The European Union proposes a quota system to distribute migrants throughout its member states. Asian countries meet today over their own migrant crisis. Iraqi soldiers fight alongside Shiite militias in an attempt to retake Ramadi from ISIS. Verbal sparring intensifies between China and the U.S. over man-made islands in the South China Sea. The Vatican calls Ireland’s vote to approve same sex marriage a “defeat for humanity.” And FIFA pushes ahead with a scheduled presidential election amid the fallout over corruption charges. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- 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."
- Elise Labott Global affairs correspondent, CNN.
- James Kitfield Contributing editor, National Journal, and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. FIFA holds elections amid a global corruption scandal. China announces its military strategy will focus on naval expansion. And Iraq launches a new offensive against Islamic State militants. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Geoff Dyer of "The Financial Times," Elise Labott with CNN and James Kitfield of "National Journal."
MS. DIANE REHMWe do invite you to participate throughout, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send us an email to email@example.com. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And Happy Friday, everybody.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood to be with you.
MR. GEOFF DYERHappy Friday.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning, Diane.
REHMThank you. And we'll be watching the elections for the new FIFA presidency and we'll keep you informed as the hour goes along. But James Kitfield, let me start with you on the Iraq military launching a new offensive against ISIS to try to retake Ramadi. What's going on?
KITFIELDWell, so far, it looks to me like they're pretty much just doing probing attacks to see if they can isolate Ramadi, keep the lines of resupply in danger for ISIS inside Ramadi. But we haven't seen the big offense to retake the city yet. I think we're in kind of a hold-our-breath moment in Iraq right now. Losing Ramadi was a big deal and it totally scrambled what we had seen as a pretty successful outreach toward Sunni tribal fighters in Anbar.
KITFIELDThey fractured. The security forces that were holding Ramadi were, you know, of various stripes, some really good special forces and some police, but they all ended up retreating out of Ramadi and losing that battle. So there's been a lot of criticism that the United States has been too cautious in its airstrikes and President Obama has refused to allow what the military calls joint terminal air attack controllers, which are guys on the ground with Iraqi units who can pinpoint ISIS targets for American power.
KITFIELDHe will not let them go onto the field. I think all that's up for debate right now.
KITFIELDAnd -- I do and we're rushing, you know, 2000 in a tank, weapons, missiles to Iraq because this new tactic we hadn't seen before. We'd seen suicide vehicle bombs and suicide truck bombs, but they did them en mass, 27 suicide bombs in the space of 18 hours. It was pretty devastating. And they were able to -- some of them were in dump trucks that were armored so they would -- the Iraqis really lacked the weapons to stop those things.
KITFIELDSo right now, we're in kind of a hold-the-breath moment and I don't think we're ready for a major offensive. We're not sure what part the Shia militias are going to play in that battle to retake Ramadi. That's a very contentious issue.
REHMBut Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, is certainly not holding his breath and criticized, publically, the Iraqis for backing off.
LABOTTThat's right. And just for a little plug for CNN, these were in comments to CNN over the weekend. He said that the Iraqi forces showed "no will to fight." He said they showed no will. They weren't outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing ISIS forces. But they withdrew from the area and he says that says to most everybody that there's an issue with will.
LABOTTAnd, you know, the administration kind of tried to walk a line between standing by those comments and trying to walk back the offense that Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi forces took by these comments because, yes, there is an issue with morale. There is an issue with resources, but there's also an issue with leadership and that's what the U.S. has been actually trying to do. A lot of the forces that the U.S. has been training are not really on the ground engaging in active combat yet.
LABOTTSo Vice President Biden, over the weekend, tried to say, listen, we realize the sacrifice. We know it's difficult, but we know that you're committed. General John Allen, who is leading the coalition, the envoy to the ISIS coalition said he thinks it's an issue that they need more leadership training. But on the Iraqi side, they feel that they need more training, they need more resources and now the administration is looking at ways to bring in Sunni tribes against ISIS, including the potential to arm them directly.
LABOTTRight now, and James eluded to this, there's an issue that a lot of the aid, a lot of the weapons, are not going directly to Sunni tribes. They're going through the government, while at the same time the Iraqi government is giving more resources to the Shiite militia and that is fueling the sectarian divide.
DYERAnd I think my two colleagues have just pointed to one of the really key issues to watch out, is this issue of the Shia militias. In lots of ways, these are the most effective forces that the Iraqis have that they can put to bear against Ramadi. In the short term, that gives them the best chance of retaking at least part of the city, of really standing up to ISIS.
DYERBut a lot of people would say that's a sort of medium term disaster because putting in Shia militias into this heavily Sunni area is going to cause a backlash. It's going to exacerbate the sectarianism that is at the root of this problem. So there's potentially a no-win situation if the Shia militias are the ones at the sharp end of the fighting.
