Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr talks about his new novel, "Cloud Cuckoo Land," and why he says his job as a writer is to reveal our interconnections as people, and as a planet.
The U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State militants hit oil refineries in Syria. President Barack Obama calls for global unity in the fight against Islamist extremism. Iraq’s prime minister says ISIS militants plotted against subways in the U.S. and Europe. An Algerian terror group beheads a French tourist. Britain’s prime minister meets with Iran’s president. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns Ebola could infect more than 1 million people in West Africa by the end of January. And India becomes the first Asian nation to reach Mars. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- James Kitfield Contributing editor, National Journal, Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest; senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
- Karen DeYoung Senior national security correspondent, The Washington Post.
- Eric Schmitt Terrorism correspondent, The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The US, along with European and Arab allies began an airstrike campaign against ISIS in Syria. US officials downplay the warnings by Iraq's Prime Minister about plans for terror attacks in the US and Europe. And India became the first Asian nation to successfully put a spacecraft into orbit around Mars. Joining me for the week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup," James Kitfield of Atlantic Media and the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
MS. DIANE REHMKaren DeYoung of The Washington Post and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times. Do join us. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDThank you.
MR. ERIC SCHMITTGood to be here.
MS. KAREN DEYOUNGGlad to be here.
REHMAnd James Kitfield, President Obama addressed the UN several times this week about Muslim extremism. To what extent is there any global unity in the fight against ISIS?
KITFIELDWell, you know, ISIS is actually a group that is, sort of, has rallied the international community. I mean, the Obama administration has gotten pledges of some sort of support in their coalition building from 62 nations. That's pretty astounding. And what's even more surprising is they've got five Arab nations taking part. Sunni Arab nations, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, who are taking part in the airstrikes against ISIS.
KITFIELDThat's really an inflection point we have not seen in the region.
REHMWhen you say taking part, explain what that means.
KITFIELDWell, taking part in the airstrikes means you're actually flying your aircraft and dropping bombs.
REHMTheir airplanes? Their own airplanes?
KITFIELDThey are flying -- right. And dropping bombs on ISIS targets in Syria. So that was a Rubicon that we have passed we hadn't seen before, so again, one of the weaknesses of ISIS, or ISIL, however you want to refer to it, is it doesn't have very many friends. Even when you have Sunni, and very, sort of, religiously strict Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, basically deciding that they were going to declare war on you and take part in a war on you. It means that you don't have a whole lot of friends in the region. But it's very powerful in the areas where it controls territory.
REHMAll right. And Karen DeYoung, ISIS has actually been targeting professional women.
DEYOUNGYes, they have. There was a report, earlier this week, that a woman lawyer, who had been active in human rights in Mosul, was publicly executed in Mosul. That brought forth a lot other reports of other people, other women who had also been attacked there. And of course there are lots of reports of women and girls who have been taken to be married off to, or otherwise made, essentially, slaves to ISIL fighters.
REHMSo what does all this mean, as far as President Obama's plea? Is he going to get the kind of support reaction he really wants and needs in the fight against ISIS, Eric?
SCHMITTWell, so far, he has gotten the kind of support, from the international community, that James talked about. It was very important to have allied Arab aircraft flying on those first few nights. We'll see how long they continue to fly, but they're actually dropping bombs. In fact, yesterday, when the campaign in Syria widened to go after some of their oil refineries, Arab nations flew the majority of the flights, unlike the first night when the U.S. flew the vast bulk of the missions.
SCHMITTSo it's very important the administration has tried to wrap this mission, you know in an (unintelligible) , if you will, to say this is not a U.S. kind of mission. We're not talking about an Iraq War, like we did in 2003. This is an international scourge and the U.S. is rallying support from many nations. But he's also emphasizing, this, the countries of the region have to take a major part in this, because they are going to be the ones dealing with this long term.
DEYOUNGYeah, I think this has also been something that Congress has raised repeatedly as it has argued, to the extent it has debated at all this issue. You know, this is a problem over there. Why aren't they participating? Why do we always have to go take care of everybody? And I think that that has made a big difference in a real shift in congressional opinion that we've seen. There have been other reasons. But I think that that is one of them.
KITFIELDNo, I agree with that. And, you know, there is, essentially, what President Obama said is it ultimately will not be a military solution. And he's correct about that. And the Sunni/Shia divide is at the core of all these problems. And, you know, they've made some progress. They've gotten rid of al-Maliki as the Prime Minister of Iraq, who was a very divisive Shia sort of strong man who really made the Sunnis feel unwanted in their own country. Now, the next step's gonna be to try to pull the Sunni tribes away from ISIS in Iraq. And that, so the diplomatic track is equally as important as the military track.
