The White House announces plans to send up to 450 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to train local forces fighting ISIS. Turkey’s governing party loses its parliamentary majority in an historic election that deals a blow to president Erdogan. Israel denies using a computer virus to spy on Iran nuclear talks. Uncertainty grows over the future of Greece as the IMF pulls its negotiators out of bailout talks. And a former security chief in China is sentenced to life in prison for corruption. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Shane Harris Senior correspondent, The Daily Beast; Future of War fellow, New America; author of "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" and "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State."
- Nadia Bilbassy Senior correspondent, Al Arabiya.
- Tom Bowman Pentagon correspondent, NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama authorizes sending 450 additional troops to Iraq to help combat ISIS. In Turkey, the governing party loses its majority in parliament. And a Chinese court sentences a former security chief to life in prison for corruption. Here for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Shane Harris of The Daily Beast, Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya and Tom Bowman of NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. SHANE HARRISGood to be here.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. TOM BOWMANGood morning.
REHMTom Bowman, how much of a shift is President Obama's announcement of 450 advisors to Iraq?
BOWMANYou know, it's really not much of a shift, Diane. It's adding some more trainers. We were told, initially, there'd be roughly hundreds more trainers. Actually, now we're learning most of those people will be security personnel for the roughly 50 trainers going to Anbar Province to this base called Taqqadum, which, interestingly, was an old Marine base I visited years ago. They called it TQ. So they'll be going there in the coming weeks and months training up the Sunni tribes, trying to get them to take part in the fight against ISIS.
BOWMANYou know, heretofore, there haven't been many Sunnis fighting. You know, they see the Iraqi government as one that's mistreating them or at least ignoring them. So it's trying to pull this country together in a unified way, get the Sunnis onboard fighting ISIS, that is the challenge.
REHMBut isn't there a danger that those 450 are going to be perhaps in the sightlines of, say, some ISIS fighters who may come along knowing Americans are there?
BOWMANWell, they'll be set in this base, again, called Taqqadum. It's a somewhat remote base. There could be rocket fire into the base. I know there have been some rocket fires into the other base where there are U.S. troops in Anbar called Al Asad. But again, these are huge bases. There is some rocket mortar fire, let's say, but at this point, no U.S. troops have been hurt or killed here. So there's a remote possibility that, you know, a rocket could come in and kill some Americans, but at this point, no, they're not going to be leaving that base, as far as we know, at this point.
BILBASSYThe mission, I think, is also being criticized or, rather, this tactic, rather than a shift of strategy, as Tom said, is because it's focus on Sunni tribes in Anbar in this camp in particular, but also that they're not -- these advisors, by the way, it's only 110 who's going to train the Iraqi army. The rest is going to be as security and logistics. But their mission is not to go with the Iraqi army just initially was done during the invasion of 2003. So they're really limited. They're not gonna call air strike. They're not gonna have Apache helicopter.
BILBASSYSo President Obama has been very clear, actually, from day one. And he said, when the Iraqi army being trained by us did it well and he gave examples of Haditha and Baiji and Sinjar Mountain, et cetera. And they were not trained very well by us. They did badly, like in Ramadi. But he was forced -- I think the strategy was he was forced to change it in the way -- or to change the tactic within the strategy after the fall of Ramadi. That was a disaster for everyone.
REHMAnd what the hope is, is to take back Ramadi, is it not?
BILBASSYThat is the hope, to take Ramadi, but the White House won't put a deadline on it and the whole -- the key point here is to train the Sunni tribes, is to get them involved because the Kurds have the Peshmerga, the Iraqi army mainly dominated by Shiite militia and the popular forces. The Sunnis are the one who left out and the one who able to fight Daesh because they are Sunnis.
REHMAnd this puts now a total of, what, about 3500 U.S. troops in that area.
HARRISThat's right. About 3500 so far and as Tom said, they're really not necessarily in immediate danger, given the positions that they've been in. They're not taking a direct combat role. And I think we've trained upwards of about 9,000 or maybe it's a little bit higher than that, of Iraqi forces as well. You know, I think one of the real challenges here is going to be the reaching out to these Sunni groups and getting them to take part.
HARRISOn paper, that sounds like a great thing, but practically speaking, that's gonna be a huge challenge because of these sectarian rifts between Sunni and Shiites that have been at the conflict or heart of the conflict in Iraq for so many years.
REHMAnd how does the Pentagon think that they can turn the Sunnis around, Tom?
BOWMANWell, it depends who you talk with. I mean, the official line is this is an effort to bring the Sunnis onboard. The retired Marine General John Allen has been over there working with both the government and the Sunni tribes. He's worked out something with the government where you can earmark weapons for the Sunni tribes. It'll all go through the government. They'll be located in places within Anbar Province so they have weapons.
