Legal analyst Kimberly Wehle on the 14th Amendment and whether it can be used to keep Donald Trump off the ballot.
Guest Host: Elise Labott
In record-breaking turnout, voters in Scotland rejected independence from the U.K. Congress approved President Barack Obama’s plans to train and arm Syrian rebels to combat the militant group ISIS. Ukrainian President Poroshenko visited Washington to ask for more military aid to fight the pro-Russian insurgency. Australia launched raids to thwart alleged plans for domestic terror attacks. And the U.N. Security Council called on member nations to boost their response to Ebola, calling the epidemic a “threat to international peace and security.” A panel of journalists joins guest host Elise Labott for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times.
- Nancy Youssef National security correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers; she's back from a two-year posting as McClatchy's Middle East bureau chief.
- David Rennie Washington bureau chief, The Economist.
MS. ELISE LABOTTThanks for joining us. I'm Elise Labott with CNN today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back on Monday. Scottish voters reject independence from Britain? The US steps up efforts to aid Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS. And Ukraine's President comes to the US seeking more support in its fight against Russian backed separatists. Joining me for the international hour this "Friday News Roundup," Mark Landler with the New York Times.
MS. ELISE LABOTTNancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers. And David Rennie with The Economist. We'll be taking your comments and questions throughout the hour. Call us on 1-800-433-8850. Send us your email at email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Thanks for joining us.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHey Elise.
MR. MARK LANDLERHi Elise.
MR. DAVID RENNIEHi.
LABOTTLet's start with the news of the day. Scottish voters mark rejected independence from Britain in this historic vote, a deep disappointment for those vocal enthusiasts of independent movement, led by the Scottish First Minister. What happens now?
LANDLERWell, one of the things that in this rather suspenseful lead up to the vote, when it looked, for a brief period, that the pro-independent forces might pull it out, is that the British government made promises of devolution and giving the Scots more of a say in certain areas. Education, welfare, public services. And now, Prime Minister Cameron's gonna have to deliver on that, and I think the Scottish nationalists will say that although they lost the vote, there was a clear mandate.
LANDLER44.7 percent of Scots who voted did vote to secede, and so that's enough of a mandate that they're really gonna now push for the British government to deliver on the promises it made.
LABOTTWell Nancy though, the passion of the campaign left the Scots divided. I mean, many now are calling for some kind of reconciliation here.
YOUSSEFThat's right. There were accusations back and forth, that the BBC was in favor of independence and other news outlets were against it. And that that swayed the vote. And there was such confidence on both sides that they would come out on top in this vote. And for those who wanted, who voted for independence, it was particularly disappointing because the numbers were a little bit higher for staying in the United Kingdom than the polls had shown. So, they'll be struggling to sort of keep that momentum going in light of that vote.
YOUSSEFAnd so how the UK, in particular, can keep and mitigate some of those calls in the face of such an emotional and passionate vote will be interesting to see in the days and weeks ahead.
LABOTTDavid, what do you think the shift in some of these powers to the Scottish parliament is going to mean for the economy there, particularly oil and gas tax revenues?
RENNIEWell, clearly we've, you know, we've stepped back from what would have been this extraordinary kind of earthquake, which would have undone, you know, -- you know, if they had voted to leave, then we would now be facing two years of unbelievably difficult negotiations. But, we are still facing a very, very bumpy time. Economically, politically. The simple thing that you need to know, as we look at this result, is that the sleeping beast of English nationalism -- remember, the English are five sixths of the population of the United Kingdom.
RENNIEThat sleeping beast has been awoken, because as you said in your introduction, rightly, essentially, the Scots were kind of bribed to stay in. They already had substantial powers. They've been given even more. They get a higher level of public spending, by law, in Scotland than in England. And yet England pays most of the taxes. So what you're seeing already, day one, is English members of Parliament saying, well, hang on here. Scottish voters are increasingly super voters.
RENNIEWhen it comes to Scottish policies, they have complete say. Because they elect people to the Scottish Parliament. English voters look like second class voters because they can be, you know, they don't get exclusive, say, over English policies, because the Scottish MPs in Westminster get to vote on those. And sometimes overrule English voters, because labor could easily win the next election with a majority based on Scottish MPs. So then the Scots get two bites of the cherry and the English feel very much that they're second class.
RENNIEBecause they don't get any say at all over Scotland, but the Scots get a swing vote over what happens in England. So, those rows, and that sleeping beast of English nationalism has been very much woken up.
LABOTTYou know, Mark, you see similar movements around the globe, particularly in Catalonia in Spain. You know? These Catalans are looking now for independence. Do you think this no vote discourages them or do they take inspiration from the fact that the Scots went to the polls?
