Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr talks about his new novel, "Cloud Cuckoo Land," and why he says his job as a writer is to reveal our interconnections as people, and as a planet.
Guest Host: Sabri Ben-Achour
On a trip to Asia, President Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Japan. In Vietnam, the president announces the end of a decades-old arms embargo. The Taliban elect a lesser-known cleric as their new leader after a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan kills their former chief. In Iraq, government forces launch an operation to retake the city of Fallujah from ISIS. And a far-right candidate in Austria narrowly loses the presidential election. A panel of journalists joins guest host Sabri Ben-Achour for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Yochi Dreazen Managing editor, Foreign Policy; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Nadia Bilbassy Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya
- David Sanger National security correspondent, The New York Times; author, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power"
Listen: What A Hiroshima Survivor's Daughter Learned: 'War Is Hellish On Both Sides'
As our International News Roundup discussed President Obama's visit to Hiroshima, Japan, a daughter of a survivor of the bombing called in to the show to share her mother's experience. Listen to the full hour: http://wamu.fm/1P1fC2N.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOURThanks for joining us. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour from "Marketplace" sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on a station visit to WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina. President Obama, today, becomes the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima where he is calling for a world without nuclear weapons. The Taliban name a new leader after his predecessor was killed by a U.S. drone strike and in Austria, a far right candidate is narrowly defeated in the presidential elections.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOURHere to discuss this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Nadia Bilbassy of al-Arabiya and David Sanger of the New York Times. Thanks, all of you.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Sabri.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks for having me.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
BEN-ACHOURSo let's start in Japan. President Obama is wrapping up a weeklong trip to Asia today. He's the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima where, of course, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. David, you've lived in and reported on Japan. What's the significance of this visit?
SANGERWell, there's never been an American president who has gone to Hiroshima. In fact, until recently, there wasn't even an American ambassador to Japan who would go at the time of the commemorations, on August 6. There's actually a member of the embassy there who ended up winning an award in the state department for creative dissent for arguing that this was moving against American interests. So the fact that, in the past two months, we've had Secretary of State John Kerry and now President Obama go tells you that there's an effort to both confront and move on from this.
SANGERThat said, there are still two dramatically different narratives between the Japanese version of events and the American version of events. The American version of events is that the bombing of Hiroshima saved tens, if not hundreds, of thousands, maybe up to 600,000 American lives because of the scheduled invasion of Honshu that would've come next after Okinawa and others. And there are many, including veterans -- my dad was in that invasion in Okinawa and Hiroshima and he was schedule for Honshu and he believes to this day -- and I think he's probably right, that had it not been for the bomb, they would've gone ahead and it would've been an even worse massacre.
SANGERThe Japanese version of events is that Japan was moving slowly to surrender anyway, though the Americans didn't know that, that the entry of the Soviets into the war would've brought that about, that the bombing was unnecessary, that it was an act of cruelty against a civilian population, the ultimate example of total war. But when you go into the museum, which the president never stepped into today, which was interestingly, there's no context. There's just the bomb was dropped.
DREAZENRight. But I mean, in our memorials, we don't have a ton of context, either. I mean, there's not a whole bunch of context around the Vietnam War Memorial or when we had that exhibit of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb, we didn't have a ton of...
SANGERThat's right. And our exhibit didn't raise sufficiently, at least to my mind, the question forgetting Hiroshima, did, three days later, you need to drop the bomb on Nagasaki.
BEN-ACHOURSo do you think anyone in Japan was expecting an apology?
SANGERNot really. I think that the president signaled pretty clearly he wasn't going to apologize, but to some degree, merely being there, just the symbolism of his being there, I think many in Japan probably interpreted that way and certainly President Obama's critics here who say he's on an apology tour around the world that started when he began his presidency, they certainly wrote that. John Bolton, a very conservative former ambassador to the UN, had an op-ed to that effect just this morning.
DREAZENIn the end, Obama's message was to call for a world without nuclear weapons.
