America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
Secretary of State John Kerry holds meetings today on Syria with diplomats from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia. This comes after talks between Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over escalating Palestinian violence. In Iraq an American soldier dies in a raid to free prisoners of the Islamic State – the first U.S. combat death in Iraq in four years. Slovenia confronts a sharp spike in the number of migrants seeking refuge in Europe after Hungary closes another border. And Canada elects a new prime minister, the son of the late Pierre Trudeau. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. U.S., Russian and other foreign ministers meet in Europe to try to revive Syrian peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stirs controversy with comments on Palestinians and the Holocaust. And Canada elects a new prime minister. Here for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Nancy Youssef with The Daily Beast and Demetri Sevastopulo of The Financial Times.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHi.
MR. DEMETRI SEVASTOPULOHi, Diane.
REHMDemetri, Secretary of State Kerry is meeting with lots of folks to try to make progress on how to end the Syrian civil war. Who's he meeting with? What does he hope to accomplish?
SEVASTOPULOWell, he's meeting with a number of people, but the main -- the most important meeting is with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia in Vienna. What is he hoping to accomplish? The Americans, right now, are really struggling to come up with a viable policy on Syria since the Russians have started to get more engaged in the country. They've had an air campaign now for more than three weeks.
SEVASTOPULOPutin has suggested to the Americans that they should try and do something together to tackle ISIS in the country, but if you look at what Putin's actually doing and what the Russian forces are actually doing, they seem to be targeting the anti-Assad rebels in the country. So right now, we're at a very difficult point. The Americans do not have the upper hand. There are some Europeans who say that several weeks ago when the Russians started their campaign and President Obama said that there's not going to be confrontation between the Russians and the Americans, that that essentially gave a carte blanche to Putin to do whatever he wanted to do.
SEVASTOPULOI think the context here is that, you know, President Obama's very real politick on this, the U.S. interests in Syria are not as strong as the Russian interests or the European interests, given the refugee crisis. So it's not clear whether President Obama is willing to go and do more things in terms of tackling Syria that some other people would like to happen.
DREAZENOne of the things about this week that was very interesting was Bashar al-Assad leaving Syria for the very first time in four years, going to Moscow. So there are a couple of things that struck me. One, he felt safe leaving Damascus. He felt safe that he could return to his country, that his regime wouldn't collapse if he was gone. Two, it underlined, yet again, that the sort of godfather status that Putin has, so Bashar al-Assad goes to see him. The Gulf States which did not like that he was bombing rebels, that they had, in some cases, helped train and arm the same rebels the U.S. helped train and arm.
DREAZENA lot of the Gulf States are sending their foreign ministers to go see Putin. Qasem Soleimani, the sort of most wanted head of the Iranian Quds force that has been stirring up trouble from the U.S. perspective in Iraq for nearly a decade, went to go see Putin. Two weeks later, Bibi Netanyahu went to go see Putin. So the locus of activity, the person who's driving not just Syria, but who's really driving relationships with the Gulf, some of the Iran deal, stuff with Israel is not President Barack Obama. It's Vladimir Putin.
DREAZENAnd the shift, when you consider that, is extraordinarily significant and it reminds you yet again of how much of a master chess player Vladimir Putin is.
YOUSSEFYou're absolutely right. I would just add to that that there was one big gain for Assad in the sense that it sent a message, that visit, to both the West and Syria that Assad remains Syria's leader, that he is the legitimate leader, that having him arrive in a statesman-like visit in Moscow with the red carpet rolled out as the White House noted, said officially, he is the leader of Syria, that he is recognized by a major player as the legitimate leader. And that means that in the talks going forward that he remains a central point in terms of where things go, where the political negotiation happens, that it starts with answering the question of what happens with Assad. And that visit bolstered that.
SEVASTOPULOAnd, Diane, in the UK this week, there was an interesting intelligence memo which came out and it basically warned that Russia would respond to any attempts by the U.S. for a regime change in Damascus by arming the regime, launching an air campaign and bombing missions. It would create a war of nerves with Turkey. Russia would build up its presence in the Mediterranean. What's really fascinating about that memo was it was written in 1957 to Prime Minister Harold MacMillan.
SEVASTOPULOAnd it shows you how long the Russian stake in Syria has been there and why, as one person said to us yesterday, Russia is not intervening in Syria, it's surging.
REHMNow, given all that, which is pretty important information, where do we go from here? Where does Secretary Kerry take it from there?
DREAZENHe was optimistic not long ago that he could find something to do in Syria. What you're hearing from the state department was now that the Iran deal was finished, the next thing he was going to try to do was Syria, not Israel, Palestine, which he's, I think, largely given up on, but Syria. This was, of course, before Vladimir Putin's bombing campaign started. It was before diplomatic activity again shifted towards Moscow. The first thing the U.S. ought to do if it wants to be serious is devise a strategy, which it really doesn't have.
