The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: Tamara Keith
A photograph of a drowned three year old boy from Syria made international headlines and brought worldwide attention to the migrant crisis in Europe. European leaders have, so far, been unable to come up with a way to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people trying to make their way into Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Yesterday Iran’s supreme leader ordered the country’s parliament to vote on the nuclear agreement with the US and five other world powers, and a Chinese military parade featuring fighter jets, tanks and missiles highlights what some say is China’ s growing effort to project military strength in the face of economic uncertainty. Join us to discuss these and other top international stories of the week.
- Edward Luce Chief U.S. commentator, Financial Times; author of "Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent."
- Lara Jakes Deputy managing editor for news, Foreign Policy magazine.
- Shane Harris Senior correspondent, The Daily Beast; Future of War fellow, New America; author of "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" and "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State"
MS. TAMARA KEITHThanks for joining us. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. A tense standoff continues between authorities and migrants at a train station in Hungary. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to continue his fight against the Iran nuclear deal. And the king of Saudi Arabia makes his first official visit to Washington.
MS. TAMARA KEITHHere to discuss this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup are Edward Luse of The Financial Times, Lara Jakes of Foreign Policy and Shane Harris of The Daily Beast. Welcome to the program.
MR. EDWARD LUCEHi, good morning.
MR. SHANE HARRISThank you, hi.
MS. LARA JAKESGreat to be here.
KEITHLet's start with the Iran deal and this week, President Obama secured enough support to prevent it from being blocked by Congress. How are international critics of the deal reacting. Edward?
LUCEWell, the Israelis are surprisingly silent on this. There's been a lot of rhetoric in the buildup to this vote and to this moment when it's become clear that Obama is going to sustain the deal that has been followed by, you know, strange silence this week in Israel. Netanyahu is, I think, clearly deciding on what the next best move might be and whether that's to do with some kind of a poison pill in the vote that'll go ahead later this month in Congress, whether it's some kind of a rider that Democrats, such as Mark Warner and Cory Booker, who've come in today in support of the deal.
LUCEI think we're approaching 40 supporters now in the Senate. Whether it some kind of a rider to that bill that promises, you know, a repeat of Iran sanctions act that would torpedo it in Tehran where they're going to be looking at the deal now. I don't know what it would be, but it's, by no means, a done deal. And perhaps the Israelis are assessing what their next best step is to try and sabotage this.
KEITHLara Jakes, the Congress will come back next week and they -- Republicans in Congress want to vote on a motion of disapproval, unless something changes, which it could, there will be a bipartisan or at least narrowly bipartisan vote of the U.S. Congress to disapprove of this deal. How does that play overseas?
JAKESWell, I found it very interesting that Prime Minister Netanyahu kind of blew it off earlier this week when he said, well, we never really expected Congress to do this anyway. This is the same guy who came to Congress in March in a very divisive kind of appearance that really angered the White House. They said it was breach of protocol, you know. That was a very direct, very strong push to Congress in his appeal to reject this Iran deal even before it was signed, at that point.
JAKESSo for him to come around now and to say, well, you know, we never thought it was going to really happen and we have to try to figure out how to live with it now, I thought that was very interesting. I also thought it was interesting that this week, right before the White House was able to secure the last Senate Democrat to support them, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, okay, now I'm ready for a peace deal with the Palestinians and I'm ready to go to Ramallah and I'm ready to meet Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas and try to restart this peace agreement that died in April 2014 when neither side could really deal with each other in any kind of good faith agreement.
JAKESSo I thought that was just fascinating and a total indicator of Israel saying, all right, we lost this one. We're just going to have to try to pick up the pieces and move on.
KEITHAnd meanwhile, in Iran, the Supreme Leader has directed the parliament to vote on the agreement, which seems like a parallel to sort of what is happening here. Shane Harris with The Daily Beast.
HARRISYeah, there are sort of interesting parallels. So the question of whether or not their legislative body is going to take up the deal and approve or disapprove and President Rouhani wants this special national security council that's been put together of senior leaders to kind of have the final say over it, but for it not to go all the way to the Congress. And interestingly there's a move here among some Democrats to maybe even try and block the measure from even coming up before the Senate for a vote, which would be also very interesting and would kind of, you know, play out the drama here.
HARRISBut I think we're heading towards sort of a done deal. And if you look at some of the hardliner rhetoric in Iran right now, it's interesting, coming out particularly from senior military leaders who are saying, basically, this deal changes nothing. America's still the great Satan. We're going to go ahead with our ballistic missile programs. We're going to build up our weapons. You definitely get the feeling that the Iranian military, which was never really in support of this deal, even though many of them will see individual sanctions relief because of it, are out there basically saying nothing to see here. This doesn't change our plans at all.
