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Over the past two decades, the Middle East has been rocked by war, deep religious tension and social unrest. Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, has been on the ground covering it all. In Jerusalem, he witnessed the failed peace process between Israel and Palestine. From Baghdad, he reported on the Iraq war, and watched the rise of ISIS. In Egypt, Libya and Syria he saw the promise and the failure of the Arab spring. Richard Engel’s new book “And Then All Hell Broke Lose” is a first-hand account of his reporting in the region. He joins Diane to give an insider perspective on the interconnected forces impacting the Middle East.
- Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent, NBC News
Read An Excerpt
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Since 2003, the Middle East has experienced major wars, the mass exodus of dictators and unprecedented social chaos as groups violently struggle for control in the region. A new book by Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News offers his firsthand account of these developments and traces the region's dissent into anarchy. His new book is titled "And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East."
MS. DIANE REHMRichard Engel joins me and you are invited, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-455-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Richard, it's good to see you again.
MR. RICHARD ENGELWell, thank you so much. It's wonderful to be here in person and thanks for taking the time. I know you are also busy yourself with a wonderful book out, so.
REHMThank you. Thank you. You know, what pleases me most is to see you here in this studio as opposed to in a war-torn corner of the world with burning buildings behind you.
ENGELWell, this is Washington, D.C. I've been watching some of the debates. It's seems pretty war-torn as well. No burning buildings yet, but there are such hatred.
ENGELIt's almost sectarian or something like that. I've been watching it and, you know, these two camps and I don't really follow domestic politics, only as it pertains to foreign policy. But since I've been back doing a few events on this book tour, I've been watching this really awful division that is happening in this country and so, yes, I'm war-torn D.C. for the week.
REHMAnd it is an animosity born of something new, something very different in this country from what I grew up with.
ENGELIt seems to be. I've been living overseas for 20 years and I graduated from college and pretty much immediately set out for the Middle East.
ENGELAnd this is sort of part of the book. The book talks about this journey that I went on and I still think of it as a journey. So 20 years ago, 1996, I graduated from college, Stanford University in California. Very fond of my alma mater now. They just had me out last spring to speak and that was a big, big moment of pride for me.
ENGELSo I decided I wanted to be a foreign correspondent and I looked at the map and I thought, okay, where is the story of my generation going to be?
REHMBut what were the models for you in your mind as you thought I want to be a foreign correspondent?
ENGELIt was much more romantic. There weren't any practical journalist models. It was more I want to be that guy who wears the white suit, you know, who you see typing at a typewriter overlooking the Seine or the Nile.
REHMThe peaceful Aegean.
ENGELYeah. The peaceful Aegean sort of maybe, you know, with a hat, a Fedora hat and, you know, go down and…
REHMYou really had a makeup in your mind.
ENGELI had an idea. It was very sort of romantic, if you will. That was the idea. This is what I want to do with my life. I want to go out and tell stories.
REHMWhat did your parents think?
ENGELThey thought this was a great idea, to a degree.
ENGELIt was my -- sort of my mother's power of suggestion that put this seed in my head.
ENGELI was 13 years old and we were in Morocco and this is actually how I start the book. And there's this scene. I'm sitting on the steps of this grand hotel in Marrakesh and it's called La Mamounia Hotel. It's quite a classic old hotel. There's pictures, I believe, done by Winston Churchill on the walls of the hallway. And there's in the front of the hotel, horse carriages and I was sitting on these steps waiting to go to dinner. And my mother, who likes to get dressed up, came down these stairs and I had been reading the International Herald Tribune.
ENGELJust flipping through it. And she said, I could see you working there one day. They're based in Paris. And I was 13. I'd never really, you know, I didn't read the newspaper. I was just going through it and I thought it was interesting, really interesting. And I said, okay. I like that. Paris, International Herald Tribune. I'll have this office on the (word?) and that will be my life and I'll tell the stories of adventures and of the different intrigues that happen. It turned out not to be Paris. It turned out to Cairo, but when I graduated from college, that is what I set out to do.
ENGELAnd I moved out to Cairo and, really, I've been in region every since.
REHMIt's fascinating to me to realize how a single word or idea from a parent can be planted and a seed grow.
ENGELYeah, it was the seed and I then started experimenting more and more. When I was in high school, 16 years old, I did a study abroad program on a group called AFS, the American Field Service, which is a wonderful experience.
