Malian security forces evacuate a man from an area surrounding the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on Friday. Terrorists killed at least 19 people in an attack on the hotel.

Malian security forces evacuate a man from an area surrounding the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on Friday. Terrorists killed at least 19 people in an attack on the hotel.

President Barack Obama said it remains unclear whether Russia will make an effective partner in the fight against ISIS. French President Francois Hollande will be in Washington tomorrow to confer with President Obama. Then Hollande is expected to travel to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin. These plans come as suspects are still being sought in the Paris attacks and Brussels remains under a high threat alert. Mali’s capital is also on edge after terrorists possibly linked to al Qaida killed 19 people in a hotel. Diane and her guests discuss the growth of Islamic extremism and the outlook for an international coalition to combat it.


  • Michael McFaul Senior fellow, the Hoover Institution; he served for five years in the Obama administration, as a special assistant to the president at the National Security Council and as ambassador to the Russian Federation
  • Robin Wright Analyst and joint fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson International Center; author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World"; contributing writer to The New Yorker
  • Shadi Hamid Senior fellow, Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of "Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East"
  • Daveed Gartenstein-Ross Senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies


  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Belgium's capital, Brussels, remains on high terrorism alert today. Weekend raids failed to turn up a key suspect in the November 13 attacks on Paris. French President Hollande will meet with President Obama tomorrow before heading to Moscow for a meeting at the Kremlin. We're talking this hour about the spread of Islamic extremism and whether a global coalition to fight it could include Russia.

  • 10:07:31

    MS. DIANE REHMHere with me, Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Wilson Center, Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation For Defense of Democracies. From a studio at Stanford University, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. We do, as always, invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to

  • 10:08:13

    MS. DIANE REHMFollow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

  • 10:08:20

    MS. ROBIN WRIGHTGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:08:21

    MR. SHADI HAMIDGood morning.

  • 10:08:22

    MR. DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSSGood morning. It's great to join you.

  • 10:08:24

    AMB. MICHAEL MCFAULGood morning.

  • 10:08:24

    REHMAnd to you, Ambassador McFaul, President Obama in Malaysia yesterday said that he had some doubts about Russia being part of a coalition to fight ISIS. What do you believe the expectations are that the U.S. has of Russia and what is in doubt?

  • 10:08:55

    MCFAULWell, I'm told that President Obama had a productive meeting with President Putin when they met in Turkey and had some glimmers of hope that Russia might be rethinking its strategy in Syria. But expectations are low for a number of reasons. First, Russia, as it's gotten more involved militarily in Syria to date, has mostly focused its efforts not against ISIS or ISIL, but against other forces that they call extremists that we call the moderate opposition.

  • 10:09:28

    MCFAULThere's been some signs that's changing, but just moderate signs. Second, Russia supports Assad. We think Assad must go. That disagreement hasn't changed. And third, the way that Russia conducts its air campaigns and its airstrikes, they have different rules of engagement. By an account that al-Jazeera was reporting on earlier this morning, they've already killed 500 civilians, 130 children. Over time, if that kind of campaign endures, that's going to help ISIS and not actually help, I think, the overall war campaign.

  • 10:10:06

    MCFAULSo those are some of the reasons why I think the administration is engaging Russia, they want to be on the same side, but they're also nervous about what it might mean to have Russia more involved.

  • 10:10:18

    REHMOn the other hand, considering the fact that President Putin himself has said a bomb brought down a Russian plane and acknowledged the deaths of those passengers, do you think that that may affect President Putin's thinking?

  • 10:10:44

    MCFAULIt most certainly did. There's no question that it did. There's no question that they have started now, in the aftermath of that tragedy, to attack some ISIS targets, but in the long run, they think they're better off in terms of their strategy to polarize this war between ISIS and Assad and then when it's a choice between those evils, they hope that everybody will say, we need to support Assad. And to date, the Obama administration just disagrees with that assessment. So do I, by the way.

  • 10:11:19

    MCFAULI agree with the administration in that if Assad stays, that will make it unlikely -- you can't have peace in Syria with Assad in power. Now, what are the parameters, when he should go, could he have an honorific role in the transition, all of that is subject to negotiation. It's not a black and white thing. And when I was in the government, I participated in the negotiations with the Russians, so-called Geneva 1 and Geneva 2. We were never militant about that timeline, but strategically, in the long run, I don't believe, and I know the administration doesn't believe, that there can be peace and stability under and Assad regime. The Russians, to date, still disagree.

