From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
Guest Host: Susan Page
World leaders work to negotiate a temporary ceasefire in Syria. Iranian authorities arrest a U.S. citizen whose son is imprisoned in Tehran. And EU ministers meet again on the migrant crisis. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's out with the flu. Top diplomats working to end the Syrian civil war hope to reach a secession of hostilities agreement that would begin tomorrow. In Iran, voters go to the polls today for parliamentary elections that pit hardliners against reformers. And divisions within the European Union intensify over the migrant crisis.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for this week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy magazine, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast and Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israel News and The Forward. Welcome to you all to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Susan.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHi, Susan.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMANThanks for having me.
PAGEWe hope our listeners will give us a call later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Nancy, let's start with Syria. A UN deadline is today. Where do things stand?
YOUSSEFWell, today's been called a crucial day in the Syria war in that there's a secession of hostilities that's supposed to begin at midnight Damascus time so afternoon for much of the United States. And the agreement is essentially that the Russians and the U.S. and forces on the ground would not engage in fighting unless it's against the Islamic State, al-Nusra, which is al-Qaida, essentially, in Syria and other UN designated terrorist groups.
YOUSSEFAnd so there's a lot of question about how long this can hold because you have two groups that have an interest in sort of undoing it. One is a state one, Turkey, which still sees the YPG as a terrorist group and has already said that it will continue to attack the YPG if it threatens Turkey. And then, groups like the Islamic State and Nusra who have an interest in undoing this by launching attacks that could provoke some of these rebel groups. A lot o these rebel groups also have said that they don't see it as a secession as long as Nusra is out of the picture in the sense that they see them as a viable target and that they're worried about what's going to happen.
YOUSSEFAnd so everybody's sort of on pins and needles about how long this can hold, when it breaks, how it breaks and who breaks it.
PAGENathan, so many people have died in this Syrian civil war, but expectations seem pretty low for this agreement that may be reached by midnight.
GUTTMANExtremely low. There isn't much hope on behalf on any of the sides that something can really be come out of this or that the secession of hostilities will even survive the two-weeks that people hope it will survive until peace talks are resumed. As we just heard, there are so many obstacles on the way. It's not only the super powers trying to intervene there. It's the Turks and the Kurds. It's the question of what does it mean, attack al-Nusra, which is an affiliate of al-Qaida, when they're in part of the places also cooperating with other opposition forces.
GUTTMANSo there is -- it's probably the most difficult deal to actually implement if it can even kick off.
PAGEAnd Yochi, we keep calling it a secession of hostilities agreement. Why don't we call it a cease fire?
DREAZENThe truth is, neither phrase is accurate. In both cases, we need air quotes. I mean, a ceasefire carries with it sort of more diplomatic weight. It sort of implies that it might have some degree of lasting and some degree of scope. The major groups that are fighting are not going to stop fighting. We know the rebel alliance that has said we'll back this is largely irrelevant. ISIS and Nusra are obviously not part of any diplomatic process. They're going to keep carrying out attacks.
DREAZENRussia will keep bombing them, which means progress towards the recapture of Aleppo, which would be the biggest Assad victory in quite some time, that will continue at pace. So they're calling it secession of hostilities in a sort of aspirational sense to begin with, but even there, the groups who are the main combatants couldn't care less about this agreement and the fighting will go on. And in the meantime, you know, as you mentioned in the intro, the humanitarian suffering goes on.
DREAZENIn the category of things that would be funny if they were not so tragic, there was a UN air drop into Deir al-Zour, a town where people have been starving for some number of months. They dropped 21 tons of food. Then, they admitted that all of it was either lost, damaged or landed in a mine field. So even when there's like the small glimmer of, hey, the UN's gonna try to bail out these starving villagers, it fails.
YOUSSEFCan I just add, there have been a lot of interesting developments on the war fighting front. We've seen ISIS lose Shaddadi in Hasakah Province, which is in the northeast corner of Syria. That town is part of -- leads into the supply route into Raqqah, its capital. They are fighting for (word?) , which is on the other side, on the western front in terms of the supply route. We've seen ISIS continue to fight in Palmyra, in the central part of the country, if you will, and it seems that the group is shifting in such a way that the areas that they're willing to fight for are ones that would be sort of an entree into the west, into places like Homs where we've seen intense fighting, particularly in the hours leading up to the cease fire.
YOUSSEFYou're starting, I think, to see an ISIS that is making some strategic shifts in the face of the Russian and the coalition air strikes in the sense making a decision about new places to go into next. I think it's why you saw the series of bombings on Sunday in Homs. It's an effort by them to start to try to expand the front lines in such a way such that you have both the U.S.-lead coalition and the Russians forced to expand the areas in which they strike. And I think that's an interesting development that we saw this week.
PAGEYou know, with the weather getting warmer, there's some thought that the migrant crisis is going to get worse and you see European countries trying to figure out what do to about that. Nathan, we had Balkan nations get together on their own this week to take action. What are they looking to do?