DREAZENYou have President Obama still talking nebulously about destroying the Islamic State, but all the people in the military, especially John Allen who said this publically -- this was the envoy who had lead the U.S.-lead anti-ISIS coalition and is stepping down. John Allen has publically said that that's impossible. So you've got the President saying destroy ISIS. You have his lead envoy saying you can't do it. So the military strategy is unclear. The political strategy is unclear. One thing Vladimir Putin has also done is his view is that anybody fighting Assad is a terrorist.
DREAZENAnyone. So anybody the U.S. has trained is a terrorist. Anybody the Saudis have trained is a terrorist. And he has dismissed -- he did this this week publically, the idea that there are moderate rebels. To him, he said the phrase there are no moderates. They're all terrorists. He had a very telling phrase about the Russian mindset. He said the U.S. uses terrorists and this is the quote, "as a battering ram to overthrow regimes they don't like."
DREAZENAnd Putin has managed to make that a talking point people discuss. Whether there is such a thing as a moderate rebel and who they are, how do you fund them, a year ago, that was common, accepted wisdom. Yes, there are moderates. Yes, you can train them. And now, Putin has thrown that all into question.
REHMAnd yet, the U.S. and Russia did reach some agreement aimed at not colliding with each other in the sky.
YOUSSEFYes. A memorandum of understanding is the official title. And if you call it an agreement at the Pentagon, they rephrase it as a memorandum of understanding so that gives you a sense of how delicate it was. So it's a -- the U.S. military is known for inventing acronyms and they've also invented a word and the word is deconfliction. And what that refers to is making sure that U.S. and Russian aircraft don't collide in the sky. This is referring to both manned and unmanned.
YOUSSEFAnd so at the Russian request, the United States entered a negotiation to reach a memorandum of understanding on deconfliction and how the two countries could communicate. And what's interesting is that the Russians said that they wanted more out of the deal and sort of tried to suggest that they were interested in more negotiations than the United States was. Whereas the United States was very adamant that this was strictly about deconfliction. And it's seen, at first, not as necessary as one would think because you have Russia focused on Aleppo, Hama and Homs in the west and southwest and the U.S. focused on ISIS-controlled areas in the east.
YOUSSEFBut we saw Russia starting to do some increased strikes in Raqqah in part to suggest that it is, in fact, interested in going after ISIS. And, in addition, they were putting out a lot of video of their aircraft coming dangerously close to U.S. drones, in particular and it seems that this was sort of an information-gathering mission on their part, these videos focused on predators to see what our U.S. drones look like. And so there was an agreement, but it's very limited in scope and the U.S. presented it as such so it gives you a sense of where we are in terms of talking about Syria with the Russians.
SEVASTOPULODiane, I think that agreement was important in the sense that it prevents or it seeks to prevent accidents in the air. But frankly, it's not that surprising because during the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the Americans always had mechanisms in place to do that and it's something, for example, the America is still trying to do with China today. I think the bigger problem is that it's the political negotiation. The huge disagreement between America and Russia is America wants Assad out and Russia wants Assad in and his regime stay there for now.
SEVASTOPULOAnd the question is -- I think Putin has the upper hand at the moment. Will the Americans move more in his direction and accept that if they really want to tackle ISIS, at the moment, the only game in town is Russia.
REHMAnd now, Yochi Dreazen, Iraq is asking for Russia's help.
DREAZENRight. I mean, that had always been the kind of other shoe to fall, which was would Iraq and the military that we trained, the government that we've backed, in this particular case, a prime minister that we helped to put into power, would they also pivot towards Russia? Would they also ask for Russian help? They have sort of now hinted very strongly they'd like Russian air strikes, but it's a reminder of a couple of things. One, the military that we established in Iraq, which crumbled in the north, that lead, in some ways, to the rise of the Islamic State when they fled from Mosul despite 50,000 troops, that is not -- that military is now dependent on Iran and dependent on Russia.
DREAZENSo not only is the U.S. influence minimal, but it gives you a sense of the relative success, by which I mean total lack of, of the U.S. bomb campaign against ISIS targets in Iraq that the Baghdad government says openly for us to do this, we need Russian help, we need Iranian help. Iran has had roughly 1,000 Hezbollah fighters who've been killed in Iraq and Syria and they're willing to keep investing that number of people because they feel like this is that important to them.
DREAZENYou know, to Demetri's point, we are not willing to invest where other countries are willing to invest and other countries know that.
YOUSSEFSo what you have happening in Iraq is this U.S.-backed Prime Minister Abadi trying to push back against this mounting pressure from some of the top Shia slates, the Dawa party and the state of law. And they're asking for Russian help, in part, because you have, as Yochi mentioned, Iranian ground troops there and that Russia has sort of served as the air force for those Iranian proxy forces, but also because they see a Russia that is much more aggressive and, someone argued, ruthless than the U.S.
YOUSSEFThe U.S. is so committed to minimizing civilian casualties, where the Russians, so far, have been much more indiscriminate. And so that is the context in which they're asking for this. Now, I happen to be one who is not convinced that they will get it because Iraq is not Syria. Syria and Russia have had a longstanding relationship. Iraq has not.