  • 10:12:02

    REHMAnd now, President Obama is under increasing pressure to do more in the fight against ISIS. The UK, the British Prime Minister is now saying he wants Britain to strike ISIS in Syria. Do you believe, Mr. Ambassador, the U.S. should be doing more?

  • 10:12:30

    MCFAULYes, I do. I have for a long time and I think it's a healthy debate that we're having now to think about the ways to do more. But I want to say two things that people need to remember First of all, under a campaign called Operation Inherent Resolve, the United States and our coalition forces have already attacked ISIS over 8,000 times. I want to repeat that. 8,000 airstrikes. I don't think most Americans know that because of the way it's being portrayed. And the reason the administration doesn't talk much about Operation Inherent Resolve is because it hasn't achieved many results.

  • 10:13:11

    MCFAULAnd I think that's a fundamental dilemma that we need to be honest about that, an air campaign against a terrorist organization in the desert of Syria and Iraq is unlikely to achieve success. Second, having said that, I do think there are more things that should be done and I welcome the things that the administration has said and I think we can add to that in terms of increasing the pressure on ISIS and also increasing the pressure to get a political transition underway in Syria.

  • 10:13:42

    REHMMichael McFaul, he's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He served as ambassador to Russia. Turning to you, Robin Wright, President Putin is in Tehran today for talks with Iranian leaders. What's at stake for Iran and Russia in reaching a political solution in Syria that includes or does not include President Assad?

  • 10:14:19

    WRIGHTWell, both Iran and Russia feel very strongly about having and retaining Syria as an ally and that doesn't necessarily mean that it includes President Assad, but both countries are deeply worried about what the alternative is. And in five years of conflict, there has not been the emergence of a single viable political leader or party that would be able to coalesce the very fractious society, arguably more fractious than at any time since Syria became independent from France after World War II.

  • 10:14:57

    WRIGHTAnd so for the time being, they are both willing to challenge ISIS. Iran is very nervous about the rise of Sunni extremists who've come within 25 miles of their border on the Iraqi frontier and worried about just the rise of Sunni extremism in general because Iran is the world's largest Shiite country. They're worried about the deepening sectarianism spreading across the region. They don't -- neither country wants the Middle East to become dozens or even hundreds of little mini states that are not viable, that create tremendous instability in lots of different ways, not just to the region.

  • 10:15:37

    WRIGHTAnd I think both of them are willing to allow Assad and his mafia to eventually exit. The question has always been from both Moscow and Tehran, what do you do? Who is the alternative? And the United States and its 60 partners in the coalition have not yet been able to come up with, despite many attempts, at anyone who is appealing to the majority of Syrians and that's left a huge vacuum that's, in some ways, as dangerous for the future as the chaos of today.

  • 10:16:11

    REHMShadi Hamid, you're skeptical about the idea of a coalition with includes Russia.

  • 10:16:22

    HAMIDExactly. I mean, over the past four years, our Syria policy has been built on the foundation of wishful thinking, this notion that Iran and Russia can be constructive partners, even though they've proved, time and time again, that they aren't and that they won't be. So we had Geneva 1, Geneva 2, we've had many of these efforts. They've all failed. And I think that it's amazing to me that we've almost forgotten what happened just six weeks ago, that Russia got involved in Syria with a military intervention and airstrikes that, as Ambassador McFaul was saying, were targeting not ISIS, but ISIS opponents.

  • 10:17:02

    HAMIDThat was just in September. So it's almost as if we've forgotten that and now we have this hope that Russia will change overnight. Now, it's possible that Russia will shift somewhat, but unless they can show good faith and show that they're serious about fighting ISIS instead of just using rhetoric about it, then we should kind of withhold optimism and instead put pressure on the Russians and the Iranians. And I feel like with this Vienna process that is ongoing, we've indulged them instead of putting pressure on them and we've deferred to their demands and their conditions.

  • 10:17:38

    HAMIDAnd that's why Russia and Iran are happy with the Vienna process. That's why Assad is happy with the Vienna process. Who's not happy? The Syrian opposition.

  • 10:17:46

    REHMShadi Hamid, he's with the Brookings Institution and author of "Temptations Of Power: Islamists and A Liberal Democracy In A New Middle East." Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 10:20:01

    REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, Robin Wright is with me. She's at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Shadi Hamid is at the Brookings Institution. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. And on the line with us is former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul.

  • 10:20:35

    REHMI want to start with you, Daveed, since I did not get to you before the break. I wonder what you see as the risks for the various countries who might come together as part of a coalition.

