The world reacts to the deal between China and the U.S. to cap greenhouse gas emissions. Obama meets with leaders in Myanmar and urges support for democracy. Tensions rise in Ukraine as NATO says Russian troops have crossed the border. Iraq’s new prime minister orders a shake up of his military command. Iraqi Kurds appeal for U.S. arms to combat Islamic State militants. Russia reaches a deal with Iran to construct nuclear power plants. And recent deaths of women in India shine a spotlight on controversial sterilization practices. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Sanger National security correspondent, The New York Times; author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
- Susan Glasser Editor, Politico magazine.
- Geoff Dyer Foreign policy correspondent, Financial Times; author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--and How America Can Win."
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's in Indianapolis on a visit to WFYI. She'll be back Monday. The U.S. and China reach an historic deal to cap emissions. The Islamic State announces its own currency. And recent deaths highlight the dangers of India's sterilization practices. Some of the international stories we're going to be covering in this hour of the "Friday News Roundup." My panel consists of David Sanger of the New York Times. Susan Glasser of Politico and Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times. Great to see you all.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
MR. GEOFF DYERGreat to be with you.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERHi. Thanks.
GJELTENWe got news from around the world in this hour, and we'd like you to join our conversation. Our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. You can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also shoot us a question or a comment on Facebook or Twitter. So, big trip. It's probably President Obama's last big trip, at least, of this year. David Sanger, he went to Asia, and the headline so far this week was this climate emissions deal that the United States and China signed.
GJELTENWe've been waiting for many years for joint action by the United States and China to curb greenhouse gas emissions. How significant do you think this deal was?
SANGERWell, in one way, Tom, very significant, and in another way, one that will not require a huge amount of change on the U.S. part. The reason that it's been important for the U.S. and China to have a deal together is that it combines the biggest emitter, that would be us, with the biggest rising power, and future biggest emitter. That would be the Chinese. And the concept was that if you could put a deal together, that that would create pressure on the rest of the world to go follow. Put the Europeans a little bit out of joint that they were not, you know, part of this initial deal.
SANGERBut perhaps they were a little bit relieved, as well, at a time that their economies are so struggling. The reason that it's not going to be all that hard is that the dates are far enough out that if you go take a look at the plan the United States was on anyway, that reaching the targets that they set, which would basically take us back to sort of 2005 levels, is not that hard if you believe the existing projections. For the Chinese, they would basically stop having to increase their emissions by 2030.
SANGERSo, that means that, you know, they've got a fairly long pathway, 15 years, to get from here to there. The other big thing about the trip, the silences. So, the last time these two leaders met, we heard a huge amount about the cyber-attacks from China to the United States.
SANGERWe heard almost nothing about that this time, even though in the interim, the U.S. has indicted five members of the Peoples' Liberation Army. Tells you, perhaps, that the administration thinks that its public diplomacy on this isn't going anywhere.
GJELTENDoes this mean, Susan, I'm sure it does, that both sides know exactly what is possible and what is not possible at these summits, so they sort of line up a script that will produce achievements where they know there is accord? And they can avoid those areas, like David says, where they know they're not going to reach anything.
GLASSERWell, in general, yeah, so but what's striking in the context of carefully scripted international diplomacy actually was there was a lot of last minute bricksmanship right up to whether or not they were going to reach this climate deal. They had been talking about this for months. We had a really interesting story in Politico the other day saying that, really, actually they went in to the trip, they left on the trip without knowing whether they were going to reach the final deal.
GLASSERThey didn't finalize the language until Tuesday and then went ahead and announced it. Secretary of State John Kerry, John Podesta in the White House had been working on these negotiations for months. But it really went right down to the deadline as to whether they were going to have this big deliverable, in the language of international summitry. So, this one was a little bit more, perhaps, newsworthy than some of the carefully choreographed ones that I've been to before, which I think is noteworthy.
GLASSERAnd then, I think the second takeaway, right, is really, goes to President Obama doing what many Presidents before him have done, hopping on a plane and seeking solace in his role as an international statesman after being delivered a pretty good thumping by the American electorate and the American voters. It's not an accident that this trip was scheduled for immediately after the mid-terms. The results, while perhaps worse than they thought, were not entirely unexpected in the White House.
GLASSERWhich understood that there was a grave possibility of losing the Senate to the Republicans as they did. They had set and scheduled this trip to Asia very purposefully, in advance, in the hopes of sort of saying, hey look, we're still the leader of the free world. And I think that's what they've gotten out of it this week.