GUTTMANWell, basically, the greatest concern now in Europe is that if one country starts shutting down its borders, then this will cascade towards the south, inevitably in closing the borders all the way down to Greece, which is currently the main port of entry for Syrian and other refugees. And that's why the Balkan countries that are next in line, basically, sat down with Austria, in a sense, behind the backs of the Greeks, which really got the Greeks upset and they pulled their ambassador back from Vienna.
GUTTMANBut what they're trying to do is coordinate their border policy in order to limit the ability of migrants to move freely through their countries. And eventually, what this will cause is for all these migrants to get stuck in Greece, which is the port just in front of them. So that's what they're trying to do right now because of this cascading effect of everyone concerned that their country will be stuck with hundreds of thousands of refugees that can't continue moving north.
PAGEBut I wonder if this just reflects the failure of countries like Germany and France and other NATO countries to figure out what to do and that's why you see the Balkan nations trying to take action. What is the EU now trying to do?
DREAZENEighteen months ago, if you were to ask about Angela Merkel, you would say she is powerful, she will never go down, she'll have the office as long as she wants to. Flash forward, her immigration policy, which is, by far, the most generous really in the world and makes ours here look pitifully small, of accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees into Germany has weakened her to the point that she may potentially lose office in the next rounds of elections.
DREAZENThe EU's trying to figure out a way of taking refugees and splitting them up among EU countries and saying, country X takes this amount, country Y takes this amount. It's failing. They'd agreed late last year that they would take 160,000 and resettle them. So far, they've resettled 500 out of 160,000 they promised to move. And what you're seeing is a rise of pure nationalism. You're seeing the return of borders. In Hungary -- I almost want to go to the notebook 'cause the quote's incredible.
DREAZENHungary had called now for a referendum on whether they will allow the EU, basically, to make them take refugees in. And some of the language was absolutely incredible. You can get a sense about whether someone's gonna win when they say, "if the" -- he's being asked -- he, being the head of Hungary asking his voters "are you in favor of the EU being allowed to make settlement of non Hungarians obligatory, even if our parliament disagrees?" You can guess what the response to that's going to be.
DREAZENBut it reminds you that nationalism and borders are coming back in force because people don't want this flood of refugees into their country.
YOUSSEFI mean, to give you sense of it, the agreement that Austria struck with the Balkan states, two of those Balkan states, Macedonia and Serbia, are not even members of the EU and this was a deal done to thwart a member of the EU. And so I think that gives you a sense of the fragility of the EU writ large because of the migrant crisis, which I think was a really interesting development in all this. As Yochi was saying, you have this return to border states and also the return to kind of alliances of pre-EU, the kinds of states that are coming together are states that you would've seen potentially aligning themselves 50 years ago, before there was even talk of an EU.
YOUSSEFSo you really get the sense that between the Brits voting, setting a date to have a vote about its membership and now the kinds of things that are being said out of Hungary, the kinds of alliances that are being made with Austria and the Balkan states, the worry about the standing of the EU, I think, is at its peak.
PAGENathan, what do you think is going to happen next?
GUTTMANWell, it's up to a few factors there. First of all, we mentioned Angela Merkel and she definitely, you know, people were speaking of her not only as the chancellor of Germany. She was a chancellor of Europe. And she has a lot at stake here. If Germany can turn this around somehow by enforcing a migrant share or migrant dispersion agreement that will spread the migrants throughout Europe in a way that countries would agree on, that would be a huge achievement. But that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now.
GUTTMANSo the best thing they can do is to try to go back to Turkey with an offer that will somehow convince the Turks to close their borders more effectively, cooperate with them in a more efficient way on the migrant issue and somehow stem the flow of migrants into Europe and then, start dealing with the million or so migrants that are already in these countries. But that would be extremely difficult to achieve right now.
PAGENathan Guttman, he's the Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and The Forward. And we're also joined this hour for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup by Nancy Youssef, who's senior defense and national security correspondent for The Daily Beast and Yochi Dreazen, who's managing editor of Foreign Policy. He's author of "The Invisible Front."
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the elections in Iran and more. We'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number. Our phone lines are open. Feel free to give us a call or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Nancy Youssef from The Daily Beast, Nathan Guttman from Channel 1 Israeli News and The Forward, and Yochi Dreazen from Foreign Policy. We're going to take your calls and questions later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, it's 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to email@example.com. Or you can find us on Facebook or Twitter.
PAGEWell, let's talk about what's going on in Iran. Iranians go to the polls today to elect members of parliament and the Assembly of Experts. I would personally like to be elected to something called the Assembly of Experts. What do they do, Nathan?
GUTTMANWell, first of all, you can't, because there are no women on the Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts is basically this group of clerics that their main -- or the reason we care about them is that they will be the one choosing the next supreme leader of Iran. And he is the figure that calls the shots in Iran. Khomeini is 76 years old. He's not that healthy. And there is reason to believe that this Assembly of Experts will be the one electing the next supreme leader. And with this position, you always like to see if it's a little more moderate or a little more extreme, because these very slight changes can make a big difference in the course in which Iran will take in the future.
