The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Terrorist attacks leave a deadly toll in France, Tunisia and Kuwait. With a June 30 deadline looming for an Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart head to Vienna for a final push toward an agreement. The White House announces changes to U.S. hostage policy, at a time when more than 30 Americans are being held by terrorist groups abroad. Russian president Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama speak directly for the first time in months, in the same week that NATO has been beefing up defenses against Russian threats. And Greece makes an 11th-hour try for a deal with international creditors. Guest host Susan Page and a panel of journalists discuss the week’s top international stories.
- James Kitfield Contributing editor, National Journal, and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
- Nancy Youssef Senior defense and national security correspondent, The Daily Beast.
- Edward Luce Chief U.S. commentator, Financial Times; author of "Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent."
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Terrorist attack today in cities on three continents. Secretary of State Kerry heads to Vienna for Iran nuclear talks as the deadline for a final agreement nears. And European finance ministers meet again tomorrow over how to pull Greece from its long debt crisis.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for this week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast and Edward Luce of The Financial Times. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGlad to be here.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHello.
MR. EDWARD LUCEThank you.
PAGEWe hope our listeners will join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, it has been a deadly morning, terrorist attacks reported in France, in Tunisia and in Kuwait. Nancy, do we think these attacks are coordinated?
YOUSSEFWell, I spoke to someone at the Defense Department just before we came to air and there's no evidence yet, but it's something they're investigating. ISIS only claimed responsibility for one of the three, the attack on a Kuwaiti Shia mosque that killed 10 during Friday prayers. The interesting thing is in all three of these attacks, it's a specific kind of sort of ISIS form of terrorism. And France, the attack of the factory was by a man who reportedly was being watched by the French authorities for two years, from 2006 to '08 before they stopped when he hadn't done anything.
YOUSSEFMuch as in Charlie Hebdo where they were monitoring someone and then a decade later, he launches an attack. In Tunisia, a country were so many jihadists come from and often go back after fighting in places like Syria and Iraq, 27 at a resort were gunned down by two men in (unintelligible) as they were tanning and vacationing on the beach.
YOUSSEFIn Kuwait, the mosque in Kuwait City, the first time Kuwait has ever had a Shia mosque attacked, although we've seen similar attacks in the Gulf during Friday prayers, during Ramadan. So they're all sort of distinctive forms of terror that ISIS inflicts and ISIS had called for such attacks at the start of Ramadan last week and so to me, whether they're coordinated or not is almost ancillary. The fact is that ISIS, either way, has been able to terrorize the world on three different continents, the biggest attack in Tunisia, the first attack of this kind in Kuwait and that, in and of itself, speaks to the power and terror of this group.
PAGEAnd, of course, not the kind of big attack we saw on 9/11. These are individuals. They're very small groups of people able to get a lot of attention and kill some people just on their own.
KITFIELDYeah. It's kind of the future of terrorism, unfortunately. You know, even ISIS, so far, is unable to mount the kind of meticulous planned attack, spectacular, that 9/11 was. That was years in the making from a group that basically had free reign of Afghanistan for many years. But what we've seen with ISIS is -- and if anyone has any question about why we have skin in the game against ISIS, we now see it.
KITFIELDIts ambitions are initially local and they've captured big swaths of Syria and Iraq, but they've always said that they know who -- the West is their sworn enemy and they called for these attacks on Ramadan. I agree that, you know, you can't assume that they were coordinated and the U.S. intelligence officials will be looking for that connective tissue, but even if they're not, it shows that their calls for terrorism are being answered, much like al-Qaida's were, you know, maybe a decade ago.
KITFIELDWe saw that very clearly with the attacks in Madrid, the attacks in London. So this is -- ISIS is like the new al-Qaida. It's very, very threatening. And, you know, unless we take the fight to it, it will take the fight to us.
PAGEEdward Luce, let's talk specifically about the attack in France. The French President Hollande came out today, had a news conference, described it as an act of terrorism. A head was severed, Arabic writing was found on a fence. What do we know about this attack now?
LUCENot much more than what you've just said and what Nancy mentioned about the main suspect having been dropped from French intelligence. I think in terms of the broader ISIS attacks, I know only one has been claimed today by them, but there was an ISIS flag found near the French site so that's clearly ISIS-inspired. Bakr al-Baghdadi, the so-called caliph of the ISIS state, gave a long sermon in mid-May and his long sermons tend to be followed by big actions. That's traditionally been the pattern. And shortly afterwards, Ramadi fell and Palmyra in Syria fell.
LUCEAnd I think equally significantly there were attacks on successive Fridays on Shia mosques in the eastern portion of Saudi Arabia and we now have an attack on a Shia mosque in Kuwait. If I were, you know, in Bahrain, which has a Shia majority, or other portions of the Gulf which have strong Shia minorities, I would be on high alert now. Clearly, the ISIS strategy of driving a wedge between Sunni and Shia is very much an uber theme of what the so-called caliph of ISIS has been looking for.
