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Guest Host: Susan Page
Secretary of State Kerry says the U.S. is ready to hold military-to-military talks with Russia about Syria. Croatia becomes the latest flash point in the European migrant crisis. And Mexico presses Egypt for a full investigation into the recent killing of tourists. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Rothkopf CEO and editor, FP group, which publishes Foreign Policy Magazine; author of "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear (2014). He also has a Foreign Policy podcast, "The Editors Roundtable."
- Elise Labott Global affairs correspondent, CNN.
- David Loyn Foreign correspondent for the BBC currently on sabbatical; author of "In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation."
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's off today. She'll be back on Monday. As Hungary cracks down on border crossings, Croatia comes under increasing pressure from the flood of migrants seeking refuge in Europe. Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. is prepared to have military to military talks with Russia over the Syrian civil war and the fight against ISIS. And the United States warns North Korea of severe consequences if it continues its nuclear expansion.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for this week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy, Elise Labott of CNN and David Loyn of the BBC. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. DAVID ROTHKOPFThanks, Susan.
MS. ELISE LABOTTThanks for having us.
MR. DAVID LOYNThank you.
PAGEOur listeners can join our conversation with your comments or your questions. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email. It's email@example.com. Or you can find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, this was news just this morning, Elise, about John Kerry's announcement that the Obama administration is ready to accept an offer from Russia for direct talks on its military buildup in Syria. How significant?
LABOTTWell, it's pretty significant that they are at the point where they need to have talks about what's going on on the ground now. Secretary Kerry said -- kind of tipped his hand a few days ago. He's been trying to talk to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov several times over the past week about the Russian military buildup in Syria. Russia has said that it's not going after opposition. It's there to fight terrorists, meaning the Islamic State forces, who are battling Bashar al-Assad.
LABOTTBut clearly, they're being very ambiguous about what their real intentions are and the U.S. has been very worried about this buildup. You're talking about six Russian tanks, eight helicopters, about 500 Russian troops on the ground and you're getting more air flights every day of equipment and the U.S. very concerned. So they've been trying to get a straight answer out of Russia. They have not been able to. So what the Russians have proposed is let's have military to military talks.
LABOTTThe U.S. is now billing this as an effort to "deconflict" the U.S. coalition ambitions on the ground after Islamic State with Russian ambitions. But I think they want to sit down with the Russians and say, hey, what are you doing here?
PAGEDavid Rothkopf, you're shaking your head. How come?
ROTHKOPFWell, I mean, this is a case where the Obama administration was clearly caught flat-footed by the action of this other major power. We are playing catch-up. In addition to the Kerry action, I've seen reports this morning that Secretary of Defense Carter had a conversation with his counterpart in the Kremlin this morning also dealing with this issue. It is a distraction from the bigger issue of Syria, which, of course, is causing a larger crisis in Europe and which I believe will be Secretary Kerry's next big move.
ROTHKOPFIn other words, after we get the Iran deal behind him, I think he and the diplomatic resource of the U.S. are going to be turned to finding some kind of a political solution in Syria.
PAGEDavid Loyn, what could that solution be? The situation now in Syria just seems like such a mess.
LOYNIt's a game-changing moment. Russian tanks on the ground in Syria changes the whole dynamic. There's a very live discussion going on in Europe at the moment among a number of governments, particularly in Britain actually, of people saying, we should get involved in Syria with boots on the ground. The ex-defense secretary has been talking about putting in safe havens, no-fly zones. Now, you're not going to be able to do any of that if there are Russian tanks on the ground.
LOYNThey've effectively taken over Damascus airport. The tanks there are T-90s. They're the latest and most capable war-fighting vehicle. And I think you're seeing President Obama now just wondering whether he might talk to Putin. You've got the UN general assembly later this month. He's decided not to talk to him. He's been cold-shouldering him at every opportunity over the last year and I think this maneuvering between Kerry and Lavrov, and they get on very well, the Russian foreign minister and the U.S. secretary of state, is all towards potentially talks between Putin and Obama at some point later this year.
PAGEWhat's the worst case version of what the Russians have in mind with this military buildup in Syria?
LOYNWell, they say that all that they're doing is holding onto Assad in power and he's their only ally in the region. This is Assad's -- when David says, you know, Russia is pushing forward in a way that America hasn't, but America has plenty of allies in that region. Assad in Syria is Russia's only ally and they're trying to prop him up.
PAGEWell, David, when you talk about a diplomatic solution, how do you manage the battle against ISIS and the U.S. opposition to Assad? How do you make that work?
ROTHKOPFI think it's very, very tough. I think one potential scenario is that you go in and you work out a deal for a transitional government where Assad is in place for awhile and then he leaves and he is granted immunity, which is going to be very hard for the world to swallow, but to get rid of him, they'll swallow it. He'll go off someplace, maybe in the Black Sea, but the Russians and I think one of the reasons they have tanks there and they've taken this air field and expanded their presence, is they want to have a voice in who replaces Assad.