ENGELI did the year program and they put me with a family, a host family and...
REHMIn which country?
ENGELIn Palermo, Sicily. Italy.
ENGELBarely Italy. Palermo, Sicily, especially then, was its own independent republic at least culturally and it was wonderful. I went with this...
REHMDid you learn to speak the language? Yeah.
ENGELI learned to speak the language very quickly and I'm still in contact with this family. I go back all the time. I consider them my second, you know, family. And then, that wasn't enough so then, when I got out of college, I said I want to go back and I keep wanting to go back. And I liked looking at my own self, my own country, from outside the fishbowl. You know, and you get a different perspective. You can see the fish swimming and you can see the little fake coral reef and you can see the gravel on the bottom.
ENGELWhen you're on the outside, you can move around the tank and you can understand who you are and where you're from, I think, from the outside looking in.
REHMWell, but that's the question. Do you get a realistic picture of what's happening back at home when you're in this whole other environment.
ENGELProbably not, which is how we started off this conversation. I come back to the U.S. quite infrequently and I'm a little surprised at, you know, the vitriolic debates and anger and rancor that we're seeing in the -- because it's..
REHMBecause that's not how you remember it. Yes.
ENGELIt's not how -- I remember this. You know, this is more like the politics that I'm used to in the Middle East.
ENGELThey're not killing each other here yet, but they're throwing a lot of very serious, you know, insulting accusations around. So it -- yes, it is always a bit of a surprise when I come back here and look around at my own country and you can see it changing.
REHMBut when you first got to Cairo, what was it like?
ENGELThis was '96 and I didn't have much of a plan. I had an idea and I didn't have many contacts. I arrived with two suitcases...
REHMAnd 2,000 bucks.
ENGELAnd an idea that, okay, I'm going to make this work and I got a very cheap apartment in a walkup and started taking some language classed in Arabic for a few weeks and then, I decided, you know what, I'm getting this on the street. I'm learning this by osmosis anyway. I'll just hire tutors who can help me out because it was a place where there was no privacy in a good way 'cause I lived in a poor neighborhood and I was American. I don't think there were many other Americans or foreigners of any kind.
REHMHow were you treated?
ENGELThere was an interested, a curiosity. That's what I meant about privacy. I would go down and sit in a coffee shop and get a coffee or a shisha.
REHMAnd people would come and join you.
ENGELAnd people would come and join me and sit there and order their own coffee and I couldn't get people away from me. So it's great if you want to learn the language. It's bad if you want to sit there and read the newspaper, which I didn't. I went there in order to learn. So I very quickly became aware of the surroundings, the language, the culture and the language and culture in a poor neighborhood is very different than the language and behavior in rich areas.
ENGELEven in Cairo, the rich people kind of left each other alone. That was the understanding. In a poor neighborhood in Cairo, there was no personal space. People touch you. People take you places. People take you by the hand. They feed you things. They're very, very intimate and it was wonderful, you know. I had a great sense of immersion.
REHMDid you have any connection with any employer or potential employer.
ENGELI started out freelancing quite quickly 'cause that was the goal and I needed some income. My rent was cheap, but I needed to pay it.
REHMFreelancing for whom?
ENGELFreelancing for -- I did a lot of radio in the beginning. I was freelancing for people like ABC radio, which paid, I think it was 50 or $60 a report, which wasn't much, but it could get you -- it could get me places. Then, for Voice of America, I started doing freelancing for them as well. Later on, for PRI's The World and I was a correspondent...
ENGELI had a wonderful time there.
ENGELAnd started doing television as well. But in the initial years, the first, like, seven years, I was a freelancer doing print and radio primarily and then some television later on and then television became the bulk of it.
REHMRichard Engel, he's chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. He's got a new book all about his experiences in the Middle East watching a world almost fall apart. His book is titled, "And Then All Hell Broke Loose." Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Richard Engel is here in the studio. He is chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. He's got a brand new book all about his beginnings as a foreign correspondent, his dreams of serving overseas and the reality. Appropriately enough, his book is titled "And Then All Hell Broke Loose." Richard Engel, what is the, then?