JAKESI just wanted to also note that Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini yesterday said that there would be no deal. Iran would not agree to a deal if the sanctions were not immediately lifted, as opposed to phased out, which is what is the current agreement that's under the deal, right. So I mentioned this to kind of highlight what Shane was saying, that, you know, Iran is trying to -- and especially the people at the top -- Iran is trying to appease the hardliners and still try to move forward with this major diplomatic accomplishment.
JAKESRemember, this is the first time in decades that there's been any kind of real rapprochement between the United States and Iran, not to mention world powers and Iran. We saw the British embassy reopen in Tehran very recently. And so while it's always important to note what the Supreme Leader is saying, and the buck does stop with him, he is the person who will make the final decision, I also wanted to highlight that this deal wouldn't have gotten this far if Ayatollah Khomeini hadn't agreed to it.
JAKESPresident Rouhani would've never have gotten the permission to move this far forward if the Supreme Leader was not behind him.
KEITHWe'll be taking your comments and questions throughout the hour and we want to hear from you. The number to call is 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. The Twitter handle is @reshow. Today, almost as we speak, the king of Saudi Arabia Selman is visiting the White House. This will be his first official visit. What will he and the president talk about, Edward Luse?
LUCEWell, I think the Iran deal, of course, is probably going to be up there. Reassurances from Saudi Arabia, which oppose the deal as strongly as Israeli, but a little bit less noisily, Reassurances that he will be seeking from President Obama that the Americans will continue to try to police Iran's activities in the region and that Iran won't now be given a carte blanche to operate with a great deal more billions of dollars than it used to have.
LUCEAnd I think the Gulf states, the Saudi Arabians, the USE, have been alarmed by what Iran can do on a low budget and are now wondering what it's going to be thinking of doing on a high budget. So I think that'll be the first item on the agenda. But, look, the relationship between the Saudis and the Americans is very different to what it used to be. America doesn't import much oil from Saudi Arabia nowadays and it's not likely to be doing so any time in the coming years.
LUCESo the leverage that the Saudis used to have is much less than it was. Arms sales used to be the normal method by which the Saudis would recycle all the money that America was giving them for its oil. It would then buy American arms. Well, clearly, the Saudis are going to want arms, maybe a theater missile defense system as compensation for this Iran deal, but it's unclear how many more arms the Saudis need. And they don't have as much money nowadays. You know, they've got a problem with declining foreign exchange reserves with the collapsing oil price.
LUCESo I think it's going to be a difficult conversation. I'll just make one final point. A few months ago, President Obama gave an interview to -- I think it was to Thomas Friedman in the New York Times.
KEITHThe New York Times, yeah.
LUCEWhere he said, look, the real problem in these countries is under their noses. It's at home. It's the youth. It's the unemployment. It's people without very great economic prospects living in absolutist systems with a poisonous Ahab ideology. He didn't use these exact terms, but this is his meaning. With a poisonous sort of pipeline of ideology being fed to them, that's the real problem facing the Middle East and one would expect Obama to try, diplomatically, to reinforce that message.
HARRISYeah, I think what's also interesting this week the White House had a briefing for reporters, an on-the-record briefing on this, which is not terribly usual for them.
KEITHIt doesn't happen all the time.
KEITHUsually, it's deep background.
HARRISYeah, exactly. And here Ben Rhodes, who's one of the senior national security officials on the NECK staff, he made the point over and over again of maritime supporter, counterterrorism support, all the supports, support, military support we'll be giving to the Saudis. And I think that what King Selman is going to be looking for from President Obama is both to make good on that commitment and also a demonstrable, tangible show that if Iran deviates from this plan, that we're prepared to take military action, as well, and not just to get tough with words.
HARRISSo you know, the White House is very much laying the ground for this and saying, we are very much here supporting them in material kinds of ways.
JAKESWell, I also think it's interesting that even as the Saudis say that, all right -- much in the same way that Israel has, that, all right, you know, we did not support this Iran deal. We don't like it, but we need to move forward, here King Selman is going to try to get as much out of it as he possibly can and the White House is going to try to say, all right, you can use -- we can help you with this military aide to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq, for example. That's something both sides agree on.
JAKESWhether -- one sticky point that may come up in the meeting today is the issue of Yemen. The Saudi kingdom has been striking the Horthy rebels that are backed by Iran in Yemen since March and it has been a devastating civil war there now and the country's on the edge of famine largely because the Saudis have put a blockade on many of the ports that have limited water, food, fuel from coming into Yemen because they're trying to stop Iranian aide from coming in.
JAKESAnd the United States has publically said that they support the Saudi-lead campaign against the Horthy rebels in Yemen. The Outhits are Shea rebels who have overthrown the Sunni government in Sandal. But it's getting to a point where it's becoming a humanitarian crisis and it makes the United States very, very nervous to be so actively supporting Saudi Arabia in this war.
KEITHComing up, more of our conversation with Lara Jakes and Edward Luse and Shane Harris on "The Diane Rehm Show."