ROTHKOPFThe Iranians want to have a voice in who replaces Assad. And then, once you cut that deal, then you're gonna have to do something even harder and that is going to be cut a deal with Jabhat al-Nusra and say, let's all focus on ISIS first and then we'll get around to dealing with these other issues.
LOYNBut it's been really interesting this week watching America running in exactly the opposite direction. I mean, this fascinating story that evidence about ISIS has actually been talked down, that two spies have emerged and they said there were 50 other sources. There was this memo that was leaked that evidence by intelligence officials on the potential threat from ISIS has been talked down in the region. Now, we've been there before, but, of course, in 2003, it was talked up, all the evidence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was talked. We're now in the opposite direction.
PAGEWell, Elise, this was surprising and distressing, these claims that we now have documents that show that senior U.S. military officers manipulated intelligence about the Islamic State. What's behind that?
LABOTTWell, it's about CENTCOM, right? And so that's the military arm that's, you know, in charge of dealing with that part of the region. And when you talk to senior officials that are consumers of some of that intelligence, they say that it wasn't so glaring that it really affected what was a very grim picture of what was going on on the ground so it seems to be an isolated case of, you know, some officials in CENTCOM. It's not really clear if that has really driven any assessments of what's going on on the ground ISIS because, I think, you know, most officials that you speak to acknowledge that it's pretty grim.
LABOTTAnd I think, like, all these things that we were discussing, I mean, it's obvious until you end the Syrian civil war and you make an accommodation with these groups, as David said, I don't really think there's going to be a solution to ISIS. And this has been the conundrum all the while, how do you end the Syrian civil war, get a political transition without changing the military equation on the ground? And I think the U.S. has recognized now that unless it gives Russia a greater role, you're not going to do that.
LABOTTThe main problem right now is all of us can talk -- the U.S. can talk to the Russians, the Iranians, whoever about a political transition. There is no viable opposition on the ground that could possibly assume a vacuum for Bashar al-Assad.
PAGEWell, in fact, we had this shocking testimony this week that the number of U.S.-trained Syrian fighters in Syria, 4 or 5. Not 4 or 500, not 4 or 5,000, 4 or 5.
ROTHKOPFRight. And against an investment of $500 million so they must be the five best soldiers in Syria. But having said that, you know, I think it is -- in the first instance, I'm not so sure winning in Syria was the objective of anybody. I think the objective in Syria was to create the illusion of action, to look like they're doing it to calm their critics and, you know, because they think this is going to be a long term thing. And there is a very interesting story in the New York Times today in which Peter Baker reported that the White House response to this criticism and the story of this program is not to say, gee, we mismanaged this program.
ROTHKOPFIt's to say, see, we told the critics this would be hard to do and it's the critics fault for making us do this thing, which is, you know, a kind of mind-boggling abrogation of presidential responsibility.
LABOTTI think that -- I understand your point about that it was an illusion to look good. Clearly, it was an Iraq first strategy, but that's the problem. It was known as an Iraq first strategy and you thought, let's deal with ISIS in Iraq. We'll go to the Syria part later. You see that both are feeding each other and you have Syrians crossing back and forth among ISIS, moving back and forth across the border. I mean, this Syrian civil war now, you see it bleeding into this migrant crisis in Europe. I mean, if there was a belief that you could deal with that later, I think it's folly.
PAGEWell, and David Loyn, we see the repercussions of the Syrian civil war in Europe with this flood of migrants. No solution in sight from the EU.
LOYNGod, it's a mess. I mean, it's really interesting watching from -- I mean, I came from London this week and it just feels like a total disaster. I mean, all of these people have been pulled through by Germany saying, we will take many refugees. Germany has already taken a half a million refugees. They're talking about going up to 800,000. That would be 1 percent of the German population and the signals that they were sending, apparently welcoming these refugees, has lead to the concern with immigration, Manfred Schmidt having to resign because tweeted at the end of August that Germany would be open to refugees.
LOYNAnd you now have the appalling pictures of riot police and barbed wire in Europe sending back refugees, trying to stop them getting into Hungary. And a complete division between this new European nation, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pretty right wing, very Christian fundamentalist, talking about Christian culture and the rest of Europe saying, actually this is much more complicated than that.
PAGEWe're going to take a very short break and when we come back, we're going to continue our conversation about this migrant crisis in Europe, what Europeans are trying to do, what the United States is being pressured to do and we'll take your calls and questions. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With us for the international hour of our Friday New Roundup: Elise Labott, she's global affairs correspondent for CNN. And David Loyn, he's a foreign correspondent for the BBC, he's currently on sabbatical. He is the author of "In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation." And David Rothkopf, he's CEO and editor of the FP Group, which publishes Foreign Policy Magazine. He's the author of "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear." He also has a Foreign Policy podcast called "The Editor's Roundtable."
