A woman participates in a protest demanding the Mexican goverment the appearence of 43 missing students in Mexico City on November 5, 2014. The arrest on the eve of Guerrero state ex-mayor and wife team suspected of masterminding the disappearance of the students last September raised hopes Wednesday that authorities can finally track them down -- dead or even alive.

A woman participates in a protest demanding the Mexican goverment the appearence of 43 missing students in Mexico City on November 5, 2014. The arrest on the eve of Guerrero state ex-mayor and wife team suspected of masterminding the disappearance of the students last September raised hopes Wednesday that authorities can finally track them down -- dead or even alive.

President Obama says he will seek authorization from Congress for the military campaign against the Islamic State. That could lead to a heated debate over the nature of the latest U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria. President Obama reported writes a secret letter last month to Iran’s supreme leader. In it, he seeks to link cooperation in the fight against ISIS to a nuclear deal. While Ebola loosens its grip on Liberia, a new outbreak hits Sierra Leone. And a Mexican mayor and his wife are arrested in the disappearance of 43 three students. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.


  • Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief, Al Jazeera Arabic.
  • Joanna Biddle State Department correspondent, AFP.
  • David Rennie Washington bureau chief, The Economist.


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Iraqi security forces prepare an offensive against the Islamic State militants. A new Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. And a Mexican mayor and his wife are detained in the case of 43 missing students. Joining me for the international hour of "The Friday News Roundup," Abderrahim Foukara with Al Jazeera Arabic, Joanna Biddle with AFP, and David Rennie at the Economist. I hope you'll join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

  • 11:07:43

    MR. DAVID RENNIEGood to be with you.

  • 11:07:44

    MS. JOANNA BIDDLEGood morning.

  • 11:07:44


  • 11:07:46

    REHMDavid Rennie, I'll start with you. A report this week says the momentum of the Islamic State appears to be stalling. Would you agree?

  • 11:08:00

    RENNIEWell, our reporters in the field for the Economist are picking up the signs that the Islamic State moved as fast as it did and took territory as fast as it did because they enjoyed a kind of unique set of circumstances. That they could take advantage of the deep discontent in sort of disenfranchised, poor Sunni communities who felt that they, particularly the Iraqi government, Shia led Iraqi government, had been their enemy. It allowed them to make these sweeping territorial gains.

  • 11:08:30

    RENNIEBut, of course, the downside to the Islamic State is their whole dream of forming a new caliphate, a new state, is that's a very, very high ambition for a terrorist group. I mean, terrorists often do very well, just being guerillas and picking off a sort of established government. But they have ambitions to take and secure and to hold territory and establish a whole new system of government, with very, very ferocious religious laws. And that leaves them very far extended.

  • 11:08:55

    RENNIEThis new -- these huge new sweeping chunks of territory, a third of Iraq and Syria that they have, in some way, contested under their control, they're now trying to force people to live according to their rules. They're now needing the support of that local community, because they're more than just an insurgent guerilla force. Couple that with, undoubtedly, the effect of the air strikes, which has made them have to change. They can't just move around in convoys openly.

  • 11:09:20

    RENNIEIt's not gonna defeat them utterly. Airstrikes never can, but they're trying something very, very ambitious and you can see the strains now showing on the ground.

  • 11:09:28


  • 11:09:30

    BIDDLEWell, yes, I think you can see that there's a change of tactics, too, from the United States. Some from the Iraqi government. The Prime Minister, the new Prime Minister was just out trying to get onboard some of the Iraqi tribesmen, to try and build up local resistance against ISIL. And we'll have to see whether that works, as yet. But I think there's a recognition that there has to be a shift in the strategy on the ground in trying to get people onboard.

  • 11:10:00


  • 11:10:01

    FOUKARAYeah, I think for several days, a few weeks ago, day after day, or night after night, many of us were put on standby by the outlets we work for in preparation for what looked like it was going to be the fall of Kobani on the border between Syria and Turkey. So far, that hasn't, that hasn't happened. Ever since the air offensive started or led by the United States started, the advance of ISIL seems to have been somewhat stunted. But...

  • 11:10:33

    REHMTo what extent have the air strikes contributed to that slowing or stunting?

  • 11:10:42

    FOUKARAWell, what we're hearing, at least from the United States side, is that the air strikes have done at least two things. One is that they've made it very difficult for ISIS to communicate with each other in the various parts where combat is going on. And the other thing is that it's made it very difficult for them to get fuel for -- to engine their movements throughout the combat zones. Having said that, I mean, as David said, this is a group which is somewhat unlike other groups.

