The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
U.S.-led airstrikes kill nearly 200 ISIS fighters in northern Iraq, helping repel the group’s most serious offensive in months. Saudi Arabia announces a coalition of Arab and Muslim countries to combat the ISIS threat. World leaders meet at the U.N. to weigh a new Syrian peace plan. Belgium says a law limiting raids may have allowed a suspect in the Paris attacks to escape. After months of escalating violence, the U.N.’s human rights chief says Burundi is on the cusp of civil war. And the army announces Bowe Bergdahl will face a court martial for deserting his post in Afghanistan.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times
- Courtney Kube National security producer, NBC News
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Diplomats from more than a dozen countries meet in New York on Syria. Kurdish and American forces attempt to repel an ISIS offensive in northern Iraq and the UN's human right's chief says Burundi is on the cusp of civil war. Here for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Mark Landler, White House correspondent for the New York Times, Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News and Paul Danahar, Washington bureau chief for the BBC.
MS. DIANE REHMAs always, you are welcome to join us. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And it's good to see all of you.
MR. PAUL DANAHARThanks very much.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEGood morning.
MR. MARK LANDLERGreat to see you, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. And Mark Landler, ISIS has launched coordinated attacks in northern Iraq. What's the latest that's going on?
LANDLERWell, it was a three-pronged offensive with three groups of fighters of 80 to 120 fighters each. And it was repelled by American airstrikes and also by the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. But, you know, it's a fairly sobering reminder that ISIS is still a robust fighting force and in a way, it's a precursor to a battle that looms in the coming months when they Iraqis will try to take back Mosul from the control of ISIS and so this is seen as an effort, in a sense, to maybe be a bit of a spoiler in advance of that.
LANDLERIt's the biggest military advance that ISIS has mounted since last July. And, again, as I said, given President Obama's recent and much disputed comments about whether or not we've contained ISIS, this is an indication that ISIS is still capable of offense action.
REHMHow effective have American troops been in trying to push back on that offensive?
KUBEWell, I mean, in and around Mosul, it hasn't really been the focus of the American airstrikes and there really aren't any American troops there.
REHMBut it's airstrikes.
KUBEYeah, it's the airstrikes. I mean, there are some American advisors who are nearby in Erbil in the northern region and they are, you know, helping the Kurdish Peshmerga, helping the Iraqis fight back ISIS, but, you know, Mosul is sort of this -- it's almost like this city that is emblematic of how the fight in Iraq has been going for the past year, plus. U.S. military officials said earlier this year that they would be going into Mosul -- the Iraqis would go into Mosul. They would retake it within months.
KUBEIt's the end of the year. We're now hearing estimates more like two to three years before the Iraqis go in. Ramadi is another example. You know, they were saying Ramadi was only weeks, maybe months, away. They're still in the very first phase. They haven't even gone into begin clearing out the city. And then, last week, I had a meeting with the British defense secretary who was in town last week and he said, just as an anecdote of how difficult the fight in Ramadi is going to be, when they went into Anbar University recently, the Iraqis, they found every single desk booby-trapped.
KUBESo it gives you an idea of how dug in they are in Ramadi. They've been in Mosul for months now, the Islamic State, that is so imagine how dug in they are there. And there are estimates of thousands of civilians who will be there. So, you know, Mosul, Ramadi, it just -- they both are just emblematic of how difficult these fights, how potentially bloody these fights are going to be. But the one positive note is with this attack that ISIS launched on Wednesday, the Peshmerga really stepped up.
KUBEThey took some casualties, but they inflicted casualties on the Islamic State and they were able to hold off the attack and hold the Islamic State back.
DANAHARThe big problem is there aren't any good forces outside of the Kurds on the ground to push back ISIS particularly well in Iraq and in Syria. I mean, I also met the British defense minister last week and he was talking about this idea that they would, you know, with this meeting they're having in the UN, eventually have the end of the civil war, then they combine the Assad forces and the moderate rebels and then together, they would be the ground troops on the ground that would get rid of ISIS in Syria and you kind of step back and think, really?
DANAHARI mean, it's taken five years to get them in the same room together. The idea that you're gonna then get them together as a force and they're gonna go off and fight ISIS, who they don't want to fight -- they've all been wanting to fight Assad, so we have this kind of constant we're getting there, we're getting there, we're doing this, we're doing that and we're all waiting around to really see some big changes on the ground and we're not seeing them and we're not going to see them for awhile.
