Lawfare's Quinta Jurecic on what's next for the January 6th Committee and the steps Congress can take to safeguard American democracy.
Guest Host: Indira Lakshmanan
North Korea fires two ballistic missiles into the sea, flouting U.N. resolutions. It also sentences an American student to 15 years’ hard labor. Russia says it will continue to provide military and intelligence assistance to the Syrian regime. This follows Russia’s surprise decision to withdraw its military forces from Syria. The European Union works on a plan to send thousands of migrants back to Turkey. Secretary of State Kerry says the militant group ISIS is committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis and shiite Muslims. And Brazil’s government corruption scandal heats up. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times
- Yochi Dreazen Managing editor, Foreign Policy; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Edward Luce Chief U.S. columnist and commentator, Financial Times; author of "Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent"
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThanks for joining us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. North Korea fires two more ballistic missiles into the sea today, flouting condemnation from the United Nations and ignoring tough new US sanctions. The EU announces an agreement with Turkey to ease the migrant crisis in Europe and Russia starts to yank its war planes out of Syria as peace talks hobble along in Geneva.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANHere to discuss this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Mark Landler of the New York Times, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy and Edward Luce of The Financial Times. Welcome to all of you.
MR. EDWARD LUCEHi.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Indira.
MR. MARK LANDLERHi, Indira.
LAKSHMANANAnd welcome to our listeners tuning at home and at work. And you can join us at any time this hour with your comments and your questions. You can call us on 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join us on Facebook or you can send us a tweet to @drshow. So let's start with the news that literally has just come out in the last hour, that the EU and Turkey reached a provisional deal to address the flow of migrants from Syria, in particular into Europe. Do we know what's in the deal?
LUCEWe have a rough idea of the framework, namely that Turkey will accept back the refugees, Syrian refugees, that have crossed the Mediterranean and have arrived in Greece starting on Sunday, so almost immediately.
LAKSHMANANSo that's thousands of people? How many people is it in total?
LUCEOh, tens of thousands of people. And, of course, 3,000 or so coming every day. In return, the European Union will take a Syrian refugee -- for every one the Turks accept back, they will accept a Syrian refugee from Turkey directly that they will then distribute under details that have yet to be specified amongst European members. In addition...
LAKSHMANANSo it's a one for one. For every Syrian refugee that you take back who crossed over the water from Greece, we will take one who had come into Turkey.
LUCEWell, that what was in the framework deal. I don't know the details of what specifically's been agreed. But the sort of key thing here in terms of the politics in Europe is that Turkey is now going to restart EU accession talks and that the Turkish citizens will get free visas to visit the European Union. And I think the political backlash against this is already apparent. Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, has condemned this as basically destructive to the European Union.
LUCEIt'll allow millions of Turks in. Other right wing leaders, Marine Le Pen, have already reacted in similar ways. So the politics of this is very difficult. The legality of it, of whether this is within international law of how you treat asylum seekers, is also a whole kind of a...
LAKSHMANANWell, that is a question. Is it even legal? If these people are seeking asylum and they're fleeing war, they're not just economic migrants, is it legal, in under international law and humanitarian law to turn people away?
LUCEHuman rights groups say no. I mean, there are going to be challenges to this. There is no precedent for this kind of really sort of weird pretzel kind of deal that they appear to have reached. And they're undoubtedly going to be challenges to -- under the law, you treat an asylum seeker in the soil where that asylum seeker has arrived and that breaks this.
LAKSHMANANWell, Yochi, as Ed said, the deal for Turkey was to get not only early visa-free travel for its citizens and progress towards Turkey's long standing request for membership in the European Union, but also money. It's supposed to get money to help them deal with the over 2 million refugees who they are currently housing.
DREAZENYeah, in this whole convoluted deal, the one person, the one country that is the unambiguous winner in this is Greece because now, Greece will have the migrants that its short, as Ed said, by the thousands per day, some big portion of them sent back. The Turks get about $6.6 million -- I'm sorry billion dollars, 6 billion euro, $6.6 billion that's meant to help them pay the cost of the refugees who will be staying in Turkey.
DREAZENAnd since there's this one for one swap, the total number of refugees in Turkey will stay very high. The politics of this are befuddingly complicated because the last time there was talk of Turkey joining the EU, among the opponents were both the Pope and Angela Merkel. So Angela Merkel, who's been the most pro-refugee and the one who has taken the most flack politically at home for her stance on refugees, is the one who, in the past, blocked Turkey from joining the EU.
DREAZENNow, as part of a refugee deal, Turkey gets to, again, talk about joining the EU. So the politics of this, it's a pretzel within a pretzel surrounded by a pretzel where all of it is -- it just gets more and more and more confusing. But the one part of it that is clear, Greece -- potentially Greece wins. Turkey gets money. Beyond that, it starts to fade away into vagaries.
LAKSHMANANYes. And it is an enigma, as you say. But I want to get back to that thing that you said about the impact on the German election that this whole refugee crisis has had. But first, I want to ask you, Mark, the deal was announced shortly after the Turkish president had some pretty harsh words for the EU. What did he say?