GJELTENWell, Geoff, as Susan just said that there is at least part of this that was not entirely scripted in advance. One thing that certainly seemed to be spontaneous was the press conference with President Xi and a lot of the discussion about human rights and press freedoms and so forth seemed to be actually quite extemporaneous.
DYERAbsolutely. And there was one very interesting counteraction between the reporter from the New York Times and President Xi where there had been a lot of pressure from the Chinese government on foreign journalists over the last few years. They refused visas to a number of western reporters, including a number of reporters from the New York Times. This was brought up at the press conference, and it was a slightly surreal moment where, at first, President Xi just completely ignored the issue.
DYERTook a question from a Chinese journalist and then proceeded to read out a written response to the question that he knew was coming. But then he did actually circle back to the question from the New York Times reporter and he did actually answer it. But he answered in a fairly aggressive kind of way, essentially saying the reason you're having problems with us is because of things you've done. It's your fault. Go and sort it out. So it was a certain amount of transparency, more than we've seen from his predecessor in these kind of engagements, but it was also a fairly abrasive message to the western media.
GJELTENAnd David, your newspaper responded with a very tough editorial.
SANGERIt did. Well, the question came from my colleague Mark Landler. And the question basically had to do with the fact that after the Times published a remarkable series of stories about how the previous Chinese Prime Minister's family became multi-billionaires off of his name and they're basically the -- traced back their investments in Chinese entities that did business with the government and so forth. The Chinese government has given a very difficult time to Times reporters trying to get visas.
SANGERTrying to extend their visas. Vice-President Biden intervened last year on behalf of the Times and other news organizations. But what was remarkable, I thought, about President Xi's answer was that he didn't go out of his way, the way previous leaders might be to say, you know, every country has slightly different views of a free press. And, of course, we have a thriving free press here and all that. He basically said, the problem is you guys.
GJELTENIs you're going to go off and slant the news the wrong way.
SANGERThat's right. You know? If you're not going to tow the line, right, you're not going to operate as freely in this country as you want to. And it gives you a sense of what American diplomats face now with a newly empowered Chinese leadership as well. Basically saying, we spend decades with the West setting the rules, and now we're big enough and we're going to start resetting the rules. And that was the message that I read from his answer. The editorial basically said, you know, we're not going to adjust our coverage for the tastes of one country's foreign leaders. Or any country's foreign leaders, including our own.
GJELTENWell Susan, as David said, you know, we're talking here about indications of an empowered China. What did you see in the optics of this summit, in terms of China's view of itself on the world stage and where it thinks it deserves to be standing?
GLASSERWell, I think it's pretty striking, if you look back to, you know, when President Xi took power, just a couple of years ago. I think there was a sense that he'd be a modernizer. There was a question about whether he would, perhaps, be a little bit more of a reformer than he has turned out to be. What he has turned out to be is a pretty muscular nationalist, very interested in being more assertive on the world stage, I think, than we thought initially. I think Obama seemed to have dialed back some of the criticism, some of the tension and hostility with China that has crept in the relationship in the last couple of years.
GLASSERHis goal seemed to be to let China appear on an equal footing with the United States in a way that it hasn't always in the past. I did find that striking. I did find it striking that in the midst of these Hong Kong protests and, you know, real questions about what course of authoritarianism the Chinese leadership is taking that Obama really played his own realist side here. And was clearly determined not to make any uncomfortable statements for his hosts. I think, I'm sure the Chinese saw this as a big win for themselves this week.
GJELTENAnd Geoff, one other sort of encouraging thing was the two leaders seeming to try and scale back a little bit of the tension around possible military confrontations at sea.
DYERAbsolutely. Yes, there was also an important parallel agreement about two things, about giving prior warning about military exercises and also communicating about some of these ship instances you had where US ships and Chinese ships have come into contact with each other. But I think there's a broader takeaway from this environmental deal that is very important. As Susan mentioned, Xi Jinping has given people a lot of reason for pause for thought in the last couple of years.
DYERHe's openly nationalistic himself, he has this campaign against the western media, Russia and China have been cozying up against each other. He's been setting up all these institutions, financial institutions, security institutions that challenge the western order in some way or other. So a lot of people have been thinking, what is his endgame? And I think what this climate deal agreement shows is that despite all the stuff that he is doing, this very more ambitious Chinese foreign policy that he's putting in place, he is not willing to tear up the US/China relationship.
DYERNow, he still thinks that is a very important part of the way that China sees itself in the world and the way it wants to do business. And that is, I think, one of the most important takeaways from this climate change deal.
GJELTENNow, as David said at the beginning, there still -- this doesn't get us anywhere near that temperature point in the future where we would have irreversible climate change.