REHMWaiting for what kinds of changes?
DANAHARWell, look, what they need to be able to show is that they really are pushing ISIS back and that they're staying back. And they keep making noises about, you know, we're pushing them here, we're containing them here and then we see this attack around Mosul and you kind of think, well, hang on, guys, I thought we were on the offensive here. So the problem that the whole policy has is it keeps making promises and it keeps failing to deliver on those promises.
LANDLERYou know, Courtney just referred to this idea that the fighting would be really bloody or will be really bloody when they actually go into Mosul and Ramadi. And I think that's very much reflected in these remarks that President Obama has made this week in a meeting with editorial and editorial writers where he basically explained why he was so opposed to sending in American ground troops. And he told that this could cause as many as 100 American combat deaths a month and $10 billion a month in expenses.
LANDLERSo he's talking about the kind of casualty rate that we saw at sort of, you know, in some of the darker moments of the Iraq and that sort of goes to the point that both Paul and Courtney are making, that in order to have this major shift in the equation, the West and the United States are gonna still be extremely reluctant to commit the kinds of ground troops that you would need to in order to change that equation.
REHMThe question comes up about money and where ISIS is getting all its money. And the UN security council adopted a resolution aimed at terrorism financing, Courtney.
KUBEYeah. It was actually a rare collaboration between the U.S. and Russia, for once on the same side with regards to Syria and ISIS. But they passed a resolution unanimously yesterday. The security council was also -- and rarely, it was chaired by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. But basically, what this is supposed to do is get at the financing. It's supposed to stop ISIS from being able to use any kind of international banking system. It's supposed to -- it will impose sanctions on anyone who buys ISIS' oil and gas, who in any way -- it sort of lends teeth to some previous resolutions that have already been...
REHMThat's the question. Does it really lend teeth?
KUBENo. That's the problem. It doesn't because much of ISIS' money that is coming -- they're selling this oil in areas that they already control so there's no way to actually enforce it. That's the problem with the prior times that they've passed resolutions that they've tried to enforce this is they just can't. They're selling it -- and they're imposing taxes on people. And we had this briefing at the Pentagon this week where an official said, a U.S. official said that ISIS controls something like 80 percent of the oil infrastructure in Syria right now.
KUBEThey're selling it internally so how is the UN, how is the international community ever going to stop that?
DANAHARAnd these voters have been porous for years and so even if you have an international agreement, the smugglers are going to work around it. That's what they've been doing for decades. I mean, you've got families who are on either side of the border. They're not going to suddenly stop. And there's too much money being made, too much money being handed around to officials here, there and everywhere to make sure that this flow happens.
DANAHARBut the real problem we have now is, you know, a few years ago, we could sit around this table and come up with ideas for how to fix this problem. Syria is now so broken that there really isn't a good solution. No one can really say this is a better way to do it. So now, we are kind of stuck with the ideas that are coming out of these meetings because nobody can really see an intelligent alternative.
REHMAnd Ash Carter, secretary of defense, went to Baghdad this week. I mean, what came out of that meeting?
LANDLERWell, again, it actually points up some of the problems the U.S. faces. Ash Carter went and offered Apache helicopters to the Iraqis for their own use in close and air combat and the Iraqis said, no, thank you. He also discussed the prospect of moving some of these American advisors off the bases and onto the battlefield where they could perhaps be more effective in directing air strikes. Again, no progress on that yet. So they're, you know, the Iraqis want our help, but there are these sovereignty issues and control issues that have always been a stumbling block.
LANDLERSo, you know, the U.S. -- even though, in some cases, the U.S. is ready and willing to do some things, there are hurdles on the Iraqi side. And that was one of the messages that came out of the visit this week.
REHMAnd then, you have Saudi Arabia announcing the creation of a coalition to combat terrorism. Some of the countries on that list denied knowing anything about being on it.
DANAHARYeah, the Pakistanis and the Malaysians were a bit surprised. I think actually someone quipped it with a coalition of the surprised because it seemed to have been something Saudis basically jumped up on their own. I mean, it is a move forward in a sense that at least this time around, there were people that were fighting on the ground. They were also sitting around the table. And over last few years, we've had lots of people who claim to have authority, but really don't.
DANAHARSo there was some progress there and only really the Saudis could've got the hard line Islamist in the room because none of the Europeans could talk to them. But the reality is we're handing over that kind of bit of it to the Saudis who have not been, you know, particularly good allies in many, many areas, particularly not when it comes to meddling around in Syria. So, you know, it's one step forward. It's kind of one step back, really.