PAGEAnd how does it look with this election? Do we have a sense of whether it might be a little more moderate or a little more extreme?
GUTTMANWell, the nice thing about the Iranian democracy is that they prescreen everyone. So both for the Assembly of Experts and for the parliament that's elected as well. If you want to run, you have to submit your candidacy. And then the leadership basically decides who can run. And we already know that they pretty much struck down a majority of the moderates and the reformists that were interested in running for these positions. So we can only guess that it will be more to the extreme.
PAGESo if they prescreen the candidates, is there a point to these elections, Yochi? Do they actually tell us something?
DREAZENI think there's a point in the sense of when you look at who's allowed in. In some ways, who's allowed to run is as interesting as who ultimately wins. Because when we use the term moderate and reformer in the context of Iran, it's very, very relative. Like, you know, you have some people who support the nuclear deal, which is probably the most important issue in terms of how we would look at them, and some who don't. But the candidates are interesting. One of the candidates who was disqualified was the grandson of the Ayatollah Khomeini. So he was seen as too much of a reformer. And this is, you know, the grandson of the person who founded the Islamic republic.
DREAZENAnd they -- when they disqualified him, there was a dagger. They said he didn't know enough about Islamic law to be allowed to vote on the next supreme leader. But the election does matter because it gives you a slight sense of, do more people back the nuclear deal, that faction is ascendant? Or do -- is the faction that wants to block it or unravel it or hates it, is that ascendant? But fundamentally, when you prescreen and knock out people who might actually qualify as a reformer, what's left is not that much of a reformer.
YOUSSEFI would also add, you know, Rouhani's election in 2013 was supposed to signal reforms, economic reforms. And there has not been a parliament to support that. Now, if you have a strong minority, which is a potential outcome, that would bolster his ability to make the kinds of changes that he promised in that election. And also the turnout will tell us something about where the electorate is. If we see higher turnout, that will speak more to reforms.
YOUSSEFFor me, I have to say that my favorite part of watching this election is the Telegram development. I don't know if you know about this app called Telegram, which is sort of encrypted text messaging which is very popular in the region. Because Facebook and Twitter are essentially banned in Iran, Telegram is not. And it's become one of the most important means of transmitting information about the election. The former -- the last sort of reformer president Iran had put out a five-minute video encouraging the youth to come out.
YOUSSEFFamilies are communicating with each other on how to vote and who they're voting for and why. And it's fascinating how it's become so -- such a critical part of this election, that people are saying they don't know how to -- they don't know how to vote without Telegram. And I just loved watching how that little sliver of technological liberties in Iran has really shaped the election and might contribute to a bigger outpouring of reformer voters.
PAGEWhy do you think they haven't banned Telegram? It sounds like a repressive government would find it potentially subversive.
YOUSSEFWell, it's essentially text messaging. And so I think it wasn't seen in the way that Twitter and Facebook are seen. But it's -- and also it's encrypted, so I don't know if that plays into it. But, you know, Facebook and -- Facebook, in particular, is associated with uprisings, particularly with the Arab Spring and everything else. Whereas Telegram doesn't have that history because it's not that old.
PAGESo, Yochi, you mentioned the nuclear deal as a factor here. Is that something people are campaigning on, that they're for or against the nuclear deal?
DREAZENYeah. And some of them are campaigning on the, it's like a proxy for -- whether they're for or against greater -- trying to reintegrate back into the world. So there is still discussion of the nuclear deal. There's still discussion of was it a mistake, did we give up too much, et cetera? But underlying all of it is, should Iran still be as closed or do people want Iran to be back open? Do they want the ability to travel? Do they want the ability to do business? It's interesting, Hassan Rouhani is himself running. So it isn't just a referendum on him as a ruler in some abstract sense. He is himself an actual, legitimate, literal candidate. So he's serving at the head of state. He may also be voted into parliament. If he were to lose -- it's interesting.
PAGEWhat is the state of reform in Iran today? Something that the United States has been looking for for quite a long time to try to -- in the hopes that it would grow. Where do things stand now?
GUTTMANWell, there hasn't been much progress since 2009. And Iran is now reaching a crossroads. Because on the one hand you have foreign money coming in now and you have a lifting of foreign sanctions. So there is the potential to open up to the West. And with that comes the potential of also increasing individual rights within the country. And that's what the moderates or reformers would like to do.
GUTTMANOn the other hand, you have the hardliners saying, well, we gave in on the nuclear deal because we needed the money. We needed actually to give something to the people to show them that we're making progress and that their life is getting better. But we need to stop it now, before this opening to the West will lead to the demand to more Western personal rights and civil rights.