BOWMANHe's working with the tribes to bring them onboard for training so you have a retired Marine general from the United States, basically, as the go-between with the government and the Sunni tribes. So many people would say, what's wrong with that picture? Can this country stay together? And you're seeing a lot more people talk about that privately and a little publically. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, basically said, listen, the government has to do more.
BOWMANThey have to unify this country. If they can't do that, he just said this to reporters and he said it to us maybe several months ago, if they can't do this, we have to look at other options, working with other partners. He didn't say who that is. Presumably, I don't know, Jordan, Turkey, others to go after ISIS. So this is real wakeup call, they say, for the Iraqi government. If you can't keep this country together, it may just eventually split apart.
REHMAnd how about our allies? Anybody else going in there with us?
BILBASSYThe time being, I mean, the White House would like to say we have 62 countries who are onboard with us, but really, the main brunt of the whole mission is by the U.S. Although the airstrikes has not been as effective as everybody thought, as only a quarter of the air power that cost the U.S. $9 million a day, has not been kind of targeting Daesh also in an open area in the desert. But I think, Diane, the point here to stress is the sectarian politics has exacerbated a very bad situation from the beginning.
BILBASSYWhen Prime Minister Maliki took over, the army makeup of Shiite was 60 percent. By the time he left, it was almost 90 percent. He did a purge against all the top leader commanders of the Iraqi army. And by the way, most of the people who fights with ISIS or Daesh are the former Ba'athist military who worked under Saddam Hussein. They're the one who had the experience. They're the one who has the military brilliant mind of planning where to go and how to do attacks, et cetera, not just by ISIS, by the way.
BILBASSYSo the problem now is how to get these people onboard. When they demanded their rights in their riots in April, it was peaceful, by the way. He went -- Maliki went after them. He jailed their political leaders. He put them in imprisonment. He also exiled them. So the whole idea of how do you trust this government. Now, the White House think Prime Minister Abadi is much better than Maliki and we were willing to work with him and they still believe in the unified Iraq within the framework of working with the army, although everybody knows that Iran has been fundamental and instrumental in funding and training the Shiite militia.
HARRISAnd I think President Obama kind of put a fine point on another aspect of this problem at the G7 Summit this week, where he said, it's the flow of foreign fighters going into Syria, going into Iraq that are basically allowing them -- ISIS to replenish its ranks faster than we can destroy them and we don’t have a competent Iraqi military on the ground so right now, the airstrikes are the only game. And I know we're gonna talk about Turkey in a second, but he specifically called out President Erdogan for this in saying, Turkey is not doing enough to police its borders and these foreign fighters are coming in and flowing in and basically creating a status quo.
HARRISWe kill a bunch of ISIS people. They come right back. They're replenished yet again in the stocks.
BOWMANAnd that's something John Allen, the retired Marine general, is working on as well, working with Turkey, with Saudi Arabia trying to stop the flow of foreign fighters, the financing of ISIS and at this point, as the president said, there's still a problem with Turkey, with ISIS troops and arms flowing across the Turkish border. It's a huge problem. So as we were talking with a senior Air Force officer who talked about the bombing campaign and how effective it is, he said we're taking 1,000 ISIS fighters off the battlefield each month. Meanwhile, they're flowing in from Turkey and other areas.
BILBASSYThis is true, but let me say that something I'm not sure if it's right or wrong, but most of the foreign fighters are actually in Syria, not in Iraq. And this White House does not have any strategy of dealing with ISIS in Syria and that's the big elephant in the room. And everybody said this, all borders are open. They go all the ways from the west of Anbar to Rakka. So if you're not willing to fight them in Syria, it's obvious that they're gonna come back to Iraq. And most of the training camp, they're running a state, Diane.
BILBASSYThey're running schools and hospitals and courts and life is normal under civilian population. Take Mosul, for example, and on Syria. It's the second largest city in Iraq with 2 million people. It's been one-year anniversary since the fall of Mosul and we're just talking about are they taking back Ramadi. I mean, good luck. If it's a city like Mosul, they were unable to take it and some generals saying, including Dempsey, by the way, who said, Anbar may be -- it's a later stage. It's not a priority. It fell. It was a shock.
BILBASSYThey said, what the heck is happening and now, they're revising.
BOWMANAnd meanwhile, we're talking about training up the Iraqi forces, roughly 8, 9,000 have been trained so far. So everyone asks, well, what about a ground force for Syria? Well, they're training up moderate rebels. They started with 90 in Jordan and another 90 in Turkey.
HARRISNo, it's basically a non-existent rebel force, isn't it? And I mean, that’s -- and you're finding some of these same issues happening now in Iraq with the training. I know we've been talking to people saying, our trainers are basically sitting over in Iraq with not very much to do. So for different reasons, we're having comparable difficulties scaling up the forces that we need to actually fight this war. Those are the boots on the ground, not ours.