REHMAnd then, in the city of Tikrit, the Iraqi officials found nearly 500 bodies in a mass grave.
DYERAbsolutely, yes. And that's come in the last couple days. They found these graves in Tikrit, which is a city that had been taken by ISIS last year and was taken back by the Iraqi forces. Under some estimates, maybe the massacre went up to 1700 people. That's the figure that people are -- that's being bandied around. It's, you know, another one of these just utterly, utterly gruesome stories that have come out of this conflict.
KITFIELDAnd I've heard senior intelligence officials use that figure so I have no reason to doubt it. You can go on YouTube and watch them being, you know, walk into ditches and machine-gunned. It's disgusting in the extreme.
LABOTTThere's also something I want to mention about ISIS and the potential expansion of the group beyond Syria and Iraq. Obviously, the concentration of ISIS forces, ISIS resources and territory are in Iraq and Syria, but you've now seen attacks outside those borders. You saw one in Tunisia recently. You saw in Yemen. Today, there was an attack, a group saying it's close linked to ISIS in Saudi Arabia.
LABOTTSo the idea of whether these are ISIS affiliates, directed by ISIS or whether they're just a couple of people pledging allegiance, I think that's gonna be up for discussion.
REHMHow dangerous is all of this for Syria's president?
KITFIELDFor Mr. Assad?
KITFIELDWell, Mr. Assad's had a bad month to six weeks. His forces look to be -- and I've talked to a pretty senior U.S. general, recently retired, who says they believe his forces are pretty close to spent. They have been losing most of the -- a lot of ground. They lost Palmyra, the international heritage site that everyone's worried that they're gonna destroy, that ISIS will destroy now that they have that town.
KITFIELDBut they have been losing a lot of battles. There's a lot of indications that they are getting pretty close to spent. Now, a lot of predictions of his demise, which would be very hopeful if it happened, but so I don't want to go that far. But clearly, he is not able to retake new ground and he hasn't been able to hold some serious ground. The unfortunate thing is, the player in his civil war that is benefitting from that is ISIS 'cause they are the strongest within Syria's other rebel groups and have taken more territory.
REHMAnd that's why I wonder how the U.S. would feel if al-Assad fell.
KITFIELDWell, this has been the problem all along is that, you know, and the Obama administration has been extremely reluctant, as we all know, and has said for three years, to get involved in that civil war. Now, as we've said in the show, he was eventually gonna get draw in, just because of how bad things came in, would attract a bad actor like ISIS and force your hand.
KITFIELDBut the problem you have there is very much like the problem we have in Libya. You know, if Assad goes like Gadhafi goes, that's okay. These are not pleasant people and they're not allies of the United States by any stretch of the imagination.
KITFIELDBut what comes afterwards? And there is no consensus about who steps into that vacuum and reestablishes order, stability. And as we've seen in Libya, if you don't have such a force and if you don't have such a plan and commitment to it by the international community, chaos can ensue and bad actors always rise up out of chaos.
DYERI mean, the U.S. would like Assad to be negotiated out of power, would like an organized transition where it could persuade him to leave and it could organize the new regime to take place. What it doesn't want is a collapse of the regime where ISIS would enter the vacuum, where Nusra, the other jihadi group which is associated with al-Qaida, would enter some of the vacuum.
DYERIt would be a Libya-type situation of chaos that would be very, very -- potentially even worse for stability in the country, for the region and for the U.S. if that was to happen.
LABOTTAnd there's more and more talk that maybe Assad would go to this Alawite enclave up in the north and there's a lot of concern by the Lebanese that that would put the state in a perpetual state of permanent war because Hezbollah would then be trying to protect Assad and it's unclear whether Assad's forces could hold that for any length of time. But certainly, the breakup of Syria as a unitary state, just like the concern if Iraq as a unitary state, is certainly in question.
KITFIELDIt's hard for me to see how you ever put Syria back together again. And I think there's a consensus that Syria is -- it would be very difficult to put it back together again. I don't see the glue that holds it together. The international community has looked at it as a tar baby from the very beginning. It will not touch this. It will not commit the forces necessary to hold it together and as we've seen, Assad can't hold it together and he's killed 200,000 Syrians.
KITFIELDSo it's hard for me to see how Syria holds together. Iraq, you know, that's the fight in Iraq is to try to hold it together and I consider that a 50/50 proposition.
REHMJames Kitfield, Elise Labott, Geoff Dyer, they're all here to answer your questions. When we come back, we're going to talk about China and some new strategy that they're talking about, military strategy. We'll take your comments. Short break right now.
REHMWelcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. You can see my voice has still not completely recovered. Here with us, Elise Labott of CNN, James Kitfield of "National Journal," Geoff Dyer of "The Financial Times." And, Geoff, I want to ask you about Ireland's vote. What a huge shocker that seemed to be to the world that Ireland becomes the first country in the world to vote to accept same-sex marriage.
DYERAbsolutely. And a very, very comfortable majority as well, 62 percent voting in favor. This is -- growing up, as I did, in Britain, and watching Ireland, this shows an absolutely dramatic change in social attitudes in Ireland over the course of a couple of generations. When I was growing up, divorce was almost a taboo subject. Even things like contraception were taboo subjects in Ireland because of the power of a very conservative strand of the Catholic Church.
REHMSo how did this come so far so quickly, it would seem?
DYERI mean, Ireland has dramatically changed, partly being part of the European Union. Resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland has also helped change the politics of the country.
REHMBut it's the young people. The young people.
DYERAnd because, until the Euro Crisis, Ireland -- Ireland's economy was doing incredibly well. It pulled a lot of young people back into the country. The demographics of the country changed dramatically. So all these things have contributed to a really, really substantial shift in the way country things about these kinds of social issues.
REHMIt's interesting that the Vatican Secretary of State called the vote a defeat for humanity, James.
KITFIELDYeah, it's kind of interesting to hear that rhetoric coming out of the Vatican after this Pope has been -- had such a campaign to sort of get beyond some of the most divisive rhetoric coming out. I mean, they haven't changed their policies on, you know, posing homosexuality or gay marriage or, for that matter, abortion or any of these things. But he's had a much more open dialog because he thinks they've been sort of pigeonholed as being intolerant and wants to get beyond that. So that was kind of a surprise to me. But, again, this is very much against their doctrine. And it just shows to me that they're on the wrong side of this issue.
KITFIELDAnd you talk about why this happened in Ireland, I mean, look what's happened with the gay marriage in this country. We've gone -- in the last five years, we've turned an amazing corner. And it's happened faster than even our own social conservative and evangelicals had ever anticipated. So I think, on this issue, you know, the tides of history are going very fast and they're going towards tolerance.
REHMI thought this was interesting that back in Ireland, the Archbishop of Dublin used the referendum outcome as an opportunity for the church to do a "reality check."
LABOTTReality check. That's right. But the church is out of touch. And if it wants to maintain its flock and keep getting young people to join and continue to follow Catholicism, that it needs to evolve. And I think that Pope Francis, while certainly he's seen as a more humane figure, a less judgmental pope, I guess, if you will, about, you know, the strict -- he wants followers is what the Pope is saying. And I think he realizes. When he said, if someone is gay and searching for the Lord and has God's will, who am I to judge? And that's why, I think, he realizes this is how he's going to attract young people, as social issues become less of an issue for these young people who want to maintain their Catholicism.
REHMBut at the same time, Pope Francis really reaffirmed the Vatican's opposition without mentioning Ireland's vote. The Pope described marriage as the alliance of love between a man and woman.
DYERI mean, what he's trying to do is a very delicate balancing act.
DYERI mean, he can't change a doctrine and probably doesn't necessarily want to do it himself. I mean, this is a kind of fundamental core of how the Catholic hierarchy things. What he's trying to do is say, we're not going to pay so much attention to it. We're not going to stigmatize people who are gay. We're going to just talk about it a lot less and hope that that doesn't back -- there's no backlash against us because of that. But when you have a vote like this...
LABOTTOr excommunicate them. Or excommunicate them. I mean, there was a time when homosexuals would be...
REHMThat's true. That's...
LABOTT...excommunicated and now he's...
REHM...could not receive Holy Communion.
LABOTTIt's kind of -- isn't like a don't ask, don't tell policy? I'm -- you know, we believe in a love alliance, as he called it, between a man and a woman. But, you know, he certainly doesn't want to lose gay people from the church, I think, is what he's saying.
KITFIELDAnd we saw the church do something like this with contraception. I mean, I don't think anyone listens to the church on contraception. They never have backed down from the basic policy. But they quit talking about it. And I think we'll probably see a similar dynamic here.
REHMWhile we're talking about Ireland, let's look at the EU and the migrant-quota plan for its member countries. What's going on there?
DYERSo the EU has come up with a new plan this week that said it's going to take in 40,000 migrants over the next couple of years. But one of the key things to watch here is that the conditions are really rather complicated. It's not -- there are no economic migrants, which would be a lot of the people you've seen on boats from Libya trying to get over in the last few months that have been such a controversial issue. And people who look into the rules say that actually the only places that will really qualify might be people from Syria and Eritrea. So it's quite a big number. But the conditions are very complicated.
