America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
The UN reports that 15,000 people from 80 different countries have joined with ISIS militants fighting in Syria and Iraq. Iraqi Kurdish fighters begin crossing from Turkey into Syria to fight against ISIS in Kobani. The WHO reports the number of new cases of Ebola in Liberia may be dropping, but the challenge of containing the spread of the disease in West Africa remains daunting. Israel has barred access to a sacred site in Jerusalem revered by both Muslims and Jews, and the last US Marines of pull out of a key base in Afghanistan: Please join us for the International hour of the Friday News Roundup.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Iraqi-Kurdish soldiers enter Syria to join the fight against ISIS. The search continues for missing students in Mexico as outrage over the case spreads throughout the country. And the last US Marines pull out of a key base in Afghanistan. Here to discuss this week's top international stories on our "Friday News Roundup," Greg Myre of NPR, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, Jim Sciutto of CNN. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHi Susan.
MR. GREG MYREThank you.
MR. JIM SCIUTTOThank you.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Greg, earlier this week, we saw the first groups of Iraqi-Kurdish soldiers and Syrian rebel fighters cross through Turkey, into Syria to join the fight against ISIS in Kobani. Why is this seen as so important?
MYREWell, there has been this issue of the US, if it wants to make headway against ISIS, is gonna need a partner on the ground. One of these potential partners is the Kurds, and the Iraqi Kurds, in particular, who have some battlefield experience. But this has also involved some very tricky negotiations with Turkey. Turkey is okay, it seems, with Iraqi Kurds going in, but they don't want Turkish Kurds going in. This is a group they've been fighting with. So it's this very complicated issue where you've got several different Kurdish groups.
MYREYou have the United States and Turkey negotiating. But it does, at least, this is a very small number and it's not going to make a huge difference in the current battle we're seeing. But it does open the possibility that we could see Kurdish forces moving back and forth and in and out of Turkey.
PAGENancy, the President has made it clear we're not going to send US ground troops to this battle. So, how are the air strikes going, that the United States has been participating in?
YOUSSEFWell, I think the key thing that happened this week that really changed things was actually the drop of weapons into Kobani by the United States. Because that's what spurred the, the Turks to allow Kurdish fighters to go in. The feeling was that the US was supporting the fighters on the ground, and that they needed to show that they were, in some way, supporting the United States. It also offered an opportunity for the Iraqi Kurds to show support to the United States. After that, we started seeing an increase, as you mentioned, in the air strikes in Kobani.
YOUSSEFAnd they seem to be having some effect. How much is unclear. It depends on who you ask, in terms of the level of effect, but we've certainly seen a ramped up effort by the United States to combat ISIS fighters in Kobani.
PAGEJim, when you look at the overall battle against Islamic State, how is it going? I mean, Kobani is one fight, but there are big parts of the country, elsewhere, where ISIS has had some control.
SCIUTTOWell, every week, we look at the map of ISIS controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, and if you look at that map, it looks pretty much the same today as it did when the air campaign started, both over Iraq and over Syria. There has not been a lot of ground taken back. There have been individual victories, taking back the Mosul Dam, a key piece of infrastructure, but when you look at the map, not a lot of progress. And, you know, with some success in Kobani, you've pushed ISIS out of parts of town.
SCIUTTOThere was another battle in Anbar Province today, which really clearly showed the limits of the US led air campaign. And that's this Sunni tribe, the Albu Nimr tribe, this is one of the Sunni tribes that is doing exactly what the coalition wants, which is stand up against Sunni, extremist Sunni ISIS. 400 of them killed in 48 hours this week with Iraqi forces purely in defensive positions. No move on the ground to rescue them and all the US could do was drop them Halal meals.
SCIUTTOThere were no air strikes and General Dempsey said yesterday, one reason was they just don't have ISR. They don't have good intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance in the area to protect them. So, in Kobani, you're seeing it have an effect, but elsewhere you're seeing the limitations.
PAGEWell, 400 people executed, basically. Nancy.
YOUSSEFWell, to Jim's point, I think what's interesting is that Kobani is not necessarily as strategically important, but its value is that they can see and can fight ISIS fighters there. The strategic importance is in places like Anbar where it's not -- where that fight and the air campaign is not nearly as aggressive as Jim points out, in part because they can't see them. And also because there aren't allies on the ground. And so, what we're seeing play out this week is the air strikes and the air drops are potentially helping boost the morale of fighters in Kobani.
YOUSSEFBut in terms of a major shift on the fight against ISIS, it's not clear that that's actually happening.
SCIUTTOWell, and there are allies on the ground there, the Iraqi military, our security forces, but they haven't shown the ability to act on the ground, effectively.
YOUSSEFRight. And the tribal leaders, the Sunni tribal leaders who become the most important ally you have in Anbar, still don't have the confidence in the Iraqi security forces. Or that they can rise up against ISIS without facing a threat to their own lives.
