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Syrian government forces clash with Islamist rebels near the city of Aleppo. The surge in violence comes as peace talks continue in Geneva, Switzerland. France says the partial cease fire is on the verge of collapse. At the Macedonia border, hundreds of migrants are tear-gassed as they try to leave Greece, where Pope Francis arrives for a visit tomorrow. In Brazil, the supreme court rejects President Dilma Roussef’s attempt to halt an impeachment process against her. And a new video shows some schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria are still alive. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Yochi Dreazen Managing editor, Foreign Policy; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Missy Ryan Pentagon reporter, The Washington Post
- Geoff Dyer Foreign policy correspondent, Financial Times; author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--and How America Can Win."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Syrian peace talks resume in Geneva as a partial truce appears to collapse. Pope Francis plans to visit a camp holding immigrants in Lesbos, Greece. And a new video shows some of the hundreds of girls kidnapped in Nigeria two years and prompts renewed calls for their rescue. Here for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Missy Ryan of The Washington Post and Geoff Dyer of The Financial Times.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Diane.
MR. GEOFF DYERGood morning, Diane.
MS. MISSY RYANWelcome.
REHMYochi Dreazen, is the cease fire in Syria actually collapsing?
DREAZENYou know, it was never a ceasefire. I mean, they were very careful at the beginning to use this weird phrase cessation of hostilities, in part because they didn't want to get hopes up too much. Hopes grew anyway. There was a moment of optimism because violence had fallen very sharply, but the fighting had never stopped. I mean, the groups that are, in some ways, the most violent, ISIS and al-Nusra, the sort of al-Qaida-linked affiliate in Syria, have kept fighting.
DREAZENSo some of the fighting between government forces and other rebel groups have fallen, casualties have fallen. There have been some signs of progress, but it's not as if there was ever a moment in which all guns had fallen silent, all planes had stopped bombing, that it continued. I think what's happening now, which is interesting, you add these farcical parliamentary elections, where I'm sure Assad will proved to have gotten 97 percent of the vote, or his party will have gotten 97 percent of the vote. So that's happening kind of solidifying him politically in his own mind.
DREAZENHe, with Russian help, has gathered more ground militarily and now you have the cessation of hostilities that he was never all that committed to beginning to fade away.
REHMSo Missy Ryan, is there a plan B?
RYANWell, the plan B is the hoped-for peace agreement that negotiators are returning to in Geneva this week. The opposition is already there and the government was supposed return to Geneva today after, as Yochi said, the parliamentary elections. And, you know, it's really a moment, in some ways, of hope for Syria, you know, after four years of fighting, intense fighting, you have, you know, while the ceasefire didn't hold entirely, it has lasted longer than many people expected it would.
RYANAnd you do have, at least in name, talks between the two sides in Geneva. However, I mean, the fundamentals haven't changed in terms of what each side and, probably more importantly, their backers will accept in terms of whether or not Bashar al-Assad can remain in the country and what sort of the nature and extent of a political transition will be.
REHMAnd Geoff Dyer, this has been a great disagreement between the U.S. and Russia.
DYERAbsolutely. And the core issue has been all along what happens to Bashar al-Assad. The Russians have said, you know, in theory, we're not weighted to him, but when the talks have really been taking place, they have put forward plans that would really keep him in power. The Americans have gone some way to try and compromise, but have said that ultimately at some stage in the transition, Assad has to go. And that issue has never really been resolved. They haven't really found any common ground and that's the core thing behind these talks.
DYERThat talks will not really get anywhere unless the U.S. and Russia can find some sort of common path in what happens to Assad.
REHMSo if you have this cessation of hostilities or reduction thereof falling apart, what does that do to the truce talks that Missy was talking about?
DYERThey would almost certainly collapse as well. So I mean, what -- everything Yochi said about that that fighting on the ground is absolutely true. But if you were a diplomat, you would say the following. You'd say that the particular incident that people have been focusing on this week has been around Aleppo, that largely involved Syrian forces going up against Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.
DYERNusra forces were never actually part of the ceasefire. They're outside of it. So technically speaking, you could make a case that the big fighting this week is not actually bridging the ceasefire. So the diplomats sort of say, we've still got this one thread that we can hang onto to try and keep the process alive. It's a pretty thin thread. It's a very, very fragile situation, but that would be the official line for the next few days at least.
RYANAnd I guess, you know, you mentioned a plan B earlier and, you know, hypothetically, there could be a significant shift in American Policy if, as The Wall Street Journal reported this week, the United States does decide to escalate its military assistance to rebels fighting al-Assad. And there was news that potentially the CIA is preparing to provide significantly more heavy weaponry to them, including anti-aircraft weapons. And, you know, I mean, it seems to me unlikely that that'll actually be approved.
RYANI think the danger to the region and sort of the American ownership of this fight is too great, but certainly for those who feel like the United States just needs to do something different, that would be the big shift that could be taken.
REHMA big shift. What would that be, in your mind?