DYERNo. Absolutely. But you do have to start somewhere. I mean, it is very important that you do get the Chinese government signing up to an international agreement. In the past, they have an outsource of targets for their own energy use. There's always been domes -- there's always been autonomous domestic targets. This is part of an international agreement. It puts pressure on other countries. It's going to put a lot of pressure on the Indians, for instance now, to come to the, come to the game over the climate change negotiations over the next year.
GJELTENWell, one question we might get to later in the program is whether any of this can be undone by opposition in the US Congress, the way the Kyoto Treaty was undone years ago. Geoff Dyer, Foreign Policy Correspondent at the Financial Times. Also Susan Glasser from Politico Magazine, and David Sanger, National Security Correspondent at the New York Times. I'm Tom Gjelten. We're going to take a short break now. Please stay with us.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten. I'm sitting in today for Diane Rehm. This is the weekly Friday News Roundup. This is the hour where we talk about international news. My guests are David Sanger, national security correspondent at the New York Times and author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power." Also Susan Glasser, editor of Politico magazine and Geoff Dyer, the foreign policy correspondent at the Financial Times. And he is the author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition With China and How American Can Win."
GJELTENWell, Geoff, I'm glad we spent as much time as we did before the break talking about China because this is right up your alley. Now from China President Obama went to Myanmar. David, how did they trip go, who did he meet with there and what's your take away from that?
SANGERThe Myanmar trip was important to the president because this is one of the one-time outlier states that I think the Obama Administration has probably been the most successful in sort of bringing into the fold. But it was somewhat fraught because Myanmar, known to more of our listeners as Burma, while it started down the path of some Democratic reforms, has sort of backtracked in recent times. And including a failure to amend their constitution in a way that would keep their most famous dissent leader or opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who for years was locked up, of course Nobel Prize winner and so forth, from running for president of the country.
GJELTENBecause she was married to a foreign national.
SANGERShe was married to a foreign national was the way -- was the reason it was in the constitution. It was a pretty thin pretext to...
GJELTEN...applying specifically to one person it seems.
SANGERYes, right. So the president had to do three things, coax along the Burmese leadership, see Aung San Suu Kyi. And he went to visit her fabulous lakeside house. I remember going in there and talking to her years ago when she was still in house arrest there. It's on this beautiful spot in Rangoon. And then the most remarkable was that he went out and did one of these sort of town hall meetings with Burmese students, Myanmar students. Something notably he didn't do in China. He used to and the Chinese didn't want him. And the effort was to basically send a message of democratization.
GJELTENWell, Susan, David alluded to some disappointment with the leadership -- Burma's leadership, Myanmar's leadership in moving toward democracy, but there's been disappointment as well in the role that Aung San Suu Kyi has been playing. And sort of -- some people are feeling like she has not risen up to the potential that she had or the expectations that were there for her. Why were the people feeling that way?
GLASSERWell, think about it this way, right. She's this international icon of, you know, dissidence. She's released from jail. She has a choice to make about engaging in the world of politics or retaining on some level her on-a-pedestal status. She chose to engage in politics. She's been very active in working with Thein Sein the former military leader who turned civilian leader of the new Myanmar government.
GLASSERIn particular there's been disappointment over her refusal to more strongly condemn the military campaign that the Burmese military has been undertaking against separatists. There's also a really persecuted ethnic minority of Muslims called the Rohingya in Myanmar. And I think there's really a disappointment that Aung San Suu Kyi has not been more out in the forefront...
GJELTENShe's not taking up their cause.
GLASSER...of taking up their cause. She has not embraced their cause. And I think that's -- a real disappointment is the question of the sort of new nationalism taking hold in Burma.
GLASSERAnd I think for President Obama it underscores also the peril of taking credit for world events. We saw this with Libya when the intervention was first judged to be successful. Now there's concern that a whole new failed state has arisen in Libya. I think something similar has taken place really here in Myanmar with this notion that remember, this is actually Obama's second visit to a place that is so tenuously recently and barely emerged from military dictatorship.
GLASSERAnd so sort of putting his stamp of approval on something that really does not yet actually resemble democracy I think is a fraught political act for President Obama.
GJELTENGeoff Dyer, staying in that kind of South Asia region, a really sad story from India where 13 women who had gone through sterilization died. What is -- I mean, this is really a strange and, as I say, very sad story. What's behind that?
DYERWell, it's a sad story and then at this stage still quite a confusing story. As you mentioned though, 12 or 13 women who went to what they call sterilization camps or these big events they have where women are given essentially...