YOUSSEFI think Nathan's got it exactly right. I think also worth noting for our American audience is that the nuclear is not in jeopardy, whatever the outcome of this election, because Khomeini -- the Ayatollah signed off on it.
PAGELet's go to the phones, let our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to Diane in Indianapolis. Diane, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
DIANEGood morning. I'd like to ask why, since Russia is a major participant in the tragedy currently happening in Syria, that immigrants are not moving into Russia? I don't know why the EU is solely responsible for accepting these millions of desperate people.
PAGEAnd, Diane, let me just ask you. There's been a debate in this country as well, although not as intense as the one going on in Europe. What do you think about the United States taking in Syrian refugees?
DIANEI think we're taking in too few. I don't know that we're going to absorb a million. I don't know that we're going to absorb 500,000. But I think if our northern neighbors can be so welcoming to people who have been thoroughly vetted, we should be able to take in some of these people too.
PAGEYeah. Diane, thanks very much for your call. What about Diane's point about Russia? How many refugees is Russia taking in?
DREAZENI mean, if they're taking any, it's tiny. I mean, they're not a member of the EU obviously, so anything the EU says that Russia should do, Russia doesn't care. But Russia cracks down continually on the Islamic populations it has both within what we think of as Russia and also its near neighbors. There's no immediate land bridge that would take people from Syria to Russia. And there's just no way Russia would let them in.
PAGEWe've got another caller who I think is interested in talking about Russia, and that's Johanna who has just hung up. Johanna, I'm sorry you hung up. We'll go instead to Bonnie, who's calling us from Annapolis, Md. Bonnie, you're on the air.
BONNIEHi. I'm calling about the conversation about the European Union and the Syrian immigration. And somebody had said something about the failure of France, Germany, and then it went on to the Balkans and, you know, the negative aspect of what's going on. But what's missing for me is why is it the European failure? Why can't we say it's the failure of Saudi Arabia or Iran or Jordan, them taking in refugees? I don't know, maybe they are. But I don't ever hear that piece of the conversation.
PAGEAll right. Bonnie, thanks for your call. Let me ask our panel.
DREAZENI mean, in the case of Jordan, they've taken in over a million refugees, for a country of six million people. So there's real fear in the Arab world, there's real fear in Israel that the Jordanian government itself will be in jeopardy because, I mean, just imagine taking in a million people even here, let alone for a country that small. Turkey has taken in gigantic numbers. Saudi Arabia, it's a fair point. I mean, the Gulf countries have taken in virtually zero. And they're not spending much on humanitarian aid. They're spending much -- they're spending money to Jordan to try to keep the Jordanian government alive, to Egypt to try keep the Egyptian government from toppling. Saudi Arabia, she's right, has taken in virtually none.
YOUSSEFYochi's exactly right. I would just add Lebanon on that list, which has taken in a million in a country of four million, and one -- a state that really is -- has depended on reaching that balance between Sunni and Shia and Christians. And that's been completely upended by this influx of refugees in Lebanon. I mean, when you walk through the streets of Beirut, you cannot go anywhere without seeing refugees on the streets. I mean, it's fundamentally changed the state of that country. But I understand Bonnie's point about the Arab world's responsibility to help solve the Syrian crisis.
YOUSSEFBut as Yochi mentioned, there are so many internal problems happening in the region right now. And they're operating from a position of not trying to save Syria primarily but preserve their own self interest in the region.
GUTTMANIt's also maybe worth adding that in Europe, the EU weren't necessarily proactive with this problem. They were presented with an issue when migrants found this route from Turkey into Greece. And once Greece is a EU member, then entire Europe was open to the migrants. And that's when we saw the migrant issue develop in Europe. And, of course, Europe responded in a very welcoming way. But it's not as if the Europeans came in, in the early stages of the war and said, well, we're interested in absorbing a million or so Syrian refugees.
PAGELet's -- go ahead, Yochi.
DREAZENWell, the caller made a good point. I think she could have added another country to the list, which is America. I mean, we've taken in -- we've agreed to take in 17,000 over the next two years. It's pitiful. And you listen to a Republican debate -- I know you talked about politics in the first hour -- but you would get the impression that there are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees that are crowding into the United States, coming over the Mexican border and just coming from every side. And that -- it's just flatly wrong.
DREAZENEven if we were to take in every refugee we've promised to take in, 17,000 over two years compared to, as Nancy mentioned, a million-plus in Jordan -- excuse me, in Lebanon, a million-plus in Jordan. The numbers here are just tiny.
PAGETake a step back. When we look, in a decade or in a generation, when we look back at the exodus of migrants from this region, what are the consequences of that? To what degree does it change, you know, the picture of the world and the character of nations around the world?
YOUSSEFI mean, for me the question is, what is a Libya? What is a Syria? You know, when you go to Libya now, you don't see the kind of Libyan population that you -- I never, when I was in Libya in 2011, I never heard a Tunisian accent or an Algerian accent. And now it's inundated with them. So what is a Libya if there aren't Libyans there, when they fled to places like Tunisia? What is a Syria when the borders are not clear, when Syrians themselves don't see it as a state anymore because of the war and the migration issues?