  • 11:11:18

    FOUKARAThis is a group that has, although it has transcended borders, but it is a group that actually has a chunk of country with borders. And it has a very sophisticated organization. It has a very sophisticated way of communicating and, I think, probably, most crucial of all, as Joanna said, the crucial element is to what extent the Sunnis in Iraq, the Sunni tribes and in places such as Mosul, disavow ISIS. The reports we're getting is that they are still very popular, ISIS is still very popular in these places because of disenchantment with what the former Prime Minister of Iraq, who led the Shia coalition, had done.

  • 11:12:09

    REHMAnd now, we're hearing that Iraqi security forces are gearing up for a major spring offensive against ISIL with U.S. help. What are the obstacles there, David?

  • 11:12:25

    RENNIEWell, of course, Iraqi security forces is an easier -- those are easier words to say than a physical reality to kind of make happen on the ground. And we saw one of the interesting ideas coming up. It was clearly, how do you get Sunni militia units to join the fighting so America has been very keen on this idea of creating what they're calling National Guard Units. Which is a kind of reassuring term. We can all imagine National Guard here in United States.

  • 11:12:49

    RENNIEBut, it's clearly going to be a little different on the ground. But the politics has proved very slow. The Iraqi Parliament has to pass legislation to make these guard units legal and appear -- that hasn't happened yet, and, you know, that core problem, the Iraqi military simply ran away from the fight, not because they're cowards. These are brave people facing grave danger. But because they did not believe that their commanders in the government above them were on their own side.

  • 11:13:16

    RENNIEThose kind of fundamental problems are going to be hard to overcome and it's clear, and this is where it gets very painful for President Obama, is it's clear, because it has been clear in the past in Iraq, that if you want to make these units fight, stand and fight, you need Americans there with them, standing next to them, not just kind of advising them in this kind of euphemism. But actually, sort of stiffing their backbone and that is going to be, you know, we're still promising no boots on the ground, but we're getting perilously close to, you know, special forces, kind of, desert boots on the ground, chukka boots on the ground.

  • 11:13:49


  • 11:13:49

    BIDDLEYes, President Obama has signaled this week that he intends to go to Congress and ask for more money to help train, specifically, the Iraqi government forces. I think in the order of 3.2 billion dollars, he's asking for. We know there's already about 600 American military advisors on the ground in Iraq. Plus about 800 ordinary troops who are defending the embassy, defending Baghdad airport so that supplies can keep going in to the country. I think, as David said, it's maybe just a matter of time before that number starts creeping up and we see more American on the ground.

  • 11:14:25

    BIDDLEI just wanted to also mention that one of the issues I think for how you get the Sunnis onboard is we've seen this week and last week, some very brutal executions by IS, ISIL against local tribes. The Albu Nimr tribe was one of them. Anywhere in the -- upwards between 250 to 500 people. Men, women and children, just brutally massacred in the street. These are Sunnis, and I think from the ISIS side, what they're trying to show is that the government isn't there for the Sunnis to try and protect them.

  • 11:14:58

    BIDDLEBut, on the other hand, there are some people that say that, well, this obviously creates a climate of tremendous fear in those areas. It may, possibly, work against ISIS in the way that there could be an up -- galvanizing of local support to fight back. And that's possibly one of their...

  • 11:15:15

    REHMNow, are you talking about those 250 children...

  • 11:15:20


  • 11:15:20

    REHM...who were killed in Kobani?

  • 11:15:23

    BIDDLEOh no. I'm talking about other executions that were happening in Iraq.

  • 11:15:27

    REHMBut then, you 250 children, between the ages of 14 and 16, from Kobani, abducted by the Islamic State militants. Some beaten with electric cables, forced to watch beheading videos.

  • 11:15:48

    FOUKARAYeah, I mean, absolutely. And, you know, what makes it, what makes that particular part of it more significant is that these are mostly Kurdish children. We know, at least if you listen to President Barack Obama, and the leaders of the coalition that he's formed, that they count on the Kurds to play a significant role in fighting ISIS. Particularly when it comes to ground troops. The U.S. continues to say no to ground troops, so almost everybody is dependent on the role of Kurdish ground troops in the fight.

  • 11:16:26

    FOUKARABut, I mean, except this. We know that ever since this situation in Syria started three years ago, children have been at the forefront of the casualties. Horrendous crimes have been committed against children, not just 250. Tens of thousands of children have suffered, including the use of chemical weapons against them. And unfortunately, unfortunately, that hasn't galvanized the public opinion in a way that is significant enough to try and stop that conflict, which has, ultimately given rise to this particular ISIS problem.

  • 11:17:05


  • 11:17:05

    RENNIEI think another key point, in terms of will these populations, in some way, turn against ISIS, is, I mean, I remember when I covered the war in Afghanistan in 2001. I had the experience of rolling into towns where the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies had sort of left, literally, the day before. And with our kind of western heads and our western minds, we were accustomed to thinking that the problem with the Taliban rule had been its brutality. Or the extremism of the religion.

