The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Greece’s prime minister announces his resignation and asks the main opposition party to form a new government. Islamic State militants claim responsibility for a bombing in Cairo. The International Atomic Energy Agency rejects a report that claims Iran will inspect one of its own military sites. Thailand authorities continue its investigation to find suspects in a Bangkok bomb attack. And Chinese authorities detain top executives after a warehouse explosion kills more than one hundred people. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Yochi Dreazen Managing editor, Foreign Policy; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Indira Lakshmanan Diplomatic correspondent, Bloomberg News
- Kevin Baron Executive editor, Atlantic Media's Defense One.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Greek prime minister resigns and calls for early elections. ISIS beheads a Syrian antiquities scholar. And Thailand honors the victims of the Bangkok Shrine bombing as officials continue to search for suspects. Here for this week's international Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Kevin Baron of Atlantic Media's Defense One.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850, send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Well, good Friday to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENHi, Diane.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANHappy Friday.
MR. KEVIN BARONHello.
REHMGood to see you all and welcome to you, Kevin Baron.
REHMAnd on Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stepped down. He called for early elections. Yochi, how come?
DREAZENHe's basically calling a referendum on himself. He's saying, I've made changes. I've made decisions that I think are very hard. They're different from what I said I would do coming in, but I think they're necessary. He ran, remember, on a platform of anti-austerity, that he would push back at the EU when EU said raise taxes, cut benefits, that he would push back and try to protect the Greek people. In the end, he caved and accepted the very things he said he would never accept.
DREAZENMembers of his own party first voted against him. They've now split off and formed a new party, roughly 25 members of Syriza, of his party. So he's basically saying to the Greek public, I have changed. If you support this new path that I'm on, vote for me. If you don't and you really want this anti-austerity program, which would mean no bailout, banks again out of money, no food, go with this other group. But it's a referendum on himself.
REHMSo what does he hope to accomplish, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, look, they are going to be having these new snap elections supposedly on September 20 and I think what's striking about all of this is public opinion polling in Greece shows that Alexis Tsipras is still quite personally popular, despite the fact that the platform that he came in on about rejecting austerity didn't actually come to pass. I would say rather than using the words "he caved in," I would say ultimately he realized that the people actually -- the people of Greece seemed to support staying in the euro currency, staying in the Eurozone.
LAKSHMANANAnd in order to achieve that, they had to accept this incredibly tough austerity for this $86 billion euro bailout package, which Greece has now just paid the first payment on this week. And so I think it's a big deal because, you know, he came in with really fiery rhetoric. In the end, what he's doing seems to be consistent with what the Greek people wanted.
LAKSHMANANI think it's entirely possible he'll be reelected.
REHMReelected, but does the election in any way put the deal at risk?
BARONI'm not sure. I think, though, this is just a fascinating case to watch. These transitions of powers, this chaos in this country with the migrant border issue happening at the same time, to watch a country that could, you know, teeter to collapse at any moment, but just seems to not, just seems to keep trying and coming together somehow. Somehow Greece keeps coming through so maybe I'm an optimist.
REHMYou think that they will manage to come through, Indira?
LAKSHMANANYeah. I think so. I mean, the fact is, Greece has been in recession for a number of years now and the, you know, the bailout that's been given now, critics of the bailout package have said, look, this is just creating the same cycle that lead Greece to be in six years of recession, having to pay off these bonds, having these incredibly tough terms. At the same time, they did stay in the euro currency when it looked like that wasn't going to happen.
LAKSHMANANI mean, remember, just a couple months ago, we were sitting at this very table talking about, no, it looks like Grexit -- Greeks could be leaving and everybody thought that was so much worse, that finally Germany and all the other creditors got together and said, okay, let's come up with something that these folks can accept.
REHMSo how likely is it that Tsipras is going to be reelected, Yochi?
DREAZENI think he'll be reelected narrowly, in part, because the public there -- it's not just that they -- it's not a political debate in the abstract. People there saw banks with ATMS where they couldn't take out money. We'd have retirees getting slips of paper to figure out where they were in line. They saw food disappear. They saw newspapers say, we can't print because the cost of paper and ink, we can no longer afford.
DREAZENYou know, sometimes from the outside, we look at countries that have these political debates and it's in the abstract even for people in those countries. With Greece, it's daily life. I mean, people are living through what it means to not have money. It's also interesting this week, Germany had always said they would never allow for debt forgiveness or a haircut, meaning that they would access less than they're owed.
DREAZENMerkel, this week, accepted a deal in which Germany would, and other creditors, would be paid back in 2060 so effectively, they've forgiven debt. You know, they've said they would never do it, but it's a clever way of saying sometime, you know, 45 years in the future, we'll talk about it again.
REHMBut let's talk about the issue that Kevin raised, that is this huge influx of immigrants. How is Greece going to withstand that, Kevin?
