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.
President Obama meets with leaders in Saudi Arabia and Britain. Tensions increase over a U.S. bill that could hold Saudi Arabia liable for the September 11 attacks. The president faces criticism for calling on British citizens to vote to remain in the EU. The UN says 500 migrants may have drowned last week off the Libyan coast. Brazil’s president turns to the UN for support against her impeachment. And the Pentagon says it will send 200 more troops to Iraq to fight the Islamic State. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Peter Bergen CNN's national security analyst; a vice president and director of the international security program at New America; author of a new book, "United States of Jihad: The Untold Story of Americans Fighting for Radical Islam"
- Indira Lakshmanan Contributor, Politico; former diplomatic correspondent, Bloomberg News
- Mark Mazzetti National security correspondent, The New York Times; author, "The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama is in England meeting with the queen and the prime minister and urging British citizens to remain in the European Union. This follows the president's visit to Saudi Arabia for talks with Gulf leaders. Brazil's president seeks international support to fight her impeachment and Pope Francis speaks out about the world's indifference to the plight of migrants.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Peter Bergen of CNN and the New America Foundation, Indira Lakshmanan of Politico magazine, contributor, and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times. Do join us, questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, quite a week, you all. Welcome.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThank you.
MR. PETER BERGENThank you.
REHMGood to see you. Mark Mazzetti, is President Obama making a mistake trying to speak to the British people about staying in the EU, trying to do his best to convince them that it's important for them to vote to stay in the EU?
MR. MARK MAZZETTIWell, he's certainly getting criticized for meddling, right? And it comes at about a month or so after President Obama made some less than charitable remarks about the British government and a number of other governments, for that matter, and their sort of role in the world. So is it a mistake or not? I mean, some are interpreting it that way. The White House is clearly convinced that he could make a persuasive case. He actually had an editorial today in, I believe, The Telegraph, making his case for why not only Britain is stronger in the EU, but the EU is stronger with Britain.
MR. MARK MAZZETTIAnd with all of the problems that Europe faces right now, it needs Britain and British leadership. But, you know, as someone who has watched the British deal with the European issue for decades, it doesn't go away. There's always a strain in British politics, especially among the Tory party, within the Tory party trying to assert British sovereignty and this idea that Europe saps that sovereignty and you're basically joining yourself to a sinking ship.
REHMSome critics have compared the president speaking in Britain on this subject to Netanyahu coming here and speaking to our Congress. What do you make of it?
LAKSHMANANThat's right. Of course, the Israeli prime minister came and spoke out against making a nuclear deal with Iran. He spoke in Congress. And a lot of people said that that was instrumental in turning around the votes of some democrats who maybe had been ready to vote against the Iran deal, but once Netanyahu came and opposed it, they felt like what right does he, as a foreign leader, have to come tell us what to do and some of those democrats who were on the fence then sided with President Obama.
LAKSHMANANI'm not sure it's going to have that same impact in Britain because let's not forget, they are, you know, our supposedly indispensible ally, a special alliance. I don't think it's gonna be taken quite that same way. I mean, the title of President Obama's op-ed in The Telegraph was, as your friend, let me say that the EU makes Britain even greater. So some people are going to take that as condescending, the people who want Brexit, who want Britain to leave the EU are gonna say, how dare he come and lecture us?
LAKSHMANANBut other people are going to say, look, you know, he's making the case that the U.S. is the most important strongest alley to Britain, that it's good for the U.S., it's good for Britain and he laid out his case of why.
BERGENI mean, it's entirely in the United States interest for Britain to remain in the EU. I mean, what's the point of the EU? The point of the EU, at the end of the day, is to prevent European wars and, you know, that was the conception and we haven't had a European war since World War II. At the end of the day, the two most important people are -- countries are France and Germany and also Britain. And I think that, you know, it's the president's prerogative to talk about things that are in our national interest.
BERGENAnd having grown up in Britain, I can tell you there's kind of an emotional response to the EU, which is based on the fact that the British have been fighting the French since the 100 Years War in the 13th century and they've been fighting the Germans and so there's that emotional response. And then, there's the rational response. I mean, the British just released a paper saying, you know, GDP would go down by 6 percent if we, you know, that -- I'm sure that's a pretty good figure. And as a rational matter, this is absolutely crazy for the British to leave the EU.
REHMSo how much does David Cameron's unpopularity weigh into this whole debate, Peter?
BERGENWell, I talked to a quite senior, former British official and, you know, he feels -- I mean, they just don't know what's going to happen on June 23. You know, it's a 51/49 kind of split, a bit similar to what, you know, the country -- here in the United States. David Cameron pulled one out of the bag in the last election. I mean, if you recall, Diane, he was supposed to lose that.