DREAZENI mean, in my mind, you'd be trading one risk for another. I mean, the one risk is you don't arm them and they get defeated. The other risk is you do arm them, maybe they have battlefield success, but maybe one of these manpads, these shoulder-fired anti-plane missiles makes it out of the region and is used to shoot down an American airline. I mean, that's the risk. These weapons are so powerful that if they leave the region -- the CIA has experimented with different types of -- trying to make a technological fix.
DREAZENFor instance, a GPS that would be added to the weapon so if it leaves a specific area, it would stop firing. They haven't quite figured it out. And if the CIA, after two years, hasn't figured it out, it may not be figure-out-able, if that's a phrase. You know, one thing that's been interesting this week, over the years, we've talked so much about the original sin of the Iraq war and part of it was U.S. went in and took away not just Saddam, but his entire government and the flaws that flowed from that.
DREAZENThis week, you had the Syrian opposition say something kind of interesting, where they said, we're open to a government that includes many members of the Assad government so long as it's not him. So they're saying very much explicitly the opposite of what the U.S. did in Iraq. They're saying we can accept parts of his family, parts of his military, just not him. And that opens up a whole avenue that would not have been opened up six months ago or a year ago.
REHMOn the diplomatic front.
DREAZENOn the diplomatic front, yeah.
REHMAnd so at this point, Geoff, how much of Iraq and Syria does ISIS actually control?
DYERWell, the U.S. military has been putting out some fairly sort of optimistic assessments this week of the conflict. They said that they've killed -- I think the figure was 25,000 ISIS fighters over the last year. They say they've taken back 40 percent of the territory that ISIS holds. It's entirely possible those things are true, but what that doesn't tell you is what is going to happen in Mosul, the main city in Iraq that ISIS controls, or in Raqqah, the main city in Syria that it controls, and how the U.S.-backed forces, the coalition forces will take back those cities is still very unclear. And that's the key factor in the fight.
DYERAnd also, those figures don't tell you anything about how many fighters have now made their way back to Europe, how many people are...
DYER...who could be conducting terrorist attacks in Europe or even potentially in the U.S.
RYANAnd this week, you had Obama out at the CIA talking about the counter-ISIL fight, you know, and he was -- one of his key points was that the United States had sort of gained the momentum in the fight against the Islamic State after now, I guess, almost two years. But I think that -- and I think it's true that there have been some important tactical gains, including, you know, the city of Ramadi being gained and the development of some partner forces in Syria who have, you know, taken over places like al-Shaddadah.
RYANBut I think that on the sort of strategic level, you have to ask yourself how far they've actually gone towards achieving some key objectives, which I think would include developing reliable partner forces in both countries that are going to be able to take and hold the major cities that you're gonna have to take back to defeat ISIL and that's Raqqah and Mosul. And the Iraqi forces, with the exception of the counterterrorism services, we don't have any information, so far, to, you know, make us feel more reassured about them being more capable than they were.
RYANAnd then, on the Syrian side, you know, the United States really is very positive on the YPG Kurdish forces, but the idea of them taking over historically Arab areas is problematic for all sorts of reasons. And then, the other sort of strategic thing that I don't see any evidence for progress on is just this sort of idea of how willing the people in both these countries will be to trust the governments. And that was one of the reasons why ISIS was able to do what it did.
REHMI want to back to these forces, the Iraqi forces. Is it lack of training or lack of will that prevents them from doing what's needed?
DREAZENI think the latter. The years I lived in Iraq, I spent a lot of time with Iraqi forces and they did not -- there was a joke told to both about Iraq and Afghanistan that we would pick the one population of that country that didn't fight. I mean, this was a country where everyone had AK-47s. There's a history of armed interaction throughout Iraq as there was in Afghanistan. There was not a loyalty to the state. I mean, what you had, especially as Iraq drew on was people saw themselves as Shiites first, Sunnis first, for the Kurds, certainly Kurds first 'cause they had, on their American-provided weaponry, uniforms and vehicles, they had the Kurdish flag, not the Iraqi flag.
DREAZENKurdistan, many Kurds speak no Arabic. So you had groups that saw themselves -- and Missy has also spent a lot of time in Iraq. I would guess probably saw some of the same things. But if you're in the south, you would see American fighter humvees that would have figures, pictures of the Shiite leadership of Iraq plastered across the windshield. They didn't have the prime minister of Iraq. They didn't have the Iraqi flag, necessarily. They had the Shiite flag. And you had the same thing in Sunni areas.
DREAZENIf people aren't loyal to a state, why would they fight and die for that state? One other quick point, I agree completely with the way Missy was describing the situation on the ground. There's a phrase the Pentagon love to use, strategic communications, which is this awful, nebulous phrase at which they throw a lot of money. The basic idea is, if your enemy communicates better than you, you could lose. And you're seeing that with ISIS. There's always a degree -- with a terror group, there's always the question of what can they do versus how do we see them, how afraid are we of them.