  • 10:20:55

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSI think there are tremendous risks in Syria, and I think that both Ambassador McFaul and also Shadi did a very good job of articulating some of the dangers of Russian involvement in particular. I think one other danger we should acknowledge, you know, listening to the first segment, I didn't hear the world al-Qaeda. I didn't hear mention of the Nusra Front, which is their Syrian affiliate. And one of the other risks I think that's worth interjecting is the fact that when we talk about the moderate opposition, it's come out in recent weeks, as U.S. officials talked about Russian strikes, where what we regard as the moderate opposition has been located.

  • 10:21:38

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSYou know, officials have talked to the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, about how they were able to gain ground in Idlib, in Hama, and when you look at those areas, those are areas where a coalition named Jaish al-Fatah, the Army of Conquest, of which the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, is a major, major player, I would argue the biggest player. And the policies we've seen in Idlib toward the Druse are, you know, softer than ISIS' policies but also genocidal.

  • 10:22:11

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSThe Druse have been made to openly relinquish their faith. They've been put in religious re-education classes. And so that makes this even messier, the fact that the theory behind the modern opposition is for them to work with al-Qaeda in the short term and then eventually reach a place where they can break with them. But I think that is an extraordinarily dangerous game.

  • 10:22:34

    REHMHere's an email from Marsha, who says President Obama needs to go to President Putin of Russia and together the United States and Russia, along with Iran, form a worldwide coordinated coalition to defeat ISIS. Next the U.S. must drop its demand that President Assad must go. Who are we to make that demand? Robin, how do you see that?

  • 10:23:09

    WRIGHTWell, I think actually we're beginning to see this week, in the frenzy of diplomacy with the president of France coming to Washington, meeting with the Germans, he met today with the British, he's going to see Vladimir Putin on Thursday, we're beginning to see an attempt to pull together Russia, Europe and the United States in greater unity of purpose, anyway, that at any time since the second world war. Now will it work? You know, there's a glass half full, glass half empty. We have a common enemy, but we have different goals when it comes to what happens in Syria.

  • 10:23:44

    WRIGHTAnd so there is always going to be suspicion and doubt about what Russia ultimately will do when it comes down to post-ISIS or post-Assad Syria. This is, you know, it's a very -- we're in a very precarious place, and I'm not sure we're in a position to ever kind of dictate who will rule next. The whole purpose, and the administration has emphasized this over and over and over, is that it's up to the Syrians to decide who rules them. We learn from our experience in Iraq that it doesn't work to try to impose someone or to try to impose a system. And so I think the lessons of Iraq haunt and shape what's happening now.

  • 10:24:30

    REHMAmbassador McFaul, you have acknowledged that there have been 8,000 airstrikes with very low results. Would not a coalition of the Russians, the Iranians and the Americans produce something more effective against ISIS or ISIL, and isn't Syria the key to it all?

  • 10:25:03

    MCFAULWell maybe, but let's -- I'm not as expert on Syria as the rest of your guests, but, you know, do you know how many times Assad has attacked Raqqa, the so-called capital of ISIS? I looked it up. I think he's attacked zero times. Do you know how many times the Iranians have attacked? In other words, the idea that this grand coalition is going to come together to fight ISIS, I would support that, but the historical experience is that Assad is not fighting ISIS. He's fighting these other groups who are much more of a threat to him immediately, and the theory of their argument, and most certainly this has been the Russian theory in terms of their fight, is to destroy these more local groups first, and then we'll deal with ISIS.

  • 10:25:54

    MCFAULAnd that, you know, so, I mean, I would support it if it were true, but so far the historical experience doesn't suggest that that is their immediate objective right now.

  • 10:26:04


  • 10:26:05

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSI oppose a coalition, and I oppose a coalition because it comes down to the question of could you work with Iran, could you work with Russia to moderate their behavior? I think that we're better off keeping our hands as clean as we can. You can't keep your hands completely clean in Syria, but we've already outlined the indiscriminate bombing that the Russians have undertaken. That's going to continue. I don't think we will change that behavior. Also Iran, when it comes to areas that the Iranians have retaken, which are much more in Iraq than in Syria, but obviously ISIS straddles both countries, they've depopulated areas of Sunnis.

  • 10:26:43

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSI mean, we focus on ISIS' atrocities and rightly so, but Iran with the militias that it supports, which are known as popular mobilization committees, PMCs, they've gone in and committed massive atrocities, as well, which is really setting the groundwork for this to be, even if ISIS is gone from the scene, a very enduring conflict with a lot of revenge killing, and I don't think we're going to change that.

  • 10:27:08

    REHMSo what do you think may come out of the talks between President Obama and President Hollande tomorrow, Shadi?

