War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
A new propaganda video shows French Islamic State fighters calling for attacks in France. The White House announces a review of U.S. hostage policy as a result of terrorist beheadings of Americans. Secretary of State John Kerry insists the U.S. and Iran will reach a nuclear deal before Monday’s deadline. Israel eases gun rules after a terrorist attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Russia’s president Putin says Moscow and Washington could find opportunities for practical cooperation. And thousands march in Mexico City to protest the government’s response to missing students. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A new video shows French Islamist State fighters calling for attacks in France. Tensions escalate in Jerusalem after a fatal attack at a Synagogue. And negotiators on Iran's nuclear deal face a Monday deadline. Joining me for the international hour of the "Friday News Roundup," David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya and Nathan Guttman with the Jewish Daily Forward. I look forward to hearing from you today.
MS. DIANE REHMGive us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMANGood morning.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. David Ignatius, France named a second Frenchman in a video killing of Syrian prisoners by the Islamic State. What's driving French nationalists to join these outrageous groups?
IGNATIUSDisturbingly, there is, throughout the Muslim world, a traction for these jihadists in Syria and Iraq. They're very skillful at using internet propaganda. I watched some of their videos yesterday.
IGNATIUSAnd they are so well made. They show a level of violence. You know, you watch these videos, you see assassinations across Anbar Province, accompanied by strains of heroic Arab music and there are clearly people who are watching this and who are aroused to militance by the evidence that they're succeeding. So, the French have identified two people. Interestingly, neither of them Muslim. One Portuguese, originally Michelle Dosantos (sp?) , and another from Normandy named Maxine Hauchard.
IGNATIUSAnd these two French non-Muslims came, have been fighting in Syria in this jihad with the Islamic State. Islamic State is, as you said in your introduction, broadcasting propaganda. Two French Muslims saying, join us, rise up. And this is an explosive, metastatic problem and for European countries that have large Muslim populations, I'm sure their security services are really struggling to figure out, how do we combat this? How do we identify people who have sleeper cells in our countries? How do we counter the kind of propaganda that's coming out of Syria and Iraq?
REHMAnd now, Nadia Bilbassy, they're calling on these people in France to carry out attacks in that country.
BILBASSYAre you surprised, Diane? I think three years ago, when President Assad was slaughtering his own people, and the whole world didn't do much about it, everybody said the jihad is going to come. And guess what, they came. And they came in mass. Not just the one who fought in Chechnya and Afghanistan, but is inspiring a new wave of jihadists, are completely different than Al Qaeda. These guys, as just David said, are very sophisticated. They know how to attract not just the Muslims, but to convert to Islam.
REHMWhat are they offering them?
BILBASSYThey're offering them -- I mean, all of them are obviously motivated by the ideology of going to a better life, which is heaven. So, they're not afraid to die. They're offering them also a defiance against the West. They're telling them that if you kill innocent people, or, I mean, they're not calling them innocent, but anybody for them who is also a Muslim, like myself, would be killed because we don't adhere to their way of living. Or the way that they look at life. That basically, you will go to -- God will reward you for that.
BILBASSYSo, they also attract the people who are disillusioned with life. Many Americans, many French, many Austrian teenage girls, who are now working in ISIS female army. It's horrifying to see all these people who have nowhere to go and they think, well, it is wonderful. We can go to Syria. We can get paid. We can fight and if we die, we're going to go to a better place.
REHMAnd Nathan, this week, President Obama ordered a review of the hostage negotiations that have never taken place. Or, if they have, they've been undercover. There is a woman who is still being held by the Islamists and she is American. What do we know about her?
GUTTMANWe don't actually know much. This is basically the first time the administration speaks out on how many Americans are held by ISIS. Until now, there was an attempt to keep this information vague in order to protect the safety of the prisoners. Now we know that there's only one prisoner left. She's a young woman from America. We don't know many details about her. We do know that the administration has launched this review of the way it's dealing with the whole hostage issue because of the problem that ISIS is posing now.