DREAZENAnd with ISIS, they may be losing ground in Iraq and Syria, but for the average American or the average European seeing warnings about new terror attacks in Birmingham, London, Paris, Rome, Brussels, that doesn't look like a weakened ISIS. That looks like a stronger ISIS, even if ISIS is losing on the battlefield.
REHMYochi Dreazen, managing editor of Foreign Policy, author of the book titled "The Invisible Front." Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We have an email from Fernando saying he'd like to hear a discussion of what's been called a white coup in Brazil, seeking to reverse election results. This morning, Brazil's Supreme Court rejected a motion to block a vote on the president's impeachment. And Geoff Dyer, you might like to know, is the former Financial Times Brazil bureau chief. He spent five years there. What is your take on what's happening in Brazil?
DYERSo the context for readers is -- for listeners is that this Sunday the lower house of Congress will vote on whether to impeach the President Dilma Rousseff. And to go through, that has to get a two-thirds approval from the lower House. Then it will go to the Senate. But this is a big vote. This is the real crunch one. This is the one that really matters. And if that goes through, then she probably will be impeached.
DYERAnd so there are two kind of issues here. One, that a lot of the Dilma supporters have said, is this is a soft coup or a white coup, I think, that the questioner said. I don't think that's necessarily legitimate criticism. The process is absolutely going by the book and the constitution. The Supreme Court has written off on the process. It's supported by two-thirds of the population. And if it goes through, it'll be two-thirds of the Congress votes to oust her. So that it's a perfectly legitimate process legally. There's a separate question as to whether this is a good idea or not. And that's a much more complicated question.
REHMWhat are the grounds?
DYERSo the technical grounds are that she basically manipulated the public accounts in order to win the election in -- 18 months ago, in 2014. Essentially, they moved money in between state banks and the Ministry of Finance to make it look as if the budget deficit was smaller than it was. And so she could go out and say that we have -- we don't have the economic problems at all. We're fine. I can keep spending money on the social programs that we've introduced. And the opposition said, no. We need to tighten our belts. We're going into a very tricky economic situation. We need to introduce some austerity and Dilma's not telling you the truth.
DYERAfter the election, having won very narrowly, she then turned around and said, you know what? Actually we are having a lot of economic problems and we do need to introduce a lot of budget cuts and essentially undercut everything that she'd said during the election. So that's, I think, there are lots of things going on in Brazil. There's a -- the economy is cratering. There's this big corruption scandal. But also what is underlying this kind of lack of confidence in her is the sense that she sort of lied to win the election. And so there's the technical reasons as to why she's being impeached, but there's also these broader political reasons that are ultimately underlying it.
REHMAnd, Missy, add to that the Zika virus and the expenditures on the Olympics.
RYANSure. And I was just going to say that. In some ways, you know, if this does go off by the books, in some ways it would be a good sign for the sort of maturity of the Brazilian political process. And, you know, I also worked in Latin America for many years. And it's great to see the continent, in general, moving away from kind of some of the sort of abrupt political non-constitutional changes that used to occur there.
RYANHowever, it obviously comes at a terrible time for Brazil. As Geoff said, they're in the middle of a big economic crisis. They are also grappling with Zika. There is over 1.5 million people in Brazil who have come down with the virus and there's a growing number of babies that have been born with microcephaly and other sorts of problems and sort of the epicenter of the Zika phenomenon. And it, you know, we're not too many months away from the Olympics. I think it's interesting to see the Olympics organizers not backing away at all from their plans.
REHMThey say they've sold 50 percent of Olympics tickets.
RYANAnd they've said there's no plan B. There's no plan, at least that they say that they're exploring at all, to move the games, which I think, you know, I mean, raises all sorts of questions about the wisdom of that. There's been some interesting talk among Olympic contenders about whether or not they would actually attend. Hope Solo was one of the people who at first said she might not, a goalkeeper, might not attend the games. And you can certainly put yourself in the shoes of some of these young athletes about whether or not they think it's safe, let alone spectators.
REHMAll right. So if she is impeached and it is, as you said, a process, what happens next?
DYERSo then the vice president would take over, he's called Michel Temer. And...
REHMIs he trustworthy as far as the people of Brazil are concerned?
DYERHe's not especially popular as well. And so one of the -- and one of the downsides of the impeachment process is that he, too, could face legal problems somewhere down the line. She's facing two challenges. She's facing the impeachment process in Congress, which directly targets her. But she's facing a separate challenge through the courts, which essentially says that money from this corruption scandal that was stolen from the oil company, Petrobras, went to finance her election campaign. And in that case, it's the ticket that would go down if that goes through, so it would be the president and the vice president.
DYERSo Temer would also be covered by that. So it's entirely...
REHMAnd then what happens?
DYERSo entirely possible, then, if it came -- if that happened -- if that happened this calendar year, there would be new elections. If it goes into the next calendar year, under the constitution, then actually it would be Congress would then choose the next president. And Congress is even more unpopular than the president as well. It has a similar sort of level of credibility as the American Congress has. That would be a very difficult, complicated situation if that happened. So picture might have legal reasons, but it's also -- there are lots of political, practical reasons to think that it won't resolve a lot of the problems Brazil's facing.