DYERAnd there's still a huge amount of political opposition from all sorts of member countries of the EU.
REHMYeah. How is...
DYERSo it's not even clear that this will even get through.
REHMHow is the plan being received generally?
DYERI mean, the countries that will take most of the migrants, countries like Germany and Sweden, are backing this plan. But there's lots of other countries, like the French and also some of the Eastern European countries are really very much opposed to it. So it's not at all clear that it will actually manage to go through.
KITFIELDThat's true. And I think it's going to require a two-thirds vote inside the EU. And it's not all clear to me that they'll have those votes. As mentioned, Eastern Europe, the Baltics, they don't really have a tradition of allowing African immigrants in period, so it's kind of a jarring thing for them. Britain is extremely immigration sensitive right now. They have a big referendum on their own membership in the EU coming up. You don't want to antagonize the right wing in front of that. France is a bit the same way. So it's a very sticky problem for the EU. But the problem is acute. It's real. There's, you know, we've lost almost 2,000 migrants at sea just in the last year, which is a human tragedy of pretty epic proportions.
KITFIELDAnd Greece and Italy are disproportionately being, you know, burdened by -- because they're the Mediterranean states here. And certainly in the case of Greece, you could argue, there's probably no country in the EU less will, you know, able to sort of...
KITFIELD...deal with a huge influx of immigration.
LABOTTWell, and that's what this actual whole plan is about. It's about trying to relieve some of the burden from Italy and Greece, who have received mostly -- there's almost about 80,000 of these migrants who have come. And they're taking the load. And then you look at -- when you mention Britain, they don't have to take part in this agreement. Under existing agreements with the EU, Britain and Ireland, Denmark don't have to take a quota. So it doesn't really hurt them to vote yes and make sure that some of these migrants don't come to them ultimately.
LABOTTBut I think it's a combination of, you know, a human element trying to make sure that some of these migrants, who -- most of them that would be allowed to be in, after judging from the United Nations and other international organizations, are seeking political asylum, not economic asylum, as David said, are -- as Geoff said, sorry -- are really there for legitimate reasons.
DYERI mean, in political terms, there's really a kind of perfect storm in Europe, because you have -- you have this huge dramatic humanitarian crisis of these 10s of thousands of people trying to get into Europe. But at the same time, you have a very strong move of far-right parties really across the EU. You've seen this in France, you see the Front National are potentially, you know, some of the public opinion polls say they could even win the next presidential election in France. In Britain, you have this EU referendum, where the U.K. Independence Party did very well in the elections a couple of weeks ago. And really, across the region, you see a whole bunch of far right parties doing very well, precisely playing on people's fears about swarms of immigrants coming into our region...
DYER...and taking away our benefits and all these kinds of issues. So it's really an incredibly, incredibly difficult political issue for the EU.
REHMWell, and you had migrant graves found in Malaysia near the border with Thailand. What did they find?
KITFIELDLike 139, 140 bodies wrapped in cloth to suggest they were Muslims and were accorded at least a Muslim burial. But this is a nexus point for human traffickers in Asia. And we know no one wants to be subjected to the tender mercies of human trafficking organizations. We don't know how they died exactly. But, you know, there is a lot of concern that, you know, these organizations are extremely cruel and view a human as chattel. And this is what happens when you have that kind of (word?)
REHMAnd you've got a similar discovery in Thailand.
LABOTTThat's right. I mean, a lot of these Southeastern nations, Asian nations are having the same problem. There's a concern that a lot of them are coming from Burma and Bangladesh. A lot of them are Rohingya Muslims who are persecuted in their own country. And it's interesting, we saw the Dali Lama got involved recently. And he asked Aung San Suu Kyi to use her considerable leverage in the country to get the government to be able to treat them better, so they're not taking these dangerous journeys. And that opened up a lot of political sensitivities because these Rohingya Muslims are persecuted in Burma.
LABOTTAnd she said, Well, you know, that's the government's job to decide. And there's an election coming up there. And so a lot of politics are involved. Today, in Thailand, the Southeast Asian nations of ASEAN are getting together, are trying to tackle the problems. There is a lot of reluctance for these governments to take in the migrants. But they did agree to keep talking and to see if some kind of problem can be solved. Because those pictures of these horrible people dying at sea and then the idea that they would be forced to rescue them, it's a -- it's really horrible for their international image.
DYERYeah, I mean, if people thought that these stories of African migrants crossing over the Mediterranean to Europe were tragic stories, these stories in Southeast Asia are almost even worse in a way. I mean, the back story behind these camps in Malaysia and Thailand seems to be, according to witnesses, that, you know, people pay money to these trafficking groups to get on a boat to take them to Malaysia. That's where they're ultimately trying to go. It's a Muslim-majority country. Sometimes they have family members there. They get on the boats and they get dumped in these camps in the jungle on the Thai-Malaysian border. And the families are told, actually, you'd have to pay three or four times more than we initially told you.