PAGEMeanwhile, Greg, we have a report from the United Nations that thousands of people are going to join the other side of this battle, are going to join ISIS in its battle. From 80 countries. How are they managing to do such a great job of recruiting?
MYRERight. Well, they seem to be social media, certainly. The fact that they took so much territory this summer certainly brought a lot of people in. And again, this points, I think, to the larger issue, as Jim and Nancy mentioned, we're not seeing a lot of movement on the battlefield, but what we're seeing is this constant expansion of the war. Where they're talking about ISIS fighters from 80 countries, talk of a thousand new fighters a month. You've got the US dropping bombs, you've got Turkey intimately involved.
MYREYou're got these three Kurdish factions we're talking about. You've got Hezbollah fighting on the side of the Syrian government. Again, we're focused on the battlefield, but how would you, how could you possibly bring any sort of political coherence or have any serious political dialogue, even if leaving the battlefield aside for a moment?
PAGEIs this a realistic plan by the United States? You're talking about the fact that you can't really rely on our Iraqi allies to do what needs to be done on the ground. The limits of air power in a fight like this. So, is -- does the administration's approach seem to make sense?
SCIUTTOIt makes sense within the limits that they've placed on it. Say, no US ground troops, so it's gonna be purely from the air with local allies on the ground. Those allies on the ground, as US officials will acknowledge every day, are very limited. You still have not begun to train the 5,000 Syrian moderate rebels that are going to form the sort of vanguard of the ground force there. And that's just 5,000, when you have them, against, you know, tens of thousands of ISIS fighters.
SCIUTTOAnd then in Iraq, you have those Iraqi partners, but they say it's going to be months before they can mount any sort of significant campaign to take back territory. So they're purely holding the ground they have now. That counts, in the current environment, as success.
PAGEWe had a story in the New York Times the other day that reported that the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, had written what was described as a very critical memo to Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, about US policy in Syria. Nancy, what do we know about what the Secretary of Defense was saying?
YOUSSEFWell, basically, he was concerned about how the US policy would address the issue of the Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian president. Because one of the realities of the US strategy is in trying to defeat ISIS, it's something that frankly helps Assad. Because Assad is also trying to defeat ISIS and so there is concern that the US is doing something that actually helps keep Assad in power. And Secretary Hagel, allegedly in this memo, expressed great concern about that. And it gets at some of the divisions and the limitations of the US policy.
YOUSSEFAnd so we started to hear reports this week of concern about the policy, division about the policy, and potentially a shakeup in key positions like Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State after the November elections. It's the kind of political fodder that feeds this town in the run-up to elections, but the fact that this policy is so complex and that there are so few clear good options, I think, contributes to this kind of dialogue in this town.
PAGEWell, do you think, Jim, that there is likely to be some kind of shakeup after the mid-term election, in terms of the president's top advisors, we know that there's a lot of speculation about some shakeup on the domestic side of the White House staff. How about people like Susan Rice?
SCIUTTOThere's a lot of talk, again, in that Washington parlor game of who is vulnerable? I mean, there are real question here about all the national security crises that the White House is handling. And there's been talk on the positive side, if not of firing people, of bringing others in, which the administration has done. You bring in John Allen to lead the campaign against ISIS, for instance. You now have an Ebola czar. But it's -- so that's still an open question. But it's interesting, the sort of follow on story there is as you have that criticism and who's vulnerable.
SCIUTTOAnd perhaps some unnamed sources from the White House saying, well, actually it's the Defense department that's out of the loop. Or Kerry. You have this follow on game, which is wait a second. I'm in the loop. And that's the other side of this releasing of the -- or, leaking of the Hagel memo. To say, hey, you know, I'm very much in this conversation. In fact, just the other day, I wrote this memo. Another one, I might say, you might remember the blind comment about how Secretary of State John Kerry was untethered, like a character in the movie...
SCIUTTO"Gravity." Right now. So yesterday, just interestingly enough, there was a White House photo released of John Kerry in the Oval Office. Connected? Who knows?
PAGEThe reason -- we know why the President has been so reluctant to open the door, in any way, to ground troops in this operation. It's because we've just gotten to the end of two wars that were so difficult, so costly for the United States. And that he opposed, of course, the war in Iraq, as a candidate. We saw the closing of a major base in Afghanistan this week, Greg, really signaling the effective end of America's longest war.
MYRERight. We're talking about Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan. When Obama began his surge in Afghanistan, and he really ramped up the effort there, back in 2009, this was the place where the Marines really went in and had a tough, tough fight throughout that region. It's a poppy growing region down there. It's a place where the Taliban were born and have their stronghold in that area. 20,000 Marines were there at its peak. Several hundred died in the fighting.
MYRENow, Camp Leatherneck has been closed. Those Marines have left. As the US continues this draw down with an eye toward ending combat operations at the end of the year. And this is going to be the real test, I think. There's a couple of places in Afghanistan, in the south, in particular, will the Afghan army be able to hold its own in this area?
PAGEAnd Nancy, what do we think we know after we saw US troops pull out of Iraq, that in a relatively short period of time, lots of big problems there.
