War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
Guest Host: Susan Page
Peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghanistan are postponed amid news of the death of the Taliban’s supreme leader. Turkey escalates airstrikes on Kurdish targets in northern Iraq. Thousands of migrants try to reach Britain from France through the Channel Tunnel. The U.S. Parole Commission announces that Jonathan Pollard, a convicted spy for Israel, will be released from prison in November. And French authorities investigate plane wreckage found near Madagascar that could be from the missing Malaysian airliner. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Authorities in Europe grapple with how to stop a flood of migrants in France from fleeing to Britain through the Channel Tunnel. Turkey escalates battles against both ISIS and Kurdish militants. President Obama wraps up a five-day trip to Africa and the international Olympic committee selects Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Games.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio for this week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast and Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFThank you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
PAGEWe invite out listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, James, let's start with Turkey suddenly more interested in fighting ISIS. Tell us what's happening.
KITFIELDWell, Turkey has suffered a number of terrorist attacks in recent weeks and so their response was to basically go all in, in terms of the fight against ISIS, which we've encouraged so there's some good news there. They're allowing us to use their base in Incirlik, which I've been to, which is very close to the conflict in Syria. It's right across the border from Syria. But they also started hammering the PKK, which is a Kurdish terrorist group that they've been at war with, basically, for the last 30 years.
KITFIELD30,000 dead in that conflict. There had been a ceasefire and some peace talks between Turkey and the PKK, the Kurdish -- Iraqi-Kurdish terrorist group that we also call a terrorist group, but those have fallen apart. So Turkey is, you know, it just shows you how complicated this witch's brew of conflict is now in Syria and Iraq and Turkey is bombing the Kurds in Iraq who we are -- some of the Kurds in Iraq we depend on to fight ISIS, they're also bombing ISIS.
KITFIELDThe al-Qaida group in Northern Syria has just launched an attack on some of the Free Syrian Army guys that we trained. So it's a mess and Turkey has now decided it has to get involved in it.
PAGENancy, there are some who suspect Turkey is just using this offensive against ISIS as a cover, as a ruse so they can attack the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party.
YOUSSEFThat's right because the U.S. had been asking for access to this for months. They go -- Turkey went to NATO and said, we need to protect our borders and the U.S. -- remember, the PKK, we call them a terrorist group, but remember last year when there were Iraqis trapped on Mt. Sinjar, they came there. They went as far as Erbil and the U.S. had been depending on the Kurds as a ground force, if you will, in the campaign against ISIS.
YOUSSEFAnd now, with the access to this base, which we -- the U.S. goes from having to travel 1,000 miles to as little as 100 miles to go to the front lines, there is an unwillingness to sort of publically condemn Turkey, to hold them to the fragile peace talks of two years ago. And what we've seen is the Turks attacking PKK targets in Northern Iraq much more than they're attacking ISIS targets. They are doing both, but in terms of the emphasis that we're seeing militarily up until now, it has been against the PKK.
PAGEMeanwhile, we see that Turkey has called for what's called an Article 4 consultation with NATO. Geoff, tell us what that means.
MR. GEOFF DYERWell, what they really want to do, they want sort of legitimation for this operation against the PKK. They want NATO to come out and say, we back you in your campaign against the Kurds. But there's a fear here in a lot of Western governments in the U.S. and in Europe that actually this is really about Turkish domestic politics. President Erdogan and his party, the AKP, lost very key parliamentary -- lost their majority in key parliamentary elections in June and Erdogan had a very power project where he wanted to essentially reshape Turkish politics into a more presidential system that would give him a lot more power.
MR. GEOFF DYERAnd so what some people think is that he's doing this campaign against the Kurds, he's kind of -- he's playing out a more old-fashioned Turkish nationalist card against the Kurds to try to rally public opinion, then he'll call quick elections and hopefully get the majority and be able to push this project through. So that's what people fear here is that while Turkey is signing up to the U.S., to the NATO coalition operation against ISIS, actually people fear it's really a domestic political play that's going on here.
YOUSSEFThat's a great point and I would just add he's not been able to form a government and it's supposed to be within 45 days. Those days are set to expire quite soon and so the idea of having to hold elections and potentially form a government while waging a war against the biggest minority, the biggest threat from the Turkish perspective could certainly change the calculation and the makeup of the next government.
KITFIELDAnd just to, you know, follow on Geoff's point, I mean, in those elections that he was sort of stunningly lost his majority and a lot of the people who were elected, the party that gained the most in those elections, where the Kurdish party. So he's now, as he's attacking the PKK, Kurdish group in Iraq, saying, you know, any parliamentarian who's tied to terrorists, you know, should use his immunity that you have if you're a parliamentarian in Turkey.
KITFIELDSo it's a pretty veiled threat against the Kurdish politicians who, you know, basically did so well in June.
PAGEHow big a threat is the PKK to the Turkish government? Is it a real threat?
DYERWell, this is, as Jim said, this is a long-standing insurgency, been going for 13 years, and the south of the country has been destabilizing violent conflict. But there had been the ceasefire for the last two years. There had been a sense that things were starting to come together. And actually, you know, the thing about the Erdogan government for the last 10 years is they had been seen as being much more favorable towards the Kurds, much more accommodating towards the Kurds than previous Turkish governments.