LANDLERWell, this was in reference to support for the Kurds and the Kurdish worker party. You know, there's a separate sort of underlying tension here which is that US, for that matter, and the Europeans are working with the Kurds in the battle against ISIS and -- in Syria. And in Turkey itself, you have Kurds who've long been involved in insurgency against Turkey that have been responsible for terrorist attacks in Ankara, have taken credit for terrorist attacks.
LANDLERSo at the moment that the Turks and the Europeans are trying to work out a deal on migrants, there's also a sense that we're at cross purposes with the Turks on what for them is a very serious domestic security issue. And Erdogan has...
LAKSHMANANComing in the wake of this blast, in fact, in Ankara.
LANDLERAnd coming in the wake of an attack in Ankara that killed 37 people. So Erdogan is kind of stirring the pot here and creating a very difficult backdrop for what's already a very complex negotiation. You know, Yochi mentioned the Pope and Germany as being opposed to Turkey restarting talks and entering the EU. There's a third smaller player, which is Cyprus, which had threatened to hold up this deal on the grounds that it objected to several of the accession points that Turkey would have to take up with the EU.
LANDLERApparently, they've papered this over. The Cypriots have said, well, we're not going to take up the accession issues that we object to. But that raises, in my mind, a question of how long this thing is really viable? Once you have a broader negotiation, Cyprus will object, as it did before and it'll be one more of many elements that could unravel this deal.
LAKSHMANANI think to add onto the questions earlier of whether it's legal and fair under international law and asylum standards is also a question of implementation. Is it practical? And we have an email from a listener who says, are the refugees in Greece going to willingly get on boats to go back to Turkey? Don't you anticipate some resistance?
LANDLERWell, yeah, and there's also the logistical issue of how you process all this. The Greeks had asked for help from other European countries to hugely staff up the number of people that would process these transfers. And Angela Merkel said the Germans would be willing to contribute. But yeah, that's an enormous question, both of how they'll be received, whether they'll be received, how they'll be processed and whether all of this can be done, you know, within the bounds of international law.
LANDLERI don't think any of those questions are answered and just a final point, I thought it was interesting that in the announcement of this deal, I think it was the Czech prime minister urged the EU to all 28 members of the EU to approve it without changing anything in the text. In the past, when you see something announced that way, it's almost inviting people to begin to look at the text and look at all the things that are going to trouble them.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. We have also an email from Carol in Herndon, Virginia, who says, why is it "illegal" for Europe to turn migrants away, but it's not illegal for the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran and other Muslim countries to deny them assistance? Yochi.
DREAZENI mean, arguably it's illegal in both cases. It's been tested in Europe much more because of the sheer numbers who are going and, frankly, because there's an expectation that Europe has a content of, in some cases, at least liberal democracies would have a more progressive, welcoming attitude than monarchies that are not liberal, not progressive and harsh in almost every other way.
DREAZENOne point that's interesting on this, Turkey is going to be sending government officials to Greece to help process some of the applications, which is fascinating, given that Greece and Turkey have millennia of hatred and warfare. The other point that I found fascinating about this whole thing, there's been so much talk in the last six months, eight months, about the EU falling apart, whether it's a weakness of the euro, whether it's borders being put up again and country's saying, we don't want visa-free travel.
DREAZENAnd there's all this talk of the EU collapsing. And Turkey, more than anything else, wants into the EU at the same time. And I just find that fascinating that within the EU, some member sort of want to pull out, outside the EU, the biggest, most powerful country in the region wants in so desperately.
LAKSHMANANWell, let's talk about the larger impact it's having not only on questions of EU enlargement, but on the future of the EU governments themselves, the individual governments. The migrant crisis has spurred the rise of far right nationalist parties, certainly Marine Le Pen's party in France has improved its prospects, in Poland, in Hungary we have more right wing governments now than before. And now, in Germany, we had these recent elections this week. Tell us, Ed, what happened there and how do we interpret the results?
LUCEWell, there were three federal state elections in the land, the Baden-Wurttemberg, Saxony and the third will come to me in a second. And in two of those three states, Angela Merkel's coalition retained power. But in all three, the alternative Deutschland Party, a far right party that opposes immigration and that opposes Germany's membership in the European Union, say its support surge into double-digits and in one state, Saxony, in former East Germany up to a quarter of the vote, which is a real red flag for the Germans.
LUCEIt means that it will almost certainly clear the 5 percent hurdle under German federal law to get representation in the parliament in Berlin when there are national elections next year. So this was seen as very much a rebuke to Angela Merkel. However, the parties that won power in the states that her party lost were, in fact, the social democrats and the greens who support her relatively open policy -- well, extremely open policy to Syrian refugees. So it's a little bit more mixed as a political message than might have been interpreted and Angela Merkel, herself, has interpreted the overall result as being in favor as her continuing on course.
LAKSHMANANAll right. That's Ed Luce of The Financial Times. I've also got Mark Landler of the New York Times and Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy with me. We are going to be taking your calls and your questions when we come back. We'll have a short break and then we'll talking more about this week's top headlines. Stay with us.
LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me in the studio this hour to talk about this week's top international stories, Mark Landler, White House correspondent at The New York Times, Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of Foreign Policy and author of "The Invisible Front," and Ed Luce, chief U.S. columnist and commentator for the Financial Times and author of "Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent."