GUTTMANAnd while the administration is saying that they're not willing to reexamine the idea of not paying -- the principle of not paying ransom to the ISIS people, or to terrorists in general, there is this discussion of how can you deal with it better? Because what the administration has been hearing from the families of the hostages that have been murdered by ISIS was that they were ignored. They weren't seen as a national security problem, were not seen as a priority by the administration. And this is one of these things that this review will try to look at again.
IGNATIUSYes, I think, as Nathan said, it's the anger and disappointment of the families who feel that they weren't listened to, that they were kept at arms' length. That information wasn't shared with them. It's the ultimate nightmare for a parent to have your son or daughter held in these circumstances. You can only imagine. The US is in an awkward position, I think, in one respect. This insistence that we will not pay...
IGNATIUS...ransom to free hostages at the same time that we saw President Obama authorized the trade of five Al Qaeda Guantanamo prisoners, linked to Al Qaeda, to recover one American hostage who was in military, Bowe Bergdahl. And so, I think families are saying, if you do it for people in uniform, does that mean that civilians are -- have a different status on how to -- so I think there is that anger. I hope that transcending all of this is just sheer horror at the level of brutality. The just, the gratuitous effort to intimidate and shock that is displayed in these videos.
IGNATIUSClearly, they're going after humanitarian workers, they're going after journalists. What does that tell you? They want to shut these areas off. They want to close any coverage from the outside from journalists who could give a glimpse. They want to close off any western humanitarian aid that could help people on the ground. I mean, it's just, it's ghastly, but that's what's going to happen. People will not go there.
BILBASSYBut it's more than that, David. Actually, I just got back from the Turkish Syrian border and I spoke to a few people who had been held in ISIS jail. And they were telling me that they were targeting not just the foreigners, not just the aid workers, but also the Syrians who have any kind of skill. They were killing everybody who was a reporter, who's killing everybody who is a teacher, who is a doctor, who is a comedian. They're just wiping out the whole skilled population.
BILBASSYThey're left with the one who cannot leave Syria, who is uneducated and they will be easier for them to control. And this is a tragedy. It's just for every foreign journalist who's been kidnapped or killed, there is at least 10 or 20 Syrians that we don't hear about. Actually, Syria is the graveyards of all journalists. And I spoke about this last week, actually. 88 journalists were killed last year and most of them are local or freelancers. And on top of that, about the ransom thing, also the person I spoke to, he said that the French paid for example.
BILBASSYThe figure goes to 17 million dollars for four French hostages, journalists who were in the same jail at James Foley. Of course, the administration policy is never to pay ransom. And that's the case for, of course, I mean, you can understand in a way, but you cannot but sympathize with the families. Because always, when you pay ransom, they will kidnap more people and they demand more money.
BILBASSYAnd one of the reasons that people are joining ISIS is because it's a lucrative business. It's not just the ideologue who wanted to die, but also there's people who are coming from everywhere. From Egypt, from Saudi Arabia, from Yemen. From Iraq. And they get paid tons of money in comparison to anything else that's offered by any military group in Syria.
GUTTMANI think this also goes to demonstrate how serious a threat ISIS is. The fact that they are so systematic and methodic in trying, as Nadia was saying, to go after the elites. To go after the people that can talk about what's going on in Syria. After journalists and aid workers. It's not just a terror organization that's randomly picking people off the street and kidnapping or killing them. There is a system behind it, and going back to what we discussed earlier, the fact that there is an attempt to radicalize back at home, in Europe, based on the ISIS doctrine.
GUTTMANAt the beginning, everyone was concerned about what would happen when these foreign fighters come back, but now what we're seeing if that you don't have to wait for them to come back. People are joining based on their perceived success, so to say.
IGNATIUSJust a small additional point, Diane. I wrote a column in the Washington Post this morning that noted that one of ISIS's most devastating campaigns of assassination and intimidation is against the Sunni tribal leaders, in Iraq, who are the people that the US is counting on to be the boots on the ground that will get ISIS out of these areas that it's captured. But since 2009, these people have been working systematically, I cited a report, almost 1400 members of the Awakening Movement, Iraqi tribesmen, killed since 2009.