REHMShane Harris, he's with The Daily Beast. Pardon me. Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya, Tom Bowman of NPR. Short break here. When we come back. we'll talk about what's happened in Turkey, both politically and militarily.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's our first email from Pat in Washington, D.C., who identifies himself as a Vietnam Veteran and a strong supporter of President Obama in 2008 and 2012. "But I wish he would level with the American public and say, number one, the Iraq War was a mistake. It led to the current ISIS crisis. And the U.S. cannot turn things around in 10 weeks or 10 years. Iraq must do it for themselves.
BOWMANWell, I think, in some ways, President Obama has said some of those things. I mean, he came into office saying that the war was a mistake and promising to end it. Now, I think where he's, you know, the emailer has a strong point here is that, has the president unnecessary -- or unrealistically set expectations that we're going to be able to destroy and defeat and degrade ISIS, as he says. You know, that is sort of the talking point. But if you listen to other things that he says, you know, this is going to be a multi-year project. This is going to last for a couple of years. The translation of that is, this is going to be the next president's problem.
BOWMANAnd I think that this White House has decided it has to manage the crisis as it is and is not under any illusions that it will be able to turn things around. This is going to be the top issue, I think, in foreign policy in the presidential campaign. Every candidate is going to have to answer the question: What would you have done differently? Will you put boots on the ground? How are you going to fight ISIS?
REHMAnd, Shane, let's move from there to President Erdoğan 's party in Turkey. It lost its majority in Parliament, now has to form a coalition. So what are the prospects for prolonged instability in Turkey?
HARRISYeah, there's sort of a big question mark over Turkey right now. Because, I mean, the party -- and really, Erdoğan wasn't on the ticket, but the party was. And what he failed to do in this was secure the necessary seats in Parliament that he would have needed to make changes to the constitution that would have given him even more power than frankly he has already taken -- far more power than the presidency in Turkey usually allows. So this was a really stunning rebuke, I think, of him -- by liberals, by Kurds, by secular people in Turkey. So now the question is, will a coalition government form? You already hear Erdoğan 's party and the prime minister saying, well, Turkey doesn't have a great history with coalition governments.
HARRISThe -- this -- the part of the parties that gained some seats are clearly feeling that victory and talking about it. But they have 45 days to form one now. I don't think it's at all clear, as of today, what is going to happen there.
REHMSo what are the aims of the Kurdish party?
BILBASSYThis is the greatest victory. I think it shows that, with all the struggle for the Kurdish rights in Turkey, they managed to do it through the ballot box. And it's a good example for the rest of the Middle East and the Arab world. So we have this new party that emerged. It was a gamble for them, by the way. They're called the HDP, it's led -- which is the Peoples' Democratic Party. It's led by this charismatic lawyer. His name is Selahattin Demirtaş. He managed to expand his base beyond the Kurdish voice to include liberals and women and young people. And even he -- he fielded a gay candidate. And they managed to get more than 10 percent. And for the first time ever, they will have seats in the Parliament.
BILBASSYBut, at the same time, it's going to be very hard for President Erdoğan to have a coalition with them, because lately he's been on and off with this peace deal with the Kurds, especially with the PKK. So if he goes with them, he might alienate people in his base who, being ultra nationalists, they don't want to have any peace talks with the Kurds, et cetera. But for them, it was really a great day and a victorious day, actually, for small parties.
BOWMANAnd not only did they get Kurdish votes with this party, but they also got liberals within the country who are worried about the dictatorial moves of the president. And so that was a big factor, too, I think.
REHMBut, is there a way that Erdoğan could somehow mess up the works by objecting to, say, one coalition after another, instead of being a force for change?
HARRISYeah, and under the rules, he could do that, right? I mean, he could essentially try and run the clock out on this.
HARRISAnd use this as a power grab for himself. Sure.
BOWMANHe could call for new elections as well...
BOWMAN...end of the summer into the fall.
BILBASSYWell, he needs 45 days to give the parties to get together. And I think, there is a chance that they might call for an early election. There is a chance that they have, I mean, the options here is to have a minority government. But I think, for him, it's even riskier. Because people were really tired of his authoritarian style...
BILBASSY...of government. Turkey is too big and diverse.
REHMGive us some examples of his authoritarian...
BILBASSYI mean, more than just authoritarian, it's actually many folds. But number one for that, for example, he cracked down on journalists. Nobody is able to criticize him. He closed down Twitter and social media. He silenced his opponent. He's trying to cover up this -- what he has been accused of, this economic corruption scandal -- financial scandals involving hierarchical -- high-ranking members within the AKP and within -- even his son. There was millions of dollars that was hidden in his house, et cetera. And he, of course, he took his stand against the military. I mean, some people say that, of course, the military has been too powerful in Turkey.
BILBASSYBut even his party has been dubbed -- of course, the latest was this out -- the demonstration in the Gez -- in the park out of Taksim Square. Which is basically he wanted to take their last piece of green and build on it. So his party is called the Justice and Development Party and has been dubbed as Development and Development Party.