DYERAnd they're held hostage, really, in these camps. And it does seem as if maybe some of these people whose bodies were exhumed this week, maybe they died because the families just couldn't, you know, pay up the money. Or the traffickers just moved on to somewhere else. These are really truly, truly tragic stories that are not getting as much attention as maybe they deserve.
REHMThere was one photograph from above of those being transported in the bottom of a boat, crowded together with no room to -- to barely stand.
DYERAnd this is why some of these are so very hard to deal with these -- these issues. Because what seems to have happened is because authorities are now to trying to in some ways clamp down on this, because there's a lot of attention, these boats are now being -- are not going to land. So they're staying out at sea.
DYERThe traffickers, you know, don't want to get caught, so they're not coming to land. So these people are -- they're not stuck in these boats for days, weeks, even months in these unbelievable conditions.
LABOTTAnd then if you look at some of these graves that are being determined, they've -- some of the camps show signs of torture and abuse, that they were kept in cages. So they're being...
LABOTT...these poor people are being forced between being treated subhuman in a camp in a cage, or being treated in a cage in a boat lost at sea. It's really kind of a Sophie's Choice, if you will.
REHMAll right. James, talk about the trial of the U.S. journalist in Iran that opened this week and then was adjourned on Tuesday. What do we know about Washington Post Jason Rezaian or Rezaian? Tell us about him.
KITFIELDWell, I mean, he's an American, but an Iranian-American. He did some great reporting over there, was over there with his wife, who I think was also reporting. And she was allowed to leave, but they...
REHMAnd she is Iranian.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, they basically have charged him with espionage. And he's -- and, you know, they're making the very valid point is what they consider espionage in Iran is actually what a reporter does -- you know, find sources, reports what's going on. There's a lot of concern that this is really a move for leverage on the part of the Tehranian authorities.
REHMIn the negotiations?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, there's always negotiations between us and Iran on various things. But this nuclear negotiation is like the one for the ages. This is the first time we've really come close at...
DYER...you know, open diplomatic channels, are getting close to a deal that has a deadline of next -- end of next months. The Iranians have shown this in the past of when they're -- these negotiations on various of its nuclear program go on, suddenly Americans get arrested and a lot of people think they're used as pawns. In 2010, when the EU was starting back negotiations -- the day that was announced, an American, who'd been held for two years was released.
REHMSo you're saying it's part of the pattern that they use.
KITFIELDCorrect. They use these people as pawns.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, it could be a hopeful sign. It could be a sign that, you know, they want to send a hopeful message. So maybe the case will be dismissed. That would be the, you know, the optimum outcome, but...
REHMBut what's the evidence against him?
LABOTTWell, we don't -- well, this is the $64,000 question. Nobody knows, because the trial is being conducted entirely in secret. He barely had access to a lawyer before the trial. Only his lawyer was allowed in. No journalists, obviously, were allowed into the trial. His mother, his wife, were not allowed into the trial. And so no one really knows what happened except that the indictment was read. No one really knows what the evidence is. There is some suggestion that his application for an expedited visa for his wife or his discussions with the administration about possibly...
REHMWorking for them.
LABOTT...working for them to try and build a better bridge between the Iranian and U.S. -- and Americans. So nobody really knows what the trial is. But there is some evidence that, in addition to this being -- him being a pawn between the U.S. and Iran, that there -- he is kind of caught in this internal dispute and power play between the Rouhani government and the Foreign Minister Zarif and the Revolutionary Guard and some of the more religious people. The foreign minister alluded to that recently when he thought -- when he said that some low-level people were trying...
LABOTT...to take advantage of him. So not only is he hostage to the nuclear negotiations...
LABOTT...but he's also hostage to what we know is going in -- in Iran, that there is not one power center there.
DYERAnd if that's right, that raises a very interesting question. I mean, that could -- what it could be saying is that there are certain elements within the Iranian system who are trying to sabotage the talks by arresting this American journalist. But then, what does that say about any nuclear deal that might actually be done. I mean, does it -- can you then trust a regime where there are people within the regime who will do this kind of thing, even if you sign the nuclear deal with them. So it can go either way. There are some people who say we shouldn't get too carried away with this case, because those people are just trying to sabotage the talks. But then maybe this tells you that the deal that you might eventually sign with Iran isn't going to be as durable a deal as you might think.