  • 11:17:31

    RENNIEBut when you actually got in to talk to these townspeople who suffered Taliban rule for, you know, a couple of years, their problem was that they were foreigners. That was far more offensive to them, that they were Arabs in town who had been offensive. And they actually, in many ways, didn't have a problem with some of the religious strictures, and I think that that is clearly vital, as Abderrahim says, in the siege in that Kurdish town on the border of Syria and Turkey, the fact that these are foreigners doing this is probably every bit as potent, if not more potent.

  • 11:17:57

    RENNIEIt's very important, here in the west, we're accustomed to thinking in moral terms about the abuses and the atrocities and brutality. There, very often, it's also exactly, you know, which tribe, which country, which nationality, these foreigners doing it to us.

  • 11:18:10

    REHMDavid Rennie. He is Washington Bureau Chief for the Economist. We'll take a short break here. You can join us. 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:20:00

    REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Joanna Biddle, correspondent for AFP, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic and David Rennie of The Economist. Joanna, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that President Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran on fighting ISIL. How much do we know what was said?

  • 11:20:36

    BIDDLEWell, very little of the actual content of the letter. This was a scoop by Jay Solomon at the Wall Street Journal. His sources have told him that the letter talked about the shared responsibility or the shared interest that the United States and Iran have in fighting ISIL and the Islamic State -- the Islamic State Group. It seemed to suggest, from what the sources said, that the -- any cooperation would be conditioned first on getting a deal on the nuclear front. Of course those talks are ongoing.

  • 11:21:12

    BIDDLESecretary Kerry is meeting with his Iranian counterpart this weekend in Muscat in Oman, which of course hosted secret talks in 2012 between Iran and the United States which eventually brought Iran back to the negotiating table on the nuclear issue. So the letter, while we don't know the content, and the White House is saying that they won't reveal the details of what they call a private correspondence, it would make sense, I think, that the president would reach out in this way.

  • 11:21:39

    REHMDavid Rennie.

  • 11:21:40

    RENNIEWell, I think America has a couple of big problems here, one of which is if you send a letter to the Iranians saying, help us on Islamic State, but we're tying this to the nuclear deal, you're essentially saying to them, we are trying something that we want to something that we want. The leverage is on the Iranian side there. I think the other problem is that this is going to send further waves of distrust around the region.

  • 11:22:03

    RENNIEVery important to know how upset and angry the Sunni governments of the region are at this idea that what is happening and they look at Syria, they look at Iraq, they look at Iran, than it's all part of the piece. There are American war planes bombing Sunni extremists all over Iraq increasingly battling Sunni extremists in Syria. What they also see is the effect of the Shiite allied government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria in their view being allowed to massacre his own people without punishment by America.

  • 11:22:36

    RENNIEIn the meantime, the Shiite government in Baghdad being given a pass by America and now the Shiites' super power, Iran being energetically wooed by America bombers. So seen in the region this kind of secret diplomacy is another sign that America is cozying up to the Shiites and all the time the bombs are raining down on only exclusively Sunni extremists.

  • 11:22:58


  • 11:22:59

    FOUKARAWell, first of all, regardless of whether this letter actually is confirmed by the White House or not, am I surprised by it? No, I'm not surprised by it. I know -- we all know that President Barack Obama has put a lot of eggs in the Iran basket ever since he came into office five years ago. And we know that part of his legacy, he wants it to be that he either achieved a deal with the Iranians or he paved the way for achieving a deal with the Iranians on their nuclear issue.

  • 11:23:34

    FOUKARAWhat is interesting for me personally about the letter is that he actually sent it to Khamenei in particular. He didn't send it to President Rohani, a moderate. He didn't send it to the foreign minister of Iran, Zarif.

  • 11:23:51

    REHMAnd why do you speculate...

  • 11:23:53

    FOUKARAWell, it's interesting to me because he -- despite everything that's being said about Iran having a moderate president who is interested in achieving a deal with the west about Iran's nuclear issue, it is still here in D.C. considered that Khamenei is the guy who will ultimately make or break a deal over Iran's nuclear issues. So on that front, nothing has changed.

  • 11:24:22

    FOUKARAAnd lastly, the existence of this letter, if it were to be indeed categorically confirmed, is that it shoots a huge hole in what both Washington and Iran have been saying about, no, this is strictly about a nuclear deal. No, it's not just about a nuclear deal. Parallel to negotiations about a nuclear deal are talks about ISIS and talks about Syria and talks about Lebanon and talks about other issues in the region.