BILBASSYI think that's the significance of it as well. And the fact that the White House before the president left, they said that's he's not going to apologize. But I think it more entered the debate the fact that he doesn't want to second guess President Truman. He didn't want to answer the question historically whether it was right or wrong. And I think, for him, it's not just the symbolism, but of course, he wanted to see the world, as you said, without nuclear weapons.
BILBASSYAnd what's interesting, I think, was what's written on the memorial arch and I'm just going to quote it because written by the Japanese, of course. It says, "we shall not repeat the evil, what exactly the evil was, the bombing, the conflict itself or who is to blame are left unsaid." And I think this is basically what President Obama wanted to kind of enforce this message in a way. Ironically, and I have to bring this argument to the Middle East again, of course they use of nuclear weapons is horrific.
BILBASSYIt is -- you cannot compare it to conventional weapons because it’s not just the fact that you have 300,000 dead, but the effect of it, the radiation, the scars, the damage to the environment, all of these things that goes on for decades. Funny enough, the president who talks very strongly against these kind of mass casualties, on his watch, we have almost half million dead in Syria. Chemical weapons was used and conventional weapons was used, but somehow it's going to be seen as hypocritical for the president to stand and to talk about these weapons and yet, it happens not during President Truman time, we're talking, of course, nuclear weapons, but chemical weapons in Syria.
BEN-ACHOURYeah. I have a feeling that's going to be in the history books for a long time, that topic. Yochi, while President Obama was in Japan, there was a G7 summit with Japan, France, Germany, Canada, the UK, Italy and the U.S. And Obama said that world leaders are rattled by Donald Trump and his ascension in the U.S. presidential race. What was the context of President Obama's statement?
DREAZENSure. One quick thing that I found fascinating. The same day that the president went to Hiroshima, the Federation of American Scientists released a report that showed that under Obama, stockpiles have shrunk by less than under any president of any Cold War administration. Meaning that despite his talk of no nuclear weapons, he's actually done the least of any president since the Cold War to reduce the American stockpiles, which I found fascinating. I mean, now that we're in the final months of the White House, all the legacy questions of things he said he would do and didn't do, end the Iraq war and close Guantanamo, are being talked about.
DREAZENThis one has not been. That's despite all of his talk about a world without nuclear weapons, he has done the least to get the U.S. there than any president, including George W. Bush, since the end of the Cold War. His comments were fascinating. He said that...
BEN-ACHOURComments about Trump.
DREAZENYes. Sorry, to switch gears to the G7, he said world leaders were rattled and, basically, that they have every right to be and then went through a long laundry list of things that Donald Trump that he, the president, finds baffling, confusing, scary. And I think the context is, and all of us who interview people who come through Washington, you know, David who does a lot of traveling of late, the questions come to us often from foreign leaders, as opposed to us coming to them with questions of explain Donald Trump.
DREAZENForeign leaders are both baffled by him and they're terrified by him, particularly in Asia, because he basically has said we are devoting too much of our resources and too much of our military to Japan and South Korea. Let them defend themselves. We're going to pull out. And if they need to develop their own nuclear weapons, which is an amazing statement, let them do so.
BEN-ACHOURAt a time, when many of those countries are looking very hard to the U.S. for help.
DREAZENRight. And at a time when many of those countries are terrified by China in a way they never have been before.
SANGERYochi's absolutely right. This is part of what's rattled them. And I think, in part, the statement that he made to Maggie Haberman and to me in our interview with him two months ago, about Japan and Korea. What I found interesting was when got to his foreign policy speech a few weeks ago, he didn't repeat that. That line. He still talked about how allies have to pay their share, made the concept of alliances almost transactional. But he didn't come back and repeat the line that he was okay if they built their own nuclear weapons.
SANGERWhich made me wonder whether someone, somewhere in his conversations with Henry Kissinger, James Baker, whatever, have sort of come to him and said, you know, there's some things out here you can't undo about the world, and encouraging two nations that have been signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to walk away from the treaty, which would be the implication of his statement, is one of those.
BEN-ACHOURNadia, go ahead.