YOUSSEFAnd so I think, for the region the question becomes, what are these states which were, many of them, cobbled together in recent history. And now you have such a fundamental change in the populations there that it's not clear. What is Jordan, when there are no Jordanians in it? So, I mean, I think that's the question that the region is facing. Are these borders still applicable? Is the region the way we define it?
GUTTMANAnd of course, to continue that line, what is Europe, if Europe becomes a continent that, first of all, is broken up once again into separate nations with their own borders, as we discussed earlier. And that many of these countries have a significant Middle-Eastern Muslim population that -- so we're changing Europe as well in this process.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Well, Yochi, could this signal the end of the European Union, a fundamental redefinition of that experiment?
DREAZENYes. I mean, you have in England, this wonderful phrase, the Brexit -- some of these phrases are just fantastic -- but the idea of England leaving the EU, which it may well do. I mean, the people who are running to succeed David Cameron are for the most part in favor of England leaving the EU. You have the economic problems across the EU. You have anger in Germany that's been going on for years about, why should we as the strongest economy, we the one that's responsible and doesn't spend the money we don't have, keep bailing out countries like Greece, keep bailing out countries like Italy, which don't run themselves with any degree of efficacy and are dishonest in their governments and corrupt?
DREAZENSo you have, on the one hand, England pulling out. On the other, the economy collapsing. On the other, refugees. And I think, you know, Nathan was exactly right, changing the complexity of your complexity of Europe, the demographics of Europe. In this country we see kind of a nativist feeling of, what if Muslims come in and change America? Well, the numbers aren't there. But, in Europe, that is a legitimate question of what happens in countries that have a history of being Christian countries? How do they deal with becoming Muslim plurality or Muslim majority? What kind of violence do you see in response? What kind of hatred and xenophobia do you see in response?
DREAZENAnd you're going to see -- you already are seeing borders go back. You're already seeing people saying, show me your papers, come back. So, yes.
GUTTMANAnd just to add to all your problems that Europe has is Russia reasserting itself as a regional power and definitely threatening Europe as a continent and European countries individually in this process.
PAGELet's talk to Henry. He's calling us from Houston, Texas. Henry, thanks for holding on.
HENRYThank you. I was calling to say why doesn't the European Union ask for China from help? Because after the great recession, I believe China, in order to make sure that they did not lose their spending power, they continued to build cities that are now basically empty. And I believe they have at least five cities that are a million -- set up with infrastructure for a million people: malls, roads, houses, churches, the whole works, that are at 10 percent capacity. That the infrastructure's set up and ready to go and they could just -- if they could just get the people over there, there'd be space and everything ready for them.
PAGEWell, Henry, that's intriguing. I had not heard that. What -- does anybody on our panel know about that?
DREAZENI mean some -- what he references is fascinating. There are photo essays showing these ghost cities that are built, he's exactly right, in some cases for 10 or 15 million people, that are for the most part empty. It's creepy. It's like looking at a dystopian apocalyptic film.
PAGEWhy were they built?
DREAZENThey were built as -- some as part of resettlement schemes to get people out of rural China into the cities. Some of them were built to get people away from where they're building new dam projects or, you know, electricity projects. But the problem with China and anywhere else is -- I mean, first of all, has its own problem with Islamists and is fighting it pretty oppressively. But nobody wants these refugees. Nobody. It's not as if you could say to China, hey, China, please fill your cities with Syrians. The response would be an immediate no. If we lived in a humane, rational world, maybe. But we don't.
PAGEIt's got to have huge consequences for the future of Syria, which is in, you know, just a horrific state now. But you hope one day the civil war will end, people will -- Syrians will be able to reclaim their country. But if they've fled and settled elsewhere, even if they're not welcome in a lot of places, it's got to make it harder to rebuild Syria at whatever point down the road that might be a possibility.
GUTTMANOf course, because also a lot of those who are leaving are the elites, are the ones who are able to leave because they have the resources or the connections or family that's already outside. So if, one day, if the cease-fire that we talked about would kind of evolve into a peace process which maybe will evolve into reuniting Syria or dividing it into a few nations and you want to rebuild this country so, first of all, the proportions of the ethnic groups that make up the country will be different. And you will also be missing a lot of the elite that you need in order to re-launch a nation state.
PAGEHard to blame them for leaving though, Nancy, in the situation there.
YOUSSEFOf course, of course. And let's remember, most people don't want to leave their own country, however the circumstances. The fact that you have people leaving now, five years into this war, and potentially with the resources to have left two or three years ago, it really tells you about how much people want to stay in their state, however difficult the circumstances are. I would just add to Nathan's point that even if the refugees weren't leaving, you have the Kurds who are fighting to essentially redraw the border and create their own semi-autonomous state. And that alone changes what we all Syria.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the situation in Libya. And we'll take more of your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio this hour, Nancy Youssef, senior defense and national security correspondent for The Daily Beast, Nathan Guttman, he's Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and The Forward and Yochi Dreazen, he's managing editor at Foreign Policy. He's the author of "The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in the Era of Endless War."