  • 11:24:52


  • 11:24:54

    BIDDLEOh yes, totally. I mean, the U.S. administration has actually said on several occasions that they have talked about ISIL on the margins of these nuclear talks. So I think there's a -- it would be interesting to see how long they can try and keep separate tracks. I just don't think it's going to be possible. November the 24th is the deadline for the nuclear deal. We'll see what happens there but I suspect that we're going to see more and more of this kind of outreach, this diplomatic -- this very difficult and delicate diplomacy between the United States and Iran going on further down the line.

  • 11:25:29

    REHMAnd what about the al-Nusra front? The Syrian rebel group affiliated with al-Qaida apparently has expanded its control of Northern Syria, David.

  • 11:25:44

    RENNIEThat's right. And there the headache for the Obama Administration is now that they have finally decided they might try and find some moderate allies, some rebels against the Assad regime and arm them and train them, if the most extreme groups continue to advance and al-Nusra is gaining territory at the expense of other slightly less extreme groups that might have been potential rebel allies, this is the problem.

  • 11:26:11

    RENNIEWashington just at the moment where after a lot of resistance President Obama decides he will train and arm some moderate rebels, we're running out of moderate allies. I mean, they're falling before we can get to them. And, you know, that's a pretty frightening development for the United States.

  • 11:26:26

    REHMAbderrahim, turning now to Israel, there are tensions there that continue to escalate over access to a religious site holy to Jews and to Muslims. So what happened this week?

  • 11:26:44

    FOUKARAWell, first of all, it's the -- almost, for the Jews, it's the holy of holies. For the Muslims, it's the third holiest city. But it's still extremely holy, holy enough that when the former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, visited it several years ago, it sparked off the intifada or the Palestinian uprising. We're on the verge of another uprising yet again following the visit by a prominent Likud member of the Israeli Knesset to the site, which basically started the confrontations a few days ago, hard to tell.

  • 11:27:29

    FOUKARAI mean, many of the people who were in the original intifada on part of the Palestinian authority, they are in power. They're part of the new middle class that has appeared in the West Bank. It's very hard to see how they would endorse a new Palestinian. They have too much material interest at stake to lose unless they are absolutely certain that if there were to be a new intifada, it would lead to a substantial change in the Palestinian situation. Otherwise we could see a sort of managed crisis on and off a long time to come.

  • 11:28:04

    REHMSo the reality is that Jordan is the custodian of the site and Jews can visit but not pray there. And you have the Israeli government pushing to allow that, Joanna.

  • 11:28:25

    BIDDLEWell, at the moment under the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, yes, you're correct. Jordan is the protector of the site. And the wars, we believe -- a phone call yesterday from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Jordan to assure them that they are going to maintain the status quo which, as you said, at the moment they can visit but there's no praying for Jews at the site.

  • 11:28:47

    BIDDLEThe United States position on this is very clear too that they want the status quo to continue and they want what is the Al Aqsa Mosque and temple mount for the Jews, they want Al Aqsa Mosque to be open for Muslim worshippers to continue. There is a fringe, I think -- well, there's been a very loud movement in Israel for what they call the third temple to open up for the temple to, you know, permanent rights for worship and prayer. But at the moment that isn't going forward.

  • 11:29:20

    REHMAnd meantime you had two Palestinian drivers plowing their cars into Israelis in separate episodes. The Israeli government calling these acts of terror.

  • 11:29:36

    RENNIEAnd they clearly are. And if you want to really get depressed, which is not hard in the Middle East, they've chosen both times -- this light rail, this kind of tram system which was supposed to be the symbol of great hope in Jerusalem, you're going to have this light rail system linking up Arab areas, linking up Palestinian and Jewish areas in this very contested, very bitter town and queues of people waiting to catch these light trains have been targeted because they're standing in the street.

  • 11:30:01

    RENNIEAnd obviously this is a return -- I mean, it's very, very shocking and it clearly is terrorism, but the existence of the Israeli security barrier, that wall has brought remarkable normalcy for some years, that you didn't have suicide bombers in the way that you did, you know, the last time there was an intifada. So now people are talking about suicide drivers. You're seeing this kind of very depressing -- and of course that further sows intense distrust with say Arabs who have Israeli citizenship who live in Israeli areas, you know, that intense suspicion of the enemy within is seething around. This is a very, very dangerous moment.

  • 11:30:35

    FOUKARAThe argument that John Kerry, the Secretary of State, has continuously made to the Israelis is that, look, we know that the Israeli economy is doing so well that most Israelis are not paying attention to the Palestinian issue anymore. And I think what we have seen over the last few days is a reminder that he is right. I mean, you may -- the Israelis may feel comfortable enough to look the other way and enjoy the benefits of an amazingly growing Israeli economy. But at the end of the day, the issue of occupation will always punt into that comfort. I would imagine that John Kerry will be somewhat gloating right now, that, you know, he has been proven right yet again about that.

