Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin suspends flights to Egypt amid security fears. President Obama says a terrorist bomb possibly caused the Russian jetliner to crash in the Sinai Peninsula. The E.U. predicts three million more migrants could arrive in Europe by the end of next year. Turkey’s ruling party regains a majority in snap elections. President Erdogan calls for a new constitution that would give him greater powers. And Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who helped persuade the U.S. to invade Iraq, dies from heart failure. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Sanger National security correspondent, The New York Times; author, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power"
- Nadia Bilbassy Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya
- Greg Myre International editor, NPR.org; co-author of "This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama says it may have been a bomb that took down a Russian passenger jet over Egypt. The European Commission says it expects 3 million migrants to arrive in Europe by 2017. And after his party's decisive victory, Turkey's President Erdogan pushes for constitutional changes to give his office more power.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, David Sanger of the New York Times, Nadia Bilbassy of al-Arabiya, and Greg Myre of NPR. As always, you're invited to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And it's good to see you all.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. GREG MYREGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. Greg Myre, we've just heard that Secretary of State John Kerry has recommended against the Keystone Pipeline. We know that President Obama is going to speak at 11:45. We presume that, too, is about Keystone. Why do you think the rejection now and what does it mean?
MYREWell, he's probably been looking for a moment to say this for quite some time, years perhaps even. The Paris climate conference is coming up at the end of this month and that's one of the reasons he may be doing it now. It's something he wants, I think, to make clear as a legacy of his administration and where he stands on environmental issues. And I think he just thought this was the right time to do it, assuming that's what he does, in fact, do.
BILBASSYAnd also I think we have a new government in Canada. We have a left-leaning prime minister who -- clearly an environmentalist who's said he's going to go to Paris himself. He's going to talk about it. And you have Hillary Clinton, who's another candidate for the presidential election who made her position very clear. So it is probably, even some would argue, a little bit late for the administration to come now and to talk about it, but I think it is the right time now.
SANGERYou know, Diane, I think the question isn't why they made this decision, it's why they took so long to make this decision. And what's happened in the interim between the start of this debate so many years ago, really in the first term when Hillary Clinton didn't declare on this when she was Secretary of State and now, is twofold. First of all, the evidence on global warming has only accumulated, but secondly, we've not become such a large producer of oil and gas that the whole concept that you need to take something like this, bring it down from Canada in a form that is not terribly usable in the American market, people are looking around and saying, why bother?
SANGERFor the amount of energy it gives you, it's not worth the headache.
REHMWell, actually, most of it was going to be shipped off to China.
SANGERYeah, that's right.
REHMSo there we are. But I think the thing on many people's minds today is this Russian plane crash in the Sinai. We have President Obama saying shortly after it happened, David Sanger, that there was probably a bomb or some bomb that caused this. ISIS claimed responsibility immediately after it happened. Now, Vladimir Putin is suspending all flights from Russia. How likely is it that we know something more than we are being told?
SANGERWe may know something more than we're being told, but this is one of those odd cases, Diane, where the United States doesn't have anybody on the ground at the crash site. This plane was exclusively Russian passengers and it was a Russian plane. It was a charter so it wasn't a commercial flight, which is why you're not seeing people from a number of different countries, and it happened on Egyptian soil. So the only two who have legal access to this right now, to the crash site and to the black box and so forth are the Russians and the Egyptians.
SANGERBoth of whom had a motive, although opposite motives, to say less than fully what they knew. The Egyptians wanted to make sure that they didn't choke off the last place the tourists were actually going in Egypt and the Russians had an interest in making sure that this didn't look like it was retaliation for their action inside Syria. What's happened in the past few hours, though, is a coalescing of opinion. So first, the British came out and said they believed it was a bomb and BBC reports, based on their own sources, not sources that I've got independently, that the British believe it was bomb in the hold of the plane.
SANGERAmerican officials who I was speaking to within a day of the explosion knew a few things. First, it wasn't a missile. The Israelis watch this area very closely. They saw no missile trail so that was off the table. The second was planes don't fall out of the sky at cruising altitude at 31,000 feet in this kind of way. It's not the moment at which a plane is under its most stress, which is, obviously, takeoff and landing time. Thirdly, U.S. satellites did detect a heat flash.