BILBASSYYeah, I think you cannot explain Donald Trump to the foreign audience. I mean, we've been covering his story since decided to enter this race. But I think domestically, linking it to here, I think it will backfire on President Obama because he's been seen as interfering in domestic politics and it's not usual for the president to make statements calling him -- his statements, he said, Trump, that ignorant and cavalier manner like or to that effect. But I think for the American people, they all see that the people who elect the president, not the foreign leaders.
BILBASSYAnd President Obama has been seen around the world in the Middle East and elsewhere as not an effective leader. They've seen him as a weak leader. For, in a way, yes, people don't understand where does Trump stand and what his policy and take him as a joke sometimes, but yet, they're looking for a strong leader. And President Obama did not amplify that.
BEN-ACHOURAnd I don't imagine -- do you think there's a risk that the American people might bristle at the idea that they should care what foreign leaders think about...
BILBASSYWell, I think, in general, and my colleagues will share me on that perspective, I mean, I became an American in the last year and I'll vote in this election and I think just to monitor things closely, I think people really care about what they think of their president. They don't care much about the foreign leaders. And often if the foreign leaders interfere, like I think the prime minister of Italy said a statement to the effect that he doesn't mind who's going to be the president, but he's leaning toward Hillary Clinton, I think people don't like that, in general. They don't want foreign leaders to interfere in their domestic affairs.
BEN-ACHOUROf course, Trump's response to President Obama's claim -- well, you tell me. What did he say?
DREAZENHe wore it as a badge of honor. He said...
BEN-ACHOURHe said, good.
DREAZENYeah. It's good that...
BILBASSYRattling is good, he said.
DREAZENYou know, he -- what everyone thinks of him, and I can imagine -- I think a lot of our callers and emailers and Facebook commenters do think of him -- some of the things he said are not terribly outside the American mainstream, particularly when he talks about NATO being obsolete. That's something you've heard from American secretaries of defense now for 20 years. So when he says I've rattled them, I've sparked a conversation, there are bits of that, little pieces here and there that a lot of people who are much more mainstream than him would say, yeah. That is an overdue conversation.
DREAZENYou know, there are certain foreign policy assumptions that Democrats and Republicans have shared now for decades that he's throwing out the window. And you can make the case, and some of my colleagues, Rosa Brooks, who writes for Foreign Policy, have made the case that it's a good thing that some of these things are being revisited because they are stale.
BEN-ACHOURComing up, more of the Friday News Roundup.
BEN-ACHOURWelcome back. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour with "Marketplace" sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio is Yochi Dreazen, he's managing editor of Foreign Policy, Nadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya, David Sanger, national security correspondent for The New York Times. David, you wanted to add something on Trump's foreign policy.
SANGERWell, Yochi made the very good point that Trump sees the rattling as a -- an advantage. And I thought the way he phrased it told you something about him. He said, it -- that the fact that President Obama was upset about people being rattled tells you that he didn't have much of a business background.
SANGERAnd that, you know, Trump thought it was, you know, good if you rattle your opponent in a, you know, in a good one. And he's thinking, again -- once again as a negotiator. This is all very transactional. And, of course, President Obama would say, well, being a developer and negotiating with partners in the United States or abroad is a quite different thing than building enduring alliances, which are not transactional and are built on getting a common network together so that you can attack common problems and be ready for that moment of crisis.
SANGERAnd it just is a -- gives you a sense of what a completely different world view Trump is bringing to this. Because we've come to this with a concept of a world order in which you do build up these alliances and you don't necessarily keep a list of chits, who's paid for what...
SANGER...or a very strict one. And he would undo that if you take him at his word.
BEN-ACHOURAnd, David, the South China Sea came up at the G7 summit. What was said?
SANGERWell, the South China Sea at the G7 summit was the usual urging China to show restraint and all that. I think the more interesting element of Obama's trip for the South China Sea was the Vietnam trip, which is what immediately preceded the G7.
BEN-ACHOURYou were on that trip.