YOUSSEFThat's right. And actually, the withdraw from Helmand Province, there were not good indicators as they left. They did it quietly, they didn't announce it beforehand because of security concerns. There have been 5,000 civilians killed in Afghanistan, in that area since the beginning of 2014. Excuse me, the first half of 2014, according to the UN, the highest number. Afghans saying that, potentially, they can't handle some of these areas, that the Taliban is going to come back as soon as US troops leave.
YOUSSEFAnd this is, even though there are 230 million dollars' worth of property and equipment being left behind for the US, for these Afghan forces. So, it doesn't portend of a good outcome in the short term.
PAGENancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about what's happening with the Ebola crisis in West Africa. We'll take your calls. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll free number. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for the International News Roundup, Greg Myre. He's international editor of NPR. He's a co-author of "This Burning Land: Lessons From the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." And Nancy Youssef. She's a national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. She's just back from a two-year posting as McClatchy's Middle East bureau chief.
PAGEAnd Jim Sciutto, chief national security correspondent for CNN. And Jim, during the break you were mentioning your own -- the time you have spent at this base in Afghanistan where the marines have just left.
SCIUTTOI was embedded with U.S. Marines in Helmand Province, been down to Camp Leatherneck. And as U.S. forces withdraw from these places, you just have to remember what a personal story it is for them because of the tremendous sacrifice. I was in an IED attack down there with U.S. Marines. I saw them killed and wounded. And when U.S. forces withdraw of course their great fear is, what did we fight and die for? And you saw that in Fallujah when, of course, U.S. forces withdrew from there and we saw ISIS move in.
SCIUTTOAnd you just hate to think of that prospect happening in southern Afghanistan because Helmand -- and not just for U.S. forces, British forces as well. They lost even more soldiers there.
YOUSSEFYou were asking earlier about what we learned from Iraq and in Iraq the U.S. withdrew all of its forces. In this case in Afghanistan it seems one of the lessons learned is to leave some kind of residual force. The plan is 9800 U.S. troops by the end of the year, to see if that can mitigate some of the threats that a withdrawal like what happened in Helmand Province could -- some of the perils that come with withdrawing from a place like Afghanistan.
PAGEGreg, the World Health Organization has reported that the number of new Ebola cases appears to be dropping in Liberia. Now this sounds like great news. Is it?
MYREIt's encouraging. We've heard estimates ranging up to, you know, that there could be ten thousand cases a week, a million by the end of the year and all. But that's the worst case scenario. We haven't talked a lot about the best case scenario. And we may be seeing a sign here that the cases are coming down. It's still not clear. The infrastructure has not ramped up dramatically. I mean, the U.S. military is there building facilities, but that's going very, very slowly. We have volunteers from the west still going there, but not in the huge numbers.
MYRESo it would be hard to point to exactly why we're seeing this decline but it is a decline. And given the scenario we've been painting, it portends a potential possible good news.
PAGEIf it is a real decline, of course, that would be great news. But some concern that it might be a reporting decline and not a real decline, Jim, that there may be people who are unwilling to come forward and say they have Ebola now.
SCIUTTOWell, no one I talk to on this, including the U.S. military, is claiming victory by any means. But you do at least have a critical mass of resources being dedicated there. The Pentagon saying yesterday, for instance, that the first of these treatment centers that U.S. troops have been building out there are going to open this month. You have a thousand troops already on the ground, up to 4,000 authorized at this point. You do finally have all that coming. The trouble of course is that it was late in coming. And had that kind of aid come from around the world earlier, you might've been able to control this earlier.
PAGEWe also had the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week announce a policy of 21-day quarantines for U.S. troops who are going to be -- who have been joining the Ebola fight. We talked about this a bit in the first hour but, first of all, Nancy, tell us how many U.S. troops are involved in this effort in West Africa?
YOUSSEFSo right now there are about 1,000, 1100 actually on the ground in Liberia and Senegal of a total of as many as 4,000 troops that will go in and build these 17 Ebola treatment centers. And each one would have -- hold 100 beds. And this will take at least six months to do. As Jim mentioned, they'll start completing them -- the first of them around Thanksgiving.
YOUSSEFThe reason this quarantine was so newsworthy, if you will, is because number one, it went beyond what the CDC recommended in terms of the necessity for a quarantine. And this comes at a time when it's been very hard to get health care professionals to volunteer to go in. So the fact that the U.S. military, which will not come in contact with any Ebola patients, would then quarantine them, has raised fears that doctors will be less -- and other volunteers will be less willing to go to Liberia because of the precautions that the military's taking.
YOUSSEFNow the military's argument is that we're their longer than most people. We have more people there than most and we're not medical professionals. And this is a precautionary measure which is the nature of the U.S. military which is to be as cautious as possible.
MYREYeah, one of the interesting aspects of this is General Roy Odierno, the head of the Army, said that it seems to be coming from some of the military families. They're very concerned that you're sending these guys there for up to six months and they're going to come back. We don't want them back right away. We'd like to see them quarantined. So it's literally some of the military families have raised these concerns. And they seem to be driving some of this.