LANDLERIt's probably tough to say, Elise. I'd say a little bit of both. I mean, although the effort failed, as we've noted before, it got a decent percentage of the population and the Scots were able to turn it into some real gains from the UK government. You mentioned Spain. The Spanish Prime Minister called this vote, quote, the most favorable option for everybody. For themselves, for all of Britain, and for the rest of Europe. So clearly, the Spanish government views this as a net plus and it would have been very problematic if it had gone the other way.
LANDLERWhat's interesting is even much further afield, people are watching this closely. The Chinese, for example, who have separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang, were watching this vote closely as well. Because, you know, just as the color revolutions really unsettled the Chinese, evidence of separatists, of which we've seen plenty, not least in Ukraine over the past few months, are very problematic for them as well. And even President Obama issued a statement today where you could almost hear the audible sigh of relief.
LANDLERNot at all because of the separatist issue, but because he needs the British to be strong partners on the ISIS campaign, and if Prime Minister Cameron were seen as likely chucked out of power if they'd lost this referendum. There would have been a period of deep political instability and chaos in Britain, which might have even impinged on their ability to be a partner in other global problems.
LABOTTNancy, let's talk about ISIS. France, today, said that they have launched their first air strikes in Iraq.
YOUSSEFThat's right. That they hit a logistics depot in northeast Iraq, and this is rather interesting, because this bolsters Secretary of State John Kerry's argument on the hill this week that he was building a coalition of 40 nations. And now you have, beyond the UK and the US, conducting offensive like strikes in Iraq against ISIS. This was part of a week long discussion that happened in this city about ISIS policy, as some of top administration officials appeared on the Hill.
YOUSSEFAnd argued that they had put forth a strategy that was targeted towards defeating ISIS. That they can mobilize local armies and rebels to fight alongside. And to build a coalition. And so, this certainly helped go towards it now. How many of these strikes will they be able to conduct? And for how long, remains to be seen.
LABOTTDavid, Congress approved President Obama's plan to help train moderate Syrian rebels. To what extent is there really going to be some heavy training in arms here?
RENNIEWell, I think the bigger problem here, and even looking at the French strikes, is it looks a lot like a coalition, which has a strategy, which has a mission to take out ISIS. You know, we talk in terms of, you know, degrading and destroying ISIS. And Congress has now voted to approve, you know, to not at least stop the President's plan. But I think if you take a step back, we don't actually know what our objective is. Because if you look at the countries that are most active, France, Britain, obviously the United States.
RENNIEThese are countries which are very, very frightened about domestic terrorism coming out of this. And I think with public opinion in the US, but also in these other allied countries, it's not that the American public is suddenly, you know, eager for war. It's, I think, as war weary as ever, but it wants to feel safe. And you saw how public opinion has been galvanized. And Congress felt obliged to act, because of these very horrible public beheadings on video of the two American journalists and the British journalist. And so, I don't think we know yet.
RENNIEIs this a counter-terrorism mission that is being approved or is this a war that we're approving? And the pieces, to date, have all been more or less pieces of a counter-terrorism mission. And I think that you saw the debate in Congress. People aren't sure whether they're authorizing a counter-terrorism mission where they're looking for allies on the ground to fight a war, what the ultimate sort of goal is.
LABOTTWell that's interesting Mark, because the messaging here has been all over the place. You know, I was with Secretary Kerry last week. I did an interview with him. And he said, oh no, this is not a war. The next day, the administration came out and said it is a war. Then they said that there's not gonna be any ground troops, but General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Congress, said, well, wait a minute. If I -- I don't see the need for ground troops, but if, at some point, I do, I'm going to recommend them.
LABOTTAnd it does seem like, you know, the messaging is all over the place, which is uncharacteristic of this President. What does that reflective of?
LANDLERWell, it is true, and it almost appears that the more they talk, the more confusion they generate. And I think it reflects a couple of things. In the case of the President and General Dempsey, and the question of ground troops, there's obviously a military assessment and then a political message. The President's political message is clear. We're not going to go into another Iraq war. The General, I think, was offering a very unvarnished military assessment. And his was that we are going to need ground troops.
LANDLERNow, not in the Iraq war model, but in the model of spotters and people that will be on the ground advising Iraqi commanders, calling in air strikes and the like. But, you know, beyond the predictable difference between a General and President, in framing a project like this, you have a President who's, himself, deeply reluctant, was really dragged into this. Largely because he felt pressure, has resisted this time and again in Syria. And has staked his political career and his identity on being the President that gets us out of wars and not into wars.
LANDLERSo I think what you're seeing, in a way, is a playing out of his own ambiguity in the confusion of the messages, both that he himself is telegraphing, and his top advisors.
LABOTTDo you see him kind of distancing himself from the Generals, at some point? Do you see that there'll be some kind of break or difference of opinion?
LANDLERWell, you know, there's already been some formal Generals that have been in the press criticizing parts of this. And there's already been the criticism that by ruling out ground forces at the beginning of the campaign, he's kind of doing the same thing he did in 2009 when he ordered the Afghanistan surge. If you remember in that case, he agreed to send 30,000 troops, but then twined it with a pledge to withdraw them two years later. And so we're sort of seeing a repeat of that, where he never quite makes an announcement whole-heartedly.