BERGENAnd he still won. So no one knows.
LAKSHMANANWell, I think one thing, I mean, there was, of course, a war in Europe in the last 20 years in Bosnia. I mean, not within the EU at the time, but the EU, of course, the enlargement of the EU, the enlargement of NATO, all of these are seen as having been stabilizing factors in the European continent. And I mean, I would say that the anti-EU group in Britain, they say, how dare the United States tell us when the U.S. won't even sign up to the international criminal court. The U.S. won't even ratify the UN convention of the rights of children.
LAKSHMANANThe U.S. doesn't take orders from anybody and doesn't want any group of countries to dictate what it does. Of course, that's a little bit unfair on President Obama because President Obama would do all of those things. It's just that the Congress wouldn't allow him to. I do think Peter's entirely right that not only do we not know -- the government of Britain doesn't know what's going to happen on the 23rd and the polling in the last election, if you recall, was terrible.
LAKSHMANANTurned out not to be true at all so we don’t really know what to trust at this point.
MAZZETTIWell, and another point's that been made, which is interesting is that, you know, if Britain were to leave, it could ultimately lead to an unraveling of Britain, right? Because they just had the vote in Scotland about whether to secede, right? And the Scots are far more pro European than the English are so if Britain were to leave, would that also fracture the country and lead to another vote in Scotland. So there's not only foreign concerns, but domestic concerns for the Brits as well.
REHMMark Mazzetti of the New York Times, Indira Lakshmanan, she is former diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News. Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst. We'll be taking your calls, comments, questions, 800-433-8850. Peter Bergen, the president also went to Saudi Arabia to meet with a number of people. What were the key messages he was trying to get across and what were the reactions?
BERGENWell, the message he's trying to get across is to reassure the Saudis, you know. The United States has had a close alliance with Saudis since FDR met with King Fahd on the deck of the cruiser, you know, many, many decades ago. And the Saudis are unhappy about our, you know, Iran agreement. They're unhappy because of certain remarks that, you know, the president made in an interview with The Atlantic magazine. You know, they're just unhappy. And I don't think either side is going to, you know, there was -- I don’t think anything came out of this meeting of any substance.
REHMAnd they're even more unhappy about the 28-pages regarding 9/11 that are being held thus far, that could implicate the Saudis in 9/11. Mark.
MAZZETTIYeah, it's interesting. I mean, this issue has been around for more than a decade. These 28 pages were from a 2002 congressional inquiry into 9/11, but in the last, I'd say, six months, you've had a resurgence of interest in the 28 pages that, you know, may implicate the Saudis as well as a push in court to bring the Saudis -- to make them possibly legally culpable for 9/11.
REHMMonetarily, as well.
MAZZETTIMonetarily in the 9/11 -- brought by the 9/11 families. And Congress is pushing a bill that would basically adjust American law that could allow the Saudis to be legally -- to basically be brought into court for a possible role, which could involve millions and billions of dollars in settlements if any role was to be found. So that's the background that was leading up to -- part of the background that was leading up to this presidential visit to Riyadh and that part's not going away because, you know, 15 years after 9/11, a lot of people in the country still feel there's still unanswered questions.
LAKSHMANANIt's true that while the Bush administration was in power and this report came out, this congressional report with the classified pages about Saudi Arabia's supposed links to it, possible involvement, the Saudis, at the time, said go ahead. Release it. Release the classified bit. And what we don't know is whether at the time they were saying it as a bluff, knowing full well that President Bush was not going to do that. President Obama has followed that policy, but he has now recently seemed to change on that, saying that -- just in the last couple of days, right before he went to Saudi Arabia, he said maybe before the end of my administration, maybe before the end of this year, we would release them.
LAKSHMANANAnd both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have advocated releasing these pages. Now, the question is, how much is this classified report going to tell us that we don't already know. We already know, from the testimony of the so-called 20th hijacker from 9/11, Zacarias Moussaoui, that there was some supposed support from the Saudis. This would get into how direct that was.
REHMAll right. We'll talk more about that and the extent to which Saudi leaders have made threats if both a 9/11 bill becomes law and those 28 pages are released.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. This week, with Peter Bergen of CNN, Indira Lakshmanan who is a contributor to Politico Magazine, Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times, author of "The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth." Just before the break, we were talking about the president's trip to Saudi Arabia. And here is a caller from John in Miami, Fla., who'd like to follow up on that. Good morning, John. You're on the air.