PAGEInteresting. So significant, perhaps, not only that we're in the period of Ramadan, but also that these attack occurred on a Friday.
KITFIELDWell, and we've also had these horrible attacks -- we've just seen news come across the wire on Kobani where more than 140 civilians killed, which made...
PAGEKobani in Syria.
KITFIELDKobani in northern Syria. So, you know, this is kind of ISIS' modus operandi. When it is pressed at some place, whether it's the counteroffensive to sort of surround Ramadi, it -- or the Kurds have had some successes with northern Iraq, it attacks someplace else to draw sort of pressure away from its caliphate wherever it's being pressured.
KITFIELDSo and, you know, this group was -- this is the successor of al-Qaida in Iraq from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who invented the strategy of basically slaughtering Shias in all their holy places, like the Gulf mosque back in 2006, and as a way to start a regional war between Sunnis and Shias from which their caliph will spread and rise from the ashes. They've never given up on that strategy. In fact, they show every sign of continuing it right now.
PAGEAnd the reports from Kobani this morning are that the death toll is enormous. 145 civilians reported killed, Nancy. What do we know about these attacks?
YOUSSEFNot only killed, executed in their homes. And remember that Kobani has been a particular focus of this campaign against the Islamic State by the coalition forces. The United States has conducted literally months of attacks on that city in an effort to keep it out of ISIS hands and was believed to have been successful the first time late last year, earlier this year when the declaration was made that Kobani had came out of ISIS hands.
YOUSSEFAnd then, this week, we started seeing the return of ISIS forces in Kobani. What was interesting is the last coalition airstrike in Kobani after almost daily attacks for months was June 16. By June 24, eight days later, ISIS forces were able to come in and now, not only come in, but now execute people and sort of house to house searches. So it really speaks to how much the campaign against the Islamic State is dependent on coalition air power because when the United States and its coalition partners stop those attacks, ISIS moved in and aggressively and quickly.
PAGEWhat does the -- what's the lesson for U.S. policymakers? How will they view this, do you think, James?
KITFIELDWe're not doing enough. You know, the Obama administration to its credit realized, after almost all, you know, a third of Iraq fell and much of Syria, that this group had to be dealt with. But it's been very halting. It's only sent roughly 3,000 U.S. train and assist troops. We've refused to go out into the field with forces to use our air -- to be, you know, close air controllers. We're going to need to do more. When Ramadi fell, the administration sent in 300 more troops.
KITFIELDI can assure you that will not be the last reinforcements. We're not getting it done against ISIS. We're going to need to step up our game.
PAGEWhen you say step up our game, you mean not just air strikes. You mean also ground forces?
KITFIELDI mean, a lot more ground forces. Not to fight, not ground combat forces, but ground forces to backstop the Iraqi forces with training, with equipment and also going in the field with them so they can precisely call on U.S. air power, probably more robust U.S. air power. Right now, the air power, you know, our air power guys are saying, we don't have enough targets. Well, you get targets by going out in the field with units where you can actually eye-ball, you know, ISIS formations and bring down ordinance on them.
KITFIELDAnd we're not doing that 'cause we've been very cautious. I think that will change.
PAGESecretary of State John Kerry got on a plane this morning heading back to Geneva for, perhaps, final negotiations on that Iran nuclear deal. A self-imposed deadline of next Tuesday, Edward Luce. Does it look like they're going to meet the deadline?
LUCEThat's an open question. Clearly, the Ayatollah Khamenei's speech earlier this week with new red lines that seemed to roll back from what Iran had agreed to in Luzon in April, raises a very, very big question mark over whether John Kerry's going to be able to clench a deal. I think the fact that there are voices here, including former Obama officials such as David Petraeus and Gary Samore, people who were in the Obama administration warning that there's got to be some red lines here in terms of what the administration is prepared to concede.
LUCEI mean that this is going to be a pretty tough one to pull off and if the Obama administration does pull it off, if John Kerry does come out of Vienna with a deal, then the tension's gonna switch to Congress and whether Congress will uphold such a deal. It's given itself 60 days.
YOUSSEFIt was quite a dramatic week because Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader who has a say in all matters, drew red lines that really were lines that the United States could not accept. There were two sort of major issues, one about the lifting of sanctions immediately under the framework of the deal in April, that Iran had to allow inspectors, had to show that it had not -- that it had complied before those sanctions were lifted.
YOUSSEFKhamenei said that those sanctions must be lifted before a deal was signed. And he also rejected calls for inspectors to be able to move as freely as the April framework sort of spelled out. The questions becomes, are these real red lines or are these negotiation red lines to try to inch out the final benefits of a deal in one's favor.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll go to the phones. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And, you know, in the first hour, we discussed that ground-breaking decision by the Supreme Court, recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. That'll be the topic for the first hour of "The Diane Rehm Show" on Monday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Monday. We'll be talking about that remarkable decision from the Supreme Court on gay marriage. We're now in the second hour of our news roundup, talking about international developments with Nancy Youssef, senior defense and national security correspondent for the National (sic) Beast.