SCIUTTONot to mention that, you know, soldiers might not mind 21 days on base without having to do too much.
PAGESo where -- like, where do you even hold all these troops in quarantine? How does that work logistically?
SCIUTTOI believe the plan is to find a base. The other driving force here, I'm told, is that partner countries such as Italy were concerned that you have -- and of course a number of the troops going to Africa are coming out of U.S. bases in Italy -- they were concerned about U.S. troops coming back from the warzone. So not only in answer to calls from families who were concerned, but also partner countries.
PAGELet's go to our phones and talk first to Jay. He's calling us from Orlando. Hi, Jay.
JAYHi. Thank you for the show -- for having me on your show. I wanted to make a comment in reference to three seems to be a growing group of people right now asking for U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria. And they seem to forget that soon after we had toppled the Hussein regime that these same people turned against us. I don't see the need for us to send U.S. troops on the ground when the presence of U.S. troops will unite these people again. Because they will soon forget about the fight -- infighting between them and start targeting U.S. troops.
JAYSo I think the lives of U.S. troops are more valuable and I don't think we should put any boots on the ground because we don't know who's the enemy and who's a friend out there. And I agree the president on that fact. Thanks.
PAGEAll right. Jay, thank you so much for your call. Greg, what do you think?
MYREYeah, I mean, well, absolutely. I mean, this is one of the many concerns that the president has expressed and given for not sending U.S. troops. And he's given no intention. Now you have heard some military brass suggesting that is possible at some point. They would need a small number of U.S. special operators or people to guide bombing missions and things like that. But again, I don't see us moving towards any sort of major U.S. ground deployment. And again, this is when there's so many moving, changing factions in Syria. It just seems you would be expanding on what's already a huge mess.
SCIUTTOWell, Jay makes a great point as well, and I know Nancy and Greg have experienced this as well. You get the -- you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't in the region in terms of U.S. military intervention. When it's not happening oftentimes it'd be like, where are you? And then when it does happen, it so easily switches to the other side. I had a U.S. official tell me quietly that, you know, even some of our partner nations there are willing to fight until the last American soldier, right, you know. And this is something that's happened before. And it's frustrating. And certainly it's fed some of the president's decision-making on this.
PAGELet's talk to Alex calling us from Charlotte, N.C. Alex, you're on the air.
ALEXOh, great. How are you?
ALEXI was just going to make a comment about our troops leaving Afghanistan and us leaving a residual group of say 9800 people I think is the number. All throughout time whenever we've been involved in these battles and these wars, they're extremely unfortunate, but we found ourselves to be involved in, we've always left residual troops behind. And I gave an example of South Korea. Can you imagine had we not left the troops in South Korea, 50,000 troops, they would be slaughtered by the dictator there in North Korea? That would be a dream for him.
ALEXAnd look how South Korea's been very productive. They have the Samsung phone now, the phones most people in the world use. And that's been an extremely economically productive country. And I think once we leave Afghanistan, the people that have helped our troops there are going to get slaughtered. ISIS has developed a playbook for this scenario and they're going to do exactly what ISIS has done and basically try to embarrass and humiliate us.
PAGEAlex, thanks so much for your call. Boy, I hope that doesn't happen. Nancy, what do you think?
YOUSSEFWell, I think the question becomes, what will those 9800 troops -- you know, there's never been a clear explanation about why that would be an adequate number. Right now even, many U.S. troops are staying on bases and letting the Afghan national security forces take the lead. The fact that the withdrawal happened from Helmand Province and we saw so many problems or threats of problems emerge immediately really raises questions about what the United States is leaving behind. And by extension, what can 9800 troops do after 100,000 plus haven't been able to get those Afghan security forces where they need to be after 13 years of war?
PAGEYou know, you can really see why you have both feelings that we've heard today, right. Thirteen years of war, let's get out of Afghanistan. But also 13 years of war, let's not lose whatever we have gained there.
SCIUTTOYeah, it's a fair point. And Alex makes a good point. I remember being with General McChrystal in Afghanistan. He made exactly that point. He said, we've had troops in South Korea for decades and troops in Germany, of course, for even a decade more than in South Korea. And you have to think in those terms if you want to lock in the gains.
SCIUTTOThe trouble is, is there the political will in this country to pay both the financial cost and the cost in frankly blood. These are dangerous -- blood and treasure. These are still dangerous places. And if you read the polls, there's real question about them.
PAGELet's talk to Carl. He's calling us from Toledo, Ohio. Hi, Carl.
CARLHi. Thank you for taking my call. I wanted to comment on the quarantine issue of the military. I was in the navy for 14 years and when we go TAD temporary assigned duty, which is what this would be for whether you're in the navy or the army, when they come back they cannot just put us back into circulation. For instance, with the navy, I was on an aircraft carrier, and if we had a corpsman go out into the affected area, we cannot put him back on that ship with 6,000 other guys and hope he doesn't contract Ebola. But now you're talking about taking an entire battle group out of commission.