KEITHWelcome back. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. The migrant crisis in Europe has reached almost unbelievable proportions. And this week, there was a photograph published of a lifeless toddler who had washed ashore on a Turkish beach. And that really has captured the imaginations, captured peoples' hearts in a way that maybe some of the other news stories haven't. Edward Luce.
LUCEYeah, it's even, to make a parochial point for a second, changed the debate in Britain, which remains one of the worst outliers in terms of refusing to take refugees. David Cameron's been -- as others have -- conflating the economic migrant surge to Europe with the refugee surge to Europe and talking of swarms of people trying to get into Britain from Calais. But the -- this image of this young boy, this three-year-old boy on a Turkish -- a dead boy on a Turkish beach has changed the tone entirely and made this, I think, a moral debate, not just in Britain but across Europe.
LUCEThere are now almost 400,000 signatures for a campaign in Britain to get Cameron to change his policy on Syrian refugees. It's affected the Canadian election because, as you know, the family of the boy tried and failed to apply for asylum in Canada, where the sister of the surviving father lives. This is, I think, becoming very interestingly, but very importantly, a moral crisis first and foremost. The situation in Hungary, the isolation of the Hungarian -- the far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbàn is something that, you know, is showing up in opinion polls now across Europe. So, I mean, that's to put a positive gloss on what is an extremely depressing story.
KEITHWe have an email from Craig in Ashburn, Va. He writes: The tragic death of this child is shocking the world, but for how long?
JAKESWell, that's a great question and an interesting point. I mean, it seems that there's no shortage of crises in the world today. However, I mean, with the just outpouring of people who are trying to get to better lives, trying to escape war, famine, corruption, government oppression, that are all coming to Europe, I don't think this is going to go away anytime soon. These are the largest numbers that have been -- of migrants and refugees that have come into Europe, they're saying, since World War II, that this is the largest migrant crisis in 70-some years now. So I don't think this is going to go away anytime soon.
JAKESAs Ed noted, it's a very political situation as well as a humanitarian situation, state by state, within the 28 EU member countries. There are meetings all over in different states today. There are some foreign ministers of the EU who are meeting today, who are trying -- probably will discuss how to find a common solution to this. Just within the hour, several hundred refugees or asylum seekers and migrants who were being held outside of Budapest on a train have broken free. They have started running towards the border. They are trying to prevent being taken to refugee camps where they will have to stay as their applications are being processed. And they are trying to get to a better life.
JAKESAnd whether or not some of these countries can afford to take these people in and whether the politics are there really remains to be seen.
KEITHShane, do you know any more about -- the story with this train is just incredible.
HARRISYeah, it's really amazing. We've seen images, too, coming out from the past few days of people lying on tracks and, you know, and trying to jump onto trains that they thought were going to Germany. Because they then found out that some of these trains were leaving and they, in fact, weren't going to Germany, they were being diverted to these camps. I mean, it really is sort of something out of, like, a disaster film almost. And there's this scene of unbelievable humanity there in this station where people are truly stuck and trying to find out, in this transit point, where else are they going to get to.
HARRISI mean, and now hearing that they have literally just started to -- to just basically move on foot, I think underscores both sort of the desperation of this and the extent to which probably many of these people are just not looking to officials anymore to either provide solutions or to stop them from what they're doing. And, you know what, I think what is interesting as well is, you know, we are not seeing any unanimity around -- from these European leaders about what to do about this.
HARRISYou had the president of Hungary coming out and saying that accepting so many of these refugees would change, in his words, the Christian character of Europe, because of the fact that these were Muslim refugees. The Germans, very much front and center. Everyone's looking to them sort of like, why don't you solve this problem for us? But they're estimating now that they will be finding 800,000 asylum seekers and refugees coming into Germany this year.
HARRISIt's quadruple the number of normally. So the leaders are not finding a solution to this yet. And I think what you're seeing, with people fleeing this station, is just -- it underscores the desperation of it and the extent to which they're just going to fight to survive.
KEITHWell, and it's kind of remarkable that the EU is having an emergency meeting. But it isn't happening for yet another week.
HARRISYeah, a week, so...
LUCEThe 14th of September.
KEITHYeah, Edward Luce.
LUCEWhat Shane mentioned, I mean, it's particularly important, the difference in responses between European nations, with Germany at, you know, one extreme and then countries like Hungary at the other. In the middle, you've got countries like Poland and Slovakia, which will take only Christian Syrian refugees. So it's a slightly more acceptable version of what Viktor Orbàn said about the threat to a Christian Europe.
LUCEThere is a parallel here with the monetary crisis in Europe. You have a common currency. You have a common refugee policy. But it's up to each country to decide how to handle it. Each country has its national debt. Each country decides how its processing the refugees. And until Europe can get a common response to this, of how you allocate the refugees between countries, of how that quota is allocated, then it's just going to get worse. And I think the politics is going to get ugly.