KITFIELDIf we were relying on trust of the Iranians to back up any deal, it's dead right now. We don't trust them. You know, everyone's -- always refers to Reagan's comment, you know, distrust but verify with the Iranians, because they've cheated so many times. On the point of evidence, it doesn't really matter, Diane. Because they will -- what they consider evidence would be something that we would consider absolutely what a reporter does anyway. So they can -- they can cook this any way they want it. Their judicial system, as Elise says, is absolutely opaque.
KITFIELDIt -- this strikes me, to look for justice here is probably to look down a dead end. The hope is that, in this power play that we're talking about, the side that says we need better relations with the United States right now rather than worse will win out and he'll be released.
REHMJames Kitfield. And when we come back, time to open the phones. I promise you, we will talk about China as well. Stay with us.
REHMAnd the BBC is now reporting that the United States has removed Cuba from...
LABOTTOh yeah. I just saw that they have the statement out.
REHM...from the list of state sponsors of terror. That is something that was suggested that was going to happen and now it has happened.
LABOTTThat's right. There was a 45 day waiting period where the US had to notify Congress. Congress had an opportunity to review it and make any blocks. No one really expected that, but it has complicated the negotiations between the US and Cuba because the Cubans did not want to announce the opening of an embassy before they were removed from this list. So now, they're still not finished with those negotiations. The Cubans are holding off on a few items such as access for diplomats and the kind of equipment that the US would be in.
LABOTTOfficials say they're kind of finalizing the details, so you could see an announcement of the intent to open the embassy in the next couple of weeks.
REHMJames Kitfield, before we open the phones, talk about the new military strategy that China announced this week.
KITFIELDYeah, they released a white paper that sort of said that we're going from a defense of the island and lateral strategy to an open seas, more offensive strategy. You know, on the face of it, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's what every power does as it gets more powerful. China relies, for commodities, from around the world, Africa, everywhere else, it wants to ensure those sea lines are safe. So, as long as it plays by the rules, we don't have a problem with that. But China is showing, once again, that it's not really happy to play by the rules.
KITFIELDThe thing that has really bothered the American officials is they started to take these reefs that are in this part of South China Sea that is disputed between Japan and Vietnam and the Philippines and China. A couple of years ago, the Chinese were being very aggressive about staking their claim to these -- instead of negotiating those conflicting claims, actually, with force, sort of stake a claim to these islands. Now they are actually taking these reefs and building islands on top of them.
KITFIELDSort of reclaiming sand from the bottom of the ocean floor, building these islands, they put two lighthouses on them. They're building a military air strip and, which is not illegal in international law, but the fact is these are still disputed areas. And what is illegal is they are claiming sovereignty around these islands, like they were Chinese. So, when American P3 spy planes flew over one of these islands recently, the Chinese Navy, you know, warned them off as if they have control of that air space in that area.
KITFIELDAnd we're not going to allow that, because that gets to our issue of freedom of navigation.
REHMAnd Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said there should be no mistake. The US will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world.
DYERAbsolutely. So, you're starting to see two really very powerfully contrasting views between the US and China about the future of the South China Sea. The Chinese are describing these islands as an issue of sovereignty, as a core interest. That's absolutely crucial to their sense of themselves and their identity. I mean, when they start using words like sovereignty. The US is describing this as an issue of freedom of navigation, which is absolutely central to the way the US sees its role in the world, not just stretching back to the second World War or even Teddy Roosevelt.
DYERBut when you talk to US officials, they describe freedom of navigation as a core US value really since Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Coast Pirates. So you've got these two very, very fundamentally clashing views about how the South China Sea should be governed and what are the different roles and responsibilities of the US and China. And that's coming into play very sharply at the moment.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones and take a call from Kevin in Columbia, Maryland. You're on the air.
KEVINGood morning, Diane.
KEVINI wanted to comment about the Catholic Church saying that the gay vote, gay marriage vote in Ireland was a defeat for humanity. You know, unfortunately, I had a horrible experience as a Catholic kid growing up. You know, my first sexual experience was in a sacristy of a Catholic Church. That was true, you know, with a priest. That was true of nearly every kid that I grew up with. So, you know, I really feel like the church lost its moral authority on sexuality with that whole thing.
KEVINAnd this, you know, now is the time for the church to regain its authority on morality by focusing on things like income inequality that really matters to people and matter for all of humanity. Rather than just focusing on these narrow sexual morality issues that has lost the church adherents all over the world.
REHMKevin, I'm so sorry for your experience. Go ahead, Geoff.
DYERThank you for the call, Kevin. I mean, and it's an incredibly important point. Understand why the Catholic Church has lost authority over these kinds of social issues in Ireland. The other issue that we didn't mention was the very huge child abuse scandal...