JOHNWell, hi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
JOHNThe question is for the panel is that, what would be the possible consequences of a direct implication with the Saudi government or extreme factions of the Saudi government and the involvement of 9/11?
BERGENI mean, I don't think there was involvement of the Saudi government. Don't forget, the principal role -- the principal goal of Osama bin Laden is the overthrow of the Saudi government. I mean, that's the whole point of his. So the idea that somehow he would be secretly being funded by the government that he was seeking to overthrow, which -- a mission he started in the early '90s, you know, I think it doesn't pass the common-sense test.
REHMHow do you see it, Mark?
MAZZETTII agree with Peter. I think the real concern of the Saudis, right, is that in these court cases, in a civil case, they wouldn't have to prove criminal culpability. All they would potentially have to prove is that the Saudi government was negligent in dealing with its banks of charities. And that could expose them to, you know, billion dollar settlements that they would have to pay off. And that's why they're so concerned about this law. And that gets to what they have done to try to stave this off, like prevent the bill from happening.
MAZZETTIAnd the bill that's in Congress has -- was the subject of some meetings that Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, had with not only the Obama administration but with Congress last month. He was the long-time ambassador to Washington. Now he's in Riyadh. But basically he threatened to sell off up to $750 billion of U.S. assets that the Saudis hold. Now, he didn’t' couch it as a threat. He basically said, I'm told, well, we might be forced to do this because we can't have these assets frozen in court. And he basically said, you know, we're really, this is a protective measure.
REHMAnd what would that do?
MAZZETTIWell, the economists I've spoken to -- and I'm not an economics expert, I should say -- but those I've spoken to have said it would do very little in terms of disrupting the American economy. You sell off, you know, a couple hundred billion dollars of American Treasury bills, someone's going to buy them. It's a very liquid market. And they have other assets that they could try to sell. But the impact would be far more pronounced in Riyadh than it would in Washington. So most people seem to think it's a fairly empty threat.
LAKSHMANANAt the same time, once the Saudis have said we're going to sell off $750 billion...
LAKSHMANAN...of Treasuries and other assets if you do this to us, there is this sort of face-saving issue. I mean, they have criticized, let's not forget, President Obama for having set a red line over Syria and the chemical weapons, allowing Assad to cross it and then not bombing Assad. So if they're going to say, you shouldn't make empty threats, at the same time I think it's reasonable to imagine that they might have to go through with that threat at least partially, even if it is cutting off their nose despite their face. You know, unless, I think there would more likely be some sort of a solution that would be worked out behind the scenes.
REHMPeter, what do we think is in those 28 pages?
BERGENWhat we think is that two of the hijackers met with somebody who is on the Saudi payroll. What the nature of those meetings were, you know, the Saudi government gives a lot of money to a lot of people and what this Saudi official exactly was doing for the Saudi government isn't clear and, you know, we've known that for a while. And I -- my guess is, those 28 pages are sort of the -- a lot of raw intelligence about these meetings, without a sort of finished analytical judgment about what the role, if any, of the Saudi government, you know, what it might say about the role.
REHMWithout literally a smoking gun.
BERGENNo smoking gun. Right.
LAKSHMANANI just want to add that I think that this, while it's very interesting here in Washington, I doubt that this was the primary focus of their conversations that they were having in Riyadh. I mean, remember, the president was there for this meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. So the other Gulf leaders, the UAE for example, Qatar, Bahrain, et cetera, I think that in this meeting his primary objective was to try to reassure Saudi Arabia and the Gulf allies, whom, as Peter said, he had effectively insulted in this series of interviews with Jeffrey Goldberg that were published in The Atlantic, in which he referred to them as free riders, said they didn't do enough to pay their own bill. They're trying to force us to run their foreign policy for them.
LAKSHMANANHe said that the Saudis were going to have to get used to the idea of sharing the neighborhood, meaning the Middle East, with the Iranians. Of course, the Iranians are the arch enemies, the nemesis of the Saudis. So I think there are a lot of sort of deeper, geopolitical, current issues about the Saudis feeling abandoned by the Obama administration and the Obama -- the president himself wanting to go and mend fences. But at the same time, we're told by presidential officials, he did not apologize for those remarks.
MAZZETTIYeah, I think this is very important. I think this issue of, you know, 9/11 and their role is really a symptom that is coming up now. But there's a bigger issue at stake that Indira talked about, which is this concern among Saudi officials that the relationship that's just been sort of a given for decades is changing. That the United States is no longer as dependent on the Saudis for oil. That means the United States can look elsewhere. It can make better relations with Iran. It can look to other Gulf allies like the Emirates as much as it does the Saudis.