SANGERNow, that doesn't necessarily mean a bomb. If there had been a short circuit that triggered a fuel explosion, the plane, at that point, had a lot of fuel in it so there are still some non bomb explanations to this.
REHMAnd that plane itself has been under great scrutiny.
SANGERThat plane's been under scrutiny because it is, you know, for anybody who's flown around in Russian aircraft know you sort of say a little extra prayer before you take off on one and if you've ever taken off out of Egypt, you know that their security situation as you are going through the checkout is, let's say, not up to TSA standards, whatever you might think of TSA standards.
BILBASSYWell, apparently, also Russia has the worst record in aviation safety in the world and on top of that, you have an Egyptian airport in Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula, which is notorious for its lawlessness for a long time, even before the Arab Spring and before the rise of ISIS and other jihadist groups that have been operating due to this being disconnected from Cairo and its open borders with other countries that can smuggle weapons, et cetera.
BILBASSYSo now, you have a situation where both the United States and the British say most likely it is a bomb and the Russians in the beginning, just like David just illustrated and the Egyptians, very much so, saying we cannot say with certainty that it is a bomb. And actually, the investigations might take months. So and the only two people who are, as just David mentioned, you don't have evaluations. I'm sure the Americans will volunteer to send people there, but the Russians want to keep it as a Russian/Egyptian affair.
BILBASSYBut to the degree now that we hear that the Russians suspending even flights to Cairo, not even to Sharm El Sheikh, that's an indication, actually, that they're taking the matter seriously.
REHMBut there is black box information, is there not, Greg?
MYREThat's true. They have got the flight data information and the black box, so there should be enough information. It's landed in the desert. You can check for residue. I think two quick points to add to what they've said. One is since 9/11, we haven't had a lot of planes blown out of the sky. For all the terrorism we've seen, this kind of attack has still been very, very rare. So if, in fact, ISIS or some other group has figured out a way to do this with a sophisticated bomb, this raises a whole other level of fear about blowing up commercial airliners.
MYREAnd second, as Nadia touched on, the Sinai has been this lawless area for a very long time and they often operate a little bit under the radar 'cause it's such an isolated and remote area. I was in Sharm El Sheikh exactly 10 years ago in 2005. There was three bombs that went off, killed 90 people. It was the worst terror attack in Egypt at the time. Again, you have this huge influx of Europeans, but also people from the Middle East so this is a place that Bedouins and other groups with a lot of grievances against the Egyptian government have operated.
MYREAt that time, they were linked or seemed to be linked to al-Qaida, which was the terror group of the moment and now there seems to be a possible link to ISIS.
REHMAnd there is some talk that perhaps someone on the ground working in the airport there would have somehow gotten this bomb on board, Nadia.
BILBASSYThis is an assumption, but it's, I mean, a base for a theory that actually it could happen because of all of us who have traveled in the Middle East and including you, Diane, know that the security is not the best, especially when the airport is out of the capital and they don't have people who are actually monitoring the way that you do it in countries, western Europe or the United States. But it's also, it shows that ISIS and just as it was mentioned, ISIS or al-Qaida has -- or the people who was called Ansar Bait al-Maqdis who have sworn allegiance to ISIS, it shows their ability to penetrate people inside everywhere.
BILBASSYIt could be the handlers who deal with bags. It could be the people -- the caterers who deals with food. It could be an officer, even, who deals with immigration. Who knows? I mean, they have been capable -- the same for al-Qaida and although this is a very, very serious and maybe it marks the most serious terrorist attack since 9/11, but it doesn't mean they didn't try before. They have tried multiple times, but they failed, as we have seen with the Christmas bombing and the shoe bomber and all kind of ways. But that was during al-Qaida time, not during ISIS.
BILBASSYAnd this is very significant. And in addition to that, the intelligence has spotted or listened to what they call chatter that ISIS has been talking about this bomb and they're telling the intelligence, we did it, but you go smart people and figure out how we did it. It's up to you to find out how we did it, but we did.