DYER...the church has suffered. Here and there, which really fundamentally damages credibility.
REHMAll right. And one thing we have not yet talked about, we are awaiting the election of a new president for FIFA, the World Soccer's governing body. Facing major corruption allegations. Who is accused, James? It's just part of FIFA?
KITFIELDWell, the indictments were very heavy for the sub-organization under FIFA that controls soccer in North America, Central America and South America. This, I think, happened because they turned an American, the guy who ran sort of the most senior US official in the FIFA and this governing body for the Americas, they got him and he basically turned state's evidence. And wore a wire and basically, because of that, they indicted nine people, five officials from FIFA. And four sort of sports company marketing people who were apparently paying bribes to get preferential treatment in terms of their merchandise.
KITFIELDSo, but as you said in your earlier hour, this is just the tip of an iceberg that everyone knows has been there for a very long time. This -- there is, I think, as Susan Glasser said, a pay to play culture at FIFA. We've known about it, we've seen evidence, and I think that the tipping point was when they awarded first Russia and then Qatar the next two World Cups. You wonder what was paid for that. Qatar is just like out of nowhere. It's a tiny, tiny country. It's extremely -- to say it's extremely hot in the summer would be an understatement.
KITFIELDSo, they can't even play the tournament when it is normally played, in the summer. So, they moved it to December which is right in the middle of the calendar of a lot of these football leagues, if you will. So, I think this is going to go on for quite a long time. It would be very hard for me to see how this does not lead to a cleaning of house at FIFA, because the revelations are going to be earth -- you know, really mind boggling.
DYERThis is going to have repercussions all around the world. I think the other country I would focus on very closely is Brazil. One of the most underreported bits of this indictment was there was a Brazilian executive called Jose Havula, who runs a company called Traffic Group. And he himself has agreed to pay back 151 million dollars in bribes that he, himself, was paid. Traffic Group was at the center, absolutely at the center of the development of the Brazilian football federation over the last couple of decades.
DYERIntermediaries, and all sorts of deals, including a very big deal that Brazil did with Nike for football strips over a decade ago. And this is going to have huge repercussions in Brazil. Brazilian football has been very corrupt for a long time, everyone in Brazil knows that. They're desperate for a chance to reopen this debate. This is going to be the chance they're going to have. It's a really -- you know, Brazil has modernized and changed dramatically in the last 20 years, but the football federation has managed to avoid that.
DYERThe Brazilian official who was arrested this week, Jose Maria Marin, he's an old governor from Sao Palo from under the military dictatorship in the 1980s. Part of a whole bunch of generation of people who have been cast aside in Brazilian life, but still, somehow are holding on to a bit of power within football. And this is the chance that this now might blow open.
LABOTTAnd there's got to be a question of why Sepp Blatter is not named in any of this. He's, you know, the president of FIFA, who's, right now, is seeking election, and there could be a vote at any…
LABOTTRe-election. It could be a vote at any moment. When you talk about this widespread corruption, I think it's the elephant in the room that he is considered part and parcel of that. I mean, he rewards loyalty with hundreds of appointments. After his last election, he promised every committee membership to each country. And all these posts for people in the developing world could get thousands of dollars in expenses and per diem and that's how he rewards his loyalty.
LABOTTSo when people are going to vote for him today, they'll remember that there's a huge payoff at the end of it. And if that's not, you know, skirting the rules, I don't know what is.
KITFIELDYou know, in your earlier hour, I think it was Jerry who made a very important point, which was that, and largely because of the war against terror, we have, in trying to cut off financial avenues that fund terrorist groups, we discovered that the World Financial System really does go through -- its hub, really, is the United States. And the dollar is its foundation. And we saw this first with the sanctions on Iran which were very effective because we cut them off from that system.
KITFIELDWe saw it with -- we talked this show a couple weeks ago with the EU going after Gazprom because of his financial irregularities. And we're seeing it now that if you create financial irregularities and they get into our system, it gives us jurisdiction to go after you. And that's what I think Putin's -- President Putin from Russia, his chief objection, he doesn't want to see the World Cup taken away from Russia in...
REHMOf course not.
KITFIELD...in 2018, but his real issue is that the crony capitalism, sort of, model, that he wants to promote, in which he is one of the chief purveyors of in his part of the world, is under siege by this kind of good governance. You have to go by the rules if you're going to play in this financial system. And so, once again, we're seeing that there's a lot of benefits to our position in this financial system.
DYERThe really, one of the interesting things about this is the reception that has been around the world after the US Justice Department doing this. You might imagine that a lot of people, football supporters would be really angered that the US, who's not really a big traditional football power, you know, why is the US getting involved in this? On the contrary, the reaction has been utter delight. I mean, Britain, in particular, which has long been a strong critic of FIFA as a huge sport, but looking to the (unintelligible) pages in Brazilian newspapers. Absolute thrilled that someone is finally trying to take on FIFA. Really, it's a secret we've known about for a long time, but someone is actually really going after them now.