PAGEWell, David Rothkopf, let's talk about what we saw happening this week on the migrant crisis in Europe. Terrible actions in Hungary, riot police behaving -- as these migrants -- in a very violent way. Tell us about that.
ROTHKOPFWell, I mean, they were behaving violently as we were talking about a moment ago. There is a strong right-wing element in Hungary that's trying to keep them out. It has forced them to redirect the route of these refugees. But I think the thing that's more important is this problem is going to get much worse before it gets better. Because as the fighting continues in Syria -- and there's no end in sight -- and as the fighting continues in places like Libya -- where there is no end in sight -- and the fighting continues to pressure people into Europe.
ROTHKOPFThey're going to come into the parts of Europe that are having economic problems right now -- Greece and Italy and Spain -- the places that don't have the ability to keep them out and don't have the ability to absorb them. And what's that going to do? It's going to fuel more right-wing groups, like the ones in Hungary. And those right-wing groups, in turn, are going to gain political power. They're against the EU, they're against the cohesion of the EU. And then, on top of all of that, they have entered into these kind of interesting alliances with Vladimir Putin, who's cultivated them, because he'd like to see the EU weaken.
ROTHKOPFSo all of a sudden, inaction in Syria by the West produces a refugee flow, which produces consequences in Europe, which could weaken the Atlantic Alliance in fundamental ways and is being manipulated to do just that.
LABOTTWell, and it's also causing, you know, divisions in Europe. Because, as David mentioned, you know, originally, these people are not necessarily looking to go to Hungary or Croatia or Serbia. They're looking to go west to Germany where they think that they'll have a lot more opportunity. Traditionally, Germany has been very welcoming to refugees. And Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, has in fact said that, you know, look, we'll take in as many Syrian refugees as we can. The problem is there are just too many of them and Germany is saying, listen, we're going to do what we can. But these smaller countries have to share the burden.
LABOTTAnd so, on one hand, Germany, once again, as you saw with the financial crisis and other issues, feels that it's sharing the, you know, lion's share for the -- taking the lion's share for the rest of the smaller countries. These smaller countries feel bullied by Germany. And so what Germany is proposing now is for, you know, countries to divvy-up the refugees. And so European leaders are going to meet next week to discuss the refugee crisis. But it certainly is causing divisions between the larger European nations like Germany and the smaller Eastern Europeans.
LOYNWell, and divisions within the larger nations. So that my own country Britain and Germany disagree fundamentally over this. And Germany, I think, is beginning to be in a bit of a state of shock. The German system can't cope with the number of people. They can't cope with this great pull. The British policy has been to take -- they say they'll take refugees from Lebanon -- they'll go to Lebanon and select them. And the prime minister makes the point that Britain has put more aid into the region -- into the Syrian region than the whole of the rest of Europe combined. It's a very big aid flow. So their policy, they feel, is coherent and it doesn't pull refugees across Europe.
LOYNAnd so I think the arguments are big. And you do have the EU completely in disarray over something which, as David says, is absolutely at our borders.
PAGEWell, let's go to Joe, who's calling us from South Bend, Ind. Joe, hi, you're on the air.
JOEHi. Basically, my question is, you know, President Obama should play a leadership role, go to the EU and build a coalition and go to the U.N. and basically make a multi-pronged pressure on the U.N. And make, you know, facilitation the solution through the U.N. And the refugee problem is a symptom of the problem, not the problem.
PAGEYeah. Joe, thanks so much for your call. You know, we have a similar email from Boyd, who writes us from Alexandria, Va. He writes: I've not heard anything from President Obama about the humanitarian refugee crisis in Europe. Isn't there something we can do? And don't we have a moral obligation to help, especially as we seem unable to resolve and perhaps helped cause the war in Syria? David Rothkopf, do we have a -- we, the United States, have a moral obligation to do more than we're doing now?
ROTHKOPFYeah, I think we do have a moral obligation. I think the moral obligation takes many forms. I think we should accept more refugees ourselves. And there are a lot of proposals saying we should up the, you know, the proposed number that we'll take in to perhaps 100,000. But as the caller suggests, the real issue is Syria. The real issue is unrest in the Middle East. American inaction, the president's reluctance to take action in Syria, which has now produced over 200,000 dead and six- to seven-million people dislocated, and this flow of refugees, is likely to be the biggest blot on his foreign policy record.
ROTHKOPFAnd I think, rather than, you know, wring our hands about that, I think it's time that the U.S. works with other countries -- and it's going to have to include Russia and Iran, the Saudis, the Qataris and the Turks -- but we're going to have to work together to find some kind of a solution and take some risks, recognizing that not all the options are good, not all the outcomes are absolutely secure, and there's going to be some messiness around the edges of this thing. The president's been reluctant on that. It's cost him, it's cost the Syrian people, it's now costing Europe.