BILBASSYHe did great for the working class. He did great for the conservative and the pious, who constitute of his support. If you go in Turkey outside of Istanbul and the major cities, actually you can see the development that happened there. And people have benefited from the stability. Definitely, for years, for decades almost -- from the '90s to 2000, when the government we all remember, the Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who always been in struggle with the -- with his coalition. There was bickering within the political parties. There was a financial crisis, corruption, et cetera. So people looked up to the AKP. But they criticize him for being too big for his ambition.
REHMSo given that Turkey is a NATO Ally, how is this going to affect what happens in the region, Tom?
BOWMANWell, it's hard to say at this point. I mean, one of the issues, of course, is what we've just been talking about, ISIS. How will the -- will they train more of these moderate Syrian rebels. They're still calling for a buffer zone along their border with Syria. What impact will that have? At this point, we really don't know.
BILBASSYWell, I think Turkey has played a role recently. I think with the approval of the GCC countries and the Americans, if you look in Syria, it has been a series of victory for the rebels in the Idlib Province. They almost liberated it from the regime. Today, there's an assault on -- from the southern front on the Druze area. Many people believe that this (word?) which is constitute mainly from Jabhat al-Nusra and were considered a terrorist group and affiliate of al-Qaida and other radicals like Harakat Sham and (word?) of the other groups. They actually have been making a huge gain in Idlib. And many people believe that that's because Turkey has allowed some weapons -- quality weapons to go to them and more training has been happening.
BILBASSYTo trying to weaken the regime to the degree that maybe they will force him to negotiate.
REHMAll right. And, Shane, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that U./S. officials say a spy virus that targeted Iran nuclear talks was linked to Israel.
HARRISThat's right. So this is sort of a -- we have to go back and remember something called the Stuxnet virus, which was developed a few years back by Israel and the U.S. to attack an Iranian nuclear facility. A sort of offshoot of that was this computer virus called Duqu -- just a strange name, these sound like Star Wars characters, I know. But it's -- this virus is associated with Israeli cyber spying operation. And a sort of second, more sophisticated variant of this was discovered by a security company called Kaspersky, which is based in Russia and is used widely around the world.
HARRISThey found this had been used and implanted in the networks of at least three hotels where the P5+1 Members were gathering to talk with the Iranians about the nuclear deal. And then just really sophisticated and kind of stunning array of capabilities, they were able to apparently tap into phones, turn on microphones on computers, download surveillance footage from the hotel cameras, really sort of just have eyes and ears remotely inside these facilities. And it does tie back to Israel. There's been a lot of research linked to that.
REHMBut they're denying...
BOWMANThey are denying it, that's right.
BOWMANThat's right. It's interesting how this came about, that the American intelligence was intercepting Israeli communications. And that's -- and they heard the Israeli's talking about what they picked up from these meetings. So it really is the old spy versus spy.
BOWMANAnd the fact -- this all comes down to, also, your own security, too, and the fact that you're negotiating with the Iranians at these hotels in Switzerland. Apparently Switzerland is opening an investigation. Don't you think maybe certain countries would be interested in intercepting your communications and your documents? So where was the security in the U.S. part? That's a question, too.
HARRISAnd what hopes that are -- that we were coming equipped with better security than the hotels had.
HARRISYou know, I think the surprising thing here to me would have been if the Israelis were not spying...
HARRIS...on these meetings, right? I mean this is -- this is, just as Tom said, classic kind of spy versus spy. But it shows you the extent to which Israel has developed a very sophisticated cyber spying operation. That they're able to do this now with these highly engineered computer viruses that can't just be ginned up by anybody in a basement. I mean, these are really sophisticated, expensive things.
REHMSo what kind of information was gleaned, do we know?
HARRISWell, we know that -- what it was designed to do, which was to be able to get into a computer, steal files off the computer, turn the camera or the microphone on the computer on, listen to the hotel's phones, get in the hotel Wi-Fi, get into the hotel's security camera. And the important thing is once a virus like this gets in, it's how does it then extract the information and get it out without anyone seeing it. And one of the really interesting features of this Duqu virus is that it leaves nearly no trace. It was very, very -- and the only reason it was -- this particular one got discovered was the security research company that discovered the first variant of it, found out it had been hacked, probably by the Israelis who wanted to know what they knew about it.
BOWMANAnd the bottom line is why would you do this? And clearly the Israeli's are trying to get information about the talks. What are the negotiations? What are they saying? Glean that information, collect it, and go to their allies in Congress in the United States and say, this is what they're saying. We don't like it. Help us sideline this whole effort.