REHMAll right. Short break here. And when we come back, we'll talk about talks over Syria, taking your calls, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, this week with David Sanger of The New York Times, author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power." Nadia Bilbassy is Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya. Greg Myre is international editor for NPR.org. And one other question on this plane crash, how are these people currently stranded at Sharm el-Sheikh going to get home? David.
SANGERWell, we've got to offer one clarification, Diane, which is the plan itself, which we were talking about, is an Airbus, which of course is...
SANGER...built in French -- built in France but with German engineering in a lot of cases. So they'll be involved in the investigation. But of course it's maintained, in this case, by the Russians. The last that I saw on this, the British were going to send some flights in to bring the passengers out, without their luggage and bring the luggage separately. There's been some question about whether the Egyptians will let that happen on a pace in which -- the Egyptians are pretty angry at this moment at the British.
SANGERNow, I was just in London two days ago and, oddly, President Sisi was just arriving at that time, the Egyptian president, to see Prime Minister Cameron. So this is all taking place while the Egyptian president is in London dealing with the British who were the first to ban flights into Egypt.
MYREYes. And President Sisi sort of held his tongue. He was trying not to be -- get into a big argument with Prime Minister Cameron. But clearly this is a serious blow to Egypt. The one thing that President Sisi has to recommend himself, is he's said he can provide stability and order in Egypt, as somebody who has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and on other groups. The Sinai has been a difficult area. He sent the army in there to try to eliminate or tamp down the extremists, the jihadists there. But if indeed this is what we -- what it seems to be, a terror attack...
MYRE...then he's got a major problem on his hands.
REHMNadia, let's talk about where things stand now with peace talks between Iran and the concerns over Syria. Iran is threatening to back out.
BILBASSYWell, let's start by kind of mapping the area. For a while, the administration did very little in terms, except for rhetoric, to say the only way we can solve the crisis in Syria is through negotiations. It's as a peaceful, transitional govern -- Assad is not part of it. But they didn't really -- so it was a lip service, didn't do much to affect that into a -- to change it into a reality. Two things has changed, I think. Number one, was the Russian military involvement. All of a sudden, since September 30, the Russians have been building this military capability. They were saying they want to fight ISIS. Eighty percent, according to many reports, they were hitting non-ISIS rebel groups, including those backed by the U.S.
BILBASSYAnd basically, they are fortifying the position for President Assad to retake areas and territories that was taken from the rebels or the moderate rebels before. Number two, is the refugee crisis that start to threaten Europe. So everybody, all of a sudden, have a stake in the process. They don't want to have, according to estimates, three million refugees by 2017 are going to be sent in Europe. So that's a huge change of everything, not just the economy but, you know, of people and movement and migration, et cetera.
BILBASSYSo now we have a situation where everybody realized they have a stake, and therefore, let's go to Vienna and let's talk. So initially they started with the British and the Russians, because both have -- can have influence, either the opposition or the regime or the Iranians -- and the Saudis and the Turks. And all of a sudden, they widen it up to include 17 foreign ministers, including the Iranians. They realize, the Iranians, and I think that administration has been saying this for a while, that we are willing to negotiate with the Iranians over Syria. And we wanted to see what they can do to influence Hezbollah and the regime, et cetera. So they realize they really can be a part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.
BILBASSYThe Saudis have been very suspicious of the Iranians' position for a long, long time. They don't want them to be an equal partner on the table, considering that they're the one who supported a regime that's been accused of human rights violation, of causing 12 million people to be displaced or refugees, of killing almost 300,000 people. So they said, they're not our equal. They reluctantly agreed. But they're, of course, the Russians insisted. And the Americans see a way for the Iranians to play that role. But, again, if you talk to people who are really well informed, they don't think this negotiation is going to go anywhere.