LANDLERIt's always tied to something else. And I think that for military commanders, that's a difficult mandate to work under.
YOUSSEFI spend a lot of time in the Pentagon, and I'm struck by General Dempsey's testimony, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in that he tried to define something in a way that a military could understand. Which was to say that the goal in Iraq is to destroy ISIS and the goal in Syria is to degrade ISIS. That already, there is an effort to define and also put limitations on what -- on expectations, particularly in Syria. Remember, in Iraq, there are ground forces that they can work alongside with. In Syria, there are rebels that may or may not share the vision of going after ISIS first.
LABOTTNancy Youssef of McClatchy. We're gonna talk more about ISIS and the top week's other news on the international front. Coming up.
LABOTTWelcome back. I'm Elise Labott of CNN sitting in for Diane Rehm for the International News Roundup. Joining me in the studio, Mark Landler. He's the White House correspondent for the New York Times. Nancy Youssef is the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. And Nancy's back from a two-year posting as McClatchy's Middle East bureau chief. David Rennie is the Washington bureau chief for the Economist.
LABOTTAnd we were talking about ISIS before the break. And the president approved -- the Congress approved President Obama's plan to arm and train Syrian rebels. David, earlier this year the administration balked at arming the opposition. President Obama called it a fantasy that you could train the army -- the Free Syrian army to oust Assad. Now he's saying he wants to train them to go after ISIS and Assad. So what's going on here? Have they given up on Assad as the bad guy here and now the real target is ISIS?
RENNIEWell, you put your finger on a very painful point, which is that the administration asked Congress over the summer for $500 million to train moderate Syrian rebels under a lot of pressure from, you know, people, including Secretary Kerry, and some of the intelligence services. He said that the currents of covert training of rebels was completely insufficient.
RENNIEAnd then you had President Obama come out in an interview with the New York Times and say that it was a fantasy to imagine that these moderate rebels, these pharmacists and doctors and kind of butchers and bakers could be turned into an army to take on President Assad. Now that fantasy is the policy.
RENNIEAnd if that's not complicated enough, essentially if you look at some of the testimony from senators when they were authorizing the training of the rebels yesterday, their big beef, if you look at some of the people like say Senator Rand Paul on the Republican side, is that these are actually too dangerous to arm. That these people could turn into terrifying Jihadists who once armed and trained by us come around and attack America.
RENNIESo we can't decide if they're far too little to make any difference, they're just the strategy we need, which is where the administration currently sits, or if you listen to the skeptics in Congress, they people are terrifyingly too dangerous and we shouldn't be arming or training them.
LABOTTMark, do you think the president is going to go for some kind of broader authorization of Congress? Currently he's working under the 2001 authorization to go against al-Qaida but many in Congress feel he needs a more targeted mandate against ISIS.
LANDLERWell, he's played his cards close to his vest on this. And my sense is that he may be compelled to, but if he is it probably wouldn't happen until after the midterm election. There's obviously a domestically -- this is a very treacherous issue for anyone who's running for reelection. So between now and the midterms there'd be nothing beyond this limited measure to pay for the training of Syrian rebels.
LANDLERBut there's a very, very lively and interesting debate on The Hill about whether the 2001 authorization that the White House has claimed justifies this action really does, whether it's been stretched beyond all recognition. And interestingly, the White House actually also claims justification under the 2002 Iraq authorization, which President Obama has flatly called for the repeal of. He said he's open to retooling the 2001 authorization.
LANDLERI think that what we'll see after the midterms is a fascinating debate that will maybe for once after this long period in the post-9/11 era, force Congress and the American people to have a real debate about what the scope of our counterterrorism operations are and how much latitude we should give the White House to conduct military operations. So I think it actually could be sort of a landmark debate provided The Hill is willing to pay the political price.
LABOTTNancy, how well-founded are these concerns of mission creep ?
YOUSSEFThere's certainly no argument to be made. Remember when this announcement was initially made, there was not going to be any combat. There was going to be no boots on the ground and then there were going to be no combat -- boots on the ground in a combat role. And today we're hearing there's not going to be a combat mission. And so the lexicon certainly suggests a constant readjustment.
YOUSSEFAnd now General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggesting that there might have to be some form, as Mark said, in the form of sort of eyes on the ground, if you will, for some of these airstrikes. The broader challenge, I think, is how to declare success and whether that will demand what someone called mission creep in the sense that how do you declare ISIS as defeated or degraded given how complex it is.
YOUSSEFAnd I just wanted to add, this idea of arming the rebels, you know, a year ago ISIS was considered part of the rebels. And now they're the force that the United States is fighting against. And the moderate rebels that they talk so often about, are fighting alongside Nusra forces that are aligned with al-Qaida.