REHMAnd certainly, we've been hearing about the group Corazon all week long. What's the relationship between ISIS and Corazon?
KITFIELDWell, there's not really a strong connection there, but, you know, we have this terrorist Islamist extremist pantheon now. And there's all these connections. Corazon, it turns out, is a cell of Al Qaeda Core, you know, beholden to Zawahiri in his -- wherever he's hiding in Pakistan. And they have been sent to Syria, apparently, to try to get Al Qaeda Core back in the game. And Al Qaeda Core always had a strategy -- you strike the head of the snake and that's the United States.
KITFIELDSo, this cell was invented without the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Al Nusra. But apparently, talking to another Al Qaeda affiliate from Yemen, that is considered the professional bomb makers. And they were recruiting some of these western fighters who've gone to fight in Syria, and they were talking to these bomb makers. And it doesn't take too many dots to connect that that's a very dangerous group for us.
REHMHow is Bashar Al-Assad reacting to the bombings that are taking place in Syria? Eric?
SCHMITTWell, in part, he's trying to come in on the coattails of this, make it look like he's part of this coalition, which, of course, the U.S. wants to make clear that he is not. His aircraft had apparently been doing some bombing of the ISIS positions in Raqqah. This is before the strikes that took place just this week.
REHMBut doesn't that put us on the same side with Bashar al-Assad?
SCHMITTWell, this has been an argument that many in Congress, and of course, others have said to the President and others in the administration. They say absolutely not. We are focused solely on ISIS right now, but in reality, Diane, you're right. This is -- we're basically coming out on the same place and we're attacking one of the main enemies of Bashar Assad right now. And weakening one of his foes, for in the long run, to watch what happened there.
DEYOUNGWell, this is also a point that's been brought up by the so-called moderate Syrian opposition that we are supporting. And again, this is part of President Obama's strategy. Finally, to start widespread training and equipping of these people after three years of kind of debating whether or not, and to what extent to do that. They say, look, don't lose sight of Assad. Don't leave us hanging here. He's our enemy. We know you don't like these people. Fine. And that that's what brought you into this. Great. We're happy you're here, but don't forget that you started this. We started this because of Assad.
REHMWell, are airstrikes going to be enough, James Kitfield? Can the Iraqi army help there? Will U.S. ground troops be necessary?
KITFIELDWell, airstrikes, you know, airstrikes can be very effective at keeping you back on your heels. But they don't -- one thing airstrikes can't do is they can't capture territory. They can't recapture territory. So the strategy is to keep -- to not, to deny ISIS a sanctuary. Because we found out, after a long experience, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, if the terrorists or the insurgents have sanctuary, they have a certain staying power. So we're going to keep them off their sort of game in Syria with these airstrikes.
KITFIELDBut the main effort's gonna be in Iraq. And we're gonna need, you know, eventually, to help the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga, recapture some of that territory that ISIS captured. And that means a more robust use of U.S. airpower. It's gonna be more boots on the ground. There's something like 1600 right now. Advise and assist. When you talk about, sort of, urban combat, they're gonna need to have more advise and assist guys on the ground and that's a debate I'm sure we're gonna have down the road.
REHMDo you agree, Eric?
SCHMITTWell, in fact, this is one of the arguments that General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, got in a little bit of hot water for last week, when he made it very clear that while, you know, that the U.S. eventually will need to not only advise and assist, but also to accompany these Iraqi forces into battle. Otherwise, you really lose some of the effect there. And the White House had to go through this kind of -- these semantic drills and say, well, these guys aren't really combat troops. Well, in fact, they will be right along the Iraqi forces, armed with their own weapons and being able to fire back if fired upon.
SCHMITTSo, while small in number and dedicated American forces on the ground in units, there very much will be -- there very much will be American forces on the ground there.
REHMAnd going back to the Corazon. What about the Pentagon saying that the Corazon is also planning attacks on the west?
SCHMITTRight. And that's one of main differences here between Corazon and ISIS. All the information, from the President on down, has talked about ISIS, does not pose an immediate threat. At least they have no information that they pose an immediate threat to the United States. Long term, perhaps, and certainly in a regional sense. What was different about Corazon was they had information that they said pointed to what they called imminent plots against the United States and Europe. They didn't specify what that exactly meant.
SCHMITTLater, we learned it was probably having to do with Corazon trying to develop some kind of device, an explosive device that could get past airport security measures as other Al Qaeda affiliates had tried to do in the past.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting, because we keep hearing about people from the U.S. going to join these forces with passports and then coming back. Is that what the Pentagon is referring to?