LAKSHMANANSo, when we left off, we were talking about these elections in Germany this week, the regional elections, and how some far-right parties made some improvements. I actually was asking the German Ambassador in Washington about this yesterday, and he said that this emergence of the populist right has happened in other countries in Europe, as we were talking about. But he also said, it's part of a phenomenon of sort of a protest vote, in a way, is how he saw it. And he made some analogies to the Donald Trump and the Bernie Sanders, you know, the rise of sort of populism. Mark, you were based in Germany. How do you see it?
LANDLERWell, I mean, I think the common theme is obvious. It's around immigration. Donald Trump has, you know, based his campaign -- populous campaign on anti-immigration fervor and the AFD in Germany largely do that as well. I mean, Germany, you're also seeing this kind of long-term debilitation of the mainstream parties -- the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, Merkel's party the CDU. They -- these parties have sort of shrunk in size and influence and been challenged both on the left and the right.
LANDLERA few years ago, a party, die Linke, the left party, became briefly very prominent and started gaining some larger margins, nowhere near this AfD result. And now you see this far-right party, which for the first time, as Ed said, has really crossed definitely over this 5 percent threshold. So I think as German voters have some of the same anger and sense of protest that you're seeing in the United States -- in their case, motivated by fears of the migrant crisis -- there is this kind of splintering, where the electorate is going for more extreme populist messages. And to that extent, there's a definite parallel between Germany and the election we're in, in the United States.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, you mentioned that some of this is a reaction to the migrants. The migrants, of course, bring us back to the Syria crisis. You wouldn't have the migrants in the first place, had it not been for this horrific five-year war that's still raging in Syria. And I was struck by the news this week that, at the beginning of the week, Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, announced that he was going to withdraw all of his warplanes from Syria. He's, of course, been doing an air-bombing campaign for the last six months to support the embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
LAKSHMANANBut then, just yesterday he said that military intelligence aid to the Assad regime will continue from Russia and that he could have those warplanes back in hours if he needed to. So what's going on, Yochi?
DREAZENYeah. And as far as we know, less than half of the warplanes he has have left, from satellite imagery, commercially available, showing where they were based in Syria. There were 36 at one point, now there are 18, 17, 16. But there are still a significant number there. Russia has had a major base at Tartus. They're going to keep that base. So there will be Russian troops in Syria indefinitely. That's not going to change. Whether they are actively fighting, as has been the case, bombing heavily, as has been the case, remains to be seen.
DREAZENWhat's fascinating to me about this is, Vladimir Putin, in the space of a few months, has changed the dynamic in Syria more than President Obama has in five years. You know, we -- I'm sure, in previous weeks on the show, there's discussion of the Jeff Goldberg 19,00-0 or 15,000-word piece with President Obama...
LAKSHMANANIn The Atlantic. The cover of this week's Atlantic.
DREAZEN...in The Atlantic, exactly. History may judge him kindly for having kept the U.S. out of Syria. If Syria has a civil war for decades to come, history may say, thank god we had a president who didn't put us in. Right now, you don't have that judgment. Right now, the judgment is the U.S. was hands-off. There was a vacuum which -- into which stepped Vladimir Putin and he has reshaped that conflict. Bashar al-Assad was...
LAKSHMANANIn favor of Bashar al-Assad.
DREAZEN100 percent. I mean, he was pushed back on his heels. Now he's regained territory. He's pushed -- was left with rebels further and further away from Damascus. Of course, the flip now is, if he's withdrawing, does that mean that Bashar al-Assad perhaps will have to take part in talks that will lead to him leaving. But what Putin has done, as he's done so well, is to keep the whole world guessing. Nobody knows. Nobody knows, do the troops leave, do they come back? Nobody knows, has he turned against Assad, is he staying with Assad? He just keeps the whole world guessing. The one certainty is, he has reshaped the conflict completely.
LAKSHMANANWell, let's talk about those U.N.-brokered Syrian peace talks which are limping along in Geneva. The international community had sort of cautiously welcomed -- including the president of the U.N. Security Council from Angola -- had welcomed this, you know, the Russian's saying we're pulling out our forces, thinking that this would be a way to help along peace talks. But how are those peace talks going, Ed?
LUCEWell, murky as ever. And the Syrian government continues to object to the composition of the opposition negotiating team.
LAKSHMANANAnd the opposition and the government are not even talking to each other. It's these proximity talks, where the U.N. talks to each of them and then takes the messages, right?
LUCEYeah. A lot of go-between, between people who don't see each other as legitimate. So the question, I guess, is whether Russia's partial withdrawal from Syria denotes a change in diplomatic pressure on Russia's part, as Yochi was mentioning, to make the Assad regime a bit more serious about taking the composition of the opposition groups at face value and negotiating with them, hopefully, directly. But right now it's still these very sort of once-removed negotiations about negotiations, of mutual objections to who should be included in them, and John Kerry in the middle of all this.