  • 11:31:25

    REHMSo the attacks indeed could continue? You could see more of that car as missile?

  • 11:31:37

    BIDDLEI absolutely believe that could be the case, yes. I mean, that is the intense frustration, I think, among the Palestinian people now about where they go from here. The wall has not helped things, the Israeli fence or whatever you like to call it. It's blocked off from access between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

  • 11:31:54

    BIDDLETwenty years ago when I was working in the Middle East, we had Palestinian journalists who lived in Ramallah and could come in with a special pass to Jerusalem. There was -- it wasn't easy but they could do it. Now there's just no access. And somebody made a point to me very -- not so long ago that there's a whole generation of young Israelis now who really have no contact at all with the Israeli Arabs -- Palestinians living in that region.

  • 11:32:15

    RENNIEOf course where this is politically really, really hard for the American government as well is that one of the things that is challenging that status quo you described where since the Israeli's took control of the temple mount in the '67 war, they've not allowed Jews to pray on the mount. And they've tried to sort of not create conflict.

  • 11:32:33

    RENNIEYou now have members of Benjamin Netanyahu's government from parties who talk a great deal about building a new temple, about allowing Jews to pray on the mount. And so we had a report from our correspondents in Jerusalem talking about the real challenge here is the extreme fringe of Israeli politics has moved into the mainstream and is now making its arguments at the heart of the Israeli government.

  • 11:32:55

    RENNIEFor the moment, under tremendous pressure from America, Benjamin Netanyahu is talking about not budging from the status quo. He's going to face down these members of his own government demanding much more radical steps to promote Jewish rights and to limit Muslim rights. But it's an extremely tricky situation for America.

  • 11:33:12

    REHMDavid Rennie of The Economist and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've been following the story of 43 missing students in Mexico. What is the latest on that, Joanna?

  • 11:33:32

    BIDDLEWell, the latest is unfortunately still nobody knows where they are. They're still missing. This week they arrested the former mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife who are believed to have been behind ordering whatever happened to these students. Nobody really knows. I mean, I suppose...

  • 11:33:51

    REHMDo we know why he would've ordered, if he did?

  • 11:33:55

    BIDDLEWell, it seems a bit strange. It was something to do with they believe that he -- they might interrupt -- they were students who were at teacher training college in Iguala. And there was fears that they could interrupt a speech that his wife was going to give. So on the night that this happened that the 43 students went missing, six people also died. But what has happened to the 43 we don't know.

  • 11:34:18

    BIDDLEAnd really tragically they thought they had found some sites because they found a site of varied graves. But it turns out that these people who were buried in them -- in these graves dotting these hillsides, 38 bodies, are not the students at all. So we don't know who those are. It sounds like a truly terrifying place to be living at the moment with -- where there's very little rule of law at all.

  • 11:34:42

    REHMIt's interesting because this particular case has really sparked just widespread protests all over the country.

  • 11:34:53

    RENNIEThat's right, Diane. You've seen tens of thousands of people marching in Mexico City, the capitol. This is really a story of the poisonous sort of nexus between local politics, local law enforcement, these municipal police forces and the organized drug cartels. And that seems to be what has happened now, you know, these allegations. But the federal prosecutors who arrested the mayor of Iguala and his wife, what they are saying is that his wife, who had ambitions to succeed her husband as the next mayor of Iguala, that her family including some of her brothers are believed to be members of the Guerreros Unidos, which is a very nasty, very vicious drug cartel.

  • 11:35:31

    RENNIEFederal prosecutors are accusing the mayor of accepting very, very large sums of money on a monthly basis from the local drug lords in exchange for essentially handing over control of the municipal police force and making them a private army but with badges for the drug lords. And it seems that this teachers college, as Joanna is absolutely right, it is students from a fairly radical left wing college who had a history of quite rowdy political activism. They had hijacked some buses earlier in the day. They were believed to be going down -- they were going to try to disrupt a big speech which was kind of the coming out speech for the wife to cement her claims to become the next mayor of Iguala.

  • 11:36:06

    RENNIEAnd this was a challenge -- this is not about face and pride, this was a challenge to that incredibly lucrative and violent blood-soaked connection between the drug industry, local government and local police forces.

  • 11:36:18

    REHMSo the Mexican government now estimates that more than 22,000 people went missing during the eight years of violence. Some say the toll could be much higher, Abderrahim.