KITFIELDAbsolutely. I mean, and I've talked to senior FBI officials on this. They are, you know, maybe 100, as many as 100 Americans have gone to Syria to fight -- I'm not exactly sure if they're fighting for ISIL or the Al Nusra, but fighting for -- fighting with some of these Islamic extremist groups. As many as a thousand to two thousand European -- people with western passports. Europeans or Australians or Canadians. You know, those people are being recruited by these Islamic extremist groups who are in league with some of these expert bomb makers. Like I said, you connect the dots there very quickly and you get concerned.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal. Short break here, and when we come back, we'll talk about the French citizen who was beheaded.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Eric Schmitt. He's terrorism correspondent for the New York Times. It sounds like a really scary title, I must say, Eric. Karen DeYoung, she's senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post. James Kitfield, he's at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, also with the National Journal.
REHMAnd we are going to take your calls in just a few moments. First though, I want to hear about the Algerian Jihadist group that beheaded a French citizen. Who are they? Why'd they do this, Eric?
SCHMITTWell, Diane, what's significant about this is it appears to be the first group outside of the Syria-Iraq region that's aligned itself with the Islamic State, the so-called ISIL group. And basically when ISIL put out its statement to all jihadists around the world to attack as you can Europeans, Americans, Westerners, whatever you might, this group, a very small splinter group that's not very well known in Algeria, grabbed up a French basically...
SCHMITT...yeah, tourist, this mountaineering guy. He was hiking around the mountains of Northern Algeria. And of course Algeria has dealt with extremists over the decades. And one of the al-Qaida groups, al-Qaida Islamic Maghreb is no stranger to this group. But this is different in that you have one of these splinter groups basically following the word of Islamic State as you are seeing around the world now some of these smaller groups and individuals coming up on social media or otherwise pledging and vowing support for this group. And showing that it has some reach in the jihadi community.
DEYOUNGI think in Algeria it's sometimes hard to tell who is who, as in a lot of these places. There are lots of different groups. This particular group is not a particularly large one. It was believed to have been associated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is the North African affiliate of al-Qaida And last week in the video that they presented showing this beheading they specifically said, forget al-Qaida. We're with ISIS now, and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who's the leader of ISIS who has basically said that he now has the authority that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have said that they have.
DEYOUNGThe other interesting thing is that this guy was picked up over the weekend. There was an announcement that he had been taken hostage. But there was no negotiation. There was no, as far as we know, request for ransom, picked up on the weekend, executed.
REHMAnd France's response, James?
KITFIELDWe will not be cowed by terrorists and the next day they launched airstrikes against ISIS.
DEYOUNGIt's also interesting because France is one of the countries, although they have denied it, that has paid ransom for hostages quite often in the past. And in this instance, it may be that there was no opportunity, there were no negotiations. But they were very quick -- President Hollande was very quick to say, we're not talking to these people. We are in the coalition.
KITFIELDYou know, in talking to senior intelligence officials, what I said earlier about the terrorists pantheon sort of uniting -- and they're worried very much about all this connective tissue they see forming amongst all these different groups. Khorasan and the core al-Qaida in Syria, al-Nusra, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIL, all of them in this sort of witches brew in Syria. And, you know, we should recall that all these al-Qaida franchises around North Africa, Boko Haram, al-Qaida and Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaida -- these all started as local groups that pledged allegiance to al-Qaida. Now they're starting to pledge allegiance to ISIL.
KITFIELDSo you can very quickly see why ISIL is such a concern to U.S. security people because if they -- if you start seeing independent groups pledging to ISIL because of their victories in Syria and Iraq, very close to bin Laden's vision of a sort of Islamic terrorist pantheon that has a caliphate, has an address and is very, very powerful.
REHMAnd -- go ahead, Eric.
SCHMITTWell, not just that but what's also interesting, as James just pointed out and Karen as well, is that you now have a competition that's on. You have core al-Qaida and the affiliates basically on one side and Islamic State saying no, we are replacing them. These guys talk the talk but we've actually established the Islamic State game on. And so I think what you're going to see is an increasing competition. That's going to spur each side to become more violent to grab the attention that the propaganda demands that they get for recruiting.
REHMNow, how do you differentiate between the term ISIS and ISIL?
SCHMITTWell, ISIS, at least according to the New York Times and many others, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Some also say Iraq and al-Sham, al-Sham meaning the region over there. ISIL means the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which again is a broader region. It takes up other countries in the region, Lebanon, parts of Syria, other parts of Syria and otherwise.
