N.C. Wal, you're on the air.
WALOh, thank you very much. This is long listener, first time, you know, to call. I'm, you know, born in Southern Sudan. And I went to school in Egypt. I'll make my comment quick. President Obama went to Libya, got it over Gadhafi. Gadhafi's not a friend of mine. But, look what happened in Libya. What happened in Afghanistan -- not Afghanistan, what happened in Iraq? If the only thing the West -- the U.S. want to limited ISIS. That is done with Assad? That is my question.
PAGEAll right. Well, thanks for your call. And thanks for giving us a call. Thanks for being a long-time listener. Courtney.
KUBEI mean the U.S. has said repeatedly that they won't collaborate in any way with Assad. But he makes a good point and that is, if the U.S. is going to fly -- whether it's drones or man -- most likely drones, but any kind of manned aircraft over Syria -- you know Syria does have air defenses. And so there has to be some sort of an acknowledgement. Yesterday, Bill Neely, one of the NBC News correspondents, had an interview with the deputy foreign minister of Syria, I believe it was, who said -- Yeah, go ahead. You guys can strike ISIS. We're fine with that. We have no problem.
KUBEBut, you know, the first time that, God forbid, there's -- a Syrian air defense strikes down -- brings down a manned aircraft, U.S. aircraft, even if it is flying over the east, where ISIS is primarily and there really isn't that much, you know, Syrian air defense -- the first time that happens, then I mean the whole place literally will blow up.
DANAHARBut I think if you look back at, you know, the Israelis have managed to do it. And I think the reality is that people talk about a sophisticated air-defense system in Syria. But it's actually not -- it's not brilliant. I mean, it's good enough to kind of stop maybe, you know, really low-level stuff. But I mean, if the Israelis can do it then the Americans can do it, I would imagine.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls and your comments. But before we do that, let's talk about the Scottish Referendum. Paul, maybe you could start us out on this. What do the polls show us will happen next week -- or this next week, yeah.
DANAHARWell, the polls can't make their mind up. And at the moment, that means neither can the Scots. On Sunday there was a big brouhaha in the U.K. because suddenly the yes campaign was ahead of the no campaign. Last night, that changed back again. The thing is, I think that there's a lot of people saying yes, but worrying about it. And whether, when they get into the polling station, they will just say no, then walk out and say that they said yes. I think that's quite a strong likelihood. What's been interesting about this debate though is, the older generation want to stay with the United Kingdom. The younger generation want to leave.
DANAHARAnd so even if this time around, it's a no, there's a lot to be -- it's very likely that 20 years from now, if they do it again, it'll definitely be a yes.
PAGEAnd what fuels the support for separating by the younger generation?
DANAHARWell, they feel more Scottish than they feel British. And that's, I mean -- the funny thing about being in the U.K. is, when Scotland's in the World Cup for the football, the English support the Scottish. When England's in the World Cup, all my Scottish friends support whatever team we're playing against. And that's the reality of the relationship. And I think, you know, in the old days, amongst the older generation, it was a bit more banter. But in these days, because of the European Union, because of what people see as an opportunity to be European and Scottish, rather than Scottish and British, people have got a different alternative. And that's what's attracting the young people.
PAGEYou know, this could have implications, could it not, David, for Great Britain staying in the European Union.
SANGERAbsolutely. And there's a fascinating story in the Times today about the people -- particularly in the financial side of, you know, London is now the world's second-largest financial center -- concerned that if the Scots actually do pass a referendum, that there will then be a British referendum to pull out of the European Union, and what kind of impact that could have. Now one reason for that is that the support in Scotland for staying inside the European Union is probably greater than it is in much of the rest of Britain. So -- and of course they're in the bad situation here where Prime Minister Cameron has promised a referendum on this issue by -- Paul, remind me -- 2017? Is that right?
SANGERAnd so, they're going to have to have that referendum as well. And, you know, Britain has always been the most reluctant member of the Union and the one that never joined the currency.
PAGEDavid Cameron, the Prime Minister, actually spoke out this week -- he had been pretty quiet -- spoke out against the pulling out, Scotland pulling out. Will that have an effect, Courtney?
KUBEYou know, it's interesting, because he's not popular in Scotland. Obviously, the Scottish voters tend to lean more left and he's obviously more conservative. So the question is him going up there and trying to talk the Scottish the people into staying, is that going to have a good impact? Or are they going to appreciate the fact that he's even up there trying? And we don't -- we just don't know.
PAGESo, Paul, we can be cynical in politics. And when Kate Middleton's pregnancy news was announced, some people said this is an effort to cultivate Scottish voters.
DANAHARThey did. And we do love conspiracy theories in the U.K., particularly when it comes to the English and the Scottish and Welsh. So, yeah, that was inevitable. But I think, I mean, the reality was, she wasn't turning up to events, so people kind of guessed that it might have been something else that was going on. I think that the interesting thing here is that, you know, it is a real debate. And I think the problem that's going to come from this is, if it's very, very close, it won't go away. And a lot of English people will start saying, maybe we should have a vote.
PAGEInteresting. Let me thank my panel for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show." Paul Danahar from the BBC, Courtney Kube from NBC News, David Sanger from The New York Times. Thanks so much for joining us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
DANAHARThank you very much.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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