PAGELet's go to the phones and take some callers who are waiting. Trudy is calling us from Rochester, Trudy, you're on the air.
TRUDYThank you so much for taking my call. I'm originally from Germany, and my family lives in Germany. I was in Germany before Christmas. There are so many Syrian refugees, it's just amazing. Germany has taken in, last year, over one million, and they're still coming. Now I -- my question is why can't this country also take refugees? You know, I mean, Germany has to be afraid of, you know, that they are terrorists by having so many people come, but I think since Bush went into Iraq, and that's what people see in Germany, the whole situation created this refugee crisis, you know, people fleeing from war-torn countries.
TRUDYAnd I, myself, I know the time during World War II, we had to flee. Some people in Germany have even taken refugees into their homes. I think that's very nice. So why can't this country take also refugees and being a big country?
TRUDYYou know, Germany is the size of the state of Montana. It's just too small.
PAGEAll right, Trudy, thanks so much for your call. What do you think?
DREAZENYou know, it comes down in this very weird, very depressing way, to how fearful we are, we in the U.S. are, as a country. I mean, the fact that you can have candidates who rail against, again, this flood of refugees, implying that Sharia law is going to be imposed all over the country by ISIS because refugees are coming in and just conflate ISIS with any Muslim refugee, when you have major candidates say, sure, refugees can come if they're Christian, I mean, it just -- the repugnance of that as a statement, but that's become a talking point that resonates.
DREAZENIn Germany, what they're wrestling with is what politicians here feel will happen, you know, they say, let in refugees, and you'll have violence, is happening there. I mean, the attack that took place in Cologne, where you had 1,000 people possibly who were, you know, reporting in cases of being sexually assaulted, when that starts to happen in larger and larger numbers, the same level of fear they used to hear, the same level of xenophobia, of bigotry, you'll start seeing there, and that border will close quickly.
PAGEAnd of course we're protected in some ways by our geography because it's not possible for someone to slip over a border, generally, as has been the case of these Syrian migrants.
YOUSSEFWell, and remember that because of the talk about, and the fears that people have, that there's such a heavy screening process that happens for anybody entering the country, the refugees that the United States has taken have generally been women, children, older people. For example in Iraq, when the U.S., we considered taking in refugees, it had the advantage of having occupied the country. So it could go through the local files there in a dictatorial state, where such extensive files were kept on residents there that you could get a very rich history on that person, whereas in the case of -- even then it was hard for Iraqi refugees to enter this country.
YOUSSEFIn the case of Syria, the U.S. doesn't have the access to that kind of documentation, and I dare say that there's now an expectation that there is that level of detail of information on the refugees that are coming in that I think has reduced the pace at which the U.S. is taking in refugees. And also the case of Cologne, remember that while there is the accusation that many of them were assaulted by Syrian refugees, as it turned out some -- it was actually a very small number that were refugees. But the perception that that's what could happen, that when you have an influx of Muslim refugees who come from a very different culture in terms of its interaction with women, that also makes it very, very difficult.
YOUSSEFSo between the political climate and the inability to really vet people extensively as some expect to happen and perceptions, those are all -- those are all very difficult. You know, we're starting from the supposition that if you let in these refugees, you'll have a heavily Muslim population and that that's a negative thing, and I think by putting that clause on there, it taints how you look at all of these issues.
YOUSSEFI mean, you look at Canada, it doesn't carry such a negative connotation, and you see how much they're embracing the refugees.
PAGEAll right, let's go to John calling us from Chicago. John, you're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, thank you for having me. I think that we have to be fair with Iran. I think U.S. helped the shah against democracy in 1964 (unintelligible) . I think that Iran is trying to come to the U.S. now. I think we should help Iran (unintelligible) and turn our hand to her like the president is doing. I think also we have to be -- to bring perhaps journalists from the Iranian state, you know, information or bring, you know, journalists that can be fair with Iran rather than bring journalists (unintelligible) .
JOHNI'm Algerian in origin, and Algeria tried to work very hard to make peace between Iran and Iraq in 1975. They also helped attack, and few Americans know that, they have helped in freeing the American hostage in the '80s. And we are Sunni Muslim. We are a secular country. And we try to be fair to Iran. And I think the U.S. is working more with Saudi and Qatar, who are, you know, helping extremism in the world rather than working with countries like my country, who is secular, who doesn't -- that doesn't, you know, help terrorism and the war.
PAGEAll right, that's a very interesting perspective, John. What do you think, Yochi?