DANAHARI think one thing that has been quite interesting is you're beginning to hear a bit of language change from the opposition groups. In the past, it was the Assad regime must go. And now, they're saying maybe bits of the regime, the institutions of the regime can stay, but we've got to get rid of Assad and his cronies. So there is a bit of an incremental shift there where people are saying, because of Libya, because of Syria, we can't have everything fall apart.
REHMAnd this morning, there was an editorial in The Washington Post, sort of questioning whether the U.S. is caving to Putin. Short break here, we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. Courtney Kube of NBC News is here, as is Paul Danahar of the BBC. He's author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring." Mark Landler is White House correspondent for The New York Times. Here's an email from Phil in Indianapolis. After two weeks, have we actually determined the Russian bomber did fly over Turkey and violate Turkish air space? At the time, Russia denied this. Do the people of Russia still think they were wronged by this shoot down? Paul Danahar.
DANAHARThey do. And, today, the black box flight recorder was opened up by the Russians in the presence of international scientists, including those from Europe. It was damaged but there are data cards in there that they're now analyzing, again, with these European experts by their side. So we expect that, next week, this information will come out. The fact that they've allowed in international observers tends to suggest the Russians think that what they find will back up their claim. So that's an interesting twist because nobody really believed the Russians at the beginning of it, that they had just stayed away from the border. So it'll be interesting to see what actually comes out of that.
LANDLERWhatever the truth of this is, Vladimir Putin has kept up harsh, harsh rhetoric against Turkey. And in this -- in his big year-end press conference, which happened the other day, he used sort of borderline inappropriate language in describing why the Turks may have done this, suggesting that they were kissing-up to the Americans. He used a different metaphor. So regardless of the outcome of this investigation,. the relationship between the Turks and the Russians has been damaged very badly. Which is a big problem as you attempt to build some sort of a workable coalition either for the fight against ISIS or the political settlement in Syria.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to the Paris attacks. One Paris attacker is now still at large. Belgium says they may have had an opportunity to catch him days after the attack. What happened, Courtney?
KUBESo Belgium has this sort of archaic law that is still in place now, although there has been some talk in parliament that they might turn it -- they might overturn this law. But it says that there are no night raids allowed between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. So when the Belgium authorities got a tip, just like -- about two days after the Paris attacks, that one of the suspected attackers, Saleh Abdelsalam, was there in a neighborhood -- in a largely Muslim neighborhood in Belgium, they weren't able to do anything about it because they -- no raids can begin after 8:45 p.m.
KUBESo the Belgian authorities have said that they, you know, circled off the area, that he wouldn't have been able to attack. But now there's these stories, these local media reports that he hid in a piece of furniture and was able to slip out, literally...
REHMIn a moving van.
KUBE...in a moving van, literally right in front of Belgian authorities. So I mean, well, you know, this is just yet another instance -- you know, whether he actually did get out or not, whether they would have got him if they had gone in eight hours earlier, before 5:00 a.m., we don't know 100 percent. Belgian authorities are not confirming that, even though the Justice Ministry is hinting to that. But it just draws this further scrutiny on the Belgian authorities, on these laws, that, you know, are -- they're put in place throughout Europe because there's this very delicate balance between national security and civil liberties.
KUBEBut it just draws further scrutiny on what seems to be just this ineptitude of the Belgian authorities and these missed opportunities.
LANDLERWell, you know, clearly a huge black eye for the Belgians. And the way it's played out, with officials saying things that just don't sound credible, contradicting each other. I mean, it is worth pointing out that this tension between civil liberties and national security exists in this country too. And a few people pointed out in this context this week that Tashfeen Malik, one of the two perpetrators of the San Bernardino shooting, got a visa to enter the United States, even though she had posted extremist messages on social media sites. And American officials said, well, the reason for that is, the people who issue visas aren't allowed to go onto those social media sites and scrutinize them. So even in the United States, we have this same debate.
LANDLERThis has an extra layer of incompetence, apparently, attached to it. But, you know, the underlying issues are true as much here as they are in Europe.
DANAHARYeah. Even the FBI, I think, have a great deal of trouble actually being allowed to look at social media sites. I mean, I think what actually came out of one of the press conferences and from the FBI director was that a lot of the earlier kind of signs of their radicalization happened on private messaging services. Which, again, has created the concern, why can't the government access these things? You know, this encryption that's great for us sort of feeling that no one's going to come in and hack our stuff and then go spend all of our money from our credit cards, but it's allowing people to plan things and no one can oversee them.