REHMSo why is the White House using that?
SCHMITTWell, what they're using that is basically because it shows, I think the reach, they demonstrate a reach and a threat that this group poses. It's somewhat of a semantic issue and how you translate this, whether it's ISIS or ISIL. But basically looking at this group, it's focused on Iraq and Syria but it has broader regional ambitions.
REHMWhat about British Prime Minister Cameron and what he is seeking from his own parliament in terms of joining this coalition, James?
KITFIELDYeah, he wants parliament -- he recalled them. They're going to have a vote to whether they'll join this coalition against ISIL or ISIS, however you want to refer to it. And if the -- you know, the Brits have been, for as long as any of us can remember, our go-to ally when it comes to having to use military force. But unfortunately we saw last year in Syria, they wanted to, you know, join President Obama and his planned strikes against Assad for his use of chemical weapons against civilian populations. And the parliament voted him down. They said, you cannot do that. And that was a real black eye and a real body blow to this alliance.
KITFIELDSo he's trying to make another go at it, get his ducks in a row this time. And I think, as I said, if there's anyone that can unite people it's ISIS, I think. And we'll see what happens with that vote.
DEYOUNGBut I think this points out the real difference in what's happening now compared to what was happening last year. You know, he had asked the British parliament to support British participation in airstrikes against Assad in Syria. A lot of people said, hey, this isn't our fight. Why are we going to intervene in Syria? And now all of a sudden you're got a situation where you've got British citizens being beheaded.
DEYOUNGYou've got foreign fighters there. They're saying, this is our fight now. And I think that he's likely to get a lot of support when they vote later today.
REHMAnd what came out of Prime Minister Cameron's meeting with Iranian President Rouhani, Eric?
SCHMITTWell, obviously they're focused on not only the current state of events with ISIS, and of course Iran has some of its paramilitary forces in Iraq now that are assisting the Iraqi government, but also of course talking about the nuclear deal that's ongoing and trying to resolve that as part of this larger strategic framework.
REHMAre they getting closer?
SCHMITTWell, it depends on who you talk to. I think if you talk to the administration, they've got some sense that things might be moving forward. I think many other observers are very pessimistic that you're probably going to get much of a deal out of this.
REHMSo how effective are these airstrikes? You see films of ISIS soldiers sort of laughing and talking while the bombing is presumably going on. How effective are they? We've seen they destroyed one oil field from which ISIS apparently makes lots of money, James.
KITFIELDTwo million a day, yeah.
KITFIELDYou know, the airstrikes can be very effective. And I don't think they'll be laughing all that long, quite honestly. I mean, we saw when we used a little bit of airpower and it wasn't that much in northern Iraq to help the Peshmerga, you know, retake some villages. And they quickly succeeded at that. I mean, if you match our airpower -- we've been doing this for ten years. We know how to do it very, very well. If you match that to a proxy force on the ground -- we've done this in Somalia, we've done this in Afghanistan, we've done it a lot of places, it can be very effective, you know.
KITFIELDAnd it can also be effective as sort of strategic strikes that take out, you know, weapons depots and, you know, commanding control facilities and all those things. That doesn't mean ISIS goes away the next day or is absolutely crippled, but it means it's less effective every time we launch these strikes.
DEYOUNGI think that the important thing here is what the administration has emphasized about the various elements of its strategy. You know, the president has talked about defeating ISIL but I don't think that they really think airstrikes are going to do that. I think that they learned their lesson as far back as Vietnam. You don't win a war with airstrikes. When General Mayville who's the head of the Joint Staff gave a press conference the other day, he talked repeatedly about breathing room. The idea is to give forces on the ground breathing room, give us breathing room to train those forces so that they can do it on the ground. I don't think anybody thinks that airstrikes are going to actually do it.
DEYOUNGWhat they can do is prevent more advances, ideally prevent more advances in Iraq, destroy some of the infrastructure that ISIL has set up in Syria and basically keep them on their toes, keep them from expanding while you get the Iraqi army in shape and hopefully while you get the Syria opposition forces actually trained up. But these are things that are going to take -- you know, again the administration said this is a long campaign. It's going to take a long time. I think they're talking about years.
REHMWell, if you're talking about 1600 U.S. forces, Special Forces on the ground now...
DEYOUNGIn Iraq, not in Syria.
REHM...in Iraq, what do you anticipate going into Syria, Eric?