MAZZETTIAnd this fundamental concern that, you know, that Saudi Arabia doesn't have as much to bring to the United States as it once did and that, you know, President Obama in his interviews basically articulated that. So this relationship is dead from the Obama administration point of view. So the, right, Wednesday's meeting did very little. It's really a question of what the next president's mindset is going to be.
REHMAll right. And turning to other news, there are reports this week, Indira, of some 500 migrants dying in the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy. What do we know?
LAKSHMANANThat's right. Well, we don't know very much for sure. These are kind of sketchy reports. But the U.N. Refugee Agency said on Wednesday that they believe 500 people may have died in those waters. Now, remember, this path that goes from Libya to Italy is a different path than the one that we've been hearing about lately, the Aegean from Turkey to Greece, which is a less dangerous, still dangerous, but less dangerous path for the human smugglers. The human smugglers, of course, have been discouraged now from using this path because of the recent agreement that we talked about some weeks ago between Turkey and the EU over turning back migrants, returning them to Turkey, taking them in an orderly fashion.
LAKSHMANANSo now, apparently, human traffickers are having to resort to the old route that they had used for. And you may remember that there was a similar horrible accident last year using that same path, where there were around, you know, 800 people on the way from Libya to Italy last year who were killed. The reason that the reports about this are sketchy is that there are some 41 survivors who are Somalis, Ethiopians, Egyptians, and one Sudanese. So none of these are Syrians, actually.
LAKSHMANANRemember, these are mostly economic -- we can call them economic migrants. Of course, they are fleeing war in their own countries. I mean, certainly, you could say that in Somali and Sudan they're fleeing conflict. But the point is that they described being in a smaller boat that was then brought to a larger boat...
LAKSHMANAN...being loaded onto that. And then it came down...
REHMAnd that collapsed.
LAKSHMANAN...and the survivors are mostly the ones who were on the smaller boat who managed to escape.
REHMYou know, at the same time, it was fascinating to me to hear the NATO Secretary General say that we've got control over this migrant crisis. It's diminishing. It's getting better. What did you make of that, Peter?
BERGENWell, I mean, maybe, you know, the flow may be reducing. But we're still talking about this, you know, I think one of the biggest things the next president faces -- and this is, I think, goes back to our discussion about the EU and President Obama -- is, you know, Europe is in a very different place. I mean, you're seeing the rise of European proto-fascists and ultra-nationalist parties in many countries. And you're having this massive wave of immigration coming in from Afghanistan, from Libya, from Syria, from Iraq. And, you know, just do the math.
BERGENI mean, that is the combustible engine that drives a situation like Brussels or like Paris and the attacks we've already seen. And that is going to be a reality for the next several years going forward.
MAZZETTIAnd to Peter's point, this is what's driving also some of the debate in Britain right now, right? The question of whether to get out of the EU, especially among members of the Tory Party, the immigration argument is a big part of that. Is, you know, do we want to be saddled with this crisis that Britain -- that Europe has, or can we somehow isolate ourselves from that -- isolate ourselves from the problem?
LAKSHMANANI mean, to put the NATO Secretary General's remarks in context, what Jens Stoltenberg was talking about was he said that the situation across the Aegean has improved. So he was talking specifically about the Turkey to Greece route. And, as I said, that this route with the 500 suspected dead was actually a different route from Libya to Italy. But just to put these number in perspective, so far this year, 180,000 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea across the Mediterranean and the Aegean, and about 800 people have gone missing attempting that journey.
LAKSHMANANLast year, there were a million who made it from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe. So, as Peter says, this is a crisis that isn't going away, even with the deal that Greece and the EU have made with Turkey.
REHMAnd what about the Pope's visit to Greece? Do you think that that has had or will have any effect on this migrant crisis?
MAZZETTIWell, it's certainly an interesting symbolic move. It's the sort of taking of the Syrian refugees and, again, shone a light on the Syrian aspect of the refugee crisis, which has gotten so much of the attention. Will it have any long-term impact is probably doubtful. But it's certainly an interesting move on the Pope's part. And his, you know, what he does carries a lot of weight in terms of the images. And so the Syrian refugee crisis, you know, continues because the war, you know, continues unabated even with the ceasefire.
REHMAll right. I want to open the phones, take a call here. To James in Clinton, Md., you're on the air.
JAMESHey, Ms. Diane, how are you doing today?
JAMESMy question is, why do we cater to Saudi Arabia so much? I mean, just because Iran or Syria is their enemy and we didn't even kill them or bomb them or do whatever they wanted us to do, we don't have to cater to them. Because Saudi Arabia, in my opinion, is just as bad as Iran or Syria in a lot of ways. So why do we cater to him and our president have to basically kiss their shit, just...