PAGEAll right. That makes sense, Carl. What do you think, Greg?
MYREYeah, good point. I mean, the army is not the civilian population. And the military does all sorts of things that you wouldn't do in civilian life. And I think we're having that debate where every governor in the country seems to be coming up with his own Ebola policy. And the military's probably going to have another policy that's very different. So, yeah, I don't think we need to have a one-size-fits-all policy.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Jim, let's talk about this terrible story in Mexico. Search continues for 43 students who went missing last month in Mexico. What do we think has happened to them?
SCIUTTOWell, there are allegations that the local mayors -- and it's actually a husband and wife team -- were somehow involved in this disappearance and, again, the allegation that they were tied to drug cartels in the region. So you had these students. They come from the university there. They're studying to be teachers. I believe this university has a history of leftist political activism. And then you have this reaction, again, alleged reaction on the other side.
SCIUTTOAnd I think it gets to this broader point that there's still a real war going on in Mexico, just to our southern border. You know, a few years ago people talked about a failed state. Obviously there are enormous places in Mexico that are doing very well but there are provinces where the drug culture and the drug business creates this kind of violence, you know, to this degree. And it's a really shocking situation.
PAGEAnd it's the state of Mexico that includes Acapulco, a place a lot of Americans have gone to vacation. Now here's a shocking thing from the story, something that shocked me this week which they were searching for the students. Obviously now they're searching for bodies. The thought is that these students have been killed. They found 28 bodies in a mass grave. It turned out not to be the students. It's another mass grave.
MYREYeah, and for Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, this is a real setback. His emphasis has been on, I don't want to fight a drug war. I don't want to emphasize a drug war. I want to talk about the economy. His slogan is, Mexico on the move. And this has dragged him right back into the whole drug war and how do you approach this.
MYREHe's been sort of reluctant to get involved. It took him weeks before he's finally met with the families. Not something he wants to talk about. But now the spotlight is on Mexico again for the drug wars. Eighty-thousand dead in the last eight years or so.
PAGEIf you're the president of Mexico, how can he not talk about this though, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, he met with the families and they refused to leave for six hours. So they made sure that he had to talk about it. Pope Francis has made mention of it. And so this was something that was once considered a regional issue but the idea that police trucks could pull up and kidnap 43 students, that the mayor could be involved, that his wife could be involved, that these bodies couldn't be found, that the president didn't want to talk about it has suddenly made it a national issue that he cannot avoid. And the search continues.
YOUSSEFAnd as you point out, they're looking in burial plots, they're looking in dumpsters for these bodies. It has become a national issue and one that's sort of captured all the problems and one story of the drug cartel in Mexico in this one town.
PAGEJim, are there implications for U.S. policy? Obviously this is our neighbor.
SCIUTTOWell, I mean, there are just because of proximity of the border. And of course the Mexican drug trade is driven, as many will point out, by demand on our side of the border. And then of course there are questions as to who shares the responsibility here. But also as you say, there's a lot of Americans who travel to Mexico. A lot of Americans frankly have relatives there, so it is very close to home.
PAGELet's talk to J.C. calling us from Louisville, Ky. J.C., thanks for joining us.
J.C.Hi. Glad to be on your show this morning. I would like to direct the question to you, Ms. Page. You always are informed and you always seem to have a very solid good opinion. How did we get from the greatest generation of World War II to the 'fraidy cat generation that we now seem to be in. It seems like every time, every week, every day we seem to have a new terror threat.
J.C.Back in the Bush Administration, you know, we had the colors, red, orange, green, whatever it was and we got away from that thankfully. But now we seem to have that terror threat through the news organizations every day. Every day there's something. Either it's the aliens coming across the border, it's Ebola coming across the border with ISIS, you know, behind them. You know, there's just always something.
J.C.We were going to have Muslims take over the United States after Obama came in. I mean, it's just one threat after another. When is this going to stop? The American people are just always petrified. It doesn't make sense. And I think it's one particular group, whether it's the conservatives, talk radio, but they love to keep things on edge. It makes everybody in power look bad.
PAGEAll right. J.C., thanks for your call. I'm not sure I have -- I think this is a big question. I'm not sure I have an answer. You know, I think the media plays a part in this but let me ask our panel a question. Do you think that the world is, in fact, a more challenging place than it used to be, or do we just feel like the world is a more challenging place?
SCIUTTOListen, if you look at the numbers in terms of death and conflict, for instance, it's way down. Not just from World War II, which of course was -- you know, we're talking about in the tens of millions, but across the world, it is a safer place. The fact is it's a safer place from war, from disease, etcetera. I suppose this is one of the downsides of an interconnected world, that we all know everything all the time about what's happening anywhere.
SCIUTTOFor instance, you know, we were talking about what's happening in Burkina Faso. I was listening to the radio about developments there and the reporter was following social media. So there were tweets coming from Burkina Faso that were resonating around the world. Who would've thought, and that's the world we live in today, which there's a good side of that but there's a bad side to it as well.