DYERBut this recent setback seems to have really changed that calculation and now they see the political advantage is going after the Kurds.
PAGEWhat kind of position does this put the United States in, James?
KITFIELDIt puts us in a really difficult place because, you know, we want unity in Europe. We want unity in this fight against ISIS. We want unity in Europe, basically. And what we're seeing out of Europe and we'll probably talk about some of these other issues, like the immigration issue, is disunity. We had the Greek issue where there was just a huge divide and looked like Greek might be kicked out of the Eurozone.
KITFIELDWe've had this immigration problem that's been festering and now we have this fight against ISIS and Turkey is at the nexus of all of these things. And it's looking pretty unstable now. I mean, as Geoff said, Erdogan has very authoritarian impulses and it seems like this has given him an excuse to sort of, you know, to sort of take charge again and he's jumping on it. So it's puts America in a very tough place. We like the fact that he's saying, we'll join the fight against ISIS.
KITFIELDWe like using Incirlik air base, but we're very uncomfortable where Erdogan's headed.
YOUSSEFAt the risk of throwing another acronym in here, the PKK works closely with another Turkish group called the YPG, which has become the central force for the U.S. in the campaign against ISIS. They have been the most effective ground force in the region against ISIS and now the U.S. is essentially saying, we're at least going to be quiet when Turkey attacks the forces aligned with the very people we are depending on to be the ground force against the campaign -- against ISIS.
PAGEDo we think -- do we, the United States, now believe that we can count on Turkey in the battle against ISIS? Are they all-in or are we not confident about that?
KITFIELDI wouldn't say all-in because the reasons we've stated. He has, you know, for awhile it was a lot of concern that Turkey was facilitating ISIS's formation because it was fighting against Assad. Turkey's number one priority is to get rid of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. And as long as ISIS was focusing just on that, Turkey was kind of fine with ISIS. More recently, with these terrorist attacks, Turkey -- and these border skirmishes, Turkey sees that ISIS is threatening its southern border.
KITFIELDSo it's not all-in, but it's, you know, again, nothing's easy with Turkey. It's a very complex situation. But we're, I think, thankful that it has let us use its base, as I said, but to consider them a reliable ally, there's just too many equities involved that are cross-flowing.
PAGEJames had mentioned this migrant crisis on the English Channel. Geoff, thousands of immigrants trying to cross the channel. How big a problem is this?
DYERThis has become a huge problem. Now, to be fair, this is something that has been going on for years. There have always been migrants who've, you know, been around the port in Calais and tried to get on trucks and trains going through the Channel Tunnel. But this has really escalated in the last few months and essentially this is the back end of the crisis we've seen when Libya and southern Europe in previous months where you've had these huge, kind of boatloads of migrants come in from Libya, trying to get into Europe.
DYERAnd this is the different end of that where some of these people have decided that England and Britain is the place they want to go and so they're taking huge personal risks to try and jump on these trains and escape into the tunnel.
PAGEAnd why do they think Britain is the place to go?
DYERWell, that's kind of confusing. I mean, some of them seem to say that they think that asylum rules are more relaxed in Britain. That's certainly what some of them at least have been telling journalists this week. But the figures don't really seem to bear that out. I mean, there were 165,000 people accepted for asylum in Germany last year. There were 24,000 accepted in the UK last year. So it doesn't seem, on the face of it, that Britain's a more relaxed place.
DYERSome of them maybe speak English. Maybe the economy, the job opportunities for people in a more informal economy are maybe a bit better in Britain now. British economy's doing better than most of the rest of Europe at the moment. Maybe that is a better explanation.
YOUSSEFWell, and also, I think some people think that the black market there in the UK is more -- offers more opportunities than in France. But to give a sense of why it's come up in particular this week, 3500 have tried to jump onto trains and trucks going through that 31-mile long tunnel just in the past week. Nine people have been killed since June and 37,000 total have tried since the beginning of the year. We still don’t have a sense of how many are successful, but it could be just a few dozen who are able to get through.
YOUSSEFAnd there were two very dramatic photos that I thought came out today. On the French side, the camps, the squatter camps that have been set up, they call it The Jungle, and hundreds of camps set up of people looking to make this trip in the middle of the night and get past the police and jump on. And on the other side, on the UK side, a line of 3600 trucks lining up trying to get in. And so you really saw the economic effect on the UK and the social effect on those migrants.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to talk about the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We'll talk about changes in the Taliban. And we'll take your calls and questions. Our toll-free line is open, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email to drshow.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Geoff Dyer, foreign policy correspondent for the Financial Times. He's the author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China -- and How America Can Win." And we're also joined by Nancy Youssef, senior defense and national security correspondent for The Daily Beast. And James Kitfield, contributing editor for National Journal, he's also a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
PAGEWe were just talking about the situation in Turkey. We actually have a caller with a -- wanted to weigh-in on this discussion of Turkey. Let's talk to Ari, calling us from here in Washington, D.C. Hi, you're on the air.