GJELTENAlmost called fairs, surgery fairs.
DYER...financial incentives to be sterilized. Twelve or thirteen of them fell into septic shock last weekend after going to one of these events. The doctor involved was arrested. At first people thought it must've been some contaminated process during the surgeries, maybe dirty surgical tools or something like that. Now the suspicion is being leveled as some of the antibiotics, some of the medicines that they were given afterwards. And people think that maybe that is the -- that is what caused the death. But it still is a very murky, confused and, as you said, very sad story.
GLASSERWell, it's interesting that it sort of captured a more international attention around it. I think it -- because it plays into a lot of our anxieties about where is India headed, I think. You know, first of all, the fact that we're now talking about tainted drugs. That's been a big issue in India and other parts of the developing world for the last number of years, this question of, you know, is the stuff safe, does it work? And the drug companies are operating there without patents and the like.
GLASSERThat's one issue but, of course, really the thing that's been horrifying that's emerged in a number of these stories out of India in the last couple years, right, is just the, you know, sort of terrifying status of women across the country in many ways. And, you know, remember the awful stories last year around the gang rapes and really the lack of utter disregard for women's rights in the law. Never mind in how it's actually implemented. And I think this taps into a similar concern about, you know, this sort of terrifyingly low status of women in India.
GJELTENAnd, as you said, there is this tension between -- there was this tension between Muslims and Buddhists in Burma. And we have a Hindu nationalist leading India right now and the specter of ethnic conflict throughout that region, but now in India as well is a pretty serious one too.
GJELTENDavid, let's move on to Iran. We have -- we're in the thick -- in the final stages theoretically, I think November 24 is the day that we're supposed to wind up these negotiations between Iran and leading western powers over the future of their nuclear program. I suppose that deadline could be extended. Where are we right now as far as we know? They've been very good at keeping a lid on these talks. Where do your sources tell you that we are right now?
GLASSERWell, I think they've been medium good at keeping a lid on and that we don't know the sort of day-to-day but we have a pretty good sense of what the big proposals are that are on the table and what the divisions are. And, you're right, the 24th is the deadline. This is a deadline that was extended from last summer. So we're all going to show up in Vienna by mid next week to see whether I'm going to go.
GJELTENYou going to go?
SANGERSee -- you know, this has been probably the most complex negotiation I think I've ever covered. There are two ways to look at it, Tom. On one hand, this is all about physics. And on the other hand, it's all about politics, okay. So the physics side is basically, can you design an agreement that would keep the Iranians at least a year away from breakout capability? That is the capability to produce enough fuel to make one weapon. And even after that they need more time to fashion it into a weapon.
GJELTENWithout people having a -- without other countries having a chance to intervene.
SANGERThat's right. So the thought is that if you have at least a year -- and there are many people who think it would be better given how uncertain the intelligence is on all this, to have even longer than that, maybe two years, that there would be time to respond militarily, with sanctions, with sabotage. You know, there's nothing that the United States, Israel or the Europeans haven't tried in the past ten years to slow this program down from the sanctions to the cyber attacks on their program.
SANGEROn the other hand -- that's the physics side. And they're apart but not that far apart on that. There are four pathways to a bomb. You know, two of the biggest issues they've kind of resolved. And there's a continuing argument about whether or not -- how much capability in this centrifuges, the machines that spin this stuff, Iran would have. The politics are really hard. They're hard on all sides.
SANGERSo just to run through this briefly, President Obama wants to be able to put together a deal and then lift the sanctions with his own signature, suspending them bit by bit as the Iranians comply. The Senate in particular says, no, we want to vote on this even if it's not...
GJELTEN...including both Senator Menendez, the Democrat and Mark Kirk, the Republican, have joined forces on this...
SANGERThat's right. That they have joined forces which makes it a lot harder for the administration to say, oh, this is just sort of, you know, empowered Republicans making this case. On the Iranian side, the negotiators are all working for President Rouhani. But in the end it's the supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini who's going to, in the end, make the decision here.
SANGERAnd so no one really knows what decision he's going to make. It's no -- that's why you saw President Obama writing to the supreme leader. He was the one he needed to worry about. But there are others you need to worry about. The Israelis basically don't want any kind of agreement here but say you can't have an agreement that leaves Iran as a threshold state capable at some point of making the weapon.
SANGERAnd the Russians are playing all sides of this game. On the one hand, they don't want to see Iranian oil back on the market. The price is down already but they do want to sell them a lot of reactors, which they signed up this week to do.