ENGELSo this book is told through my eyes. So there are lots of anecdotes and my beginnings in Cairo and this idea that I wanted to go out and pursue a career as a foreign correspondent. But at its heart, there is a thesis to the book. And the thesis is that there was a status quo that existed. And I really like -- and in the book I discuss it -- to think of the status quo like a row of old houses. So imagine row houses, Victorian style, Georgian style, whatever style you want, in a beach town, next to each other. They look very impressive from the outside. People stop, they take pictures of them. They look like they've been there forever and will always be there. But, in reality, you could put your finger through the wall, because they're rotten on the inside. Right?
ENGELThat's -- so keep that image in your mind. The Middle East, when I arrived 20 years ago, was like that. There were a series of row houses that looked very impressive and very ornate but were rotten on the inside. Full of termites, in the form of corruption and nepotism and religious extremism and these deep-seated conflicts, were being contained by the houses but, if you don't open the windows and doors, you're actually making them worse. So these antecedental conflicts were there. But they were contained and they kept getting worse and worse.
ENGELAnd the Bush administration, for eight years, didn't just push America's finger through the wall of one of those houses, we slammed America's shoulder into the side of one of these houses and started a sequence of events. And that eight years of direct military action broke the old status quo and started a collapse that impacted all of these row houses, because they're just right next to each other. Then to continue the analogy, for the very soon to be eight years of the Obama administration, we had not direct military action but inconsistent action: Supporting revolution in Egypt, not supporting it in Bahrain days later. Supporting the revolution with force in Libya, not supporting it in Syria, even while promising to support it in Syria.
ENGELSo you have these wildly different approaches under the same administration. And the combined effect of the actions of the Bush administration and the actions of this current administration unleashed all those antecedental conflicts, the primordial ooze, if you will, that had -- was in there, that we didn't create, that Americans didn't create. Nobody in the United States created the Sunni-Shia conflict or the conflict between Arabs and Persians or Turks and Kurds or Kurds and Arabs.
REHMThey were already there.
ENGELThey were already there. But they were contained and getting worse by the dictator system.
REHMThe big men.
ENGELThe big men. And now we live in that chaos. And then all hell broke loose. And that is the Hell that the Middle East is seeing right now. I've never seen it worse.
REHMDo you believe that that action to bomb Iraq began the whole falling apart?
ENGELYes. I think that was the seminal moment. That -- the decision to invade Iraq was the primary actor, the first action that changed dramatically the status quo. And then you had eight years of that. And then you have almost eight years of inconsistent. And what you've been left with is this chaos. And I think ISIS is a virus. It is the representative of the chaos. And like a virus, ISIS thrives not because of the strength of the virus -- nobody likes the virus, everybody hates the virus. Viruses are strong because the host is weak. And, in this case, the host -- being the broader Middle East -- is incredibly sick. So the virus is eating away at the flesh.
REHMLet's go to the big men. Because you watched as, one by one, they began to fall.
ENGELSaddam Hussein, Mubarak, the Assad Family -- hasn't fallen, but has been challenged -- Bin Ali, Gadhafi, these were the pillars onto which the Middle East was resting -- on which the Middle East was resting. And I wouldn't say they were good pillars. We shouldn't be nostalgic for Saddam Hussein. That was the system of big men that was in place.
REHMLet's go back to 1997, your first report on a terror attack. How did that affect your understanding of what you were experiencing?
ENGELSo I was living in Cairo, living poor and starting to report and having this wonderful experience with the local community. And the local community had its own hang-ups. It was misogynistic. It was profoundly anti-Semitic. It was profoundly ignorant about many things. Conspiracy theories abounded. The Americans and the Mossad were in cahoots to ruin Egypt. There was a certain tediousness to the popular culture, if you will.
REHMBecause that was always the gossip going on.
ENGELThat was always the gossip, which the government actually encouraged. The government was happy -- the Mubarak government, to allow people to talk about this kind of nonsense, if they didn't focus on the real problems, the real corruption, the real nepotism, the fact that it was operating more like a monarchy than a republic. So there was a lot of chatter that you could dismiss because it was just ignorant street chatter and I was quite familiar with it.
ENGELBut then, when this attack happened -- there was a vicious terrorist attack where a gunman got onto a bus in front of the Cairo Museum and just started unloading his rifle into people sitting in this -- in their chairs. And some of the people tried to smash out the windows. You know, the buses have those signs, you can either break the window or push them out, and some people started to do that. Molotov cocktails are being thrown at them. And it was the first time I saw the really ugly underside.