ARIHi. I would like to make a comment about how this is an internal ploy and more about domestic politics, rather than anything else. This whole thing started with 30 young people being killed by what seemed to be an ISIS attack on their way to deliver toys and help to Kobani. And then the Turkish government got involved. And what happened, what came after that was, there were -- there have been several attacks towards Turkish police and Turkish soldiers. Now, PKK didn't claim those attacks. Actually, no one claimed those attacks. And Kurdish part, the anti-PKK, had been pushing for a parliamentary investigation of these attacks, joined by the main opposition party, the CHP.
ARIHowever, the nationalist party, MHP, and the majority party, AKP, who have been to rally up the nationalist state for early elections, had been blocking the parliamentary investigation into these attacks, which actually raised more questions and pushes forward the idea that this is...
PAGEI can tell -- I can tell you know a lot about this Ari. Did you have a question for our panel?
ARINo. I just wanted to strengthen an idea that this is more of a ploy for domestic politics, more than international cooperation against ISIS.
PAGEAri, thank you so much for your call. You know, we've also gotten an email from RSB who writes us, "I'm angry at Turkey for not letting the U.S. use their bases against Iraq. They haven't acted like an ally in a long time." Is that fair, James, do you think?
KITFIELDYeah, well, I mean, they of course famously, not only when we invaded Iraq, which was a very controversial thing to do in 2003, we were supposed to have a division coming down through Turkey. And they stopped that happening. And ever since that, they've been very, you know, they've been very wary about letting us use that base for any kind of a lethal attack on anyone. So, you know the Iraq issue, I think there was probably, you know, they -- it might have been smart not to let us use that. But as this ISIS thing has blown up -- and they think that, you know, we caused this problem, and to some degree that's the truth in that as well -- ISIS is really a follow-on of al-Qaida in Iraq. It's the, just, you know, 2.0.
KITFIELDBut now they see that this group is threatening Turkey's stability on its southern border, I think they're having a sort of an awakening on that.
PAGEThe Taliban has confirmed the death of their supreme leader Mullah Omar. But, Geoff, we're not sure when this happened. What do we know?
DYERWe actually know very little. That's one of the most interesting things about it. And it has been in some ways the most interesting story of the week. And, you know, there's no body. There's no grave. There's no official death certificate. There's no real confirmation that this man has actually died. He hasn't been seen since 2001. He hasn't given any...
PAGEHe hasn't been seen since 2001?
DYERHe hasn't made any video statements or audio statements.
PAGEThat's a long time. Yeah.
DYERAnd his death has been publicly announce by Afghan intelligence, by various, you know, people in the know on at least four or five occasions in the last decade. So it's a story that screams out for some sort of skepticism. However, given the various sources and the way it's been announced and the information, it does seem in this case, that this time that it does seem to be true. And it has come from -- officially from the Taliban. It's come from the Afghan government. It's come through a lot of intercepted chatter of various Taliban leaders as well. All the different sources indicate that this time it is true.
PAGEIs it important, Nancy?
YOUSSEFIt's very important. I mean, we think of ISIS and al-Qaida, and when they lose leaders, they're able to bounce back. But Mullah Omar was different. These -- this was not an organization which built into its structure, if you will, succession. Mullah Omar was called the commander of the faithful, an Islamic term. He was literally cloaked in the prophet in that he once wore a robe that was worn by the prophet that -- that's the only piece of clothing believed to have been worn by the prophet that's in Afghanistan. And the fact that they had to keep it hidden, gives you some sense.
YOUSSEFTo me, the most interesting question is, why announce it now? There's clearly a calculation. This comes at a time when there are peace talks going on between the Afghan government and the Taliban, when the Taliban is increasingly fractured internally. So was this an effort, internally, to deal with some of those internal divisions? Was this an effort by Pakistan, which considers the Taliban a proxy of sorts, to distance itself from its proxy? That -- those are all interesting questions. And we saw those divisions play out even today. Reuters had a report about the meeting with his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, and that Mullah Omar's son and brother reportedly left, that there were divisions.
YOUSSEFAnd so this comes at a very fragile time for the Taliban. And he is not an easily replaceable figure within that organization.
PAGEWe were supposed to have peace talks resume today in Pakistan. Those have been postponed, James. Does -- is this bad news in terms of the effort to have some kind of peace deal?
KITFIELDNot necessarily, because I think that he, you know, the Taliban was always a sort of conglomeration of various groups -- the Haqqani network and others -- ruled by the Keta Shura, which he headed. And, you know, this could lead to the Taliban fracturing and the group that wants to continue with peace talks, continuing with the peace talks and the real hard-corers going off to the side. That might be a useful thing, to reach some sort of an accommodation with the reconcilables in the Taliban, so you can -- everyone can focus on the irreconcilables. So I think there's actually an opportunity to this.
KITFIELDAnd I actually agree that the timing's kind of peculiar. It seems to me, you know, the only place probably with more complicated politics than Turkey would be Pakistan. But the Pakistanis have been hosting these peace talks. They -- every indication are that they probably, at some level in their intelligence services, knew where Omar was and though that he was a pawn that they could use in the future. Now that they've announced his death, it gives me an idea that maybe Pakistan is serious about these peace talks and pushing them forward.