BARONThat's what we'll have to watch and see, but I mean, it's a different story for us back in Washington than it is for them. Like Yochi said, this daily life over there now. From Washington, especially at the Pentagon, where we cover, you hear so little about this, just a lot of, oh, we're watching. We want to see, but is this something that becomes a security crisis, the ease of which that people can transfer from Africa, from the Middle East, up into Europe is very concerning to all the defense ministers as a real security threat tied to terrorism.
BARONSo it's a whole different level of -- and a whole different concern than how, you know, within Greece, how are we going to manage just this population that's coming our way.
REHMHow are they going to manage this population?
LAKSHMANANLook. I think that all of the European Union leaders have gotten together, they've had a number of emergency meetings about this. It's obviously something that's not just affecting Greece. I was struck, though, that at this famous Turkish beach resort of Bodrum, that we saw footage just last week of people piling into boats and, you know, trying to make this incredibly dangerous crossing across from Turkey to Greece.
LAKSHMANANYou know, a country, which, as you say, has enough of its own problems that it doesn't need migrants as well. We had the whole issue with the Channel with migrants trying to come across into the UK. I mean, I think this is not just a problem for Greece. This is something which the larger European community is going to have to deal with and they're going to have to deal with in some sort of a way to allow, I think, a certain number in in a legal and orderly way to try to keep it from becoming an overwhelming crisis.
LAKSHMANANAt the same time, look what's happening in Syria. That hasn't gotten any better and you can very much understand why refugees are trying to get...
LAKSHMANAN...you know, through Turkey to wherever they can possibly go.
DREAZENI mean, this morning, you had this extraordinary sort of video and photos emerging from Macedonia. Macedonia sealed its border with Greece, declared a state of emergency, sent its own soldiers to the border with Greece to basically beat back people, migrants who had come to Greece and were trying to go from Greece to Macedonia, which is not part of the EU, and from Macedonia into other parts of the EU.
DREAZENSo it isn't just that they're coming to Greece and swamping Greece, although they are. It isn't that in the Middle East, they're going Jordan and swamping Jordan, but they are. But Macedonia, a country that we never think of, now has people at the border, armed vehicles stringing barbed wire, using billy clubs to beat back -- there's one photo this morning of a father trying to -- literally is trying to hand his baby over the barbed ware and a Macedonian soldier with a billy club trying to keep him back.
DREAZENSo it's a crisis not just for Greece, but Greece, in some ways now, is the transit point for people trying to get through Greece to other countries.
REHMAnd what about Germany? How many is Germany taking in?
DREAZENGermany, right now, has roughly 750,000 who've come. They don't want more for obvious reasons. There was a recent case where a town that had built a sort of facility for -- apartments for refugees who had children, you know, who were married, for families, it was burned in an arson attack because there's massive public opposition to migrants. Some of that is Germany's xenophobia, the racism, the kind of anti-Semitism, anti-Islamist feelings that have been there for a very long time.
DREAZENBut they don't want 750,000 or 900,000 migrants. And, again, it's kind of a parallel to what we're seeing in the Middle East, where you have Jordan's relatively pro-Western, moderate country that has a million and a half Syrian refugees and can't take anymore. Germany is a wealthier bigger country, but is also saying we can't and won't accept more than the 900, 800,000 we've already accepted.
REHMWhat about the U.S., Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, obviously, the people cannot come directly from Syria to the U.S. in the same way that they can make a land crossing that'll allow them to come over into the European continent from the Middle East. You know, I don't what the U.S. government's latest thing is on this. The United States has been the biggest single donor of aid to the humanitarian crisis in Syria so while the European Union altogether, I believe, has given more, the United States as a single country has given more than anyone else.
LAKSHMANANThere certainly, you know, has been discussion about relocating refugees, but there's no way that they could physically come to the United States borders in the way that they can come to the borders throughout the Middle East and Europe.
REHMSo this kind of movement toward parts of Europe is likely to continue, Kevin?
BARONCertainly. And it's a growing concern for U.S. allies. You know, I interviewed the French defense minister in Washington last month who's been begging for more attention to Libya, for example. It's not just refugees. Their concern are how terrorists could use the same networks, the same crossings to make their way as well. And he's saying, you know, how the United States has been focused on the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria, the same routes, France is more interested in Libya.
BARONAnd his point was that eventually, at some point, if they're able to make the same volume of crossing, that's 200 miles from France and that's their main concern and he's begging for more attention from Washington.
REHMKevin Baron, he's executive editor at Atlantic Media's Defense One. Indira Lakshmanan a diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News. Yochi Dreazen, he's managing editor for news at Foreign Policy. He's author of the book, "The Invisible Front." Short break. When we come back, we'll talk about ISIS, what it's doing and the bombing in Cairo. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back to our international hour of the Friday news roundup. This week, with Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, Kevin Baron of Atlantic Media's Defense One, and Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy. Indira, the Islamic State, ISIS, claim responsibility for a bombing in Cairo. What do we know?
