The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: Susan Page
More than a hundred civilians have been killed in Syria in the past week, including dozens in the bombing of a hospital in Aleppo. The UN’s chief envoy to Syria says a partial truce “hangs by a thread.” Donald Trump’s “America first” foreign policy speech worries U.S. allies. Austria passes restrictive anti-asylum laws aimed at migrants from Syria. A human rights report on Mexico’s investigation into the massacre of college students blasts the country’s justice system. And one year after a major earthquake in Nepal, tens of thousands of people still live in temporary shelters. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times; author of a new book, "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power"
- Nancy Youssef Senior defense and national security correspondent, The Daily Beast
- Matthew Lee Diplomatic writer, Associated Press
- Donatella Lorch Former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and NBC News; she was based in Nepal for three years and covered the 2015 earthquake and its aftermath
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. An airstrike on hospital in Syria kills dozens. Vice President Biden makes a surprise trip to Iraq and the international community reacts to Donald Trump's foreign policy speech. Here to discuss this week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast, Matthew Lee of the Associated Press and Mark Landler of the New York Times.
MS. SUSAN PAGEMark has a book that was published just yesterday. It's called "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power." Congratulations, Mark.
MR. MARK LANDLERThank you very much, Susan.
PAGELater in this hour, we'll talk to former New York Times correspondent Donatella Lorch about Nepal one year after the country's devastating earthquake. And we're gonna welcome you calls and emails through this hour. You can call our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter.
PAGEWell, I think we have to start with Syria. There's a picture on the front page of the New York Times this morning of a woman, her face bloodied, with this "The Continued Violence In Syria." Nancy, tell us what's happening there.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFWell, there was a devastating strike on a hospital there, one of the last running hospitals at a time it was filled with patients who were dealing with strikes that had been falling on the city of Aleppo when it was hit. As you mentioned, dozens, at least 50 people killed. Among them, one of the last pediatricians working at the hospital, Mohammed Wassim Moaz. And we've now seen reports today of perhaps an additional strike happening against the hospital.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFAnd so the idea that civilian facilities, the last safe havens in a city that's already on the brink of a humanitarian crisis coming under attack -- its hospitals coming under attack, I think, has really stunned the international community and the pictures and videos this week of these children and patients coming out looking for their dead in what was supposed to be one of the last sanctuaries in Aleppo have really been, in a war that's been filled with horrors, particularly gut-wrenching.
PAGEMatt, tell us who made the strike. Who's responsible?
MR. MATTHEW LEEWell, the Americans seem to -- have, not seem to, they have put the blame squarely on the Assad regime for intentionally going after -- bombing this hospital. In previous strikes in Aleppo, the U.S. has said that it was the Assad regime, but backed by Russian airstrikes. This time, they have not included Russia in the finger-pointing, but they certainly have placed the blame squarely on the regime.
PAGEYou know, I know there's a civil war going on there, but why would you hit a hospital?
LEEWell, I mean, you know, the Syrian government, under both Bashar Assad and his father, Hafez, has never shown much in the way or respect for, you know, protection of civilians when they have been combating opposition. And I think that if, in fact, it was intentional on the regime's part, it's designed to, you know, really destroy whatever is left of the opposition resolve.
PAGEIt's -- even the pictures are hard to see. I can't imagine what it was like to be there on the scene. So we've had a ceasefire in Syria. Mark, what's happening with that?
LANDLERWell, the technical term for it was a cessation of hostilities and for the first month or so that it was in place, people were claiming kind of modest victory. You know, there was a diminishment in violence and in these kinds of attacks, but even before this most recent one, there had been growing violence and a lot more fighting and a sense that the whole thing was beginning to fray. And I think this really kind of is a death blow for it.
LEEAnd, you know, there is this Geneva process that kind of stumbles along. It's now, at the moment, been adjourned. The, you know, Staffan de Mistura, who's running that on behalf of the UN, was sort of acknowledging that it's hard to see much of a path forward in the current environment. You simply need to see a decrease in violence. I think the interesting question now is there had been talk in Washington about two months ago that if the ceasefire was tried and failed, it would be time to think about other measures and it was always called Plan B.
LEEAnd one of the elements of Plan B was a proposal that the CIA would begin supplying heavier weapons, manpads, to shoot down aircraft to vetted rebel groups. And that was sort of held in abeyance to see whether this ceasefire would actually take hold and last. If it indeed does fall apart, we may see a revival of that discussion. We're probably also likely to see John Kerry fairly desperately trying to get in touch with Sergei Lavrov to talk to the Russians about putting pressure on Assad and his regime to hold off.