PAGEMike has written us an email from Belleville, Ill. He writes, "President Bush called Pakistan a great ally and partner in fighting terror and pumped billions of taxpayer money into Pakistan, while Pakistan was hiding our number one and two enemies, Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and lying to us about their whereabouts. What do your guests call Pakistan now?" Fair point, Geoff?
DYERThat's all been a fair point. Although we're not entirely sure exactly where Mullah Omar was these past few years. Although one of the reports was that he died in a hospital in Karachi. But as James said, it does seem as if the Pakistanis are now fairly committed to trying to push this peace process. And this could be an opportunity to really do a deal with a more effective Taliban leadership, where there actually is someone making decisions instead of this mythical figure who no one actually knows where he is or who to talk to.
YOUSSEFI think those are great points. But in the short term, it is a problem for Ashraf Ghani in the sense that you don't know who you're supposed to be negotiating with. And he's already facing struggles within his own government from people who are reticent to work with the Pakistanis, who are distrustful of the Pakistanis. So I think you guys bring up great points in terms of the long-term implications. The challenge is getting through the short-term period of uncertainty between now and then.
KITFIELDI'll just say, on Pakistan, it's always been a conflicted ally. Against al-Qaida, a lot of the senior al-Qaida people who are in Guantanamo Bay today were captured in Pakistan with the help of the Pakistani intelligence services. Was always more complicated with the Taliban though, because they always saw the -- they created the Taliban. They always saw the Taliban as a strategic buffer against India and Afghanistan. So they are not a reliable ally when it comes to the Taliban.
KITFIELDI will say, more recently, they have launched a major offensive in North Waziristan. We've encouraged them to do that. They seem to have understood, finally, that these various Islamic extremist groups that they've sort of turned a blind eye to are a danger to the state. So, more recently, Pakistan has been playing ball with us.
YOUSSEFI agree. The question becomes now, in the next few days, how do they react to reports of Mullah Omar's death? And what is the language and tone that they use? And that'll give us a sense where we're headed, I think.
DYERAnd one explanation of this is that it's an attempt to embarrass Mansour, the number two in the Taliban, who has now been effectively appointed the number one. He was the person who was involved in the peace talks earlier this month in Pakistan, which is heavily criticized by some people in Taliban. Then, a few days after that, a statement was released in the name of Mullah Omar, supporting the talks. Now, as it seems, the Mullah Omar actually wasn't actually alive when that statement was released. That doesn't make Mansour look very good. So this could be the immediate, you know, motivation for releasing this information could be an attempt to embarrass and undermine Mansour and his participation in these talks.
YOUSSEFHe wasn't alive for two years.
PAGELet's go to Brownsville, Pa. Jimmy is on the line. Hi, Jimmy.
JIMMYHi. Thanks for taking my call. Hey, folks, I appreciate your all -- your analysis. But let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Now, I don't want Tom Cruise and "Mission Impossible" to go over Pakistan. But where's our intelligence asset? Here we had a guy, 6'9", Osama Bin Laden. He lived like, what, two blocks from, say, West Point, if you lived in America. Now this guy dies two years ago at a hospital. Where's our assets on the ground of Pakistan? We don't have to rely on the ISI. Where's our people?
PAGEJimmy, thanks so much for your call and for your strong views. What do you think, panel?
KITFIELDYou know, I've talked to CIA guys who served in Pakistan. And, it's, you know, if you're a white American or a black American for that matter, you just -- it's not very easy to blend in, especially in these places in the tribal regions, which are very tribal, very, very paranoiac. We don't, you know, it's not easy operating out of Pakistan as an intelligence agency. So I don't, you know, obviously, we spent a decade hunting Bin Laden and he was right there. So it's a tough -- it's a tough intelligence nut to crack.
PAGEIs it possible that our intelligence agencies knew he was dead for two years and just found it useful not to tell the rest of us?
YOUSSEFWell, we know that there were suspicions that he was dead for several years. And the official line that we were hearing in Washington, because there have been several reports from 2013 till now, was that there -- we, the U.S. intelligence community couldn't confirm. I will say, to Jimmy's point, that there's actually another more recent example, which was the reported death of Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Libya after a U.S. strike. That he was a top Ansar Sheida operative. And that they had said he was killed and then it turns out he wasn't. So this has become a pattern where the level of intelligence gathering has not been enough to confirm the deaths of VIP jihadists, if you will.
YOUSSEFAnd this has become a problem just this summer alone that we have seen, not only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, but in the broader Middle East.
DYERI think the...
KITFIELDAnd, I'm sorry, just a real quick point. I mean, both Omar and Bin Laden had gone off the grid. They didn't do any -- no electronics and really that is the meat and potatoes of our intelligence collection is electronic now. And if you go off the grid, you can't be a very effective commander. But you can hide still.