  • 11:36:35

    FOUKARAAbsolutely. I mean, this is obviously -- this nexus that David talked about, it's a very nasty situation. But it casts some light. It reminds both Mexicans and the international community about the issue of disappearances in Mexico. We all remember the cases of these women in Juarez, for example, who for years have been disappearing. And nobody know exactly what happens to them. There've been suspicions that these violent gangs have been doing the killings. But nobody knows to what extend local government is actually -- that there's collusion on the part of local government. But this problem always ends up spilling over into the other side of the border, into the U.S. border, whether it's about drugs or weapons.

  • 11:37:23

    REHMAbderrahim Foukara. He's Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera. Short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones, your questions, comments. Stay with us.

  • 11:39:56

    REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday "News Roundup" this week with Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera, Joanna Biddle, she's with AFP which I've always called the Agence France-Presse...

  • 11:40:15

    BIDDLEThat's right.

  • 11:40:15

    REHM...David Rennie of "The Economist." We have a report from the Associated Press. Syrian activists say Al-Qaida linked fighters have captured at least three villages from Western-backed rebels in the country's northwest, as the militants continued their push to assert control over an area once held by more modern groups. Not good news, David Rennie.

  • 11:40:50

    RENNIENo, and it further reduces America's ability to say to more moderate groups, if you stand with us and stick with us that will bring you benefits. On the ground people can see that that isn't yet happening despite the air strikes.

  • 11:41:00

    REHMAnd here's an e-mail from Carlton in Raleigh, North Carolina. He says, We spend substantial sums to train and equip Iraqi security forces and lauded the Department of Defense for meeting their targets for training. However the leaks by Manning showed that DOD and State Department officials knew about problems of corruption and training failures, and papered them over or simply avoided mentioning them to Congress, so they could declare mission accomplished. Since the security forces failed in their first test, why has no one been held accountable? Joanna.

  • 11:41:55

    BIDDLEWell, I think that's a good question. I think the United States would say that when they left, they left an army that was functional and that it was under the watch of former Prime Minister Maliki that things began to deteriorate. He was very sectarian in his approach. He was a Shiite leader. And I think that when the first test came from the Sunni, from the Islamic State, when they moved in on Mosul earlier this year that the army just felt that they didn't have, they couldn't stand the fight. They just left and evaporated.

  • 11:42:35


  • 11:42:36

    RENNIEWell, absolutely. And you see, use all these tragic reports of American officers who trained Iraqi officers in the past, seeing that officers who they had promoted on merit being sidelined because they were in the wrong political factional, or they were Sunni rather than Shia. And, you know, growing sense over the last two years that the Iraqi Army had become the kind of political plaything of the intensely sectarian government of Nouri al-Maliki. But the American public has to also, I think, recognize and the British public I would include too on this, we wanted to leave. And it was incredibly popular to leave. And people didn't ask too many searching questions about were we leaving with a perfect Iraqi Army, because people wanted to leave. And I think, you know, we left in a hurry because that's absolutely where public opinion in America and Britain was.

  • 11:43:23

    REHMRahu Maria in Harrisburg, Pa. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 11:43:30

    MARIAHello. I am Mexican-American and I spent some of my childhood in Mexico with my grandmother in Tijuana, which is a border town. I go away now in the winter in the month of February. And I would love to go to Mexico because it's my heritage, I speak fluent Spanish. But I find myself going to Puerto Rico because I'm afraid to go to Mexico. I'm afraid that I will wind up kidnapped. I'm just afraid and that they'll be no justice. I have had friends who have been attacked there that they are Mexicans themselves. And there's just never been justice. And I think it's just gotten worse and it's sad. It's a sad thing that I feel that a country that is part of my heritage I'm afraid to enter because of the injustice.

  • 11:44:13


  • 11:44:14

    FOUKARAYeah, I mean this just reminds us of the other layer to the problem. It's not just about drugs and weapons. It's also about economic opportunity. This is a country that certainly needs a lot of economic help to develop its infrastructure, to develop its economic prospects. And you get people like the listener now who may not even be Mexican, who will get completely -- a completely different or exaggerated notion about what's happening in Mexico. But that will hamper economic development.

  • 11:44:49

    REHMAnd, of course, any Americans who love to travel to Mexico for vacation.

  • 11:44:56


  • 11:44:56

    REHMSurely that's going to...

  • 11:44:58

    FOUKARABeautiful beaches, beautiful culture but...

  • 11:44:59

    REHM...be a big turnoff. Exactly. Or I, too, let's go to Matt in Rolla, Missouri. Hi there, you're on the air.

  • 11:45:10

    MATTHello. I know you guys are covering a lot of issues this morning. But, you know, I really believe that in Iraq and, just as the gentleman said, you know, leadership in Britain and the United States following public opinion, which is probably well true. But, you know, isn't that where a good leader who was briefed, and knows what's going on the ground? You know, we were over there for our own national security I'd like to think, and to project the values of the United States and free countries. When you totally pull all of its troops out, you know, the Iraqi Army, although they might have been functional, they never knew how to win. You know, America military it knows how to win. It knows -- it knows, I mean and there's -- it's fluid. There's a history there.