DANAHARWhat's been interesting in Europe from these attacks is that, you know, the whole idea of European integration, of Europe coming together, of borders going down, of everything being shared out, has begun to crumble a little bit. And because other states are seeing how other states' incompetence is making them more insecure, you're getting a bit more of a sense in Europe that the borders and the barriers need to go back up again. And so this...
DANAHAR...this kind of change now in the attitude of the Europeans towards each other, has been profoundly kind of affected by the attacks that happened in Paris and the general concern around the world about Islamic terrorism.
REHMLet's talk a bit about Bowe Bergdahl. He's been charged with desertion this week. It's a very unusual story. Remind us of what happened, Mark.
LANDLERYeah. Bowe Bergdahl was a soldier in Afghanistan who wandered off his post and was captured by the Taliban and held in Afghanistan for five years. And there was a complex prisoner swap -- actually fairly straight forward, I should say, not complex. It was very controversial because what the Obama White House agreed to was to send five hardened Taliban fighters held in Guantanamo to -- back to the Taliban in return for Bowe Bergdahl. What's complicated about this is that, in the time since Bergdahl's been back, he's begun to talk about why he did what he did.
LANDLERAnd he's actually spoken to a very popular podcast, called Serial, where he's begun to share his story. And he's saying that the reason he wandered off the base was because he wanted to draw attention to leadership failures in his unit and that, by causing them to have to search for him, it would send the message up to the highest levels that this was a poorly run post. The problem is, American soldiers were killed going out to search for him. So there's a huge amount of anger and resentment in the military about the Bergdahl case -- a lot of anger that the White House even did this prisoner exchange.
LANDLERIt's been politically controversial on Capitol Hill. It actually slowed down the opening to Cuba, which, if you recall, was also an exchange of prisoners. And so it's had all kinds of interesting...
LANDLER...spillover effect. And so what happened in the actual legal proceeding is that a -- they've now decided that he'll undergo a general court martial as opposed to a special court martial, where he faces the potential of a life term in prison.
REHMWhat's the difference between a general and a special?
LANDLERA special court martial -- the -- probably the worst he would have gotten would have been a year or two in the brig. A general court martial is a more serious -- it's almost as though he's being tried for a capital crime and, hence, faces a much more heavy penalty.
REHMIt almost sounds as though what he's done with his podcast could be a lot more hurtful than helpful to his case.
LANDLERWell, there's a lot of discussion at the moment about why he did it, the timing of it, was he actually attempting to buttress his defense by offering a sort of, you know, some kind of credible reason for why he wandered off the base? On the other hand, the podcasts began airing right around the time that he was sentenced -- or that it was decided that he would undergo this potentially much more serious legal proceeding. So while the Army denies a direct connection and says the ruling was not made because of what he said on the podcast, the suspicion remains that he's done himself some harm.
KUBEEspecially since, you know, his attorney, early on, has been arguing for months now that he wants Bowe Bergdahl's interviews released to the public -- the interview transcripts that he did with the military immediately after he came back and after he went through his, you know, reacclimation to life here. And the Army has said, no. They continue to say no. So the fact that his attorney then -- would then allow him to do the interviews with Serial is just kind of questionable. It's -- it clearly is right in the, you know, flies right in the face of what the Army would or would not allow. And this is getting Bergdahl's story out.
KUBEAs someone who, you know, covered Afghanistan, lived and breathed Afghanistan for a long time, who covered the story, you know, listening to these Serial -- these interviews on Serial is just fascinating.
KUBEOh, absolutely. I mean, hearing -- nobody really knows. Bergdahl is the only person who knows why he left the base that day. You know, was it, he, you know, in some points he's talking about, he wanted to be like Jason Bourne and he was going to go out there and he was going to, you know, he would capture someone in the Taliban and bring them back to the base. And it -- so to hear this is just -- it's fascinating to me.
KUBEBut the reality is, his behavior prior to when he left the base kind of fights his narrative now of why he did. He was only there for a matter of weeks, you know? Was that enough time for him to determine that the leadership there was so terrible that he needed to risk his own safety and try and walk 20 miles to the nearest outpost to draw attention? I mean, it -- his argument here kind of fights reality. But, again, none of us know. So to hear him talk about it and argue it, it's just fascinating.