GJELTENWell, Susan, speaking of that issue, that's what I wanted to get to next because the Russians have their own idea about how to curb the possible weapons program in Iran. And that is to support civilian uses of nuclear fuel in Iran, which is why they are selling them reactors. What's the -- what do you think is the significance of this deal that David just alluded to, the news this week that Russia has reached a deal with Iran to construct nuclear power plants?
GLASSERWell, remember Russia already has a longstanding nuclear relationship with Iran and, in fact, had been the main partners in constructing the Bushehr nuclear power plant for the Iranians, which for many years was the bone of contention between the United States and Russia over the level of that nuclear cooperation.
GLASSERSo, you know, as you suggested and David suggested, this is a somewhat self-interested negotiating position on the part of the Russians because they stand to benefit economically at a time when they are feeling the heat both from the dramatic decrease in global oil prices, right now with oil in this sort of $85-a-barrel range. The Russian state budget is nowhere close to being balanced. It's all built on the contingency of having oil at over $100 a barrel. So they're in big trouble, number one, economically because of oil prices. Number two, of course, because of the sanctions that the United States and European Union have placed on Russian interests because of their actions in Ukraine.
GLASSERSo, you know, it's economically advantageous to the Russians. And then I do think you also have to note with interest the fact that they've tried to continue their role and almost separate this from the conflict in Ukraine. They're eager to show that there's still actors on the world stage, that they're participating in these nuclear talks. They're actually a participant -- the talks with Iran right now are what's known as the P5 plus 1. Russia is a member of that group that is negotiating right now toward that November 24 deadline. The only thing I would say is that the smart money is probably on another extension of that deadline. That's, to me, where it looks like it's headed.
SANGERYeah, it's almost impossible to imagine how they get to that deal.
GJELTENSusan Glasser from Politico magazine, David Sanger, Geoff Dyer. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So Geoff, a couple ways to go with this discussion. Russia, Ukraine, we've got the UN sort of up in arms about what's going on in Ukraine. NATO's -- the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces, General Breedlove, says that Russians actually have crossed into Ukraine now.
GJELTENBasically we're seeing a replay of what happened in Crimea and yet sort of nobody really wants to deal with the reality of this because it sort of undermines everything that we have accomplished so far.
DYERAbsolutely. What we've seen in the last week or last ten days or so is a fairly significant increase in Russian military equipment, you know, very heavy weaponry and also probably Russian military personnel coming over the border entering Eastern Ukraine. Why they're doing that is still a little bit unclear. One theory is in which the head of NATO supreme commander suggested yesterday, was that what the Russians are trying to do is use its military equipment, this personnel, to reinforce the sort of de facto boundaries around the bits of Eastern Ukraine that the separatists now hold to make it much more firmly entrenched, the control that they have.
DYERAnother possible option, that this is a precursor to try and create what some people call a land corridor that could create a bit of Russian-controlled land between the Russian border and Crimea so that Russia can actually supply Crimea over land. And the reason that's significant is we're getting to winter. Russia's basically shipping a lot of coal across some rather dangerous waters to Crimea as worry that the Crimean economy and the Crimean people will really suffer if they can't actually find some sort of land during the winter to get that material into Crimea. And then some people think that actually this could be a precursor to a much, much bigger Russian military incursion into other bits of Ukraine.
GJELTENWell, talking about bigger Russian military plans, David, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says that the -- refers to quote "the current situation," by which I guess he means what's going on around Ukraine, "means that we have to maintain our military presence in the Western Atlantic, Eastern Pacific," and get this, "the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico."
SANGERYeah, so this raised the possibility that these Russian flights, which two weeks ago we saw touch sort of the edges of NATO countries throughout the year...
GJELTENTell us about those flights.
SANGERWell, they have sort of resumed the great old Cold War routine of flying right up to the edge of NATO territory, setting off enough of the warning systems that planes are scrambled to go meet them. They did this as far away as Portugal. If you took the defense minister at his word, he's getting ready to go do the Mexican-U.S. border next, right.
SANGERNow, this is a bit of reach for them. And I think that, you know, you've seen a lot of muscle flexing here. But let's remember, we're talking here about a country whose economy is in really tough shape. The oil prices are making it in even tougher shape. And to some degree they sort of haven't learned the lessons of 25 years ago, which is you can do significant military overreach and help break your budgets along the way. This is more Susan's territory than mine.
GLASSERWell, you know, I think it's important you invoke 25 years ago, this week is the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which for Vladimir Putin was really his signature defining moment of global politics. It's the moment when he understood, you know, that the Soviet Union as he knew it was no longer. He was a spy -- a low-ranking spy in East Germany. At this moment he's called the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. And I think that that does shape what we're seeing now.