LUCEKerry is going to Russia next week. And, again, as Yochi said, Russia is, you know, is not just reshaped the situation on the ground in Syria but it has established itself as the frontline diplomatic player on this. And its military withdrawal, or partial withdrawal from Syria in no way reduces that. In some respects, it enhances it because it shows that Russia is the prime mover.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, Russia has spent half a billion dollars on this campaign over the last six months. I'm wondering, has it gotten what it wanted? And what exactly did it want? Because, Mark, as you know, you know, we covered Hillary Clinton together. And John Kerry and both of them said, oh, no. Russia is not wedded to Bashar al-Assad. They're willing to throw him under the bus if they need to. But all along, the West and the U.S. have been saying, Bashar al-Assad has to go. Does he really have to go?
LANDLERWell, look, they're not wedded to Bashar al-Assad as a person. They might be willing to see him go. They are wedded to their position in Syria and to the fact that the Syrian regime remains their key ally in the region and they have a base there which they intend to keep. So I do think they are wedded to a continued presence and influence in Syria. What fascinated me, frankly, about this latest news was that it really flies in the face of what President Obama told Jeff Goldberg in that piece.
LANDLERPresident Obama said -- and he's said it over and over for several months -- that Russia was making a colossal mistake. That Putin would come to regret it. It would bleed his country. He would become over-extended and tangled. In other words, he saw Russia making precisely the mistake he avoided in Syria. I think you'd have to conclude that Putin did not do that. Putin got in, did what he needed to do by his own measure, committing a series of atrocities on civilians that the U.S., of course, could never abide -- the U.S. people could never abide -- and then got back out again, changing the landscape, just as Ed and Yochi have said.
LANDLERSo I would argue that, in a funny way, Putin may be showing the United States a form of intervention that President Obama has always argued is infeasible. That it can't happen. You always get caught into a slippery slope. You always end up going further, getting drawn deeper. He's now shown us a model for intervention for intervention that's very different.
LAKSHMANANBut a model that is full of, as you say, atrocities against civilians...
LAKSHMANAN...and collateral damage.
LANDLERNot a model that the U.S. could ever mimic. But nevertheless a model for great power involvement in a sectarian proxy conflict.
LAKSHMANANWell, I would say model for whom? Is there anyone who actually wants to follow that? But I'm wondering, now that Russia has stopped its air-bombing campaign, at least for now, does that affect the humanitarian communities' ability to deliver aid on the ground. Because so far they have not been able to get aid to a number of Syrian towns that desperately need it.
DREAZENAt least theoretically. I mean part of the issue, of course, has been that rebel groups -- particularly ISIS and even to a degree the Nusra Font, the al-Qaida-linked group -- have not allowed in supplies either. And if you've had cities and towns that have been getting barraged by Assad's ground forces on the ground on one side, Russian planes on the other, rebel forces on the third, it's hard to get in for anybody.
LAKSHMANANAnd with none of those forces giving permission for aid convoys to come in.
DREAZENCorrect. And there's an estimate that the Russian bombing campaign, in and of itself, had displaced several hundred thousand more Syrians. So when we think about this enormous migration of millions who have fled Syria, millions more who have been displaced in Syria, Russia has contributed to that very heavily.
DREAZENYou know, it is interesting. Russia says that they spent $481 million. It's almost universally thought they spent more than that. Either way, though, let's -- even if we conservatively, let's say we double it, that's less than the U.S. has spent fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and Russia's gotten a lot more. They don't have many ground casualties. They haven't had many planes shot down. And they've changed the dynamic, as Mark said. And the casualties they've taken and the casualties they inflicted, the world frankly doesn't care about. Much of the world is sort of find with it. And when Donald Trump was saying at a debate, let Russia bomb them, he wasn't speaking just for Donald Trump. There's a big swath of this country that's fine.
LAKSHMANANBut what's so sad is it's not just that he's bombing ISIS or al-Nusra and, you know the groups who we don't like, who are against Assad, but he's also bombing regular people. And I'm thinking about this Daraya, this rebel-held Damascus suburb, which has not had any food, water or medicine since December 2013. I mean it's the longest besieged area in all of Syria. And the Syrian government still hasn't approved aid shipments to go there.
LUCEYeah. I don't think anybody would make the pretence that Russia's intervention has been humanitarian. It hasn't been targeting ISIS and al-Nusra for the most part. It's been targeting opposition groups, the more moderate-circle moderate opposition groups, with the exception of the Kurds, to the Assad regime. Because the Assad regime, and Russia behind it, clearly want the only alternative to be ISIS, to make it a choice between Assad and ISIS. And that's been the apparent logic of Russia. And it's had huge humanitarian costs.
LUCEI've seen pretty imprecise estimates of the number of civilians that have been killed by Russian bombings -- civilians in moderate-circle, moderate-held areas. And it's ranging between 1,700, according to one group, to many times that number. You're right, this would be unacceptable if it was a U.S. intervention and these were the kinds of numbers we are seeing. But so is Yochi. People don't care. They see that Russia is the one with the initiative. Russia's got the element of surprise. And Russia is the one that's actually shaping the environment.
LAKSHMANANYou know, yesterday, Jan Egeland, who's an adviser to the U.N.-Syria envoy, said that even though there's been this ceasefire since the end of February and they've been able to get some aid convoys in, that the government in Damascus still has not given permission for deliveries to six out of 18 besieged areas. So it doesn't seem to be going well for the people in Syria. But Ed mentioned the Kurds. Mark, the Kurds in Syria announced yesterday that they were setting up a federal region under their control. How does that complicate the peace talks?