REHMWhat prompted that particular attack?
ENGELI like to think about those attacks -- because that attack was then followed up just in short order by a terrible attack in Luxor, the old city of Thebes...
REHMI remember that.
ENGEL...the attack in front of the Hatshepsut Temple, and it was even more vicious. It was a group of gunmen who started massacring tourists and then continued on. They went to a secondary location and kept firing and kept killing people. And I think of those two attacks a little bit like the precursors to al-Qaida. They were vicious attacks on civilians in the Middle East, designed to punish the government. Punish the government of Egypt, but also in their minds to destabilize the leadership and allow sort of a new phase of Islamic law to come in. And they thought these were acts of terrorism but also that would lead to a change of power and a revolution.
ENGELAnd it was the first time I saw that this mentality of conspiracy theories, of anger, of victimization had a dark side. That you -- it wasn't just simplistic. It was -- there was an insidious anger embedded in it. And I think we saw it emerge even more strongly with the 9/11 attacks, which weren't that many years later.
REHMAnd when you say you saw those attacks, how close by were you?
ENGELThe Cairo Museum attack I was very close by. I happened to hear about it. I was working at a local newspaper at the time, a paper called the Middle East Times. It was a weekly -- it was very old fashioned. I mean, you think it's just 20 years ago. But back then, we printed out this weekly newspaper. And I or somebody else at the paper would have to go every week with transparencies in a tube, like an old-fashioned architect, and we would carry this tube with the actual paper in it on transparencies to a printing press.
ENGELAnd this Greek man would take out the transparencies. And he had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth that I don't think I ever saw him ash, and he took out an X-ACTO knife and he cut out the newspaper and put these transparencies onto a metal plate. And then it was dipped in some sort of acid bath. And then this sheet, which had the paper now burned onto it, was fed into a old-fashioned printing machine that looked like a train engine. And then it would start rolling. This was only 20 years ago.
REHMAnd I presume that newspaper was in English.
ENGELIt was in English. So this was the ex-pat kind of newspaper that would be put under your hotel room door or diplomats would read. And you could buy it on the street. So I was working for this newspaper at the time and got a very quick tip-off that there had been a shooting bus -- the target was a busload of tourists. I believe they were mostly German tourists. So I got there very, very quickly. And there was still no cordon in place. There was still a fluid situation. I got onto the bus itself and could see the bodies, could see people -- you could smell the smell of the burning of the plastic seats. Some people had been melted to their seats because there was a lot of fire. The attacker had been throwing Molotov cocktails into the bus.
REHMAnd this attack, you're saying, was basically an attack against a corrupt government.
ENGELThat's -- the attackers believed -- and you can only speculate on motivation, but since there were several attacks you can understand more or less what they're trying to do -- that by killing tourists, you're going to harm the economy.
ENGELHarms the economy, embarrasses the government, you hurt the government. Terrorism is generally, you attack the weakest person, you attack civilians, because you don't have the force or the capability to attack the army or the leadership. So if I'm an enemy and I can't reach the president or the military, I do something horrible in order to impact the leadership indirectly.
REHMAnd 20 years later, what is tourism in Egypt like?
ENGELWell, Egypt has been through...
ENGEL...a very interesting time. So it went through this period of low-grade insurgency that started. And then that got tamped down. And the low-grade fight more or less went away in Egypt. And then you had -- the defining moment that Egypt, which a lot of other countries had, would be the Arab Spring. You had the revolutions where -- they were populist revolutions. People came out to denounce the government, to ask for more freedom, but also ask for more jobs and for money and to ask for less corruption.
ENGELFollowing that period of chaos, Egypt is now -- has a new strong man in place. And the tourism sector is getting better. It's safer to walk the streets. But human rights activists will tell you that they are paying the price.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You must have wanted to go back in history to try to figure out where all the anger, where all the animosity began. I mean, you come back here to this country and you see brand new demonstrations of ugliness at the base of our political system, which surprises you. Because you left a country that was relatively...
ENGELThe debates were more civil, frankly.
REHMExactly. So you must have wanted to look back in that history.