LAKSHMANANThat's right. We know that this car bomb went off right outside of an office of the Egyptian Security Forces in sort of the suburbs of Cairo and wounded 29 people on Thursday. And we know that an Islamic State group, which is calling itself Islamic State Egypt, so an affiliate group took credit for it, saying that it was retribution for the execution of six militants in May, who they referred to as martyrs and they say these men have not been forgotten. Now the issue with this is it comes at the end of a week when the Egyptian President el-Sisi has actually just instituted, as of Sunday, a tougher anti-terrorism law.
LAKSHMANANSo it's ironically coming on the heels of that much criticized, somewhat controversial terrorism law, because proponents of human rights say that it's actually being used by the state as a way to shield their abuses against government opponents. At the same time, this is going to give el-Sisi, you know, it's going to give him ammunition to say: Look, we need this law, this is so important. And to, you know, to give justification for the jailing and really tough procedures against those suspected of terrorism.
REHMBut there was other horrifying news out of Syria with the beheading of this antiquities scholar, Yochi.
DREAZENYeah. It's -- with ISIS, we keep getting to these stories where we think, it can't get worse than this. You know, Jordanian pilots burnt alive, and we think, ah, that's the worst. What kind of animals could do that to another human being? Then we find out that Kayla Mueller was repeatedly raped by the head of ISIS. Then we find out in this amazing New York Times story about the way that ISIS uses sexual slavery on a scale never really before seen, where women are sold, prices are posted on the Internet. And now we have this.
DREAZENThis was a man in his 80s. This was an archeologist who was arrested by ISIS and at a minimum beaten, if not tortured, to tell them where artifacts had been stashed -- artifacts that they wanted to destroy, like so many other priceless things they'd already destroyed. This brave man refused to do it. And so they brought him to Palmyra to some of these ancient ruins he'd studied for literally his entire life...
DREAZEN...beheaded him and then hung the body. One of the horrifying little details was, in some of the photos that were released and one of the videos, there was a very large crowd of people standing around watching this happen. So this wasn't something where they did it and then they showed the body. This was a public event that was widely attended. The question then obviously is, were people forced to go or did they go on their own?
DREAZENIn any event, there were a lot of people watching it. And this was an 83-year-old man. I mean, they were not beheading a soldier, they were not beheading a pilot, although they've done that, too. This was an 83-year-old.
LAKSHMANANYeah, as Yochi says, this story really hits a nerve. It breaks my heart. I mean, you know, I thought I had read the worst when I saw that New York Times story about the institutionalized sexual slavery of women under ISIS, which goes to the point that they have made it a religious calling. They've tried to justify it as if somehow these ISIS soldiers and commanders are doing God's work by raping women, particularly women who are not Muslims. I mean, it's sickening. And then when I read this, I thought, here's a man who didn't leave Palmyra when he had the opportunity to -- according to his children -- because he said, what are they going to do to me?
LAKSHMANANI'm an 83-year-old man.
LAKSHMANANI've dedicated my life to saving this place. They're not going to touch me, an 83-year-old man. And in fact they did. So he actually gave his life, in the end, protecting the same antiquities that he spent his life studying and teaching the world about. So a really poignant and tragic story. And, you know, another sign of the incredible brutality and, you know, that this group has no sense. There's no actual ideology behind it.
BARONYou know, I think this just goes to show how the United States government -- and if you think of the, actually, the presidential campaigns -- so few people know what to do about this. I think there's real confusion, there's real inertia, there's real doubt about what steps to take next that can stop ISIS. This, you know, a year ago -- and it's been about a year since the U.S. got involved -- there was a very bravado, destroy ISIS, all right? Defeat and destroy them. Well, now I think it becomes clear, with every one of these events -- like these beheadings and burnings and kidnappings and Kayla's horrible, horrible story -- that this is something that's never been seen before.
BARONSo yesterday, when there was a Pentagon press conference with the defense secretary and the questions are about, well, what about the latest 60 fighters that were trained in Turkey that were finally sent into Syria that didn't do so well and then were rounded up and picked up and the -- maybe the few thousand more that are coming? Or are there enough, you know, air strikes sorties? Should there be some more drone patrols? These just minutia questions when they're facing a problem where the generals will admit -- General Dempsey and (word?) -- that this is a 30-year type of problem. Others would argue, this is a 100-year type of problem.
BARONIf a group like ISIS, that does these horrific things -- you know, not just gathers, you know, crowds in the market square when they do them, but still is increasing the foreign fighter attraction from, you know, it went from 2,000 to 4,000 to about 8,000, a year and a half ago, up to the 12, 15s and beyond now. It's just -- it's not ending. Whatever the U.S. and the world is doing, it's not having the effect of turning back the ideological attraction that has fueled ISIS's success.
REHMThat is the profound issue. How far can and will ISIS go to gain control of all these Arab countries?