SANGERYes. And I had been with Secretary Kerry coming in. We were in Myanmar before that and he went on to Vietnam. And what I -- what struck me about that was that not only were the Vietnamese more welcoming of President Obama than they had been on the previous trips of President Bush and there was one with President Clinton that was a quite remarkable trip when he went for 16 years ago, but that the reason the Vietnamese were particularly welcoming was that they have been so rattled, not by Donald Trump but by the Chinese buildup in the South China Sea.
SANGERYou saw Vietnamese officials show up in the Oval Office last year. You saw them discuss but not resolve during this trip whether the United States may have access to Cam Ranh Bay, the old base in Vietnam. If President Obama negotiates to Cam Ranh Bay, access to reopened bases in the Philippines -- and he's already got access to a base in Darwin, Australia -- he will have managed to create a place for the Navy to be on three sides of where the Chinese are operating. To the Americans, that gives you a way to transit the area very frequently. To the Chinese, it's a form of containment.
BEN-ACHOURWell, the Chinese are already upset about U.S. anti-missile technology that they have said to deploy. China might actually send nuclear-armed submarines in the Pacific.
SANGERChina's already sending nuclear-armed submarines. They don't have much of a submarine fleet. Their concern has to do with the THAAD missile defense system that the U.S. is negotiating deploying in South Korea to combat North Korea.
SANGERThe Chinese look at this and say, no, no, this is really aimed at our own missile systems. It's a little bit of a ridiculous argument, both because the physics of it don't work where they're placing this...
SANGER...in South Korea and because the Chinese could overwhelm a system like that, which can only pick a few missiles out at a time. Whereas the North Koreans have a very limited arsenal. Nonetheless, it's a great talking point for the Chinese as they try to spur up this nationalistic fervor.
BEN-ACHOURAnd, Yochi, before President Obama arrived in (word?) , when he was in Vietnam, he announced the lifting of a long-standing arms embargo. Tell us about that.
DREAZENSo what he said was that the arms embargo that had been in place, it's been softened kind of steadily but has been in place on and off since the war itself, would be lifted, potentially allowing American firms, in particular, defense firms to sell to the Vietnamese directly. Vietnam, this is something that I think -- I didn't know until I looked this up, they're the fifth largest arms purchaser in the world.
DREAZENSo when we think of massive countries -- U.S., Russia, China, the Gulf States, which are also big buyers, but Vietnam is number five. And in the last four years their purchases are up by 700 percent. So they're spending gobs of money for what is still a relatively, not impoverished country, but certainly not a wealthy country, because they are so scared of China. That said, this is not something where American defense are suddenly going to have a bonanza because our systems are so expensive. But Israel will have a bonanza because Israel has been selling to Vietnam for quite some time.
DREAZENNow that these sanctions are lifted, it's easier for them to do so. But the fact that Vietnam is the fifth largest arm purchaser on the planet stunned me.
BILBASSYBut also the president raised the human rights issues, which is very important, I think, in a country like Vietnam. And for the first time that the states-run television carried his speech live. And it's -- in a way it's similar to the president speech to the Cuban people when he was there as well and he criticized the human rights record and he talked about it. So in a way, yes, he want to support these countries. He wanted, in the case of Cuba, for example, they wanted to break away from the stronghold of a socialist system. In Vietnam, where they have open-market economy, but yet the human rights record is always abysmal.
BILBASSYSo in a way, it's just balancing act, trying to give them, as Yochi just said, this arms deal has been lifted since the embargo was imposed almost a decade ago. But at the same time, he was saying, we're not going to overlook the fact that you have a gross human rights record here.
BEN-ACHOURRight. Human rights activists weren't happy about that arms (unintelligible)
BILBASSYNo. And he is trying -- I think the White House said that we're not going to even release the names of certain people that the president is meeting with. And it's also -- it's actually so similar. Because I was also with the -- covering the president's trip to Cuba and it was a similar situation where he has to meet with the civil society representatives and human rights activists. And it's a similar situation where, of course, you have to make sure that they included, the government is not happy about it and you have to be selective and sometimes you drop people off because, you know, you don't want to upset your hosts so much during a very important visit.