SANGERSo, Diane, I just got back from traveling with Secretary Kerry, who started in Vienna for this set of talks that Nadia described. And it was quite a scene because, when I walked in the room on the morning that the negotiations on this opened up in Vienna, as Nadia suggests, 17 people leads to a very crowded room -- probably too crowded for reaching a solution. But as Nadia suggested, when you think about what the strategic objectives are here, it's the place you have to start.
SANGERSo what are those objectives? The first is to try to get everybody to identify here, who's the common enemy. And that's not easy with the Russians, of course, bombing a group of anti-Assad rebels and saying that they're bombing ISIS, while we talk about ISIS. And the Russians are doing some attacks on ISIS. And depending on how the airplane issue works out, they might get a lot more interested in bombing ISIS. Secondly, the objective is to set a timetable for an election or a transition to which the United States and its allies have a reasonable guess would end up with Assad out of power. And there's something interesting buried in the agreement that was reached at the end of the day in Vienna there, which was that, if there is an election that happens, it involves all Syrians, which is to say those Syrians that are not in the country.
SANGERAnd the American assumption is that, if you actually get the Syrians who are now out of the country to vote, Assad loses. Which is -- would be a big change from the elections we have seen take place so far.
SANGERThird objective, is to try to make sure that there is a ceasefire, so that the killing stops. But that ceasefire specifically would exclude attacks on ISIS. Now the next question is, at his meeting next week -- because they said they would be back within 14 days, Secretary Kerry is going back to Vienna -- is can you actually get a schedule under which this transition would take place? And that's going to be hard because the Iranians don't want a transition. The Russians have been a little bit more amenable here and sort of think that, as long as it's a proxy government that they could control, they're not particularly hung up on it being Assad.
MYREAs colleagues have just detailed, very hard to find a ray of hope in Syria. But there are a couple things you can focus on. And that -- one of them is stopping the humanitarian crisis and potentially looking at a ceasefire, limited ceasefire, partial ceasefire in the western part of Syria, where there is all these different groups fighting but the Islamic State is not, which is primarily in the eastern part of Syria. And you might be able to find some consensus to find some notion for a ceasefire there or to be able to create spaces to help along the humanitarian front. Again, that's not a long-term solution. That's not a political transition. But you could at least relieve some of the misery that we're seeing in Syria.
REHMThe question about linking the airplane crash to the negotiations is really a fascinating one. Because if, in fact, it turns out that ISIS was involved, how might that actually affect Russia's activities in Syria.
SANGERWell, you know, clearly what ISIS is trying to do is to say to the Russians, get out of our territory or...
SANGER...you will begin to pay a big price. Doesn't strike me that that's going to work with Putin, I mean, just with everything that we know about Putin. It could have -- I mean, if you look for the one silver lining in an awful, horrible tragedy here -- it could have the effect of actually putting the Russians and the United States on the same side in dealing with ISIS. And, you know, there are moments in history when the Soviet Union
REHMStrange you said so, I was...
SANGER...and the United States were actually on the same side of a great war.
SANGERAnd, you know, we devolved six months after it was over into 40 years of cold war. But we did manage something of an alliance of convenience.
BILBASSYBut also there's another point of view, which is why the Russians are not bombing ISIS now? Why is 80 percent of their targets on non-ISIS targets? It's because they want to maintain the regime and they want to support the regime. And the regime, from day one, said this is not people are voting against me because they wanted civil rights and human rights and the dignity and equal rights, et cetera. They are terrorists coming from outside. So many people believe that actually it is the interest of Assad to keep ISIS, it is the interest of the Russians to keep ISIS, to say we are fighting a global terrorist group.
BILBASSYSo if the Russians intensified their attack against ISIS, then what is the excuse for Assad to stay in power? Because he doesn’t have terrorists anymore, so he has to talk to his people. So that's a counter argument.
REHMDouble-edged sword is clearly there. Let's see. We have a question here from Michael in Minneapolis. You're on the air.
MICHAELYes. Hello, panel. Thank you for taking my call.
MICHAELYour panel has pointed out that the Russians have been bombing militants who are backed by the Gulf States. It is also known that when Russia went into Syria, Saudi Arabia stated very openly that they would have to pay a price for their involvement. And we've also had our own government point out that the Gulf States have funded various Islamic militancies from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria. Is there any inkling that this may be the payback that the Saudi's had promised Russia earlier on?