PAGEIs the administration rethinking how many Syrian refugees we will take in, Elise?
LABOTTWell, this last year, it took in about 1,800. Now there's talk about taking in as many as 10,000. The U.N. Ambassador -- U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said this week that the U.S. is looking to take in many more than that -- perhaps 17,000, maybe even more than that. I mean, there are calls from members of Congress to take 60,000 -- some have even said 100,000.
LABOTTI mean, the U.S. will point out that it is the largest funder of refugees around the world. And what they try to do is they try to give money to people on the ground so that they -- you know, the goal is to get these people home. You know, if they're coming so far and resettling here in the United States, then it's not as easy to get them back to their home once the conflict ends. But, I mean, as, you know, we've been saying, this conflict is showing no end in sight.
LABOTTAnd, you know, Europe is being overly burdened. I think that there is a desire by the U.S. to take a more leadership role. Secretary Kerry should be discussing this in Europe this weekend and obviously it will be a big issue at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month.
PAGELet's go to St. Louis, Mo., and talk to Lelani. Lelani, hi. Thanks for calling us.
LELANIHello. I'm Montes Lelani, St. Louis, Mo. I have a little trouble about why not any Arabian countries -- Saudi Arabia has capacity of about 100,000 tents all (word?) , all the UEI, you know, the Middle Eastern states, only Lebanon and Jordan has taken some refugees. Those are poor countries. All the rich countries are doing nothing. Why nobody's is talking about that? They should come up and pitch something. There are their brothers in Islam. They always want a brother in Islam. If they want their things, you know, not like suicide bombers, but when they have to come and help, nobody's helping.
PAGEAll right, we'll talk about it, Lelani. David Loyn, what do you think?
LOYNMontes, you make a point really well. And of course, you know, the UAE and Qatar, hugely rich nations -- I mean, they don't have much capacity for refugee camps, they're nation is in the sand -- but Lebanon, certainly, neighboring Syria, one in four of the Lebanese population at the moment are refugees from the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. And that country has taken an extraordinary hit. And the previous caller, Joe, was talking about the United Nations. Of course it's the U.N. who run the camps in those places, with, you know, international aid, American aid.
LOYNBut you make the point really well that the Arab neighbors of Syria and Iraq and Libya are not taking in refugees. Of course, they're terrified of the contagion of the war, of Islamic State spreading to them. They're terrified of this coming into their patch. All we've seen Saudi Arabia doing this year is bomb Yemen, their neighbor -- their first really aggressive foreign war, which they conducted on their own and they conducted it appallingly, killing thousands of civilians.
ROTHKOPFBut it's not -- it's actually not true that they're not taking refugees. The United Arab Emirates, since the beginning of the war in Syria, has taken in 100,000 people -- not as refugees but as residents. They've also contributed more as a percentage of GDP to dealing with the refugee issue. The Saudis are trying to make the case they're doing the same. But I do think, with regard to the Yemen war, we have to keep in mind, there is a huge humanitarian crisis brewing there -- six- to seven-million people in danger of starvation. So in addition to however they're dealing with what's going on in Syria, they are also going to have to deal with that crisis in very short order.
LABOTTWell, and I think when we talk about bringing the Syrians in as kind of residents or temporary residents or workers or something, that it opens up a lot of questions about how those people -- you know, one of the reasons that they're reluctant to take in large numbers of people is because in -- if you look at countries like Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, these smaller nations -- not necessarily Saudi -- who said that they are going to take up to two-million Syrian refugees, I've failed to see that so far.
LABOTTBut some of these smaller countries, they're population proportionally are already not indigenous. They're from Bangladesh, they're workers that are coming in from other places. So it's really not only a concern, obviously, security wise about possibly some ISIS people coming in, but they're also worried about it disturbing the fabric of these small societies.
PAGEHere's an email from Phil, who's listening to our show in Indianapolis. He writes: Does Russia or China take in Syrian refugees? Have they stepped up? Anybody know?
LOYNThe answer is, I don't know, is a short answer. I mean, you know, would you want to go to Russia as a Syrian refugee? A lot of this is flight of choice. And tens of thousands of the people now heading across into Europe and trying to find their way around, this great human tide of people. And one of them said this week, if we meet a rock, we get round it. Many of them have been in Turkey and Greece for some time. And they're not being pulled by the idea that there is safe haven in Germany. They don't want to head east to Russia.
ROTHKOPFWell, that's part of the reason the Russian tanks are where the Russian tanks are and the Russian airport is where -- the Russians want to block the flow of the problems of the Middle East into Russia. They see that as their own neighborhood. And they see a movement like this -- quite apart from the U.S., which views it as sending troops to the other side of the world -- the Russians see this as a way of trying to contain problems from spreading into Russia and its near-abroad, it's neighbors.