  • 11:45:53

    MATTAnd then to give all of these arms and to say we've trained them is only one thing. But without an American presence there it goes beyond just being functional, just in my opinion. And I really think we kind of brought some of the situation on ourselves when we completely took all of that influenced away, and said here, you know, do we've done over the years a keep peace and keep safety here for your people. I think it was -- I think sometimes a leader cannot bend entirely to political or public whims.

  • 11:46:20

    REHMAll right. David.

  • 11:46:22

    RENNIEI think where there is a very real debate which needs to take place, which historians will judge, is the defense of President Barack Obama is he could not leave troops there because the Iraqi government was not willing to give the guarantees that they wouldn't be prosecuted in Iraqi courts if there was to, say, a crime committed or saying. And without that they couldn't possibly stay. Now, we've seen people including Leon Panetta, former Defense Secretary, former head of the CIA, an Obama figure in his most recent memoir saying that if there had been more of a kind of full court press by the president, politically, if he had lent all of his political authority to the effort to get Iraq to agree terms which allow American troops to stay, they could've stayed. It would've made a difference.

  • 11:47:05

    RENNIESo someone, a deep insider, saying that the president was in the end most interested in that political objective of getting out. Now, the White House would dispute that but that debate is absolutely out there.

  • 11:47:16


  • 11:47:17

    FOUKARAYou know, we started off, we spoke earlier about this letter which President Obama was supposed to have sent to the Iranians. And I think this is not too distance from the topic that the listener is talking about. Maliki was supported. The United States knew the flaws of Maliki from day one. They agreed with the Iranians to own Maliki as a compromise. There's no way that the Iranians would've agreed to the United States keeping forces after the second mission accomplished by Barack Obama. So we always circle back to former president -- Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. He had definitely had faults and we've seen some of those with the collapse of the Iraqi Army a few weeks ago, when ISIS advanced. But at the end of the day, it's the wider strategy that needed a second mission accomplished, cut and leave, that we are seeing run into difficulty today.

  • 11:48:22

    REHMAll right, to Detroit, Mi. Faisel, you're on the air.

  • 11:48:27

    FAISELHi there, thanks for letting me on.

  • 11:48:30


  • 11:48:31

    FAISELI just wanted to ask the panelists what they think the impact of seems to be the improving relationship between Iran and the United States, and on the seemingly worsening relationship between Israel and the United States and, more specifically, I guess, Netanyahu and President Obama.

  • 11:48:51


  • 11:48:52

    BIDDLEWell, yes. I mean I think the caller is absolutely correct. The relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu probably couldn't be any worse than it is now. We had those revelations last week of expletives being hurled against Prime Minister Netanyahu's leadership style. And yet, and Israel is deeply, deeply concerned about these warming ties between Iran and the United States. And to be honest, I think at the moment there isn't really much of a sense that the United States is going to wade back into any kind of peace process. And I think that the -- I don't know that there's going to be a diplomatic rapprochement from Iran and U.S. We're well aware -- well away from reopening embassies, having diplomats in Iran. Obviously Israel is the closest ally for the United States in the Middle East. But it's clear that the relationship is really at a low, yes.

  • 11:49:50


  • 11:49:51


  • 11:49:52

    REHMFor sure. To Richard in Portland, Or. Hi there.

  • 11:49:58

    RICHARDHi. How are you?

  • 11:49:59

    REHMGood, thank you.

  • 11:49:59

    RICHARDThanks for having me on.

  • 11:50:01


  • 11:50:02

    RICHARDIn the, I heard on the news this week something about a Sunni tribe, the Albu Nimr tribe or something, that lost hundreds of its members in a mass killing by ISIS. And then I think there was another NPR report about the Jabour tribe that had hundreds of its members kidnapped. And it just highlighted for me that between the Iraqi Army and the lack of American presence the, you know, our side really has almost nothing to offer the Sunni tribes, no possibility of protection for their families. And it highlights for me another notion that, you know, for about 10 years we've been hearing about how the Iraqi government needs to be more inclusive and include more, you know, become a less sectarian government. And it's obviously no sign of that happening and it hasn't for about 10 years. And I think of that ever starts to happen it would be reported as actual news. But in the meantime, I think it's time to drop that fantasy.