  • 10:27:20

    HAMIDWell, you know, I think that, to be honest, not so much. I mean, Obama has been pretty clear that he doesn't want a shift in strategy. And I was somewhat surprised to see just three days after the Paris attacks Obama said this in Turkey. He said we will double-down on what we're already doing, but there will be no shift. And this was surprising to me because, you know, you have to kind of discuss these issues, have an open debate and consider the various options, but already Obama was preemptively ruling out more aggressive, more involved options.

  • 10:27:54

    REHMHe said he was doing so with the agreement and consultation with his top military advisors.

  • 10:28:06

    HAMIDI don't doubt that he was talking to his top advisors, but again, I mean, that's a very quick turnaround. I don’t know if you can make that determination three days after an attack. And this shows that Obama isn't really responsive to change on the ground. As events rapidly change in the Middle East, Obama has been remarkably rigid. I mean, for someone who kind of claims to be a guy who likes what works, he doesn't seem comfortable reviewing or reassessing his behavior and especially on Syria.

  • 10:28:38

    HAMIDSo we're talking about four years, and he's stay the course, stay the course. What does ISIS have to do to kind of push us as Americans to fundamentally rethink our strategy.

  • 10:28:51

    REHMWhat kind of strategy do you think might work?

  • 10:28:55

    HAMIDSo I think one thing is in Syria to consider no-fly zones, no-drive zones, safe zones that could protect Syrian civilians and also give mainstream Syrian rebel forces a chance to hold and govern territory and provide a governance alternative to ISIS.

  • 10:29:14

    REHMAnd Robin, you have a very different view.

  • 10:29:16

    WRIGHTI do. I'm, you know, I've been down along that border, and I worry that no-fly zones are not a viable way to achieve either of our goals. It's terribly appealing because it sounds like we're doing something. But look at Iraq. We had no-fly zones in Iraq for five years, and we still had to send in ground troops to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And in Syria the geography is just very different than it was in Iraq. There aren't a lot of populated, major, populated areas along that border that would be viable centers.

  • 10:29:47

    WRIGHTMost of the areas have been depopulated. People are not going to come back where there's no economy, and many of the refugees don't have homes there. They'd be coming back to what's alien turf anyway. I just don't see that, at this stage of the game, as an alternative even though it sounds tremendously appealing. We'd all like to be doing more. It's the same problem in a different way as the question of sending in ground troops. It's not going to be an appealing -- you know, the deeper we get into it, whether it's in a no-fly zone or sending troops on the ground, the longer we're likely to be there and be held responsible for creating Syria all over again.

  • 10:30:25

    REHMSo what is your expectation of the meeting between President Obama and President Hollande?

  • 10:30:33

    WRIGHTWell, I'm not sure I'm as pessimistic as Shadi is. You know, I think diplomacy is -- there is an incentive now. There is a rallying cry. There is unity of global opinion that ISIS has got to go. And so I think that there will be an increase in intelligence efforts, Special Forces efforts, a lot of the kind of things that are not necessarily visible.

  • 10:30:57

    REHMBut still no troops on the ground as far as the U.S. is concerned?

  • 10:31:00

    WRIGHTI don't think so. And I don't think the Europeans are eager to send ground troops, either, and that's the great problem. Everyone knows that there's no military solution, that airstrikes alone can't do it. And so the question is how do you do it. And that's why everybody will hold their nose if they're going into some kind of collaborative strategy with the Russians and the Iranians. I mean, nobody wants to have to do -- to trust either country.

  • 10:31:27

    WRIGHTBut you've two problems here. One is ISIS, and one is Assad. And you can solve -- you can't solve one without the other, and the Russians and the Iranians are unfortunately pivotal to solving the question of Assad and Syria's future.

  • 10:31:40

    REHMAmbassador McFaul, as the diplomat on this panel, what do you expect to come out of the meeting between President Obama and President Hollande?

  • 10:31:54

    MCFAULWell not much. I agree with others on the panel. I think the more interesting meeting will be between Putin and the French president, where he's going to fly 48 hours later. And the question on the table will be, will Russia engage in a more proactive way to think about a settlement. And...

  • 10:32:15

    REHMAnd what does that mean precisely, from your perspective?