PAGEHere's an email from Phil, who writes us from Hadley, N.Y. Every interview or video I see with young, sensible, English-speaking Syrians fleeing their country, makes me despair about ever regaining stability in the Middle East. If smart, motivated, peace-loving families keep leaving, accepting them into the West seems like long-term madness masquerading as short-term mercy. Elise.
LABOTTWell, that's the thing. And, you know, we see -- we keep going back between the migrant crisis and the Syrian crisis and we see how interrelated they are. And what these people, you know, it used to be that you wanted to go to America or somewhere to, you know, set up a new life because things, you know, didn't have great opportunities in your country. Now it's a matter of survival, of life or death.
LABOTTAnd so I think when you look at a country like Germany, what Angela Merkel has proposed is finding jobs for these people. Certainly, there's a labor shortage in Germany and a lot of these people can come in and find jobs. And I think that's going to have to be part of the solution is bringing these people into Europe and finding, you know, how they can fit into society and contribute.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. David Loyn.
LOYNWell, on the point of smart people leaving countries and making it far harder for those countries to recover, I'd just compare it with Afghanistan, which has been at war for more than 30 years, where I was correspondent until last month, have been living for the last two years. And right at the beginning of the Russian war, 1978, 1979, one of the figures I heard at the time -- 90 percent of Afghanistan's university teachers fled the country.
LOYNAnd it's no wonder that it's been really hard for that country to recover. It'll be really difficult for these Arab countries to recover. And I should say, Afghanistan now has the smartest, young, clever ambassador in Washington. He arrived yesterday, gave his credentials to President Obama, had dinner with him last night. And he is going to do good things for his country and America should continue to support that country.
PAGEAnd his name is?
LOYNHis name is Hamdullah Mohib. And he and his American wife are now living in northwest Washington. And he is -- he's smart. And, you know, when you're a correspondent living somewhere, you fall in love with the country. And I should say that if Afghanistan falls off the international radar, that would be a real shame. And it would be a real shame for the 2,300 U.S. families who are mourning their dead and the hundreds of European families who fought a war in order stabilize a country. And it's getting better, but it does still need help.
ROTHKOPFWell, I fear that fall off the radar is precisely what's going to happen in Afghanistan. And I think if we take a step back and we look at the work that the international community has -- right now there are 60 million displaced people in the world, which is the most since the end of World War II. So it's not just Syria or Libya or what's happening elsewhere in the Middle East, but it's also on the Colombia/Venezuela border, it's also people in (word?) moving and Myanmar and so forth. We have a major problem in Africa, millions of people moving. We have a major problem in the world that the United Nations and the international community is not dealing with right now and it's causing an enormous amount of human suffering.
PAGELet's go to the phones and talk to Shiam, who's calling us from East Lansing, Mich. Hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
SHIAMHi. Thank you for taking my call. My name is Shiam and I'm American-Syrian from Aleppo, Syria. And right now I have family over there. And my comment is that, like your last guest said, nobody knows the madness and the misery people are going through right now. And this is a result -- the refugee crisis is the result of the failure of the United States and the United Nations in stopping this war. And my question...
PAGEAnd Shiam, yes? Please go ahead.
SHIAMMy question right now, we cannot keep trying different results. We need to stop this war because people are suffering. My family, they are without water, without electricity for the last two weeks in a row. They get water for one hour or they have to buy water. They don't have electricity. They don't have food. And do you know what will happen to the Christian people if we don't have a plan, if we remove Assad? I want one of your guests to reply to my question.
PAGEShiam, we'll do that. Let me just ask you, have any members of your family joined this exodus from Syria recently?
SHIAMNo. You know, the Christians, they are in the controlled area and they are protected by the government. But two days ago, they had nine attacks. Over 100 people died, 11 kids in the public school. It was the first day of school. They died. And nobody is paying attention.
PAGEShiam, that's terrible. We're so sorry for the deaths there and we hope things go well for your family. We want to talk about this important question that you raise about whether U.S. policy has contributed to this crisis. First we're going to take a short break. And after that, we'll come back, we'll deal with your question. And we'll talk also about the situation in North Korea and concerns about the nuclear program there. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the international hour of our Friday news roundup, and with me in the studio, David Loyn of the BBC, Elise Labott of CNN, David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy Magazine. Now we just had a caller, a Syrian-American, Shiam, calling us from Michigan, saying that the United States bears a lot of responsibility for this situation in Syria.
PAGEWe've got a debate going on on Twitter and Facebook about that, a lot of pushback to that idea, A tweet that says, there's no way to know if Western intervention in the Syrian civil war would have changed the trajectory of the refugee crisis. That comes from a tweeter called UThoughtUKnew, and an email from Marcy in Cincinnati that says, how do you support the argument that U.S. action in Syria a few years ago would have brought us to a better place when we did act in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pretty much everyone thinks all we did was create instability. To what degree does our panel think the United States bears some responsibility for this catastrophic situation in Syria? David Rothkopf?