GLASSERWhat you're pointing out is the debate is Russia doing this out of strength or out of weakness? And, you know, many of the smartest Russia watchers I know do believe that there's an inherent weakness in the system that is causing this reaction right now, that very much it's about Putin seeking to shore up his unstable foundation at home in terms of maintaining a hold on power. And I think that there's a lot to be said for that line of analysis.
GJELTENWell, one other worrisome developed in Russia told the U.S. this week it will reduce its participation next year in the joint effort to secure nuclear materials. It does seem like we're marching backwards as it were. Susan Glasser, Geoff Dyer and David Sanger are my guests. Stay tuned. We're going to take a short break.
GJELTENHello again, I'm Tom Gjelten. I'm your guest host today. Diane Rehm is away. She'll be back on Monday. We are talking about international news with David Sanger from The New York Times, Susan Glasser, editor of Politico magazine, and Geoff Dyer, a foreign-policy correspondent at the Financial Times. And let's go straight to the phones. We have Doug on the line from Illinois. Hello, Doug. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show." You are on the air.
DOUGThank you, Tom, for taking my call. The question, please, for MR. Sanger. MR. Sanger, I've been wanting to ask you and Mark Landler and others with you in The New York Times, your series about nine to 12 months ago on the decision-making within the White House on Syrian policy, the concerns of David Petraeus, Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton, the response of Dennis McDonagh and President Obama, the decisions that were made. In light of all that's happened, very sadly, over this last year or so, be grateful for your reflections both on that series, that time, and where we are right now. Thank you.
GJELTENOkay. Thank you, Doug. David, do you remember what you wrote a year ago?
SANGERWell, barely but yeah. So there've been sort of three phases of the Syria decisions. The first is that the president was very reluctant to get into the war for, really, from the beginning of the Arab Spring on. Because he viewed not only as a civil war but one in which the United States had really no direct interest. Then we saw this horrific humanitarian disaster, nearly 200,000 people killed. The second phase was the discovery of chemical weapons. That's when the president famously laid out the red line, then decided to pull back and not attack Syria, after all of his allies thought he was sort of ready to go on that.
SANGERThat has been taken by many in the region as a sign of weakness. The president has pointed out in the end it worked out just fine because, with Russian help, they got all the chemical weapons out of Syria. And, frankly, had they done a missile attack it might've been satisfying for a day. But it's unclear they ever would've actually gotten the chemical weapons out. And now with ISIS holding large parts of the country, if ISIS actually had access to those chemical weapons we'd be in a very, very different place today, 'cause I don't think there's any doubt they'd use it. The third phase, of course, has been the decision to go after ISIS and the diminishment of going up after Assad himself.
GJELTENWe are hardly talking about the Assad regime anymore. Our enemy is ISIS, the Islamic State, whatever you want to call it. And, Geoff Dyer, your newspaper had a really interesting story. Well, I guess, everybody did. But I read yours and it was a good one, about the Islamic State introducing its own currency with coins, gold and copper coins. One more indication that this is not really a terrorist group. This is a group that is actually not only controlling territory but administering it and now introducing its own currency.
DYERAbsolutely. I mean there are two ways of think about something, one is as a practical term where they're talking about literally having coins made from gold and copper circulating as currency. I think for practical terms, people slightly derided the idea. But, as you mentioned, this isn't really about practice. It's about the PR. It's about the image. It's about giving off this aura of as an actual functioning state, putting the caliphate into practice. In the same announcement, they talked about setting up a House of Finance, which gives an air about them having their own central bank and that's really what this is about. It's about trying to suggest that we're not just this terrorist group. We're a real state.
GJELTENWell, they're a real state and they have a pretty awesome military capability that the United States and its allies have barely been able to dent. Susan, and some very pessimistic words this week from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey, who's saying that he thinks 80,000 Iraqi troops would be necessary to take on the Islamic State. And the Iraqi military right now is in a pretty weakened state. We had a, the new prime minister there shook up his high command. What is the prospect, do you think, that Iraq can actually, the Iraqi forces can actually make any progress there?
GLASSERYou know, I think that's exactly the right question to be asking. To me, I'm struck by the fact that there seems to be a real mismatch between the scale of the rhetoric, the nature of the war that President Obama has launched. He's talked about it in very stark terms, as a long-term conflict that will outlast his administration. He's made it sound as though there's a very serious commitment to a long-term military effort, to eliminate this threat from Iraq and from Syria. And yet, there's a mismatch on the ground. We're talking about, you know, a few thousand American troops there in supposedly in non-combat roles. We just, last Friday, he announced 1500 more troops going to Iraq.