DREAZENThe enormity of this scandal is just absolutely...
DREAZENYou know, we can use words like corruption and it sort of all blurs together a little bit. But here you're talking about, just in the case of Petrobras, one of the -- the state-owned natural gas and oil company, $12 billion missing. I mean, $12 billion. And as part of the investigation, with the wondrous name of Operation Car Wash, roughly two-thirds of the parliament, you know, that Geoff was referencing a moment ago, roughly two-thirds of them are under some form of investigation as well. So you have the president, the vice president. As Geoff pointed out, it might then go to Congress, two-thirds of whom are themselves under investigation.
DREAZENOperation Car Wash has yanked in generals, police officers, businessmen, congress people, potentially Lula, potentially Dilma. So you just have this gigantic, all-encompassing national scandal that blows anything out of the water that we've seen in countries other than perhaps Russia, where this kind of money disappearing is not that big of a deal.
REHMAnd how are the people faring, as we speak, Geoff?
DYERSo everything, as I said, is absolutely true. But there is a positive side to this, which is that this has all been exposed by independent prosecutors who were put in place in the constitution 20 years ago and are now sort of coming of age and have had the, you know, authority and credibility and legitimacy to actually pursue this investigation and to go right to the top of the country. I mean, it's entirely possible they'll arrest the former president of the country as part of this investigation.
DYERSo there's a good side, you know, there is an accountability here. There is a -- there are institutions that are functioning properly here. There is a part of this that, in the very long run, it could actually strengthen Brazil. But in the short run, it's a whole series of crises and disasters that...
REHMWell, and one always worries about the short term and what could happen in the midst of that power vacuum, that strength vacuum, that belief-system vacuum.
DREAZENYeah. Not to in any way be glib, but I think, to Geoff's point, if you compare what's happening in Brazil and the way you do some rule of law, to what's happening in Argentina where you had a prosecutor undoubtedly murdered, despite the initial claim that he had killed himself. So you had, you know, Geoff's right. In Brazil, you have the rule of law. In Argentina, a similarly big, similarly powerful country in the same region, you had a prosecutor, investigating a similar type of crime that may have gone all the way up to the presidency, who was murdered.
RYANAnd I would just say that all of this comes as a time where the world is sort of reeling from the Panama Papers revelations about the sort of shady financial dealings of a number of, you know, well-known politicians and leaders. And I think it just goes to show that, while we live in a world that's probably more transparent than it ever has been in many ways, there is still a culture of corruption -- in many cases legal corruption -- that we have to think about.
REHMNow, have any U.S. big players been exposed in those Panama Papers?
DREAZENNot to the same degree that is the case for other countries. What has been exposed is that a state I would never in a million years thought to be a tax haven, Wyoming, turns out to actually be a tax haven.
REHMDelaware is another.
DREAZENDelaware was -- right, but Delaware, there's one particular company, one floor, one office that had 180,000 companies registered to it. So Delaware we sort of kind of knew. Nevada, because of the casinos, is not a huge surprise. Nevada figures prominently in the papers as well. But Wyoming, to me that came completely out of left field.
REHMWhat's in Wyoming?
DREAZENIt turned out that a lot of the companies that were the shell companies created by and registered and overseen by this law firm, either had offices -- I use offices, I wish we were doing this on TV, with air quotes -- but had offices of some sort in Wyoming or were themselves registered in Wyoming, because it was seen very likely as a place that U.S. regulators probably weren't paying much attention to and because it's a very conservative state, a very libertarian state, that has fairly lax regulations on banking and on companies.
DYERThe other sort of big part of it this week has been the impact in Britain. I mean, the first week of the scandal, it was the Icelandic Prime Minister had to stand down. The big questions in Argentina. Everyone was talking about Putin's friends and cronies. But David Cameron has found himself sucked into this because his father was the -- ran this offshore financial trust that was registered in Panama and through this law firm. And David Cameron owns some shares in this company. And it's not at all clear that he did anything illegal or even that he fudged on his taxes.
DYERBut politically this is very, very complicated for him in the moment because Britain is in the midst of the referendum campaign as to whether or not to leave the European Union. And Cameron is the poster boy for the stay-in-the-EU campaign. And so this has been very damaging to his credibility and that's just another series of things that have -- that are making it seem entirely possible that Britain might actually decide to leave the EU.
REHMSo explain the connection between David Cameron's having money deposited in Panama and the campaign to get Britain to leave the EU?
DYERThere's absolutely zero...
REHMThat's what I thought.
DYER...rational connection whatsoever.
REHMThat's what I thought.
DYERBut there's a very strong political connection. And his credibility and his image has been very badly damaged. And he is the guy who's trying to sell the stay-in-the-EU campaign.