DYERBut I think that, you know, the extraordinary thing about this story is, here's a guy who after 9/11 drove out of Kandahar on the back of a motorbike in 2011, drove off into the mountains and literally has not been seen since by any Western source or any information about where he is. That is a truly extraordinary story.
PAGEPresident Obama has finished a five-day trip to Africa. Nancy, tell us about his messages while he was there to the African leaders with whom he met.
YOUSSEFWell, it was fascinating because he was trying to thread democracy promotion, human rights promotion and at the same time call for economic development and investment and security cooperation, particularly in the (word?). He was in Kenya and Ethiopia. And I -- arguably, he did it quite well. Nobody walked away quite angry. But it forced him to be very delicate when dealing with, in both countries, corruption, the treatment of women in Ethiopia, the treatment of the gay community in Kenya. And so you saw this dance going on. And arguably, there was probably someone else in the room, which was China, which -- because it has been investing far more in Africa than the United States has.
YOUSSEFAnd you could feel the looming economic interests competing with the message that the United States usually comes with, which is democracy promotion and human rights promotion. And to give you a sense, in the last year, the U.S. has invested about $36 billion in investment and trade with Africa, compared to $222 billion by the Chinese. And so how strong can you be on social issues when you don't have as much economic influence as you once did, was the dance, arguably.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, James, there was actually some criticism of President Obama for visiting Ethiopia, which is the world's second-worst jailer of journalists in Africa. What was the critique made of his decision to stop there?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, Ethiopia has a bad human rights record, let's admit it. Much worse than Kenya. Kenya is quite an open democracy actually, in comparison. But there is a reason why he went to Kenya and Ethiopia. And the reason is they're both bordering Somalia. And we have been trying to, you know, fight an al-Qaida franchise there for going on a decade. Both -- Kenya is part of the African Union force that we are supporting inside Somalia to bring stability and to fight Al Shabaab. Ethiopia has committed troops to that fight. They wouldn't go under the AU umbrella, but they've been helpful too.
KITFIELDAnd he wanted to send a message that, you know, this kind of security cooperation, where the Africans, you know, get together and secure themselves with American help, you know, drones and special-forces training, et cetera -- and I've been there and been in those training areas -- that's the model they want to use. Not American boots on the ground. Africans, you need to get your own act together but we'll help you. And both Ethiopia and Kenya have been very pivotal to that model.
YOUSSEFI thought another interesting point that he made was that there was a big controversy because he said he could be elected president again, potentially. And he was making this broader point about a continent where half of the leaders on that continent have served longer than Obama, some of them for decades. And perhaps the biggest sort of shining star is Nigeria, which recently had elections. And so that effort to sort of get at democracy and away from dictatorship, I thought, was quite interesting. And by the way, the correct figure is $73 billion to $222.
PAGEYou know, he has -- President Obama is of course our first African-American president. In Kenya, he made a different point -- something I've never heard him say before -- he said he was the nation's first Kenya-American -- Kenyan-American president. Whatever reception he got from African leaders, Geoff, he got a great reception from African people.
DYERHe got a fantastic reception and especially in Kenya. I mean, this was a trip, clearly, he would have wanted to make early on in his presidency but for domestic political reasons, he couldn't. I mean, when he, you know, when he went to Kenya, there was a, you know, music saying, you've come home. I mean, can you imagine if he'd done that trip in 2011 at the height of the birth-certificate controversy and the reelection and all that. This was a trip he had -- he wanted to make and finally he's able to actually make that and assume his identity as a Kenyan-American without it having any real political play.
PAGEAnd in fact, making some jokes about the whole birth certificate thing. He visited his family, James, not his father's village though, which he has visited before.
KITFIELDRight. I think -- I think, he, you know, the security situation -- again, Al Shabaab has launched mass attacks just in the last year, year-and-a-half. They have a heavy presence in Kenya. There's a huge Somali diaspora in Kenya. So I don't think the security situation would really let him do that. But you had those great pictures of him talking to his step-sister and his step-grandmother. And I mean, that was a pretty -- and you could just see the joy in his face. I think it was a great moment for his presidency.
YOUSSEFYeah, and he -- and the interesting thing was a lot of people at the table he was meeting for the first time. And he kept making reference to the -- how much he looked forward to coming back to Kenya when he wasn't president and he could walk through the streets. And so it seemed that there was a real connection there. And it was funny to hear the stories of his family because it kind of reminded, your own family. There was, you know, the normal sort of dynamic that happened at the family table, even when your president and even when you're meeting cousins and distance cousins for the first time, with the national spotlight on you.
PAGEWe're accustomed to presidents going to, say, Ireland and visiting with their Irish relatives. This was the first and a remarkable scene. Well, we're going to take a short break and when we come back we'll continue our conversation. We're going to talk about Cecil the lion and why the death of that beautiful beast has caused such a stir all around the world. We're going to take your calls and questions, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me in the studio for the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup Nancy Youssef from The Daily Beast, James Kitfield from National Journal, Geoff Dyer from the Financial Times.
PAGEWell, we know there's a fierce battle going on now over the Iranian nuclear deal, meanwhile, the United States has moved to deal with a long-time irritant in U.S./Israeli relations, and that is the imprisonment of Jonathan Pollard. After 30 years, James, he's going to get paroled.