BERGENWe care, very simply, because they sit on the world's largest oil reserves, which means that they can set prices. And if they chose to turn the taps off, the fact that you're paying $2.00 at the gas pump in the United States suddenly could be $3.00. It's not that we -- they're not the principal importer of oil to the United States, but they have the strongest ability to set prices. And if you do their thought experiment where all those oil fields were in Sudan, we would have a very warm relationship with Sudan. But we don't. We have a warm relationship with Saudi Arabia for this fundamental reason.
REHMAll right. And to Miami, Fla. Chris, you're on the air.
CHRISHi. I've heard this morning twice now that the U.S. and Obama specifically is being hypocritical for asking Britain to work with its neighbor countries. But, in fact, our states work with neighbor states all the time. We have a common currency, we suffer the losses that come with federalism. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask Britain to do the same.
REHMAll right. Any comment, Peter?
LAKSHMANANWell, if you're talking about United States states, that's true. We have a common currency, but we're also one country. I mean, Britain has not gone over to the EU as a common currency. It is not using the euro, it's still using the pound sterling. And the Britains feel pretty proud of that. Although it is true that once this debate came into the open and the date was set for this Brexit vote, that this pound sterling dived down in value to one of its lowest values against the dollar. So I don't think that markets are so sure that it's a good idea for Britain to leave the EU.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Mark, I want to ask you about Brazil. It's President Dilma Rousseff made a last minute change of plans to head to New York and the U.N. to try to salvage her own position.
MAZZETTIYeah. Frankly, the events of the last week are incredibly puzzling for an outsider to see, you know, the nature of the impeachment. The root issue is an -- sort of an arcane issue of whether the government was lying about some economic or trying to bury some economic problems.
REHMThe status, yes.
MAZZETTIAnd then -- but what led to the impeachment was any number of things that sort of pet causes that people proclaimed was the reason for the impeachment. So if you look at the list, it's sort of fascinating. People came up and said that they were voting for impeachment for peace in Jerusalem, or for Brazilian doctors, or any other number of reasons. And, you know, there's an old sort of adage among intelligence analysts that Brazil is the country of the future and will always remain thus. And I think it's just sort of symbolic that the political dysfunction of Brazil at the moment I think sort of speaks to that.
REHMBecause you've got not only the president, you've got the vice president, you've got members of congress, all of whom are under shadow of corruption.
LAKSHMANANYes, but so are their opponents, so are the people who have launched this impeachment process against them. And that's a point, I mean, Dilma Rousseff was actually planning to come to the U.N. anyway to sign the climate agreement. The plans she changed were, she's not going to be dealing with the climate agreement. She's actually going to be talking to the U.N., making interviews here and trying to make the case in New York that this is a politically motivated coup d'état without weapons. Her point and that of her supporters is that this arcane accounting method that was used, sort of drawing forward resources, was something that every government before her had used. And so that it's unfair to call it corruption in her part.
LAKSHMANANAnd she also points out that the person in the Brazilian parliament who has launched this whole, you know, impeachment struggle against her was himself accused of corruption. She's also trying to pull out the sexism card. Her supporters from the left are saying this is an anti-left attempt to overthrow the government when they couldn't do it, when the sort of plutocrats in Brazil couldn't do it in the ballot box, this is their way to try to do it now. So how you stand on the Brazilian crisis really depends on where you sit.
BERGENI don't have anything to add to what Indira just said.
REHMAnd in the meantime, you've got the Olympic torch that has just been lit, going to make its way all the way to the Rio.
LAKSHMANANAnd the tourism and sports ministers have both stepped out of her government. And this is four months before Brazil is hosting the Olympic Games. There's no minister of tourism. There's no minister of sports. Nine ministers from her government, out of this 31 member cabinet, have resigned. The latest one is the energy minister. And he said, oh, sorry. I'm having to quit because my party, which was in coalition with Dilma Rousseff's Workers' Party, has ordered him to step down. So the whole thing is an attempt to get out the Workers' Party. Whether you think that's fair or not, as I said, depends on your political affiliation.
REHMThe whole thing sounds like a big mess to me. Short break here. And when we come back, back to the phones, your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd we're back. Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Gary in Germantown, Illinois. You're on the air.
GARYThank you for taking my call.
GARYI was curious because I know -- I've heard a lot of talk about the immigrant status in Europe, and I've been very amazed only from the standpoint that I knew the Pew Institute said that it's estimated the United States took a million economic immigrants from Central and -- Central America and Mexico over 10 years straight period in the recent decade, but really I didn't see any of the turmoil, which I see in Europe, and Europe has taken, I don't know if this is supposed to be about a million over a period of a year and are already saying they're going to deport them because they're coming in for economic reasons and not because of war strife.