YOUSSEFBut even Plan B has its challenges in Washington because when you talk to Pentagon officials, there's a real reticence to provide manpads because they're worried that down the line that those -- that weaponry could end up in the hands of extremist groups and potentially bring down civilian aircraft. It could make its way outside of Syria into places like the Sinai or even Jordan. And in the short term, that those manpads could shoot down coalition forces that are conducting the very strikes.
YOUSSEFAnd so, as Mark says, there's discussion of Plan B, but like the effort to reach an agreement on Syria, even the Plan B faces the same complexities and divisiveness within this government.
PAGEAnd do you think the U.S. is still interested in working with Russia? Do they think this is still an alliance that might show some success, Matt?
LEEWell, I mean, I think that they hope that it will and certainly Secretary Kerry has invested himself in this whole process in his chumminess with the Russian foreign minister. But, you know, at some point, I think you have to wonder if the United States, the administration of Secretary Kerry and others haven't been kind of played by the Russians who have made, you know, no secret of their desire to support the Assad regime and, in fact, have been entirely consistent throughout the -- since the war began, while the Obama administration has consistently shifted its positions.
LEEAnd so, you know, I think that there is hope that, yes, they can convince the Russians to put more pressure on Assad to stop this, but it hasn't borne fruit yet.
PAGEMark, in your new book you've taken a hard look at foreign policy in the Obama administration. Why has Syria been handled -- why has it proved to be such a difficult issue for which they are -- the administration is criticized on so many fronts?
LANDLERWell, I think it boils down to President Obama's very stubborn conviction that American involvement is going to be a slippery slope. He's resisted, really from the very beginning, grappling with this conflict in a substantive way. I mean, even the covert program to train and arm rebels and later the Pentagon program were extremely small scale and viewed as ultimately ineffectual. And I think that now you're in a situation where he's continued to resist these steps along the way and we have a kind of a falling apart of the last kind of fig leaf that they hoped might keep a lid on the violence.
LANDLERAnd I think what it's going to lead to, which will be interesting on the part of Hillary Clinton, who you'll recall took a stronger line early on in terms of aiding the rebels, it'll very interesting to see whether she returns to something she started talking about last fall, which was imposing a partial no-fly zone over the country to create humanitarian corridors to protect some of the people that are victims of these attacks. She hasn't been particularly vocal about that in the last few months, after floating the idea in the fall, but you sort of wonder, as we head into the general election, whether we'll hear more about that.
PAGEYou know, you've also heard President Obama make the case that this is not an existential threat to the United States, that it's terrible situation, it breaks your heart, but it's not a threat to the United States for which the United States ought to go all-in. Has that worked out for him, though? I wonder, he just seems to be under such fire and we just see these terrible pictures.
LANDLERWell, I think the problem he faces now is, whatever he's thought of the strategic threat two years ago or a year ago, he has to be reevaluating it now because this flood of migrants and refugees into Europe, you know, has all of this, you know, knock-on effect. Stability in Germany, the political direction of the EU, even whether or not the British vote to exit the European Union, a lot of other important things now hinge on getting a handle on the situation in Syria.
LANDLERSo I'm not sure he can make the same argument. You're right. He did make that argument. I'm not sure it's tenable anymore.
PAGENancy, you were writing in The Daily Beast this week about the president's plan to send 250 special forces into Syria. Tell us about that. How meaningful is this step?
YOUSSEFSo we've heard two numbers in the past few weeks. We've heard 217 U.S. forces going to Iraq and those forces would help bolster the Iraqi army such that they can make the move towards Mosul, which is Iraq's second biggest city and ISIS's capital there. And then, this week, we heard a number of 250 special forces. There are only 50 there right now. And their job is essentially to bolster the Kurdish forces there, help provide them support because they've had recent wins against towns near and around Raqqah and also find Arab fighters to join them in the hopes that they can eventually, together, jointly go in and take the city of Raqqah, which is ISIS's Iraq capital.
YOUSSEFNow, the challenge is you have an administration that said that its goal is to defeat, degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS. And yet, even at the Pentagon, there's a real inability to strongly say that 200 troops here and 200 troops there are going to make the difference to actually undo the Islamic State. You know, so many times, people talk about this as mission creep and the military will more call it resource creep, that the goal and the mission hasn't changed, but we're going through a period where we have periodic announcements of troop increases, some would argue, out of a fear to announce a big troop number and introduce the idea that the U.S. is back in Iraq and then Syria.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. And when we come back, we'll talk about the reaction, foreign capitals, to the big foreign policy speech that Donald Trump gave this week. And we'll take your calls and questions. Our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email to email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. With me in the studio for the second hour, the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York Times, Nancy Youssef, senior defense and national security correspondent at The Daily Beast, and Matthew Lee, diplomatic writer at the Associated Press.