MS. NATALIE MERCHANTDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk further, take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd the Associated Press is reporting this morning that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has decided to pull back from nuclear talks in Vienna, leaving Iran's foreign minister to ponder an apparent new proposal from Washington meant to bridge differences standing in the way of a deal with less than four days to go to the deadline. Nadia, is Secretary Kerry going to meet this deadline?
BILBASSYWell, he's very optimistic and we should -- we hope -- not we should but we hope that he will be able to conclude this deal. This is one of the biggest challenges in foreign policy. If succeeds it's going to be an amazing deal for everybody. But the chances that it will succeed is very little. And I'm quoting many people, including the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who said it's very unlikely that we're going to meet the deadline.
BILBASSYThe British foreign minister, Tony Blinken, assistant -- future secretary of state, everybody is just very realistic about -- because the gaps on the issues are huge.
REHMWhat are the issues holding up an agreement, Nathan?
GUTTMANBasically what they're trying to figure out in this agreement is a way to make sure that Iran has the west -- or the international community has as much as a -- the longest breakout time possible for Iran. Which means that if Iran decides to break the deal and go ahead for the bomb, you'll have at least a year before they can actually do that.
GUTTMANAnd that's where you go into the details, how many centrifuges, for example, can they have in order to make sure that they don't do it too fast. The west is talking about 4500 or 5,000. The Iranians would want more. There are questions of how do you connect them and what type of centrifuges. A lot of this is very technical. The other part of it is, what level of monitoring do you have on the ground? Can you visit theses insights daily? Do you have to inform in advance?
GUTTMANAll these taken together will give the formula for the breakout time. And if you reach a position in which the breakout time is more than 12 months, I think most peopled, the P5 plus 1 will be satisfied with that.
REHMAnd really, you're working not just with Iran but with the EU and with other countries, David.
IGNATIUSThere are some differences within this coalition that they've held together pretty well. It's thought that the most militant are the French, that the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, with whom Kerry met, takes the hardest line close to the line of Israel which is not a member of this negotiating coalition. The Russians and Chinese have stayed onboard. There were fears that they would slip off but at a recent meeting with the Russian ambassador here in Washington, he wanted to stress how important these negotiations were to Russia.
IGNATIUSWe'll see. We'll know a lot more on Monday and we'll know how wide the gaps are assuming that they can't close them all the way. And then I think there'll be a very difficult and politically sensitive decision, should you package the gains that have been made in the negotiations over the last year. And there have been some significant ones.
IGNATIUSYou put those into a package and then say, okay, we'll grant some limited relief from sanctions for that and we'll continue working on the additional items. That will trigger strong negative reaction from Israel. It will trigger strong negative reaction from some U.S. members of congress. But that may be the question Secretary Kerry and President Obama are looking at on Monday.
GUTTMANWell, Israel still maintains this idea of zero enrichment, which is, as we have stated (word?) basically they're saying under any agreement Iran should not be allowed to enrich even 1 gram of uranium. But I think the Israelis understand that that's not a realistic goal and therefore they will have to compromise with something.
GUTTMANWhat the Israelis are saying is that the ideas being discussed now are a far cry from what Israel can live with. And therefore, we should expect -- once we know if we're going for an extension or if there's really a deal next week, we should expect a lot of pushback from the Israelis, which of course are not part of these negotiations but have influence here in the United States.
GUTTMANAnd we will see that in congress as well. And we're already seeing members of congress demanding that congress has oversight, that it gets to approve this deal. They still hold the ability to withdraw sanctions. So congress does have a say here. It doesn't mean that it can't bypass congress, as we just saw last night with immigration but it would be more difficult.
BILBASSYThere is a blame game here as well that many people think that the Iranians are not willing to compromise. And basically because the decision or the card is held by Ayatollah Khomeini. It isn't in Tehran. It's not in Vienna. It wasn't (unintelligible) . And this is an important point I think. So for the negotiation to conclude on the 24th is really very unlikely that it's going to happen for the reason we mentioned. Also Iran is not willing to compromise on enrichment, what you do with the low-grade uranium that's already been enriched, whether it goes to Russia or not.