DANAHARI mean, to be honest with you, if people have been to Afghanistan and been to those kind of areas, the idea that you're going to traipse, as you say, 16, 20 miles, to then, along the way, do a bit of kind of correlative analysis of the Taliban's strength and maybe capture a couple of people and then take them over to another base where a senior leader would be there and then -- I mean, it does rather beg belief. And I think, it's impossible to say, but at the end of the day, if the intention was to make people sympathy towards him, he's failed dramatically, I think.
DANAHARI mean, that's what everyone can conclude. It just hasn't worked as a piece of PR.
REHMYou know, do I correctly recall that when the case first came to light, that there was some kind of mental, sort of, forgetting or disillusion or fuzzy...
REHM...or delusion -- fuzzy thinking and that's what took him off the base?
LANDLERWell, I mean, you have to go further back into the life of Bowe Bergdahl. He was brought up in an environment where he was extremely isolated. And, you know, it was not a normal family upbringing. And so there's always been this sort of sense that he had his own very particular code of ethics that may not have been what the rest of us would have subscribed to. And certainly, if you look at -- there's been reported in the past some of the, you know, email traffic between him and his father, where his father was appearing to reinforce some instincts that would have run very counter to what you would want an American soldier to follow.
REHMAll right. We've got to correct a statement that was made. We've had several emails and the Pentagon has said that no soldiers were killed hunting for Bowe Bergdahl.
KUBESo this is an argument that's been made for a long time now. So basically what it is, is there -- imagine that the U.S. military has this list every single day that comes out of potential targets -- the soldiers that the combat outpost missed where Bergdahl was stationed, and the Green Berets who were brought in, everyone who was in that area who became dedicated to the search for him. Imagine they had this list of operations and targets that they were going to conduct that all had to go to the wayside. Everything had to be pushed aside because all efforts were made to go after Bergdahl.
KUBEAnd that includes -- these tips would be coming in. The military, generally, usually will verify a tip in some way. They'll get some sort of signals intelligence. They'll find some kind of corroboration before they go out on an operation. They weren't doing this. They were almost desperately searching for Bergdahl. And during those times, there were soldiers who were wounded and killed. The military would never say, well, that was specifically a mission to search for Bergdahl. But they were out there trying to gather intelligence to find Bergdahl.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Sounds as though lots of questions still out there.
DANAHARYeah. And I think it's, I mean, at the end of the day, what actually happened out there, Bergdahl knows, the people that captured him know. The reason why he left, we may never know. Because the story that he's now coming out with is quite outlandish. And the idea that -- how do you kind of square what he claims he was doing with the reality on the ground, of the idea that you can't actually go somewhere to prove something and take it to your leader? You've been there a few weeks and you've got a better idea of how to run a military operation than your superiors do.
DANAHARI mean, I think what we probably have is a very fragile young man who has found himself in a situation that he doesn't know how to cope with and he's reacted in a very unusual way that unquestionably must have put some people's lives at risk on the operation. Because when you have to, as Courtney was saying, re-divert some of your resources to doing something you wouldn't have been doing unless that had happened, it must have changed the dynamic on the ground. Now, nobody wants to say that you did this and that happened. But it must have impacted on the major operation someway.
REHMWell, it's time to open the phones. First to, I think it's Naperville, Ill. Is that correct, Doug?
DOUGYes, it is, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
DOUGDiane, I would like to briefly go back to the question you've asked many times in the last two to three years on the international news hour, with the decision-making U.S. and the State -- White House and the State Department in Syria. Would a earlier intervention made a difference? And in particular, Mr. Landler, I appreciated your work with David Sanger on the series -- the special series in The New York Times, I think, the last two, two-and-a-half years, on the decision-making in the White House versus the State Department and would be grateful for your and the panel's, the just traditional reflections on both the history and how this relates to our present situation.
LANDLERWell, you know, this is a kind of an -- this is a debate that will probably never be settled. But, as you recall, the State Department and the CIA and, in fact, the Defense Secretary at the time, all recommended that the U.S. begin to equip the moderate rebels in Syria with weapons. And President Obama initially turned that down. He subsequently actually did go ahead with a very small-scale supply program, which I think continues to this day. And -- but President Obama has always very much and steadfastly disputed the argument that supplying weapons to this very fragmented group of rebels would really have altered the equation in any fundamental way.