PAGEWell, a big speech by Donald Trump on foreign policy this week. He talked about America First. Mark, we talked about that a bit in the first hour of the News Roundup, but this is a word that has some echoes in American history.
LANDLERIt does indeed. Obviously, the echo here is for -- is to the 1930s and a group of people -- Charles Lindbergh, the aviator being maybe the most famous of them -- who lobbied aggressively, fiercely, to keep the United States out of World War II. And over the decades there's been a sort of a taint attached to this. It's been largely discredited and viewed as sort of pandering or appeasing the Nazis. So there's that whole overhang.
LANDLERI want to share an interesting and I think amusing back story on his use of the phrase America First. As near as we have been able to determine at our paper, the first time this really entered the dialog was in an interview he did with my colleagues, Maggie Haberman and David Sanger. And, in fact, it was David who raised the phrase America First with him and he responded very positively to it. So we can't verify for sure that that's where it came from. But...
PAGESo it's David Sanger's fault, you're saying?
LANDLERWe were -- we've all been sort of wondering whether David Sanger...
LEEWe can add that to the list.
LANDLER...has turned Donald Trump into an America Firster.
PAGEWell, now, America First is a phrase that is associated with not taking Nazis seriously enough. To some, it has an anti-Semitic overtone. Do we think that Donald Trump is deliberately trying to echo that? Or do you think it's just a phrase he thinks he likes and -- absent of the historical overtones?
LANDLERYou know, to answer that, I'd need to go inside his head. And I can't really take a guess at that. I mean, the point is, you could argue it's a dog whistle to a certain segment of voters and I'm sure people will do that. Someone -- Nick Burns, a well-known American diplomat, to me -- a well-known diplomat said to me the other day that either it shows that he has historic amnesia or never learned any history to begin with. So in the foreign policy establishment, it's obviously being widely condemned. But like with many things involving Donald Trump, perhaps it plays really well with a segment of his voters.
LEEYou know, I don't know that it really means that. It's a slogan. And if you take it literally, America First, well, every president is America First. I mean, that's -- although, if they weren't America First, they would be president -- they wouldn't be president of the United States or they would be president of another country. So I don't think it has a lot of resonance, particularly with people who are not old enough or who really care enough to go back and dig deeply into the roots of what it means. But, you know, this speech, I thought, has been criticized -- has been widely criticized as being incoherent. And how can you possibly be both interventionist and isolationist at the same time and be consistent but yet unpredictable?
LEEI do think, though, that he made one very, very good point and that was the need for some new blood in the foreign policy establishment. I mean, there are people around Washington who have literally made successful careers out of total failure. And I'm talking, in particular, about the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
PAGEHe said, I don't want people with long resumes but never -- who never did anything.
LEEWell, exactly. I mean, people who have become successful and are widely viewed as being the experts, who failed miserably through multiple administrations, both Democrat and Republican. I mean, I won't name names, but I think we all know pretty much who they are. And people still look to them. And, you know, it's -- I think that Trump is probably right. It is time to get some new blood into this, particularly in the Middle East.
LANDLERI think, Matt, you raise a very good point. The interesting thing that I've noticed is often a new president -- particularly who runs somewhat as an insurgent -- will come in with this idea and then find, over time, they wind up defaulting to this same crowd. I mean, I think of President Obama, who came in on the Middle East really hoping to kind of change the nature of the debate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He didn't name one of the familiar fraternity of career diplomats to be a special envoy, he named George Mitchell, thinking he'd be more of a fresh face, if not a fresh face in Washington.
LANDLERWithin a couple of years, Mitchell left, disillusioned, and Dennis Ross, who's a well-known but very much a member of that fraternity, wound up being the key, the pivotal player on Israeli-Palestinian issues. So I wonder...
LEEAnd then Martin Indyk.
LANDLERAnd then Martin Indyk. So I wonder -- I do wonder, even if in the event that Trump were elected and sought to bring this new blood, how successful he'd be in sticking to these new ideas.
YOUSSEFWell, we have to remember, this was not a speech that just Americans heard but the international community heard and arguably was directed at the international community. And you had this argument for isolationism for the very sort of post-World War II ideas that the United States has been defending so aggressively for years and years. And so you see this sort of, I don't want to say confusion, but challenge with the international community about how to respond to Donald Trump. In the past, we've heard responses to some of his past statements by foreign leaders. This time you heard relative silence but I daresay caution about what this portends for America's place and for the international order, writ large.