SANGERSeveral of the Vietnamese dissidents never made it to the meeting.
SANGEROne flew into the airport and suddenly was escorted someplace and driven around for seven hours. Another one looked outside his door and his house was completely surrounded by soldiers.
BEN-ACHOURTerrifying for them.
SANGERThat wasn't -- that was not exactly the kind of welcome that President Obama had in mind for them.
BEN-ACHOURYeah. Let's go to Matthew. He's in Washington, D.C. Matthew, go ahead. You're on the air.
MATTHEWThank you for taking my call. I had a quick question about the recent revelation of a possible foreigner in Okinawa, Japan, committing murder against a local Japanese woman on the heels of Barack Obama going to Hiroshima and giving his apology and with the latest referendum being in Okinawa that very much that the folks there would rather see the military installations of the U.S. removed from Okinawa and thousands of protestors arriving at the U.S. air bases after this revelation of possibly another infraction by foreigners against local Okinawans.
MATTHEWCould this murder be, if it comes to fruition that a foreigner committed it, be the last straw, so to speak, to break the camel's back and see the U.S. remove bases? Or will it end up at the end of the day just being an article buried deep in The New York Times?
BEN-ACHOURYeah, Matthew, thank you for that question. I think it's a question that many Japanese are wondering themselves. Although we should just point out President Obama did not apologize at the -- when he went to Hiroshima. Yochi, go ahead.
DREAZENYeah. We can be a bit more specific even than the caller because it isn't it was a foreigner involved, it is...
BEN-ACHOURIt's a U.S. soldier.
DREAZEN...it was an American soldier.
BEN-ACHOURA Marine, actually.
DREAZENAnd this is not the first time. There was a case that is infamous still in Japan that -- when I was there, it comes up fairly regularly -- where a child, an eight-year-old girl was raped and killed by U.S. service people at that same base. So this is an issue that's been there for quite some time. There are questions in Japan about the location of U.S. bases, because these bases were built at a time when the area around them was not populated. Now it is. So there's been talk about moving the bases to less-populated areas. But to the question of will this be a break-point, will this be the camel -- the straw breaking the camel's back? No. Not to be cynical, but no.
BEN-ACHOURAll right. Let's shift geographic reasons -- regions and go to the Middle East. We learned that Mullah Mansour, he was the leader of the Taliban, he was killed on Saturday in a U.S. drone strike. How much do we know about that operation? Nadia.
BILBASSYWell, it's a little bit -- the Far East, I would say -- closer to the Middle East.
BEN-ACHOURYou're right. You're right.
BILBASSYPresident Bush has shifted it in that geographical region.
BILBASSYBut, I didn't. So the new person is called Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada. And he was a clerk, he was a judge. Some people say he might -- is a graduate of madrasas, which doesn't mean really much. He probably has the high school education. He doesn't have a military background. He was a deputy to Mullah Mansour and therefore some people believe that actually he will try and to prove his credential and he will do the opposite. Instead of reaching to have this peace deal, trying to have a reconciliatory tone, he will actually will step up attacks against the government forces and coalition in Afghanistan itself.
BILBASSYSo this -- and -- but one other side of his appointment that he might -- some people think he might bring different factions of Taliban that broke away after the death of Mullah Omar together. And that will be his priority. So to consolidate power, to make sure that the Taliban are united, and this is -- will be vital for him. So that will shift you away from the fact that the U.S. really wanted to have this peace process going on and you have reconciliation with the Taliban.
BILBASSYAnd one of the reasons the administration cited for killing Mullah Mansour, which is really an interesting story, because as you know for the first time ever that this is -- the U.S. drone has targeted a Taliban leader, Afghan Taliban leader inside Pakistan and Balochistan. Normally they do it in Waziristan, which is the Pakistani's said, okay, fine. It's lawless land, et cetera. But this time they think it's the fringe of their sovereignty and they were complaining and they were saying this is -- cannot be accepted or -- they really protested against it.