REHMNancy Youssef of The Daily Beast. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, this week with Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast, Demetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times, Yochi Dreazen, he's with Foreign Policy and author of the book, "The Invisible Front." We were talking just before the break about Iraq and its request to Russia for aid in bombing forays. And yesterday, for the first time, an American, a U.S. soldier, was killed in four years in Iraq. What happened, Yochi?
DREAZENSo this was a member of Delta Force. And it's important to note that Delta Force tends to draw older troops than many other units because, once people pass the requirements to get to Delta Force, they stay there. I mention that because the soldier who died, Joshua Wheeler, was 39. So this wasn't a youngish member. This is someone who'd been in Delta Force for quite some time. There's a lot about the raid that is still mildly unclear.
DREAZENThe account the Pentagon gives is that U.S. intelligence suggested there was about to be a mass execution of prisoners held at an ISIS base in Hawija. The Kurdish special forces, who are very good frankly, had mounted a raid. The U.S. was accompanying them, not planning to fight. As the Kurds were taking fire, losing people, the U.S. got involved and this Delta Force soldier was killed. You know, the U.S. role in Iraq has been questionable. It's meant to be train and advise, it's meant to be something where the U.S. is not taking part in direct combat. In this particular case, they did.
DREAZENIt's also an interesting parallel to Syria. And there's talks in -- with Syria that any rebels that the U.S. train, would then again be train and advise on the part of the U.S. The U.S. would not take part in combat. We see, in this particular raid, how kind of ephemeral and thin that line can be. If you have troops out with people they've trained, they'll fight. They're not going to let the people they've trained get overrun and killed. To my mind, the major question is, why this prison? Why now? And why Delta Force? It's 70 people, which is, you know, it's a real number of people. A mass execution is a terrible thing. But why now? Why here?
DREAZENWhy risk Delta Force to get involved in something that, on the face of it -- given what ISIS has done, continues to do -- not to be dismissive or cold, but this is not an ISIS atrocity in the same universe of other atrocities, but the U.S. was still willing to risk some of its best fighters to try to stop it.
YOUSSEFSo the U.S. military's explanation is because the Kurds asked for U.S. help. And I think it really speaks to the depth of cooperation that is happening between the U.S. military and the Kurdish forces. So often we hear that the Kurdish fighters are the best -- among the best in the region. They are. But arguably, one reason -- and this raid suggests -- is that they have such strong U.S. support.
YOUSSEFThe other interesting thing -- and Yochi made mention of it -- is the train-and-advise mission. Remember that, when this started, President Obama said that no more soldiers would be dying in Iraq and that this was a train-and-advise mission and that there would be no boots on the ground. And when, then when there were troops on the ground, they said there'd be no combat boots on the ground. And that, when this soldier died, he didn't die in a combat mission, he died in a train-and-advise-and-assist mission. And so this -- you realize that this war and this effort to say we're not at war but at the same time fighting ISIS has created another war of semantics in the sense of how to define this.
YOUSSEFAnd so the U.S. military found itself in another messaging conundrum of saying that it was not in a combat mission, even as it was acknowledging a U.S. service member had died. The idea that they were just advising -- they got on helicopters from Irbil to Hawija. They went into the prison with them. They helped rescue the prisoners. How is that not combat? And so the explanation they gave is that this was not an active combat mission.
YOUSSEFThat this was an exceptional case because it's a rescue. But it gets into this fear of a slippery slope...
YOUSSEF...and mission creep.
SEVASTOPULOI would just add that, as someone who had spent six years out of the states and came back recently and hadn't paid a huge amount of attention to Iraq, I was actually surprised when I heard that it was the first in several years. I mean it shows you how much has changed...
SEVASTOPULO...since the height of the war and during the Bush administration. So as tragic as it is, it's a big change from several years ago.
YOUSSEFI just want to point, there have been nine non-combat deaths related to Iraq and these have largely been in accidents in Bahrain and support mission for the U.S. effort against ISIS, but...
REHMAll right. Yesterday, Yochi, Secretary of State Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Berlin. There was a comment from Prime Minister Netanyahu that really set some teeth on edge.
DREAZENYou know, it's interesting, often, when we talk about comments from Netanyahu that set teeth on edge, we're talking about teeth within the White House, where the contempt between him and Obama is open, where a lot of U.S. officials, ever since his speech to Congress, have been even more open in how much they dislike and in some cases hate him. But you don't often hear his supporters among Jew, you know, Jewish groups in the United States, right wing Jewish parties in Israel also say, kind of, what was he talking about? Where did that come from?