  • 10:32:19

    MCFAULWell, I participated in the earlier, failed attempts. What it means in reality is could they, will they be willing to put pressure on Assad and his regime, by the way, we keep talking about Assad, there's a regime there, there's a government there. And our argument, when I was in the government, is we don't want regime change, we don't want state collapse, although the Russian position has led to that. I want to be clear that their strategy for the last four years has also failed. But instead can we work with some elements within the regime to sit down with some elements of somebody that would represent the Sunnis, and I fully take the point that that's a very difficult question, especially when al-Nusra is fighting with members of the groups that we call the moderate opposition, but could they get -- sit down to map out a roadmap to the future.

  • 10:33:22

    MCFAULAnd words like democracy and who's going to rule, and the Syrian people are going to rule, in my view those are all kind of second- and third-order issues. There has to be a settlement among these groups, and that group, that coalition, would be the coalition that would eventually fight ISIS. If they're fighting against each other, we have no chance against ISIS even with the Russians and the Iranians involved. I just don't believe there's a long-term future there without that kind of political settlement first.

  • 10:33:48

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. The question becomes, Ambassador McFaul, how much do you think President Obama is willing or ready to compromise on the absence of Assad in a transition?

  • 10:34:10

    MCFAULI think there -- I mean, we were a long time ago, when I was still in the government, very willing to cooperate on that. We looked at other alternative models. I mean, there were other transitions around the world historically where you do deals with dictators, where you do deals with, you know, nasty regimes. Now most of them have not included somebody that's killed a quarter of a million people, and I think it's important to remember that we may think it may be great to have Assad, you know, call him -- put him in transition for a while, maybe he goes into exile, but, you know, a lot of Syrian people and a lot of the Syrian opposition would not accept that.

  • 10:34:55

    MCFAULAnd if we take seriously what Robin said earlier, that we should let the Syrian people decide, you know, a lot of Syrians, maybe millions of Syrians don't want Assad to be in power. So that's the dilemma. But, you know, I do think at some point it really is that the Russians and the Iranians have to start to put the pressure on Assad. In the last two times that I participated, Geneva I and Geneva II, they were not willing to put that pressure on the president.

  • 10:35:23


  • 10:35:23

    HAMIDSo I think that, you know, whenever ISIS strikes, we have a chorus of people in Washington and elsewhere that say, oh, Assad is a lesser evil. We have to work with him against the greater evil. But I think it's really important to emphasize that the Assad's regimes policies are one of the root causes of ISIS' rise. And I tend to see, you know, in understanding ISIS, the center of gravity to me is more in Syria than Iraq. That's where ISIS was revived and rejuvenated, and then we see the spillover into Iraq.

  • 10:35:55

    HAMIDSo this idea that the Assad regime can be a part of the solution if we cooperate with them, it's a very odd way of thinking, and it shows that we're still -- we like this short-term, this short-term reactionary approach to policymaking that we say, well, oh, we have to deal with these guys now, and we can worry about the other stuff later. We have to have a long-term, at least semi-coherent vision, and I don't see Assad negotiating in good faith unless there's a credible threat of military force.

  • 10:36:29

    HAMIDWe have to be negotiating from a position of strength, but really for the last four years, the U.S. has been in a weak position in Syria because we're so uninvolved, we're doing very little to support the mainstream rebel opposition. So there has to be a real kind of recommitment to Syria. And I think that's the key question going forward.

  • 10:36:48


  • 10:36:48

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSOne thing I'd point out is that I think that ISIS' position is a little bit weaker than others on the panel seem to be assessing it. I mean, if you look at ISIS over the course of the past year, they've essentially experienced a year of losses to their territory, with the exception of one very good week in May when they took Ramadi, took Baiji and took Tadmur or Palmyra all in a week. But especially recently, with their losses of Sinjar, eastern Homs and Ramadi under pressure, they're in a lot of trouble militarily at the moment.

  • 10:37:24

    REHMDaveed Gartenstein-Ross, he's with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Short break, and when we come back, your calls, comments. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 10:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. Daveed, you wanted to finish your thought about ISIS losses. So, why don't you do that?

  • 10:40:12

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSYeah, I mean, obviously, the past couple of weeks have been extraordinarily successful for ISIS in terms of their external operations, with the devastating attack in Paris and their attack in Sinai against the Russian plane. And let me say, I agree with Shadi fundamentally that, you know, three days after the Paris attack is way too early for Obama to say, I won't reconsider my strategy. I disagree with that approach and I know that within the military, from my contacts there, there is a lot of disagreement with the current strategy.

  • 10:40:40

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSBut I also think it's important that we not just focus on ISIS's strengths, but also their weaknesses. This is fundamentally an organization that has recruited and propagandized around the notion of its own strengths. And so, the losses their experiencing in Iraq and Syria, including losing Sinjar, which means that Raqqa and Mosul, their two most important cities are no longer continuous. This is significant and I think that we should pay attention to that.