BILBASSYAnother point, Diane, is the Gulf states actually. Somebody was saying recently that the key now in this negotiation is also in Russian hands. And if you look at the relationship between Russians and the United States, it's at lowest point ever. So what is the incentive for the Russians to push the Iranians to compromise? Considering the geopolitical change in the region, the situation has even comparison to the last year in Geneva this time in November when they reached an agreement and the Russians were trying to conclude this deal. I don't think that we're going to reach it this time.
BILBASSYAnd the most likely scenario, although Secretary Kerry said no, that they're going to extend it again. And they will agree on another framework of agreement and we're going to have a process, I hate to say, is going to be similar to the Israeli Palestinian peace process. I hope not.
REHMSo we'll see what happens on Monday. And Nathan, five Israelis brutally murdered in a synagogue this week so tensions have certainly escalated. The residences of several Palestinians have been demolished.
GUTTMANYes. And we've seen a steady increase in tensions in Israel for the past few weeks. But this terror attack, it does stand out as something unusual and horrific, even for what Israelis are used to. The fact that it was in a synagogue that the people were murdered brutally while wrapped in their prayer shawls, that really shocked many people in the region and also over here. We should keep in mind that three of the people that were murdered there were U.S. citizens.
GUTTMANAnd the first immediate response we've seen from the Israeli government was to go back to a method that was in use a decade ago, which is demolishing the homes of the terrorists. There is a debate in Israel and the Israeli security establishment over the effectiveness of this measure. Some think it's a deterrent. It can -- it's a deterrent because it means that maybe this terrorist is willing to commit suicide while killing others. But his family will pay a price. Others think it just incites for more violence further down the road. But definitely Israel is going back to this measure.
IGNATIUSWell, the escalation of tensions in the area of Jerusalem and on the Israeli Palestinian issue in general is just one more piece of bad news in a region that has been overwhelmingly bad news.
REHMAnd you had an Israeli mayor suspending employment for some Arabs. And that too sparked an uproar.
IGNATIUSYes. The -- you look back at the hopes that Secretary of State Kerry had that he could revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the effort that he and Martin Indyk who was his chief assistant in this, made the effort that General John Allen is now responsible for our campaign against ISIS put into trying to find a plan to reassure Israelis that they would be secure after the creation of a Palestinian state, some very creative work that hasn't surfaced publically. But from what you hear whispered was really a major American effort.
IGNATIUSSo we're now at a situation where mistrust seems, you know, higher than it was before, that started the distance to be traveled to some kind of agreement on the Palestinian. The two-state solution is greater not less. It's a disturbing situation especially for the United States and Israel, which, you know, have taught for a generation, the whole time I've been following the Middle East, about trying to somehow get this issue resolved.
BILBASSYI think this attack on the synagogue is a symptom and obviously not the cause. There's been a series of attacks by Palestinians, individuals as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately blamed President Abbas and Hamas and everybody else. It's actually individual people who are frustrated by many reasons, the lack of political progress, the growing of settlement activities.
BILBASSYThe fact that this conflict is turning away, Diane, from being a nationalistic one over territorial dispute to a religious one. And let me think that this attack on the synagogue, it was not random. I think it was chosen on a purpose. They did not go into a café, did not go to a bus. They went to a synagogue because they wanted to link it to this perceived attack by right wing Jewish organizations that's been threatening to pray in the Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site of Islam and has been provocation over this by many. And therefore, from a Palestinian point of view, it was obvious to go to a religious site to say, you want to pray in the Aqsa Mosque? We can show you what we do. So unfortunately the situation's gone way out of hand.
GUTTMANI think it also goes to show all those -- even here in Washington but also in Jerusalem and in Ramallah that think that there is this possibility of maintaining the status quo, of leaving the negotiations aside and just focusing on conflict management. This comes to show you that it's impossible. With the lack of a credible peace process, there is no way to ensure that the situation won't escalate very quickly into these terrible things, as we've seen this week.
GUTTMANAnd maybe even Secretary Kerry would want to think twice after he gave it his best chance, his best shot. It didn't work but what happens next? How do you put in some kind of mechanism to keep the process going, to keep the sides engaged in something so that we don't see it escalating so quickly as we've seen.