PAGEWe're also joined by Edward Luce, chief U.S. commentator for the Financial Times. He's the author of "Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent." And James Kitfield, contributing editor at National Journal. He's also a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Well, you know, the United States -- the administration announced this week a new policy when it came -- when it comes to dealing with the families of those who have family members abroad who are being held hostage. One of the things that surprised me about this, James, was the disclosure that there are now more than 30 Americans being held hostage overseas now. I didn't realize the number was that high. Was that a surprise?
KITFIELDYeah, I was kind of surprised at that, too. Because -- and they purposely don't talk about a lot of these cases because there are very sensitive negotiations going on in the background. A lot of times the families are told that, you know, if you get publicity for this, it can actually be harmful to reaching a deal. But I think this is really a result of the fact that they have had a really bad run with James Foley being murdered by ISIS, with a U.S. drone strike killing two Western hostages that were being held at a compound that we didn't realize they were being held at.
KITFIELDThere's a lot of frustration amongst families that, when they get in these situations, the government doesn't seem very helpful and threatens to prosecute them if they would dare, you know, pay a ransom. So what the Obama administration basically said is we're not going to do that anymore. We're not going to -- they haven't actually, you know, prosecuted someone for paying a ransom. But they're not even going to threaten that anymore. They assigned a hostage sort of envoy to sort of coordinate the government's response. So a family now has one place to go and someone to talk to, to hear their concerns, et cetera.
KITFIELDYou know, but the fact that there are, you know, 30 -- roughly 30 Americans held hostage is a pretty, you know, grim statistic. Because it means that everyone realizes that these are really good bargaining chips to get America to do things for you.
PAGEYou know, some of these hostage families have told horrific stories about their treatment by their own government, with agencies saying, "If you negotiate to try to win the release of your family member, you could be sent to jail."
YOUSSEFYeah. You know, I worked on one case, Austin Tice, who is an American who has been held in Syria for the last three years. And so if I hadn't heard these stories personally, I wouldn't believe them. Diane Foley, who, as James mentioned, her son James was killed in August -- or at least the video appeared in August from ISIS -- tells the story that she learned of her son's death from a reporter. That she learned that the U.S. had authenticated it when the president announced it. And then her FBI negotiator who'd been assigned to her case did not call her the entire day. And that's just one example.
YOUSSEFThe more sort of routine examples are people not being brought into the fold and being told specifics of what they know because oftentimes the government treated them as a threat to that information and to their sourcing. And the families would say, "Look, we have worries about dealing with the government. We're in between a huge bureaucracy trying to secure the release of our child and we are not familiar with this. This is uncharted territory." Can you imagine your child disappears in someplace like Yemen or Syria and you have to navigate this world. And so up until this point, there really hadn't been a policy. And the level of sort of tension and frustration between the government and the families were only mounting.
YOUSSEFAnd James Foley's death really prompted a months-long investigation. And what was extraordinary is the families got a lot of what they wanted -- a policy, a structure in terms of how to deal with these cases -- rather than letting each agency sort of decide what to share, how to share it, how to engage with the families. And to give you a sense of the seriousness with which it was treated, the president met with about 20 families for an hour before he announced the strategy. And so the commitment that came from the president to deal with this I think was notable.
PAGEYou know, the U.S. continues to say the United States government will not pay ransom, will not negotiate for hostages with terrorists. But now they are saying they will not prosecute family members that seek to do so. And I wonder if that's a distinction without a difference, Edward Luce, when you think about not wanting to encourage Americans to be taken hostage. Does it make a difference whether it's a family or a private ground paying a ransom or if it's the U.S. government?
LUCEWell, as James says, this formalizes what's already been the case because nobody has ever been prosecuted. I think it brings the U.S. a little bit closer but not that much closer to what is the Continental European norm, which is just to pay up -- the French, the Germans, the Italians, with the exception of Britain, which maintains the don't-deal-with-hostage-takers policy. The slightly Orwellian-sounding Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, which will be housed inside the FBI, does seem to be a more humane response to what Nancy has described. There's clearly been some really bloodless sort of bureaucracy in the way these families have been treated.
LUCEAnd if that goes anyway towards making them feel more included and more cared for, then that's a plus. But this isn't a radical change in policy.
PAGEBut you know, James, the United States government has argued over and over again that it's -- while it seems very cruel to refuse to negotiate when somebody like James Foley is being held, that it's in the long-term interest of Americans to let hostage -- potential hostage-takers know that they won't get a deal if they take an American. So will this actually encourage the taking of more Americans as hostages?