RYANAnd his -- and it just -- his -- it was handled poorly by his government, which sort of adds to the way it looks. You know, they sort of stonewalled for a few days and then sort of acknowledged the details of it in a way that wasn't particularly adept. And, you know, it makes him look a little bit more out of touch and elite with the British people at a time where they're making big decisions about their future.
DREAZENHe also at one point gave, to use a phrase from the '90s, a Clintonian answer that was kind of remarkable.
DREAZENHe said, in front of parliament, I can say with confidence and in full honesty, I do not own shares in any of these offshore companies. People seized correctly on the fact that it was present tense, because he had owned them in the past. They were just sold. So it was literally true that the moment he uttered those words, he did not own shares. But he had in the past and they were sold as well. So he profited from it.
REHMHow far in the past?
RYANIn 2010, I think, right before he took office, is my understanding. And it wasn't a huge amount of money.
REHMDoesn't that in some way exonerate him from sort of being seen as a shady guy? He sold them before he got elected.
DYERI mean, the sad truth is that a large -- very large number of financial trusts, of investment funds based in Britain are actually registered in some of these tax havens, in the Cayman Islands or in Panama or in Ireland and there's slightly lower taxes in Isle of Man. It's very, very common. So you would probably find, if you, you know, looked around the newsroom of a British newspaper or any political party or any organization, you'd have lots of people without even realizing it had a lot of their pension funds in investment funds.
REHMSee that's why I'm wondering why he's getting such flack.
RYANWell, and it wasn't even, you know, a colossal amount of money like the billions of dollars...
RYAN...that some of the Russian oligarchs we've been talking about.
REHMIt was in the thousands.
RYANIt was like 30,000 pounds or something like that.
DYERAnd then there was -- it was about 100,000 pounds. There was two tranches. It looks bad because it was owned by his father. It was their own investment fund. And it looks bad because he -- his background is, he is from this very rich, privileged family. He is -- he's considered in British parliament as very posh. This is always the kind of criticism against him, that he doesn't really understand the lives of ordinary people because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. And this, the Panama Papers revelations play precisely into that caricature of him.
REHMGeoff Dyer, he's foreign policy correspondent for the Financial Times. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tell me how you, Yochi Dreazen, think this whole issue of Britain withdrawing from the EU might go and how it might really upset the entire global picture?
DREAZENYou know, Britain's always been this interesting where it's sort of been one foot in, one foot out. It's been part of the EU but it did not adopt the euro. It kept the pound, it kept the -- its own control over its own currency. If it were to pull out, the big question that I think is being looked at, especially in places like New York, Dubai, is does the city of London lose it preeminence as the main place for stocks, equities, currencies, for -- as a main trading hub and financial hub of Europe. Does that shift to Germany? Does that shift to Italy? Does it shift out of the -- out of Europe altogether?
REHMAnd if it does?
DREAZENIf it does, you lose jobs, you lose tax revenue. I mean, theoretically, it's a devastating loss for London and for England's tax base. Now, there are a lot of people who say, wisely, that even if this were to happen, because the city has the infrastructure, because it has so many companies that have been established there for so long, that Rome does not, Paris does not, Berlin does not, Bonn does not, you might not see this cataclysmic exit that people are warning about. But the city of London as a financial matter, that loss would be huge.
DREAZENAnd then there'd be the smaller things, that if, you know, a British citizen wanted to get into the channel and go across to France, they would need -- very likely need a visa. They would certainly need a passport. So there'd be the sort of smaller daily things that citizens would face and this bigger financial question for the entire country.
RYANAnd just the sort of big question about whether or not this is the end of Europe, whether the European Project is coming to a close and, you know, you're -- the continent is still going through a pretty severe period of economic struggle. There's -- I think that the most recent attacks in Brussels and Paris shown that the continent has never developed the sort of real, effective security measures across the continent that it needs. And I think a lot of people are just questioning what it means to be part of Europe.
DYERI think that's absolutely right. I mean, at a time when the EU is facing a series of existential crises from terrorism, it's just come through the euro crisis, you know, the freedom of movement is potentially collapsing. If Britain was to decide to leave, it would be another devastating blow to the confidence and credibility of the EU.
REHMAnd as we look at this, how likely do you think this is?
DYERThe polls are very, very narrow. I mean, there are some polls show a narrow majority favoring staying. Other polls show a small majority favor leaving. It's very, very close. So I -- and it's two months away. Lots of things could happen before then.
REHMSure. I was going to say, what could tip the balance here?
DYERWell, one of the interesting things is President Obama is going to be in London next week. And he's going to have to talk about the referendum. Ninety-nine times out of 100 I would have said it's a disastrous thing for an American president to get involved in a domestic political dispute. But this might be the one exception where actually it is quite important. The reason is that the people who want to leave the EU, one of their arguments is that Britain's natural place in the world is as an ally of the United States. It's a sort of, you know, the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, that's it's natural place.
DYERIf the American president then turns up and says, you know what, actually we don't see it that way. We think you should stay in the EU. You'll be more prosperous and more relevant and more important to us by staying in the EU. That could be very powerful in the debate. And that's why David Cameron is desperate for him to come. And that's why the people who want to leave the EU are desperate for him to stay away.