SCHMITTWell, other than perhaps some covert operators from the CA, I don't expect to see any U.S. forces going into Syria. What you will see are some of these American-trained Syrian opposition groups. And the administration says it's hoping to train up to 5,000 a year -- I mean, the first 5,000 by ready sometime next year.
SCHMITTBut again, to Karen's point, that shows how this is a very long-term strategy. Already many in congress had expressed great doubt. It's like, wait a minute, you're training 5,000 a year and yet ISIS, you've already told us, is up in the neighborhood of 30,000 troops right now, forces between Iraq and Syria. So they've already got a long way to go.
KITFIELDWell, I think that's right. And, you know, the main effort is not going to be in Syria. Syria -- we can't solve Syria. We will be arming one side of that. We have three proxies we're arming and training now, the Peshmerga in the Kurdish region in the North. We're arming and training and are going to be assisting the Iraqi security forces and we're arming and training a moderate -- quote unquote "moderate" rebel faction in Syria.
KITFIELDThe whole idea is to create pressure on this group, create pressure in Syria on them in their sort of -- in their little sanctuary there. But the main effort's going to be in trying to help the Iraqi security forces and the Kurds recapture that territory that ISIS captured. Because you can't leave this group in charge of a third of a country that's rich in resources as Iraq. It will become too powerful.
REHMAnd meanwhile you've got hundreds of thousands of refugees . Where are they going to go?
DEYOUNGWell, you just saw several hundred thousand more this week going to Turkey. I think there are now more than a million in Turkey. They are leftover from Syria. In Jordan you've got more than a million. You've got them in Lebanon and now you have huge numbers of displaced people inside Iraq that have moved into the Kurdish region thinking that's the only safe place, that have moved into Baghdad, that have tried to get out of this area that's occupied by ISIL. But it's a huge humanitarian problem, as it was with Syria, but now with Iraq added onto it.
KITFIELDThe humanitarian scope of this is just stunning. And again, if you get to your sort of hierarchy of U.S. national interest here, Turkey is a NATO ally. We're pledged to its defense. And it is being overwhelmed by these. And Jordan's the same way. It's causing problems in Lebanon. It is a major problem for allies in the region.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." President Obama also spoke at the UN about Ebola. And the most stricken countries, what in the world can they do now, Eric?
SCHMITTWell, after some delays, and some critics were saying over delays, the president has directed the military get involved. The Pentagon, on top of everything else it's doing around the world, is going to be sending somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 to 4,000 troops to Liberia to help stem the crisis there. They're there primarily to help build health care sites that can be treated. Right now it's up to 27 sites throughout the country. They'll be flying troops in to basically help manage the flow of supplies and also create space and provide logistical support, aircraft support for flying in civilian doctors. They'll be coming in from nongovernmental organizations and other medical groups, USAID.
REHMThe most heartrending photograph on the front page of the New York Times with a young boy waling as his father lay dead or dying and cannot be touched to be buried.
SCHMITTAbsolutely. It's a tragedy right now. And of course it's happening in countries that do not have the health care infrastructure or basically any kind of infrastructure to deal with this. It's also moving into cities, major population areas unlike where it struck before in more central and eastern African countries. It's been remote areas where it's been easier to contain. That is one of the big dangers they fear is if it moves into these cities in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, you could have the numbers just go up exponentially.
REHMAnd this morning the World Health Organization is reporting that thousands of doses of the Ebola vaccine will be available in the coming months and could eventually be given to health care workers and other people at high risk of the deadly disease. But what about those troops going in? How are they going to be protected?
DEYOUNGI think that they've made very clear that the troops are going to be building these health centers and training health care workers and ideally not going anywhere near infected people.
REHMStaying outside of those regions.
DEYOUNGRight. This is one of the big, big problems there. You know, traditionally governments are willing to give money, they're willing to build infrastructure. But these kinds of crises depend on nongovernmental organizations...
DEYOUNG...to send health care workers, to send doctors. People just don't want to go. They're scared. And that's -- you listen to officials from the three most affected countries and they say over and over again, we just -- we don't have people. We don't have doctors. We don't -- you know, they're turning people away. One place Doctors Without Borders was saying in, I believe it was in Freetown in Sierra Leone, that they open their doors -- they have 75 beds. They open their doors for 30 minutes in the morning. And every time someone has died, they let someone else back in. But these are places that have only several hundred hospital beds in the entire country. And they need thousands.
KITFIELDYou know these -- Doctors Without Borders are fighting a disease without borders. And the Center for Disease Control came out with a report that, you know, if nothing changes on the trend lines we're on right now, 1.4 million Africans will be affected -- will be infected with this disease by next January. More -- well over half of the people who get this disease die. So you can just quickly see that this is a crises of absolutely monumental proportions. And, you know, maybe we're coming too late but, you know, the U.S. military really has the only power projection logistics capability to be able to do this.