KITFIELDYou know, it's -- the argument's going to be made from those who oppose this that it's a foot on the slippery slope. And at the end of that slippery slope is what the Europeans do, which is, as Ed says, is pay up. You know, the logic of not doing that is pretty evident. It hasn't worked. It encourages more hostage taking. It make -- it enriches the very people you're trying to stop. I think the American policy's on pretty firm footing. But to say that -- it just seems so -- it seemed too cruel not to let the families decide themselves whether that was something -- what you can get out of a family is going to be a lot less than what you get out of the American government. So I think they're trying to have -- they're trying to moderate their stance a little bit.
KITFIELDBut I think there is a place they won't go, and that is the American government. They've always negotiated, let that be clear. They always have negotiated behind the scenes, whether directly or through third-party intermediaries. But they are saying that if the families want to pay up, we're not going to stand in your way.
YOUSSEFI know on -- it's -- when people worry about this, that they don't want to encourage it. But, you know, in reality, it's a much more complicated scenario. The families will tell you that this idea that not paying is done to not encourage more kidnappings. Well, they would say, "Our child's being held, which is proof that it hasn't discouraged it." And the other thing I would say is -- to this idea of not paying -- the reality is the United States does negotiate, as James said and, in the case of soldiers, has given -- made incredible concessions for Bowe Bergdahl, for example. So this sort of treating military cases one way, civilian another, practically speaking, we enter a world of gray.
YOUSSEFAnd while this policy, you could -- one could argue, opens the door. It is still very different than when Europe does -- when a European is kidnapped and there's a negotiation offer, the government comes in, uses tax dollars, uses their experts and negotiates the deal. Right now, what happens when that deal is offered, is those families engaging one-on-one with the terrorists, using their own dollars. So there is an important distinction. And I think, to the argument that your encouraging it, it's not clear to me that not paying has substantially discouraged it.
KITFIELDOkay. Can I just add that it's not clear to me that paying has actually had any better effect for the Europeans. They still continue to take European hostages too. So there is no perfect answer here. Logic tells me that paying for hostages leads you down a slippery slope, if you're the government. Again, I think this is a perfectly middle-ground policy for the administration to take. Because it was just too cruel to tell families that we might prosecute you for paying your own money to get your loved ones back.
PAGEWell, good luck getting a jury to convict a mother for trying to negotiate with terrorists who are holding their child hostage in a foreign land. Let's talk to Richard. He's calling us from Portland, Ore. Richard, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
RICHARDHi. Thanks for taking my call.
PAGEYou bet. Go ahead.
RICHARDYou made an interesting point about not getting publicity, you know, not publicizing hostage takers, because that actually is counterproductive. I just thought -- imagine the thought that maybe getting so much outside attention to terrorism itself is in fact like giving oxygen to a flame and throwing gas on the fire. I mean, we really exaggerate, you know, its importance. I mean, it's like any criminal attack or act of murder is terrible. But they said -- but I saw a thing about how the domestic terrorists had killed more people in America than jihadi since 9/11.
RICHARDI mean the number is like 60 versus 26. You know, and 13, 14 years ago, terrorists killed 3,000 on 9/11. But if you put that in proportion, 16,000 Americans are killed every single year, violently murdered, by other Americans.
PAGEYeah. Richard, that's such an interesting point. Edward, what do you think?
LUCEOh, I kind of agree. I mean, I think that the, you know, response -- maybe this is a typical European impulse -- but I think the response to what the caller just mentioned about domestic deaths is to have tighter gun control. But that -- maybe that's another topic for another time. I think that it's pretty hard to tamp down publicity when you have an American beheaded on video in a place like Syria. The kinds of spectacular public relation stunts in which ISIS specializes, you know, are obviously designed to maximize publicity. But you can't ignore them. An so we just have to find other ways of dealing with them. There is no perfect answer.
LUCEI do, though, think that the French -- that there is a higher probability of French and German hostages being taken because of the widespread knowledge amongst ISIS, Boko Haram and other groups that their governments will pay and won't mount, sort of, Navy SEAL Special Operations against them.
KITFIELDYou know, I heard that same question asked earlier this week on "The Diane Rehm Show," about the domestic terrorists who killed the nine people in the black church in South Carolina. And, you know, my response as a journalist is, is this is the kind of a story we just can't avoid. And, you know, the argument's been made, if you don't say their names, then you won't encourage people who just want to get some celebrity, notorious as it may be. And I just don't think that that's a place that journalism can go in this country. As a journalist myself, the first question is, why? And the second question is, who? And then you want to understand why this person did this.
KITFIELDAnd so you inevitably get into, you know, we've all gone to school on ISIS. Well, my, you know, ignoring ISIS, to me, would be the worst thing. I think you have to understand people who are doing these evil things, the better to counter them.
PAGERichard, thanks very much for your call. Let's go to Travis in Madison, Wis. Travis, you're on the air.
TRAVISYes. Hi, panel. Thank you for taking my call. I have a very quick question. In light of the U.S. funding very large and well-equipped militaries in Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, I'm wondering if you can tell me why it's the U.S. obligation to go into Syria and Iraq and restore the rule of law, when it would seem that those institutions would be better capable of doing so with respect to the culture and linguistic norms of the area?