SANGERI mean, who knows? The investigation is early on. But it does not seem consistent with the say the Saudis operate in the world. Now you could find out later on that whoever was responsible had been the beneficiary of some, you know, Saudi funding at some point in the past or they could have come out of madrassas that the Saudis funded. I mean, who knows? And this has been the argument of Saudi Arabia all along, which is that the funding that goes on of the extremists can sow some of their own destruction.
REHMAll right. And let's move on now to Turkey. Turkey held a general election on Sunday. Dramatic win by President Erdogan and his AKP Party.
MYREYes. Now he had a setback just in June, where his party lost the majority. He had a pro-Kurdish party that did very well. And he's clearly been trying to get that back. So by the mere fact of holding, you know, another election just five months later, he got the majority he wanted, re-strengthened his position. The Kurdish party is a smaller -- got a smaller number of seats. Erdogan's appeal was very blunt and basic: me or chaos. And I think that's his calling card. But he's also looking towards a new constitution that would give him more power. And the Syrian war has drifted very much into Turkey. So I think there's a real link there between what's been happening in Syria and what Erdogan is trying to restore order in chaos into...
REHMWhat kinds of additional powers is he looking for, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, the presidential position now is ceremonial to a certain extent. It is -- the power is in the hand of the prime minister. Now he cannot run for a prime ministership any more. So he ran for the president. And therefore he want to change the constitution. Most likely he will get the 330 because with his party now in -- having the majority, he can't -- he needs -- he's short of 13 votes to get what he wants. And most likely he can get it from the ultra-nationalists, who will run on anti-Kurds platform. And then he will give himself executive presidency.
BILBASSYSo he will be very similar to the situation in the United States, with of course comparison to the executive power of the Congress, et cetera. But he will have much more power. Many people will argue that Turkey now in the same bar as Venezuela and Russia, where you have a very powerful president and a very weak prime minister. So you have Medvedev and then you have Putin pulling the strings from the back. Or so basically he is emerging again as holding all the cards to himself.
BILBASSYAnd on top of everything else, using, as just was said, that the security was an issue. And he was saying that, despite, we have seen two big major bombing in Suruç, which is on the border of Syria, and in Ankara, where hundreds of people were killed, mainly peace activists, mainly Kurds. He is saying, it's -- me and my party who will bring stability to Turkey.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Sanger, we have a tweet on this. How worried are Kurdish members of parliament about another purge from Erdogan?
SANGERThey've got to be quite concerned about it. On the other hand, they are a little heartened by the fact that when the United States decided finally to send some military advisors -- just 50 special forces -- into Syria, the way they chose to do it was to drop them into Kurdistan, you know, as the only group that could actually go fight. So I think the big risk here is that you're going to see a split between Erdogan and the United States about our support of the Kurds. And you could imagine the situation -- it's a little hard to imagine, but it's not impossible -- that you could see Turkish attacks on the Kurdish groups that we're busy trying to support...
SANGER...to go get trained. So, I mean, the thing about Syria is that it's taken every known alliance that we have had in the region and put it under huge stress: Us and the Saudis, it took President Obama to call the Saudi king to get him to show up at that talks or get him to send somebody to show up at the talks and obviously the United States and Turkey.
REHMNow the question becomes, if Erdogan gets these additional powers, will Turkey become less or more secular?
MYREWell, he's had the reputation as a moderate Islamist but he seems to be moving a little more in that direction. It certainly raises questions about Turkey maintaining its secular identity. I think that's an open question. But I think even the larger question -- he's been in power as prime minister or president for 12 years now -- is just the erosion of a plural, democratic Turkey and having another authoritarian leader there. I think that's probably the biggest question. But also there are, as you rightly point out, the issue of will he make Turkey more Islamic?
