Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr talks about his new novel, "Cloud Cuckoo Land," and why he says his job as a writer is to reveal our interconnections as people, and as a planet.
Guest Host: Katherine Lanpher
Belgium detains at least six people after the terror attacks in Brussels. Officials confirm 31 people, including two Americans, were killed in the attacks. The Belgian government acknowledges high level counter-terrorism failings. Secretary of State Kerry says the Islamic State is lashing out in Europe because its base in the Middle East is eroding. Syrian troops battle Islamic State militants in an effort to retake the ancient city of Palmyra. A UN tribunal convicts a former Bosnian Serb leader of genocide. And president Obama makes a historic trip to Cuba. A panel of journalists joins guest host Katherine Lanpher for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Tom Bowman Pentagon correspondent, NPR
- Nadia Bilbassy Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya
- Shane Harris Senior correspondent, The Daily Beast; Future of War fellow, New America; author, "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" and "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State"
- Julian Barnes Reporter, The Wall Street Journal, based in Brussels
MS. KATHERINE LANPHERThanks for joining us. I'm Katherine Lanpher sitting in for Diane Rehm. The defense department announces that a top ISIS commander has been killed. Belgian authorities detain at least six people in connection with the Brussels attacks. U.S. officials confirm two Americans are among the dead. Speaking in Brussels, Secretary of State Kerry says ISIS is taking actions outside of the Middle East because the group's goal is collapsing.
MS. KATHERINE LANPHERThe UN court in the Hague finds a former Bosnian leader guilty of genocide. More of that and more stories as you join me right now for the top international stories on the Friday News Roundup. We have with us Tom Bowman of NPR, Nadia Bilbassy of al-Arabiya and Shane Harris of The Daily Beast. Let's go right to the announcement by the defense department that a top ISIS commander has been killed. What do we know?
MS. NADIA BILBASSYWell, we just heard from the defense secretary and from the chief of staff that Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, who was described as a finance minister of ISIS, has been killed, targeted by an air raid. This man seems to be known because he has a bounty on his head of $7 million. Obviously, this is what the administration has been saying. They've been targeting ISIS leaders, wherever they are. When they have information, they will go after them and eliminate them. And for them, it's an important person because he is in charge of the money.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYSo many analysts believe that he will have an effect on the recruitment of ISIS, especially with the people who are being -- flocking to Syria and Iraq, in particular. One last point I will say is part of the appeal of ISIS in comparison to al-Qaida and other terrorist organization, that actually has been lucrative in terms of providing young recruits with accommodation and cars and money and everything that they need. So this is very important. Once you dry the source of finance, I think it will be an important step in fighting ISIS.
MR. TOM BOWMANAnd it's important to note that increasingly the U.S. has looked at the Islamic State as a state. They're taking out their infrastructure, their banks. They're taking out their leadership, their command and control structure, their lines of communication. There's a special targeting force made up of hundreds of U.S. special operators in Northern Iraq for this very job and it's important to note as well that this was a hastily convened news conference. It was only announced three hours ago. Clearly, any win they have, they're gonna trump it and getting this guy is the whole reason for this news conference.
MR. TOM BOWMANBut that being said, listen, this is going to take a long time. If you take these leaders out, as they have -- they took out a chemical engineer before this -- it's still going to take some time for a couple of reasons. First of all, the U.S. is not putting ground forces there to take back turf. They're relying on Arabs in Syria, very small numbers of them, and they're relying on Kurdish forces who are much better fighters, but who can't move into Arab areas. And then, in Iraq, we've seen that the Iraqi forces still need a lot of training, are not competent enough.
MR. TOM BOWMANAnd if you look at Ramadi, taking back that city west of Baghdad, a lot of that was done by U.S. air strikes. And then, the folks who moved into the city, the Iraq forces were lead by the counterterror forces, their best forces. So when you look ahead, this is going to take a long time to root ISIS out of places like Raqqah in Syria and Mosul. I was there in December meeting with American officials and Iraqi officials. They had hoped to start the Mosul operation sometime in the spring, maybe take it by the end of this year or early next year.
MR. TOM BOWMANAnd American officials who were at that meeting, I asked them about that time frame, and they said, that's very optimistic.
LANPHERHmm. Shane Harris.
MR. SHANE HARRISYeah, just to follow on what Tom was saying, I mean, we heard, even in the press conference before we went on air, the secretary getting some tough questions about whether or not the increase of troops that are there, which he emphasizes are in this support and training role, isn't sort of the first step of a footprint of the U.S. back in the region and emphasizing that this was an Iraqi operation, that we're there to support the Iraqis. But just in the past week, we saw a U.S. Marine killed in an ISIS rocket strike.