PAGETravis, thanks very much for your call. What do you think, panel?
LUCEIt's a great question. I mean, I guess the answer is that there hasn't been a particularly good record on the part of the United States in recent years, or my own country in more distant decades, in remaking foreign societies to be more democratic and peaceful. But the fact is, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, are not -- are seen as even less legitimate than the United States by neighboring Arab countries and even less equipped to stabilize them. So it's just a question of choosing amongst bad options, one of which is not doing anything at all.
YOUSSEFThat's exactly right. And remember, a lot of these armies -- I've lived in Egypt and spent a lot of time in the region -- most armies in the region are there for internal threats, not external threats and have -- you know, the superiority of the United States military relative to those in the region is pretty extraordinary. And their own sectarian views and biases come into play, that it's not clear that they would be any more and perhaps less effective than the U.S. military.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850 is our toll free number. Or you can send an email to email@example.com. Well, here's a story we've talked about before: Greece, on the brink of financial catastrophe. Edward, what happened this week?
LUCEWell, Greece and the troika -- that's the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission -- had several rounds of very intense, increasingly bad tempered negotiations over what Greece needs to do to receive 6.7 billion euros in bailout money that will help it to pay its creditors. And the next bill comes due to the IMF next week. It's not a huge bill, it's 1.5 billion euros. It's very small relative to what Greece owes in total, which is way in excess of 100 billion euros. But the symbolism of the terms and conditions of this deal are seen as extremely important on both sides -- both by the Cypress government in Greece and by the troika in Europe and here in Washington.
LUCEAnd I have to say that the direction in which this is going -- the next emergency, probably final emergency summit is going to be tomorrow -- that the way it's going, the language, the hardening of positions, makes a Greek default next Tuesday look increasingly likely.
PAGEAnd what would be the consequences of a Greek default?
YOUSSEFWell, they leave the Eurozone. First major country -- the first country to -- advanced country to default on an IMF loan. Practically speaking, there could be a run on the banks. There could be a collapse of an already fragile Greek economy. So even as people are hardening positions, one can't help but hope that nobody wants this scenario, that there's some way -- maybe I'm just overly optimistic -- that something will be ironed out. Because the differences seem to be relatively small, compared to the consequences of not reaching a deal.
PAGEYou -- the consequences do sound pretty serious. James.
KITFIELDYou know, the IMF looked at this. And their conclusion is really, it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on edge. You know, the 8 percent immediately GDP fall in Greece. A 50 percent unemployment. A run on the banks, which by the way has already started. The banks have...
LUCEIt's well advanced.
KITFIELD...are hemorrhaging money right now. You know, I -- sorry to my friends in the European Union, but I keep getting this feeling that they don't quite get that this thing has got a very much, a Lehman Brothers vibe to it. That they think they can do this in an orderly fashion and they think they can contain, you know, they can control the contagion. And I'm just totally not convinced of that from anything I've read and heard. So I hope they're right. If Edward's right and this is where we're heading, I hope the European Union gets this. But having watched their machinations recently, I'm not convinced.
LUCEIt is worth noting that the hardest-line negotiators against the Greek position are the other so-called peripherals. It's Portugal, it's Ireland, it's Italy: the most-indebted Mediterranean and marginal European, Eurozone countries. Because they have undertaken reforms. They are getting growth back. And I think, you know, to put it from Christine Lagarde's point of view, the head of the IMF, who's been called -- it's been called a criminal organization by the Greek Prime Minister. So they're not exactly, you know, on -- exchanging Christmas cards. To put it from their perspective, if you give Greek debt forgiveness -- debt forgiveness to Greece, then all the others are going to say, "Well, why aren't we getting debt forgiveness?"
LUCESo Greece might be a tiny sliver of the Eurozone economy, but once you start up adding up all the others who could demand it, if this precedent was set, then the whole thing begins to unravel. That's to put it from the troika's perspective. I agree, though, that differences in the plans between what Greece is offering and what the troika are insisting is almost comically minute at this stage. The Greeks are saying, "We want 29 percent level of corporate tax." And the troika are saying, "No, it's got to be 28 percent." And, I mean, it gets down to far more sort of comic minutia than that. But it's, at this stage, a battle of wills, not reason.
PAGEAnd of course, one of the things we know from the experience with the financial meltdown in 2008 is that it doesn't -- it doesn't respect borders. That what happens in Greece will affect not only the European economy but our own here. Well, we're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll take more of your calls and questions. We'll discuss what's happening with Russia and those very interesting WikiLeaks about spying between the United States and France. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me, James Kitfield from National Journal and the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Nancy Youssef from the Daily Beast, Edward Luce from the Financial Times. We've been taking your calls and questions. Let's go back to the phones and talk to Edward. He's calling us from Whaleyville, Maryland. Edward, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
EDWARDThanks for having me call. Answering my call. And hello panelists.