YOUSSEFWell, I can tell you, you know, having spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East, I don't know about dangerous or more or less dangerous but certainly transitional. Because in the case of the Middle East you have longtime leaders that are being pushed out or resigning. And it feels like a transitional period that because of the internet, because of social media, because of the interconnectivity, that the status quo that had sustained and helped foster understanding in the world for decades, seems to be coming apart as a new generation is looking to create change.
PAGEYou know, it's also true that I think people are very aware that what happens in West Africa could affect us here. What happens in the Middle East could affect us here. Well, we're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go back to the phones and take some of your calls. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back, I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for the second hour of our Friday News Roundup, Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent with McClatchy Newspapers, Jim Sciutto, chief national security correspondent for CNN, and Greg Myre, international editor for NPR.org. Here, we've got an e-mail from a listener, John, who writes, I'm surprised that a program as normally astute as "The Diane Rehm Show" failed to mention that the ONLY REASON, in all caps, the U.S. did not leave a small military force in Iraq is because the Iraqi government absolutely refused to grant American troops immunity from criminal prosecution, in situations related to accidental civilian deaths.
PAGEPresident Obama was willing and actually pushed to have some U.S. forces remain in Iraq. John, thanks for your e-mail.
SCIUTTOJohn makes a good point because Iraqi government had a very big part to play in that. But fact is the president's own former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta has said, not only in his book but in many television interviews, that there was no political will in the Obama administration to keep the forces there. And had they used the leverage, including the possibility of cutting off aid, military aid to the Iraqi government, they could have pushed for that force. It was his assessment from inside the administration that the administration didn't what forces there.
PAGESo it was an excuse no reason.
SCIUTTOAnd we saw this in the 2012 campaign when one of the talking points that Obama repeatedly said is that there were, that there were no U.S. troops in Iraq, that he'd gotten the United States out of Iraq.
PAGEHere's an e-mail from Reed who writes, How likely is it that the Western powers are willing to let al-Assad be taken down by ISIL, so the West will be able to take advantage of the anarchy of no legitimate leadership. This is a quote. Obviously, Greg, a question about Syria. How likely is it that the West would want that to happen or allow that to happen?
MYREI think from the U.S. perspective, ISIS is the biggest threat to the United States. Assad, for as much as the United States does not like him and would like to see him go at some point, doesn't see him as a direct threat to the U.S. So, I don't see how that would be in the U.S. interest as expressed by the president and many, many security leaders.
PAGESo we had, I think we have another e-mailer who is saying -- here's the e-mail from Claire, saying, During World War II the Allies had to partner with Stalin. Isn't this a similar situation with regard to what might be seen as partnering with Assad against ISIL? What do you think? I mean, it's like choosing the lesser of two evils, I guess.
SCIUTTOWell, the partnering with Assad is not active. It may be by accident, right, or just by circumstance, and that by attacking ISIS you weaken one of Assad's chief enemies. And there is no coordination with Assad where, of course, with Stalin we, you know, we fought a war together. You had alliances, et cetera. But, listen, the bottom-line is the effects may be the same at least in the short term.
PAGELet's talk to Richard. He's calling us from Haverhill, Md. Hi, Richard.
RICHARDOh. Hi, Susan. No, it's Massachusetts. That's okay, Susan.
RICHARDSusan and the panel, Sweden just announced that they were recognizing the Palestinian as a nation-state. Obviously because I think more countries might start doing that, because Netanyahu has proven that he has no intentions of really talking the two-state solution with the Palestinians. He's ready to build some more settlements in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want that for their capital if there's ever a two-state solution. And I just think more countries are going to do that.
RICHARDAnd also, he's also grabbed 1,000 more acres in another part of the West Bank and probably going to build. So I think the only way that -- maybe we should have BDS, boycott, divest, and have sanctions against Israel if he doesn't sincerely want to sit down and talk to the Palestinians.
PAGEAll right. Richard, thanks so much for your call. First, let's talk about this action by Sweden recognizing a Palestinian state. Is this significant?
SCIUTTOIt is, for sure because it probably not going to be the only one. There is movement. You may have about in the U.N. that recognizes the Palestine as a state. And this is a consequence, some will argue, Richard among them, of Israeli policy. And if you believe unnamed quotes in newspaper stories in Washington, there are some in the White House think that Netanyahu brought this on himself, as well.
PAGENancy, what do you think?
YOUSSEFWell, I agree with Jim. And we saw the tensions have never been higher. We just saw them this week with the shooting of a Israeli-American activist we argued for more availability for Jewish settlers -- or Jews in the Old City and the retaliation, the killing of a 32-year-old Palestinian suspect and the closing down. I mean these tensors are rising so quickly that the mosque, al-Aqsa Mosque had never been closed since '67, and then closed it for a day and had the Palestinian spokesman calling it a declaration of war.