LANDLERWell, on a number of different levels. For one thing, the Kurds aren't a party to the peace talks right now, which is -- was one major stumbling block. Because by all accounts, there will be some kind of federal solution in Syria and they have to be part of it. But secondly, it complicates it because the Turks are unlikely to abide that kind of a situation. Because they view the Syrian Kurds and their own Kurdish population as being effectively linked. And so giving a strip of territory over to the Kurds on their southern border is going to be viewed as a deep security threat for the Turks.
LANDLERAnd the reason all of this is even more complicated is because we, in the United States, have concluded that the Syrian Kurds are our best partner for fighting ISIS, much more effective than the moderate Sunni opposition that we continue to covertly arm and train. So you have these series of overlapping and conflicting interests that are going to start to play out in this negotiation. I think there are some in the U.S. administration who would argue, the Kurds ought to be sitting at the table and be part of this political solution. But how do you do that without having Erdogan unleash a blast on this...
LAKSHMANANThe Turkish leader...
LANDLER...the Turkish president. So that's where...
LAKSHMANAN...who has problems with Kurds in his own country.
LANDLERPrecisely. So that's why the Kurds are a very, you know, difficult player here. On the one hand, they're extremely effective in the battle against ISIS. On the other hand, they could be really destabilizing in terms of a political solution in Syria.
LAKSHMANANI'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a very interesting comment on our website from Larry in Washington, D.C. -- actually by email. He says, the comparison of Russian versus American results in Syria fails to take into account that Russia is supporting the government, which has a regular army and air force, while the U.S. is supporting a disorganized array of rebel groups unwilling to work together. Had the U.S. decided that the best way to end the conflict was to support Assad, then I'm sure the U.S., too, would have had equally quick success and without the massive civilian casualties.
LUCEI have to sort of retort to that. I mean, there are fair points in there but I have to respond to that the United States supports the government in Afghanistan as well. And it's been there for 15 years now. And the questions about whether the U.S. is going to be able to draw down to 5,000 or so troops by the end of the this year are very much under debate because of the Taliban's gains. So simply being on the side of a government isn't enough, in and of itself, to guarantee success. You've got to, as we've been discussing earlier and as Mark was mentioning, you've got to have an element of surprise, a decisiveness that the Russians have shown in Syria and that the Americans have not in Afghanistan.
LAKSHMANANI want to come back to Afghanistan later in the hour. But I want to sort of tie this back to Secretary of State Kerry yesterday coming out in front of the cameras and making a very emotional declaration, saying that the U.S. has determined that the radical militants, ISIS, are actually committing genocide against minority peoples in Iraq and Syria. What is the significance of that finding? Yochi.
DREAZENThe speech and some of the things that have been documented both by -- in The New York Times, in particular, about the institutional sexual slavery of Yazidi women, it's stomach-turning. I mean, there's an article -- it was spectacularly, beautifully written, but again reading it to you, you almost want to simultaneously cry and vomit.
LAKSHMANANBy Rukmini Kalamaki, Mark's colleague at The New York Times.
DREAZENYeah. About -- exactly, about Yazidi women being given birth control to ensure that they were never pregnant so they could be raped again and again and again. And you hear it and, you know, your mind boggles on a human level. And Secretary Kerry mentioned that. He mentioned the beheadings and the crucifixions and the mass slaughter, the destruction of churches, against Christians and against Yazidis. What he didn't mention was, what is the U.S. now going to do that it was not doing in the past?
DREAZENYou know, to the point that Larry made by email, the reference a moment ago, one of the great questions that will hang over President Obama for decades will be, had he taken the advice, the uniform, universal advice of his war cabinet and armed the rebels earlier and tried to organize the rebels earlier, would the situation have been different? It is true, at this point, you do have Russia backing a standing army, the U.S. backing, to varying degrees, different disparate groups who have different weapons, different training.
DREAZENBut the question of, could this had been different? Could you have had a unified rebel force? Could that force have been armed, trained, helped by the U.S. four years ago? And, if so, might things have been different? (word?) the questions hanging over this president for as long as this war continues and probably long after.
LAKSHMANANWell, his secretary of state, of course, made this judgment about genocide -- it was in response to a deadline that was set last year by Congress, basically mandating that the Obama administration make a determination. It feels to me as if that determination, or rather that mandate set by Congress, was in a way trying to force the Obama administration's hand. Because, if it is genocide, then of course, as our U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has made famous, this notion of responsibility to protect. On the other hand, I wonder whether this is in some ways a symbolic declaration, because the U.S. is already fighting ISIS, Mark.
LAKSHMANANSo what more will it do now?
LANDLERWell, I think Yochi's right. It's not clear it will do a great deal more. I don't think President Obama has really indicated any intention or desire to expand the campaign in any significant way.
LAKSHMANANAnd by the way, I should say that the attack -- the genocide is not just on the Yazidis and Christians but also on Shiite Muslims.