EDWARDYeah, my name is Ed. I'm actually running for US Senate as a candidate, but my reference is to the US policy with hostages. I do agree with that. And yes, I do agree with the US having to have a presence with ISIS and other terrorists. There is a definite problem with the international community falling in line with paying hostage negotiation fees. Now, with the US loosening up the ability for families to have the ability to pay ransoms, why doesn't the international community come together like the United States did with the war in Kuwait and Iraq.
EDWARDAnd hiring contractors to have a non-political affiliation to just take care of people like ISIS.
PAGEAll right, Edward, thank you so much for your call. Any comments from our panel? James?
KITFIELDWell, we have plenty of contractors who help our military do all sorts of things, and at one time, we actually had Blackwater, you know, developing its own counterterrorism capability. The problem with having contractors do lethal force things is you don't have very much oversight over them. And by the way, they can't bring the heft and the expertise of the US Special forces and the US military, so if ISIS is giving us all we can handle right now, I don't think anyone in the Pentagon believes that if we could sub-contract this out, they'd do any better.
PAGELet's talk to Eric. He's calling us from Fairfax, Virginia. Eric, thanks for holding on.
ERICYeah, hi, thank you. Yeah, I wanted to follow up on the last show, about the Chinese, or supposed Chinese hack of OPM.
PAGEOkay. Go ahead.
ERICYeah, I don't think you got to the magnitude of this. I've heard people call this a cyber Pearl Harbor. Much worse than Snowden. 'Cause they didn't get just the government employee data, which is really bad for them, they got the SF86 forms, which you fill out for security clearances, which gives you names, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers, relative family. It gives you the foreign contacts you've had, your foreign travel, your financial information. Sexual affairs you've had, alcohol, drug abuse.
ERICAnd they got, according to (word?) reports this week, adjudication forms, which are the interviews of people, your relatives and your friends. Which means the Chinese can blackmail our operatives, they can roll over networks, they can sell this to foreign operatives. It's a gigantic betrayal of people who put their trust in the government. And now, all that information we gave them, on the promise it would be kept secret, this administration has lost it and no one's been fired so far.
PAGEYou know, Eric, I have to agree that this is a huge story. 18 million Americans now, we think their private information has been hacked. We suspect by the Chinese, possibly the Chinese government. Edward, Pearl Harbor, is that going too far?
LUCEWell, it's certainly the largest such attack by far in terms of magnitude and data downloaded. You have to say from a purely technical point of view, hats off to the Chinese. This is an extraordinary coup. And that's exactly what James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, did say yesterday. Well, not those precise words, but he admired, grudgingly, the technical feat of what the Chinese have allegedly done. And the former head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, said the US would do precisely the same to Chinese data basis if it could.
LUCEIt's what spy agencies do. The real question, I think, is how quickly the US government, with its very diffuse sets of massive databases, the enormous number of contractors it uses, the wake of the Edward Snowden breaches, what the US government couldn't do to restore the American people's trust in its own data security. And I think it has to be a lot, a lot, because that trust has disappeared.
PAGEGo ahead, James.
KITFIELDYou know, we've been saying, when I've talked to people about cyber security for going on 10 years, the comment has been, you know, there's going to be a cyber Pearl Harbor. And I'm not sure if this is it or not, that's part of the problem with cyber is the event happens and you don't know exactly what China's going to do with this information. If the worst case scenario is that you want to spin out of that, like the listener did, then yeah, this could be a Pearl Harbor. And quite honestly, I'm not so sure that OPM was such a hard nut to crack.
KITFIELDIt doesn't sound like they were to me. They had, you know, the problem had been identified, and they did nothing to basically fix it. And then come back after the fact and say oh, oops, our bad. We have created a massive vulnerability here that it seems like no amount of rhetoric can force the government yet, so far, to actually take it seriously enough to start plugging some of these holes. And until something really, really bad does happen, I'm unconvinced this government will react.
YOUSSEFCan I just say as a sort of a practical side and maybe it's too inside Washington. It is hard to find someone in this town who has not received an email from the government saying, what exactly of their personal information has been taken and so you can walk out of this studio and find somebody who has received that email. And the varying degrees of response and data breach is extraordinary, from people who have had everything taken to one or two pieces that they know of. And there's always sort of a condition on the letter, we might have more to tell you that what's been taken from you.
YOUSSEFSo, it's an amazing thing to go around in this town and run into friends who are getting these emails and notifications that the Pentagon, I feel like almost every civilian I run into has had that encounter.
PAGEEric made the point that no one's lost their job. Will somebody lose their job?
KITFIELDI hope so. I'm with him. This is ridiculous.
PAGEYou know, what we're talking about leaks, let's talk about wikileaks. Revelations this week, that the US has spied on French Presidents and officials. Edward, how are the French taking this?