IGNATIUSAs strange as it sounds, I think Secretary Kerry would start up the peace shuttle tomorrow if he thought that he had a chance. He really has the -- bit in his teeth on this issue. He's taken an awful lot of criticism, especially from Israel, which was wounding him personally. But I think he does believe -- I think Nathan said it just right -- what's the alternative if there isn't movement forward? How do people imagine this progressing?
IGNATIUSBecause, you know, if there's no room for compromise on either side, you're just going to head to more and more of these incidents. I know Secretary Kerry believes that others in the administration do. You know, you saw hints that Bibi Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, might be interested in some sort of resumption of some kind of talks.
REHMWhat was the indication thereof?
IGNATIUSOh, I -- you know, I -- the indication to me was somebody in the State Department saying that they picked up signs of that. I can't point to something specific, though.
REHMYou don't agree...
BILBASSYI don't think so. I mean, I think Netanyahu will be just happy to see President Obama leaving office. He will wait for the next two years or whatever is left from his administration and wait for the next president who hopefully will be, from his point of view, even pro-Israel. And we're not going to do anything because they still have six more years before they do anything the first term. And then the second too.
GUTTMANNetanyahu was under political pressure at home as always. He manages to build these coalitions that maintain him under pressure all the time. Some of it is used as an excuse for the Americans but some of it is real. So on the one hand he doesn't have a lot of room to maneuver with his right wing coalition to any kind of grand peace initiative. On the other hand, he also cannot be seen as the prime minister who does not provide security for his people.
GUTTMANAnd therefore, if terror continues, if there are more acts of violence, Netanyahu will have to do something, either diplomatically or militarily, to show that he's in charge.
REHMNathan Guttman is Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israel News and the Jewish Daily Forward. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." On ISIS, here's an email from Dan in Sacramento. He says, "I'm puzzled as to how all these Europeans are making it to the Middle East to join ISIS. What happened to the no-fly list? Apparently there is a breakdown in the monitoring of online chatter. If so many things are getting out how do we know who's getting in," David?
IGNATIUSThe process of traveling into Syria across the Turkey border two years ago was easy. And I can say that with confidence because smugglers smuggled me across that border and I traveled to Aleppo in October 2012. It has been argued that Turkey, by allowing such loose border controls, in effect, perhaps not intentionally, help the Islamist militants who evolved into two groups, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the al-Qaida affiliate and the Islamic State which is rejected by al-Qaida.
IGNATIUSToday the Turks say that they're exercising much greater control. They do have a no-fly list. Intelligence cooperation from European countries and the U.S. is better so that they get names of people who they should not allow on flights to Istanbul or Ankara. And they will block those people and they'll give you a list of some thousands of people who have been stopped and prevented from coming. So...
REHMAnd wasn't Vice-President Biden just in Turkey to talk about some of these things?
IGNATIUSHe's there to talk about the issue of stopping the flow of foreign fighters. More broadly he's talking about the issue of how Turkey is going to cooperate with the international coalition that in theory is going to, using President Obama's words, degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State. He can't do that really without Turkish help, and there hasn't been much.
GUTTMANAnd for the Turks, of course, there's a dilemma here of on the one hand the last thing they want to see is the Islamic State take over Syria. They feel threatened. They're the bordering country. On the other hand, they don't want to see any move that will embolden the Kurdish minority there. That could cause them domestic problems as well. So that's why we've seen Erdogan kind of try to play it both ways for awhile. And I think that's one of the goals of Vice-President Biden is to convince Turkey to join him in a more significant way and a more active way this battle.
REHMSo how likely is he to have any success at all with the Turks?
GUTTMANI think the experience we've had with the Turks is that nothing is ever closed and that in those meetings nothing's ever finalized. I'm sure there'll be some success but it's a process. It's always a process.
REHMDo you agree?
BILBASSYI do actually. And I think President Erdogan also initiated a policy of like a humanitarian corridor. He wanted people to stay inside Syria a while ago, but then he retracted on that. Even when somebody was willing to discuss the idea I was told, and he wasn't really forthcoming on that. But I think, as Nathan said, the Kurdish issue is fundamental for him. So, yes, the help in the foreign fighters in the beginning because they fought the strongest against ISIS, against the regime. But in the end, the Kurdish card will trump everything else.