DREAZENIn this particular case, he was trying to say and did say explicitly, that Adolf Hitler initially did not want to wipe out the Jews of Europe. That he was willing to let Jews leave. Instead, he met with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who persuaded him, basically, to launch the Holocaust, which is a staggeringly cynical, inaccurate view of history. The grand mufti was viciously anti-Semitic. He did encourage enormous amounts of violence against Jews. He was someone who is responsible, without question, for the deaths of many Jews. But the idea that Adolf Hitler was sort of the reluctant party in launching the Holocaust, the notion that this Arab leader had that much sway over Adolf Hitler is sort of, on its face, comical.
DREAZENIt's also, on its face, a tragic misread of history. And the fury directed at Netanyahu from other Jewish groups, from other Jewish parties within Israel is unprecedented. There has not been anything like this since he's taken power.
REHMWhy would he have said this, Yochi?
DREAZENWhat he was trying to do is bolster his argument, which is that the current violence directed against Jews within Israel, this campaign of stabbings -- there was another stabbing that could have been much worse, where a guy trying to board a school bus, couldn't board the school bus, stabbed someone instead in Beit Shemish who's likely to survive. But it could have been mass slaughter aboard an Israeli school bus.
DREAZENThe Israeli line from the start has been, this is because of incitement by Palestinian leaders, continued incitement dating back for decades, and specifically incitement having to do with the Temple Mount. More specifically with the idea that Jews who want to destroy the mosques that are there, rebuild in some way the Jewish temples, retake control of the mosques. But he's trying to say that this violence today is incitement by the Palestinians today that is taking roots and dates back to incitement decades ago. That's the point he was trying to make and he did it in this very clumsy way.
YOUSSEFAnd these -- the language speaks to an ongoing situ -- how do you contain it? It's interesting because the other thing that he said is that he said the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was working alongside Hamas and the Islamic State. He affiliated the Palestinian leader with the rising violence that we've seen, so far has killed 10 Israelis and about 48 Palestinians. And he suggested that the Palestinian leader was somehow inciting this. And the reality is these are lone actors. And it's all -- it's, in a way, more frightening because you don't have somebody who can rein this violence in.
YOUSSEFAnd it really speaks to a stasis that we're at in the conflict at large and the frustration that you're seeing mounted on the street. And the kind of language that we were hearing just reinforces the idea that there's no reason to be hopeful going forward.
SEVASTOPULOI mean, it's possible that it's also -- if you look at him, he's generally a master marketer. I mean he's not stranger to hyperbole, but he's very good at putting out the message that he supports, whether it's in Israel or when he comes to America. However, I mean, he suffered a huge defeat several months ago when the Americans and their partners signed the nuclear deal with Iran. So it could also possibly be that he feels slightly under pressure and that he was trying to make a point, as Yochi said, and that he went too far.
REHMYou know, it's interesting that today Israeli police announced they would lift the age restrictions on Palestinians at the Temple Mount. How come, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, I think it's an effort to say that they're making an effort. There is some effort to -- because remember, this is not something that is being organized. This is something on Twitter and social media, that the -- and to sort of redirect that rage, if you will, to say that we're on the path to something better. Things are so tenuous that the hope is that the smallest thing can sort of mitigate...
YOUSSEF...this violence, this outpouring of violence. Because, right now, there's no sign that it's going to escalate but there's also no sign that it's going to stop. And so it's the hope that these efforts -- the allowing Muslim men of any age to go and pray at their revered mosque for the first time since this started a month ago -- would somehow quiet the social media self-instigating, if you will, acts of violence in the form largely of stabbings.
REHMBut I think you also have to go back to why those Muslim men were disallowed in that mosque to begin with.
DREAZENSo that's actually -- that particular tactic is something Israel uses fairly routinely, that they'll bar Muslim men of a certain, typically of fighting age, from the Temple Mount for a day or two days. It's not something that is new. This is something they've done for quite some time. It's usually very short. They'll do it, you know, it'll be a matter of days, a week. It's not something that goes on for a long time.
DREAZENMore interesting is the things that are being done that will have lasting repercussions. So one is building physical roadblocks in and out of Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, which will make it of course harder for the people who live there to get in, to get out, to get to their jobs. You've had in a couple of cases, even in Tel Aviv -- arguably one of the most liberal cities in Israel -- they've put out -- the public school system said laborers can no longer come into schools. Laborer is code for Palestinian, because many of the workers in the schools who are janitors, doing construction, happen to be Palestinian Arabs. So when you have that type of -- that's not new -- I mean, excuse me, that is new. Age restrictions on the Temple Mount are not.
DREAZENSo when you put in these types of roadblocks and you say Palestinian workers are not welcome, that's the new piece. And if that lasts, that's the part that has repercussions.
YOUSSEFTo me, the most worrisome of the developments was a loosening of gun laws to allow Israelis to arm themselves easier. It just -- it's worrying. And we heard that from Ban Ki-moon today, who after meeting with his -- with Netanyahu and Abbas, came out and said he was not optimistic. Language had just, again, reinforces the idea that there's no -- between the United States disengaged in a peace process and now you have a -- the U.N. secretary general telling his members that he's not optimistic, it is hard to find the political negotiation leverage that can start to turn this around so that a rumor about the status quo changing at the Temple Mount -- of a noble sanctuary, as the Muslims see it -- can lead to this kind of violence.