BILBASSYIt's virtually turning into a one-party state, as many analysts will say. And during his reign, you have seen a crackdown on journalists. Independent journalists almost don't venture out of the main line to say a descending opinion. He undermined the rule of the law. He criticized the opposition and anybody who will say something, they throw them in jail on a accusation of treason. So Turkey is getting a different picture under his reign than we expected.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya. Short break here. Your calls when we come back. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We have a caller, Marty in Middletown, Maryland, who'd like a little background information. Marty, you're on the air.
MARTYYeah, hi, Ms. Rehm, thank you so much for taking my call.
MARTYI was curious if any of you all can give a brief description, and it's probably impossible, but there are Alawites and Shiites and Sunnis and Kurdish and Bedouins and Baathists, and I hear this stuff, but I really don't understand why these people hate each so much. I mean, why? So...
REHMAll right, let's try it, Nadia.
BILBASSYWell, the Bedouin and the Baathists might not fall into category because the Bedouins are just Nomads, and the Baathists is a political ideology. I mean, I have to go back 1,400 years, which is the beginning of Islam, but I think the situation is analogous to the church. So you have the Protestants and the Catholics, you have the Lutherans. So Northern Ireland, for example, when you have the Protestants and the Catholics were killing each other, it was more or less -- I mean, it has, it has religious connotation, but it has political demands underneath it, et cetera.
BILBASSYSo, you know, most of the Muslim world are Sunni Muslims, and the Shiites are the minority, mainly in Iran and other Gulf States and of course a little bit in Lebanon, and also you can have them -- Alawite is offshoot of Shiite Islam. It is really complicated answer to give you why people don't like each other, why they don't want to live under one rule. It goes back to colonial history, to (unintelligible) agreement of how you divide the Arab world, regardless of where people, where a tribe lived, on which side of the border, how they flung them together and forced them to live together.
BILBASSYI don't think it's mainly really just the religion, the religious part of it, where people dislike each other. It is very much of politics, history, you know, influences from the outside. It's so many really issues of that. But I'm sure there are many good books. I don't know if I can give you an answer in 30 minutes.
REHMDo you want to add, David?
SANGERNo, I think that Nadia has done a very good job. We'll just thrown in the Alawites to all of this because you hear this a lot in the Syria context, and the Alawites are pretty closely related to the Shiite. And why that's important politically here is it explains why Iran is so determined to keep Assad, even though his base is only, you know, a small fraction of the country, because the Iranians think it's absolutely critical, surrounded by Sunni states, that they maintain this Shiite-friendly Alawite-controlled government.
REHMAll right, let's talk about the migrant crisis in Europe. The weather is turning colder. What's happening to all these people?
MYREThey're still coming. And this is the extraordinary part of it. Every year during the summer, you do have a migration, but it usually falls off quite dramatically. As summer turns to fall, the Mediterranean gets colder and rougher, and we've had about 750,00 migrants this year, about triple what it was last year, but they're not stopping. They're still coming, more than 200,000 in the last month alone. So this is the extraordinary thing. It's showing every sign of continuing.
MYREThe Europeans are showing no real signs of getting a handle on this, and what we've seen is only a small fraction. When you're talking about just the Syrians, four million Syrian refugees, and the vast majority of them are still in the Middle East, this could continue on at this level for years.
REHMAnd what about the economic impact, David Sanger?
SANGERWell, the big question is how much can Europe handle this economically. But more importantly, how much can it handle it socially. And we've had, you know, stories about small towns in Germany that have been assigned more migrants who will be arriving than are Germans who live in the town. And the question is at what point do you so create a backlash that imperils Chancellor Merkel's government?
SANGERNow right now she's pretty secure, but this is the biggest stress that Germany and the other countries have ever been on, and it's one of the reasons that you see Secretary Kerry during this travel that I was on with him, which then went on to the stands, five stands in four days, it was quite a trip. But it's one of the reasons that you see him put so much energy into trying to come up with some kind of a ceasefire and political accord because he believes that if you can't stop the migrant flow, you're going to create divisions in Europe that we're not going to know how to handle.
REHMAnd of course Greece has been bearing so much of the burden, and, you know, are they going to get some benefits out of having taken in so many migrants, Greg?