YOUSSEFI mean the only definitive statement we heard from the foreign community was from the German foreign minister, who after Trump's speech said, I hope the election campaign in the USA does not lack the perception of reality. So that kind of gives you a sense, say, well, we're having a debate here about how far he could go. You're seeing in the international community as really trying to hedge how realistic his vision, one of isolationism, one where he doesn't trust international arrangements and deals, one where he talks about trade as maybe a good thing, maybe a bad thing, how that's going to resonate.
PAGEYou know, I think foreign leaders are appropriately reserved about commenting on our politics and the candidates for president. But I wonder, in private conversations or with people who are well connected with foreign leaders, what they -- their response is to the policies that Donald Trump outlined in his speech.
LEEWell, I tell you, I think there's a lot of -- there is a great deal of nervousness out there. People are really holding their breath. And when, you know, when foreign leaders look and see -- or look to try to see what policies the candidates are espousing, with Trump, you really have to -- I mean, he hasn't been clear. His speech was -- lacked specific detail. And so I think that there's unease at his broader pronouncements. But and then people are just holding their breath to see what specifics come.
LANDLERI'd -- President Obama was -- said the other day, at the end of the Nuclear Security Summit, that in private conversations with world leaders, this comes up with every single one of them. And the reason that was critical at that moment was it followed remarks by Trump where he said that it might make sense for the Japanese and the South Koreans to pursue their own nuclear weapons, so we would no longer have to provide this security umbrella.
LANDLERAnd just one small, quick point. I'm fascinated by what a general election debate on foreign policy between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would look like, partly because of his unpredictability and incoherence, but partly because some of these ideas are probably not the kind of Republican she thought she was going to be facing. I mean, a guy who will come out and say, I was against the Iraq War and I, you know, want us in some cases to do less rather than more, is going to be a very interesting debate.
LANDLERThere's almost a tiny shade of a role reversal here, with a Democrat who will be a very traditional national security hawk facing off against a Republican who will be sort of hard to pigeonhole in any event because he's so inconsistent. But some of those views carry the slightest echo of Barack Obama.
LEEWell, yeah, exactly. And him saying that he wants to test Russia...
LANDLER...and possible cooperation with them, reminds people who were around at the time very much of the reset that Secretary Clinton tried to do. You know, and the other thing about this speech was that Trump basically came out and trashed the entire foreign policy establishment, both Democrat and Republican. I mean, the guy who introduced him, Zal Khalilzad, was one of the poster children of the Bush-Iraq -- of the Iraq War, serving as ambassador in Iraq and then Afghanistan. And Trump basically, you know, base -- said he would -- you know, your -- it was a failure. It was totally wrong. I mean, it was really quite bizarre.
YOUSSEFAnd then on national security strategies you heard him say, we need to rebuild the military but we're going to use it sparingly. We're going to defeat ISIS but it wasn't clear how. And so you saw a lot of contradictions and a lack of specifics. And to Mark's point about -- in the -- when we get to the general election, will those specifics be necessary. Or is -- are we dealing with a populace that is so distrustful of this town and the policies put forth, that just the tone and the willingness to be aggressive and reassert America's role on the world stage be enough or even supersede specific policy ideas on things like how to carry out the campaign against the Islamic State?
PAGEMeanwhile the president we have, Barack Obama, was traveling to Germany this week. Mark, what was the purpose of this trip?
LANDLERWell, it had a number of different purposes. I think one was to reassure the Europeans, you know, at a time when they're facing this migrant crisis. He obviously went to Germany after Britain. He encouraged the Brits not to vote themselves out of the European Union. But he also was pushing a point he's pushed before, which is that he needs the Europeans -- wants the Europeans to bear a greater burden of the battle against ISIS and, in general, security. And he sort of reiterated this call for them to up their defense spending to 2 percent of their GDP, which not all of them have done, some have. The Brits have moved it up somewhat. So that was a -- it's a familiar message that has a kind of a new urgency because of the deteriorating situation in Syria.
PAGEAnd what -- it also comes in the context of President Obama going into the -- his final few months in office. Is there anything in the trip that gave us some clues about whether he's going to have different priorities or what he thinks he can actually get done when it comes to foreign policy before he's out of office?
LEEI don't think so. I think that he is going to try to solidify, cement the achievements that he things that he has made over the course of the eight years, or seven-and-a-half years that he's been in office. I don't see any huge new initiative coming foreign policy wise.