LABOTTLet's take a call from Ralph in Jacksonville, Fla. who has some thoughts on the training the rebels. Ralph.
RALPHMorning. Appreciate your taking my call.
LABOTTThanks for joining us.
LABOTTWhat's your question?
RALPHWell, I have a comment and a question. You know, for three years this fight against Assad has been going on. We have really -- our country has seemingly verbally has supported all the rebels in their fight against Assad. And we've been very vocal that Assad needs to go. Now we want -- now we've decided that we want to defeat one of the rebel groups, this ISIS group and we want to arm the so-called moderate rebels who we have never armed up until now. And we want them to fight ISIS, not Assad. So...
LABOTTWell, that -- he makes an interesting point, Ralph, David. I mean, originally it was just the Free Syrian army. And now a lot of people think because the president waited so long, this extremism was able to flourish. And now you don't know who's a rebel, who's a moderate, who's an extremist.
RENNIEA lot of people, let's not forget, who include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who gave an interview the other day in which she effectively said that the fact that the president had waited so long to arm the moderates had created a vacuum into which the extremists had stepped. Now, the president and his advisors push back on that and say, you know, that's just fancy politics.
RENNIEI think the thing that Ralph has put his finger on is America is trying to achieve multiple things here. It's trying to create a new Syria, which has a multiethnic, multi-sectarian government because they essentially believe that Assad can no longer legitimately rule the whole of Syria, that Assad is -- you know, will never again control the whole of Syria.
RENNIEBut they're also desperately trying not to get dragged into a full on sectarian war between the Sunni Muslim world and the Shia Muslim world. And that's been one of the forces over the last couple of years that has very much slowed America's hand. It does not want them to be arming one side, the Sunni rebels against the Shias and President Assad whose Alawite tribes allied to the Shias. So they didn't want to get dragged into this kind of Middle Eastern conflagration between the Shias and the Sunnis.
RENNIENow, of course, the problem is that ISIS is a Sunni problem. They are the most extreme and violent part of the Sunni machine. And the American argument is that you can only tackle ISIS if other Sunnis step up and recognize that this is an extremist force within their -- within the Sunni world that must be tackled. So the parts, as Ralph says, have become fantastically complicated dragging America precisely where it didn't want to be as a referee between these different forces.
LABOTTWell, and I thought it was interesting the president saying in May at West Point, every problem is not a hammer, it's not a hail to use with a hammer. And today he's saying, the U.S. is the indispensable nation and we have to go where others are not able to go. We need to lead here.
LANDLERYeah, there's been a big change in tone. And clearly the West Point speech is where the president feels comfortable. I mean, that's where he was laying out what his preferred position is. I mean, on Assad specifically, it's even more complicated by the fact that Assad has seized on ISIS as a way to portray himself as being in league with the west against a common Jihadist threat. And its foreign minister, a couple of times, has suggested to the U.S. that we all work together on this problem.
LANDLERSo -- and then to add one more complicating element that David was alluding to in this fantastically complicated situation, you have the Iranians with whom we have overlapping interests in Iraq in repelling ISIS. And so there's been increasing questions about the degree to which we're willing to speak to them about this. No one's using the word coordinate but at least communicate with the Iranians on this.
LANDLERAnd all this is happening in parallel with heading into the final innings of this lengthy nuclear negotiation. So if the situation weren't complicated enough, you sort of add that extra layer on top.
LABOTTNancy, there's a new video apparently being released by ISIS showing a British journalist being held hostage. What do we know about it?
YOUSSEFHis name is John Cantile (sic) and he was taken at the same time that James Foley was taken who was the American journalist who was beheaded in August. And in past videos where we have seen people on videos being held up as the next person to be either someone who is executed or the next one to be executed, this one was different in that he was sitting behind a desk and essentially lecturing the world, clearly forced to do so, lecturing the world about why its position is wrong and what it needs to do in the face of ISIS that the Islamist State exists and must be essentially recognized as legitimate.
LABOTTAnd we see that British Muslim leaders are calling for his release. I want to ask, do you think that all this attention to ISIS and showing their video, not only, you know, some of these hostages but also this new slick video, are we giving them the kind of currency that they're looking for here?
YOUSSEFSure. I mean, one of the things that's happened since all this is the recruitment. And I can tell you having spent a lot of time in the Middle East, their ability to recruit is phenomenal. Just since this debate started in June, the CIA upped its estimates of how many fighters there were to 31,000. Just a couple months ago we were talking about 10,000 fighters. And so they are seeking, they claim, legitimacy as an Islamist State, a legitimate state. And by giving voice to their videos, by having the president give a primetime address, one of the effects is it legitimizes their argument and allows them to present themselves as protectors, if you will, of the Islamic world or the Islamic State as they see it.
LABOTTNancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Elise Labott of CNN and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to call us, call us on 1-800-433-8850. We'd love to hear from you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet.