ENGELI have. And it's -- there have been periods in the Islamic world of extremism and fanaticism. And, really, this is -- you could find this in any religious part of the world where you've had periods of extreme acts of faith that went into fanaticism, you know, your Crusades and the Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition and others. But, generally, these moments have been squashed by the community itself. And you have...
REHMAnd thereby short-lived.
ENGELYou had the -- very early on in Islamic history you had a group called the Kharijites. And they were responsible for attacking the early caliphs, right in the beginning of Islam itself, you had an extremist movement. The third caliph was murdered. The fourth caliph was murdered. They -- you had the Sunni-Shia civil war break out quite early on in Islam. But then the Islamic community tamped it down. And if ISIS or al-Qaida rose up like they have risen up, I expect one day that the Islamic community will once again tamp it down.
ENGELIt's like a virus. The virus is there. It's in your system. It's in your body. Like if you get a cold sore, it's always there. But generally your body is healthy enough to fight it off. And, right now, the body is so weak that the virus has become pronounced.
REHMYou must have been happy to see the Arab Spring.
ENGELI was optimistic at first. And I -- I was optimistic but also nervous. Because there was a sense of populism in it right from the start. There was a sense of anti-Semitism in it right from the start. And there weren't just kids going out into the street and saying, in English, we want to bring down the regime of, pick a country. There were also the populace, the people who were demagogues, who were latching onto this movement and who had very much their own agenda. So you didn't know who was going to win. Were the smart, university kids, who were out really asking for democracy, were they going to win? Were the religious fanatics, who were jumping on the bandwagon, were they the ones who were going win?
ENGELOr were the truck drivers, who had their own conspiracy-theory-filled heads -- were they the ones who were going to emerge on top?
REHMRichard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. His new book, "And Then All Hell Broke Loose." Stay with us.
REHMAnd if you're just joined us, Richard Engel is here in the studio. He is of course the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. You have seen his nightly reports from the Middle East primarily. He's about to embark on a brand new adventure, which we don't go into. I do want to open the phones. Lot of our listeners have key questions about what you've done and what you know. Let's go first to Naperville, Illinois. Doug, you're on the air.
DOUGThank you, Diane, for taking my call.
DOUGMr. Engel, appreciate your work very much on NBC. Our son studied in Egypt and would be grateful if you could reflect a little more on after President Mubarak was out of power, the thousands in Tahrir Square. Why didn't, other than the Muslim Brotherhood, why weren't the more effective or participatory in the electoral process? And if they had been, if Faraday and others and other than Muslim Brotherhood been elected, would things be very different and much more hopeful in Egypt today?
ENGELSo why didn't the Egyptian revolution work? And there are different ways of looking at it. So the Egyptian revolution happened early on, and it was -- Tunisia was the first, but Egypt was the first big one, the first in a country of size and scope. And within a short order, just a few weeks, they managed to topple the government. But what was -- what's important to understand is right from the beginning, it was the military in Egypt that toppled Mubarak. It was a military coup with popular standing.
ENGELAnd I think the revolutionaries themselves, the people on the streets, didn't fully appreciate that, that they were -- they prompted the military to take action because the military had decided there's so many people on the streets, Mubarak has become a liability, we're going to put him in a hospital, we're going to put him in a prison, and we're going to take him off the table, but we're going to do this through a military action.
ENGELAnd then it was the military that was overseeing, from the background primarily, the revolutionary process. And when that revolutionary process, though, the rallies and the series of elections and the constitutional committees that were formed in Egypt, once that process started bringing in the Muslim Brotherhood, and once the members of the Muslim Brotherhood started showing off their new authority and trying to get rid of the military and to take off the -- get rid of the schoolteacher who still was trying to set the rules in the classroom, once the Muslim Brotherhood went too far, the military had a counter-revolution and said, okay, we're not allowing this revolutionary experience to proceed any further, and you had the military come in and crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, kill quite a number of people and re-establish authority.
ENGELSo I think it's important to understand that from the military's perspective, it was always an experiment. They're going to allow some revolution, they're going to allow it to progress, and I don't think they even knew themselves how far they were going to allow it to go. But then once the Muslim Brotherhood came and started really asserting itself, and there's this famous image of Morsi, the elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood, sitting down in Mubarak's own old chair and sort of adjusting his back and seeing if the chair is comfortable, and then once Morsi actually decided that he was going to remove some top generals and remove some people from the military, you saw the military sweep in, and said okay, enough is enough.