DREAZENYou know, to your question of things that might impact it one way or the other, there was news this week -- actually just today -- that two of the terror suspects tied to Brussels and Paris have been spotted in Birmingham, in one case, thought to have been scouting the soccer stadium there, perhaps for a terror attack. You can envision a scenario where somebody with an EU passport comes into Britain, carries out a terror attack and that begins to shift the politics slightly.
REHMYochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy. Short break here. Your calls, your comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd after last night's debate in Brooklyn with Hillary Clinton, the candidate Senator Bernie Sanders flew to the Vatican. And how did all that come about, Yochi? Do you know?
DREAZENA lot of it is still very confused. I mean, there -- initially the Sanders campaign was sort of wink, nodding, hinting that he had been invited by the pope or to meet with the pope to talk about their shared interest in fighting poverty, their shared criticism of the capitalist system, their pro-environmental stances. Then the Vatican said no, he's not meeting with the pope. Then they said no, the pope hadn't been involved in the invitation at all, that this was sort of a side conference that is not as high level as the Sanders campaign had first made it out to be.
DREAZENThere's a lot about it that's still very strange. Frankly, there's a lot about papal diplomacy right now that's very strange. Recently the Vatican fired their ambassador to Washington, who had been deeply controversial because in another case of confused invitations, he had invited Kim Davis, the woman from Kentucky who refused to sign gay marriage certificates despite the small fact that federal law told her she had to, had invited her secretly to Washington while the pope was here, which caused a gigantic kerfuffle.
REHMI remember that.
DREAZENSo right. So the Vatican fired him kind of quietly. It's been overshadowed by the whole Sanders diplomacy thing. But you get a sense that the Vatican, like any other bureaucracy, has mistakes and has parts that are badly handled, and this is I think one of them.
RYANAnd in terms of his appearance, it was a conference on social justice, and it was sort of standard Sanders fare in terms of talking about inequality and social inclusion. And, you know, the pope is about to head off tomorrow to the island of Lesbos. So, you know, maybe he was tied up in preparations for that. But in any event, you know, Sanders is there and didn't meet with him.
REHMBut, go ahead, Geoff.
DYERI'm not a political reporter, I've never worked on a campaign, but it just -- it seems utterly baffling to me that four days before the New York primary, which is essentially like a make-or-break primary for him, I mean, if he loses badly there, that's probably, you know, near the end of his campaign, it's utterly baffling to me that he would then go off to Rome for a couple of days at the heat of this New York primary when he could have had -- he has some momentum behind him and is gaining a little bit of ground to Hillary Clinton. It just seems to me political malpractice.
RYANWell maybe there's -- I guess there's a lot of Roman Catholics in New York that he's thinking he can appeal to.
DYERIf he gets a photo op with the pope then possibly, but at a conference at the Vatican, it's not quite the thing that's going to change the New York primary.
REHMI do agree with Yochi that there was confusion as to whether he was actually invited or simply decided that this was a good thing to do.
DREAZENYeah, and that to me is the most interesting part of the whole story. I mean, I agree with Geoff that taking time away from the primary right now for this relatively low-level thing, where the coverage he's now getting isn't coverage of, hey, Bernie Sanders is meeting the pope, it's Bernie Sanders is randomly disappearing for a low-level conference where the Vatican is kind of loudly saying we did not invite him.
DREAZENSo it's not positive coverage. I guess the only thing the Sanders campaign might hope for, you know, as Missy mentioned, was maybe it helps marginally with Catholics. Maybe it helps marginally with other religious groups, but it makes no sense to me, neither the Vatican's handling of it nor the Sanders campaign. I mean, it's a rookie mistake to over-inflate an invitation from someone, and when you hint that hey, we were invited to meet with the pope, how amazing is that, when you weren't, you're welcoming utter, complete smack down from that government as you've now gotten.
RYANAnd I think it just underscores that influential political role that Pope Francis has taken from the beginning, some of -- some of which is his own doing and some of which is his sort of being an attractive figure that people sort of want to associate themselves with.
REHMSo what is the pope's message going to be when he gets to Lesbos, Geoff?
DYERSo Lesbos is this little island just off the coast of Turkey. It's a Greek island where potential migrants are now being based. And the context is -- I mean, the good news is that Europe is beginning to slowly get its arms around this migration probably that seemed to be almost going to drag it down last year when it had more than a million people crossing its borders, and Angela Merkel in a desperate situation.
DYERAnd they've had this deal between the EU and Turkey whereby Turkey has agreed to take back people who are not legitimate migrants. And that is -- that has had a big impact. There's been a big slowdown in the number of migrants getting into the EU. The downside is that now these migrants are going to be based in places like the camps in Lesbos and another island, and Greece, the first country where they go to.
DYERAnd Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been to this camp recently, and they basically describe it as almost like a prison camp.