MR. SHANE HARRISOur reporting at The Daily Beast has shown that they were going in there because the Iraq units that were there were leaving. They were -- and they were essentially sent in to kind of stiffen the backbone of these fighters. So I think, you know, the Pentagon wants to, obviously, promote when it does hit these potentially important ISIS individuals, but it's also, you know, they need some good news out of this because I think the training of the Iraqi forces is not going so well.
BOWMANIt's important to note that you're not going to see large numbers of American forces going in. We talked about the special operators, hundreds of them going after the ISIS leadership. These Marines up in Northern Iraq, you know, there aren't that many, maybe a company size, maybe 100 with four artillery pieces. Part of the problem here is, again, you don't have competent local ground forces. There's a reluctance by this administration, maybe rightly so, to send in thousands, if not tens of thousands of American troops, but the consequence of that is you're not going to be able to take back this ground with the current force, local force you have.
LANPHERAnd you're not going to be able to do it quickly.
LANPHERTalk for a minute about -- I used to think that there was a notion that if you took out an al-Qaida leader, if you took out an ISIS leader, they would be quickly replaced. Why is that not the case here?
BILBASSYWell it is the case to a certain extent because it's an ideology. It's not just a few leaders. Obviously, when you have a charismatic leader like Osama bin Laden, who was the head of al-Qaida, he's not on the same caliber or, I mean, what's his name, Zawahiri is not on the same caliber as bin Laden so he's able to recruit more people and to perhaps inspire more people. And it's the same for this group and this is why they've been largely successful. But definitely taking the top tier of any terrorist organization will affect them and will demobilize them and it will, obviously, make them unable to go forward in the battlefield. But generally, I think they will be able to replace him.
LANPHERI want us to move very quickly from this topic, and we can return, to Brussels, because we have Julian Barnes standing by. He is a reporter for The Wall Street journal and he's based in Belgium. Thanks for joining us, Julian.
MR. JULIAN BARNESThanks for having me on.
LANPHERAll right. So what is the latest in the attacks on Brussels and the investigation?
BARNESWell, we've had a fairly major police operation here, which is still ongoing as of midday in Brussels. And they are going after what Belgian officials have called a big fish here. We had several raids that are related to the foiled terror attack in Paris, which all shows the sort of connectedness of this network that stretches in Belgium, in France, in other countries.
LANPHERAnd let's quickly get to the question of the suspect that was deported by Turkey. Explain exactly what happened and why didn't Belgium authorities act?
BARNESWell, what we have is the two brothers who were the suicide bombers, one at the airport and one in the metro station and it emerged this week that Turkey had -- both brothers at different times have gone to Turkey. One, in particular, Ibrahim, had been stopped by Turkish officials, had been deported. He went back to -- in this case, he went the Netherlands, but Turkey warned Belgium about this. Now, this has triggered a lot of questions in Belgium. We had the justice minister and the interior minister offer their resignations.
BARNESThey were not accepted. The government is continuing. But there's lots and lots of questions about how Belgium handles these terror attacks, how they handle counterterrorism measures. And, you know, it's simply the case that there is not a very strong central government in Belgium. It has a lot of foreign fighters here, maybe more than 1,000 radicalized youth who are a pool for these people to draw on. And it is simply the case that the security apparatus in Belgium can't keep track of all of the potential radicalized youth that they have.
LANPHERISIS had claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels. Do we know exactly how they were involved, given that you've just said there might be 1,000 place among Europe?
BARNESYeah, well, there was a terror network that funneled people from Brussels and Belgium to Syria. We know that some of those people went in with the migrant flow back to Hungary, were picked up by Salah Abdeslam, one of the would-be attackers in Paris, brought to Brussels, part of the plot. When some of those people were found, you know, last week, there was a gun -- a shootout. One of the gunmen died inside his house, an Islamic State flag.
BARNESYou know, there's not probably direct control. We don't see, you know, al-Baghdadi sending a direct message to the network, but there's, you know, what they would say in the military, mission command. He has given a strategic order for cells, networks in Europe to strike and military officials, U.S. military officials will tell you as they get closer, as they attack these key leaders, you know, ISIS is going to try to break the momentum by mounting more attacks in Europe.
LANPHERVery quickly, how linked do we think Abdeslam's arrest is to the attacks?
BARNESYou know, it is very much linked in that he was arrested, there were reports he was starting to talk, the cell, the network that was in existence which had been plotting attacks, which had been building up explosives, they clearly thought they needed to launch their attacks now or risk being caught, so they executed those plans.
LANPHERJulian, I want to thank you for joining us. That was Julian Barnes with The Wall Street Journal. We'll take a quick break and we will come back here to "The Diane Rehm Show."
LANPHERWelcome back. I'm Katherine Lanpher sitting in for Diane Rehm. We are having our Friday News Roundup. And in hour two, as you know, we look at international stories and issues. We have with us today, Tom Bowman, Pentagon correspondent for NPR. We have Nadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya. And Shane Harris, senior correspondent at The Daily Beast and author of the "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex." We'd like to have you join us. It's 1-800-433-8850. 1-800-433-8850. You can also catch us on Facebook or Twitter. Or you can send an email, email@example.com.