LANDLERI'd -- one thing that struck me that was interesting is this is not a president who emphasized Transatlantic relations. You know, he was the author of the pivot to Asia and then found himself preoccupied by the Middle East and winding down wars. And so he didn't -- and was seen as not having paid that much attention to Europe. One or two relationships, Angela Merkel, he developed a pretty good rapport. And so it's interesting and somewhat ironic that, in his final year, Europe is now potentially another problem area that he needs to go and reassure them. And the stability of the EU is under threat as it hasn't been for quite some time.
LANDLERSo perhaps here's this president who wanted to shift his gaze eastward, and he keeps finding himself pulled back. He's also pulled back to Europe.
YOUSSEFWell, it's -- oh, I was just going to say, we saw this in Austria where, at the very time that he's saying, Germany, you should accept refugees, just next door we were seeing the evolution of a very different policy.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You can give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Nancy, you just mentioned the situation in Austria. Austria passed this really tough law on asylum that makes it tougher for the Syrian migrants that we've seen there. Tell us about that.
YOUSSEFSo this law basically says that at any point that it feels -- Austria feels that there's a migration crisis, it can set in a state of emergency that will allow them to turn back nearly every asylum seeker to the country that they came from. And the presumption there being that the countries they came from is safe. Austria, in 2015, took in applications from 90,000 asylum seekers -- the second highest, as a proportion of its population -- and you saw this on the heels of an election going on there in which the right-wing party elected as its -- the winner in the first round of elections was a man by the name of Norbert Hofer, who comes from the Freedom Party and has been a strong advocate against asylum-seeking refugees.
LEEAnd whose slogan, coincidentally, is Putting Austria First.
PAGELet's go to the phones. We have a caller, I think, who's interested in talking about the migrant situation, Gail from Gary, Ind. Gail, hi. You're on the air.
GAILHi. How are you today?
GAILOkay, listen. I was just thinking about the immigrants and the invading Europe stuff. But when Obama tried to talk to Europe and get them to become more involved, they refused to. And now all this stuff is on their doorsteps and people in general want to blame Obama for that, when he tried to get them involved in the first place. And I want to (word?) that.
PAGEAll right, Gail. Thanks for your call. So there is, I think, probably a fair amount of criticism going around when it comes to the treatment of these migrants in Europe. The Austria action that has been controversial, how does it fit with what other countries in Europe are now doing?
LANDLERWell, it's, you know, it's a mixed bag. But there's a general trend toward tighter policies. There's, you know, countries have tried to build fences. There's a part, you know, the Austrians have proposed a fence at the Brenner Pass, in the -- on its border with Italy, which the Italians have so far resisted. Bu there have been similar talk of fences further south in Europe. There are, you know, strong anti-immigrant governments in Hungary and other places. Some of these anti-immigrant parties are -- and far right parties are gaining strength in France, even in Scandinavia. So it's by no means limited to one country.
LANDLERAnd it seems to be the main, mainstream parties that are the victims of this. There's a sort of a -- as we see a bit in this country politically -- there's a kind of a power is flowing to the political fringe on the right and left. I mean, you see it with the Labour Party in Britain. And so I think that, you know, that all of these countries are struggling. But to get back to the listener's question, I mean I think one reason people in Europe might be a bit critical of Obama is they would say, well how many Syrian refugees have you, the United States, agreed to take? And so there's a little bit of a sense -- it's all fine to tell the Germans to -- and the Austrians to take this very large proportion. But if you're not willing to do it yourselves, you know?
YOUSSEFAnd I would take it one step further and say that there are a lot of people in Europe who see that the U.S. intervention in Iraq and the instability that came from it is what -- was the sort of first domino fall that led to this migration crisis. And so the caller, Gail, talked about how there was a blaming of Obama. But I don't think it's actually as personal as that. I think it's a real frustration with how the invasion of 2003 has so undone the Middle East in such a way that it's created a migration crisis.
PAGEHere's a question that was posted on the drshow website. This questioner says, the U.N. Secretary General said that European countries' immigration policies negatively affect the obligation of member states under international humanitarian law and European law. And our listener asks, what are those obligations?
LEEWell, I mean, countries are supposed to, they are obliged to accept people who are seeking humanitarian asylum. That's just the way it has been. And you know, it's an international standard that you open your doors to those who are seeking refuge. And so when you see movements against that kind of thing, which has basically governed the last century of international relations, it's troubling, particularly to the head of the U.N.
PAGEThat's Matt Lee from the Associated Press. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the latest developments in the assassination of those 43 Mexican college students a couple years ago, a new report out about that. We'll take your calls and questions, 1-800-433-8850. Give us a call. And stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's our weekly news roundup of the world's international events. We're joined by Matt Lee from the Associated Press, Nancy Youssef from the Daily Beast, Mark Landler, author of a new book published just yesterday, "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power."