LAKSHMANANThat's right. You know, I think it's striking that, you know, 10 years ago, we looked at the Taliban and thought they were the worst and most extreme group we could possibly imagine. I never thought I would see the day in my lifetime that I would be saying that the Taliban looked better compared to these people. And, you know, what's so disturbing about it is they don't really have a coherent ideology. But they clearly attract people somehow. And I think this speaks to the deeper alienation that a lot of people, you know, poor or disenfranchised people in Arab states...
REHMAnd even in this country.
LAKSHMANANYes, exactly. And I was just going to say, not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe and the United States. The fact that they would attract anybody shows how deeply alienated these people must be. And I think it's very hard for governments to figure out ways to engage and keep people like this in the fold of society, if they're willing to go off and do something like this.
DREAZENYeah. I would disagree with Indira on one point. I think ISIS does have an ideology. I mean, they articulate it online. They're very good on social media. They articulate it on Facebook. You know, their ideology is one of, first of all, conquest of land, which is very different than al-Qaida. Al-Qaida did not believe you could have a caliphate right now. So I -- to Indira's point before about how the Taliban looked moderate by comparison -- al-Qaida, in some ways, there's a difference of opinion between them and ISIS, where al-Qaida says to ISIS, you are too brutal. You should not declare a caliphate. That's not something that mankind should do. That comes only from Allah.
DREAZENSo there is an ideology where, again, it's not just they look brutal compared to the Taliban. Even al-Qaida says, you've gone too far. But their ideology is one based on territory, which is different than al-Qaida. Their ideology is one based on elimination-ism, that there are groups that they would like to exterminate. Which, again, you really have not seen even in the history of Islam, where, when Mohammad -- when he was alive and as were his successors, other groups were allowed to live. They paid taxes. They were not treated well, but they weren't exterminated. ISIS would love to exterminate the Yazidi. They would love to exterminate the Christians. Were there Jews there, they would love to exterminate the Jews.
DREAZENAnd they're expansionist on a level that hasn't been seen. So, you know, the military is hesitant. The White House, for obvious reasons, is hesitant to acknowledge this. But there are active ISIS chapters in Libya. There are active ISIS chapters now in Afghanistan, which the White House finally does acknowledge. There's ISIS in Egypt. If you talk to the Israelis, there's a real fear that there's ISIS in Gaza. And Israel is now exchanging rocket fire between its territory and the Golan Heights because, on the one hand, they feel like it could be Assad, on the other hand, they feel like it could be ISIS in Syria shooting at Israel.
DREAZENSo you have a group that I think does have an ideology and, more importantly, does believe in holding territory, and more importantly still, holds more territory by the month.
REHMAnd that goes also back to our discussion of the immigrants and how fearful these countries are that representatives of ISIS may be trying to get their way into those countries as well.
DREAZENExactly. Although there's an interesting kind of wrinkle there. And it's -- you hear something to this effect when you talk to security officials, even from the region, which is, ISIS believe fundamentally in holding territory. I mean, that is why it exists. The appeal of ISIS, the reason why they're able to recruit the way are is they say, not just if you're a fighter, come to us, they say, if you're an engineer or a doctor. If you know how to help run a country, come help us run a country. I mean, to them, they are focused on land and territory.
DREAZENRight now, their focus is not coming to the U.S. to carry out a bombing in the U.S. Their focus is not coming to Europe to carry out a bombing in Europe. That's not to say they won't at some point in the future. But right now, their focus is building, holding, expanding territory, which is a different wrinkle to the security question.
BARONYeah, Yochi's right I think. There was talk after Chattanooga of, you know, the shift from terrorist-directed attacks in the U.S. versus terrorist-inspired directs. And I think a lot of that is because of exactly what he said. You know, we're not seeing the direction into our way. I would say though, extrapolate beyond, we talk often about the, you know, what's the thinking of the people in the Middle East that makes ISIS successful and all about their ideology. But on our side of the water, on the United States and the Western allies, it seems that it's just a constant state of reaction and defensiveness. What is the offensive message? What is the purposeful gathering?
REHMWhat can be the offensive message?
BARONI mean, I haven't heard any kind of, I think, global statement maybe...
BARON...since, you know, NATO wails last year with their five-point plan. And one of the five points was to, you know, out-message ISIS somehow, you know, through, I don't know, what? The State Department's, you know, Twitters? It's not happening. There's no sense of turning any kind of beacon on the hill, you know, or shining city message to get any kind of alternative options to the disenfranchised and the humiliated and these populations who have somehow made this decision, I'm going to become a person who is on the other side of that cage with the (unintelligible) and light them on fire.
LAKSHMANANRight. I mean, clearly, this is a group that strategically and tactically, this is their approach. Tactically, they want to build a state and they're trying to encourage people to come. What I'm saying is that I think, ideologically, the message that they're giving, this image that they're painting of a state in which you live this extreme form of what they see as idealized Islam, which so many Imams around the world have absolutely said this is wrong. They've totally rejected it. So this is a minority view. I find it incredible that this, which doesn't seem very coherent, is appealing to so many people, as we were talking about, who are clearly marginalized.