REHMNadia Bilbassy. She's a senior correspondent at Al Arabiya. And we'll take a short break. When we come back, we'll open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcomed back into the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup, time to open the phones now. First to Tony in St. Petersburg, Fl. You're on the air.
TONYThank you, Diane, for taking my call.
TONYI really enjoy your show.
TONYMy question for the panel is why is it so difficult to shut down the website that basically are all over the world? There's so many young people, not just from France, but from all over the world joining them. Why isn't there a concerted effort to trace them and shut them down, and have young people working on that? I mean, I'm sure, you know, Microsoft and Bill Gates could get involved in some of that, too. But it's just a shame. They're basically recruiting both men and women from all over the world, that's all different countries?
IGNATIUSWell, there's several interesting questions involved in Tony's question. First, from a Freedom of Speech standpoint, do we believe that people should be allowed to have websites, even horrific websites inciting violence? Or do we believe that they should be shut down? That's an historic question for Freedom of Speech advocates that they struggled over for centuries.
REHMBut is it akin to shouting fire?
IGNATIUSI would say that it is. The issue that you -- I mean so typically I think in these conflicts, there are two approaches you can take. You can shut down the website. You could say this constitutes a danger now to the U.S. and others, soldiers, civilians. Shut it down. Or you can say this group that's using the website is itself dangerous, but for intelligence purposes we need to know everything we possibly can about who's going to that website, who they're in touch with, what they do after they visited the websites, so we can begin to build a profile of who they are. And then take more concrete action, not just, you know, cutting it off.
IGNATIUSThat that would be, people would argue that would be the stupidest thing you could do. Some of the things that you might do from an intelligence standpoint are harder now, I think, in the post Snowden environment where the ability to use electronic tools for intelligence purposes has been reduced. But I'm sure this -- I'll tell you another thing, interesting thing that people are discussing. What about if you, when you go, you're sitting in Britain or in France, and a young person goes to a jihadist website and see this stuff glorifying violence? What if something pops up on your screen and says this is not the Islamic way, and quotes sections of the Koran or had deep sayings of The Prophet, that shows that this is wrong and sort of counter propagandizes?
IGNATIUSThat's something that I know people in this counter violent extremism world are thinking about. It also raises First Amendment type issues. But it's kind of an interesting idea to say, hey, wait a minute...
IGNATIUS...here's the other side of this.
BILBASSYActually the most interesting thing that most of these, the ruthless among all the ISIS guys are the new convert to Islam. And, according to, actually John Kerry quoted this, that most of the jihadists who go to Syria, they order the "Koran for Dummies" and "Islam for Dummies" because, which is a series that, you know, that is used for people who don't know anything about a topic. So basically they're really unfamiliar with the rules of the ethics of Islam, or what the religion stands for. So it's very easy for a new convert, who is trying to be, to prove himself even more Muslim than the other Muslims, to be extreme in their views.
BILBASSYSo yes, I agree with this point that it should be somebody. And there should be more voices from the moderate Arab world who stands up and explain what Islam is all about to these people.
REHMBut in our free society, David, I hear you saying if you shut down one, another will pop up.
IGNATIUSThese are very sophisticated young technologists. And their ability to mirror the servers that are initially carrying the video that you would see, or the chat group that you would join, you know, those servers are mirrored a hundred, a thousand times over. And these folks are real good at that.
REHMAll right, to Fort Collins, Co. Hi, Jim. You're on the air.
JIMHello, Diane. And to your guests, thank you very much for taking my call.
JIMWith regarding the comment that, or an observation that David Ignatius made earlier about some 1400 tribal leaders in Anbar, over the last five years, being killed by the ISIS organization. It seems to me that as commander-in-chief, President Obama along with the CIA and the military should have that insight to this during these past five years. It could have been in some manner informing the American people, preparing for what seemed inevitable and counteracting this in some respects, prepare us for this. Instead it seems in the last six months to nine months is when we found out about ISIS and the threat that they pose. So how does this reflect upon the administration and President Obama as commander-in-chief? Thank you very much. And I'll take this off-line.