YOUSSEFHow quickly things are escalating tells you something about the level of tensions that we are at, and the lack of room for any sort of kind of negotiated settlement.
PAGEWhat do you think the climate is now, Greg, in Israel? Do things just keep getting worse? In some ways that doesn't seem possible but is that what's happening? What's the climate in terms of making any kind of progress toward a solution there?
MYRERight. Well, I think it's very pessimistic now. And there's a sort of contradictory idea here, which is life in Israel, much of Israel, is pretty good when they're not in the middle of a rocket war with Hamas in Gaza, and when there's no daily violence going on. Israel's economy is doing pretty well. The country is relatively safe. It has escaped all of this larger turmoil in the Middle East since the Arab Spring three years ago. But I think there's very little prospect that you're going to move forward with peace.
MYREI mean, you certainly have had the Netanyahu government and a very right wing cabinet and government. But even beyond that, I just think that the right-wing, for 15 years now has been ascended. And liberals in Israel have been in decline. And I think what we're seeing in Sweden is part of this larger notion, that after 20 years of theoretical peace talks, they've gone nowhere. And I think we're going to see more of these sorts of unilateral actions, whether it sections internationally or European countries recognizing a Palestinian state. So I think this is part of what is a very much a trend.
PAGEThis is going to cause huge political complications for the United States, including for President Obama, Jim.
SCIUTTONo question, this is an extremely politically sensitive relationship here in the U.S., as well. Mentions in the campaign, you know, questions about how loyal the Obama administration is too close an American ally. But you have from the other side, you know, from the administration, questions -- deep questions and, frankly, frustration with the Netanyahu government, particularly with the timings of these moves. You know, just after a U.S. official will visit, you will have new settlement construction approved even now it is Jerusalem, which is particularly sensitive.
SCIUTTOBut it has enormous implications for the security, frankly, of Israel but also for the strength of this very important relationship.
PAGESo why does the Israeli government do this? Nancy, why do they take steps that seem designed to anger the administration?
YOUSSEFBecause they have their own domestic politics at play, where you have a society that, frankly, much like our society where people are so divided and it's so polarized, that you have domestic politics that demand that they answer the demands of a conservative base that is calling for more settlements, calling for more aggressive policy, not as open to any sort of settlement. And so, those pressures are there and probably are the most, the loudest thing that you're hearing in all of this. We look at it from a U.S. perspective. But we have to remember that there are local issues at play, as well.
PAGEYou know, Greg, Egypt has begun to create a kind of buffer zone along the border with Gaza, flattening homes try to create an area. What is the reasoning behind Egypt's action here?
MYRERight. Egypt suffered a loss of more than 30 soldiers in an attack. And we've seen a lot of extremism and attacks in the Sinai on Egyptian soldiers. And what's quite striking about this is it's almost a mirror image of what Israel did in Gaza. When I was there a decade ago, Israel was tearing down row after a row of houses along the Gaza-Egypt border, in a town called Rafah, to try to prevent smuggling coming across that border, weapons coming across the border.
MYRENow, the town of Rafah is on both sides of the Gaza-Egypt border. So now, after Israel tore down more than a thousand homes a decade ago, Egypt is tearing down homes on the Egyptian side in Rafah, but on the other side. So this town of Rafah has seen homes torn down now on both sides of the border, to try to prevent weapons smuggling going back and forth. And it was mostly weapons going into Gaza to be used against Israel. But now, Egypt feels the weapons are coming from Gaza to the south to be used against Egyptians.
PAGEIs that right? Do you think -- are they correct that this is just where the militants attacking Egyptian forces are coming from?
SCIUTTOWell, there's suspicion and there's definitely connections between those groups. I think Greg makes a fantastic point, that here you have a Muslim Egyptian government taking the same steps that a Jewish Israeli government made, to great international consternation. But I think it also gets at what Nancy was speaking about. You have right wing politics in Israel that's driving this. But you also have broader public surrender, really. When you talk to many Israelis, even ones who used to be classified as middle-of-the-road, just giving up with the sense that the peace talks are going to get them anywhere.
SCIUTTOAnd same on the Palestinian side, giving up on the sense with negotiating with the Israelis. And then, more broadly, in the region you have this sense of giving up on that process. The region is too messy. You have, you know, you have so much chaos in Libya and so on, in countries that have tried to remove their dictators, just throwing up their hands and saying, really, force is the only -- we are embattled, we have to fight back. It just seems to me that's pervasive now in the region.
PAGENow, John Kerry, when he became Secretary of State, made a big effort in trying to reach him. At least, people said it was impossible. He plunged in, spent a lot of time in the region. Has he also given up now, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, we haven't heard anything about that in quite a while. So perhaps the -- perhaps you can infer something from that. It doesn't seem that there was an environment for it. When he was there he made, my goodness, it seems like a dozen trips trying to facilitate that, and there just wasn't an environment there. And doing it at a time when, as Jim mentioned, the region is so volatile. And Egypt, in particular, was not the kind of partner that would've once been dared just a couple of years ago and, in fact, oscillated back and forth on its position.