LANDLERAnd in a way, it's a sort of a counterfactual. We can't really be sure. Had we done much more, sooner, was there a window where we could have changed the equation in a way to force Assad into a settlement? You know, perhaps. But we will never know the truth. And one thing that is clear is that -- in the months and years since then, the opposition fragmented so much and more extremist forces like al-Nusra and then ISIS, ultimately, grew up -- that this whole notion of equipping a really viable moderate rebel force has just become more and more farfetched. And I think President Obama could probably legitimately argue today that that alone is never going to be enough.
DANAHARAnd I think, you know, what we can say, in 2012, is there were more moderate rebels around than there are today. Because the last three years of fighting on the ground, against -- not really against ISIS, but against Assad -- but in that environment of extremist Islamism, has made people more and more radical.
REHMPaul Danahar, Courtney Kube, Mark Landler, they're all here to answer your questions after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're going to go right to the phones, first to Clinton, Ohio. Chuck, you're on the air.
CHUCKI'm a retired Marine officer, and in pulling the thread on this entire Bergdahl story, my question all along has been, from previous reporting, I had read that he had been in Coast Guard training and had obvious -- some mental issues in adapting to military life. And I guess my question is, is why was he allowed to enlist in the Army in the first place? Shouldn't there be an investigation into a process that occurred that allowed him to do that because I frankly don't think by making an example of him we're doing ourselves any good.
KUBESo there have been several loopholes that have been exploited, particularly, you know, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their height, and there was just this vast need for more troops. One of them was more and more individuals were getting waivers to get in, and it was generally for some sort of past bad criminal behavior, you know, things that happened when they were younger, and they would be waivered into the military because the Army just needed -- particularly the Army needed their numbers.
KUBEAnother loophole is just self-reporting. You know, I mean, someone like Bowe Bergdahl, and I can't say specifically this is what occurred in his specific instance, but when you come into the military, and you do all of these tests, both physical and mental tests, you don't have to acknowledge. You don't have to acknowledge if you have depression. You don't have to acknowledge if you had past instances. Unless it's on some sort of a record, which it would not have been, as Chuck was mentioning, you know, is this past Coast Guard experience, unless it's on some sort of a record, the military doesn't have any access to it unless the individual self-reports.
REHMAll right, and here's an email from Jennifer. What are U.S. voters likely to make of the fact that Putin admires Trump? What is the rest of the world likely to make of this, Paul Danahar?
DANAHARWell, I know what the British made of it because the biggest ever petition against anyone coming into the country has been against Donald Trump. It smashed records in the U.K. It's a parliamentary petition saying that he shouldn't be allowed in the country after his comments about Muslims should be banned from America. So he's not a loved figure, I would say, in the U.K., judging on that poll, although he's been popular in the past as a kind of entertainment figure. And Putin is not a particularly popular figure in Europe, either, particularly in sort of parts of Europe that are quite close to the Russian border.
DANAHARSo I don't know what American voters will make of him, but I don't think he'd get many kind of votes if he was in Europe and standing.
LANDLERYou know, it occurs to me you don't want to overdraw a comparison between a real estate developer and a former KGB official, but there are a few parallels. One that occurs to me is that Donald Trump's campaign slogan is make America great again. And Vladimir Putin's presidency is about precisely the same thing. He wants to recapture Russia's glory. So in a sense, they speak to some of the same instincts in the voters of their countries, and probably the popularity of Putin and the popularity of Trump owes itself a bit to these kind of simplistic solutions to people's feelings about their national identity.
LANDLERSo you could sort of see a surface appeal, and, you know, recall American presidents have been intrigued by Putin in the past, as well. I mean, George Bush looked into his soul and came away thinking he was a guy he could do business with before discovering he was a difficult character.
REHMAnd look at what's happened recently in the elections in France and Marine Le Pen coming out a winner early on and then suffering a big defeat in the second regional election. Is there some kind of sort of parallel stuff going on here?
DANAHARWell, the failure that she had in the second round was very much tactical voting by the left-wing parties, by the more moderate right-wing parties because they just didn't want her in. So you found people voting for people they would normally vote for to keep her out. I mean, I think what we have seen in Europe is a rise of the fear towards the outsider. Europe's borne the brunt of this big exodus of people, of these refugees, and America, I mean, America is feeling it, as well, but much removed from Europe.