GARYI'm just shocked by it. It just -- it seems like, I don't know, from everything I've understood about Europe, it flies in the face of what they've I guess said is they are as a people or basically what they feel about, you know, people's status in the world, so...
REHMAll right, Peter.
BERGENVery simple, the American dreams works very well for American Muslims. We don't have ghettos of Muslims. We don't have -- the average income of American Muslims is similar to the average income of Americans. The average education is similar. Everything I've just said is not true in every -- think of any European country, there is no French dream, there's no British dream, there's certainly no EU dream. There's no ideological apparatus in these countries to accept large-scale waves of immigrations.
LAKSHMANANPart of that, of course, is that our percentage of Muslims in this country is very, very small, and the Muslim-Americans are generally integrated in the community. Although there are some pockets like Dearborn, Michigan, which are largely Muslim communities, in most cases Muslims live wherever everybody else lives, and they're integrated, as opposed to being shoved into these -- what the French call the banlieues, these sort of unpleasant suburbs outside of the main cities, at Molenbeek in Brussels, where they end up being sort of ghettos for Muslims.
LAKSHMANANPlus there's the overlay, if he's comparing it to Central Americans, there wasn't the sort of political, the threat of terrorism from Central Americans the way that Europe, understandably, people are concerned about the threat of terrorism from some people.
BERGENHere's the key statistic. In France, 10 percent of the population is Muslim. Seventy percent of their prison population is Muslim. This is an astonishingly marginalized, criminal kind of group, which is highly discriminated against, and that picture is not -- you know, it's true in many European countries.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Andrea, Sarasota, Florida. She wants to comment about President Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia. She said, just another benefit of electing Hillary Clinton is the notion of Saudi Arabia having to deal with a woman as the leader of the free world. To me this makes me the most proud and gives me the most hope of their repressive society changing. Mark?
MAZZETTINow that may be true, and it would be certainly an interesting image to have a female president.
LAKSHMANANThey've already dealt with her, though, as secretary of state, had to shake her hand.
MAZZETTIAnd they've dealt with her. But at the same time, I think you could probably predict that a President Hillary Clinton is probably going to have a potentially warmer relationship with the Saudis than President Obama has had. Every indication is that she would see the relationship in a much more -- sort of the traditional way that American presidents did and that -- President Obama is a real outlier in not only how he sees Saudi Arabia but a lot of other alliances.
MAZZETTIAnd that is that she's coming from a more establishment, foreign policy view that Saudi Arabia is an indispensable ally, and we need to treat them with respect. So maybe be careful what you wish for.
REHMAnd here's an email from Robert in Woodward, Oklahoma. Could the UK leaving the EU cause downward pressure on global GDP? And could this be significant enough to cause another U.S. recession or enough just to slightly slow things down for the U.S.?
BERGENWell, I mean, as Indira said, the pound is, you know, not doing well, and so people understand if we leave that it would not be a good thing. And after all, London is one of the key financial markets in the world. I don't think anybody in the financial world wants this deal to happen, and -- but I -- you know, the global economy is very big, and Britain is a relatively small part of it at this point. So it wouldn't, you know, have a seismic effect.
LAKSHMANANI think the effect would be more on Britain itself.
LAKSHMANANAnd the government's estimate is that if it leaves the EU that by 2030 the UK economy would be six percent smaller. And the issue that they say is we're not going to be saving money. All the people who are in favor of exiting the EU say, well, we won't have to pay these high fees for being part of the EU. The problem is you would still have to pay the fees in order to get the trade benefits that you want. So you can't really get out of paying those fees, and you would lose a lot of the benefits.
REHMAll right, to San Antonio, Texas, Brian, you're on the air.
BRIANYes, earlier Mr. Bergen kind of pointed out his thought that given bin Laden and his ilk are hostile to the Saudi regime that it would be preposterous then for the Saudi government to support them. However, I think that's precisely why they support them. After the 1979 siege of Mecca, which was sort of a wake-up call, I think what we have is the royal family, which is really the government, in a devil's bargain, where they're fomenting and paying and financing these extremists so that they can have trouble abroad while not bringing -- raising that kind of trouble at home.
BERGENI mean, I agree with the caller about the devil's bargain, but on this narrow issue of did they support al-Qaeda, bin Laden, I mean, they revoked bin Laden's passport in '94, seven years before the 9/11 attacks. His family cut off all contact with him. The Saudi government would try to assassinate bin Laden on multiple occasions in Afghanistan before 9/11. I mean, they were not in bed together in this sense.