MYREI'm not quite sure benefits is the right word. They are getting more aid and assistance from the EU, who wants Greece to get control of the problem, register people properly, prevent them from coming. So there is that issue. The EU says...
REHMBut what about forgiveness of some of the debt?
MYREPossibly because of course Greece's economic crisis didn't disappear. It just got overwhelmed by this migration crisis. So that has not gone away by any stretch. Greece may be able to use this as leverage to say hey, help us out with the migrants here, forgive us some of our debt. So I'm sure that's how Greece wants to try to play this.
BILBASSYActually some economists predicted that you might see the economic effect of the refugees in Western Europe, like Germany and Sweden, and making a small but positive, and that's because most of, like, the Syrian refugees, for example, which are expected to reach two million in Germany alone in the next three years, coming back from skilled workers, doctors, dentists, teachers, engineers, people who already came from a relatively educated background in comparison to mainly the refugees who are just looking for better opportunities in Europe.
BILBASSYBut saying that, as you said, the front lines, which is Greece and Italy, has been really suffering of all these people who...
BILBASSYWay overwhelmed of, and the EU has not come with a really good policy. They came up with this thing called relocation, which is basically allowing 160,000 to go from Greece to other countries. As you know, Diane, I'm sure you covered it before, you have other countries like Hungary, Croatia and Serbia has been closing their borders. We have seen these heart-wrenching pictures of these refugees trapped on the borders with, you know, wires and trying to get from place to place. Some of them even walked.
BILBASSYIf you look at the map of how you go from Turkey to go to Greece and then to go to Serbia and then to go to Hungary and to go to Germany and then to Sweden. So -- and some saying, also going back to Turkey, that with everything that we mentioned about the new Turkish government, that their application to the EU might be in consideration because Europe doesn't want to deal with the refugees. If Turkey can be admitted, then let them deal with the refugees. As Greg just said, two million of them are already in Turkey.
REHMNow there is some talk that Sweden, which has been taking in a lot...
BILBASSYSweden is the second-highest, as well.
SANGERA lot of refugees is saying we can't keep doing this, David.
SANGERThey are, and, you know, it's also then going to raise the question what should the United States be taking in because let's face it, we are not completely without moral responsibility for this, even if we are not within geographic range of the -- there is an argument to be made, and you can make a lot of convincing counter-arguments to this, that the original touch-off for what this was was the vacuum created after the American invasion of Iraq.
SANGERNow we could come back and have a completely different show on the question of even had we not invaded Iraq, would the Arab spring and so forth have created the conditions that eventually ISIS would have found a way into Syria and into Iraq, and maybe they would have. But the numbers that we're taking, by comparison, are tiny. And the numbers that we are taking by comparison to what we did after Vietnam, as we've discussed on some previous shows, are also tiny.
SANGERYou know, there was a very good piece the other day about how Rosalyn Carter, during the Carter administration, went out to some of these refugee camps and, you know, that really began to change the American image of the Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees.
REHMAll right, let's take a caller in Wilmington, North Carolina. Chet, you're on the air.
CHETGood morning, thank you for this great discussion. I have a question about future actions by Turkey, and Turkey has been fighting a Kurdish arms organization called the PKK for about 30 years, and that has intensified recently, and the PKK is on the terrorist list by the European Union and the United States. On the other hand, there is an offshoot of the PKK in Syria fighting ISIS, and the U.S. may be giving weapons to -- that's called the PYD -- PYD recently.
CHETIf those weapons are transferred to the PKK and used against Turkish soldiers, under international law would Turkey have the right to attack PYD? And...
MYREWell, I'm not sure I can answer that as an international law question, but certainly the ceasefire between Turkey and their own Kurds, the PKK has broken down. Turkey has already bombed inside Iraq, northern Iraq, going after Kurdish groups that they said were Turkish Kurds in Northern Iraq. So I think the direct question is I think Turkey will go after Kurds who they feel are a threat, whether they're inside their borders or across their border.