REHMAll right, thanks. Nathan.
GUTTMANWell, I think in general everyone can agree that there was some kind of a lack of credible intelligence, in terms of what is going on in Iraq and Iran in the Syrian civil war. In a sense though the Western intelligence was trying to catch up and not always very successfully, in figuring out who are the forces on the ground and what their next move is going to be. Having said that, it is clear that the administration identified what they see as their key target or their key enemy in the region, which is ISIS right now, and who the key allies are. As this war progresses we have to wait and see if this actually works, if you can limit the battle to ISIS without expanding it, as we're at the seeing now al-Nusra, to other al-Qaeda related groups and if you can actually count on those Sunnis on the ground to do the work for the Americans, to do the boots on the groundwork, as David was saying.
REHMI want to ask you all about the 43 missing students in Mexico and the major protests that are continuing. What do they hope to accomplish, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, for a country that's been plagued with violence from drug cartels, from crime cartels, this is even more shocking and it's actually galvanized the public to go into demonstrations. Because 43 people disappearing...
BILBASSYYoung people, university students who were protesting against education reforms and all of a sudden the police opened fire, killing six people in. And then the rumor now, I mean there's no final reports to support that, that actually they'd been handed over to the drug cartel and they've been killed. And some say they've been burnt and their bodies be just like buried it disappeared, and nobody knows where they are. So the demonstrators in the beginning, they wanted them alive. As they said, they've been arrested alive, we want them alive. Now they move to a whole wave against the government of President Pena Nieto. And it coupled with also a corruption scandal involving his wife who wanted to build his mansion with millions of dollars, with a businessman who's closely associated with the president.
BILBASSYSo people were fed up and this massive demonstration is not just in Mexico itself, but also in the United States where there's a huge Latino community from New York to Los Angeles, saying we need accountability. And this wave of protests against the president of Mexico has even reached him in Australia, when he was attending the G-20 Summit. I don't know if it's going to result in anything because 98 percent of all crimes in Mexico are unresolved. I mean can you believe that?
REHMAnd he -- protesters really want to oust the president, David.
IGNATIUSThey have personalized it on him, his family. What's striking is that President Pena Nieto seemed in his first months in office to have turned a corner, the terrible drug violence in Northern Mexico that was making places that were once, you know, sort of havens for industries, like Monterrey, no-go zones. They were -- it was just a -- that that seemed to have been turned. And the new government was credited with having made progress, with having reached out in various ways. And I think this latest wave of public rage, over the 43 kids, shows that the new president is back where the previous president was, with an angry country and a real problem with basic law and order.
REHMAren't they at this point assuming those students are dead, Nathan?
GUTTMANYes, the information we have is that the police force that arrested these students just gave them over into thugs from the cartel, who murdered them, burned their bodies, and either then threw them in the river or the buried them. But they still want to have answers. This just goes to the main problem that all the Mexican presidents had to deal with, which was this cooperation between the local police and the drug cartels. And trying to break this nexus between the two of them is the main challenge, that none of these presidents were successful in.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Michael in Newark, Ca, who says regarding the 43 students abducted a few months ago, apparently by orders of the local mayor and his wife, I've been pondering the motive for such an act. What was the mayor trying to achieve? Now, we had heard that originally that students were going to protest the mayor's wife as she was about to make a speech. And he did not want that to happen. Was that actually the motive?
IGNATIUSDiane, I'm like your caller. I find that the biggest mystery of all, why did this happen in the first place.
IGNATIUSIt seems as such a nightmarish consequence...
IGNATIUS...from what initially seemed small motivations. But there may be dimensions to this that we don't know.
REHMAll right. And let's go to Dan in Watertown, NY. You're on the air.
DANYes, thank you very much. Very good conversation today. I'd like to just, if I could, elaborate a little bit on the ISIS thing and ask this question. You know, they're pretty cruel and callous and right in the face of everybody around the world, with their videos and their PR games and what have you. And some of the suggestions I'm hearing are really good, good foundation, but it really doesn't solve the problems. So here's my question. You know, the world united and rallied around defeating Communism and fascism and Nazism. And with this in the world's face, because it really is, and if it's not dramatically, I'm not saying the actions we're taking on the bombing and other things is that having some impact. But I'm just wondering why there's not more of a united front against them? I guess that's my basic question.