BILBASSYYeah. And more than that, actually, a senior U.S. official, if it was not even Secretary Kerry, warned in March, Diane. If you remember, The Wall Street Journal broke the story that -- in March, saying that basically the Israelis were spying on the talks in Geneva and even in Austria. Because Austrians also opened an investigation. The negotiation was in Geneva and Lausanne and Montreux and also in Austria. So they know about it. And it was obvious, as everybody says, the Israelis wanted to know. Even if they don't have to use it later on. I think they needed to know what's going on because they don't trust any party there.
REHMBut the FBI has not absolutely concluded that it was Israel.
BOWMANNo. No. As far as I know, they have not. But, again, their investigations are ongoing. But, again, it gets back to the issue of your own security for communications. Who was doing that for the U.S. side?
BOWMANWhat happened? And no -- I haven't seen many stories on that or people even asking the questions -- how could this happen? Who was in charge of security for the American side?
HARRISWell one wonders -- and this is just purely speculating on my part, but why not -- one wonders if we did know something like this was going on. Great. Let the Israelis spy on it. Then we don't have to. Right? I mean, we can sort of glean information from them. You know John Brennan made a trip to Israel last week to meet with some of his counterparts. I wonder what they talked about?
REHMAll right. And let's us talk about Greece. The IMF has pulled its negotiators out of the Greek bailout talks. That seems pretty important. Why did they do it, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, the -- Greece is a saga that's going to continue.
REHMIt's a saga.
BILBASSYI mean, basically, I mean, the European Central Bank has boosted their -- three banks, actually, in Greece because they're running out of money. And the depositors are saying, look, we're going to take our money back. They have a deadline on June 30 that they have to pay back this IMF loan, which is $1.6 billion. They have a left-wing prime minister who is trying to negotiate with the two super powers in Europe, if you wish, you know, with the Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and with President Hollande and saying, like, maybe we can extend the time. Maybe we can wait till March, et cetera. But people are just kind of losing patience with Greece.
BILBASSYAnd the problem, too, is they have even a rule in. So they're basically saying, if we're going to implement the austerity measures that the IMF has imposed on us, we're going to lose because the economy is going to stall. There is no growth. And the code, you know, to add insult to injury and to complicate even things further, the code -- the rule that the pension -- they cannot cut pension.
BILBASSYSo they have to come up with this deficit in the money, which is, I think, $1.5 billion as well. And they cannot raise taxes because they don't want to raise taxes. They're really stuck. And if they wanted to stay in the Eurozone, then they have to oblige by this -- the IMF terms.
BOWMANAnd then the question is, where does this go? Do they just...
BOWMAN...pull out of the Eurozone eventually or?
BILBASSYWell, we've been talking about this for three years, I guess, now.
BILBASSYEven on this show.
REHMAnd does that look more likely now?
BOWMANWell, that's one of the questions people have. If they're not going to pay their debts, if these negotiators actually walk out on them, where does this leave this whole thing? That's the question.
REHMWhere does it leave us, indeed. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's now go to China corruption. China handed down a life sentence to a former top security chief for corruption. What did he do, Shane?
HARRISRight. Well, the allegations here are that he intentionally disclosed national secretes, which has never been quite defined as I've seen it in the charges. But also that he was engaged in bribery and abuse of power and sort of enriching himself based on his official position, which is a series of (word?) cases that we've seen of this in China. And there has been this big effort to round up high-ranking officials and prosecute them and show that they are not above the law. What was really interesting in this case is that it seemed like the Chinese journalists who decamped outside this place where he was going to be tried were expecting a long trial. And suddenly we found out, nope, he's decided to go ahead and plead guilty to it. And he's announced he doesn't want to appeal. What this very much looks like is that he cut some kind of a deal and spared the Chinese government the potentially huge embarrassment...
HARRIS...that would have occurred if he starts talking about all of these nebulous plots and these affairs that might implicate other officials.
REHMBut is he really going to spend the rest of his life in prison?
BOWMANWell -- well, we see what happens. But this is an effort by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to go after what he calls tigers and flies of corruption within his own party. He's very serious about it. And this is a big pelt on the wall, I would think, for any Chinese official looking at this guy potentially going to jail for life to think twice about corruption.
BILBASSYYeah. Actually, the Chinese Twitter has already said, you know, you put the tiger in the cage, referring to him. Because he was considered one of the strongest men in China. And it is -- it just, you know, to see somebody -- I think it might be even the first on the -- as the head of the security ministry to be tried under the Communist Party since '46, I think. It is -- it's that big.
REHMBut there's a whole anti-corruption campaign going on here.
BILBASSYRight. Because, as Tom said, the president has believed in that.
BOWMANLook, and it's a huge part. It's a huge effort.
BILBASSYExactly, he's trying to clean up top hierarchy.
REHMAnd so they'll go after many others?