LABOTTDavid, Australia launched raids against the country, arrested more than a dozen people linked to ISIS. Police say they were planning a public beheading. What can you tell us?
RENNIEIt's another example, as Nancy was saying, that the extraordinary brutal sort of genius for sort of malevolent PR that ISIS has. Their ability to strike at where -- at a very painful point which is, you know, people anxious about the Muslims who are, you know, upstanding citizens in our own country. Do they include people who secretly sympathize with the most extreme Jihadists?
RENNIEAnd ISIS's game clearly in Australia is to spread the idea that the 100,000 Muslims in Australia include people who absolutely sympathize with them and who are willing to commit murder on the streets. And I think a really painful question, in terms of where we're going with American action, is if we had not seen these beheadings on video of the journalists, would American public opinion currently be up for arming the Syrian rebels? Would Congress have just voted through that $500 million?
RENNIEAnd there's a really sort of unanswered question, which I think is a very dangerous unanswered question, is the American public actually interested in a strategy which reshapes the Middle East to sort out Syria, to corral the most extreme elements of Sunni Islam or do they just want to be safe from this specific terror threat? And I think that's an unanswered question. And that makes today's policies extremely sort of febrile and dangerous in terms of how fragile, how rapid and how fragile and how shallow roots the support for this military action is.
LABOTTWell, we have a little bit of breaking news coming from Edinburgh in Scotland. The pro independence leader Alex Salmond says he's resigning as first minister and leader of his political party after Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom. This was a real blow for him. He was really leading the effort, Mark.
LANDLERYeah, and they didn't get the result they wanted. I mean, the gab was larger between the yes and nos, I think, then many people expected in the final week. It was also, to some extent, a failure of traditional polling because everyone described this as being on a razor's edge. And it really wasn't in the end. A couple of places that were expected to go firmly for staying in the UK went by even bigger margins Edinburgh.
LANDLERAnd I think I recall last night that he announced he wasn't going to go to one of his -- his home polling place to watch the results. So I sensed last night that he might've been a bit demoralized by the showing. So perhaps this isn't a huge surprise.
LABOTTDavid, Chris Land of Ontario is saying, "Listen, the parliament at Westminster did a fantastic job creating the Canadian Federation 150 years ago. Wouldn't creating a UK Federation solve most of the challenges we see today?" Is that a prospect on the table?
RENNIEThat's one of the things that you're seeing people to ask for. You know, they want an English parliament or a more federal system. It's not often that Britain looks at Canada and thinks, yeah, we should be copying, you know, how they handle say the Quebecois. But if you want to -- and very briefly if you want to get depressed about how complicated the world is, we are rolling potentially into a referendum in the UK on whether to leave the European Union. And now we have woken these angry English forces, this backlash against all the promises made to the Scots to keep them in. That is going to play into the European debate. So, you know, we're not out of the bumpy turbulence yet.
LABOTTI want to move on to Ukraine, Mark. Russia's -- Ukraine's president came to Washington yesterday. Tell us about the visit. He was looking for a lot of military help and it sure doesn't seem like he got a lot.
LANDLERThat's right. I mean, he came, he addressed a joint meeting of Congress. He met with President Obama and he came out pronouncing himself satisfied. He said quote, "I got everything possible." But he didn't get what he wanted. He wanted pledges of lethal aid, military equipment, heavier equipment. The president has resisted that up until now, and there was no indication that he was willing to bend yesterday.
LANDLERThe U.S. did pledge an additional 46 million in aid. That's on top of the 70 million in nonlethal assistance that the U.S. has given the Ukrainians. But he goes back probably doing as well as he thought he might do but not as well as he hoped.
LABOTTWell, another major part of this is the sanctions against Russia, Nancy. Are they having any effect here?
YOUSSEFThey are. The ruble fell to its lowest level against the dollar this week. And we saw Russia come out and announce their new budget that depends heavily on oil prices remaining high around $100 a barrel. So they seem to be having an effect, although Vladimir Putin tried to come out this week and say that he wasn't responding to that in any way.
YOUSSEFI would just add to Mark's point, I think it's interesting that one of the reasons the United States has hesitated in arming -- or giving military aid to Ukraine is to not ramp up this fight between them. And yet we're having that very sort of kind of debate about the Syria crisis. So to give you a sense of these same issues of whether arming actually contributes to a solution or hinders it I think is interesting on how it's played out in these two very different parts of the world.
LABOTTWell, David, it doesn't really seem that the sanctions are having a desired effect on Putin's decision-making. And the question is, how far is the U.S. willing to take this with Russia? Are they, in effect, going to, you know, continue to pass some small sanctions but essentially accept the status quo here?
RENNIEThat's exactly the right question. I think the answer is there's a kind of short term answer which is America is not going to go to war with Russia to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine. I mean, I'm reminded of 1956 when the Soviet Union rolled into Hungary. Essentially once it was decided that President Eisenhower was not going to have World War III, there was no point encouraging the Hungarian rebels to carry on fighting. And I think we're tragically in that kind of situation.