KITFIELDYeah, and it's come an interesting time because we really have tense relations with Israel right now over this Iranian deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it his number one priority to try to kill this deal in our Congress. And they have a lot of very powerful lobbying group here in Washington. So we're -- the administration is involved in this very tense back and forth with Israel. And announces that Pollard -- who's always been a chip in Israeli/U.S. talks, whether we're trying to get them to stop settlement activities or to reach a deal with the Palestinians.
KITFIELDPollard's always been a chip. Now, they are saying that it didn't have anything to do with the Iran deal. He is coming up to his 30 years in jail, which was -- made him eligible parole. So maybe there's plausible deniability. But the timing certainly seems suspicious to the Israelis, who basically came out and said very, very publicly, if you think this is going to get us to back off on our criticism of the Iran deal, you should think again.
YOUSSEFIt is a remarkable coincidence. This was done by the U.S. Parole Commission. So it wasn't something done by the administration. That said, the name Jonathan Pollard…
PAGEBut, however, the administration could have objected and chose not to.
YOUSSEFThat's right, that's right. Because they basically said he'd done 30 years. The controversy around this has been from the very beginning, from the time he was convicted in 1987 because the argument from some was this was an ally that he was helping, so therefore the extent of the damage didn't warrant 30 years of prison. There were those who said it did irreparable damage because he took so much. And the controversy's been around him ever since. His name would usually come up when it was dealing with a Palestinian issue in terms of trading him for Palestinian prisoners.
YOUSSEFIt's hard to imagine that he would have been used in this deal arguably because there are still four Americans being held in Iran. And so the idea that he would be released as part of a negotiation tactic in the Iran deal is hard for me to wrap my mind around, given that you have four Americans being held in Iran. But it's funny.
YOUSSEFThere's a lot of anger that -- within Israel about the idea of using him as a peace offering for the Iran deal. And yet, there's great enthusiasm that he will be released in November. This has been a very hot political issue for a long, long time. And something that Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated immediately upon the news of his parole.
PAGEAnd, you know, previously, I remember when President Clinton seriously considered releasing Pollard as part of Middle East peace talks. And the U.S. intelligence agencies raised huge objections to it and prevented it from happening. Now we don't hear them objecting so much. Is that some reassessment, do you think, Geoff, of the damage that he did?
DYERAt the time George Tenet, head of the CIA, threatened to resign if he was released. In a way, this is a lose/lose for the administration. I mean, he was coming up, you know, he did have to have parole under federal law. If the U.S. had objected to that, if the Justice Department said we don't want him released, that would have caused a new problem with Israel. If they don't do anything, then they're accused of playing some -- doing some kind of trade here to try and, you know, make things nice after the Iran deal. So it's kind of a lose/lose.
DYERBut one point I would say is that this did come up very seriously 18 months ago, during the last round of Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations. And one of the reasons why the U.S. considered using it as a chip to try and get the Israelis to do more was because -- precisely because he was going to come up for parole in 18 months. So they figured that this is the last time we'll be able to use it because he is probably going to have to come out of jail by this November anyway.
PAGEI interviewed the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, this week for USA Today. And I was struck by how measured his tone was and how respectful he talked about the president. It made me think that Israel wants to lower the temperature a little bit on this Iran deal. And that possibly they think he didn't -- this is not what the ambassador said, but it may be that they've calculated they're likely to lose, that the president will have his veto sustained, if it comes to that. And therefore they're looking more to kind of the long-term interest of relations between the two nations. And this may be -reflect a little of that sentiment as well, by the United States.
KITFIELDI think that's absolutely right. And, quite honestly, what we've seen in this relationship in the last couple of years has been unprecedented. And it has really, I mean, raised the question of, you know, Netanyahu particularly, saying, you know, before his election that he, you know, he would never have two-state solution. Something that we've been backing for 30 years, Republicans, Democrats. The -- a crazy -- a speech he gave at Congress without telling the White House.
KITFIELDI mean, these are unprecedented slaps in the face. So, you know, if they're going to lose thing -- and I think there's a lot of people in their security establishment smart enough to know there's a good possibility of that -- that they would be smart to sort of walk this back because they're still very dependent on our support. You know, we give them $3 billion every year. Number one recipient of American aid and has been for 30 years. So it's not good for Israel and it's, quite honestly, it's not good for us to have this relationship be this frosty.
PAGEAnd, in fact, the United States has made it clear that if the Iran nuclear deal goes into effect, they would be looking to increase that amount of military aid to Israel, including for defensive purpose, as well. Jonathan Pollard wants to travel to Israel, wants to immigrate, become an Israeli citizen. Will he be allowed to do so, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, under the law, he has to essentially be monitored, if you will, for five years. And the Israelis are saying, we'd like him released immediately. We'd like, you know, an exception maybe. The administration so far has indicated that they will not make an exception. We'll see as we get closer to November 20th and where these very tense, frosty and delicate relations are at that point.