BERGENYes, this Saudi official may have been canoodling with the hijackers. You know, we don't quite know what that relationship is. But that doesn't necessarily rise to the level of official sanction for the attacks or anything close.
REHMBrian, I gather you are director of something called 28pages.org. Tell me what you're trying to accomplish.
BRIANYes, that's the principal information and activism website of the movement to declassify these 28 pages. And my personal motivation is driven out of a sense of transparency, so the American people can reach fully informed opinions about our foreign policy in the past and the future.
REHMYou must think that there is something very pertinent in those 28 pages that could shed light on 9/11.
BRIANYes, and in thinking that, I'm really relying on the comments made by those who have read them. I mean, members of Congress who have read them have made statements describing them as shocking, as prompting them to totally rearrange their understanding of the history, you know, of the war on terror and its beginning. I know a Democratic congressman from Minnesota last week said that, you know, it's very specific on who financed it, and he said it undermines the narrative that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
BRIANSo that's prompting quite a lot of curiosity not just among me but amongst many other people.
MAZZETTIYeah, I mean, there's a mythology that's grown around these 28 pages, and that doesn't mean it's not important. I think they actually are -- you know, we should know everything possible about 9/11. And it's a tribute to Senator -- former Senator Graham of Florida, who was part of the commission that wrote that report, and he has remained consistent that these should be declassified. And some have dismissed him as tilting at windmills, right.
MAZZETTIBut he has stayed on it, and his efforts, and maybe some of the caller's efforts, as well, have built a groundswell of support. And so, you know, it shows that, you know, here we are 15 years after this attack. There's still this feeling that we don't know everything, that there's still some missing pieces. And I'm all for transparency. I think that these pages should be declassified, and then let's see where the trail leads.
LAKSHMANANAnd I would add that while of course it's absolutely true that Osama bin Laden wanted to overthrow the Saudi government, and they revoked his passport and all of that, Saudi Arabia is still the home of Wahhabism, this extreme view of Islam that has been adopted not only by al-Qaeda but by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and many extremist groups. So I think that is partly the link that people see is this sort of religious extremism that has, in the belief of some of the people who want to see those pages, inspired some of the events and actions by these terrorists.
REHMAll right, and moving on, some international press are reporting ISIS has executed 250 women for refusing to be sex slaves. Do we know if this is true, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, I read it in the Daily Mail in Britain, which I can't say is necessarily -- you know, don't shoot me her but not necessarily the most reliable source. But they are attributing it to an official from the Kurdistan Democratic Party. So they're not saying it directly, and then this story was picked up all over from the Daily Mail story. Then they have another official from the Patriotic Union of -- remember the Kurds are enemies to ISIS, and they have been fighting their own war against ISIS in Iraq, claiming that the women were actually barred from going out in Mosul and must be covered while in public.
LAKSHMANANSo whether or not these 250 women were executed, I don't think we really know.
REHMYou look very skeptical, Peter.
BERGENWell, I mean, ISIS is a very bad group, but I can't recall a case where they have done mass executions of females.
LAKSHMANANWell, we certainly know that more than 500 Yazidi women and girls were taken as sex slaves and that, you know, 5,000 of their men were slaughtered, and people who have escaped from them.
BERGENOkay, so you are agreeing with me.
REHMYeah, exactly. And the Pentagon has said it's going to send 200 more troops, Apache helicopters, to Iraq to help fight ISIS, Mark.
MAZZETTIThat's right. Secretary Ash Carter announced this this week, when he was traveling in the region. And the stated goal is to give more support to the Iraq military for these offensives that are coming up. Every -- they've been telegraphing these for months, the idea that Mosul, which is still the sort of stronghold in Iraq for ISIS, the administration has said that they could fall by the end of the year, there could be an offensive that at least begin to fall by the end of the year.
MAZZETTISo it's all building up to trying to retake some of the key cities in Iraq that still remain in ISIS' hands, and that's what this announcement was for.
REHMIsn't think going to worry the American people that much more, little by little by little, incremental additions to forces?
BERGENI mean, the American people worry about two things. They worry about losing, principally. They're willing to take casualties if they think they're winning. And they also worry about body bags. But if you're seen to be doing okay, and this -- you know, the momentum has been shifting against ISIS, we haven't seen many casualties, very few. So in the absence of large-scale casualties, and if we -- if the momentum is shifting against ISIS, which it's doing, Americans could live with that.