REHMSo at the root of everything that's awful, that's happening in the Middle East, is this sense of anger. And the question becomes how Osama bin Laden and how al-Qaeda began to somehow channel this anger to their own advantage and begin to grow.
ENGELSo Osama bin Laden in some ways is very similar to ISIS, to Baghdadi, and in other ways is very different. In this book I describe bin Laden as an angry historian. He sees the world through a narrative that shows the Muslim world having once been great, leaders of science and technology, which it was for a brief period, and then sees the Islamic world, particularly the Arab world, in its current state, where it is not producing a lot of scientists, it is not producing a lot of cutting-edge technology, it is generally in poverty and is not leading the world in terms of civilization.
ENGELAnd bin Laden's idea was the Islamic world was great, now the Islamic world is on its knees. There is a conspiracy by the United States and Israel and sort of Jews in general to bring us out. Why else would we be on our knees, unless somebody was keeping us there? And his thought was we're going to change the system, we're going to have a revolution, we're going to attack directly the agents of this conspiracy, the agents of the Islamic world's weakness, the United States primarily, and by doing that we're going to usher in a new era of greatness.
ENGELSo there's a sense of nostalgia in it, a longing for a past, and a sense of victimization, that someone, particularly Washington, is doing this to us, to the body politic of the Islamic world. ISIS has a similar mentality, but ISIS has a place. ISIS has a state. ISIS has its own area in which this mentality can grow and fester so that it can have its own courts and its own foreign policy and its own executioners, where they can live under this very twisted and very sad mentality.
REHMAnd it is spreading.
ENGELIt will go away. I think ISIS' time in the world is limited. It could do something horrible. ISIS has promised many times that it's going to do another 9/11 or more. It's possible. I wouldn't discount that, and I think people in this town, in the intelligence community, keep -- are now increasingly talking about that. So ISIS is dangerous, but nobody likes the ISIS way of living. Very few people in the Islamic world actually think what ISIS is proposing is a good idea. So it will go away. The question is how long, how long it's still around.
REHMHere's an email from Larry in Upstate New York, who says, as you became the face of NBC, did you feel that you yourself became more of a target?
ENGELYes and no. You profile being -- gaining profile is a mixed blessing. The more high-profile you get, the easier it is sometimes to secure an interview, the more seriously people take you. If I want to meet with a senior official in a foreign government, or I want to meet with an academic, if you have some name recognition, that helps. But you also don't want to become a target for kidnapping, and you don't want to seem like a valuable commodity.
ENGELFrankly speaking, most people in the region where I work don't watch NBC News, aren't going to be reading this kind of book. So when I walk around Cairo or Tunis or any country, Baghdad, generally people don't know -- have any idea who I am. So that's fine.
REHMNow of course there is another question, and that has to do with your own personal life, your marriage.
ENGELMarriage, just had a baby.
REHMYour second marriage.
REHMYour first marriage did not survive your foreign correspondence.
ENGELIt did not. So I moved out to the Middle East with the couple suitcases and a small amount of money, and I wanted to be a foreign correspondent and moved to the slum in Cairo and frankly found it very intellectually engaging to be hanging out and learning about the culture and learning about the religion, but it was also quite lonely. As someone who's not Muslim, someone who stayed away from the local women, I knew right away that was a dangerous road to go down and could've led to all sorts of terrible consequences, I thought, I don't have a lot of people to interact with.
ENGELSo I started up a relationship with a woman who became my wife. I got married at 24 years old. And that one didn't last very long. So...
REHMWhere is she, in America?
ENGELShe's in America. She was an old girlfriend.
REHMAn old girlfriend.
ENGELShe had been an old girlfriend who I rekindled the flame and said hey.
REHMAnd was she here in the States while you were there?
ENGELAnd came out -- came out to visit, first on a trip. I said, hey, come out and visit me in Cairo and, you know, see what you think. And the trip went well, the trip became another trip. Then she ended up coming out for longer periods, and then we ended up getting married. And it was nice. It lasted for four years. I got married at 24, which is quite young. And I don't think she fully appreciated what being a young correspondent, foreign correspondent meant.