PAGEMeanwhile, we had plane wreckage found near Madagascar. Geoff, remember those weeks and months that became more than a year that we've looking for that Malaysian airliner that went down so mysteriously. Do we now know that this wreckage is that plane?
DYERIt seems they're 99 percent sure that it is. The serial numbers from this tip of the wing have been read now by experts. And it does seem to be a -- from a Boeing 777. And the only known Boeing 777 that has fallen, that has, you know, disappeared in recent times is this plane. So they're almost certain that that's the case. They'll have to, you know, want to -- investigators will actually look at this piece of metal to actually fully confirm over the next few weeks. But we're pretty sure by now that that's what happened.
DYERWhat they want to be able to do is see from the piece of metal -- they might be able to assess whether it crashed into the sea or whether there was an explosion. That's the one thing the investigation might be able to elucidate from that.
PAGEAnd if you look at the pictures, it looks like it's in pretty good -- it looks pretty solid, which would -- what would tell us, James?
KITFIELDYou know, I'm not an expert on crash investigations, but, I mean, if there was obviously shrapnel in it, for instance. I mean, it gets to Geoff's point about it. If there was a bomb in there, there's actually shrapnel points that would tell you maybe the plane was blown up. But I'm really not sure if you can be conclusive from something that's been in the ocean for so many months.
YOUSSEFIt is amazing how much were holding onto a two-meter long piece of an aircraft to try to determine what brought down this plane. The prevailing theory has been that there was some catastrophic problem within the cabin itself, that led to loss of cabin pressure and then it ran out of gas. And there's nothing in this piece, as small as it is, to indicate something other than that. That said, this piece doesn't necessarily tell you what happened. It's just one fraction of a clue in this very, very, very big puzzle. And so at this point, though, it's all we have.
PAGEIf you were -- had a family member, a loved one who was on that plane, I think you'd be so eager to find out anything you could about what happened to them. Well, let's go to Arlington, Texas, and talk to Sahid. Sahid, hi. I hope I'm saying your name right.
SAHIDYes, pretty close. Yeah, first thing I want to talk you about is somebody have call you about the Pakistan. And what we have given them (unintelligible) dollar. And nobody mentioned about what we got from the Pakistan. First thing, the aid we're giving to Pakistan was a transaction to providing assistance to moving our arms, equipment and supplies to Afghanistan. And what Pakistan is gaining is thousands of people died since then in Pakistan, civilian and army. And nobody mentioned those things. And nobody ever asked those things. We are giving billions of dollars to Israel for years, and what we have got from them?
PAGEAnd let me just ask you, are you yourself from Pakistan?
SAHIDYes, I was.
SAHIDI came in '71. I was very young when I was waving American flag when Eisenhower was visiting in Pakistan. I was there when Jacqueline Kennedy visit the Pakistan. So was Lyndon Johnson. I was kid, but I was there. And they were traveling in, what you call, a horse carriage. There was no bullet-proof car.
PAGEInteresting, Sahid. What a memory. James, what do you think about what he had to say?
KITFIELDWell, he's absolutely right. We've, you know, the main logistical line to Afghanistan goes from Karachi through Pakistan. We've, you know, we've been on the same side of a lot of these battles. And, as I said before, we've been on the opposite side of some of these battles. So it's a very -- it's a perplexing alliance. But we have every interest in keeping a stable Pakistan.
KITFIELDWhat worries us about Pakistan is not so much the government, as the fact that it has turned a blind eye to a lot of very, very virulent Islamic extremist groups, including the ones that attacked India and Mumbai, including the ones that have attacked our soldiers in Afghanistan. It seems to be taking them more seriously now, and that is all to the good. But Pakistan has suffered greatly in this conflict. I mean, you just mentioned the, you know, they lost Benazir Bhutto in assassination, the former Musharraf had, I think, five, six assassination attempts on him. So it's -- they have suffered greatly in this fight.
DYERI think the caller makes a very good point about we talk endlessly about the duplicity of the ISI and the Pakistani establishment in the way that they've supported and fomented different jihadi groups over the years. But the, you know, the biggest victims of a lot of this violence have actually been ordinary Pakistani people throughout the years. And that's something we don't often pay too much attention to.
PAGEThere has been no international story this week that has gotten more attention than that of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. A Minneapolis dentist accused of killing this beautiful beast. Why has it struck such a chord do you think, Nancy?
YOUSSEFIt's hard to say. But my own personal theory is I think that Cecil was a national treasure and he was being monitored by Oxford University since 2008. He was a friendly animal who allowed himself to be photographed and approached by people. And so how often do you know a lion's name? And he was a study. And just regal and majestic and sort of all the things that you would love to be able to see.
YOUSSEFIt's just almost an ideal image of a lion. And the way that it happened and the fact that he was shot with a bow and arrow then injured, pursued for 40 hours and then killed, beheaded, skinned. And I -- the contrast between this beautiful animal who was, I dare say, a bridge between animal life, wildlife and human life, and the brutality with which he was killed has really struck a chord with people.