PAGEWell, we have an email from John, who writes us from Salem, North Carolina, asking about the hospital bombing last fall in Afghanistan. He says how about the hospital, was helping Taliban fighters and Afghans fed U.S. forces about hospital's coordinates? Now this is the topic of a report that came out just at 11:00, as we were going on the air. Tell us what this report has concluded.
YOUSSEFWell, this was a report into an October 3 attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the city of Kunduz that the previous week had fell under Taliban control. The U.S. military had rushed up there to help the Afghan security forces try to reclaim the town. There was a claim from the Afghans that they were coming under fire from this building. That building turned out to be the hospital. And even though the hospital sent its coordinates to eth coalition forces, even though they were making calls in real time about this attack, 42 patients, doctors were killed.
YOUSSEFAnd it was early on by the U.S. military an admission of a gross mistake. What's emerged today is the U.S. military investigation, the military did not want to cooperate with a request from Doctors Without Borders for an independent investigation. So this will be the only investigation we see. And the conclusion was that 16 people were punished but not court-martialed. The decision was made that this a gross mistake, a series of mistakes but not willful. The highest-ranking person to be punished was a two-star general, who was given administrative action. There were others who got letters of reprimand, which presumably will all but end their careers.
YOUSSEFSome of them got counseling, and these all went out months ago, and we're just seeing the public report. For those of you who want to follow it, on the Pentagon's Web page, on the CENTCOM's Web page, they will have the 3,000-page report redacted, and you'll see the charts and how they sort of explain how these series of mistakes could lead to such an egregious mistake so late into the war.
LEEThere will be a lot of criticism of this report and the way that the military went about handling the aftermath of the bombing. And most of that criticism, if not all of it, is valid. But I think that you also need to put it into a little bit of context. We just spent the top of this show talking about this strike in Syria, where an MSF hospital -- no one is ever most likely going to be held accountable for that. The Syrian military is not going to investigate or punish administratively or otherwise any of the people who were involved in it.
LEESo while the criticism of this is valid, let's make -- keep it in context.
YOUSSEFI would just add, one of the things, as I mentioned, that this -- they rushed up there kind of unexpectedly. And as the U.S. withdraws troops, it will increasingly find itself presumably in situations where it must come to the aid of the Afghans and to communities that they don't really know. And so what's worrying is that so many mistakes could happen so late in a war, and this is a situation that they will likely face going forward.
YOUSSEFAnd also I always say, you know, the U.S. military holds itself to the highest standard, and so I think the reason that they face such criticisms is because they are held up as the example of how a military should conduct itself. And so I think that's -- that's one of the reasons that when things like this come out, and there isn't a court martial involved, some people wonder whether that's a sufficient reaction from a military in which it admits so many mistakes were made.
PAGEIs it surprising that they're not bringing criminal charges?
YOUSSEFIs it surprising? Well, we'll have to see the details of the report. Generally it has to be gross, willful misconduct, and their argument is that this was a series of mistakes. I think the question becomes at what point does gross negligence, if that's what ended up happening here, come into play in terms of holding people responsible. The military will say one person made a mistake, then a second one made it, and that was sort of a domino effect.
YOUSSEFIt just -- I think it's -- it was such an unbelievable mistake, really given all the checks that are supposed to be in place, and a commander who signed off on this and Special Forces who were supposed to be in sight of the strike site that were not, and AC-130 gun ship crew who were questioning on the -- on real time about whether it should happen. It's just there were so many mistakes that I think some people have a hard time understanding how this doesn't lead to formal punishment.
PAGESuch a terrible outcome. Let's talk about Mexico. We have some new developments in the case of those 43 Mexican college students who disappeared a couple years ago. A panel of human rights experts released a report. Mark, what did they find?
LANDLERThey basically found that the Mexican government's investigation of this incident fell short of minimum international standards, and there's now a call that the lead investigator be dismissed. You know, this was a terrible story of 43 college kids who were detained by the police and then allegedly handed over to a drug gang, who killed them, burned their bodies and dumped the bodies.
PAGEThis is the government's story on what happened.
LANDLERThis is the -- yeah. And there's -- the investigation is sort of riddled with all kinds of problems, you know, not the least of which being that when the -- this head investigator, a man named Tomas Zeron, first visited the site roughly a month later, in October of 2014, during which time he apparently came across bone fragments in the river that would have been the only physical evidence tying the killings to the gang, he didn't file any written report.