SANGERYou know, the -- I'm not qualified to answer the international law question, but as we suggested before, I think the conflict we're going to come into here is the Turks going after the Kurds at the very moment that the United States is -- just has come to the determination that the Kurds are the only effective force that could go after ISIS within Syria. And that's the crux of the coming problem.
BILBASSYAbsolutely, and this is a major worry for Turkey. And considering that they allow the U.S. to use their military base after long, arduous negotiation with General Allen to allow them to use the bases in Southern Turkey, and now we have a stretch of land on the border area, which goes to almost 90 kilometers deep and I think 60 miles wide, where you have the Kurdish forces there from -- who liberated Kobani, and you have Tell Abyad, and now there is a small stretch of land that is controlled by ISIS that it's easily -- I mean, if they arm the YPJ, which is the Kurdish Syrian forces there, they will be able, as David said. They are very efficient and very effective fighting force on the ground, and actually they're the most trusted.
BILBASSYAnd this is why, although they're talking about this coalition that America is supporting now, we're not talking about the moderate Syrian opposition that five of them left, apparently, $2 million per person, and now the number is really limited. But we're talking about a different force, 25,000 mainly, but most of them are really Kurdish. The rest are Turkman, which obviously belong to some kind of -- I mean, from Northern Syria, an Arab tribal leader.
BILBASSYBut the major force is really Kurdish. So if you have these people being -- controlling the whole stretch of land, Turkey will be very, very worried about them, and they don't want them to be there. So this is another dimension of this quagmire of the Syrian civil war, of who is supporting who, and who doesn't want to win and in which state and in which part of which province, and it is extremely complicated.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. To South Lyon, Michigan, Tom, you're on the air.
TOMHello, Diane, and I'm glad to be listening to your program.
TOMI'm wondering if the United States can actually do more with refugees. It seems like we have the opportunity to really give these people a much better life here. I'm also calling because tonight I'm going to a church-sponsored session talking about receiving refugees into the Detroit area. So I'm hoping that we can do more for those people that are so stressed out.
MYRESo the United States has been taking in about 70,000 refugees a year. It's agreed to go up to 100,000. But there's more ways to look at it than just the raw numbers here. The United States has been providing a lot of humanitarian assistance to what are now four million Syrian refugees. So I think there's also -- at least part of that discussion is just not how many refugees is your country willing to take in, but a country with a lot of resources and finance, most of those refugees are going to end up in -- are, and they're going to stay in neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and U.S. assistance can go a long way to helping them there.
REHMAll right, and finally I'd like to ask you about Ahmed Chalabi, who died this week of a heart attack, apparently, at age 71. He was certainly part of the dynamic force that got us into Iraq, David.
SANGERHe certainly was, and if you ever dealt with him, he was a piece of work. He was perfectly willing, as we learned later, to tell complete fabrications about Saddam's weapons -- supposed weapons of mass destruction to an administration that was highly willing to go hear all of this and that got itself into one of those information loops that as journalists we always have to remember to be careful of. I worked for 33 years at the New York Times, and this was not the New York Times' happiest moment.
REHMJudith Miller published a front page story saying that indeed through Ahmed Chalabi there was this information.
SANGERThere were many stories, and there were stories in the Times that we also published that questioned this, which we've sort of forgotten in time. But back to the central point here, which was that journalists, including at the Times, were relying on Ahmed Chalabi as a source and then going back to the Pentagon and saying we understand that they're -- you know, the intelligence is XYZ, and they were confirming it because their source was Ahmed Chalabi.
MYREI see him as such a cautionary tale because he played into this notion of there's a quick, cheap, easy way to get rid of Saddam, install a decent, stable, pro-American government in Iraq. And as we've learned the hard way, that did not exist. And you have to avoid the temptation, or the U.S. government or any other government, has to avoid the temptation of doing the same thing in Syria.
MYREWe can create a force that can go in and fix Syria or fix another country. It's something you want to hear as a policymaker, and you're tempted to believe that perhaps.
REHMDo you think that's his legacy?
REHMGreg Myre, international editor for npr.org and co-author of "This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya, David Sanger of the New York Times, thank you all. Have a great weekend.
BILBASSYThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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