HARRISYeah. One of the things that I was interested in, one of the visuals from this whole spectacle was this individual, Zhou Yongkang is his name. He shows up in the court with this sort of graying sort of white hair. And you see pictures of him when he was in office and these high-ranking officials frequently dye their hair to like, you know, almost black. And so, obviously, the hair dye has been taken away since he's been in jail. And showing up in public now with this white hair is seen as this fall from grace in China. So like the visual displays of this were really quite stunning. And to see him sort of, you know, penitent and contrite and put up there on stage, you know, humiliated in front of the public, that's a message that the government is trying to send. And it's doing it with these sort of subtle visual cues, too.
BILBASSYAnd actually this is the case of most dictators, if you Saddam Hussein, too, during his trial.
BILBASSYSo they lose the dye and they look undignified in a way.
HARRISTake their vanity away.
REHMHow old is this...
REHMSo life in prison. Well.
REHMShort break here. And when we come back, it's time to open the phones. I see many of you want to talk about Iraq, the Middle East. And we'll get to your calls as quickly as possible.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time now to go right to the phones. Let's go first to Jonathan in Baltimore, Maryland. You're on the air.
JONATHANHi Diane. I really wanted to talk to you about and just the callers was Chrysler just held American policy and really, quite frankly, global policy towards the Middle East for the past 100 years has been very resource, rather, and oil centric. And we've seen that that's just resulted in countless crisis upon crisis in terms of just the humanitarian cost. And I'm just wondering, is there, when will global leaders step up and consider reconsidering how they approach the Middle East?
BOWMANI really have no idea when they're going to do that. I mean, there are a number of issues that are important. The security of Israel. Oil, as you mentioned, is very, very important. We had a former ambassador, Ryan Crocker, on All Things Considered, and he was talking about splitting up Iraq and what a disaster that would be. Because basically, Iran would subsume Shia stand, and they would get most of the oil there. That's a big concern in people's minds.
REHMLet's go to Christopher in North Bloomfield, Ohio. You're on the air.
CHRISTOPHERHi Diane. I love your show.
CHRISTOPHERI wanted to ask -- it was kind of addressed a little bit in the last question, but promising the Sunnis and the Kurds their own statehood as a way of developing a strategy against ISIS, you know, Iraq has promised that they would be inclusive, but instead, they have been exclusive. And I know the Sunnis don't trust the Iraqi government, and I feel we could get more support against ISIS if we would make this sort of appeal to Sunnis.
HARRISWell, I think this goes back to what we were talking about at the top of the show about this now, this new strategy of reaching out to the Sunni groups and trying to bring them in to the fight against ISIS. I mean, the administration does not want to see the country divided into three parts, even though everyone understands that is a very big potential outcome of this whole conflict. But this is where the administration seems to be betting right now is on bringing these groups back in and trying to form some cohesion.
HARRISWhether that be around a national military or it may be even some of these militia groups. But trying to find some common purpose in fighting ISIS. That's really kind of the new element of the strategy here.
REHMAnd to Dayton, Ohio. Abrahim, you're on the air.
ABRAHIMThank you so much, Diane. I appreciate the chance to be on your show.
ABRAHIMMy family and I -- we are big fans of yours.
ABRAHIMI came back two weeks ago, from, actually, a trip to Syria and if you have any questions, I'll be happy to answer. But my question was about the ISIS. I'm kind of really shocked how such kind of group of people could really expand, despite the airstrikes that we have. And I was very concerned also about that declassified information that was, you know, the US has some roles -- I was, you know, I couldn't believe that this could be true. But if you can cover that topic about declassified information.
REHMI don't know what declassified information you're talking about.
ABRAHIMThere was some declassified information from the intelligence agency that there is some role of US training and even possibly arming. And, you know, there was many times like Wesley Clark, there was Youtube about mentioning that we have indirectly, really helped those group of people.
BOWMANWell, I don't know about helping those people, but I can tell you about airstrikes. The question was, why haven't airstrikes had more of an impact? There have been more than 4,000 airstrikes. It sounds like a lot, but air experts, like retired Lieutenant General Dave Deptula say, listen, this is only a drizzle of airstrikes. Airstrikes should be thunder and lightning, and you're just not doing enough. You should do more. But the Obama administration will tell you, listen, we're really worried about civilian casualties and we're really worried about friendly fire incidents.
BOWMANSo we're being very, very careful about how we use airstrikes.
REHMAll right, to Sally in Middletown, Connecticut. You're on the air.
SALLYYes, thank you for taking my call. Yeah, regarding ISIS, Syria, Iraq, Republicans in Congress keep saying, what is President Obama's plan or Obama's not doing enough. The Republicans are constantly criticizing, but why don't they just debate on the Presidential Authorization Act for military force, offer real suggestions. Or is it politically safer to let Obama make all the decisions, suffer the consequences, while the Republicans in Congress play it safe and keep criticizing from the sidelines.
REHMActually, we took that up in the last hour, but go ahead, Nadia.