DYERAnd they're going to be waiting there for several months while their migration request is processed. It's a very long, it's a very painful, you know, bureaucratic, difficult process, and they're going to be basically stuck there. The pope is going to be there, and he's going to see these rather desperate conditions that these people are now stuck in.
REHMHere's what I don't understand. How come the clash is with police, as some of these migrants are trying to leave Greece?
DREAZENBecause the countries that they're trying to leave into don't want them. I mean, for Europe, having them penned up, as Geoff said, in what are functionally detention camps, is an easier, neater solution than having them stream over the borders of Macedonia, which fire tear gas, Hungary, which has used in some cases rubber bullets. So for Europe, if they are consolidated in Greece, as unpleasant as that is, that's better for some of the countries that just simply do not want them.
RYANAnd I think that's one of the things that the pope is -- that's one of the things the pope is trying to do in visiting Lesbos is sort of highlight, you know, just the plight of the refugees and also, you know, I think some of this bad behavior on the part of countries that, you know, have either been pass-through countries or countries that haven't given, you know, the migrants the treatment that one would hope.
RYANYou know, he's urged Roman Catholics to take in migrant families.
RYANI think he wants to talk about the sort of human suffering that most of these people have gone through.
REHMAnd if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's a Facebook comment from Jebediah. He says, your guests were not accurate on impeachment charges in Brazil. The charges do not include any actions before her re-election because the president cannot legally be impeached for actions during a prior administration. The current impeachment charges related to Rousseff's failure to gain prior authorization for emergency spending during 2015's economic crisis in Brazil. This makes the charges highly legally questionable because the alleged crimes do not level of, quote, a crime of responsibility as required by the Brazilian constitution.
DYERSo my understanding of it is the charges include precisely the things your listener just mentioned but also the 2014 accounts, which are the ones that people say that were fudged and which were rejected by the equivalent of the GAO in Brazil. It's the first time that's ever happened. But the listener in pointing to one of the very delicate technical issues, is that some lawyers would say that a president in Brazil can't be impeached for things -- she's in her second term. Some lawyers would say she can only be impeached for things that she did during that term. She can't be impeached for things that she did in her first term.
REHMIn the first term.
DYERBut if that's her legally argument for defending herself, that's also a pretty thin legal argument, as well, I think.
DREAZENYou know, when it gets down to the level of this type of legalism, I think it becomes hard for outside observers to really understand completely. I think what is interesting is, again, just the political unrest at the top levels of a government as powerful and important as that of Brazil. It's completely and utterly fascinating, and I've devoted the time to it because I don't think it gets the attention it deserves in this country.
REHMTell me, Yochi, about what's happening to the cartoonist that depicted a Turkish high-level official.
DREAZENThis is really an amazingly bizarre and kind of depressing case. I just want to begin by mentioning, about 10 days ago or so, the president of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, was in Washington, DC, went to the Brookings Institute to give a speech. I happened to get there early. His security got into shoving matches where they were kicking, physically kicking, punching and shoving both Western journalists and DC police officers. At one point you had armed DC police, armed Turkish security guards, inches from each other's face, because he despises journalists.
DREAZENHe didn't mention journalists in his speech. He just kind of blithely said the 70 journalists who were arrested, they're all terrorists. So that's Erdogan's view of journalism in Turkey. What's happening in Germany is a cartoonist named Jan Bohmermann, and he had read a poem on German television that was sort of crude, it wasn't particularly awful, but it was about Erdogan, basically making fun of Erdogan's treatment of the media, Erdogan's thin skin.
DREAZENUnder German law, you can be prosecuted for insulting the head of state of a foreign country. To do that, to be prosecuted, you need two things. One, the foreign country has to complain. Turkey did that immediately, obviously. They refer to this, incidentally, as a crime against humanity, this poem, which is arguably a bit much. And you need the permission of the German government to proceed with it. And Angela Merkel today said she gave that permission.
DREAZENSo this man who read this poem will now face criminal charges in Germany for insulting an increasingly autocratic and thuggish Turkish president. And within Germany, the reaction's been fierce. The feeling is she has kowtowed to Turkey, that she's given up on European values of free speech, German values of speech, but this man will now face criminal charges.
REHMAll right, let's go to the phones, to Tony in Midlothian, Virginia. You're on the air. Tony, are you there? Well, apparently from what's written up here, Tony was saying that the panel is missing the point of Bernie Sanders's attendance at the conference in Rome. It's not about the horse race, it's about caring for the poor, Geoff.
DYERThat's absolutely been one of his themes. I just think he would make that more effectively being in New York the next few days than being in the Vatican City.
REHMAll right, and here's a caller in Naperville, Illinois. Doug, you're on the air.
DOUGThank you, Diane, for taking my call.
DOUGI really appreciate the discussion you had on Wednesday, March 30, on ISIS in Syria. That same day in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote the peace process in the Middle East needs most today is between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and I'd be grateful for the panel's response to Thomas Friedman's words.