KEITHLet's go to the phones and Yasmin in Atlanta, Ga.
YASMINHi. Good morning. Thank you very much. I am living here in the U.S. I was actually born in Syria in the city of Homs, which has pretty much been destroyed now. There isn't much left of it. Most of my childhood memories and places are gone. And I think the tragedy here is not just the humanitarian crisis that we're seeing with the Syrian refugees -- and I'm sorry, they're not migrants, they're refugees. They're not doing this by choice, that's for sure. The problem is that the world failed to act more than four years ago when the Syrian Revolution started and did not do anything to stop the brutal and horrific attacks on civilians by the dictator Assad in Syria.
YASMINThat's why we're here. Nobody's done anything to stop the assault on civilians in Syria by the Assad regime. Barrel bombs, chemical weapons, tanks, snipers -- you name it, he's done it. And nobody has done anything about it. So imagine how desperate these families have to be to put themselves on a little raft in the ocean rather staying in their homeland.
YASMINAnd as an aside, I'm -- it was in your earlier conversation -- I personally am against the Iran deal, it doesn't make me pro war -- simply because Iran is one of the three pillars that has been supporting the Assad regime for the last four-plus years. And imagine what an extra $150 billion will do to shore up the Assad regime. And, as a matter of fact, one of the first letters of congratulation to Iran after the deal was announced was from Assad himself. Because he knew that he has more funds coming his way. Now Russia is putting boots on the ground. They're sending additional military.
KEITHYasmin, I want to let our guests weigh in on this.
LUCEI just wanted to make -- I appreciate your points entirely about the fact that these are refugees, these are fleeing from war, from Syria in particular -- not just Syria -- Eritrea, South Sudan...
LUCEBut there is an international -- a notional, international responsibility to protect, namely, to get in the way of authoritarian governments that are committing genocide or mass slaughter in their country. But the idea that the Europeans are going to get their act together sufficiently -- not just to have their own migration refugee policy, but to have a common foreign and defense policy that intervenes in other countries to prevent this situation from arising, is fanciful at this point. It's not going to happen.
HARRISI think Yasmin is also raising a point that's going to be sort of the next narrative in this crisis, which is the degree to which -- if countries had acted sooner and had intervened sooner, what could have been done? And this is historical and it's retrospective, of course. But I really think that the Syria crisis, long term, is going to cast a shadow over President Obama's administration and this last -- these last four years.
HARRISAnd while celebrating an Iran victory, there are going to be serious questions raised about how these things -- how the events could have turned out differently if the U.S. had intervened at a time when it looked very much like the president was going to do that, with the famous violation of red lines and the use of chemical weapons. This is going to be -- there's going to be a reckoning in many countries over this. This is just a human devastation that can't go ignored.
KEITHLara Jakes from Foreign Policy, you wanted to weigh in?
JAKESYes. I just wanted to kind of, as Shane was saying, cast more of a human viewpoint on some of this. I mean, the little boy who washed up on the Turkish shore this week, Aylan Kurdi, a little three-year-old boy, he was buried today in the Syrian city of Kobani with his brother and his mother. And his father said, you know, it was too dangerous to try to go to, you know, Europe and try to find a better life. And so I will never leave Syria again. And if we remember, Kobani, their hometown was overtaken by ISIS just last summer. It was the focal point of a massive, massive, months long battle between the Islamic State and the Kurdish rebel forces that were trying to beat them back.
JAKESSo just think about that for a second. I mean, just how harrowing some of these attempts to try to find a better life, you know, must be, if this father is saying, no, I will never leave Kobani again.
KEITHBecause Kobani is a mighty scary place.
JAKESKobani is not a -- is not Disneyland.
KEITHWe have an email here from Chris in North Potomac, Md. He writes, is the United States doing anything to help the Syrian refugees? Don't we have a role to play in this crisis? Edward.
LUCEWell, the Americans, I think, have take something like 1,000, which is five times more than Britain. Britain's only taken 200. But it is a miniscule -- it's not even a drop in the bucket. Now, of course, the Syrians can't make it across the Atlantic. They can -- some of them, those lucky enough can make it across Serbia to Hungary to Germany, hopefully, but -- and others might make it across the Mediterranean. But there is a moral responsibility debate here that is yet to happen, I think.
LUCEAnd Shane mentioned the fact that the reckoning is -- of the -- President Obama's legacy will include that Syria red-line moment. And I think and hope that there's going to be a debate about Americas capacity to take more Syrian refugees. It has to be part of this conversation in a much, much more prominent way.