REHMBut it is by secret ballot. So he could win again.
LABOTTHe could win again or he could lose. I mean, the feeling is that he has even the two thirds majority that he could just go through the first round. But basically, a lot of these countries are telling their representatives we want you to vote for Sepp Blatter. They know that a lot of money comes to the country if he's re-elected. However, if people on these committees really want to clean up the sport, they could go in under secret ballot. No one would know that they didn't vote against him. And he could lose.
LABOTTI think what's really interesting with the United States is that they've gotten involved in the financial component of this that's in their jurisdiction. But the United States never takes any kind of moral -- they'll talk about corruption, but, you know, we were asking them the other day, I mean, Qatar, for instance, why Qatar was given this considering the human rights problems that they've faced. They're having a huge problem. Accusations by groups that they're having to compensate for the migrant workers that are working there.
LABOTTThey're treating them in deplorable conditions. Russia has a horrible human rights record. And is in the middle of a military aggression and the United States is not taking a stand on that.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a call in Sarasota, Florida. Hi Kathy.
KATHYHi Diane. I'm pleased to be on your show.
KATHYMy question is about the military, especially the ones that are currently on the ground in Iraq. Do we know what the morale is of those American soldiers and are some of them anxious to actually get in fights? I know they can't because of Obama, and Obama's stance and the American stance, but are our soldiers kind of anxious to get in and actually start fighting?
KITFIELDYou know, I talk to our soldiers on a pretty frequent basis, and what they're anxious to do is succeed and it's in their culture. They don't like to fail. So, to the extent that they feel like there is constraints on them that are not allowing them to succeed in this fight, you are starting to see grumbling. You know, there was a newscast where a pilot would come back and complain that, you know, 50 percent of the time when I go up for an airstrike, I have to come back with all my ordinates because there's so much caution about where I can strike.
KITFIELDNow, some of that caution is well placed, because you don't want to hit civilians, but, you know, there is a lot of caution about putting boots on the ground. Of air traffic controllers who can pinpoint targets.
KITFIELDThat's how we do it. That's how you get precise air power. And we have not been willing to do that. So you start -- you know, as long as this does not go well, you will see, you know, morale hurt because, you know, our military is based on a culture that it wants to succeed. And it doesn't want to, it doesn't want to fail or have its arm tied behind its back.
REHMAll right. Let's take a follow up call from Frankie in Queens, New York. You're on the air.
REHMFrankie, I'm having a hard time hearing you. Yeah. Okay. Try it. Go ahead.
FRANKIEMy question is in the Middle East, do we have an endgame? I'm 57 years old. I've been watching the conflicts over there for 47 years. Do we have an endgame, like to lead to democracy there? To show there's a better way than their system. Are we passing out pamphlets telling them about democracy? And maybe changing their constitutions? Or do we just use that as a military playground and just save lives?
REHMWhat do you think, Geoff?
DYERWell, the endgame at this stage is a much more limited one. It's about trying to retain Iraq as a viable state. As we were talking earlier, a lot of people think that that's already even gone in Syria. There isn't really a kind of coherent American strategy to deal with Syria at the moment. But the one thing they are still struggling to maintain and hope they can maintain is to keep Iraq together as a viable state. It's a much more limited strategy than 10 years ago when the US was talking about using the Iraq as a platform for democratizing the whole region. It's just about keeping these fragile countries together.
REHMAll right. And one last caller. Dennis in Euclid, Ohio. You're on the air. Dennis. Are you there? It was my understanding that what he wanted to ask was whether secularization of Ireland, will the picture change as a result of the vote in Ireland on homosexuality? And gay marriage.
DYERI mean, it's a chicken and the egg question. I think it's more the other way around, though. This vote shows you that Ireland has become a more secular country, certainly much less attached to the formal doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Maybe not less religious more broadly, but certainly much less dominated by the church. That's what this vote tells you. It's already happened, in a way.
REHMBut does that somehow decrease the kinds of conflicts that we have seen over the years?
LABOTTWell, I mean, in Ireland's case, but also I think, if you look at other Catholic nations, and I think we have to see what happens, it might show that Catholicism is changing. And that's what we were talking about earlier, that the Vatican is going to have to take that into account and evolve because if it does not, it's going to lose a lot of its flock.
REHMElise Labott, Geoff Dyer, James Kitfield, thank you all so much.
REHMHave a great weekend. And thanks for listening, everybody. I'm Diane Rehm.