ROTHKOPFI think the United States bears a great deal of responsibility, but let's be clear, history plays a role in this, the Assad regime, which has been brutal, plays a role in this, ISIS and other terrorist groups play a huge role in this. It's not simple. And clearly the Obama administration is absolutely right that we have not seen an easy solution, a clear-cut path to victory, clear allies to work with. But the alternative, inaction, has produced a catastrophic result.
ROTHKOPFAnd sometimes when you are not presented with great alternatives, you nonetheless have to seize the best possible alternative. We have not done that. We have allowed this situation to fester. We have not led the international community as we could have. We have not created humanitarian areas, as we could have. We have not created a no-fly zone as we could've. We have not trained the best possible rebels as we could've. We have not put pressure on the Qataris and the Turks to stop supporting bad guys in the way that we could've.
ROTHKOPFThe list of things we could've done goes on, and by the way, it's not the administration. During the first term of this administration, Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, other people within the administration were pushing for us to do just this. The president didn't want to do it, and this issue lies at the president's doorstep.
PAGEElise, what do you think?
LABOTTWell, I think that's exactly right. I mean, most of the president's aides, I think the president has found himself very isolated in the last term on this issue, most of his national security team, I say most, maybe there are a few that did not, believed that the president should have gotten more robustly involved. And this was foreseeable. When there was a lot of talk about stepping up aid to the rebels, lethal aid, helping train up the opposition in the rebels, and the president was reluctant, he said that he was afraid that, you know, more guns and more weapons in the area would create more extremism.
LABOTTThe opposite argument was that if you do nothing, extremism will grow and fester, and that's exactly what happened. And now the administration, who is trying to train rebels not to go after Bashar al-Assad, who they said five years ago should be out of office, to go after ISIS, the extremism that was created by the lack of inaction, and now you see that that effort has gone astray. Out of this first class of 60 rebels that they trained, maybe, you know, the head of this effort said four or five are actually on the battlefield.
LABOTTSo it's the lack of inaction that created situations that now they're desperately trying to curb.
PAGEAnd you hear Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail making the point, over and over again, I urged more action at the point that the president decided not to take it.
LABOTTShe urged more action, as David said. You know, Robert Gates did, General Petraeus when he was in the government. Most -- most of the people did. This president was very reluctant. You remember the whole debacle with the red line on Syria chemical weapons. The president, Secretary Kerry announced very publicly that the U.S. was gearing up for military action. I mean, it was just moments away when the president backtracked and decided...
PAGEAnd said he would seek congressional approval.
LABOTTAnd said he would seek congressional approval, which didn't come.
LOYNWell, he was very keen at the time to get international support for that, and you'll remember that there was this vote in the British House of Commons, which Obama excepted to win. Obama expected that Britain would be behind America again as they had been in Iraq in 2003. And the Labour Party pulled the rug from the vote at the last minute. And that completely changed the dynamics over here...
ROTHKOPFWell, it didn't completely change it. That was three days before the decision to be...
LOYNIt was one of the factors.
ROTHKOPFWell, but it was three days before the decision was made to go in. Kerry went on and made the casus belli remarks at about noon on a Friday, and it was four or five hours later that the president walks around the South Lawn of the White House with his chief of staff and decides not to do it, after having announced to do it.
LABOTTWell, and then there was this, you know, whole agreement to get rid of Syrian chemical weapons, but we see that the Syrians have adapted. Bashar al-Assad is now, you know, using more lethal forms of chlorine gas against his people. Look, let's not say the administration didn't try. They tried a lot of things that did not work. And they tried to train up an opposition and it didn't work, then they slowed that down.
LABOTTWhen they tried to get a political transition, and it didn't work, they slowed that down. So it's not about them didn't -- trying it's that they didn't try something else.
PAGEWe have a lot of defenders of President Obama on Facebook and Twitter. Here's an email from Barry (PH), who writes, short of U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, what are Mr. Obama's options? I do not want my son, who is in the military, to die in Syria. There are no good options. I think that's something which we would agree with Barry.
LOYNI agree with David completely that there are a series of military actions short of outright war that maybe could and should have been tried. But it's a salutary reminder that when we started talking about military intervention in Syria, it was against the government, and now it's against, as it were, the opposition.
LOYNSo -- that opposition has emerged since we didn't -- we did nothing against the government.
ROTHKOPFThat has to, of course partially, with our policy in Iraq. And, you know, Iraq was a catastrophe. It was an enormous waste of U.S. resources. It cost enormous amount to countless American families who lost people there, as well as Iraqi families. Let's stipulate that. But in 2008 when the president took office, Iraq was stable, and there was some prospect of continued stability.