JAKESMany of the European opponents to letting some of these migrants or refugees in -- and I just want to go back to Yasmin, there is a legal difference between a migrant and a refugee and an asylum seeker, so I'm just going to put that on the table. But many of the opponents of this migration who are in Europe say, listen, let's try to make refugee camps better in the home countries, so they don't need to come to Europe, so we can make them safe in their home places. And we've just seen, obviously, that doesn't work.
JAKESAnd, you know, the email asked about what is the United States doing? For years, the United States has been trying to fund their way out of this problem, with giving more aid to the U.N. and aid to other groups and we just see that it hasn't worked.
JAKESI was at a U.N. fundraiser kind of summit in Kuwait a couple of years ago and the whole premise of the story was, oh, we're having a hard time. We're not meeting our goals for fundraising. And it was in this opulent palace with, you know, all-you-can-eat food and drink and, you know, Rolls-Royces pulling up these people to the front doors. And it was just mind-boggling to see kind of the dichotomy of, why can't we raise more money to help these poor people so they don't have to leave their war-torn countries, coming from somebody in a $4,000 Gucci suit.
LUCEYeah. And the British have had this double standard that America also has, which is that these countries -- Turkey, Jordan, et cetera -- that border Syria, should take refugees but they then close their own doors to them. And unless they fund, as Lara points out, those countries, one of three people in Lebanon now is Syrian. One in three.
KEITHI'm Tamara Keith of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us on Facebook or send us a tweet to @drshow. We are joined here in the studio by Edward Luce who is the chief U.S. commentator at the Financial Times. He's also the author of "Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent." Lara Jakes is the deputy managing editor for foreign news at Foreign Policy magazine. And Shane Harris is senior correspondent at The Daily Beast and has a very long title, I can't read all of it, there is so much there.
JAKESHe's just a very important guy.
KEITHYeah. He just knows the answers to the questions. I want to turn away from the refugee crisis in Europe and go to Guatemala. The president of Guatemala stepped down and was jailed yesterday. Why? Shane.
HARRISYeah. So there's been a, sort of, a building corruption investigation that started at the U.N. It was an anti-crime agency and sort of grew legs and went into Guatemala over alleged customs frauds and basically it swept up the president and, I think, in a very unexpected way which, quite frankly, given all the foreign news that I've been covering, this is something that kind of snuck up on me as well. But we saw this dramatic resignation of the President Otto Perez Molina. And then swiftly he was taken off to jail and put into a courtroom where six hours of wire taps were played, incriminating the president in this alleged scheme. And he is now going to stand trial.
HARRISThe vice president was inaugurated in a national televised ceremony. There is a new leader there. There will be elections and a new person coming in, in January. And these massive protests in the street that were calling for Molina's resignation have now turned to celebration. It's really quite an extraordinary story and unprecedented in a country where, you know, generally speaking, I think these elected officials are essentially immune from law and order. And this is a case where absolutely the opposite has happened. He's been stripped of his immunity, first time in Guatemala's history. It's really pretty stunning.
JAKESWell, just as Shane was saying, I mean, I think this is the first time that this has ever happened. But it does follow months of protests over concerns about Guatemala's government -- whether it's corruption, whether it's the economy. And it follows quite neatly with similar protests and concerns elsewhere in Latin America. Brazil -- President Dilma Rousseff has had -- has been facing many months of protests and questions about whether she should remain in office. Honduras also wants to launch a U.N. private -- or, I'm sorry, independent investigation into allegations of corruption in that country.
JAKESAnd so we were just kind of talking beforehand, and it reminds us very much of what we saw in the Mid-East in 2011, with the Arab Spring. I wonder if this could be -- and I'm just throwing this out here -- maybe kind of a Latin America Summer, where people around the world, who have the same concerns about their governments, about viability of life, are saying, you know, enough is enough. And we need to protest and try and find a better government, better leaders.
LUCEI'd agree with that. I mean, if you look across the world, from Latin America to Malaysia, well, or back to Brazil, there is a sort of sense of accountability demanded by people on the streets that the last place you'd expect to see it in is Guatemala. And so I think this is actually a very good-news story, these hours and hours of wiretaps, a president in a former -- a country that had one of the most bitter, vicious civil wars, one of the most ruthless, repressive military regimes, that was probably the least-likely candidate for this kind of independent judicial action against a sitting president -- Guatemala, snuck up on me, too. But I think it's a very positive story.
KEITHComing up, your calls and questions for our panel. Please stay with us.
KEITHWelcome back. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. And I want to go straight to the phones and Doug in Naperville, Ill. Doug, welcome to the program.
DOUGThank you. Thank you for receiving my call. I'd be grateful if the panel could discuss Thomas Friedman's column in The New York Times on Wednesday, September 2, around Saudi Arabia -- you touched on it earlier in the discussion -- particularly Thomas Friedman responding to an American military person, saying Iran is the sole problem in the Middle East. And Thomas Friedman, for some of the same reasons you identified earlier, saying the Saudis are an equal part of the great challenge that we face in the Middle East, especially with President Obama meeting today with the Saudi head. Could the panel, if they had a chance to read Thomas Friedman's column, please discuss this?