LANPHERNow, here we have an email from Ethan in Bloomington, Ind. After 9/11, the United States saw a lack of sharing of information among its intelligence community and formed an umbrella agency to oversee the sharing of intelligence between agencies. Is there any talk of members of the EU forming a similar group, in order to help prevent terrorist attacks similar to what we've seen in Paris and Brussels? Shane Harris, we'll start with you.
HARRISYeah. There is talk of that. And I think that, you know, a lot of times after these attacks we sort of equate it to say, well, this was Spain's 9/11 or England's 9/11, after they had attacks. This is Belgium's 9/11. But this is, in a way, I think maybe even Europe's 9/11, in that this exposed a lot of the ways that information is siloed, it's not being shared and integrated, which was what happened after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. We saw how frail and dysfunctional the system really was and how it would isolate information rather than get it up to the top to the right people where it needed to be.
HARRISThat's going to be a huge challenge to do that. These are intelligence services in different countries that are not all equal. The Belgian service, you know, I would say pales in comparison to what the British have. Maybe the Germans are a bit better, but not as good as the French. So the question would be like, who would be the convening authority to actually do this? How would you set up a system where all these secrets could be shared? Some people are going to want to guard their information very closely. Some are going to have different privacy laws. It's a much taller order than what we had to do in the United States with creating an intelligence directorate after 9/11.
BOWMANThere's no question Belgium has very serious problems. They don't have enough counterterrorism officials, enough police. They don't have the competence. They also don't even discuss these issues among their own police forces. We had Michael Hayden on NPR, the former CIA director and NSA director, and he talks about, this shows the vulnerabilities revealed, is how he put it. He said, as Shane said, you have some good counterterrorism people in Europe, France and Britain, he mentioned. But he also said, you know, that they're willing to talk to the U.S., but not to one another. So that's a particular problem, I think, in Europe. But in Belgium, in particular, it's a very, very serious problem.
BOWMANAnd here's the thing, even if you realize you have a problem and you want to change it, you can't change this overnight. So, on the one hand, you have an incompetent bureaucracy. In the other hand, you have this neighborhood in Brussels where many jihadis have come from. They don't feel like they're a part of the country. It's this sort of festering wound in the heart of Brussels that's not going to change anytime soon. And one of the things you talk about in the United States is community policing. You have to have a police force that looks like the community.
BOWMANAnd I think you had a guest on yesterday that talked about the fact that a lot of these police officials in Belgium, a lot of these officers don't reflect the community. That's a recipe for disaster. Particularly in a place like this, where you have jihadi fighters, or any other city in the world.
BILBASSYTwo more points to make on that. I think, number one, the situation in Belgium -- Belgium is a made-up country, like Switzerland. So you have the Flemish-speaking part and the French-speaking part. And you have four seats of government. So imagine, as my colleagues just mentioned, about the lack and mistrust of sharing information among European members, let alone within the country itself. So that's one point. The other is basically the -- Belgium has the lowest number of security agent to track these fundamentalists, in comparison to a country -- a small country like Holland, for example. They have like 600 counterterrorism experts. So they cannot deal with this whole influx of information that come in all the time.
BILBASSYOne other point that I think sometimes is overlooked is this neighborhood. The -- for example, the Molenbeek, which is considered the epicenter of the place that produce all these people that go to Syria and they go Iraq and they join ISIS and al-Qaida. Very often, actually, if you look at the history, they're very similar. Most of them come from broken homes. They're alcoholic. They use drugs. They've been involved in petty crimes. And this is the case of the Salah brothers, the two brothers who have been committing the -- they did the recent attack in Brussels, the one in France, Zarqawi himself who was the mastermind of al-Qaida in Iraq.
BILBASSYAnd what they do, when they join this organization, with no pre-religious kind of background as such -- they were not really extremists in the idea of religion, of looking to find a way of fighting the West or committing jihad or whatever they want to do. But they look at religion as a way to purify their souls. This is a way for them to bring them -- it's just like -- I don't know if it's a fair comparison to say -- when somebody has serious problem, whether it's alcohol or drugs, you go to rehabilitation. But, for them, they go to something equivalent to that, which is religion, but even better, because it will take you to heaven. So...
LANPHERIsn't there also sort of a sense of inclusion, that you are living in one of these neighborhoods -- whether it's the suburbs of Paris or it is this suburb of Brussels -- and you do not feel assimilated. You feel -- you don't feel wanted. And yet, here is this place where you can find a home and inclusion.