LUCEWell, I think we were all waiting to be asked first, because we'd all teed up the Captain Reno quote from Casablanca. About being shocked, and I'm delighted to be the first to deliver that quote. The French are shocked, but of course, they do exactly the same thing. Their protest is formal, it's pro forma, nothing will change. It is interesting that, this week, the French Assembly passed a very, very Draconian set of empowerments to their own national security agency for phone tapping, metadata, Hoovering up, et cetera.
LUCEThe French, you know, in the wake of the Hebdo attacks and the attack this morning, are increasing their surveillance powers. So, I think this is a sort of -- it's almost like a tea ceremony. The French are shocked and we're apologetic and life goes on.
KITFIELDEdward beat me to that line just by a fraction of a second. It should be noted that this is two years old information. I think it was 2012, so three years old. So, this is sort of pre-Snowden and Obama came out and gave a statement that was very similar to what he gave when it became clear through Snowden's leaks that we had been doing the same thing with Angela Merkel's cell phone. Which is, we won't do it again. Our bad. And let's move on. And that's exactly what will happen.
YOUSSEF'Cause remember that the French depend on the U.S. for intelligence and trading, so while everybody can call it unacceptable and be outraged, there are very real practical realities that come into play. I have to say that my favorite title that I saw out of the documents was a 2008 report that said Sarkozy sees himself as the only one who can solve the world's financial crisis. So, I love that there is sarcasm, even in classified documents.
PAGEHere's an email from Randall who's listening in Buchanan, Michigan. Randall writes, isn't it time for the NSA to concentrate on national defense instead of spying on our allies, put all of that cyber talent to work on securing our own records against Russian and Chinese intrusions. And is that a fair point?
LUCEThat, you know, the Five Eyes, the five nations. The Americans, the British, the Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, have their own supposedly separate firewall where they don't spy on each other. Germany has asked to join the Five Eyes and so far, not been admitted. I doubt the Five Eyes amounts to much. I'm sure the American spy on the British and I'm sure vice versa. It's just what spy agencies do. The more information you have, the better equipped you are to deal with the world.
PAGEHere's an email from Emma. She writes, I've heard that the Iran deal deadline might slip. Do we know if that could happen and what it could mean? Would it be meaningful if they don't reach the deadline next Tuesday, James?
KITFIELDIt is actually meaningful, because the deal that the Obama administration signed with Congress earlier this spring, was that if the -- if they make their deadline on June 30th, which is just around the corner, the Congress will have 30 days to review that deal. If the deal slips beyond July 10th, Congress will then have 60 days. That's double the time for Congress to make mischief over there, so that creates big problems for the administration. Especially if as seems to be the case, they are making some pretty serious concessions.
KITFIELDWe heard Secretary Kerry say this past week that, oh, by the way, our insistence that Iran come clean about its past nuclear weaponization experiments, you know, that must happen as part of any deal. Well, they walked that back and said no, we know what happened. We don't need that. There is a huge amount of concern, and your interview with Senator Corker revealed this, that they are walking back on a number of key provisions. And that gets behind the letter by Dennis Rossen, David Petraeus and Steve Hadley.
KITFIELDWhich is, if you keep weakening the IAEA inspection regime by not letting them go onto military sites, for instance, then that's a problem. If you let sanctions drop the day you sign an agreement, that's a non-starter, because you don't know if Iran's actually going to live up to their agreement. So, all these red lines that come -- how many has now put down are really deal busters with Congress. And there are signs that the administration is starting to buckle on some of these. So, I'm a little pessimistic on this, where I wasn't a couple of weeks ago.
PAGEI interviewed the Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee yesterday, and he, as you say, expressed great concerns about concessions. He also said, you know, he was the architect of that bipartisan legislation that passed that gave Congress a role in overseeing this. But it's a pretty high bar, you know, you're gonna have to get 60 votes in the Senate to approve a resolution of disapproval of an Iran nuclear deal. And I said, you know, is that realistic to think, even if you don't like the deal, you'll be able to block it.
PAGEHe said yes. He thought there was a reasonable possibility that Congress, if they think this deal has too many concessions, will block it. That would be, folks, remarkable. Nancy.
YOUSSEFIt would, but the reality is it's just that the perception that Congress could block it affects the negotiations for the United States, because it puts them in a poorer, precarious position. You know, what I think is interesting, is one thing we haven't talked about is in Iran, in the Iranian streets and the Iranian public, there are people already making small decisions based on the promise of the deal, that for all the, sort of, perception out there, that the US is in a weaker negotiating position. If this deal fails, or doesn't come through the way that was anticipated in the April framework, Americans will not be devastated.
YOUSSEFIranians in the street will be devastated. They were the ones celebrating when this framework was announced in April, not Americans. And so, it's interesting that as we talk about this America seems to be in a weaker negotiating position, but practically speaking the biggest losers if this doesn't go through, are the Iranian people. Well, because the economic sanctions would be in place.