YOUSSEFAnd one of the things we have to remember is that Egypt of a year ago is no longer there, that Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the president there, has really been arguing that he is fighting terrorism. And one of the reasons he does that is it allows him to crack down, because his argument is I'm taking away your freedoms, I'm putting in more laws, I'm arresting more people to protect you. And the effect that, in my time there, and I think you'll start to see is that, in fact, it creates more enemies. Because who wants to negotiate with somebody who's tearing down their house, who's arresting them, who is oppressing them?
PAGELet's talk to Francis, been very patient holding on, calling us from Baltimore, Md. Hi, Francis.
FRANCISHi. How are you?
FRANCISI have a question. I happen to be a Sierra Leonean and I've been living in the States since 2004. And I've seen so many illnesses, the SARS and MERS and whatever disease come along and gone from different countries. And I've never once saw this knee-jerk reaction imposed, a travel ban to none of these countries. And now unfortunately my country is suffering from Ebola. So why this knee-jerk reaction from every lawmaker, every governor tried to ban travel to Sierra Leone? I don't understand that.
PAGEWell, now. Francis, let me just ask you why do you think?
FRANCISI don't know. I think -- well, my thought is because, you know, Africa is Africa and the people are black. You know, that's my only thought. I cannot justify anything else, you know, besides that. This is Africa and, you know, there's nothing else.
PAGEAll right. Francis, thank you very much for your call and we certainly send our best hopes for things to get better in your home country. Greg.
MYREYeah, just some of my colleagues at NPR had a look back at quarantines over the year, literally going back to the Bible. But even in this country there've been a number of them from the very earliest days. But one thing that jumped out at me was back in 1985, the LA Times did a poll on AIDS. And 51 percent thought that AIDS patients should be quarantined at that time. And something, you know, that nobody, no mainstream leader would argue these days.
MYREAnd so, I think we'll have to see how the Ebola plays out. But it's something new that Americans have had to deal with before. I think that's left him a bit frightened.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take another caller. Frank is calling us from Western Florida. Frank, you're on the air.
FRANKYes, thank you for taking my call. I just have a question to the panel. It, the Ebola countries in the region where corruption is very high. We've all been celebrating the fact that in Nigeria, Ebola has now -- done not -- is not current anymore, does not exist anymore. Now, we all know Nigeria is a very corrupt country. We all get letters from there and all sort of things now. How reliable it is that this has actually happened, that there is no, no longer a problem with Ebola? And that, you know, who's minding the figures of it? Is that the Nigeria government or is the World Health Organization in nations? I'll take the answer off-line.
PAGEAll right. Thanks very much for your call. Jim.
SCIUTTOWell, I think in a case like Nigeria, and it's certainly there are tremendous problems there, but you did see a country react very quickly and decisively to control this, taking some very clever steps, as well. For instance, analyzing cell phone calls of affected families so they could track who was talking, in contact with whom, and really get a lid on it, and also tremendous cooperation between national government and local governments. It's not to say Nigeria doesn't have problems. I mean the fact is that WHO has declared them Ebola-free. So you can have some confidence that it's not just coming from inside the country.
PAGEHere's an e-mail from Raleigh. Raleigh writes, Why is all the rhetoric being disseminated by the media focused on ISIS, as opposed to the drug war in Mexico? Since 2006, there've been over 70,000 people killed and in 2013 alone 1600 abductions in Mexico. Today, there were three American bodies discovered in a border town. It took only two dead Americans in Syria for U.S. military action. Mexico seems a much more serious regional threat than ISIS. Why are you doing next to nothing about it?
PAGENancy, why the different responses?
YOUSSEFWell, my own theory is we've been talking about terrorism since 2001, since September 11th of 2001, that this has been a topic that just captivated us. And the fear that lives among Americans of a similar attack, I think, has made terrorism a much more headline issue, if you will, then what Raleigh raises, which is we should, in fact, be talking about the drug. Where a part of it shows that the administration talks about the terror problem more than they talk about the drug war, and part of that is for political reasons, part of it is because of the fear within the population. And I think the third reason is, we've been talking about the drug war for so long that it, in a way, sort of seems to distant. That we've sort of seen it, the drug problem in this country go down.
YOUSSEFWhereas the uncertainty of terrorism continues to hover over this country. And the fact that 13 years later, rather than seen less a problem, we're seeing bigger groups doing more outrageous things. Thirteen years later, we're fighting groups that are beheading Americans, that are talking about creating their own states, that are talking about creating their own militaries, that are redrawing the borders. I think it's all so frightening and so uncertain that, as the news media, we find ourselves between the public concern and the change that's happening so rapidly, focus on ISIS.
PAGENancy Youssef, she's national security correspondent for McClatchy newspapers. We've also been joined this hour by Greg Myre, international editor of NPR, and Jim Sciutto, chief national security correspondent for CNN. Thank you all for being with us this hour.
SCIUTTOIt's great to be here.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Have a great Halloween. Thanks for listening.
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