KEITHAbsolutely. Thank you very much for your call. It's a great question. Edward Luce, U.S. commentator at the Financial Times.
LUCEYeah. I did read Thomas' column and, I think, by and large agreed with it. I mean if you look at the terrorist problems around the world, not just in the Middle East, 9 out of 10, if not more of them are inspired by and carried out by extreme Sunni groups -- Salafist inspired, Wahhabi inspired, that have their principal benefactor in Saudi Arabia. And that includes ISIS, of course, in Iraq and Syria. It's not directly funded by the Saudis but it is inspired by Saudi-sponsored ideology and the sort of weight of money that has come out of Saudi Arabia and continues to come out of Saudi Arabia.
LUCEAnd we mentioned King Salman's visit today. King Salman, before he became king, was head of various foundations of the Mujahideen support in Afghanistan, Mujahideen support in Bosnia. He's very, very close to the Wahhabi establishment, the clericy (sp?) in Saudi Arabia. So he is a man who really embodies the Saudi problem. And so I do, I think I agree with Friedman's column.
JAKESOh, I was just -- I mean, I totally agree with all of that. I thought the column was fascinating. And, you know, the larger point that Iran is the major problem in the Mid-East, somewhat ignores some of the other bad actors in the Mid-East, many of which are not state sponsored. Obviously, ISIS came from a place that is not state sponsored, as much as it wants to say that it's state sponsored. And it's just, obviously, it's not an easy or fun place.
HARRISAnd we also need to remember -- not to put too fine a point on it...
HARRIS...but the majority of the hijackers on 9/11 came out of Saudi Arabia. You know, I am not aware of any tangible track record in Saudi Arabia for combating violent extremism. It's a lot of lip service. And this is a country that, you know, clearly has a lot more, I think, that it could be doing and it's not. And we gloss over that because of the strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. It's just that simple.
KEITHWe have a listener email from Robert in West Virginia. He asks: Why aren't your commentators addressing the moral responsibility of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, with all their wealth, to take in fellow Muslims. Why is it only Western countries that have a so-called moral responsibility? And this is related to the refugees from Syria and beyond. Lara Jakes.
JAKESWell, I suspect that some of the refugees are going to the Gulf countries. Some, in fact, are going to Saudi Arabia. But, by and large, it's kind of contingent on where the refugees want to go, isn't it? I'll refer back to what some humanitarian aid groups have told me. And it is true that Saudi Arabia has given hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to countries across the Mid-East, again, including in Yemen.
JAKESBut as humanitarian aid groups say, some of that money comes with strings attached. And it's possible that some of the refugees don't want to come to Saudi Arabia because they don't want to live in a kingdom where there may be strings attached. And that may be something that comes up at the meeting with the president today as well.
HARRISYeah, I think that's a great point of where do they want to go? And many of them are trying to get to countries where they have family, get to places where they believe they can have a better life. I mean, just to think about the optics here, though, for a second, I can't overlook, you know, as the Saudi delegation is coming to Washington, a thousand people who have rented out the Four Seasons Hotel and are replacing the furniture with gilded-gold furniture and accoutrement at this hotel.
KEITHThat is actually happening?
HARRISIt's actually happening.
HARRISYeah. It's been reported. I mean, they -- it's really, I mean, it is such a cognitive dissonance. I mean, when you guys were talking about the refugee crisis...
KEITHBecause the Four Seasons isn't nice enough?
HARRISNo, they've -- well, they've taken over the whole hotel. They have that many people coming with them. It's something like a thousand people. They've taken out every single room in this 229-some-odd room hotel. It's a lavish display that, when we see other visiting dignitaries, people in other countries, we call it cartoonish, practically, this -- displays of such opulence. And here it's just sort of, yes, that's happening.
JAKESDid you see the picture of the motorcade at Andrews Air Force Base?
HARRISWith like hundreds of town cars.
JAKES...of black cars. Right. It was amazing.
HARRISYeah. I mean, they're not even here that long. It's just -- it's, yeah, it's astonishing.
KEITHBlack cars sold out all over Washington, D.C. Let's turn to China. China announced this week that it would cut hundreds of thousands of troops. Edward Luce, why?
LUCEWell, the word cut has been used quite a lot, but I think that's probably the wrong word to use. This is modernization.
LUCEThe savings, you know, when you make the type...
KEITHThis is like our BRAC system, where we...
KEITH...base, realignment and closure. Okay.