RENNIELonger term, I think that the whole of the western approach to Putin, that faith that he's someone you can do business with, that is really changing. That's where the sanctions will have long-term consequences.
LABOTTComing up, your calls and questions for our panel. Please stay tuned.
LABOTTI'm Elise Labott of CNN sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're here on the International News Roundup. I'm joined by Mark Landler, he's a White House correspondent of The New York Times, Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, and David Rennie, the Washington bureau chief for The Economist. We have a lot of emails and calls about what Russia is doing regarding ISIS. David is asking, is there any chance of them joining the West to fight ISIS. It seems like they would be in their interests, given the proximity to the region and their support of Assad in Syria. David.
RENNIEWell, it's a very good question. And it's something that used to be a source of hope about a year ago for some of the Western governments. There were private conversations between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders such as David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, when Vladimir Putin was obsessing about the danger of jihadists and the extremists and chiding the West for being so naïve about the dangerous extremists in Syria.
RENNIEAnd so countries like the U.K., they started to wonder whether you could get Putin in as a kind of peace broker in Syria, if you could use his fear of the extremists to help him broker a deal. We bring him to the table, tell him that Russia can be an equal player in easing Assad out of power and play on his fear of the extremists. And that was definitely -- about a year ago, that was all over the sort of, the national security world. The problem was the conclusion on the American side has been that for Vladimir Putin, his overwhelming goal was not allowing America to pull off another regime change in the Middle East.
RENNIEAnd that goal of sort of jamming his thumb in the eye of the Americans and not giving America another win, seemed to trump Vladimir Putin's very real fear of Islamic extremism.
LABOTTAll right. I want to go to Ron in Winston-Salem, N.C. Ron, you have some thoughts on this too.
RONWell, that -- you just sort of posed the question that I wanted to get answered. I guess what I'm curious about, is Putin really for or against ISIS? And I also wonder, you know, ISIS has kind of come on the scene just gangbusters. I'm wondering where their support has come from and is it possible that Russia might actually be a silent partner, just getting another dig into the U.S. by using ISIS as a pawn.
LABOTTOkay. Mark, what do you think?
LANDLERWell, I mean I think the one thing to remember about Russia is that they've had a jihadi problem in Chechnya and other places that's been a deep security threat for them. So while it might make -- might be appealing to Putin to be mischievous and use ISIS against the United States, against that he has his own domestic security to worry about. So I guess I'm a bit skeptical that they're a silent partner. They could well be a victim in the same way that other countries that deal with Muslim minorities are.
YOUSSEFCould I take Ron's second question about the funding? Because I think it's an important one. A lot of it comes from taxes that they charge. They try to operate as a state and, as such, charge residents in those areas taxes. One of the reasons the United States has refused to pay ransom is they claim that they've made upwards of $125 million in collecting money -- revenue through ransom payments. And also, there's a huge Internet and campaign that's going on in terms of raising revenue. And they find contributors from around the world. And all of those things have proved to be a big financial resource for them.
LABOTTAnd I know that's something the United States is really working on, trying to cut off the flow of funding, of foreign fighters. That's really a big part of their strategy.
YOUSSEFAnd it's a critical one, because that financing has allowed them to conduct operations, to take over territories. They've just set up a police force in some of the Iraqi towns that they've taken over. So they are trying -- because it's one thing, frankly, to take over a town, to take over a city where the Iraqi forces, for example, can't stand up. It's something else though to sustain it and to run it. And that demands finances.
LABOTTI want to move on to Ebola, David. The United Nations Security Council made an urgent call for greater international efforts to combat Ebola. What are they looking for?
RENNIEWell, I think that what you've seen the last, sort of, couple of weeks is, as this terrible virus has reached some pretty large cities in Africa, some large cities without really a functioning public health system -- cities like Monrovia in Liberia. You've seen the lockdown in Sierra Leone. There is a real kind of, initially, science-based anxiety that this could get out of control, that once it hits the big cities, in these big cities where there isn't adequate public health, you know, this starts to get much, much larger -- exponentially larger.
RENNIEI think the politics is now rapidly catching up with the science -- the fact that you saw President Obama flying down to Atlanta to the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control, not only praising the work that they're doing, but throwing, you know, his full weight of his office behind the fact that this is a very, very serious crisis. And I think, you know, you're seeing on the dashboards of world governments, you know, red lights flashing.
LABOTTMark, tell us more about what President Obama is looking to do here. He has really announced that they're stepping up their own efforts to combat the epidemic.
LANDLERWell he's -- yeah, that's right, Elise. He's sending 3,000 military personnel to Liberia and Senegal. These people will set up field hospitals, 17 of them with 100 beds apiece. That's a vastly larger number than the Pentagon was talking about even two, three weeks ago. Interestingly enough, it's viewed as an inadequate number by the Liberians who say they need a hospital with 1,000 beds next week. And at the moment, they're turning away people who show up at hospitals because there's no beds. And you know, there's this separate issue of, who's going to man these hospitals after their organized?