ENGELIt meant that I would go away on open-ended trips for months at a time, sometimes longer. And I think we were both very young, and it didn't work out, unfortunately. Then I was single for years and living the life, as you'd probably expect, on the road. It's a little bit like being in a rock band, you know, hotels to hotels every night and a lot of good times and a lot of bad times, and that was fun. And then just relatively recently, I got married again, and just over the moon. We have a little baby. His name is Henry. He's four and a half months old, and I'm an incredibly proud dad.
REHMAnd will she travel with you?
ENGELShe travels with me. She's based overseas. We're both based overseas. And we have -- she's got her circle of friends, and she doesn't go on stories with me, I'm not planning on walking through Baghdad with one of those baby carriers in the front and a backpack on the back. There'll be nothing like that. But she's forward deployed, if you will. She lives overseas so I can come back and see her and have some family time and then go on to the next story.
REHMAll right, let's take a call here from Sue in Rochester, New York. You're on the air.
SUEHi, I find your message contradictory. We shouldn't have gone in under Bush. Now we should go in. And having gone in under Bush totally destabilized the region, it was stable, ugly but stable, for nothing more than the wealth -- the transfer of wealth of trillions of dollars to Bush's defense buddies. And we're -- and I -- this is one American who doesn't want to see another nickel spent over there.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And of course, Richard, she's concerned about Syria, as we all are.
ENGELSure, the Iraq war was a major intervention, very expensive, will still be paid for in the veterans who were injured for many years to come. And the sort of -- I'm not arguing for massive intervention in any place right now. What I think is going to emerge, so we've talked about all this paradigm, this theory that I'm arguing in this book in that there was a series of big men, they got destroyed by the actions of the Bush administration, and then that was compounded by the inconsistent actions of this administration, now we have chaos.
ENGELWhat I think will naturally emerge, without us doing anything, is a new series of strong men that won't cost the U.S. a nickel, that it's not going to be American troops who are going to go in and build up these new strong men. I think the people themselves, who are tired of the chaos, will be looking for answers, and they will want some stability again.
REHMWill Assad stay on as part of that group of strong men?
ENGELI think the regime stays on. I don't know if the person of Assad stays on. That's the question that the Russians are going to have to answer and the Iranians are going to have to answer. I think the regime probably survives. At some stage it looked very shaky, but I think at this stage, there's been so much chaos, I think the regime probably does.
REHMRussia is taking the leadership.
ENGELRussia has decided that it's going to be -- prove its loyalty. It's going -- it's very much also a message the United States and to American allies that the U.S. vacillates and doesn't stick up for its friends, and Russia does at all costs. Its old friends get support. So I think the regime probably does survive, but Assad himself, maybe, maybe not.
REHMSo in the meantime...
ENGELIt's a little bit like you could -- like World War II. You know, you keep -- you blame it all on Hitler, but you keep the old system. You blame everything that happened on Hitler and his inner circle, but you can keep the old system so things don't totally collapse. I think that might be the future for Syria going forward, that you blame everything on Assad and a small circle, but you end up keeping the framework of the regime.
REHMBut do you eventually, and if so in how much time, come to a certain placid era once again?
ENGELProbably because people don't like and can't tolerate living in chaos. People can't tolerate where you go outside, and there's a checkpoint, and you don't know if it's an ISIS checkpoint of it it's a Free Syrian Army checkpoint, or one day it was Free Syrian Army checkpoint, the next day it's ISIS, or it's some other group that has made up its own name. People can't tolerate that forever.
REHMOn the other hand, you heard high officials in the U.S. state just recently that they expect another at least attempt at a major attack on the U.S.
ENGELI think ISIS has to do that kind of thing. It has to continue to push the envelope. It has presented itself, and it needs to feed its propaganda, as the world's most aggressive, the world's worst, the vanguard of the -- this movement. So in order to keep that status, it has to keep doing attacks.
REHM"And Then All Hell Broke Loose," that's the title of Richard Engel's new book. He is chief foreign correspondent for NBC News. Richard Engel, stay safe, come back and see us.
ENGELOh, thank you so much. It's been a real pleasure to talk to you.
ENGELAnd thank you for having me on, and thank you all for listening.
REHMAnd thanks everybody for listening. I'll be off for the next few days on book tour. I'll look forward to coming back.
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