LUCEIn a way. In a way. When you make cuts, you know, normally you put them either to deficit reduction or to other priorities. These cuts are going to be spent on the military. This is a defense modernization drive that Xi Jinping has inherited and accelerated. I think it is really astonishing the parade that took place on Thursday, the 70th anniversary of what they call the defeat of Japan, in Beijing: The 12,000 troops marching by, the missile systems on display, including this carrier, (word?) carrier killer -- this new missile that, I forget what it's called, the 21D missile that can, you know, threaten American aircraft carriers.
LUCEThis is a fairly extraordinary display of Chinese might. And so the cut of 300,000 troops out of 2.3 million is, I think, it's the wrong way of looking at this. They're going to be spending more.
KEITHHmm. Shane Harris, you've been reporting on China this week.
HARRISYeah. I mean, and we got (word?) by the way, to display suddenly the Chinese war ships showing up off the Aleutian Islands while President Obama was visiting Alaska. Just in the neighborhood.
KEITHSo not a subtle display there.
HARRISNo. Not at all subtle, at all. And you can look at, I think, this sort realignment through two different lenses. I mean, one, as Edward said, it, absolutely, it's a modernization. It was in the works for a while. And they're modernizing to become a military that is able to fight wars farther away from their shores and project force internationally, rather than one that has been traditionally been geared toward security at home and patrolling Chinese, you know, coastal areas, sort of in-home. So that's obviously of concern to the United States. And the showing of force there off the Aleutian Islands is meant to do that.
HARRISAlso, you can look at this through Xi Jinping's sort of consolidation of power. He's been on a big anti-corruption campaign. And many analysts in Washington have been talking about seeing him consolidating power, trying to become a stronger commander-in-chief. And if he can see these reforms through and modernize Chine into this new military, he will be seen as the strongest Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping. And if he fails in this -- it's a very big gamble -- it will weaken his credibility at home, which is already being strained because of the Chinese government's inability to get a handle around this economic crisis. So it's a big gamble for Xi, what he's doing.
KEITHYeah, Lara, how does this play into the economic uncertainty also at the same time? Is this a -- is this meant to be a distraction from the economic uncertainty or is it all...
JAKESOh, yeah. It certainly could be. I mean, they're masters at propaganda. And they cut down free press and expression in any way that they can. Foreign Policy ran a story just yesterday saying that some of the government, some of the military has acquired their own, kind of, cyber ability to be able to block people who are, in fact, trying to break over the great cyberwall of China or the great firewall of China, that is, to be able to get their stuff out. So there's all this counter-play.
JAKESI just wanted to note that, you know, you remember that old saying, never fight a land war in Asia. I mean, that's a little bit of what's happening here with this force reduction. I mean, it's fair to say that even China, Xi would say, that the army was a little flabby, right? So let's cut it. Let's put the money elsewhere. And where are they going to put it? They're going to put it in the Navy, because they want to defend the Spratly Islands, where they're trying to amass a bigger presence there, to the great concern of their neighbors and to the United States.
JAKESAnd I suspect that this deployment of the ships up to the Aleutian Islands this week was kind of a poke in the face to say, you know, United States, stop flying your planes over the Spratly Islands, which is disputed whose territory that is. And, you know, in the meantime, we're going to come up here and show you can get on our boats as well.
KEITHAnd the response from the U.S. was, oh, well that's international waters. It's okay.
HARRISWell, yeah. And there's also calls for the U.S. to take our Navy and put it within 12 nautical miles of these fake islands that China is building to say, oh, now what about your territorial issues here? So, yeah, there's a lot of tit-for-tat. And I think the administration basically called attention to the fact that those ships were in Alaska as a way of -- there's been a lot of selective leaking and provocations over the past couple of weeks ahead of Xi's visit, to let the Chinese know we're sort of watching.
KEITHSo does this -- what does this mean for that visit? President Xi is coming to visit the U.S. September 28, around that time. What -- is this going to be awkward?
LUCEI'm not sure whether there are five ships off -- I mean, it's very interesting the way the Pentagon said, no, this is fine. This is within the rules of the international waters. That, you know, they've been appearing to be very calm and going about business as usual about this Chinese presence -- maybe to make it easier for the Americans to do precisely the same in the near future in the South China Sea.
LUCEBut I don't think the military -- I think a far more combustible issue with the Xi visit is the cyber issue. And, you know, as you know, last year -- or was it earlier this year -- the Americans indicted five Chinese nationals, including some PLA officials, for carrying out cyber -- allegedly carrying out cybercrimes. Clearly, this has had zero effect, as you wouldn't expect it to have any effect, because none of them are interdictable.
LUCEBut it's got a lot worse since then. And, of course, we've had the Pearl Harbor of data theft at the OPM, the personnel office of the White House, and all sorts of other revelations about the Chinese prowess and Chinese incursions in the cyber world. And I think it's becoming a very, very difficult issue to handle in U.S.-China relations. I'd say that would be higher up than Chinese military modernization.
KEITHLara Jakes, with Foreign Policy magazine.