DREAZENYou know, it's interesting, in President Obama's interviews with The Atlantic, he had a very similar phrasing. He said that Iran and Saudi Arabia had to learn to share the region. I mean, that was the word he used, to share it, and I think the Obama administration believes -- would agree with Doug completely, that unless and unless you have the kind of shadow war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that's taking place militarily in places like Yemen, politically in places like Iraq, economically across the region, unless that winds down, you'll have continued instability in almost every country that those two countries have interest in, which is to say almost every country in the Middle East.
DREAZENI the caller is spot-on. I think the White House agrees with it completely. I think Yemen will be a test case. If the fighting in Yemen between the Saudi military and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, if that can be wound down in something remotely approaching lasting and peaceful, maybe that could be the precursor to some broader, longer-term rapprochement, but that remains to be seen.
RYANYeah, I think there's a lot of anxiety in Saudi Arabia, the leadership right now, because there's a perception the United States has tilted to Tehran, following the nuclear agreement. And, you know, they have this long-running competition in the region. I think there are a lot of legitimate complaints on both sides. But I think that it's wishful thinking to think that there will be any sort of rapprochement in the near term.
DYERI think one of the question is how would the U.S. actually make that happen, and how does it influence Saudi Arabia. Some people would say influence Saudi Arabia by having -- doing interviews like the president did, where he seemed to be a little bit critical, creating some distance between the U.S. and the Saudis. Other people would say the way to get the Saudis to feel less threatened by Iran is for the U.S. to full, wholeheartedly back the Saudis in each of these conflicts, to make them feel like they have a powerful outside partner, and then they will do less freelancing of their own. That's the kind of policy debate, if you like, anyways.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And now to Gaithersburg, Maryland. Robin, you're on the air.
ROBINThank you. I was interested in the comment made your panelists about Europe finally getting its hands around the migrant question because I haven't had that impression. Other than a deal with a Turkey, what a lot of the NGOs seem to be talking about the lack of personnel and processing to efficiently and effectively determine who's entitled to refugee status and who isn't. so if there's no going on that I'm not aware of, I'd like to hear it. I'll take my answer off the air.
DYERI think the caller's absolutely right. I mean, the EU-Turkey deal gives the Europeans a chance. It gives an opportunity, a platform to try and bring this problem under control, essentially to set up a regulated path for migration from the Middle East to Europe instead of this kind of chaotic flow of people that you saw over the last year. But the caller is absolutely correct that one of the problem is there aren't enough people to process these applicants. So this regulated, legitimate system that they tried to set up is not working properly because -- just because there's such a backlog.
REHMAll right, Missy, UNICEF released a report this week about Boko Haram, it's use of children to carry out its suicide bombing crimes.
RYANThis is really horrific. The report is that there's been children, mostly girls, as young as eight years old, who have been used as suicide bombers. Forty-four children were used as suicide bombers in 2015, and I think that was a 10-fold increase from the previous year. And it's occurred in Nigeria and Chad and (word?) and Cameroon, and this is obviously a tactic of choice from Boko Haram, and these governments haven't been able to effectively combat this organization.
RYANYou know, the 300 girls were abducted in Nigeria two years ago, and many of them are still missing. More have been taken. This is a sort of cold conflict, and, you know, there's obviously some Western support for these governments but not in a way that's been as effectively as one would've liked.
REHMSo but tell us about the new video of these girls kidnapped, Yochi.
DREAZENSo this video was one of the first kind of tangible signs of life that some number of these girls were still alive this many years after they were first taken, and the outrage it sparked in Nigeria was profound. I mean, Nigeria, the populace in Nigeria has never gotten the impression that their government or their security forces have been up to the task or paying the resources they should, and this just re-opens all of it. As Missy, the notion that perhaps some of these girls have been forcibly converted to Islam, perhaps some of them have been forcibly used as suicide bombers, perhaps many of them, if not all, have been sexually assaulted and married off to Boko Haram fighters, which is what the Boko Haram has threatened to do since they were first taken.
DREAZENYou know, in Nigeria it's this open wound, this open sore that had a small scab healing over it, and this ripped that scab right off.
REHMBut is there any hope? Does the video, since it showed some of these girls still alive, offer any hope to the families of getting them back?
DYERUnfortunately the video seems to have raised as many questions as its provided answers. It seems like it was recorded in December, and so there's a big question as to why it's only just coming to light now, and obviously there's a question of what happened to the girls between then and now. And also there's a reference in the video to some sort of discussions between the government and Boko Haram about releasing the girls, as well.
DYERSo it's raised all sorts of questions about what is the sort of murky back politics going on behind this that we don't really know a lot about.
REHMWhat a terrible, terrible situation for the families, for the girls. We'll have to leave it there. Geoff Dyer, foreign policy correspondent for the Financial Times, he's author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--and How America Can Win." Missy Ryan is Pentagon reporter for The Washington Post, Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of Foreign Policy and author of "The Invisible Front." Thank you all.
DYERThank you, Diane.
DREAZENHave a great weekend.
REHMHave a great weekend, everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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