REHMHmm. Let's talk, Demetri, about Slovenia and the continuing migrant crisis. Why is Slovenia in the news?
SEVASTOPULOWell, excuse me, what you've had in recent weeks is -- I mean, in the European migrant crisis, many things are happening. But one of the things that has been happening is that you've had tit-for-tat border closures, where countries decided they don't want to keep the migrants, so that they send them somewhere else or they prevent them from going somewhere else. You had several of those this week.
SEVASTOPULOI mean, if you step back -- I was just thinking last night, you know, the number of people pouring into Europe at the moment -- if you look at Sweden, for example, they will receive 190,000 refugees this year. At that proportion of their population, that would be the equivalent of almost 300,000 people moving into the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. area in one year. So that will give you a kind of a sense of the scope of the problem and why it's creating such tensions back in Europe.
YOUSSEFSo Hungary announced this week that it was closing its border with Croatia and therefore pushed migrants into Slovenia. Now you have a country of about 2 million that, in the last week, has taken in 24,000 migrants, to give you a sense of the numbers that they're dealing with in just the last week.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Are we still seeing migrants crossing into Greece?
SEVASTOPULOYes. We're still seeing migrants crossing into Greece. I mean, one of the things that's happening at the moment is the, you know, there's lots of different efforts that the Europeans are pursuing, some of them a lot more successful than others. One of the things that's happening at the moment, which involves Greece and Turkey, is that the European -- Angela Merkel is slowly coming behind a deal that would reopen the process for Turkey to become a member of the European Union, if Turkey will help manage the refugee crisis.
SEVASTOPULOAnd what is meant by that is that there are a huge number of refugees, Syrian refugees, who are in Turkey at the moment. The Europeans would like to give money to the Turks to help them manage the problem in Turkey, where frankly it's cheaper -- and that's one of the issues here -- prevent them from coming into Europe at the moment. And then, over time, when Europe develops a mechanism to share the refugee burden or the migrant burden, depending on the people, across the member states, they'll do it. But at the moment, the influx is so high, and what's happening on the ground in Syria in terms of the Russian campaign that we were discussing earlier, means that the numbers are not going to stop.
REHMGo down at all.
SEVASTOPULOThey're not going to go down. So...
REHMAnd the weather is getting colder.
SEVASTOPULOIt's getting cold. It's getting cold.
DREAZENYou know, you have Germany still saying it is going to accept many hundreds of thousands of refugees. That's Angela Merkel's policy. Unfortunately for her, you're seeing polling that suggests more than 50 percent of the country now believes there are already too many refugees. Less than a third of the country supports that policy. You're seeing arson attacks. There are protests in Dresden every Monday saying basically there are too many Muslims already here, too many -- that's basically code. One of them, there's a photo that circulated widely, was a Merkel with a Muslim headdress. So you're seeing a sort of building public anger within Germany toward the refugee policy, the very generous policy that she has been championing.
DREAZENIt's also worth remembering how little the U.S. is doing. I mean, there's sort of a moral failing and it's sad, I think. All of us, as human beings and as journalists -- Germany is taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees. The U.S. proudly says, we will move from 13,000 to 100,000, after they go through a multi-year screening process. And when you really think about the -- how much we could do, if we were willing to do it, how much other countries are already doing -- the gulf between them is truly stunning.
SEVASTOPULOTwo points. I mean, Yochi's right, there have been some polls that have pointed out that point. But there's also been a lot of polls showing that the majority of German people actually support taking in more refugees. They're worried about it. But the attacks in Dresden, the protests, they're despicable and they're certainly growing from a year ago when they were much smaller. But it is important to note that the majority of the German population, I think, is actually not supporting that violence. And German companies, for example, are changing their labor laws so that they can start to hire some of these migrants that are coming in.
REHMYes. And they're saying they need more people.
YOUSSEFI think what we saw this week was the extremes of the spectrum, where you have Hungary's leader saying we need to maintain the Christian values of this region, of Europe, and Angela Merkel. So you're seeing -- this week, we saw the spectrum. And what's -- what it really exposes is the fragility of the European Union, when you have issues like how much money you're going to devote? Where are refugees going to go? How to control the migration and the movement from Greece, still being debated. And you see a Europe that is increasingly fencing up its borders, figuratively and literally.
YOUSSEFAnd I think Hungary's decision to push off -- for the second time, because remember last month they closed their border with Serbia and this month with Croatia -- you're seeing a part of Europe that is saying, we are not going to -- we are not used to migrants in the way that Germany is and we are not going to welcome them in. And Hungary and Germany are the spectrum of the division in Europe. And how you come up with a unified position is Europe's challenge.