LANDLERAt the moment, the plan is that the military will build the hospitals and turn them over to the doctors who are already on the ground. The problem there being, there's an inadequate supply of these doctors. So ideally what the Liberians and others would like would be for the Pentagon to come in, set up these hospitals and staff them. And the U.S. hasn't said that they're going to do that until now. Nevertheless, it's a larger response than certainly where the president was even two weeks ago, when he got a lot of pressure -- including a personal letter from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, appealing for help. And it does suggest, as David says, the politics are catching up to the outbreak itself.
LABOTTNancy, tell me about what's going on in Sierra Leone. They just began this three-day shutdown to try and contain the spread.
YOUSSEFThat's right. And Sierra Leone was the birthplace of the Ebola breakout and has more than 5,000 afflicted. And one of the problems that they have and Liberia has as well is the number of doctors per capita, so one doctor per 100,000. So in the interests of trying to mitigate the spread of this, they've ordered a three-day lockdown to try to stop the spread. Because, as David pointed out, there's such concern about it spreading so rapidly and people unaware of what they can do to reduce the risks.
LABOTTWell, I just saw that this team of Ebola campaign health workers were killed in Guinea, David. Tell us about that.
RENNIEWell, there's a lot of fear going around. And of course there's a lot of fear. I mean there would be a lot of fear if it happened here in the United States, where we would have, you know, scientists on the TV, you know, with credibility, explaining what was going on. These are very poor, often rural areas. And this virus strikes incredibly fast. And I think it's quite clear that, in addition to it would be a good medical idea to get lots of help and doctors in there, it's also just kind of basic kind of campaign politics, if you like.
RENNIEWe are asking these very poor, rural populations and urban populations to do something very difficult, which is to abandon all their usual customs about how they bury their dead. Asking them to admit that they have someone sick in their house, when that might bring the wrath of their neighbors on them. We're asking them to take brave and responsible decisions to immediately flag up when they think they have someone who has Ebola. If you have -- if you suspect you have it yourself, it's a very brave and responsible thing to do to put your hand up and admit that you have it, because the chances are you could get lynched. You could be just thrown out on the streets.
RENNIEIf you're asking people in these very poor countries to take these brave and responsible decisions, you have to be able to offer them something in return. You have to be able to say to them, if you put your hand up and admit you have this disease or think you might, there will be something in it for you. There will be a hospital. There will be medicine. There will be doctors. So I think this isn't altruism on our part, if we're trying to flood the zone with doctors. It's the minimum that we can do if we have any hope of persuading these people to do the right thing.
LABOTTI want to go back to the phones. I want to talk to Ibrahim from Dayton, Ohio. He's a doctor. He's just back from Syria and he wants to tell us a little bit about what he found on the ground. Hi, Ibrahim.
IBRAHIMHi there. Thank you so much for taking my call and give me a chance...
LABOTTThank you for calling in.
IBRAHIMYeah, I would like to share with you my experience. Before I went there three weeks ago, my whole family, my patients, everybody, like, was saying goodbye. They didn't know if I'm going to be able to come back.
LABOTTWell, we're glad you're back safe.
IBRAHIMSo it's good to be back with the head on. So, just, I know, I need like hours to tell you about the details. But I was really surprised to see the people living, you know, just like, people in the coffee shops. I spent the time in the coastal area, which is under the Assad regime. I have the chance to go really to the very, very hot zone areas, nearing the extremists in some of those mountain areas, which was not mainly smart. But it's really good to be on the ground, see with your own eyes. I was surprised that how still people could afford living.
IBRAHIMIt, just, the inflation is unbelievable. I don't know how people still afford. But I found that actually the bread still, if you compare it to our prices here, it's like three or four pennies -- the government apparently trying to bring anything that the people would need. Just, it just -- I can't believe how the hospitals still have their supplies. I visited hospitals. I took some medication that was really near expiration date and they were so happy to take it. But I was surprised. They told me, like, you know, the government, I don't know how they're able to bring all those things.
IBRAHIMI was actually shocked also to find that many of those terrorists, who are fighting the government, they send their wives and their children to the area controlled by Assad. I ran into teachers. They told me, like, here's some of the students. And they told me, like, where's your -- where's your dad? Oh, he's fighting Assad. They live -- they send them to live in the area controlled by Assad.
LABOTTIt is really interesting, Mark, how we've kind of lost a little sight of this Syrian civil war and the hundreds of thousands of people that kind of stood up bravely against Assad, and now really are being kind of victims to, now, ISIS. And they're taking over the country. And kind of forgot about what this started with.