ROTHKOPFThe president said he wanted out. He didn't want to establish a status of forces agreement that would allow troops to stay. He didn't try to do it. He pulled out too quickly. It created a void. And if they say, well, they didn't want the status of forces agreement, if that's the counterargument, well, now we have 4,000 troops or 3,000-some-odd troops in Iraq without a status of forces agreement...
LOYNI don't -- I don't think it would've been possible in 2008 for that agreement to take place.
LOYNThe Iraqis didn't want American troops to stay a moment longer, and I don't think there was an option for that.
LABOTTI think you need to look at the bigger picture, and David makes a very good case on Iraq. But you can also look at Libya. We've talked about Afghanistan. It's one thing to go in and make some efforts to stabilize the place, but you have to clear and then, you know, kind of we talked about this strategy of clear, hold and build. Military action needs to be followed by sustained political, diplomatic and humanitarian engagement, and I think that's where this administration has lacked, that if you're going to withdraw from Iraq, if after the invasion of Libya, when the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, you need to sustain this type of engagement to help these people rebuild a society that's self-sustaining.
PAGELet's talk about the situation in North Korea, more provocation this week with statements about nuclear weapons, long-range missiles. David Loyn, what have we heard this week?
LOYNIt's all about food aid at the end of the day. Everything in North Korea all comes down to food aid. Every time anything happens in the international world, North Korea launches another missile, says they're going to carry out a nuclear test. Me too, me too, is the sort of -- is the word from the dictator. You have 70 percent of the population dependent on international aid, one-third of them completely food insecure. Just occasionally, four or five years ago, America tried to cut food aid and see if that would work, but it never does.
LOYNAnd the connection between this kind of clown regime, of course it's not a clown regime if you're living there, and...
PAGEWell, it's a clown regime that has nuclear weapons, too.
LOYNWith nuclear weapons and that's given nuclear technology to Pakistan and a number of -- very interesting stuff in the WikiLeaks papers showing Afghan guerrillas going to see the North Koreans and trying to get nuclear technology from them. Very interesting and, you know, difficult and complex regime, but it is not -- it is not about to launch -- launch a nuclear attack.
LABOTTI think we're in a totally different game with this Kim Jong-un, who is even more unpredictable, erratic than his father. And when the North Koreans say we're going to restart our nuclear reactor, we're going to launch, you know, a satellite which is really seen as an intercontinental ballistic missile, they do it, and the U.S. is gearing up now for North Korea to make possibly another nuclear test to launch this missile, and this Secretary of State Kerry is warning of grave consequences. I mean...
PAGESevere consequences, what does that mean? What would we do?
LABOTTI don't -- I mean, there are a lot of things that the U.S. could do. I mean, they could beef up their, you know, military posture in Asia. Probably what you'll see is some kind of international condemnation at the United Nations. That's what they're talking about. I mean, you know, David is right, in the end the severe consequences will probably be North Korea getting some aid to kind of keep them quiet and go back in their box, but, I mean, look, this is a very unstable -- if you thought that, you know, Kim Jong-Il was unpredictable, erratic and unstable, this young leader is seen as even more so. And I think there are a lot of concerns about what's to come with him.
ROTHKOPFYou know, Bill Clinton used to have a line about this, which he said North Korea, its only cash crop was its nuclear program, right? And, you know, I think that that's true. Having said that, there is a bigger issue here that resonates with other things that are going on in the world. The United States has achieved quite a step forward with an Iranian nuclear deal and is hailing this as a step against proliferation.
ROTHKOPFBut having said that, at the same time, North Korea is moving forward with its nuclear program. Pakistan now has 200 nuclear warheads, is miniaturizing them and is moving forward with its ability to deliver them. Russia is moving forward with the modernization of its nuclear program. Japan is inching ever closer to being out of the closet as a near-nuclear state. The state of nuclear proliferation in the world has deteriorated markedly even as we have focused on the state of nuclear development in Iran.
PAGELet's go to Birmingham, Alabama, and talk to John. John, thanks for giving us a call.
JOHNHey, thanks for taking my call, and I'm a first-time caller. I guess the issue that I'm most concerned about as an American, and travel abroad some, is the element that comes into those countries, the ISIS element, the bad element that's sort of -- you know, there's a lot of women and children, yes, we need to take care of them, and we need to make sure that they're fed and have a place to stay. But how do you separate the bad from the good when you have so many people coming into those countries, pushing their way in, wanting jobs and needing help? So how do we separate that, I guess...
PAGEJohn, that's just a great question. Elise?
LABOTTThis is, John, one of the major concerns of the European countries. I mean, it used to be that people would flow into these countries in a very orderly fashion. They would be processed, they would be vetted, and then they would be resettled somewhere. Now when you're seeing tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of these migrants, it's impossible to vet them, and that's the big concern that a lot of these people that are sympathizing with ISIS, that went to train in perhaps Iraq and Syria, are going to make their way back through Europe.