BILBASSYWell, it's a good point. Absolutely. I mean, they just, they can criticize, they can suggest it. I mean, I think Lindsay Graham has already said that 10,000 troops should be sent. And the President has to change his strategy. But yes, they haven't even authorized him to use military force, and that will be extended to three or five years. But saying that, I think that messaging could have done more from the beginning, whether it's in Iraq or in Syria, in particular, I don't think we would have reached that situation.
BILBASSYBut let's remind everybody that the reason we have ISIS now is because of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. ISIS is the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq. At the time, you know, many people say yes, the people in the region should take responsibility. Absolutely. But also, the United States, the one who led the invasion and led to the unraveling of Iraq. And one of the most disastrous decisions was to dissolve the Iraqi army. It was the strongest army in the Middle East with 400,000 troops.
BILBASSYAnd they came with this de-Ba'athification of, basically zero sum policies, (unintelligible) and start again and it led to the sectarian policies that we have seen now. And the administration kind of didn't criticize Prime Minister Maliki publicly, so they are to blame there as well. And they left Iraq as, I think Shane said, the policy of the administration is wishful thinking. That let's wait and see let the next President deal with it, hoping there's no major disasters...
REHMYou know, one of the questions that has come up over and over again. I'd be interested in your response. Do you have any thoughts as to whether Colin Powell knew before he went to the UN that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction?
HARRISThis is a question that has come up many times, and on your show.
REHMOver and over again.
HARRISI remember when you talked to him about this, quite vividly. You know, it's hard to know inside the mind of one individual. I mean, were there -- what I always come back to on this question, whether it's Colin Powell or anyone else is this. There was lots of reporting, there was lots of reason for skepticism that got wholly ignored almost. I mean, Walter Pincus and Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. I mean, journalists who we all know who were writing stories highly skeptical about the claims of WMD.
HARRISAnd their stories were pushed off the front page and sort of ignored. I mean, whether or not Colin Powell knowingly ignored intelligence or sort of engaged in a little bit of, you know, wishful thinking, who knows? But there's no doubt that presentation to the UN is what swayed international opinion.
BOWMANWell, I think he has said, I believe that he was convinced on the information that he saw at the time.
HARRISThat is what he says.
BOWMANYeah, I don't think he has ever said that, you know, he had doubts. I mean, he was convinced by what he saw. The bottom line was the intelligence was faulty.
BILBASSYYeah, but the fact that he insisted that the head of the CIA will be, George Tenet will be behind him, if you remember the UN when he gave that speech. I mean, it gave it some kind of credibility to the world, obviously, that Saddam Hussein has the WMD. And it helped to consolidate the case against him internationally. But definitely, I mean, everybody would agree that the problem that we are facing now is because of the invasion.
HARRISAnd Powell also did, you know, before that speech, go through with his staff and excise the parts of it that he was not willing to say.
HARRISSo, at the very least, we know that he had tremendous uneasiness about this presentation that he was supposed to give. And I think, partly, because he also knew what the consequences of it would be, which was to...
BILBASSYWell, he said, if you break it, you own it.
BILBASSYRemember that famous line.
REHMHe said that in the beginning.
BOWMANAnd that's a whole separate issue. You say disbanding the Iraqi army. To this day, I ask people, senior people, you know, about that issue, and they say, that was clearly the worst thing the US did besides invading the country in the first place.
REHMAll right. To Morgan on Long Island, New York. You're on the air.
MORGANYes, thank you. Saudi Arabia has the third largest military budget in the world and they're doing next to nothing. It's in their backyard. Why aren't these right wing Republicans pushing and saying publicly, instead of complaining to Obama, join with him and get Saudi Arabia to participate. And it's not Kansas. It's their backyard.
BOWMANWell, that's absolutely right. And I can't speak for the Republicans and why they're not, you know, questioning Saudi Arabia. What I can say is the Obama administration, I know, I've been mentioning John Allen, the retired General, he's been meeting with Saudi officials. Others have as well. They're trying to get him to stop the financing of ISIS. They're recruiting and the fighters crossing their borders. But the bottom line is they haven't had much luck yet.
REHMAll right. And to, let's see, Norman, Oklahoma. Hushang (sp?) , you're on the air.
HUSHANGHello, Diane. Panelists. Just for transparency, I was born in Iran into a Shia family, but for many years, I've considered myself human first. A human who happens to be in America second, and a Muslim third. There's a problem in that region, including Israel, the body politic is cancerous. It's fundamentalism. And I think we do ourselves a disservice not to acknowledge that. When we call Saudi Arabia an ally, there's got to be something that, I mean, there's major problems with that.
HUSHANGWhen we don't insist on Israeli government mistreating of Palestinians, there's something wrong with that.