LANDLERAnd so there's a great deal of question about why he didn't do this, and, you know, it in any event falls short of all the normal standards in these things, and it feeds what's been the suspicion all along, that there's just a giant cover-up here.
PAGESo what are the ramifications of this, Nancy?
YOUSSEFWell, as Mark mentioned, there's a prosecutors whose actions have come into question, and then the bigger question becomes does that extend politically into the presidency or to other parts of the Mexican government, which has come under such criticism for its handling of such criminal activity. When you have to have an outside group to shine light on what's been done in one's country, it certainly raises the possibility of a political problem down the road. That's nothing there to say that that's in place right now, but one wonders if there are other instances like this, where there's evidence of a government doesn't come forth -- forward with what it knows about crimes against its people.
LEEAnd a lot of people who watch Latin America very closely would point to cases in Honduras, where there have also been calls for independent investigations of things in terms of the killings of activists there. So I -- you know, this is a -- this is not solely a Mexican issue.
PAGEI want to take a minute to make sure we talk about the situation in Bangladesh, although it's a topic that not -- some Americans aren't following closely. But Mark, I know that you are. This rising tide of extremism. Tell us what is happening in Bangladesh now.
LANDLERWell, there have been a series of killings, and the most recent one was of a very well-known and, for Bangladesh, a very rare LGBT activist. His name is Julhas Mannan. And he and a friend were murdered by machete-wielding killers I think in the presence of his mom. And, you know, he had -- he had started a blog and become -- or started I should say a magazine, the first and only LGBT magazine in Bangladesh, and the suspicion here is that it's -- these are Islamist groups. There have been other killings of intellectuals and other figures.
LANDLERAnd so this sort of growing tide of Islamist-targeted killing is something that, you know, has an incredibly stifling effect on civic society in general, and so it's prompted a great deal of fear and worry.
PAGEWhat's the Bangladeshi government done about this? What's the response that we've heard from them?
LEEWell, it hasn't been enough to satisfy the people who are potential victims. But also it hasn't been enough for, you know, Bangladesh's friends, such as the United States. At first the government tried to play this down as, you know, localized kind of crime. But these are really horrific murders. It's not just -- you know, it's not like shooting someone, which is bad enough. These people are being hacked to death literally. And it's really -- it's grotesque.
LEEAnd so I think that Bangladesh's friends, as well as the Bangladeshi people, would like to see the government really tackle this issue head-on.
PAGELet's go to New York City and take a caller. Harold, you've been really patient holding on. Thanks for being with us.
HAROLDYes, good afternoon, panel, how are you?
HAROLDFirst and foremost, I think the United States has caused many of the problems that are going on in the Middle East. It was a pretty quiet weekend when Saddam Hussein was in charge, when Assad was in charge and when Gaddafi was in charge. Those are entities, they had their issues. The United States government should stay out of it. Mind your business, spend the money here on people who are working three and four jobs to make ends meet, no health care, gentrified neighborhoods where they can't afford rent.
HAROLDWe need to handle America, and if anybody -- if there is anything leftover, fine, but Americans should come first. I'm a taxpayer. I've been paying -- I'm working at 60 years of age. I need to be retired. I'm out here running around, making -- trying to make a living, and all I hear about is free, free this, free that, bring people over here and do what with them. People here are unemployed.
PAGESo Harold, it sounds like you might be -- are you a Trump voter? It sounds that you might find his message appealing.
HAROLDNo, no, no, I'm a retired policeman.
PAGEWell, but you could still support Donald Trump even if you're a retired policeman.
HAROLDWell, I support anybody that makes Americans first.
PAGEAll right, Harold, thank you so much for your call.
LEEAnd that sentiment I think is broadly -- is -- you know, it has resonance. It's shared. But at the same time, lauding the stability that Saddam Hussein, the Assad father and son and Muammar Gaddafi brought to Iraq, Syria and Libya I'm not sure is a valid -- is a valid argument. They were -- those governments were horribly repressive.
LANDLERAnd it's worth noting that Iran and Iraq had a war that killed almost a million people. And on -- Colonel Gaddafi was also a great state sponsor of terrorism. So, you know, stability neither in the region or outside the region.
YOUSSEFI agree with what you guys are saying, but I think what I hear in Harold is this -- what the U.S. has consistently argued with each intervention is that it's -- the U.S. intervention will bring more stability, more democracy, more liberty to the region, and we haven't seen that. One could argue that more died in Libya after the U.N. intervention than before, that more people died in Iraq after the U.S. intervention than had Saddam stayed in. That's what I hear in Harold's call, that it's the U.S. argument that its intervention alone can bring more stability.