DANAHARIn Europe we are seeing people turning up on your doorstep by the hundreds of thousands. It's really changed the way, as I said earlier, Europeans are thinking about themselves, about the European project, about to what extent they want to be an open society. And I think America is having those discussions now. They're more intellectual in many ways because you haven't got that wave of people coming in, but they really are impacting on how people see themselves and their identities, and it's affecting the politics everywhere in the world.
REHMTo Port Austin, Michigan, Karl, you're on the air.
KARLHi, Diane Rehm, thank you very much for having me.
KARLRecently Putin just had his annual question and answer press conference, and I found it interesting that he's finally admitted that people from the military or military sphere, I think that's how he put it, are actually in the Donbass or Eastern Ukraine. And so instead of being someone covert, now it's just, it's absolutely overt about the meddling and the harm that Russia is doing in Ukraine. And I just think that there's lots of things going on in this world, and this is like one superpower that basically is doing whatever they want to.
KUBEYeah, and Karl, he makes a good point about Putin. You know, we've seen with Russia's intervention in Syria, Vladimir Putin has gained this sort of legitimacy. He's this very serious, critical player now in what could be some negotiations towards a political transition in Syria, towards any kind of a peace process. And so the fact that he came out in this wide-ranging, hours-long, end-of-year press conference the other day and acknowledged that there are some Russian forces there in Ukraine, it questions whether -- is this -- is he feeling more confident? Is he more confident on the world stage?
KUBEIs he feeling like -- you know, he can acknowledge what they're doing there because he has -- he's more of a power player now, and now there are members of the international who need him. They need him to work with Assad. They need him, you know, to work with Iran. They need him to be the legitimate side of the Syrian force right now so that there can be maybe some sort of a peace process that is -- that begins in January.
DANAHARI mean if you think about it, Putin has played this game cleverer than anybody else right from the beginning. He stated what he wanted to do. He wanted to make Russia a great power again. Your talker just talked about superpowers. That's what he wants to be. He wants to be back where they were. And every step down the road, he's come out on top, whether it be Ukraine, whether about pressure in Europe, whether it be about the gas contracts that he's been running, whether it's about Syria. He's managed to turn everything in his direction, and that's left the Western powers looking a bit impotent.
REHMAnd yet who ends up on the cover of Time magazine as the Person of the Year but Angela Merkel? How come?
LANDLERWell, I think because she was a central figure in two of the biggest stories of this past year. I mean one was the euro debt crisis and what was going to be done about Greece. And the second was the stance she took on refugees, which was a very bold move, some might argue an unwise move in the wake of the terror attacks, but she as much as any figure -- oh, and also I should say really the key figure in facing Putin on the Ukraine issue.
LANDLERI mean, Obama at the end of the day really left her in, you know, in the front chair on that issue. So really on those key issues, which, you know, you must acknowledge are really ones with far-reaching consequences, she was at the center of all of them. I think it actually was a fully legitimate choice. And I just want to make one more point about Putin. I agree wholeheartedly with what Paul said about his tactics in the past year, but I think it's worth noting that the military involvement that the Russians have had in Syria has also not changed the equation in any notable way.
LANDLERA Russian civilian plane was shot down. A Russian military plane was shot down. There could be terrorism acts that spin off from all this. And, as well, the military involvement in Ukraine could go sour over time, as well. So he looks great right now. I wonder a year from now whether he'll look as strong as he does today.
REHMAnd to Bennet in San Antonio, Texas. You're on the air.
BENNETI think there's an overall comment that needs to be made and that going back to the '30s, which I lived through, is that the United States has not exercised good judgment, let alone its power, over the years. In 1935, we turned our back to the fact that Germany was preparing for a major war. We ignored it. And the consequence was we were attacked at Pearl Harbor. Through the Korean War, we would not directly the Chinese, who were attacking our troops. What did we end up with? We ended up with a North Korea that is not a -- more than a thorn in everybody's side.
BENNETIn Vietnam, we thought we had a useful purpose in going to war. We refused to use our force. And now in the Middle East, where the Arabs are attacking the United States openly in every way, we refuse to destroy the sources. Yes, innocent people will be killed, but that's how we won World War II.
DANAHARWell, the flip side of that is that was -- the approach you are talking about is what George W. Bush took, and he went into Iraq to preempt possible attacks against America, and that didn't work, either. I think the -- that's the lesson that everybody kind of learns from this thing is when you start fighting on the ground in somebody else's country, you can have lots of problems.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Would you agree?