KITFIELDEveryone seems to know how to solve the problem if you have the wherewithal, and that means to isolate people so they don't, you know, keep this exponential infection rate going where one -- every one person that's infected two more get -- you know, are infected by that one person. You've got to get hold of that sort of trend line and they haven't done it yet.
REHMJames Kitfield, Karen DeYoung, Eric Schmitt, they're all hear to answer your questions after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup. Here's an email from Kim Sye, who says, "I grit my teeth every time I hear ISIS used to identify the terrorist group." An email from Melissa says, "France is calling it Daish." Karen, what's the significance?
DEYOUNGThe Daish is the -- is an acronym in Arabic for the group. I think that their preferred name is Islamic State, because they want to consider themselves a state. But the French president, the other day at the United Nations, said he was going to call it Daish because that was considered a derogatory term and he was not going to dignify them by calling them as state. Of course, President Obama said, in his speech, they're not a state. They're not a religion. They're not even really Islamist.
REHMAll right. And Joshua says, "Do we have any information on civilian casualties, euphemistically referred to as collateral damage, as a result of the bombings?" Eric.
SCHMITTThere were some reports in particular from the strikes against these oil refineries in eastern Syria, perhaps the families of some of these workers out there. The Pentagon insists it has no information yet about that, but are checking. And it underscores the limitations the military has right now in what they call bomb-damage assessment -- basically their ability to determine the effects of the bombs they drop. They pretty much can see whether the bomb hit a target that it wanted to. But whether it had the entire desired effect and if it had the effect of killing civilians, they just don't know. They have to continue to do more surveillance.
REHMAll right. And let's go to Terry in Portland, Conn. Hi, Terry.
TERRYHi, Diana. There are some that say Obama was handed a stable Iraq, due to General Petraeus' surge in 2006. But I believe it was the Bush administration and our military that actually missed a real opportunity. Because while Petraeus and all our troops and treasure was still in Iraq, we had the leverage to be more demanding with Maliki, and that he stop mistreating Muslims.
KITFIELDThis is a familiar argument. We've gone over this a lot. You know, the Obama administration came in and was negotiating -- it's critics would say half-heartedly -- about a residual force that would stay in Iraq after the major combat troops left in the end of 2011. The Obama administration says Maliki didn't want us around, basically and sort of soured -- poisoned the deal by not granting us, you know, our soldiers immunity from prosecution. Locally, that's something that we require in any status of forces agreement.
KITFIELDWe can go back and forth. But the fact of the matter is, we didn't leave any troops in Iraq after 2011. And Iraq hasn't gone so well. So I think there was, you know, you could look back in history and say, it would have been beneficial to all sides if maybe we had stayed around a little longer, kept our leverage with Maliki. Because we were the sort of connective tissue between the Sunni tribes who took part in the Anbar Awakening and the Baghdad government. And once we left, you know, Maliki started mistreating them, not paying their salaries. And here we are today.
REHMLet's go to James in Detroit, Mich. You're on the air. James? Are you there?
JAMESHi, Diane. Thank you very much for taking my call.
JAMESJust calling about the current ISIS crisis, our involvement in the Middle East and why we haven't heard anything about the natural gas link between the group and the conflict that's going on. Excuse me. There is a signed deal between the Syrians, the Iraqis and the Iranians to run a natural gas pipeline from Iran, through Iraq, through Syria, to ship natural gas to Europe via the Mediterranean. And it seems -- and that really struck the ire of the Qataris and the Saudis. And I wonder why no one has brought up that there's a group that sprung up out of the ground -- well funded, well trained, well armed -- and why no one's looking at the different players in the region as -- and in fact the natural resources as usual are the big players in this.
REHMAll right. James.
KITFIELDWell, natural resources in the Middle East always plays a role. But that pipeline clearly cannot be completed while Syria is in the middle of a civil war. All sides would view that as some way to target such a pipeline. If you -- if everything, you know, I've learned and everyone I've talked to in the senior ranks of the intelligence, you know, ISIS is not about energy. ISIS is -- these are true believers. They believe in this ideology, al-Qaida's ideology of establishing a caliphate and ruling it by religious dictate from Sharia law that goes back, you know, to a fundamental interpretation going back, you know, 400 and 500 years. They are true believers. That's why they're willing to, you know, sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers.