LANDLERThat is right, yeah. I mean, I think the other thing -- and when you mentioned Congress -- this was starting to get some resonance in the political conversation in the U.S. If you recall, in a couple of the early Republican debates, Marco Rubio made a very fervent plea on behalf of Christians and Yazidis and was using this lack of a willingness to acknowledge genocide to suggest a greater weakness on the part of the United States in that -- in the region.
LAKSHMANANAll right. We will be right back. We're going to be talking more about the international headlines this week. We'll be taking your calls and your questions. Stay with us.
MR. INDIRA LAKSHMANANOne person says now that Secretary of State Kerry, as Congress, particularly the Republicans, have demanded, has declared ISIS guilty of genocide against various groups, will this mean that those people will now support giving refuge in America to all the people fleeing that horrible genocide? I'm not holding my breath. And a second listener said on our website, will this declaration of genocide move the needle on U.S. military involvement in general, U.S. air campaign, U.S. ground involvement and the U.S. Congress finally being willing to declare on ISIS?
DREAZENThose are great, great questions. Maybe I can take a stab at it.
DREAZENAnd first, on the initial one, you know, the initial politics of this are fascinating. On the one hand, if you're Republican, this says President Obama, you're weak, you're feckless, you know, as Mark said, start bombing more. On the other hand, the Democrats now have an even more powerful weapon of saying how can we as a country sit back as -- there is a genocide being committed and do nothing. They can easily reference the Holocaust, when you had ships, including a ship that was at the U.S. shores that was then sent back to Nazi Germany, and the people aboard were then slaughtered and massacred.
DREAZENSo it gives Democrats and others -- you know, it's not simply a political issue, but those in the humanitarian community who want more refugees to come a powerful tool. That said, to be cynical, do I think it's going to change how many come? No. Will it change how -- you know, how much emotional weight this issue has in the U.S.? No, but it does give -- as a political level, it does give them a better tool.
DREAZENIn terms of the latter question, the U.S. military involvement has been steadily growing on the ground and from the air. Initially it was there'll never be ground troops in Syria. Then there were -- it'll be ground troops only on a raid, then back out again. Now there are ground troops, small, and they're all Special Operations Forces, but there are ground troops permanently stationed in Syria. The CIA presence in Syria has grown. The number of airstrikes has grown.
DREAZENSo you're seeing a steady deepening, but it's not 20,000 troops, and it's not a constant air war in the way that Ted Cruz talks about making the sand glow.
LAKSHMANANAll right, and, you know, related to that, we have a listener, Riyah in Dunnellon, Florida, who was just saying, why would it take five years for the U.S. to recognize genocide in Syria.
DREAZENI think some of it is politics. This is an issue, you know, as you reference, and as the previous emailer referenced, once you do this, the question becomes U.S., you need to do more. No one, not Congress nor the White House, wants to be pressed on what that more is.
LAKSHMANANAll right, well let's move on to North Korea, big news there. Today North Korea filed -- fired two medium-range ballistic missiles from its east coast. This is just a week after it launched two short-range missiles and claimed that it has miniaturized nuclear warheads to fit on these missiles. What is motivating Pyongyang at this point to rabble -- rattle its sabers like this?
LANDLERWell, I mean the -- there's a pattern with the North Koreans that whenever they're sanctioned, they usually respond belligerently. And so I think it's very much in keeping with the way the regime has responded, and they've just had a new set of sanctions slapped on them. I think what's interesting to me, the broader question, is we're now, you know, years into a cycle of sanctions followed by provocation, followed by sanctions, followed by provocation.
LANDLERThe administration has sort of called this strategy strategic patience. They're not going to engage prematurely with a government. They're not going to make concessions that the government can later renege on, as has happened under previous administrations. But you sort of have to wonder that as the North Koreans get closer and closer to actually being able to deliver a warhead on a missile that could actually hit the Japanese or even travel as far as the far western reaches of the United States, I think the next administration, I don't think this is an Obama administration priority at the moment, but I think the next administration probably needs to revisit our strategy with respect to North Korea and ask whether strategic patience is a strategy we can continue with sort of indefinitely, given the advances they're making in miniaturization and delivery of missiles.
LAKSHMANANAnd you're right that from the very beginning of the Obama administration, they said we are not going to re-engage in the six-party talks with Korea, with North Korea, because they are behaving badly, and what we have seen is a series, over the last seven years, of U.N. resolutions, U.S. sanctions, U.N. sanctions. And I want to know, Ed, where has it gotten us?
LUCENot very far at all. I mean, if there are silver linings here, it is that the Chinese are edging increasingly towards the position of seeing this regime, Kim Jong-un's regime, as being on a very dangerous path. The Park government in South Korea has recently toughened up its stance toward the north, and the Park government has been working with Beijing or trying to work Beijing to ally with it on this.
LUCESo there could be -- if there were new American administration and a slightly more vigorous diplomatic effort, there could be the beginnings of more regional coordination to contain this, even possibly including Japan and China working together. It's in nobody's interests for the scenario that Mark sketched out to actually come to pass.
LAKSHMANANWell let me ask you, Yochi, because the U.S. had just hours before this, I mean less than two days before, had slapped on new sanctions on North Korea, on Wednesday. So with an economy that is so cut off from the rest of the world, this is not Iran, which had major oil selling, I'm wondering what do these sanctions even do. What do they accomplish?