DREAZENWe have a piece up today about the various ways that Iran, while keeping to the nuclear deal, is doing things that, at a minimum, test other sanctions, if not violate them. So they're testing ballistic missiles that are designed based on North Korean missiles, missiles that give Iran the range to hit Israel, to hit parts of Europe. They're doubling down in Syria. They're doubling down in Iraq. They're buying weapons, including Russian -- advanced Russian war planes that they really should not be allowed to buy but are buying anyway.
DREAZENSo the idea that the Iran post-nuclear deal is suddenly becoming a much more responsible player, unfortunately we're not seeing. We also saw this week the arrest of an 80-year-old man, the father, an American citizen, the father of another American citizen, who has been arrested by Iran. Neither one has been freed. It's not clear why -- what threat an 80-year-old with heart disease could possibly pose to the Iranian regime, but he's in jail, he's incommunicado.
PAGEWhy do you think he's been arrested?
DREAZENI don't know. I mean, James Clapper, who's the director of national intelligence, has hinted that it could be bargaining chips, they grab these two and say we'll trade you this for that. But if that's true, it's so extraordinarily cynical. I mean, this is an 80-year-old man with heart problems. This is someone who could easily die tomorrow.
YOUSSEFSo his son has been charged with, or suspected, I shouldn't say charged, but the sort of prevailing feeling is that he was trying to negotiate some sort of business arrangement from the U.S. and Iran, and Iran saw this as undermining it. So if that's the case, and of course we're dealing with an opaque state, I mean, his family hasn't been able to see him, the lawyers haven't been able to see him, if that's true, then the presumption is the father is being arrested as a way to maybe elicit a confession, a false confession, to pressure him in some way.
YOUSSEFBut these are all just theories because we don't even know why he was held, what the charges are or even, we know he's in Evan Prison maybe, but we don't even know where they're being held.
PAGELet's talk about Libya. There was some fierce fighting in Benghazi this week. The secretary of state, John Kerry, said Libya will be a failed state if the country's factions don't unit. What are the implications of that, Nathan?
GUTTMANWell, Libya is basically on the cusp of becoming a failed state in the sense that it has two governments, one in the capital, one in Tobruk, it has (unintelligible) Islamic State controlling some part of the country, and it has other militias that are not connected to any one of these groups controlling other areas. So in that sense it could definitely become a failed state, meaning that the West or anyone else dealing with Libya doesn't have one address when you come and try to solve problems with that, which will definitely make it a hotbed for terrorism and a safe haven for ISIS.
GUTTMANOn the other hand, there are also positive developments. We see the discussions over this national unity government moving forward, and there is hope that they will be able to unite these two competing factions into one government somehow. So maybe there's a way back from there.
PAGEThere is some talk in Libya of restoring a form of monarchy. Possible?
DREAZENI mean, it was a New York Times that had floated it. The idea of it is ludicrous, I think, on its face. I mean, this was a king that was deposed decades ago by Gaddafi. The notion of who you'd find to begin it, I mean, it's silly on its face. But when John Kerry talks about it may be a failed state, unfortunately that's also silly on its face. It is a failed state.
GUTTMANWhen you have a country whose three major cities are held by three separate groups, where you've got two central banks, you've got two legislatures, you've got two nominal heads of state, you have militias fighting and rampaging across the country, you know, you asked at the outset of this segment the risk. The risk is that ISIS has roughly 6,000 fighters, maybe more, in Libya. They control a patch of Libya that is growing and that it doesn't have the same oil fields they control in Syria or Iraq, but it does have a coastline, and that's the threat.
GUTTMANThe threat is ISIS fighters who could get on boats and go to Italy. If you talk to Italian military officials, they're terrified because they see the coastline of Libya, that is held by ISIS, as a direct threat to Italy.
PAGEHere's an email from Susan. She writes, is the upheaval in the Middle East a cast of chickens coming home to roost from World War I and World War II? And how close is the world coming to another world war? Susan's writing us from Baltimore. Does this reflect decisions made after the two world wars?
GUTTMANPart of it definitely reflects the way the borders were drawn post-World War I and then post-World War II, the fact that a lot of it was done arbitrarily, in a way that served the major powers but not necessarily the forces on the ground, and that's why we have multi-ethnic countries falling apart like we see in Syria and we've seen in Iraq, as well. So definitely that's part of it. But I don't think that's the only reason.
PAGELet's go to Orlando, Florida, and talk to Chris. Chris, thanks for calling us.
CHRISThank you, you have a great program. I'd like to speak about Greece, which gets thousands of refugees every single month in a small country of 10 to 11 million people with their own budgetary problems. And the EU didn't invite them to a meeting in Austria to discuss that whole problem, and instead of sending help to sort out the various refugees, they're closing borders so that Greece is piling up, effectively piling up all those refugees either on the islands or in Athens or along the Macedonian border and the other borders that are all close to them.
PAGEYou know, Chris, you make a good point. It seems like Greece is being left holding the bag here.