BILBASSYCompletely. And in this neighborhood, for example, in Brussels, 40 percent unemployment among this youth, and most of them come from North Africa. They come from Morocco, they come from Algeria. They never felt part of the European culture as such. They're alienated. They're on the margin. They're isolated. They're often called all kind of names, like the sal ahab (sp?) which is the dirty Arabs. So there is resentment in them. And, of course, for them, they go to the Islamic State and they welcome them just like one among equal members. And they treat them the same and they give them titles. They become even a prince there, while they're regarded in the streets of Brussels as nobody.
LANPHERThis just came in. We have breaking news from the Associated Press. Prosecutors say that the three arrested in the Brussels police raid are linked to a Frenchman plotting a new attack.
LANPHERThat's all I have at the moment. But we will keep you updated as more information comes in.
BOWMANAnd along those lines, French officials apparently arrested someone today who was in the final stages of mounting some sort of a terrorist attack. So obviously that's linked with what the French officials have already done.
HARRISI would just say this points to something that we've been talking about, and Julian mentioned this too, these connections possibly between the Paris attack and the Brussels attack. It's looking like this is sort of a single network. Now that may have many sort of nodes on it and many cells that are there. But that's really significant because, I mean, I'm not aware of a sort of single network being able to pull off multiple attacks, certainly in Europe, at this scale before. That really speaks to the level of sophistication, the level of kind of cohesion among these units, the operational security they practiced. They may have been very hard to detect.
HARRISAnd the way that ISIS has been very good, as Nadia was just saying, of sort of building these pipelines, of bringing these young men into Iraq and Syria, training them and putting them back. There's actually a guy in ISIS who is sort of the main French person on the ground, who grew up in one of these suburbs, who's just like these kids. And the training is very sophisticated.
LANPHERBut here's something interesting. Because we just had Secretary of State John Kerry saying that the reason ISIS was going after these so-called soft targets, you know -- an airport or a concert hall -- is because their support and their land claim, if you will, is eroding in Syria.
BOWMANWell, we hope that's the case, I guess. Secretary Kerry would say, hopefully that's the case. But getting back to what Shane was saying, you know, they estimate, I think there are about 30 members of this cell in Brussels. That's according to our counterterrorism reporter Dina Temple-Raston. So they don't know really how many members there are. There could be multiple cells here. And also, she reported something even more disturbing, that these bombers who -- both of whom have died, the brothers, were looking at possibly a dirty bomb, a radiological bomb. And that is very troubling.
BOWMANDefense officials have talked about that for years, the fears that someone would get radiological material, put it in an explosive and kill people and maybe contaminate an area. Now the main threat when you -- to a bomb is just the shrapnel. You'll be killed instantly. And the radiological part of that is not really an issue because you're going to be dead anyway. But that could be a new phase here we're looking at, different kinds of bombs, bombs that spread even more terror than before.
LANPHERI want to go back to this notion that ISIS is so organized. Because that certainly highlights how far the police officials in Europe -- all of Europe need to come.
BILBASSYWell actually that's exactly my point. I don't think the successes of ISIS members in Europe is due because they are geniuses or they are masterminds. I think it also contribute to that lack of and failure of the security services to track them. I give you an example. Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in the Paris attack, he was missing for four months. And guess where he was hiding? He was hiding in the same neighborhood that produced all of these guys in Brussels itself. And he was given cover and protection by his friends.
BILBASSYThese people work in units because they have their brothers and they have their cousins and they have their neighborhood friends that they met, you know, in the neighborhood or they met later in Syria. So it wasn't as much as of al-Qaida, when they have people coming from different places on and the ideology that united them. These people come from the same area, the same neighborhood. And it's a loyalty to the clan, to the friendship, to whatever, that protects them. I mean, saying that, I'm not underestimating the fact that obviously there is a cohesion and there is organization and a level of sophistication that we have seen in the Paris attack.
BILBASSYBut I still believe that the Belgian authority has miserably failed in tracking these guys. And it's been a long -- a problem for them. And it's not just a recent thing that just arises.
BOWMANAnd not only failed to track them, but also you see this community, as you say, that has 40 plus percent unemployment. It doesn't feel like it's part of the country. There are no social services. There's no outreach to the community. That is a recipe for disaster. You're going to see more and more people like this. In this Brussels neighborhood, apparently you go back years, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader who was killed, he was killed by people, you know, posing as journalists who had Belgian passports.
LANPHERSo I just want to point out that we've had guests this week, in fact just yesterday, talking about the need for community policing, the need to take people from Molenbeek and making them the community police. But I'm curious, with the three of you being the observers you are, do you see that happening?
BILBASSYActually you read my mind, because I was going to say something similar to that, which is, most of the tips that the Belgian police receives comes from the family of these guys. A mother of one of these guys were phoning the police and saying, my son was under the influence of so-and-so, and he disappeared. He promised me he will never go to Syria and he did. And eventually he was killed, this guy.
LANPHERAnd those mothers complain, in fact, that they don't have the support from the police that they were seeking.