LAKSHMANANAnd while General John Allen , who has taken over as the sort of U.S. chief person in charge of the fight against ISIS, he's in charge of all these international committees and one of which is the messaging committee that Kevin referred to that is supposed to come up with an anti-ISIS message. Sure, we don't see it, we don't feel it on a national level. But there is something going on out there. And my question is, is it strong enough to be able to compete with the message that ISIS is putting out so effectively with these grizzly videos.
BARONRight. And General Allen, you know, was the man who authored the phrase, defeat ISIS, a year ago with some op-eds that, you know, started that kind of a mentality. So to have him be the one who's supposed to also come up with this some sort of wider, you know, non-military solution. We keep, oh, we've heard that for, you know, forever, since the beginning of the Iraq War. There's no military solution to these things. What else is going on?
BARONBecause there seems to be no will or desire to send troops, to send reporters. It's so dangerous, it's so chaotic. There's just real sense of, we don't know what to do, other than work a little bit with the Iraqi Army and get back some of that territory, as little as we can, with a whole lot of patience -- you know, the U.S. could drop in the 10th Mountain Division and change the ground real fast. But what comes next has just been this paralyzing question.
REHMYes. What comes next?
BARONParalyzing for the United States.
REHMAnd for Thai officials, they are continuing their search for suspects in that horrific bombing that killed at least 20 people, wounded maybe 130 others. What do we know so far about that young man in the yellow t-shirt?
LAKSHMANANWe don't know a lot. The Thai officials at first had the idea that this was possibly part of an international terrorist plot. They've backed down from that and said they now think that's less likely. The young man who was seen in the video, they have been able to interview both the tuk-tuk driver, you know, the sort of automated rickshaw driver, who took him to the sight of the bombing, and also a motorcycle taxi driver who took him away.
LAKSHMANANWhat was, I thought, really interesting was that the police authorities in Thailand said that when they talked to tuk-tuk driver, that the guy wasn't even able to say whether the suspect spoke Thai or not, because the way they communicated was by the suspect showing a picture of the shrine where he wanted to go.
LAKSHMANANAnd all they agreed upon was the fare. And he had this heavy backpack and he put it on the floor of this auto rickshaw, instead of putting it on the seat next to him. That's what the tuk-tuk driver was able to say. So we don't know, was he actually a Thai person masquerading as someone of European or Middle-Eastern descent? Was he someone of European or Middle-Eastern descent? I think it's interesting that they say they now feel that there were at least 10 people who were involved in this and that the planning of this would have taken at least a month. But, you know, they have not been able to say whether it is international and they think it's probably not.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Yochi.
DREAZENIt's a fascinating kind of counterpoint to the previous conversation we were having about ISIS. ISIS loves to record everything it can. It takes credit for anything it possibly can. It puts things out on social media. It uses Facebook really effectively. But it wants to be known for what it does. It wants to claim responsibility. Here you have a very high-profile attack in the middle of a wealthy, worldly city, and no one is saying who did it. And sort of the contrast between ISIS and groups like it -- al-Qaida and other of its predecessors -- and now what's happening in Thailand, where nobody is saying, yes this was us, is extraordinary.
DREAZENAlso, I think when there are bombings, we often focus on the perpetrator, we often focus on the implications. It's occasionally -- this is true of the media, this is not obviously this wonderful show -- but we forget some of the people.
DREAZENAnd this past week, in reading the stories of some of the victims, there was one in particular that, you know, Indira made the point before about your heart just breaks, it was a Malaysian tourist who had bent down to grab something on the ground right before the blast went off. So he survived. But his son, his daughter, one of his daughter's children, his wife was badly wounded -- his whole family was basically obliterated, and he survived.
REHMAnd these are all tourists.
DREAZENThese are all tourists.
REHMAnd that's exactly what the intention was, apparently, to scare tourists away.
LAKSHMANANAlthough, interestingly, a lot of the victims were Chinese: four mainland Chinese, two residents of Hong Kong. And the Thai authorities have been very quick to say, this was not targeted against Chinese. And I can understand why they would say that, because the Chinese government is one of the biggest sources of investment in Thailand. Chinese tourists are very important to the Thai economy. So you can see that they would want to say this is not something targeted against you, who helps our economy go.
BARONYeah, but they don't know that.
BARONThey don't know who this is. They don't know the motivations. They don't know any of it. But this should scare Washington in a big way, as much as it's heartbreaking in Thailand. If -- anyone who's been to Thailand, have been to Bangkok, it's, you know, it's like going, I don't know, to the Midwest of America, the sweetest bunch of people, in some sense. To have this attack, like Yochi said, is an unbelievable heart-tugging event. But policy wise, militarily, Thailand is one of the -- is the oldest treaty ally to the United States in Asia. It is the key hub of the United States military's presence in Southeast Asia.