KITFIELDIt's why they're willing to, you know, cut people's heads off on video and think that that's something that gets them cachet. These are true believers. I don't think it's about oil. I think it's about their ideology.
REHMAll right. To Houston, Texas. Hi, Jason.
JASONI just am so confused with America. We're so dumbed-down and just going through the routine. No one -- when are we all going to wake up? Including you and your program. When is somebody going to say, all of this is just wrong? Like, am I the only one out here that thinks that all this is just wrong? I mean, what is it going to take for us to wake up?
REHMWhat are you talking about when you say all of this?
JASONWe're not going to learn -- well, let me finish. Let me finish.
REHMWell, I want to hear what you want to ask about.
JASONWhat is it going to take? I mean, we need a war here on our soil for people to wake up and realize, hey, maybe these people clear across the world where most Americans can't even find these countries on a map.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. James.
KITFIELDWell, it is all wrong. It's all wrong in many different ways. But, you know, by ignoring something -- which we found out, you know, to our detriment many times in our history -- by ignoring something, doesn't make something wrong turn right. This group that we are now fighting is a very, very dangerous group, as we've seen, you know. And if you don't believe the evidence, then I'm sorry. I don't understand why we don't get that. This is a very threatening group to U.S. national interests.
REHMAll right. To Dave in New Boston, Mich. You're on the air.
DAVEHey, can you hear me, Diane?
REHMYes, certainly can.
DAVEYes. I'm wondering -- my problem, when I look at the bombing that started in Syria and all the structures that we're hitting, the ISIL structures -- I'm wondering if our government, our president, and the military are not being truthful as far as their end goal. They say they want to defeat ISIL. But I'm sitting here watching ISIL start an offensive against the Kobani city in northern Syria. They've overran (sic) two Iraqi bases. And we haven't dropped one bomb in those three situations. We stepped back and allowed them to have these three offensives going on at the same time we're bombing their structures. So I'm wondering, are we really trying to contain ISIL more than defeat ISIL? Because we don't -- if we defeat ISIL, we're strengthening Shiite Iran, Shiite Iraq and Shiite Syria.
REHMAll right. Eric.
SCHMITTThe airstrikes in Syria -- the purpose of them is really to hit at some of the supply lines and the bases that they have their -- their support network that they have there that supports the fighting and the fighters that are in Iraq. The Pentagon yesterday called -- described them as strategic strikes. It's not only against the weapons depots and command structures, but also their source of revenue, the oil refineries we've been talking about.
SCHMITTAnd so what's interesting, though, there are these Syrian Kurds who are coming under attack from Assad's forces. And the question is, will the United States come to their assistance, as they did with the case of the Yazidis, the religious sect in Iraq that were one of the first groups to benefit from the airstrikes in Iraq over a month ago.
REHMAll right. To Maury Island, Wash. Hi, Lynn, you're on the air.
LYNNGood morning, all. I'm wondering if travel is being restricted in the areas where Ebola is running rampant. Can one just fly back and forth, in and out of there still?
DEYOUNGThat's become very difficult. Most commercial airlines have stopped flying into those countries. That's one of the things that those governments have pleaded to have restarted, because they said that's, you know, people can't get here. Even health care workers can't get here. In Sierra Leone, they have restricted travel inside the country and basically have drawn up corridors through quarantined areas, said you can only drive through with permission. You're not allowed to get out of your car. I think that the way to get in there now is pretty much only through government and aid flights. You can't go on commercial airlines.
REHMI must say, if you can't get aid workers in, what are you going to do?
DEYOUNGWell, I mean, it's for governments to bring them in...
DEYOUNG...and NGOs. The much bigger problem, as we were saying earlier, is who are the people who are willing to go.
REHMAnd if -- one caller who couldn't stay on the line said that we're talking so much about ISIS -- spending all this time focused on terrorists in trucks, while the real global threat is continuing unabated in Africa. Ebola could become a pandemic and WHO, the World Health Organization, does not seem to be in control of it.
KITFIELDI think that's right. And, you know, we mentioned the numbers, it's from the CDC, 1.4 million. You can very quickly see that, you know, exponentially going to millions. So this is a disaster of epic proportions that we have got to, as an international community to address. But, you know, we've been slow out of the gates. Let's hope that we've passed that inflection point with, you know, putting the U.S. military in and getting the necessary equipment, people in there, so you can start doing quarantines and getting it under control.