LANDLERIndeed. And if you think about the debate last summer when the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own population and President Obama threatened missile strikes and then threw it to Congress for authorization for a mandate. And it was clear he was heading toward a crushing defeat. That the civil war and the horrors of the barrel bombing in Aleppo, and a death toll that's around 200,000 people, have not been enough to galvanize public opinion in this country for military engagement, but the ISIS threat, as harrowing as it is through these videos, has been enough. And that goes to the issue that David raised earlier about what it is that drives American opinion and how far the public willingness is to go.
LANDLERIt apparently wasn't there to help find a solution to the civil war. Perhaps it's there now to root out the threat of ISIS. But it does raise a question of what the staying power is, if we find ourselves in six months or a year in a grinding military campaign.
LABOTTMark Landler of The New York Times. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Brian in Arlington, Va. Hi, Brian.
BRIANYes, hello. Good late morning. I had a quick comment. And this is in reference to the political vacuum that was created by our invasion in '03 of Iraq. Luckily, 23 years ago when we did the -- in the Persian Gulf War, we didn't take out Hussein. And since that was done by President Bush, W. Bush, now you have the problem there with the Kurds, who are the most solid and reliable. And now you have issues of the Sunnis and Shia. And I think it's so unfortunate when we have senators like Kerry, a previous senator, and McCain, who've seen the horrors of war and why they weren't able to have the know-how and, because of the experiences, that it would be such a quagmire.
BRIANAnd I think, because the president didn't take the steps earlier on in '08 and in '07 when Nancy Pelosi, to hold the previous government, the Bush administration accountable for that mishap.
LABOTTOkay. Well, Nancy, what do you think about that?
YOUSSEFWell, I think Brian gets on an issue that often isn't discussed as we talk about the latest iteration of the U.S. policy towards Iraq is. Because of things that have happened just in the last few months, there are all sorts of divisions -- not just Sunni and Shia -- Arab and Kurd, Christian and Muslim, Yazidis and other minority groups. The level of division that has been borne out of just the last two months will be arguably an insurmountable toll for Iraq to come back from, because these are divisions that have just come out of the latest conflict. And so often when we talk about Iraq policy, it's defeating ISIS. But the creation of ISIS in Iraq has very much changed the social dynamic within the country.
RENNIEWell, I think there's a danger. I mean, clearly, the removal of Saddam Hussein clearly, you know, completely destabilized Iraq. But, you know, Senator Rand Paul, for the Republicans, in the Senate debate on the authorization, he said something which I think verges on the narcissistic from the American point of view -- where he said, you know, the crisis in Syria was caused by our interventions. You know, the Arab Spring was not caused by the United States. And the fact that Assad has ruled in the interests of a small minority is one of the big drivers of turmoil in Syria.
RENNIEYou know, there's an idea that America, you know, threw President Hosni Mubarak under the bus in Egypt. And the reason that Egypt no longer has a nice secular dictator like Mubarak -- or now has, you know, Sisi back -- was because we chose for that to happen. The West didn't choose for the Arab Spring to happen. The West didn't choose to have these seething forces of extremist jihadism. It clearly has made some things worse in some places. But I think we need to understand that these are also powerful forces that we don't always control.
LABOTTMark, before we go, I want to talk about North Korea. They just sentenced an American to six years of hard labor, Matthew Miller. They're holding two other Americans. What are they trying to get here?
LANDLERWell, the North Koreans -- as you know, Elise, because you and I have covered this story together over the years -- have a pattern where they like to take Americans into detention and then use it as leverage to get very prominent American former presidents, typically, to come and negotiate their release. So they use them as chips.
LABOTTWe're not doing that this time.
LANDLERAnd we're not doing that this time. And that's the interesting thing. We are offering to send Ambassador Robert King, who's our ambassador for human rights for North Korea. And he apparently doesn't meet the bold-faced-name criteria that the North Koreans want. And it'll be interesting to see how that plays into the broader and ongoing effort we have with the North Koreans to persuade them to denuclearize. They haven't done that. The new leader of North Korea appears more warlike than his father was. So that's kind of what this is all about.
LABOTTNancy, should we be playing tough here? Has the U.S. kind of determined that Kim Jong-un is useless and this leader is really not going to come forward with some kind of nuclear deal?
YOUSSEFWell, it seems a dangerous proposition to outright dismiss North Korea's leader, given that, while he may be young, he is playing games very much like his father did. And so I think it's too early to dismiss him outright.
RENNIEThe problem in North Korea -- which I've been to a couple of times, I've covered this country -- you know, it's not really another country that you're dealing with. It's a cult. It's much closer to a cult than it is to a dictatorship. And it's essentially -- it has played it's one ace with extraordinary resources and skill for the last few years. But most policies we've tried up to now haven't worked. So this latest one's probably worth a go.
LABOTTDavid Rennie is the Washington bureau chief for The Economist. Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York Times. Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Elise Labott in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back on Monday. Thanks for listening everybody. Have a great weekend.
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