BARONIt's the host of Cobra Gold, the largest multinational military exercise in Asia, which was -- which has been downscaled this past year because of the Thailand's political problems and will be again next year, I'm sure. What this should -- how this should scare the United States is, if it has anything to do with the spread of Islamic terrorism, it's a new chapter. It's a new book in Thailand. There's been some of this in Indonesia, some in parts of Thailand. But in the heart of Bangkok, a city bombing like this changes the game in a way that they fear.
REHMAnd, you know, it reminded me a great deal of the Boston Marathon bombing in the way it was carried out. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about the massive explosion in China and its aftermath. We'll also be taking your calls, your email. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll open the phones now, first to Beth in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Go right ahead, please.
BETHHi, thank you for taking my call.
BETHMy question is basically what is the political reason or reasons that the United States doesn't declare war on ISIS, since your panel have spoken about its desire to start a new country, a state over in the Middle East?
BARONWell, ISIS isn't a nation-state, for one, so I don't know if you can declare war against a group like this.
REHMIt calls itself a nation-state.
BARONOkay, so do I. I'm a nation-state. It doesn't necessarily make it true. But more than that, I think there's -- it's just -- this is a sense of Vietnam (unintelligible) . There's no need to. There is an authorization for the use of military force. There were two of them, one for the Iraq War, one for the Afghanistan War, and the administration decided at first it didn't need a new authorization, it could use this to expand it, to say, well, this ISIS is a spinoff of al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda was -- we were authorized to fight al-Qaeda, so we can make that happen.
BARONThen the president changed his mind and said, well, we'd like to have Congress' stamp of approval, we should get that and have that happen, but that would mean Congress would have to vote on it, and this is an election year, and nobody wants to have to say I was for the war before I was against the war.
REHMAnd here's a tweet from Christopher, who says, do we want to wait until we have another Nazi Germany with ISIS? We're doing something close to appeasement. When we will invade? Yochi?
DREAZENYou know, to Beth's points, if the U.S. were to declare war, I mean, one, I agree with Kevin, there have AUMFs where -- authorizations for the use of military force. No president has felt the need to declare war even when they've gone to war in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. No president now, neither Barack Obama nor his successor, wants to have 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 U.S. ground troops on the ground fighting ISIS. You'd have casualties. You might have that war again be a defeat in the way that arguably both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars happened to be.
DREAZENYou know, to this email about Nazi Germany, I'm always personally loathe, and I think many of us are, to say group X is like the Nazis. You know, it's easy to do, and it's often historically lazy. I think you can make a very strong case that ISIS is the closest thing to Nazis that we have seen since the Nazis. They believe in expanding territory. They believe in exterminating other ethnic and religious groups. It is, I think, a fair comparison in a way that no other group that's been compared to Nazi Germany might have been as accurately compared as ISIS happens to be.
BARONOr to the Khmer Rouge. That was -- about six months or so ago, when these atrocities really started happening, that was the comparison being made, and it's really, you know, a group that has just blood on its mind and bloodlust and is not a massive, industrialized state, you know, forming armies to take over, you know, a continent.
REHMBut none of you, I gather, believe the U.S. will take really serious military action about this?
LAKSHMANANWell, warfare has changed, Diane. I mean, the fact that we are doing airstrikes over both Syria and Iraq, and Obama also is a different kind of president than George W. Bush was in that he's -- you know, he's expanded drone strikes dramatically from what Bush was using. So to say -- I wouldn't call him a pacifist president by any means. He just wants to use military force in a different way, rather than having boots on the ground, doing it more through an air campaign.
REHMRight, but can it accomplish what needs to be done?
LAKSHMANANIt cannot accomplish completely wiping out this group, and Kevin made the point about training 60, you know, pro-U.S. forces and how not only ineffective they were but how insufficient that number is. So I think this debate is going to continue, you know, not only for the rest of the Obama administration's term but also is going to continue into the term of whoever gets elected in 2016.
REHMInto -- yes.
BARONI'll just add, we're in a period right now in history where we're redefining, I think, what serous military action means, what U.S. military intervention or U.S. intervention means and what it should be. And this administration, from before Obama's election, has raised the bar to a very high level that most of us forget even existed before 9/11, which was that we are not going to send troops into war, into foreign countries, to -- especially after Iraq, especially Afghanistan.
BARONBut what is being done is incredibly significant. We are launching hundreds of air sorties off of aircraft carriers, off of bases. There are special operators that have flooded the region all the way from Nigeria through to the borders of Turkey into Afghanistan. There is an entirely new way of fighting happening every single day, but it's not ground troops, it's not Marines kicking down doors in Fallujah accompanied by American journalists safely, relatively, embedded within them.