SEVASTOPULOWell, I mean, Germany is though a big recipient of migrants. Because if you look at the proportion of foreign-born population in countries around the world, number one is Australia, second is Canada, third is Germany. It's actually ahead of the U.S. There's a huge Turkish population in Germany, which is one of the reasons that it's actually a little bit easier for German -- Germany to assimilate Syrian Muslins than it might be in other countries. But it's a very difficult issue. These numbers are astounding. I mean, I was down in Greenville, S.C., recently on the campaign trail. The Republicans were speaking. And there were people outside the event handing out fliers saying, the Syrians are coming, the Syrians are coming...
SEVASTOPULO...and we need to block them. So this is a global issue and it has to be dealt with globally.
REHMDemetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times. Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast. Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy. Short break here. When we come back, your calls, your email. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Indianapolis, Anthony, you're on the air.
ANTHONYHi Diane, it's a pleasure to just be able to speak to you.
ANTHONYI just wanted -- let me just start off by saying you guys do a great analysis, and I appreciate it.
ANTHONYSo my comment is that the United States, in regards to Syria policy, seems to be fractured, and I just want to know if the guests would agree with this. I'll try to make it quick. The net -- the reason being is that it seems that a lot of the quote-unquote moderate groups are being -- are Islamist in nature, not necessarily extremists but Islamists in nature, and they're backed by the Saudi government and Qatar and other places, whereas the Alawites and Shiite groups, between Iraq and Syria, are backed by Russia and Iran. And I'll just take the comments off the air.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Yochi?
DREAZENI think the caller makes a very good point. The policy by the U.S. is literally fractures. You know, this is a week of kind of Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton. She had a very good week in a lot of ways. One point she's making again and again is that she's trying to distance herself from President Obama particularly on Syria, particularly on whether to train and arm the Syrian rebels.
DREAZENA few years ago the entire war Cabinet, which at that point was Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, it was David Petraeus at CIA, it was her as secretary of state, were all in favor of ramping up U.S. arms for moderate rebels. We can come back to what that means, but they were in favor of training and arming rebels, believing at that moment Assad was weak enough that they could either oust him or at least get to a political settlement in which he leaves.
DREAZENPresident Obama vetoed that plan. So she's able to say accurately that she opposed this policy. She's able to say the current policy is failing. Implicit in it is had you listened to me, we'd be in a better place. But it is a literally fractured policy, and the caller summed it up perfectly.
YOUSSEFBut arguably one place where the Obama administration did listen to Hillary Clinton was on training fighters in Syria, and as we've seen in the last few months, that didn't go as planned. The U.S. had hoped for 5,400 a year and ended up getting five on the ground. What Anthony describes, I think, are this Iranian-Russia led Shiite coalition and this U.S.-Saudi led Sunni coalition. And as Yochi says, there's a division in the United States, and there's division in Saudi Arabia. And so that is the weakness that you see.
YOUSSEFI always find it interesting. I think there's always a desire in the United States to take a lead, and yet there's a reticence to commit resources, particularly in the post-Iraq period. And I think part of that is the calculation that the Obama administration is making, and part of it is a real debate about whether U.S. intervention in Syria can fundamentally change the trajectory of the country.
SEVASTOPULOI'm just add on to Nancy's point. President Obama came to office in 2009. He was going to take troops out of Iraq. He was going to take troops out of Afghanistan. He was going to close Guantanamo Bay. He had all these things he wanted to do. There are troops back in Iraq. Afghanistan, he had to announce last week that he would leave I think essentially 5,500 troops in Afghanistan after he leaves office.
SEVASTOPULOI don't think he has the appetite to do in Syria what many people say would need to be done if you want to really be engaged and to make a difference, and that was before Russia got involved.
REHMAnd here's a follow-up on Syria from David in St. Louis. Who are the moderates in Syria? If there are moderates, why are they not named and identified publicly? The Russian explanation seems to make more sense that there are no moderates. If there were, wouldn't the U.S. government tell the American people who they are? Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, militarily the place you find them, I think, most aggressively is Aleppo, which is the biggest city in Syria. It's sort of the New York, the comparison, and it's why you're seeing such a difficult fight there. The challenge is that people who are moderates four years ago have become extremists because they've been fighting four years of war. And so constitutes a moderate? Who defines a moderate?
YOUSSEFBut those are sort of the most aggressive forces you see in Syria. Now the ones that the U.S. have trained are called the Syrian-Arab Coalition. They are alongside the Kurds east of Raqqah, but they have yet to really engage in any serious fighting. And so if we're looking for moderates who have fought, arguably they are in Aleppo, they've been there the longest, they've been the most successful. The U.S.-trained ones are receiving ammunition and weapons from the United States but have yet to really aggressively fight back.
YOUSSEFNow there's talk that they'll be moving in the next few months. We'll see if they do, and we'll see if they are effective in actually pushing back a growing extremist sentiment that is born out of a very violent, four-year civil war.
DREAZENYeah, to the emailers point, there are two groups that have been named, and they're both tricky for different reasons. One is the al-Nusra Front, which is fighting ISIS. It's not a group the U.S. is supporting because they're linked to al-Qaeda. So just to give you a sense of the complexity, we have al-Qaeda fighting ISIS, who we'd like to fight, but we can't obviously back them.