  • 10:41:06

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSOne other thing that's significant as well is the fact that the US is finally bombing their oil tankers, which is an important source of the ISIS economy. So, when we're talking about their position, we shouldn't just make it out to be ISIS is winning and nothing is stopping them. Paying attention to the losses as well will give us some clues as to what may be the most effective shift in our own direction.

  • 10:41:30

    REHMAll right. Let's open the phones first to Stan in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. You're on the air.

  • 10:41:39

    STANHi Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:41:41


  • 10:41:43


  • 10:41:43

    REHMYes. Go right ahead, sir.

  • 10:41:45

    STANFirst, just they keep calling us on the air war. We have the perfect equipment in the A-10, the Warthog and the C-130. I mean, they are brilliant planes and finally, after the attack in Paris, we saw some use of them. They're excellent. Secondly, what have we learned from changing leaders before regimes in the Middle East, from going back to 1950s. And changing with the Shah and then Egypt, Libya, Iraq and now we want to change the leaders in Syria. I don't think that Assad is a great person, but he can certainly keep order in a different way than all these different groups have. So, that's basically my call.

  • 10:42:27

    REHMAll right, and Robin, you'd like to comment.

  • 10:42:31

    WRIGHTWell, look, Assad is responsible for the vast majority of deaths in the Syrian conflict. It was his resistance, his use of arms against peaceful dissidents that led to the civil war and at least a quarter of a million deaths. This is a country that has been so totally devastated. He has no claim to stay in power. And for all the effectiveness of the air war in pushing back ISIS, the core problem gets back to how do you save Syria itself? And we talk so much about ISIL. We're not talking a lot about, as Daveed said, of the other extremist groups.

  • 10:43:16

    WRIGHTThe other militias that are on the ground. There are a thousand of them if you consider even the small little neighborhood gangs. And we're not talking about the issue of whether we can actually hold Syria together as one state. Artificially created a century ago, it went through seven coups in the first two decades of its existence, independence from France. It was the Assad dynasty, ironically, that emerged, and was welcomed initially, because it introduced stability and the problem is it also introduced and used tactics that were bloodthirsty in the name of keeping Syria together.

  • 10:43:54

    WRIGHTSo, the bigger question we talk about, whether it's ISIS or Assad, is Syria itself. And this is something that really isn't on the table, and we don't have a strategy about. And concerns me a lot, because unless you get, unless you deal with what you want Syria to be and are you going to invest your muscle, your might, your diplomatic leverage to hold it together? You know, it's quite possible that even if Assad's gone and ISIS is out, that the Syrians themselves can't hold together.

  • 10:44:23

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Levi in Winter Haven, Florida. You're on the air.

  • 10:44:30

    LEVIThank you for taking my call. As your guest mentioned, with 8,000 strikes launched against the group ISIS, why has the Pentagon been largely unsuccessful in defeating the group? And the second question then is, how would foreign powers distinguish between these separate groups on the ground?

  • 10:44:50

    REHMAmbassador McFaul.

  • 10:44:54

    MCFAULWell, with respect to the first question, there's a big history and studies that shows that air power is not, in and of itself, effective at defeating groups like this. And this is not unique to Syria and Iraq, by the way. There's a big literature that shows that, so to actually defeat them will require ground, somebody to fight them on the ground. Although I do want to underscore what Daveed said. There has been successes. This has not been a good year for ISIS.

  • 10:45:24

    MCFAULThey've lost 20 percent of the territory, according to the administration. And over time, the ability to push back on them and contain them is succeeding, despite our latest debate. And the fact that they can pull off a terrorist attack against the Russians in Lebanon or in Paris is not evidence that they are increasing their power inside Syria.

  • 10:45:49

    REHMBut then, we're faced with the question of what the attacks in Paris and the threats to Brussels say about the Islamic group's strength and their desire to move forward. Daveed.

  • 10:46:10

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSI think they've had a desire for quite some time to attack western countries. It's like that from the very outset. And in January of this year, actually, authorities interrupted a plot in Brussels that looked very much like the France plot. You know, one of the plotters, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was also involved in the Brussels plot, which seems like it was also an attempt to undertake urban warfare style attacks. I think what they've gotten better at is their operations.

  • 10:46:41

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSTheir external operations are more effective. If you go back four years and describe this exact plot, most counter terrorism professionals would tell you that it was basically impossible to do something like this in Europe. I mean, the plot involved eight attackers, plus there was another interlocking cell and as more information has come out about Brussels and Germany, there may have been other interlocking cells, which is an enormous amount to get under the radar of authorities.