BERGENWhat they cannot live with is if we start losing, and then there are body bags, as we saw in 2004, 2005, 2006, that became something that was intolerable politically and was the reason that, you know, Donald Rumsfeld was fired.
LAKSHMANANI think we have to be careful in trying to compare this to a sort of re-buildup to former levels that we have in Iraq. I mean again, keeping this in perspective, in 2007 at the height of really the Iraq War, the U.S. had 170,000 troops there. So Obama pledged to remove U.S. troops from Iraq. It wasn't just that he pledged that. It was also that the Iraqi government told the Bush administration we want your U.S. troops out, and so it was sort of beyond Obama's control to one extent. But in 2014, when Mosul was first overrun by ISIS, the U.S. sent 170 U.S. soldiers to Baghdad to help.
LAKSHMANANThen they started adding, as you say, incrementally. It was 1,500 suddenly, six months after that. Then it was 3,000 in 2015. And now it's 4,000. So it's what John McCain has called grudging incrementalism.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Mark, I know you wanted to add.
MAZZETTIThere is -- whether you call it mission creep or not, I think that we should step back for a second and just sort of examine that we've in the final months of the Obama administration, an administration that pledged to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, right. And I agree with my colleagues that it's not that the -- these small numbers are not anything close to the numbers that we saw in Iraq a decade ago. But President Obama will leave the White House with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's -- they're not going away. The Afghan war, which was supposed to be over a year ago, in fact it's ramping up again in various -- you know, slowly, but American troops are going to stay in Afghanistan for some time to come.
REHMAnd the question becomes in what numbers.
MAZZETTIAbsolutely. I think that there's going to be a permanent presence in Afghanistan. The Pentagon is looking at keeping a base there not only for Afghanistan, for the region. So the rhetoric about -- from the White House about ending the wars, you don't hear that anymore, especially Afghanistan because I think the recognition is that that's going to be going on for a while.
BERGENI agree completely with Mark. I mean, the next president, whether it's Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, all face an interesting decision, which is maintaining a presence in Afghanistan. We have a treaty with them until 2014, just a strategic partnership, which provides a very easy ability for us to continue to be there. It will not be a combat presence. You know, it will be several thousand, you know, helping with advising, intelligence, air support, logistical, that kind of thing. And we won't see large-scale American deaths or deployments.
BERGENBut, you know, I think we will be there for a long time because it's in our interests, and Afghans want us to stay, in general.
REHMAnd you've also got Taliban fighters striking in Kabul. What happened, Indira?
LAKSHMANANThat's right. Basically the death toll from this suicide attack, there were two men involved. One exploded a truck full of explosives, and the other one rushed into this government ministry, and there was a big shooting battle that ensued. Sixty-four people we know are dead, more than 300 are wounded. Interestingly, even though the Taliban says that their target was this elite group that guards government VIPs and visitors, that in fact most of the victims were civilians, women and children.
LAKSHMANANAnd this feeds into this sort of trend that we've been seeing, which is a record number of civilians dying or being wounded in Afghanistan last year. The United Nations said 3,500 civilians had died, and 7,500 were wounded last year. That's on top of more than 5,000 Afghan troops. So the war is not getting better. In some ways it's getting worse. The Taliban have been resurgent. We've been saying this for a few years now.
LAKSHMANANInterestingly to me is that President Obama himself still says, and he said it in this Atlantic interview that we've referred to several times now, that he feels he was jacked by the U.S. military, that they sort of twisted his arm into this troop surge of sending an extra 35,000 U.S. troops in 2009.
REHMIs that a fair statement?
LAKSHMANANSo he doesn't seem to think that it was a great idea to add those troops, and he has pulled them down, but we see that the Taliban, you know, typically it's the spring that is the big fighting season. This winter was actually a really big fighting season.
MAZZETTII mean, there's no question there was a tremendous tension between the White House and the Pentagon on the issue of the surge. I mean, this is after President Obama campaigned on, you know, resourcing what he called the good war. But then he felt like he got rolled by the Pentagon in the number of troops, and then there was even further fraying of the relationship when he made the announcement, and he announced, well, this is only going to go on for 18 months.
MAZZETTIAnd a lot of the people military felt you're announcing an end date for something, which just telegraphs it for the enemy. So that's never been a good relationship.
REHMMark Mazzetti of the New York Times, Indira Lakshmanan, she is a contributor to Politico magazine, Peter Bergen of CNN, he's author of a new book, "United States of Jihad: The Untold Story of Americans Fighting for Radical Islam." Thank you all for being here.
LAKSHMANANThanks for having us.
REHMAnd have a great weekend, everybody. I'll be off on Monday, back with you on Tuesday. Thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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