BEN-ACHOURWell, we have a tweet from Jonathan, who asks, what legal basis entitled the U.S. to kill Taliban Leader Mullah Mansour. Was he designated a terrorist? Do you know?
BILBASSYI think he was designated a terrorist, I think. And the fact that they said -- one of the reasons, at least officially, that the White House was cited, that they had an inside information that he was planned to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan. And therefore this is a preemptive strike. But this, again, it will open the legal, you know, battle about the use of drone attacks that stepped up during President Obama's time and whether it's legal or not legal.
SANGERSo I think Nadia's put her finger on what's I found the most fascinating part of this entire thing, which was the Pakistani element of it. So, first of all, as you point out, it was in Balochistan, not an area that we normally have drone operations. Secondly, the United States did not tell Pakistan in advance that they were planning to go do this.
BEN-ACHOURWell, do we know that they didn't tell them? Or are the Pakistanis just pretending like we didn't tell them?
SANGERNow we know they didn't tell them. And in fact, Secretary Kerry was in Myanmar on Sunday morning. I was there with him. And he told us that he had just called the Pakistani president to talk to him about it. And I suspect -- although Secretary Kerry didn't say this -- that he was calling him to sort of talk him off the ceiling...
SANGER...on this issue. But the fascinating element is that for years the Pakistanis have been saying that the Taliban leadership is not operating in and out of Pakistan, except maybe occasionally coming right over the border. Well, here he was in Balochistan and had come over the Iranian border.
SANGERSo that's number one. Number two, the fact that the U.S. was not willing to go tell them, tells them that they -- tells us that they believe the ISI would have tipped him off. And when they had the Shura to select a new leader, where did it happen? In Pakistan.
BEN-ACHOURRight. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour with "Marketplace." You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. What does the death of Mullah Mansour mean for the Operation of the Taliban? Yochi.
DREAZENYou know, it's not -- really, it's not clear. Because when he was first appointed there was some talk that maybe he was more interested in this ephemeral, completely non-existent, quixotic, not-likely-to-go-anywhere peace process, reconciliation process. He clearly wasn't. It's...
BEN-ACHOURMullah Mansour, the guy that...
DREAZENIt's very unlikely that his successor will change that. The Taliban feels like they're winning. They have zero incentive to negotiate when they are taking more of the south, more of the east, taking Kabul at will. So if you're the leadership of the Taliban, you know the U.S. is withdrawing. President Obama, wrongly I think in my view, set a deadline that they are well aware of. Why negotiate? You already feel like you're winning. To my mind, you know, I think David's points about Pakistan were fascinating. To me, the most interesting part was where he was coming from. He was coming from Iran where his family lives freely and safely.
DREAZENI have a piece up that I posted yesterday that the Taliban and Iran, which had been dire enemies for decades, are cooperating very actively against the Islamic State, with the Iranian government funding the Taliban, the Iranian government giving them weapons and money, and specifically building a buffer zone along their border with Afghanistan to keep ISIS out of Iranian territory. So in the same way that we've talked about the Islamic State, reshifting regional balances and making the U.S. de facto allies with Assad in some ways, the U.S. de facto allies with Russia and Iran and Iraq.
DREAZENThe Taliban and Iran, which almost came to war in 1998 because the Taliban killed Iranian diplomats, now are allies against ISIS, which is completely fascinating. And the fact that the Taliban feel free to live in Iran, cross in and out of Iran is, to me, as interesting as the fact that we struck them in Pakistan.
BILBASSYWell, actually it was to what just Yochi said, I saw reports that added a different dimension into the story, which is the fact that he came from Iran after receiving medical treatment there. He crossed the border to Pakistan. And the Iranians, after 9/11, they've been cooperating with the Americans, have given them information about al-Qaida. And this relationship between them and Taliban is a very complex one, as Yochi just explained. But also some reports indicating that actually it was the Iranian who tipped the U.S. intelligence of where he was...
BILBASSY...crossing the border.
BEN-ACHOURWhat a tangled web.
BILBASSYNow, I'm not a -- don't have a privy to the intelligence information. But this -- one of the reports said that this is how they got him is a tip from the Iranians.