DREAZENYeah, I think he's exactly right. I mean, we have an op-ed column up now about how Greece has never really been part of the EU, and nor is it now. The EU just does not trust Greece. They look at it as a corrupt, broke, financially insolvent country that can't govern itself. And in some ways, the caller is exactly right. They're saying Greece kind of, they deserve it, their country's broken, and we don't want to deal with them anymore.
DREAZENAnd obviously the problem is at least one of the Paris attackers may have passed through Greece en route to Paris. So it would be convenient for the EU to say, Greece, fine, we're just going to ignore you. But at some point, to use the other caller's phrase, those chickens do come home to roost.
YOUSSEFYou know, it's interesting, the prime minister of Greece, who was really angry this week and gave a speech in which he addressed a lot of the things that Chris did in the call, I mean, you could really hear the frustration on all these points and said at one point we will not tolerate being turned into a warehouse of souls. So that gives you a sense of the level of frustration and how they perceive their place in the European Union, at least how they're being treated.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We've been taking your calls. Let's take another caller from Tonasket, Washington. Jonaka, hi, you're on the air.
JONAKAHi, my question is about Syria. What will we lose if we gave up our opposition to Assad and just focused on ISIS?
PAGEWhat do you think? Is this a strategy that might be helpful?
DREAZENI think it's a strategy that fundamentally is already happening. I mean, the White House still talks about how Assad has to go at some later date, but they've dropped any talk of being immediate. You know, they've -- it's clear, I think, from what you see publicly that the U.S. is saying and doing and what you hear privately that if Assad stays six months, a year, 18 months, they're kind of okay with that, provided that the fight continues against ISIS and that he focuses more on ISIS and less on barrel-bombing civilians in other parts of the country.
DREAZENYou know, Donald Trump made a point some months ago during a debate that the U.S. would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq, if Gaddafi were still in power in Libya, if Assad was still in power in Syria. And if you've being very cold about it, just being very, very cynical, that's a fair argument.
PAGELet's -- we've had a great selection of states on the news roundup this hour and the previous hour. Now we're going to go to another one, Alabama, Albertville. Manuel, hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MANUELYes, hi. I was just concerned because the whole issue is only thinking of the refugees coming and getting help from us. But why don't we take care of our country and all the homeless we have, which is probably a lot of thousands of people? And also the old people and the disabled, they never got a cost-of-living increase for about three years or more, I think three or four years. Obama cut it off, and the government cut off the cost of living, so there's people starving here, there's people dying here, and there's people, even though you have Obamacare, there's still people with problems with health issues. So why don't we take care of our home first?
PAGEAll right, Manuel, thanks for your call. I think this is an attitude that you hear from a lot of Americans, problems at home, we need to deal with them.
GUTTMANRight, but looking at the pure numbers, I don't think it's mutually exclusive. I mean, the United States, the American economy, can definitely absorb the 70,000 refugees that it currently takes from all around the world, with a proposed increase to 100,000 or 120,000, even, without that making any dent in the economy. All these issues that the caller raises are definitely real, and they can be addressed while absorbing more refugees that are actually in need of resettlement.
YOUSSEFI would just add to that. I think you're starting to see this in the election, which is the debate over what the U.S. role is in the world. I think so often you hear from Americans that we don't want to spend the kind of money and the kind of effort that we're putting into the world's problems, and yet the U.S. isn't quite ready to let go of its place as the most important nation when it comes to world affairs.
DREAZENAnd I think that's what you're hearing in a lot of supporters of Donald Trump. They're saying, why are we involved in these parts of the world at all, why don't we focus on home, why don't we close our borders, why don't we build walls to secure our country from this imagined threat coming from the South. I mean, I think what the caller -- what he hit on is where much of the country already is and more of the country is trending.
PAGEOf course we do have a long tradition when it comes to refugees and people fleeing persecution in other places in the world. That is part of the American history and character.
DREAZENOr it was, was.
YOUSSEFAnd I would just add the problem that was -- when new populations come in, they often faced a lot of discrimination. It was -- they weren't always openly welcomed. And so that's part of the history, too, I'm afraid.
PAGELet me close with an email that's sent by Melissa, who's writing us from Missouri. She writes, I'm a third-generation Arab-American whose family was from now what is now Lebanon but was once considered part of Syria and before that, when my grandfather immigrated, was part of the Ottoman Empire. I hear people say that these immigrants do not have our American values and will never fit in, and I just want to say hello, think of who you are telling this to. Arab-Americans are and have been an integral part of the United States since the first documented immigrant died in 1776 fighting for the American revolution. If they want to be here, they will fit in as well as the rest of us.
YOUSSEFMelissa, I'm also the child of two Arab immigrants who came to this country in the '70s, and I'd like to think I embrace the American spirit as well as anyone else here. So I understand where you're coming from.
PAGEMelissa, thanks so much for sending us that email, and I want to thank our panelist for being here for the international hour of our news roundup, Yochi Dreazen form Foreign Policy, Nancy Youssef from The Daily Beast, Nathan Guttman from Channel 1 Israeli News and The Forward. Thank you all for being with us.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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