BOWMANWell, and here's the thing. We could be talking about ISIS, you could be talking about gangs in L.A., it's the same issue. If you don't have a police force that looks like the community, if there's not outreach to community leaders -- whether, you know, in Belgium or whether in California, Los Angeles -- you're going to have problems. And, again, you can't change this overnight. You can't create a competent security apparatus overnight and you can't hire and train police from that neighborhood overnight.
LANPHERYou are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And we are continuing our conversation with our panel, the Friday News Roundup, the international edition. Tom Bowman, Pentagon correspondent NPR, Nadia Bilbassy, the Washington bureau chief at Al Arabiya -- excuse me for stumbling there -- Shane Harris, the senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. We want to have you join this conversation. It's 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850. You can also join us by email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Well, you know, let's go ahead and take a phone call here. We have David from Salt Lake City joining us. David, welcome to the show.
DAVIDHi. Thanks for taking my call.
DAVIDReally interesting discussion today. My comment and question has to do with the media coverage around some of the attacks. It seems to me -- and I don't have any hard data to back this up -- but there's been a lot more coverage of the attacks in Brussels then maybe the attacks in Istanbul that happened within the same week or two weeks and killed roughly the same number of people. And so I'm just wondering why so much more coverage? And if it has something to do with, you know, our media or something to do with the attacks themselves? Any comments would be appreciated.
LANPHERWe have nodding heads here. Let's start with Tom. And we'll give you all a chance.
BOWMANWell, first of all, everyone is focused on ISIS -- or at least the United States is and the European Allies. So if there's an attack by ISIS, that clearly gets a lot more press coverage. You get talking heads on TV. You get press conferences covered live. The attack in Ankara was -- I'm not sure if it was ISIS. Did they claim responsibility for this?
BILBASSYThere is -- yeah, there is a few of the attacks were ISIS, but others were Kurdish separatists.
BOWMANBut also there's, you know, some Kurdish separatists are also mounting some of these attacks. So it gets less press attention than it would if it involves ISIS. So, you know, David raises a very good point. But that's, I think, the reason.
LANPHERI'm wondering though how much of it too is that the news is out there but people don't take it in because it's not as...
HARRISWell, it's not Europe. It doesn't look like the United States.
HARRISI mean, I think there's a lot of bias, I mean, in newsrooms, they say, well, it's Turkey. Oh, that happens over there. Aren't things happening over there all the time?
LANPHERI don't think it happens in newsrooms. I'm going to just say, as somebody who's been in many, many newsrooms.
BOWMANNo, no. I think the issue is, if it's a Kurdish attack within Turkey, I think that gets less press attention...
BILBASSYNo, but they have, in fact, in...
BOWMAN...because it's an internal, political issue that's been going on for decades, I think there's less of an interest in newsrooms in covering that. Whereas, ISIS is something that gets everyone's attention, in newsrooms and in world capitals.
HARRISAnd in Brussels and it's a major airport and a train station and, you know, it's the heart of Europe.
BILBASSYSure. But there is a hypocrisy with the Western media, when they cover certain issues, there is no doubt about it. I mean, sometimes you have three Israelis dead, for example, it will have a fair amount of coverage. But you have 20 Palestinian dead and you have zero coverage. So it depends where the attack is taking place. And definitely the media will react to that.
BILBASSYAnd I agree, I mean, after Charlie Hebdo, everybody said Je suis Charlie, and then everybody else said the same thing about Paris and Belgium, but nobody said anything about Ankara or Baghdad. I mean, there's 3,000 people dying in Iraq each month and nobody cares. They don't even get mentioned, let alone Syria, with almost half a million dead. So human life, it's values according to your nationality, where you come from and how the Western media is covering it, sadly.
LANPHERVery, very quickly, the progress -- any progress on Syria with Secretary of State Kerry meeting in Moscow with the Russian foreign minister?
BILBASSYThis is a very good, for the first time, that we can talk positively about what's happening in Syria. The cessation of hostilities seems to be holding. They hope to develop it to a ceasefire. They're talking about transition, a political transition. Actually, Kerry spent eight hours between Lavrov and Putin yesterday and there was some kind of warmth in the relationship. They seems to have some common ground. They hoping to have this meeting that will have the Syrian government officials and the opposition meeting face-to-face in Geneva on April 9. That's a good thing. They talking about election, et cetera. But let's not underestimate the situation in Syria and the Russian support for Assad, which is a very pivotal point and vital point.
LANPHERSo, we'll just take a break here on some good news. And we will return to this conversation. You can join us at 1-800-433-8850. Join us at email@example.com. I'm Katherine Lanpher sitting in for "The Diane Rehm Show."
LANPHERWelcome back. I'm Katherine Lanpher, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We are continuing our Friday news roundup, looking at international stories and issues with Tom Bowman, Pentagon correspondent with NPR, Nadia Bilbassy, who is the Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya, Shane Harris, a senior correspondent at the Daily Beast and author of, among other things, "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex."