  • 11:50:57

    FOUKARAI think when David Petraeus was still in Iraq, leading the U.S. military presence there, those reports had made it amply clear that he had managed to enlist the help of the Sunni tribes against al-Qaida, in what was known as the Sunni Awakening. But they did that because, the tribes did that because they had the promise that they would be part of the political process, whereby they would be allowed to wield some power within the new government formed in, or new governments formed in Iraq post 2003. Now, the listener is asking about today. Yes, many of them would look back and say, Look, we agreed to something but when Maliki came the United States and push them hard enough, to live up to the deal that we had agreed on with David Petraeus and with the United States. Why should we do it this time?

  • 11:51:56

    FOUKARAThe fact is that some of them to feel, separately from the United States, that ISIS is a threat to them today. How the larger Sunni community in Iraq feel is the question here. In Mosul, for example, Mosul is a very important city as we all know. All the reports that we're hearing is that Sunnis of Mosul were so disgruntled with the government of Nouri Maliki, the corruption, the tyranny that they are, and they're are still willing to put their hands in the hands of ISIS. How the United States can convince them to pull their hands out of the hands of ISIS is obviously the challenge that Barack Obama faces today.

  • 11:52:40

    REHMAnd you're listening to the "Diane Rehm Show." Now to Silver Spring, Md. Hi there, Eddie. You're on the air.

  • 11:52:49

    EDDIEHi. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:52:51


  • 11:52:52

    EDDIEI was just been listening and the panelists were talking about how many children, hundreds and thousands, 10,000 have emerged in Syrian. Public opinion hasn't been galvanized. I was wondering if there was any way to leverage the way the public opinion was galvanized into Gaza War this summer, and somehow connect it to the Syrian situation.

  • 11:53:13

    RENNIEI think, and it's a tough thing to say and I'm not accusing exclusively the American public opinion. I would include European public opinion, British public opinion. I think that the tragic consequences of 13 years of war without real conclusion in Muslim countries, is an awful lot of people, when they see Muslims killing other Muslims, and they see one group of fanatics attacking another group who are supposedly a little lesser little more fanatical, they just think that's tragic. I wish it were otherwise but that's what those people are like. And when I go out in the country and I talk to voters, you hear that, people saying, I wish there was something we could do, perhaps it can do more with air strikes but these countries are beyond fixing. We've tried to fix them and we can't fix them.

  • 11:53:55

    RENNIEAnd I think that is the reason that public opinion can watch these massacres take place without thinking that America is capable of fixing it. It's a very, very tragic but perhaps natural consequence of 13 years of fighting, which have not ended well.

  • 11:54:08

    REHMTo Houston, Texas. Hi, Georgia.

  • 11:54:14

    GEORGIAHi. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:54:15


  • 11:54:16

    GEORGIAA few minutes ago, one of your panelists mentioned something about the lady who called about Mexico being, her being of afraid going and her being Mexican. And I think I might've misunderstood. He said something like she's exaggerating or misinformed. And I don't know if that's exactly what he said. But I also come from South America and things aren't well at all over there. And things are extremely dangerous. And you might be actually misinformed in the other way. And then not...

  • 11:54:53

    REHMNo, I don't...

  • 11:54:54

    GEORGIA...as justified.

  • 11:54:55

    REHMI don't think, excuse me. I don't think anyone on this panel said that our caller was misinformed when she indicated she feared going back to Mexico. She said she missed her country but had decided to Puerto Rico instead, because she did fear the drug wars that were going on in Mexico. No one here said she was misinformed.

  • 11:55:29

    GEORGIAOkay. And yeah, that is very, very much happening and its right in the backyard of the U.S. And it's going to be a problem in the future. That's what I believe.

  • 11:55:39

    REHMIndeed. All right., thank you...

  • 11:55:40

    GEORGIAIt's like in slow-motion.

  • 11:55:41

    REHM...so much for calling. And let's go find leads to Logan on Long Island, NY. You're on the air.

  • 11:55:51

    LOGANYes, somebody mentioned withdrawal of troops from Iraq was a problem. No, the problem was we invaded a country that did not attack us, that was not a threat to us. And all the fear and mongering and lies, outright lies and distortions, that's what caused this. Let's look back at the cause. This was a tremendous blunder that's going to pay a long time. Many years we're going to pay for this.

  • 11:56:17

    RENNIELook, that's clearly a very powerful point. But I guess you can be narrower and say once you made that decision, and you can argue both cases. And I, you know, clearly I think the caller is right. I'm on his side. But having gone in for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way, you can at least try and leave in the right way.

  • 11:56:34

    REHMAnd that'll have to be the last word from David Rennie, Washington bureau chief for "The Economist," Joanna Biddle, State Department correspondent for "Agence France-Presse," and Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic. Thank you all for a great "Roundup."

  • 11:56:58

    BIDDLEThank you very much.

  • 11:56:58

    FOUKARAHappy weekend.

  • 11:56:59

    REHMAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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