SCHMITTAnd you know, to James' point, it's very important I think, the U.S. military is one of the few organizations in the world that really can deploy and bring with them all the wherewithal, whether it's troops, whether it's the building materials, whether it's the capability to fly around. Interestingly enough, the original plan was to have contractors go in. But they couldn't find enough contractors who were willing. So they're going to order, instead, the 101st Airborne is going to be the primary unit, along with military engineers. But again, they're not going to be doing the medical treatment, but they'll be setting up the facilities in Liberia. Other countries, France and Britain, are taking care of some of the cases -- the logistics in some of the other countries.
DEYOUNGAnd I think President Obama made this point in his speech to the U.N. of saying, look, acknowledging that the United States had been slow to respond, but saying, look, okay, you know, we're now sending these troops. We're going to build these clinics. But don't think that that's enough. Don't think that we're doing it now. We need to be honest with ourselves, he said. It's not enough, and kind of exhorted everyone to be sending more.
REHMBut don't you also have the risk that someone thinking or someone not even aware that he or she might be a carrier, gets on a plane, goes wherever. I mean, how can you -- at this point, with the number of cases already in existence -- contain it?
DEYOUNGThat's already happened. That's how it got to Nigeria. Somebody flew on a plane.
DEYOUNGI think in Kenya, they suspected that some people flew in. And the African countries themselves have stopped flights in and out of these countries, too. I think it's a real risk.
KITFIELDYou know, one of the -- I'm sorry. Well, I was just going to say, one of the underbellies of globalization is this integrated world, you know, whether it's financial or economic, you know, whatever, you can't contain something easily like this. Because, you know, like you said, you hop on a plane and you're across the world.
REHMAll right. To Maury in Troy, Mich. You're on the air. Maury, are you there? All right. Let's go to Gary in Los Angeles. Hi, there.
GARYHi, Diane. I want to -- I know how redundant it is, but as a regular listener, I want to add my thank you and appreciation to the civility of your program. It's so hard to find a fair examination of issues today. But in any case, I called specifically today to talk about -- when I listened to your program earlier in the week about Syria and the problems with ISIS, I was so struck by the fact that these experts that were on -- and I understand that you want to have a balanced panel, so it's not a criticism -- but these experts that are on who are criticizing our current administration, take no responsibility for their role in destabilizing the Middle East with the Iraq War in 2003.
GARYYou know, the Lancet said 650,000 civilians were killed in Iraq since the beginning of that war. And they tried to claim that it was only 60,000. There's so many examples of lack of perspective and lack of responsibility for these people who criticize our president. With malefactors like Putin and Assad at work in the world today, I don't know what leader of the United States would know how to handle this problem appropriately.
REHMAll right. James.
KITFIELDI think the president of the United States, we could probably all agree, has got to be one of the most difficult if not thankless task in the world. You know, you've got a lot of pomp and circumstance, but every day you've got this burning in-box. And I will say, and President Obama had an interesting comment, and he said, you know, this world sometimes seems like it's coming apart at the seams, with Ebola, Russian aggression in Ukraine, or whether it's ISIS. And, you know, he's trying to rally the international community because that's -- we're the only country that really is very good at doing that. But it's, you know, his in-box has been as bad as any president's I've ever seen in my lifetime.
REHMDo you all agree with that?
DEYOUNGCertainly within the last year -- this year. You know, you've had Ukraine, you've had Ebola, you've had Libya, you've had Syria, you've had Iraq. I'm sure there are other things that are not even popping into my mind now. At the same time, I think we have to recognize that there has been criticism of Obama for what's been described as a lack of leadership, particularly on Syria, you know, because it's gone on for so long. I think the president has been very reluctant to get involved. I think that the past couple of weeks have shown a very sharp change in that. And you compare his speech to the United Nations this week to his speech last year to the General Assembly, very, very stark difference.
DEYOUNGHe is -- he was forceful. He was aggressive. He was demanding of the rest of the world. Even as he kind of took -- said, look, we're not perfect -- kind of took the blame for things that happened in this country. But I do think that in leadership terms -- I mean, they can claim in Ukraine for example that they have led the international community to the extent that it's taken action there -- but it's really only in the last couple of weeks on Syria that the administration has really risen up.
REHMKaren DeYoung of The Washington Post, Eric Schmitt of The New York Times, James Kitfield of the National Journal and Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest -- thank you all. Have a good weekend.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Rep. Adam Schiff discusses the Democrats' agenda heading into the midterms, the January 6th investigation, and his new book, "Midnight In Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could."
Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times science and global health reporter, discusses vaccine safety, parent hesitancy, and what vaccinating this age group could mean for the future of the pandemic.
Drug overdose deaths have hit a record high during the pandemic. Opioid expert Dr. Andrew Kolodny on why that is, and the roots of America's addiction crisis.