LANPHERI want to go back to that meeting in Moscow with Secretary of State Kerry and President Putin and the foreign minister of Russia because there have been some reports that perhaps the U.S. and Russia are trying to change the tone of their relations. Shane Harris, I see a lifted eyebrow.
HARRISWell, I mean, changing the tone, but I mean, there have been reports, you know, saying it was a warmer road and warmer reception, and Putin said some nice things about President Obama. Well, of course he's happy. He's largely getting what he wants, which is, you know, to manage -- Assad's in power, he's been reinforced to the point where Syrian forces are now starting to move into Palmyra and other areas. And then the big elephant in the room, of course, in the peace process is what happens to Assad in the transition.
HARRISBut Russia's, you know, insertion of that conflict fundamentally changed the military and the political dynamics, and it worked out, I think, largely as Vladimir Putin had hoped. So it's no wonder that they're feeling, you know, a bit sunnier towards Washington these days.
BOWMANYeah, there's no question that Russia is driving this train now. They've solidified Assad in the Western part of the state, from Aleppo down to -- almost down to Daraa in the south, and again the real problem is what comes next. Russia and obviously Assad, he has no interest in stepping aside, whereas there's supposed to be a transitional political body set up. But they -- they're very far apart on any kind of change to the Assad regime at this point, and the -- again, as we were talking about earlier, the -- it's good that there's a ceasefire, there's been some violations of the ceasefire, but it's good it keeps going.
BOWMANAnd we had one guy on this program, Phil Gordon, who said, listen, as long as they keep talking, as long as the ceasefire holds, that's a good thing, but what is the future of this country. And right now the U.S. and Russia are very far apart on the future.
BILBASSYAnd it's good they are talking for sure because the people who suffer the most are the Syrian people. They're the one on the receiving end of everything, between ISIS to the regime to the Russian planes, et cetera. Yes for sure Putin is calling the shots. It's not just the U.S. secretary of state who goes there to consult with him, but all the Arab states, as well. Actually at the same time Kerry was meeting with foreign minister of the -- sorry, the crown prince of United Arab Emirates, you have seen the traditional Arab allies, who are going to Moscow instead of coming to Washington now.
BILBASSYSo they know, definitely as Shane just said, the game has shifted towards Moscow. And they have to decide what they have to do with Assad. But they agreed, at least, that they have to write the constitution by August, and they have to hold elections. But what kind of election are they going to have when you have 12 million refugees between displaced and in neighboring countries, when only Assad probably will allow a few other people, just like in other third world countries, will compete against him, and he will again. And the Russians will say, you see, the Syrian people want Assad.
BOWMANAnd lastly with the Russians, Putin famously said his main force would be leaving Syria I think several weeks ago. Eighty percent of his aircraft, his war planes, are still in Syria, and they are bombing, some around -- still are in Aleppo to the rebel areas, and also as well to Palmyra, where the Russian airstrikes and also the Syrian forces clearly are moving to retake that area.
LANPHERWe have an email from Paul that harks back to the news we started out with at the top of the hour, the U.S. announcing that they have killed a number two ISIS leader. This is Paul in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The strategy of targeting enemy leaders needs to be re-evaluated. There are always others that step in to fill the vacuum, but when you need to persuade all of their followers to lay down their arms and stop attacking Western interests, then you will need people exactly like these leaders to do the persuading.
LANPHERI think recent history has shown that decapitating the leadership of terrorist groups has led to the fragmentation and expansion of terrorism rather than the end of terrorism.
BILBASSYNot always and not in all countries and difference in areas, obviously. That might apply to Yemen. Some people say that Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former of Yemen, who is still there, they could have targeted him, but they didn't because they think he is better of being there because ultimately you want him to negotiate some kind of peace deal with the Houthis and the rest.
BILBASSYWith ISIS and al-Qaeda, I will disagree fundamentally. I think if you take off the leaders, the better off you are because these people are not going to negotiate. They don't believe in a political process. They don't believe in negotiation. They don't believe in democracy. They don't believe in anything. So it's completely the opposite in comparison to, for example, the other political organizations who have a military wing, who wanted to negotiate something, and they're forced to use violence or terror as a method, like a legitimate organization like the ANC at one stage.
BILBASSYYou know, Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist leader. The Sinn Fein, for example, in Northern Ireland. But there is no comparison whatsoever between this organization and ISIS and al-Qaeda, who are bent on killing and establishing a very rigid interpretation of Islam on their narrow thinking of this nihilistic view of the world, that if you don't agree with us, we're going to kill you. Don't -- I mean, it doesn't have to be Christian or Jewish, a Muslim, as well. They kill more Muslims than anybody else because they don't agree with them.