DREAZENThe other is a Kurdish group whose initials are the YPG, the YPG. They have had this weird story of American volunteers going to fight with them because a lot of times it's Iraq veterans who want to get back into the fight and see this Kurdish militia as the best way to do it. The Kurds are the only group that is successfully beating ISIS again and again on the ground. Almost no one else is. The problem with the YPG is that the Turks see them as a terrorist group.
YOUSSEFSo we have one group fighting them who is tied to al-Qaeda, the other group fighting them that are -- one of our closest allies views as terrorists, and it just gets so complicated your head spins.
REHMIndeed. All right, let's talk about President Obama's meeting yesterday with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It's been a week since the president announced he would keep troops in Afghanistan. How important was the meeting between the two, and what comes out of it? What about Pakistan's plan to build more nuclear weapons?
SEVASTOPULOI think it's fascinating that Pakistan is probably one of the most difficult foreign policy questions out there, and at the moment it gets relatively little attention, which is surprising, I think probably because forces have been reduced in Afghanistan, the -- excuse me, the Pakistan dimension of that problem is less pressing, maybe, to most people. But they are building up their nuclear forces. They're estimated that by 2025, they will have something in the region of 220 to 250 weapons, which would make them the fifth-largest nuclear power in the world. They would have more than Britain at that point because Britain is decreasing its.
SEVASTOPULOThe Obama administration is trying to work out a deal where they will give certain things to Pakistan, a number of F-16 fighters to add to their fleet, try and work with what's called the Nuclear Suppliers Group to make it easier for Pakistan to do certain things related to importing nuclear technology with the quid pro quo that Pakistan would hold off on deploying a new generation of tactical missiles.
SEVASTOPULOThe U.S. is also, in the background, tracking Pakistani nuclear officials around the world to make sure that they have safeguards in place so that ISIS or the Taliban or any kind of militant group, but particularly the Taliban in Pakistan, can get their hands on more portable types of weapons.
REHMSo how can we be absolutely sure that Pakistan is a U.S. ally?
DREAZENWe can't, and we never have been. You know, if you think back to the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Richard Armitage, who was then Colin Powell's deputy, went to Pakistan and said you have two choices, join us, or we're going to start bombing your country. Ever since, there's been this feeling of Pakistan having a double game with the U.S. of doing just enough to maintain U.S. aid but not enough to actually make a dent in its own population of Islamists.
DREAZENOne reason why the U.S. is keeping troops in Afghanistan is a fear that there are still enough safe havens in Pakistan in which groups can train, come across the border, carry out attacks and go back to Pakistan. The U.S. has been pushing them to do that, holding out for a quid pro quo on that issue of we'll give you aid provided you do that for the entirety of the years since 9/11. And you're still seeing that quid pro quo in the debate and the argument play out today.
YOUSSEFAnd so what you're having now is with the U.S. extension of troops, the presumption in the region when there was a date certain for U.S. withdrawal is that everybody had to wait it out. And so one of the reasons these talks were so important is now that that is off the table that there'll be some sort of U.S. presence. The hope is that Pakistan can help negotiate settlement with the Taliban that it basically stalled this summer, when it was revealed that Mullah Omar had died, and you started seeing splinters within the Taliban.
YOUSSEFAnd so as you know, there's not really a level of distrust, and yet there's dependency because they are the broker that hopefully brings some kind of settlement. A settlement in Afghanistan cannot happen without Pakistan.
REHMAll right, let's go to Madison, Wisconsin, Michael, you're on the air.
MICHAELHello, thank you. I'm just wondering if there's been any wholehearted soul-searching within the U.S. foreign policy on who our allies actually are, and Pakistan is a good example. They've been known to fund Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Saudis, of course, the second-largest supplier of civilian fighters to ISIS. The Turks, of course, bombing the Kurds, and the Israelis implementing an apartheid policy. It would seem that, you know, these are the kinds of things that might allow us to reconsider who our allies and our enemies are.
DREAZENWhen President Obama vetoed the idea of arming Syrian rebels, one reason he cited, when again he overruled his entire war Cabinet, was we don't really know who these rebels are, and we don't know what will happen to the weapons after we give it to them. The fear in the mind always with arming anybody is the Afghanistan situation, where you give sophisticated weaponry designed to take down planes and helicopters, and then it disappears.
DREAZENSo President Obama's point is look back at history. We have armed groups before, and it's come back to bite us. He has cautioned -- you know, it's intellectually defensible, and there has been soul-searching. There's been this question ever since that decision, was it the right decision. As the death toll has skyrocketed, now the estimates are 400,000 dead, many millions displaced, should something have been done then that was different from what was actually not done, which was arm the rebels that we thought we knew, where we thought they were moderate.