BILBASSYWell, I mean, allies are not there because of their ethics or morality. Allies are there because they serve national interests. And there is no permanent allies, no permanent enemies in politics, and therefore, the United States have allies from like with Pakistan, with Saudi Arabia, with Israel, with you know, all kinds of countries that we might not approve of their politics or internal conduct. But it is worth debating. Absolutely. But, I mean, you know, of course, we would love to live in kind of an idealistic world where morality applies and no double standard in anything. But unfortunately, politics always gets in the way.
REHMHow much urging of Saudi Arabia is going on as we speak, to try to get them more involved, Shane?
HARRISI think there's no doubt that we would like to see them doing more, but then again, if you look at their operations in Yemen, where they, you know, can't seem to hit Houthi targets without blowing up schools, and we've been trying to get them to pull back. I think there's a real question, frankly, about the competency of the Saudi military to take on something like this. They are, right now, I think, at least by GDP, the largest procurer of weapons in the world.
HARRISSo, they are clearly beefing up their military. Their capability, however, may be leaving something to be desired, I think.
REHMAll right. And to Brian in Tallahassee, Florida. You're on the air.
BRIANThank you, Diane. A comment was just made a few minutes ago about the intelligence leading up to the Bush's invasion of Iraq. And the comment was made that the intelligence was faulty. And I think the truth is that what intelligence was not cooked by Vice President Cheney was cherry picked to enhance the story that the Bush administration was putting out, trying to get -- draw people, or justify going in there. I mean, the story's well known about Cheney planting a story in the New York Times and then going on Meet the Press or whatever and citing that story as an independent source confirming Saddam's WMD program.
REHMI don't think that point of view will ever cease to be. I just think it does persist. The lack of belief in that so called evidence.
HARRISAbsolutely. And I think that what seems, what I've always thought seems indisputable is that the administration, the Bush administration, had an objective and did go looking for information to fit that objective. Now, that does not necessarily mean that they did not believe, truly, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But they needed that argument to be true to do what they wanted to do.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Jonathan who says, Greece needs to have a one or two percent wage freeze to free up money to pay debt if they cannot cut pensions. What more can they do?
BILBASSYI don't know what more can they do. I don't think what, as I said, with the country of a history of very strong trade unionists, I don't think they're going to go for a salary freeze, whether one percent or half percent. It's just a decade of government mismanagement and I don't know. I mean, they're relying on the big countries to bail them out, like Germany and the U and the IMF.
BILBASSYEt cetera, but they're not willing to pay the higher cost, which is austerity measures that needed to be implemented.
REHMAnd one last email from Dick in Salisbury, Maryland. Haven't we been training Iraqi troops for over a decade?
BOWMANWe have. The United States has trained them for over a decade, billions of dollars have been spent. And what you keep hearing from the former trainers, American Generals, is that the problem was former Prime Minister Maliki removed a lot of the top commanders, actually, more than the top commanders. All the way down to battalion level. Replaced them with political hacks and others. And that was the big reason for the fall of the Iraqi army.
BOWMANBut also, I was speaking, we were just talking off air, I was speaking with a retired General who said, listen, give the troops in Ramadi a break. They had been -- the Iraqi troops had been there for more than a year, didn't get resupplied much. And this guy said, listen, any troops would break if they're stuck in a place for more than a year, not getting resupplied and so forth. So...
HARRISYeah, it's a really dire situation, I think, Tom is describing too. I mean, we would not imagine US forces being in a position where they would be effectively under siege with no resupply coming. I mean, you would have to imagine that they would break. And I think this really does get to the whole question of, you know, what is the US pressure going to be on the Iraqi government to field a military. Not so much on the individual troops, you know, some of them who have fled in the face of ISIS.
HARRISAnd there may be reasons why, like Tom's just illustrating, but this is really, ultimately, it is up to the central government, which is what is so maddening about this entire approach. You know, we can't fix this for them, as much as we might want to.
BOWMANAnd what's interesting is we were told back in February that the retaking Mosul would take place in April or May. Now we're not even sure that will take place this year.
BOWMANRamadi, I was told two weeks ago by people, I said, hey, when are they gonna retake Ramadi? This one official said, a couple of days. Two weeks ago. Now, I think they're saying maybe months from now.
BILBASSYAnd also, if they wanted to create a situation analogous to that of 2005, when General Petraeus came and he said, the only way to fight Al Qaeda, a Sunni based group, is to enable, to arm the Sunnis in Anbar province. Now, we're talking about giving them arms and weapons, but everything has to go through the central government. And many people do not trust the central government of making sure the arms goes to them.
BOWMANI was there back in 2006 when the Sons of Iraq program started. Everybody back then was saying, we're gonna pay these guys 300 bucks a month not to shoot at us and it'll never last under the Shia government.
REHMTom Bowman, Pentagon Correspondent for NPR. Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya. Shane Harris of the Daily Beast and author of "At War: The Rise of the Military Internet Complex." We'll hope to have you back on Monday. Have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.