JAKESSure. I suspect that Ed is right, that cyber will be at the top or near the top of the list of whatever the president and President Xi talk about. It's worth noting that the U.S. is expected to issue some financial sanctions against a couple of Chinese firms, very targeted sanctions, that are believed to be responsible or somehow linked to some of the cyber attacks in recent weeks on U.S. commercial sectors and U.S. commercial firms. So that is expected.
JAKESHowever, we might want to think about what it is that the United States is trying to get out of China as a result of Xi's visit and what are the deliverables expected to be? And whether or not it's a smart strategy to bring up these things or to go ahead and sanction some of these firms, if the United States is in fact trying to get something out of China. So when do those sanctions come down?
JAKESIt would also be, you know, an obvious talking point to expect them to talk about the economy. Markets are still low. The Chinese economy is still very, very weak. It's had a knock-on effect around the world. So I suspect that will be probably at the very top of the list.
KEITHI'm Tamara Keith and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Shane Harris, you were raising your pen over there.
HARRISYeah. You know, I think, and Lara's raising a great question here, which is if we do in fact issue these sanctions -- which it's looking more and more like we are going to do, and if the administration now doesn't do it, after having leaked about three times about doing it, that's going to seem very feckless -- but what exactly are we expecting the Chinese to do here and what do we want them to do?
HARRISNow, in the broad scheme in cyber, we've been trying to get them to sit down at the table with us to start developing what are called norms of behavior in cyberspace. Because international law and treaties don't govern this. The last time we tried to do that with the Chinese, they listened to us say what we think the norms of behavior would be and then they wouldn't tell us what they thought theirs were. So there hasn't been a lot of dialog.
HARRISThis could be engineered as some sort of attempt to sort of provoke them more and say, look, we're not just going to take this. We're really going to have to sit down and talk about, you know, how we operate in this space. And, importantly, this will be done in the context, not of that OPM hack -- which we kind of like look at that and say, that's fair game, that's classic espionage -- but about these attacks, these economic espionage attacks on U.S. companies, a very fine line for the administration to have to draw. And the Chinese will sort of look at this and say, you know, we can't believe that you're not trying to steal stuff from our companies, too.
JAKESWell, I thought it's -- somebody raised the point to me recently that -- because I thought that was very fascinating. I mean, this OPM hack was huge. Why is it that we would be going after some Chinese firms and not cracking down on the Chinese government. And what I was told is, you know, we don't want to be too hypocritical, because there's some...
JAKES...there's some counterespionage going over there as well. So we can't really criticize.
JAKESAnd also it's important to note that perhaps a hack on U.S. financial institutions is more damaging to the American people than an OPM data release or military data release, which are very, very damaging obviously. But, I mean, imagine banking institutions going down. Imagine the FAA going down or plane transits going down. That would be a massive, devastating effect on the American people.
KEITHIs the White House also going to try to get some sort of climate concessions or make any progress there?
LUCEYou know, I hope so. I mean, the visit off Alaska, of course, took place on a -- the Chinese Naval visit off Alaska took place on a presidential visit there to highlight the climate change calendar. And we have the summit in Paris in December. And I think it's worth noting, the Chinese are muscling in on the Arctic Council, which presides over, you know, the resources underneath the melting polar cap.
KEITHEven though they don't touch the Arctic.
LUCEEven though they're not bordering the Arctic...
LUCE...they are an observer, aren't they, I think?
JAKESRight, they are.
LUCEAnd I think that might have been a sort of subtext to the Chinese visit in that region.
KEITHWe have just a few moments left but I want to turn to two Vice News journalists were arrested and released in Turkey this week. Why were they arrested? What were the charges?
HARRISWell, they had been arrested under allegations that they were collaborating with ISIS, which seems absurd. They were there, you know, as their employers and they have said, trying to cover clashes between protestors in Turkey and the state security services. And these charges just have been called sort of bizarre and nonsensical. They were released. Important to note that their translator is still in custody. But these two British journalists were released after these trumped-up charges, I think, were -- inspired a lot of outrage internationally.
KEITHAnd, in Egypt, three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to prison?
JAKESThat's right. One is not in Egypt now. He's already back in Australia. This was a retrial. It comes on the heels of the Al-Sisi government in Cairo instituting a new massive counterterrorism law that cracks down on freedom of speech and assembly in Egypt. I think it's important to note that it's -- free speech has always been a little difficult in Egypt. If you remember back to President Hosni Mubarak's administration, reporters weren't even allowed to report on what the president's state of health was during that time. That's not to say that this is excusable in any way. The free press is very endangered in Egypt. And two of the men are still in jail and their lawyers are trying to get them out.
KEITHLara Jakes, deputy managing editor for news at Foreign Policy magazine, Shane Harris, senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, and Edward Luce, chief U.S. commentator at Financial Times, thank you all so very much for being with us. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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