REHMYochi Dreazen is with Foreign Policy Magazine. Nancy Youssef is with the Daily Beast. Demetri Sevastopulo is with the Financial Times, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's go now to Anna in Raleigh, North Carolina. Hi there, you're on the air.
ANNAThank you for taking my call. I have lived under communist Stalin during World War II and under Hitler, and I do not see this gentlemen, Assad of Syria, is one of those people. Plus, does not America see what disaster it has caused in -- calamity in Egypt, in Libya and Tunisia? And who does America have to replace Assad? Does it want the same disaster happen in Syria? So it just -- I'm wondering, I do not see this man...
SEVASTOPULODiane, when you talk to American, European, even Russian officials and say is there a slate of candidates that could come in and replace Assad that everyone would agree on, the first answer is no. The second problem is, as was the case in Iraq, many of the more moderate Syrian people who have been out of the country for a long time don't have a power base, and so you could have a situation where they come back, and it's a very weak government.
REHMAll right, we need to move to another part of the world, and that is Canada and the election of a brand new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, the 43-year-old son of political legend Pierre Trudeau. So what kind of course is he expected to move toward?
DREAZENSo he has sort of a good-news-bad-news expectation. The very first call and the very first conversation he had with President Obama was to say that he was pulling Canadian planes out of the anti-ISIS coalition. The truth is that makes zero difference militarily because they don't have many. They have flown even fewer, and they haven't bombed very much. But as a symbolic thing of what he views as Canada's foreign policy priorities, what he views as his need to stay close to the U.S., it's important, and that was his very first, very first call.
DREAZENThe other questions, which in some ways is the better news for the White House, is the Keystone Pipeline. This is a pipeline that Canada has wanted for many years because it would be a gigantic boost for the Canadian economy. President Obama is expected to do close to a final veto of that plan very shortly. Stephen Harper, who Trudeau just unseated, was a gigantic proponent. This was one of his major foreign policy priorities. He's out. Justin Trudeau has said he supports it but in a very loose way. He has talked about it when he was still in parliament, but he's not thought to care about it even remotely as much as Stephen Harper.
DREAZENSo for President Obama, arguably he could lose Canada when it comes to fighting ISIS. They're not doing very much. If he doesn't have Canadian opposition in the way he might have had to vetoing Keystone, that's a gigantic win for him politically.
YOUSSEFWell, and it was just an interesting story. Here you have this 43-year-old who was a former bouncer, a snowboard instructor, a high school teacher who discovers his political roots, he says relatively late, if you consider 44 late to be prime minister, he'll be 44 on Christmas Day, and he -- his campaign, it was interesting to hear it described as a protected 11-week campaign. That's as an American, I guess, when we have years-long campaigns.
YOUSSEFBut he really presented himself as someone who brought everybody under their umbrella, where Stephen Harper, after nine years, had made a list that grew every year of people he was opposed to. Here was someone welcoming everyone in. And part of his campaign promise, his very liberal pledge, was to get the -- Canada out of the Islamic State fight. They had about a half-a-dozen F-18 fighters there.
YOUSSEFBut what it means for the United States, I think, is a more complicated relationship, Where Stephen Harper had one issue in which he engaged the United States with, you have someone here who is willing to talk about, at an open forum, about the TPP, to talk about the Keystone Pipeline, that we're no longer going to have a one-issue yes or no, that he's offering potentially a more nuanced relationship with the United States.
REHMIt's interesting, he's been critical of the TPP, Demetri.
SEVASTOPULOHe has. I mean, the TPP is this huge trade deal that's been signed by America and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. He has said that he wants to take a good look at it. I suspect at the end of the day he will come out and support it, but he hasn't taken a firm stance since he's become prime minister designate.
REHMAnd what about economic plans for Canada itself? How is he going to be different from Harper?
DREAZENStephen Harper, by the time he left office, was gigantically unpopular. He was seen, frankly, as kind of a buffoon by the time he left. He was very widely mocked. There's a video that circulated of him playing keyboard and trying to sing "Sweet Caroline." If you haven't seen it, it's hysterically funny and also very painful. He had been very popular and was seen as being very popular among the more rural areas of Canada, the parts that were more socially conservative, what we would consider red states.
DREAZENJustin Trudeau is seen in some ways as what we would consider more popular in blue states. You might see more increased spending on social policy. You might see some of the planned cutbacks to the Canadian health care system reversed. It's an interesting kind of parallel to the blue-state-red-state dynamic. Also, you know, it's not a political issue, but it's interesting to know that he is the son of not just Pierre Trudeau, who was a very prime minister, but Maggie Trudeau, who is an unbelievably glamorous Canadian first lady, who was seen as kind of a cross between Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Onassis Kennedy, sorry, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, excuse me, but she was remarkably glamorous, and she's still alive.
REHMAnd he has inherited her good looks. I think that's going to have to be the last word. Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast, Demetri Sevastopulo of the Financial Times, have a great weekend everybody.
DREAZENYou too, Diane.
YOUSSEFThank you, you, too.
SEVASTOPULOThank you very much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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