BARONThere's a quiet, dark war happening across a humongous area of geography that is at the center of this entire fight.
BARONAnd we don't hear anything about it.
REHMWe have an email from Matt in Washington state. Please comment on the recent provocation from North Korea. As I understand it, we have enough troops stationed in South Korea to be a tripwire. Would this drag us into a war with the north if the south is attacked in any major way? Yochi?
DREAZENIt's a good question with a lot of ifs built into it that I don't think are going to happen. North Korea has a habit, whenever the world stage is occupied by someone else, of trying to move themselves onto the stage by getting attention for something that is provocative but doesn't go too far. I mean, they're careful. So in this case, they shelled -- they're saying that it was because there were South Korean loudspeakers blasting in South Korean pop music and propaganda, what they consider propaganda, which is to say accurate news about North Korea.
DREAZENThey didn't sent troops across the border. They didn't try to shell Seoul. They have the capacity, using purely conventional weaponry, to level Seoul. They didn't do anything remotely like that. This seems to fit the category of what North Korea often does, talk belligerently, fire something at something, where you know the South Koreans won't respond. In terms of the U.S., that was an accurate description. The U.S. troop presence in South Korea is in no way sufficient to stop a full-on North Korean invasion or air campaign.
DREAZENIt's there as a small deterrent. It's there to slow what might be a North Korean invasion, but we're nowhere remotely in the universe of close to that.
LAKSHMANANWell, I was just going to say, although we only have 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea, let's not forget, South Korea is under our nuclear umbrella. They are a treaty ally. They are protected by our nuclear umbrella. So I don't think the number of troops versus the million-man North Korean army, I don't think that's so relevant. North Korea knows very well that we have, you know, huge forces that we could use against them if we wanted to go that far.
LAKSHMANANAnd let's also not forget, North Korea started this all by apparently setting up these landmines that were stepped upon and badly injured two South Korean soldiers on a well-known patrol route near the DMZ.
REHMAll right, we've got to move on. It's been over a week after a factory explosion in Tianjin, China. So what do we know there, and what don't we know?
LAKSHMANANOkay, we know that 115 people were killed, hundreds more were injured. We know that this all happened because a warehouse was storing incredibly dangerous chemicals, cyanide, at multiples times beyond the legal limit in a warehouse that was only 560 meters away from a residential housing complex, when under the law they have to be at least more than a kilometer away from major transport hubs and public buildings.
LAKSHMANANWe also know Tianjin is extremely significant because this is a city that has the highest GDP per person in China. It's a really important commodities hub for China. It has a port that brings it -- that has a key oil and gas terminal. It also is the major entry point for iron ore, which fuels China's vast steel-making industry. It's a very important city.
LAKSHMANANAnd what I think is striking about this time is that a lot of times we hear about these terrible disasters, whether it's building collapses, chemical explosions, a lot of things like this, environmental problems, fireworks factories exploding and killing people, that really link back to corruption. And they link back to Chinese officials who have cut corners and not gotten the proper safety permits, and there is a perception overall in China that these last 30 years of incredible growth in the economy of China have really prioritized GDP growth over the safety and welfare of the Chinese people.
LAKSHMANANThat is a very widespread view. I lived in China for seven years, and that's a very widespread view that the Chinese people have. They are very happy that they have become more wealthy. They're very unhappy they feel the government isn't protecting them. What's different about this time is that Chinese authorities in Beijing have come right out and not only condemned this because of corruption and violating safety procedures, they have also taken -- they have arrested 10 officials in this region, including the ex-executive of Sinochem, a major state company, and the son of a late police chief of Tianjin, who had all sorts of, as they call them, guanxi, connections, that enabled them to cut all these corners and do everything without getting the proper permissions.
LAKSHMANANAnd they've encouraged the Chinese people to denounce this corruption.
REHMAnd the question is, is all of that admission of guilt going to satisfy the Chinese people?
DREAZENI don't think so. I mean, the other difference here is that they made no attempt to try to block the images or videos from spreading on Chinese social media. I mean, China has, as we know, among the most sophisticated filters and abilities to stop things from spreading. They can say things are legal so the state media doesn't show it. They can try to crack down on what's spread there on social media and on the Internet. They didn't do that here.
DREAZENFor the leadership in Beijing, what they would love to be able to say is there's corruption, we're finding the people responsible, we're hanging them, we're executing them. There was a story this week that they are sending operatives into the United States to try to help persuade, and I use the phrase gently and sarcastically, corrupt officials who have gotten to the U.S. to go back to China for trial.
DREAZENSo for them it's a very convenient thing to be able to say, to be able to say we know there's corruption, and we take it as seriously as you do, we will find the people and punish them, but then not actually to have to accept responsibility themselves. And Tianjin is yet another example of how they can use a tragedy, how they can use low-level corruption to shield themselves from really high-level introspection.
REHMAnd of course China's president is scheduled to come to Washington next month.