BOWMANAnd I would agree with that. There's no sense that any of these leaders, these ISIS leaders, are willing to hold out an olive branch and come in from the cold. They are brutal killers, and I think the United States, clearly that's why they're going after the leadership. They hope to disrupt the whole -- all of ISIS and maybe eventually just have it wither on the vine. But there's no sense of all that any of these leaders are willing to come forward.
LANPHERI want to remind us that there was other news this week. A U.N. tribunal convicted the Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Let's remind people who he is and what he did.
BOWMANWell, he was a Serb military and political leader. He was responsible for the horrendous Srebrenica attacks where 10,000 Muslim boys and men were slaughtered, they were executed, shot in the back of the head, sometimes with their hands tied behind their backs, and thrown into shallow graves. It was one of the worst atrocities, really, since World War II at that point. And it pushed the U.S. to get involved heavily, finally led to an agreement, and it's interesting that -- you know, this happened in the 1990s. Here we are 20-plus years later, and this guy is finally getting 40 years in jail.
BOWMANAnd it's instructive, too. It's almost like one of the mafia dons, after they've done so much death and destruction, they end up in court, they're in a wheelchair, they're in their 80s, you know, they're maybe incompetent to stand trial. But also what's instructive, too, I guess that one -- at some point you will face justice, but we look at someone like Assad, who's used chemical weapons on his own people, who's used barrel bombs against civilians. How long will it take before he faces war crimes trials against his own people?
BOWMANYou know, you talk to people in the administration that follow this, you know, why hasn't anyone pushed war crimes right now on Assad? And clearly they want to negotiate. They don't want to push the war crimes issue right now because you're in the middle of negotiations.
LANPHERYeah, but what does it say about justice in the world that you have to wait 21 years? We have to remind people what his offenses were.
BOWMANThis is justice is delayed.
BILBASSYAbsolutely, and sometimes justice sadly does not apply. And just one point I will just mention about Karadzic is he is seen as an ultra-nationalist leader, and he is the father, if you want of the ideology of ethnic cleansing. He believed of greater Serbia. During the war he wanted to kick out all Muslims and Croats, as well, not just Muslims, out of Bosnia and establish a purified version of what Serbian grand state would look like.
BILBASSYAnd sadly after the verdict was announced, there were some supporters of him in the streets of Belgrade. They were carrying his pictures because they consider him a leader of the country, of the movement, and he should not even tried. I mean, it took a while, as you said, to convict him. I mean, we're glad that he is convicted and same for their action for the U.N. and all human rights organizations. It takes a while. It's justice delayed. And I've seen this in Rwanda, when I worked in Africa. I've seen people being brought exactly to the Hague.
BILBASSYBut there are many other dictators, who as just Tom said, they'd rather take them to Geneva to negotiate than take them to the Hague. And I remember kind of another sad joke at the time of the Bosnian War, they will say, if you kill one president, you're a killer, if you kill 10 people, you're a mass killer, you kill 100,000 people, they take you to Geneva to negotiate.
LANPHERWe're going to take a call. Let's go to Joe in Allentown -- excuse me, Allentown, Pennsylvania. Hi Joe.
JOEHi, thanks for taking my call. I want to go back to -- one of your panelists had mentioned that Belgium was kind of a perfect storm in that the Muslim community has high unemployment, and it's somewhat isolated. And I had served in Iraq, in Baghdad, in 2006, and I remember standing on the street, asking my commander why what we were doing didn't work, and he said, well, for two reasons. He said, one you can't have a democracy at gunpoint. And he said, two, there's no middle class here. There's nothing for them to value.
JOEAnd my question is, why on a global level or macro level do we not do more to change the conditions in the Middle East so that things are less fertile for insurgencies and insurgent ideas?
BILBASSYWell, it's a good question. I will say because the United States is not good at nation-building, the bottom line. It has the superpower of the world in terms of military firepower. They can take over -- take off any regime, like it happened in Baghdad. We did not expect Saddam Hussein to fall that quickly. It happened. But the day after was a complete disaster because it is no scenario for building that country. And the same in Libya. Libya is a failed state because they managed to get rid of Gaddafi at the time with the help of NATO forces, but then what's the plan for the day after.
BILBASSYMiddle class is absolutely the God of democracy. Without a middle class, you are not going to have a democracy. These people, it's not a matter -- I mean, obviously Belgium is a democratic state, and the same for Western Europe. So there's no comparison to the Middle East as such. But these people don't feel they are part of the country. For example when they go to Morocco, they've been seen -- they are called Belgians. When they go back to Belgium, they are called Moroccans.
BILBASSYSo they're lost identity. And I remember this kind of confusion about who you are. It always pushes you to the extreme, trying to take revenge on the world because nobody can give you the due respect that you need. This is never an excuse for any person to join a terrorist organization, and even poverty is not an excuse, and even injustice is not an excuse. There is millions of ways to demand justice than resort to terror, of killing people en masse.