GLASSERThe timetable for doing anything, for accomplishing anything in terms of training, the kind of troops necessary to take on ISIS in Iraq, we're talking, like, next year. Even by the goals set out by the U.S. military to have success, it seems extraordinarily long-term. And then, of course, in Syria we're still talking about the exact same thing we've been talking about for years. Which is, Gee, how should we train and equip the so-called moderate opposition to fight them, it still seems like sort of a chimera. Whereas we've now said, Oh, in very grave terms, we're off on this new war, it doesn't seem like we're actually fighting the war.
GJELTENSo, David, the Iraqi Kurds are asking for U.S. arms to go up against ISIS. And the Kurds have really been the only fighting force that has made any progress at all. But the United States is reluctant to send arms to the Iraqi Kurds for fear of upsetting the Iraqi government. They're reluctant to support the Kurds for fear of upsetting Turkey. Can you think of a more complicated, challenging conflict than what we're seeing? How many different sides, parties, are there to this conflict that you sort of have to kind of keep in mind?
SANGEROh, and there's one more you didn't even mentioned, which is that we find ourselves on the same side as the Iranians in facing off against the Islamic State, but unable to actually work together with Iranians because we are still...
GJELTENSo we got Iran, Turkey, the Assad regime, the moderate militants, the ISIS in Iraq.
SANGERYeah. Yeah. Yeah, you can't tell your adversaries without a scorecard. In this case, for the Kurds, it's especially difficult because if the Kurds get the arms, and if they are ultimately successful here, it paves the way for their long-held desire to have, to completely separate from Iraq. So we have always sent arms to the Kurds through the Iraqi government. And, lo and behold, most of them have never arrived, right? So now we're faced with the choice between directly backing the Kurds and the Peshmerga which, as you say, the only ones who've been terribly successful and who could do something against the Islamic State immediately. Or wait to build up that 80,000-person force in Iraq which, by the way, we've been at since 2003. And you can see just how much progress we've made by their performance thus far.
GJELTENLet's go down to Ahmed who's from Cleveland, Oh. Hello, Ahmed. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show," you're on the air.
AHMEDThe principal reason Israel made peace with Egypt in the late '70s because the late '70s the revolution took place in Iran, it wanted to place Iran as an enemy. And if Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons, Israel will blackmail Iran with its nuclear weapons. To prevent mutual destruction between Iran and Israel, is both to have nuclear weapons.
GJELTENSo you're saying, Ahmed, so you're saying, if I can summarize what you're saying, that you think Iran has a decent strategic reason for wanting to have nuclear weapons so that it can't be blackmailed. Is that what you said, by Israel?
AHMEDRight. And let me tell you something else. In the mid '70s, the strongman Gadhafi tried to purchase nuclear weapons from China. They told him, Sorry, it's not for sale. If Gadhafi had nuclear weapons, no way NATO with U.S. (unintelligible) will bomb them. Because he would NATO if you bring me down, I will take the whole region down with me.
AHMEDTo see what I'm saying? Gadhafi gave up his weapons of mass instruction because he got a promise from the United States and England that no bombs will be dropped on his head. And the White House took this out of the equation but they bombed him.
GJELTENOkay, all right. Well, Susan, you know, that's true. I mean Gadhafi did agree to give up his weapons and where did it get him?
GLASSERWell, you know, there were, as they say, a few other factors...
GJELTENFew other factors involved.
GLASSERYou know, I think the caller's point about Israel and Iran does bear responding to in some way. Obviously Israel has had that nuclear weapons capability for a number of decades already, and has not successfully blackmailed Iran. So I'm not sure, you know, that it's some sort of pressing the trigger. In reality, Iran has gone its own course for decades without having been subjected to nuclear blackmail on the part of the Israelis. I do think there is this strategic question of what introducing an Iranian nuclear bomb into the Middle East does. And that's where you look at, like, not so much Israel but the Sunni states, the Gulf, Saudis.
GLASSEREven the Emirates are concerned that they would immediately need to respond with some nuclear capacity of their own. And I think that's where you really start to get terrified when you think about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
GJELTENLet's go now to Mark who's been waiting patiently on the line from Spring, Texas. Hello, Mark. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show." You're finally on the air.
MARKHello. Well, first of all, I'd like to respectfully disagree with the panel on the president looking -- presidential. Going to China on Veterans Day and then reciting that he was astounded on how great the military machine of China looked, when they had cyber attacked us to develop most of that is a slap in the face to our now very educated electorate. I think that more and more today people are turning to outside sources and the Internet and getting their news in better ways than ever before, through blogs and even through direct YouTube videos, seeing exactly the news on a daily basis. So that a president who goes to China and does something like this, where he's basically just showing a face after getting defeated because our electorate has grown up, and will no longer take a leader who is just a face.