KITFIELDYou know, I think this might be a teachable moment. Because, you know, back in the day of Ernest Hemingway, when big game hunting was so popular, you know, it was a very different Africa. A lot of these magnificent animals are now on a trend line towards extinction. The lion population has gone way, way down. The elephant population and the rhinoceros population -- and I saw a picture of this same guy with a dead rhinoceros. I think maybe we can, I mean, the U.N., as soon as this story broke, passed a resolution basically against illicit wildlife trafficking.
KITFIELDMaybe this is a teachable moment for us, that, you know, what was okay before should be something that, at least in the court of public opinion, looked down on, to kill these magnificent beasts when they are so -- when they are declining so rapidly.
PAGELet's -- yes, go ahead.
DYERWell, I think a lot of people genuinely didn't know that it is legal to go to some of these countries and to kill animals like this. And this particular kill seems to have been illegal in the way it was done, the way it was announced at the park, in luring this particular animal. But it is entirely legal to do this in lots of countries. And I think -- and to, you know, behead the being, you know, behead the animals, bring the heads back as trophies to put on your wall at home. I think a lot of people are just hugely offended that this basic practice can still exist.
PAGELet's go to Philadelphia and talk to Terry. Terry, thanks for holding on.
TERRYYes, thank you. It's been reported that trophy hunters like Walter Palmer are responsible for killing over 60 percent of African lions. And I'll admit I'm repulsed by this type of hunting. Especially when a medieval weapon like a crossbow is used. That terrified lion had an arrow embedded in his body for two days while he tried to find safety. I understand the hunter Palmer, who's now the one in hiding, to me that sounds like divine justice.
PAGEAll right. Terry, thank you so much for your call. Could he face criminal charges?
DYERWell, the Zimbabwe government want to extradite him and they've already charged the two people he was hunting with. But also the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also wants to investigate the case. It's not clear there'll be any criminal charges, but they want to look into it to see if there's anything he's done wrong from their point of view.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Here we've got an email from Tom, who writes us, "Why are immigrants leaving socialist France for conservative U.K.? Is it just language?" What do you think? Why not stay in France?
DYERIt could be language or it could be that, you know, the British economy is doing a bit better and there is a sort of informal semi-black market economy in Britain where people like that can get jobs, cleaning in hotels, and cafes and restaurants. It's more -- there are probably more of those kind of job opportunities in London than there are in Paris.
PAGEWho is responsible for controlling this migration crisis? Is it France or the European Union or what agency should be trying to get hold of this?
YOUSSEFWell, I was just going to say, it's the biggest -- we should keep in mind, this is the biggest migration crisis we have seen in a long, long time because of the conflicts in the Middle East and Syria and Libya, across parts of Africa. And so in terms of a challenge, it is an unprecedented challenge in our times. And so the idea that it's -- just to tackle it is arguably overwhelming. And it is a European problem in this case. That is it is not for one -- it is beyond one organization or one country. It is a -- it is, I would argue, something that confronts the entire continent.
KITFIELDTactically, it's France's responsibility to make sure that, you know, immigrants on its soil don't go illegally to someone else's soil. And it's on the other side of the tunnel -- Chunnel, it's Britain's responsibility to make sure they don't enter Britain. But, you know, my colleague is exactly right. This begs for a unified European Union response. And they've been stymied by this because there's a huge populism in Europe right now against this immigration wave. And politicians don't want to stand up and tackle the problem. And, of course, we can't be too judgmental here in this country because we have our own immigration issues to face.
PAGEHere's an email we've gotten. We heard from Terry, who very impassioned about Cecil the lion. Here's an email and we got several like this. This one says, "Cecil's demise is tragic, but shouldn't there be equal attention to the human tragedies, poverty, illness, disease in Zimbabwe? Why doesn't the media bring commiserate attention to the real personal tragedies in that country and others?"
DYERWell, that is a very fair point. Though we do sometimes become obsessed and transfixed sometimes by these animal stories. But I would say that, you know, over the years the media has written extensively about the missed governments of the Mugabe regime, about problems of poverty and crime and corruption. I'm not sure that's a -- I wouldn't -- it's not accurate to say that that's a subject that we have ignored.
KITFIELDI'm not, yeah, I would second that. Because if you just go to YouTube and see how many cat videos are on there. I mean, you know, it's -- you can write until you're blue in the face, but, you know, until you get a picture of a beautiful lion suddenly, you know, it strikes a chord. So, you know, I certainly have written about all of these conflict zones before. It's amazing to me how this story sort of sharpens everyone's focus.
PAGENancy, we'll give you the last word.
YOUSSEFWell, I am empathetic to the reader in the sense that oftentimes I think we make them work for stories about other parts in the world. Whereas -- and in other cases we bombard them with news. And there is a bit of that happening here. And so I think our obligation as journalists is just try to communicate these issues as enthusiastically as we do stories like the one about Cecil.
PAGENancy Youssef from The Daily Beast. And we've also been joined this hour by Geoff Dyer of Financial Times and James Kitfield from National Journal. Thank you all so much for being with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Thanks for listening.
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.
New York Times technology reporter Cade Metz lays out how A.I. works, why it sometimes "hallucinates" and the dangers it may pose to society.
Commentscomments powered by Disqus