PAGEHave we seen evidence that ISIS or other terror groups are using this opportunity to infiltrate the migrants, the refugees?
LOYNWell, they say that's what they're doing. I mean, that's what they say on their social media sites.
LABOTTThey're encouraging them.
LOYNThey -- absolutely, and they see this as all part of their policy, the number of refugees that are coming across. There's no evidence that someone in a boat has then ended up, you know, then trying to blow somebody up in a European city.
PAGEJohn, thanks so much for your question. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We had Mexican tourists in Egypt who were killed by Egyptian forces, by a helicopter gunship. How in the world did this happen, David Rothkopf?
ROTHKOPFWell, it was clearly a mistake by the Egyptian authorities, how are trigger-happy when it comes to potential terrorists. And this Egyptian has, at every turn, sent a message that it is going to be repressive on these issues. It has had advice from its near-allies saying tone it down, they don't do it. Now on top of what's just happened here, they're saying that the press can't cover what happened with regard to the murder of these Mexicans, and it's repellant.
ROTHKOPFAnd at a certain point, the tolerance for the Sisi regime on its hardline behavior is going to break down in the West. Right now we're giving him a little bit of room because frankly we need stability in Egypt. There are too many other problems in this part of the world. But they can push it too far, and with things like this, they are getting perilously close.
LABOTTI mean, could you imagine what we'd be talking about if this was a tour bus of Americans, which it could have -- easily have been?
PAGEWell, Egypt said that they were in a controlled zone, but the -- I think the Mexicans dispute the idea that the tourists had done anything wrong.
LOYNWell, they do, and it's very unclear. I mean, as David says, no one's been allowed to report it properly. I mean, the reports that are coming out was that they were -- they were actually stopped at a rest stop, and they -- they'd stopped to eat sandwiches when this happened. All that Egyptians say, they were traveling in a prohibited area. I will just say it is shameful that Egypt treats journalists in the way that it does.
LOYNYou know, still they have these three Al Jazeera journalists, Peter Greste, a friend of mine, and his two colleagues, still facing these convictions. You know, journalism is not a crime, as the hashtag puts it, and Egypt has made ordinary, sensible journalism into a criminal offense, and it's a shameful thing to do.
PAGEAnd what is the Mexican government doing?
LABOTTWell, the Mexican foreign minister arrived, wants to -- is going to meet with al-Sisi, if she didn't already, and they want an investigation. I mean, look, there's not that much that they can do except, you know, demand that there's some kind of investigation and that they get a clear answer about this so it doesn't happen again. Sisi called the Mexican president, offered his condolences, said it was a terrible mistake and there would be an investigation, but, you know, as we said, it's -- clearly the optics of this are terrible.
PAGESo David Loyn, some encouraging news for Bernie Sanders coming out of London. And that is this new Labour leader, who some people refer to as the Bernie Sanders of Britain. Who is he?
LOYNSo he's my constituency MP, as it happens, Jeremy Corbyn. He is a long -- 67-year-old, long-term back-bench Labour MP, never expected political power. And Carly Fiorina is wrong to say that people don't talk about men's clothing and men's appearances. There's been a lot of discussion about Jeremy Corbyn's appearance, his rumpled jackets and his shirt pocket with the pens in and the sort of, you know, the shambling sort of polytechnic lecturer look that he has, although his white cotton T-shirt became a brief sex item on Twitter in London.
ROTHKOPFOh, my God.
LOYNHe was -- but he is -- I mean, the serious point is, so the Labour Party lost the election in the spring. They had a long night of the soul. He only just got onto the ballot for nomination as leader because there was -- there was -- they wanted to have a discussion, including some left-wing candidates, and he was 200-to-one right at the beginning. You could get -- you could be a dollar on and get $200 back on Jeremy Corbyn. And he came right through on the first round, 59 percent of the poll.
LOYNAnd he has got some key Tony Blair supporters, Charlie Falconer included, who was his justice minister, among his ministers. But his finance minister, John McDonnell, is a genuine left-winger and who wants to do something called people's quantitative easing, which is basically the Bank of England printing whatever money they want to do to pay people whatever they wanted for whatever.
LOYNHis economic policy is a disaster, and his friends internationally are rogues and criminals. And many of the things that he said in the background in the past -- you know, if you're in -- on the extreme left, you sit in places, and you say these are my friends, and they are his friends, and now all of that's come out from YouTube, and of course that's looking bad. But he is leader of Her Majesty's opposition as of today.
PAGEDavid Loyn, he's with the BBC, Elise Labott with CNN, David Rothkopf from Foreign Policy Group. Thank you for all for joining us this hour on the Diane Rehm Show.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
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