MARKThe last example, Iran getting nuclear weapons is a complete disaster, if it happens. We have ISIS on the border of Israel and Syria and that's what will blow up first...
GJELTENMark, let me ask you a question if I can interrupt, sorry. What's your sense of the significance or importance of this agreement between the United States and China, to mutually reduce their greenhouse gas emissions? That seems to be the achievement that most people are pointing to that came out of this trip to China.
MARKI think it's ludicrous because you've got a totalitarian government making an agreement with us. Who says they'll stick to it? You think they're going to stick to it?
MARKDo you really agree with that? I mean this is a Neville Chamberlain moment more than a leadership moment. I mean if we think that we're going to stop China from going through their Industrial Revolution...
GJELTENOkay. David, Mark made a point earlier in that call that you alluded to at the top of the program, which was that the one issue that did not come out of this was China's allegedly massive theft of U.S. trade secrets, intellectual property, and military designs through cyber attacks. That was kind of the issue that was not discuss there. And, as Mark says, that's something that's hard to sort of dismiss.
SANGERIt is hard to dismiss because this has been moved from being on the periphery of issues between China and the United States to the center of them. And the fact is that, even after the indictments that I mentioned of the PLA members, there hasn't been much progress on this. That said, to ignore China's military rise I think would have been strange. Secondly, China's military today is still a tiny fraction of the American part of it. And just to get to his last point, the one that you then prompted him on, on the greenhouse gas issues. The Chinese didn't do this out of any great sense of environmental charity out here. They did this out of their own self-interest.
SANGERIf you take a look at the protest that have come up against the Chinese government within their own country, in villages around, it's mostly on environmental issues. So they recognize now they've got to go deal with this as a matter of their own political survival.
GJELTENDavid Sanger from The New York Times, I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to John who's on the line from Columbia, Md. Hello, John. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOHNThanks for taking my call. It's John from Columbia, Mo., but that's okay.
GJELTENOh, I'm sorry. You're right.
JOHNThat's quite all right. I'm curious. When everybody is looking at the future as divesting from the fossil fuels, like China, why can't we -- I don't understand that if you look at the Keystone pipeline, why are the Republicans fighting so hard for this? And from what I understand, and correct me if I'm wrong, in reality it's only offering about 200 full-time jobs. And the process of refining these tar sands is going to put enough carbon into the atmosphere. It's a game changer from what I understand. So...
GJELTENLet me put that question quickly to Geoff Dyer. If China can do this, why can't we?
DYERYeah. Well, I think that, and I don't want to speak for the administration, but I think they would say that in the broad scheme of things, I mean the Keystone pipeline, as you say, is only a small part of the big picture. The broad scheme of things the administration is putting into place a whole series of different measures, which are having a big impact on carbon emissions, particularly the rules they've announced for coal fire power stations. And they would say that's the key thing that they're doing that is going to change the picture of American carbon emissions over the next couple decades.
GJELTENOkay, before we end this hour, we do have some news. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel just now outlined some actions to revamp the U.S. nuclear program, following reviews he'd found of, quote, "systemic problems," David, in the U.S. nuclear programs. Systemic problems and some bizarre problems that you highlighted in an interesting piece this morning, fill us in.
SANGERThe report that the secretary is releasing today is the most searing indictment I have ever read, of the care or absence of care with which the United States has seen the maintenance of its nuclear weapons infrastructure since the end of the Cold War. And it basically describes a system that is so fixated on perfection on tests and whether you remember every single little item, that it's ignoring the fact that blast doors don't close. Or, my favorite, which is that they got down to a single ranch that could connect warheads to the missiles on the 450 ground-based missiles we still have. Those are spread out over three states, three different bases, and they would end up FedExing this individual ranch around to connect up the missiles. You know, made you wonder what would happen to our nuclear deterrent if somebody ever -- if one day the FedEx guy forgot to show up.
GJELTENWell, let's hope he would use the next day delivery or Saturday to deliver this...
SANGERYeah, you got to sign for it. It's, you know...
GJELTENDavid Sanger is national security correspondent at The New York Times. My other guests are Susan Glasser, editor of Politico magazine and Geoff Dyer, foreign policy correspondent at the Financial Times. I'm kind Tom Gjelten. You've been listening "The Diane Rehm Show." And thanks to all of you, thanks for listening.