  • 10:47:09

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSThe second I'll say, in terms of their intentions, is I think you could visualize what ISIS is going to do as two different lines, one ascending and one descending. The descending line represents their power declining in Iraq and Syria, because it is declining. But they really, as I said, propagandize around the notion of strength. That's why they're okay with being so overtly brutal in a way that no other jihadist group has been. I mean, Al Qaeda is very brutal, but they don't propagandize around brutality the same way that ISIS does.

  • 10:47:42

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSSo, the ascending line is that even as their power declines, they're going to probably try to make up for that with more terrorist attacks outside of Iraq and Syria. We've already seen them do this in a lot of places, including the awful Tunisian beach attack, attacks in Saudi Arabia's eastern province, an attack on a Shia mosque in Kuwait. Attacks in Yemen. But I think that's basically the way they're going to shift. Becoming a little bit less of a quasi-state and a little bit more of a terrorist organization. And as their strength as a state declines, their terrorist operations, probably will increase.

  • 10:48:14


  • 10:48:15

    HAMIDSo, as Daveed is saying, I mean, ISIS with the Paris attacks is able to recreate this sense of momentum, but I think I'd go even a little bit further and say, sadly, I hate to say this, but ISIS has been successful this past week. I mean, if you look at the anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-refugee sentiment, the things that our Presidential candidates in this country are saying, they are feeding into this narrative of a civilizational war. And that's something that ISIS benefits from.

  • 10:48:44

    HAMIDI mean, I can't believe the things that I've been hearing. I've never seen this kind of anti-Muslim sentiment in my own country. And Europe is also very troubling as well and has been for quite some time, in terms of European Muslims and how they feel in their own countries. So, we have to be, it's not just about what ISIS does, it's about what we do in response. And that's where we have the control. And I think that's where we're failing.

  • 10:49:08

    REHMAll right. To May in New York City. You're on the air.

  • 10:49:13

    MAYYes. Hi. Good morning. A few things. Number one, let's remember that ISIS was not created by the Syrian regime or in Syria. It was after the invasion of the Iraq by US that this vacuum was created. Number two, as we continue to support countries like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who fund and arm those terrorist groups, the problem is getting bigger. Number three, there's no civil war in Syria. I think it's a Syrian crisis, all these are imported Islamic jihadists coming to fight on Syrian soil. And any armed opposition is not a legitimate one.

  • 10:49:48

    MAYWe would not approve an armed opposition in the US, so why should we approve it on foreign soil?

  • 10:49:53

    REHMWhat do you think, Robin?

  • 10:49:54

    WRIGHTWell look, I think history will probably look back and say the United States bears culpability for the chaos that has come out of Iraq. The intervention in 2003, when there wasn't an Al Qaeda cell there, did lead to the mobilization of discontent and Sunni extremists. And that, of course, led to the creation of Al Qaeda of Iraq, that then eventually morphed into what is today ISIS. So, she's right on that point. You know, there are some questions about are we supporting some of the regimes, notably in Saudi Arabia, whose ideas have and resources have fueled some of the extremist groups across the region. Whether it's Al Qaeda or ISIS.

  • 10:50:44

    WRIGHTAgain, it will be very interesting to see how history judges the nature of those kinds of alliances.

  • 10:50:49

    REHMAll right. And to Dr. Abraham in Eaton, Ohio. You're on the air.

  • 10:50:56

    DR. ABRAHAMGood morning and thank you so much for taking my call.

  • 10:50:57


  • 10:50:58

    ABRAHAMI look at kind of the bigger picture, rather than talking just on, you know, the, unfortunately coward attacks in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, about Boko Haram, on Philippines by Abu Sayyaf or Al Qaeda, I see like if you had to collect all these pieces together, we'd find that more than 95 percent of the terrorism in the world is actually caused by the Wahabi/Saudi ideology. And for a better future for our children, we owe it to them that really we should hit the cancer at the center.

  • 10:51:28

    ABRAHAMAnd educate and save those, you know, terrorists, suicide people, and their victims by really stop calling them our allies and we need, as I said, owe it to the future to (word?) that ideology and educate people and...

  • 10:51:43

    REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Ambassador McFaul.

  • 10:51:47

    MCFAULWell, generally, I agree. I mean, as the previous caller, May, I believe, was her name, said as well, we need to take a closer look at how these groups are being supported, how the flow of jihadis into Syria is happening. It's a complicated issue and to say it's the regimes, maybe it's the regimes, maybe it's individual organizations. But to have a much closer scrutiny of these relationships, and then to disrupt them, I think, is something that there, on that front, by the way, that is a front in which you could build an international coalition and make that a focus, even if we can't agree on these other things.