BOWMANI just want to echo what Joe said. I spent a lot of time in Iraq and Afghanistan and talking with military officers. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, Tom, this is not a military issue, it's an all-of-government issue, that you have to give people jobs and education and hope. And I was in Afghanistan just last spring, this time with an Afghan officer, embedded with Afghan troops, and he said almost exactly that same thing to me just last spring. He said, we can go into these areas and shoot the place up, push out the Taliban, but these people in the villages that may or may not support the Taliban, they need better governance.
BOWMANThey need better leaders, they need better jobs and education and support from their government, and they're not getting it. He said, I can do these raids all the time, but until you fix that, nothing's going to happen.
LANPHERYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And we're continuing our conversation here in the international news roundup. Let's go take another call. We have Paul calling us from Labelle, Florida. Hey Paul.
PAULGood morning. I wish that the world leaders listened to "The Diane Rehm Show. " It's very interesting.
PAULBut anyway, my question is, they arrested that terrorist who was involved with that French massacre a few weeks ago. I think it was a mistake that they -- once they arrested him that they said he's worth his weight in gold was a quote from one of the authorities and how he is speaking up and helping them, which I think exasperated the situation, where, you know, they rushed everything. Instead of doing it two or three weeks from now, they did it because they thought that, you know, the authorities were on to them.
PAULSo my question is, do you think that was a mistake that they were, you know, jumping onto the media and trying to, you know, I guess bolster their own positions at the expense of the 31 people who were killed and the 300 people that were injured?
LANPHEROkay, Shane Harris?
HARRISYeah, our own reporting would tend to think that a lot of U.S. and Western officials thought it was maybe a mistake and that his capture and the way that he was being advertised as sort of singing like a canary accelerated the attacks. You know, there is some benefits, perhaps, sometimes of coming out publicly with information. You do have a duty to warn people. Maybe you want the public's help. But I think the initial reaction from people in the first 24 hours after the attacks was, you know, yeah, his capture probably sped up the timeline here, and there'll be some lessons learned from that, I think.
BOWMANAnd I think officials have said that, too, that there's a sense with these bombers in Brussels, they felt the noose was tightening, and they felt they had to act quickly because they thought the officials were coming to get them.
BILBASSYYeah, and actually it could be good and -- or bad because they think the plot would've been more elaborate, that these guys were planning to do massive attack, not just like in the Paris one but even worse than the Paris one. But the fact that, as they said, he was arrested, and they knew about it, so they hastened their plan, and they went along with carrying as much explosives as they can to the airport and to the metro station to kill people.
BILBASSYWell, they left in the apartment 15 kilo worth of explosive. I mean, can you imagine the scale of the planning if he hadn't spoke? So maybe in retrospect his speaking and the media reporting it was a good thing.
BOWMANAnd apparently one of the bombs, the largest bomb there, did not detonate for whatever reason, either it was incompetence on the part of the bomber, or just it was a malfunction.
LANPHERWe need to wrap this up, so I want to just very briefly get answers from all of you on a question that's been asked several times here, which is that, how does the media influence terrorism in that perhaps if we hadn't reported some things, maybe this attack wouldn't have happened, et cetera. Tom, I'll start with you.
BOWMANWell, I think you have to report things. You can't hold back information. That's not what we do for a living. We tell people what's going on and why. We're not supposed to withhold information. The only time I can think it's relevant is if I'm with American troops or Afghan troops, and we're going to mount an operation, well they're going to mount an operation, I'm just there to report it, and I betray where this attack is going to happen and put people in danger. That's not the right thing to do.
BOWMANBut we -- our job is to find out what's going on and why, talking about how competent Belgium is at rolling up jihadis, talking about, you know, when they arrest one of these bombers, is this person cooperating or not. How did you get this person? It's our job to tell people what's going on and why.
BILBASSYI agree. The worst thing that any journalist can do is self-censorship. The public is entitled to all the information except in special cases when it's jeopardizing national security, obviously. But I wish that journalists, especially in the West are -- take a little bit more of a nuanced analysis of describing things. I mean, all of a sudden after 9/11, I remember people said, who is bin Laden, what is al-Qaeda, where did these people come from.
BILBASSYIt's because there's lethargy, there's lack of kind of this apathy towards this organization, and suddenly all of a sudden, when you have an attack, people start panicking, and it is described in soundbites instead of more of an in-depth analysis meant to inform people than to incite them.
LANPHERShane Harris, you're down to a soundbite.
HARRISYeah, I was just going to say one way the media has influenced ISIS is they've tried to imitate us, and they've had an extremely powerful and sophisticated media apparatus of their own that gets their message out.
LANPHERI want to thank all of you for an invigorating hour. That was Shane Harris with The Daily Beast, Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya and Tom Bowman with NPR. I'm Katherine Lanpher, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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