GUTTMANWell, first of all, there is some kind of affront. There is obviously a coalition, led by the United States, but with maybe 60 countries participating in some form or shape. So there is an international response. But the sad news is that this is something that is going on in one region of the world, in a small region. It's affecting mainly the people of Iraq and of Syria. It's affecting mainly Muslim population with a few foreign aid workers and journalists. And so, I don't think you can compare it to fighting Nazism or Communism in the past. There is no world response because basically the world doesn't care that much.
REHMDo you agree the world does not care?
IGNATIUSWell, I think certainly if you look at the non-reaction to the killing of 200,000 Syrians, the world didn't care enough to intervene decisively. And the world cared only when the regime of Bashar al-Assad began using chemical weapons, which violated a global norm. I think that President Obama decided, as he looked at this situation, wanting so much not to get back into Iraq, that standing aside was simply not possible towards U.S. security, that if these people were left unchallenged at the frontier of Jordan, Jordan itself would be at risk. If Jordan is at risk, Saudi Arabia is at risk. So I think there's a feeling, you've got to take action.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Does that mean then we really are going to not only put 1500 troops on the ground, but that it will escalate likely?
BILBASSYAnd it will escalate but I do not see that President Obama will take a decision, whereby it's going to be boots on the ground. His strategy so far is still, as much as criticized as basically bombing from the air, and creating a local coalition on the ground. But who are these people? As David said, they are the Sahwa, which General Petraeus used in the previous war in Iraq, had been eliminated by ISIS because they know very well who are their enemy. And they want to get rid of them before they can be a potent threat to them. And in Syria, I mean the strategy of training the Free Syrian Army is not working either. I just got back from the region and I spoke to many military leaders. And most of them said to me, I don't know where they Americans. I don't know who you are talking about, where General Allen is meeting and who he's talking to because they have not approached us yet.
BILBASSYAnd also, even this kind of an absurd concept of taking people out as if the situation is just like normal, whereby you take people out of the battlefield. You train them in Saudi Arabia, which has been going on for a while anyway, or Jordan, and then bring them back. I think we're going to end up in a situation whereby you're going to have ISIS is consolidating its grip on many parts of Syria. And you're going to have Jabhat al-Nusra, the new emerging power in Idlib Province that's been liberated in the beginning from the regime, and you're going to have the regime. And you're going to end up in a complete and total mess.
GUTTMANAnd the question that that brings is how long can the U.S. sit outside on the sideline, when there is this mess going on, before intervening? And, as we've seen in the past, it's usually not about a strategic decision. It's about some kind of a trigger on the ground, something awful that happens that requires a reaction that it triggers international response. And that can very likely happen. So even though I don't think there is any plan here in Washington to increase the military involvement, sometimes these things are just inevitable.
REHMWhat is going to happen, David?
IGNATIUSWell, you know, we wish we knew. The core of President Obama's approach to this has been to say if ISIS is stopped, it will be stopped because people in the region take the lead. And he was wise, I think, in saying we will not provide military assistance to Iraq until you get rid of this divisive, polarizing Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, and get somebody who might get greater confidence in the country. That was sensible. In many other ways, Obama has said to the Arabs, who are most threatened by this absolutely toxic movement, we are not going to do the fighting for you and let you hold our coat, while we go out and send our troops in to fight and die. We're not going to do that again. And so, if you feel threatened by this you need to stand up and we'll help you.
IGNATIUSAnd I think that's the question. People in the Arab world, this is an existential challenge to any kind of modern life. And unless they're prepared to stand up and fight, it's going to be a hard, long fight, they're going to lose t wonderful part of the world for a while.
REHMDavid Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post, contributor to the PostPartisan blog at washingtonpost.com. His latest YouTube's novel is titled "The Director." Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent at Al-Arabiya. And Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward. Thank you all.
REHMHave a good weekend, everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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