PAGEWe had in face Vice President Biden make a surprise trip to Iraq this week. Why did he go there?
LEEWell because Prime Minister Abadi's government is in complete shambles. It's chaos, and we want to -- the vice president, as well as the rest of the administration, want to make sure that he is able to hold on and to continue the fight against ISIS in Iraq. You know, but his government, as we've seen with previous Iraqi governments post the war, is a shambles. It's on the verge of collapse.
PAGEThis has been such a challenge for the Obama administration, the situation in Iraq, especially it being an issue that helped propel Barack Obama into the White House.
LANDLERYeah, that's right, and, you know, Joe Biden sort of has always been the point man on Iraq. He knows the Kurds very well. He really has dug into all the sectarian issues. But -- and, you know, I even saw an article the other day saying that the notion of partitioning Iraq into three parts was once again on the table given all these issues. And it was Joe Biden, if you recall, who was one of the first people that publicly floated that idea years and years ago.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. It was a little over a year ago, on April 25, 2015, that the nation of Nepal was struck by a powerful earthquake, a magnitude of 7.8. An estimated 9,000 people died. And joining us now by phone is Donatella Lorch, a former correspondent for The New York Times and NBC News. She and her family lived in Nepal for several years and survived the earthquake and its hundreds of aftershocks. Donatella, thanks so much for joining us.
MS. DONATELLA LORCHIt's a pleasure, Susan.
PAGESo if we were to walk through Nepal's capital of Kathmandu today, what would we see?
LORCHA lot of pollution, huge amounts of pollution, and I'll explain that in a moment. Much of the destruction is in specific neighborhoods. So you can come in from the airport and not see anything, depending on where you go, or see much more. The Cultural Heritage Sites will be very visible because there's been no reconstruction there. And the neighborhoods that crumbled, particularly the Newari villages on the outskirts completely went down, like Bhaktapur and Kokaha. Those will be very visible because the only reconstruction that has happened there is neighbor helping neighbor.
PAGEWhy has reconstruction been so difficult?
LORCHReconstruction's been difficult at many different levels. We can talk first about the fact that soon after the earthquake, the government of Nepal passed a new constitution. And there was an election there that Nepali Congress lost power, and the Marxists-Leninists came into control in a deal with the Maoists. And the -- there were disenfranchised groups in the south of the country, very close to India, that felt that they had not been represented in this constitution. And they started blockading the borders.
LORCHIndia then started what was going to become a five-month blockade, unofficial, undeclared blockade of the southern border of Nepal. And that created a horrific crisis in Nepal, a major humanitarian crisis. Ninety percent of -- 95 percent of fuel comes from India. Everything that goes into the industry comes from the Port of Calcutta. Medicine comes from India. All that is blocked.
LORCHSo you are creating -- it's a perfect example for the world of what happens when there is no fossil fuel to an entire nation.
PAGEAnd did India admit that they were supporting this blockade?
LORCHOh no, no, no, no, no, they always said -- they couldn't admit that they were supporting the blockade because they would have been violating international treaties. So it was always -- but India is the one that provides the fuel and the -- there would be, you know, interviews of the people at these various fuel depots, saying oh, we have been told high up that we cannot ship to Nepal. And basically out of the 300 or 350 fuel trucks that enter Nepal every day, it was down to 10 percent of that that came in. The black market blossomed in Nepal.
LORCHPrices skyrocketed. It became the most expensive liter of petrol or diesel in the entire world if you bought it in Kathmandu. And a lot of the black market was in cahoots with the new government. So they're -- but that's talking Kathmandu. Let's talk the countryside, which is the real poor, in need, hard-hit-by-the earthquake areas. And first is health care. Health care disappeared, basically, because they couldn't take transportation to hospitals. There was no medicine in the hospitals. There was no electricity in the hospitals because there was no diesel for the generators.
LORCHThere's always an electricity shortage across all of Nepal. In the winter in Kathmandu, it's 18 hours a day of no electricity. And everybody who has electricity at all, it's diesel-powered generators, hence the pollution, by the way, that I mentioned earlier.
PAGESo Donatella, that sounds like a terrible situation. We're so sorry that this year has passed with the distribution of so little aid to Nepal. Thank you for bringing us up to date on the situation there.
LORCHIt's a pleasure.
PAGEThat's Donatella Lorch, telling us about the situation in Nepal one year after that terrible earthquake. I want to thank our panelists here with me in the studio, Mark Landler of The New York Times, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast, Matthew Lee of the Associated Press. Thanks for being with us.
LANDLERThank you very much, Susan.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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