LANDLERYeah, I think Paul summed it up well, although I will say that that caller raises an issue that will be very much an issue in the foreign policy debate in 2016, and the Republicans, interestingly, the party that historically takes the hawkish line, are themselves debating this. Not to go too much into domestic politics, but Marco Rubio sees the use of American power very differently than Ted Cruz, for example. And so I think you will see an interesting debate about the use of ground troops in the Middle East, the role the U.S. should play. Should the U.S. be much stronger in pushing back the Russians?
LANDLERAnd I think the debate may not divide in the historically predictable ways. You'll have a hawkish Democratic, perhaps, with Hillary Clinton, facing off perhaps against another Republican hawk or perhaps against a Republican who's more cautious.
REHMHow unusual would it be to have international events play a major determinative factor in the elections?
LANDLERWell, it has happened in the past, but typically foreign policy, national security is never the overriding issue. It's almost always the economy. You know, there's been a couple of cases. I think the '04 election, which was a referendum on the Iraq War, when John Kerry, if you recall, almost came fairly close to unseating George W. Bush. That was one election where foreign policy was a major factor.
REHMAnd the mushroom cloud of Barry Goldwater we shall never forget.
DANAHARAnd in '68 with the Tet Offensive, which basically decided that, you know, we weren't going to have the same president in the next election because that changed everything again. But it's every now and then. I mean, it's not a kind of a big determining reason when people go to the polling booths what they're going to do. It's part of the decision they make.
REHMAll right, and to Wichita, Kansas, Brad, you're on the air.
BRADHi, and thank you so much. Best of luck to everybody on the coming weekend.
BRADI have a question yet. So if we've decided that Daesh or ISIS is something that we cannot tolerate in the world today, A, doesn't that mean that we should be focusing right now on getting the military strength together to massively invade that territory and take it over so that it no longer lives as ISIS before? And I'm just curious why we aren't doing that. I'm curious why the president doesn't stand with Saudi Arabia and ask Saudi Arabia as our beneficial friend in the world, with its fourth-largest military in the world, to come in from the south and come in and work with European allies, work with other allies all the way from India to Russia to Sudan, wherever, and just destroy this thing because...
REHMPaul Danahar, you're shaking your head.
DANAHARWell, I look at what the Saudis are doing in Yemen. That's not going particularly well. I mean, I think the reality is that yes, everybody knows that this has to be dealt with, but every -- I mean, U.N. peacekeeping forces are amalgamations of big nations that are trying to do the best they can, and that often doesn't work. And we had a coalition in Iraq in 2003, and that didn't really work very well.
DANAHARThe problem is yes, you've got to get rid of them, but as soon as you become an occupying force, you then end up working against what your aims are because people suddenly think hang on, who are these people. Why are they acting like they act? Why are they telling me I can do this, and I can't do that? And then you get a guerrilla war against the people that are occupying the territory that's been taken over. It never, ever works well. It's never really worked out anywhere.
KUBEThe reality is the U.S. has been asking the Saudis to do more, and they have been asking other Gulf allies, and the Saudis are so bogged down in Yemen, that's their priority right now. They really don't have any vested interest in going after ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
REHMBut we talked earlier about this, quote, coalition that the Saudis are putting together.
KUBERight, which is vague and undefined, and nobody really knows exactly not only who the members are but what they're going to do. And the reality is at this point, until we learn more about it, which the Saudis have not been terribly forthcoming with information, it looks like it's either something that's just meant to quell the international call for more Gulf and Saudi help in the fight against ISIS, and at worst it looks like it might even just be some sort of a sectarian group that's getting together that will then, you know, be against the Shiite.
DANAHARWe don't even know what it's called. We don't even know what it's called.
REHMOkay, so in this coming year, election year, the last year of Obama's presidency, do you expect any major changes in our policy toward ISIS, Mark?
LANDLERAbsent a major terrorist attack on American soil, I would say no because I think President Obama decided a long time ago what he saw as the risks of being drawn further into this.
REHMAnd if a Republican were elected president in 2016, would see a major change?
LANDLERIt would obviously depend on which one, but if by major change you mean a commitment of 100,000 American ground forces, I think it's highly unlikely regardless of who becomes president. I'm not sure it's politically tenable for anybody. And I think if you listen to the Republican candidates, they're not calling for it, either.
REHMMark Landler of The New York Times, Courtney Kube of NBC News, Paul Danahar of the BBC, thank you all so much.
REHMMerry Christmas, happy New Year, and thanks, all, for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Diane Rehm.
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