BARONMy perspective on this, take a step back. This is the same country that constantly, as was said, has these industrial accidents and disasters and horrible record and, you know, doubt of whether the leadership can protect them or is cohesive at all. It's the same country that's creating islands in the South China Sea and plotting, you know, to build their own new forward operating bases for some expanded regional influence with their military and with the economy. How do you, you know, balance those two images of this China, and what do we make of it?
BARONIs this a China to fear? Is this a China that is -- can't even make its own products and chemicals safely without these disasters one after another?
REHMAll right, let's go back to the phones, to Stan. He's in Walton, Illinois. Go right ahead, sir.
STANYeah, yes ma'am. As a retired Army person, I think it's ridiculous to compare these groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda to Nazi Germany. Germany had a very large military industrial complex. Even if we had chosen to protect Iraq, it's just dishonest to portray these guys as being dangerous to the levels of the Nazis. And it's misleading to the American people. And it's kind of falling into the hands of the right-wing extremists.
REHMAll right, thanks for your call. Is there a sense that ISIS is not operating with sophisticated military weapons, whereas the Nazis had them?
DREAZENOf course. I mean, the caller is exactly right in terms of what ISIS and what Nazi Germany could do, of course. My point was not that they're akin to Nazis in terms of their current capabilities or even what is a foreseeable capability. It's the ideology. They're similar in the sense that they believe there are certain peoples who should be exterminated down to the last child because of their religion, because of their ethnicity, because of their creed. They believe that their territory should expand such that they can exterminate more of those people in every bit of territory they conquer.
DREAZENOf course they are not the Nazis in terms of what they have the capability at this moment to do or in the foreseeable future to do, but the ideology is extraordinarily dangerous, and I'm not -- with respect to the caller, I don't think it's a comparison that is out of line to say that a group that believes in wholesale extermination of other groups has similarities to the Nazis.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And finally let's turn to Iran. Associated Press is reporting about Iran's role in inspecting an important nuclear site on its own. How legitimate would that be in terms of this agreement between the U.S. and Iran?
LAKSHMANANI just want to say a lot of questions have been raised about this report. Number one, this was an alleged draft copy, not the alleged final version of the agreement, which we know, according to the IAEA, is secret between -- the IAEA means the U.N. Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, just as is the case with many other countries that it has agreements with around the world. The IAEA chief in Vienna came out yesterday and denounced this AP story and said this is wrong, it completely misrepresents the way we are going to work with Iran, and it's just false to try to portray it this way.
LAKSHMANANNow, I think it's really important to think about a couple different things here. First of all, there is the Iran deal that is going to govern over the next 15, 10 to 15 years, inspections over Iran's ongoing nuclear work. So that means the IAEA inspectors of all nationalities are going to be going into sites such as Natanz, such as Fordow, going into the sites where Iran currently does nuclear activities, and they are going to be personally inspecting those.
LAKSHMANANThat is different from this inspection, or this let's call it investigation of so-called PMD, possible military dimensions, of Iran's past work. So that is a report that the IAEA has to write before the end of this year for the Iran deal to go forward but it's not about what Iran is doing now. Another point to make is that where they are expected to have more than 10 years ago done nuclear explosive tests in this Parchin military base, they are also widely believed to have sanitized the site since.
LAKSHMANANSo whoever is taking the samples and videoing them and monitoring them and participating in them, it is likely that they may have sanitized away evidence of that. I don't think that's going to change, necessarily, the IAEA's mind.
REHMAll right, but some minds have been changed on Capitol Hill. You've got Robert Menendez in New Jersey becoming the second Senate Democrat to say he will oppose the Iran nuclear deal. Is it still going to go through?
DREAZENYeah, I mean, Bob Menendez is someone who was always going to oppose the nuclear deal. Remember, he crafted some of the sanctions legislation the White House threatened to veto because they said that bill would blow up the talks. So he's not a wavering person who now says aha, now I vote no. He was always a no vote. The question is can AIPAC and the others who oppose the deal, can they get to 67, which would overcome the filibuster? To do that, they need 13 Democrats. Can they even get to 60, which would mean the bill would have to go to a vote, that it couldn't be filibustered by the other Democrats?
DREAZENRight now they have 56 votes. They have two Democrats, Chuck Schumer and now Bob Menendez. Others are wavering, but almost every day there's a trickle of other Democrats who are coming out and saying they support it, including some -- Jon Tester, who is a hawkish Democrat that many thought would oppose it, is in favor of it. It seems virtually impossible that AIPAC will get to -- and I don't mean to limit this to AIPAC except that they're -- in terms of lobbying.
REHMExcept they've been very outspoken.
DREAZENVery vocal and spending a lot of money but just writ large the opponents of the deal. To get to 67 seems virtually impossible. To get to 60, more likely, but even that's going to be a fight.
REHMYochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, Kevin Baron of Atlantic Media's Defense One. Thank you all so much for being here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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