DREAZENIt's a great question, and it's also important to note that the immediate response from China was to bash the sanctions and say they were inappropriate, that the U.S. made a mistake, that China didn't accept them and saw them as, you know, U.S. overreach.
LAKSHMANANAnd China, to remind our listeners, is essentially North Korea's only ally, even though they have been annoyed by Kim Jong-un's provocative behavior.
DREAZENRight, and they're North Korea's biggest trading partner, you know, such as it is. The sanctions, I don't know what they will do. I mean, they have blacklisted investment, they blacklisted investors, they've said even non-U.S. citizens who deal with North Korea can be blacklisted. I suspect what they're trying to do is to find little things that North Korea does deeply care about, whether it's communications equipment, surveillance equipment, weapons, things that dual-use further things that could be turned to the North Korea military and trying to get at those.
DREAZENBut when you have a broken economy that's completely isolated, that does -- any government that doesn't care about mass starvation, the sanctions don't work. You know, to Mark's point, it's this pattern again and again and again. We have Americans who get -- for whatever reason, they go to North Korea, they get arrested, North Korea holds them as a chip, we sanction North Korea, North Korea launches something, we condemn it, then we sanction them again, they launch something again, they ask for talks, we don't talk, and it just goes around and around and around, back to the first Clinton White House and now potentially to another Clinton White House.
LAKSHMANANWell, their latest batch of sanctions before these Wednesday sanctions were aimed at luxury goods. And both the U.S. and the U.N. have targeted luxury goods like watches and yachts and things like that. I mean, Mark, it seems as if the approach is to try to attack the regime elites where it hurts. What does the evidence show?
LANDLERWell, I mean, that is precisely the strategy, the idea being that if you deprived Kim Jong-un of the ability to hand out goodies to his cronies that you might actually spark fissures within the regime. And in fact people have watched very closely to see whether this young, untested leader would be able to consolidate his control over the regime, but...
LAKSHMANANWell, he's been pretty tested. He's executed his own uncle and lots of other people.
LANDLERHe's no longer untested, and, you know, there's a new book out in South Korea about the story of his uncle, who was his sort of mentor and brought him on, and then he turned savagely on him and had him executed. And there doesn't seem to be any -- to the extent that we know, and the truth is we really don't, that country's really a black box, but it does appear that he's remained in control. So this effort to undercut him through luxury goods doesn't appear to have worked, either.
LAKSHMANANAnd quickly, is China doing anything to reign in North Korea?
LANDLERLook, as Ed said, China is much less patient with North Korea than it used to be. But there's, I think, continuing frustration on the part of the United States that, you know, China's deeper fear has always been the same, which is that if that regime topples, they will face a massive migrant crisis with North Koreans fleeing across the border, and I think that fear still guides them above all. And I think that's why you often hear, even in this most recent round of pressure, frustration on the part of the U.S. that the Chinese are willing to go so -- only so far in how hard they push.
LAKSHMANANEd, quickly fill us in on this college student from the United States who's just been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, and that as in part the reason that the Obama administration slapped these sanctions on, on Wednesday, before even these latest ballistic missile tests.
LUCEIndeed. He's a 21-year-old called Otto Warmbier from University of Virginia, and he was arrested taking down a poster of King Jong-un.
LAKSHMANANFrom his hotel.
LAKSHMANANI mean, it seems like he meant it as a souvenir or something like that.
LUCEHe was apparently collecting it at the behest of his church, a Methodist church, in Ohio and caught taking it down. It was a patriotic or patriotic poster exhorting the prowess of the North Korean leader. And he's been sentenced to 15 years hard labor. Now in the past, you know, there have been great diplomatic efforts to extricate Americans and other foreigners who are arbitrarily arrested and handed out these draconian sentences, and no doubt that's already underway in Mr. Warmbier's case.
LUCEBut it is a sign that, you know, the regime is prepared to use visitors at will as bargaining chips, for whatever bigger purposes it has, and Mr. Warmbier has unfortunately found himself as one of those bargaining chips.
LAKSHMANANWell, to that point we have an email from a listener, Alan, in Lauderhill, Florida, who says, why do we continue to allow U.S. citizens to visit North Korea? This is not at all the first time one of our own, with some of a religious agenda, has become a political liability for the U.S. administration in the hands of the North's ruthless regime.
DREAZENI mean, the U.S. has for years encouraged, as strongly as it could, for people not to go. And I have the same question. I mean, obviously on a human level, you hope that Mr. Warmbier comes back safely and quickly, but I don't know why a person would want to go to North Korea, especially if they're going, knowing that they are part of a religious group, and religious groups always get additional scrutiny. And when you're in a country that's a police state, you have to assume there are video cameras everywhere, as there was here.
DREAZENThis was not something where North Korea alleged it, and it was untrue. This is something North Korea alleged, and they have video of him doing it. What was going through this -- his head? I don't -- I don't fathom, I don't understand why in a police state you would make this mistake.
LAKSHMANANI think the listener is partly, though, asking should there be a prohibition on Americans actually visiting North Korea. And I guess the policy of our government has been that you don't actually get prohibited from traveling anywhere in the world.