PAGEBut if it opens the door for Iran to more vigorously pursue nuclear ambitions, man, we're all the losers then.
LUCEYeah, and it's worked just to bring the French back into this. It's not just former Obama administration officials here. Or people like Senator Corker. It's the French who are concerned that John Kerry might be a little bit too keen to get a deal and a little bit too keen to make concessions. For example, accepting some aversions of some of the Ayatollah's red lines that he set out in his speech. And so, you know, the skepticism on a much broader front than just in Washington.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to St. Louis, Missouri and talk to Tim. Tim, hi. You're on the air.
TIMHi. My question regards something that nobody has mentioned, and that is on the various programs I listen to, is the fact that Israel, nobody ever mentions Israel and what Israel could do regarding ISIS. And I ask this in light of their military prowess, our relationship with them, and as our surrogate, to some extent in the Middle East, and they're the common enemy of ISIS with the Gulf states and with Saudi Arabia. That they certainly have the military capacity, and I understand the sensibilities of the Arabs regarding Israelis.
TIMThat hasn't stopped them before when they wanted to do something. So, I just want to -- nobody ever mentions that and what they could do, in spite of all the complications that may arise.
PAGEAll right, Tim, thanks so much for your call.
KITFIELDIsrael has its hands full right now. It has Hezbollah is not only now on its border with Lebanon, but Hezbollah is now inside Syria fighting on behalf of the Assad regime. Getting weapons from the Assad regime that Israel has launched strikes against, but Hezbollah obviously is a Shia terrorist group. They have Hamas on the Gaza Strip, which they are worried about, which is a Sunni terrorist group. So, they feel kind of besieged already. I think that they feel that they're doing plenty, and that if people, you know, want to take the fight directly to ISIS.
KITFIELDUntil ISIS actually threatens them, and they haven't yet, I don't think the Israelis, I think the Israelis figure their plate's pretty full.
YOUSSEFAnd I think, frankly speaking, the US priority is having a 60 plus coalition that includes a lot of Arab states, so that this is seen as a problem that is being addressed by not only the Americans and the West, but by the Arab world. And that any kind of alliance cannot happen, practically speaking, in terms of local politics, with Israel openly in such a coalition. The other thing I would say is that they are doing things in Egypt because of the imminent threat to them on their border.
YOUSSEFIn the Sinai, there are strikes that are happening there with the acquiescence of the Egyptian government because of the shared Islamic state threat.
PAGETim, thanks so much for your call. Well, we've seen the United States and our NATO allies ratcheting up pressure on Russia this week. Edward, what is happening?
LUCEWell, a lot of worrying things are happening on the Russian border with Ukraine. There's been a continued buildup of Russian troops and the Russians, in private, and in public, have been really pushing the envelope, in terms of nuclear saber rattling. On the other side, the EU, Russia has failed to break the EU. And it renewed sanctions for six months. And of course, the Americans and NATO are responding by beefing up their presence on the border states, from the Baltics to Bulgaria. It's a very ominous situation developing there.
LUCEAnd the chances, I think, are rising, that there's gonna be some separatist Ukrainian military push to take a town like Mariupol or the rest of the Donbass region in the coming months. And you know, I think we're probably under-appreciating the gravity of the picture there.
PAGEIf that happens, what will that mean? What will that mean, for instance, for the United States and US policy?
KITFIELDWell, the first thing that will happen is that we will try to ratchet up sanctions. So, we'll go back to the EU and say, you know, we gave them a warning, and that's been very explicit. If there's another offensive in Ukraine, we're gonna ratchet up sanctions. We just deployed a brigade's worth of heavy equipment, tanks, as Edward said, to the Eastern bloc countries. Not with any idea that they could actually take on the Russian army. They couldn't, with a brigade.
KITFIELDBut they're a tripwire. That means the Americans would be fighting day one if Russia ever thought to do something in Lithuania, Estonia, and the Baltic States. And if that happens, it's going to very quickly raise a very strong debate in this country and on Capitol Hill about whether we should send arms to Ukraine to help it defend itself. That is a debate that's already started. The Obama administration has been reluctant, but you sense, within the administration, there are differing views on that. And that might push them over the edge.
PAGENancy, we'll give you the last word.
YOUSSEFTo give you a sense of the seriousness of the deployment of these weapons, this is the first time we've seen such weapons in the Eastern Bloc since the fall of the Cold War. So, I think that gives you a sense of how seriously one is taking it. The Department of Defense this week, Bob Work, the deputy secretary of defense, called -- said that Russia was playing with fire. But those weapons will be used for training exercises by those local troops at this point.
PAGEWe've talked about this cyber hack as a sign of a new Cold War. The old Cold War may still be around.
KITFIELDSad to say.
PAGENancy Youssef from the Daily Beast. Thanks for joining us this hour. We've also been joined by James Kitfield from National Journal and Edward Luce from the Financial Times. Thanks so much for being with us.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
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