  • 10:52:25


  • 10:52:25

    MCFAULAnd in our country itself, we need to have a debate about our bilateral relationships with some of these regimes and their allies within their countries. Make them take responsibility.

  • 10:52:36

    REHMYou agree, Daveed?

  • 10:52:38

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSOh, I absolutely agree. I mean, I think that, you know, groups like this don't just spring up in a vacuum. There are many things that contribute to the growth of these organizations, but understanding the ideological underpinnings and, you know, the fact that they're still getting support. And I think probably more so at a regime level than previously is just a fundamentally important part of where we are in 2015.

  • 10:53:02

    REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. The question becomes what should the US and its European allies be doing now with or without the aid of Russia? Robin.

  • 10:53:26

    WRIGHTWell, there are no appealing choices. None. And we face one of the toughest, messiest conflicts ever in the Middle East with lots of different layers. It's not -- it's a civil war, it has proxy wars. It has sectarian dimensions. It plays out on so many levels and the danger is that the Iraq model of going in and flooding the place with American troops, occupying, trying to rid the bad guys, whether they're extremists or a bad regime and then trying to create an alternative isn't appealing to Americans right now.

  • 10:54:05

    WRIGHTI don't think, in terms of whether it's the human capital or the national treasury that it's just beyond what we want to do. And so, that limits our alternatives when we know that military air strikes are not going to do it.

  • 10:54:17


  • 10:54:18

    HAMIDSo, the Iraq War was a formative moment in my political education. And I think it's -- it'll stand as one of the great strategic blunders. However, we have to be careful about over-learning the lessons of the last war. We can't see everything through the prism of our past mistakes. The situation in Syria is not comparable to Iraq. It's a very different context. So I think that as uncomfortable as I am, and I even hesitate to say this. I mean, first of all, no one's talking about a full scale invasion of Iraq, but at least, let's have a conversation...

  • 10:54:53

    REHMYou don't mean Iraq.

  • 10:54:55


  • 10:54:55

    REHMDo you mean...

  • 10:54:56

    HAMIDYeah, an Iraq style invasion like we had in 2003.

  • 10:55:00

    REHMOkay. Right.

  • 10:55:00

    HAMIDI mean, no one's talking about that, but I do think that we have to have a conversation about at least a small contingent of ground troops. Let's at least talk about it as a nation and weigh the options. Instead of, from the get go, preemptively precluding these options. That's not the way you defeat an enemy when you have certain options that you will never consider, no matter what changes is on the ground.

  • 10:55:22

    REHMSo you would put troops on the ground?

  • 10:55:25

    HAMIDNo, I didn't quite say that. I think we have to talk about it. I don't think it should be ruled out prematurely.

  • 10:55:30

    REHMAll right. And Daveed.

  • 10:55:32

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSI think we need to understand that we have an enormous national interest in there being less war in Syria. I fully agree with what the other guests have said about how Assad bares his enormous share of the culpability for what has happened. My big concern is let's say Assad were to topple tomorrow. You know, another leader, who did not deserve to lead his country is Najibullah in Afghanistan. You know, the communist regime, backed by the Russians, did enormous damage to the Afghan people. But when he fell, it left the country in civil war that has never ended since.

  • 10:56:09

    REHMSo, what would you do right now?

  • 10:56:12

    GARTENSTEIN-ROSSI think that number one, the policy proposals for creating more cease fires on the ground is something I would take very seriously. I think we need to look for a way to usher Assad out, but I would issue a concern that if he were simply to fall, then things actually could get worse as the country falls into anarchy.

  • 10:56:35

    REHMAnd finally, to you Ambassador McFaul. We have only a few seconds.

  • 10:56:41

    MCFAULI would like to be on your next hour and talk about Frank Sinatra, because that's a much easier task. I just share Robin's view. This is really hard. And the two things that need to be done, more pressure on ISIS through support of special forces, through the Kurds. And also, re-engaging in a real political solution, a settlement, because if you don't do that, you'll never solve the problem of ISIS in the long term.

  • 10:57:07

    REHMAll right. We'll have to leave it at that. Michael McFaul, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Shadi Hamid and Robin Wright. Thank you all so much.

  • 10:57:19

    WRIGHTThank you, Diane.

  • 10:57:19

    MCFAULThank you, Diane.

  • 10:57:20

    REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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