LANDLERYes, although until this week it was pretty hard to travel legally to Cuba.
LAKSHMANANOh, good segue, good segue. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. So yeah, let's get to it. Cuba, President Obama is headed to Cuba this weekend, and tell us, Mark, you know, just this week he seems to have lifted, virtually, the last restrictions on travel. Tell us what happened.
LANDLERYeah, the major change here is that in the past, you could really only go to Cuba as an American if you were part of a group that had a very set agenda that usually included meetings with, you know, agricultural specialists or cultural meetings. And the wrap on these trips were that, you know, while they were better than not going at all, they were really very much orchestrated by the Cubans and had a sort of a Potemkin Village quality to them.
LANDLERThe idea now is that you can really go in a much freer way. As there's some educational component to the trip, you go to museums, you meet with regular Cuban people, and you keep some kind of a log of your visit when you come back, you'll be able to go in a much freer way, as you would to any other country. And that's a very, very big breakthrough and, you know, know, in fact nullifies one of the parts of the trade embargo. While the trade embargo still is in place, and there's no immediate move to lift it, although President Obama would like Congress to do that, this in effect nullifies an important part of the embargo. So it's a very big gesture, not just symbolic but a tangible gesture in advance of this very historic visit.
LAKSHMANANAnd other important changes that the Obama administration released this week, eliminating the ban on Cuban access to the international banking system, restarting direct mail for the first time in 50 years. I saw the White House tweeted out a great photo of the -- a letter from the president that was going to be the first letter sent in half a century to Cuba. But the embargo, as you say, Mark, is still in place. We expect to hear from him calling for an end to that embargo, Ed, while he's there on the ground in Cuba. What else should we expect?
LUCEWell, we should expect him to be quite tough on the Raul Castro regime about its continual -- continued denial of democracy. It's been rounding up a lot of dissidents in advance of this trip. The Obama administration has still yet to secure Havana's agreement that his -- the speech the president will be giving will be broadcast to all the Cuban people. I think that's a must-have, and I assume that he will get that.
LUCEBut there will be tough words for the Castro regime, and there will be -- I would expect strong exhortations for it to move towards free and fair elections in 2018.
LAKSHMANANOkay, we have an email from Jonathan, who says doesn't Brazil deserve more attention than it's being given? It has drama, scandal, betrayal, graft, corruption, blatant governmental abuse of powers, billions potentially wasted if the Olympics are moved with the spread of Zika. And is there a possibility of political instability more massive than those at the end of Brazil's Junta dictatorship in the mid-1980s. Wow, there's a lot in that question, and it leads us into the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who announced that she was making the former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a member of her Cabinet.
LAKSHMANANShe's now -- once she's sworn in as chief of staff, she's now been blocked by a judge. Yochi, tell us what's going on.
DREAZENAnd, you know, to the caller, to that previous, wonderful question, the answer, I think, is yes, yes, yes and yes to each part of that question. What's happening in Brazil is extraordinary. You have Petrobras, which is one of the biggest and wealthiest oil companies on the planet, being ensnared in a gigantic bribery scandal that has led to the arrests of business leaders, politicians, police officers, et cetera.
DREAZENLula, who came into office almost as a populist, nearly a socialist, who came in promising to give more to the poor, promising to do more for his middle class, he has joined the government, it's believed, so he will have immunity and not himself be charged and arrested. So you have a current thought to be corrupt bringing back a former leader thought to be corrupt against a backdrop of a multi-billion-dollar company that's itself wobbling.
LAKSHMANANAll right, let's take a quick call from Michael in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
LAKSHMANANYes, go ahead.
MICHAELHi, I have a question about the Obama administration policy in 2009 to reset the relations with Russia that Secretary Clinton implemented. What was the origin of that, given that Clinton was such a hawk and that Obama was more dovish. Was that really a Clinton initiative, or was it an Obama initiative? And given that relations are even worse than -- with Russia than before, what impact has the failure of that reset resulted in our relations with our allies in Eastern Europe, especially countries like Poland?
LAKSHMANANGreat question, Michael. Mark, this goes to you. Mark is currently writing a book comparing Obama and Clinton's foreign policy. So you tell us, who was behind the failed reset policy?
LANDLERWell, I mean, it was an idea that originated with Obama and his advisors really in the '08 campaign, just as they were coming into office. Now that said, Hillary Clinton bought into this strategy wholeheartedly. You'll recall that she was the one that handed the physical reset button to the Russian foreign minister in that sort of hapless diplomatic encounter, where she sort of got the word for reset wrong in Russian.
LAKSHMANANOr her people did.
LANDLERYeah, or her people did. And so, you know, everyone was invested in this policy at the beginning. It is also true to say, however, that Hillary Clinton was instinctively and historically more skeptical of the Russians and more inclined to think that Putin was going to eventually come back and replace Medvedev, the more moderate president. So in a sense, she was ahead of the administration in recognizing these new realities.
LAKSHMANANAll right, that's Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York Times. You heard it here before his book has even come out. Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of Foreign Policy, Ed Luce of the Financial Times, chief U.S. columnist and commentator, thank you so much to all three of you for all your insights this hour. Thank you to our listeners for sticking with us and for all of your insights. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, sitting in for Diane Rehm.
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