BEN-ACHOURThis could be seen as a message to Pakistan too, right?
BILBASSYI mean the relation with Pakistan has always been phony. I mean, after bin Laden, and this is the biggest I think the second point of how the Pakistanis perceived it as violating their sovereignty and conducted an operation without telling them. And as David said, I don't think they were informed in advance on any other operations because everybody kind of talked openly about this relationship between the IS and the Taliban, especially the Afghani Taliban, not the Pakistani one. So and it (word?) them, of course. It is like everything is seen in that region from the dimension of this conflict between Pakistan and India. And therefore, Afghanistan, the Taliban, the U.S. coalition is all four under this category.
BEN-ACHOURSo what about the new Taliban leader, Moulavi Haibatullah Akhunzada. What's he -- what do we know about him? What's he going to change? Anything?
DREAZENSo, I mean, in some ways what's interesting to me about this is it's the Taliban old guard staying in power.
DREAZENThis is somebody who'd been a veteran, who'd served in the Taliban government in the 1990s. He'd been a de facto justice minister. He'd been a de facto kind of shadow governor issuing fatwas on the Afghan justice system. He's known as a scholar and not as a battlefield commander. He actually has no battlefield experience whatsoever. He is someone who, though, is known as a kind of a link back to what the Taliban government was in the 1990s. And you had two people who wanted this job -- Seraa Jakani (sp?) , who is a, if you ask Americans, a brutal...
DREAZEN...right, a brilliant but completely brutal, ruthless person, has zero interest in talking, and then the son of Mullah Omar, both of whom were seen as possible candidates for this job. Instead you have the old guard keeping power.
BEN-ACHOURAll right. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Sabri Ben-Achour. We'll be right back.
BEN-ACHOURWelcome back. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour with "Marketplace," sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me is Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of foreign policy, Nadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya, and David Sanger, national security correspondent for the New York Times. We've gotten a bunch of emails about apology. One from Dante, in Cleveland.
BEN-ACHOURIt says, "I don't understand why President Obama couldn't offer an apology as a regret for the innocent civilians who lost their lives. Is there concern that he or the U.S. might look weak or that he's questioning the wisdom of Harry Truman's decision? I see it as a gesture of reconciliation, which could bring about healing." David?
SANGERWell, the question of apology has always been a significant one because the question really comes down to did President Truman make the best decision he could to end the war that would have brought about greater loss of life, perhaps of many hundreds of thousands more Americans, but perhaps even of more Japanese than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And so the position of the U.S. has always been that they didn't start this war and therefore they didn't need to apologize for ending it. They can express regret that a lot of innocent civilian lives were lost, which happens in war.
SANGERBut that's a different thing than saying we should not have dropped the bomb, which President Obama very carefully did not say.
BEN-ACHOURRight. Apology is sort of a difficult word. It means a lot of things. But I think what this caller is getting at is to somehow communicate, you know, a sense of empathy for all the suffering. Do you think that President Obama did that?
SANGERI think he did -- I think the speech was intended to go do that. And I also think it was intended to be a warning that the world is not past this moment, that the North Korean threat, that in some ways we have less superpower war threat than we've ever had and more and a greater nuclear threat than we've ever had.
BEN-ACHOURWe have a caller who can speak to this exactly. Kathleen is from Charlotte, N.C. Hi, Kathleen. Thanks for calling.
KATHLEENHello, thank you for taking my call.
BEN-ACHOURSo you're the daughter of…
KATHLEENOf hibakusha, yes. My mother was 12 years old in Hiroshima on that day of August 6th. She lost her family and her home and her friends, but, you know, she never lost her ability to love or mostly what she kept saying was to hope that there would never be a nuclear weapon used again. And due to that I started visiting middle schools when my daughter was in middle school to give her experience. And it's non-political. It's just to talk about what happened to her.
KATHLEENAnd for them to explore what the children on the -- well, I guess you call like the enemy side -- had a lot of the same fears and concerns during the war that the ally children have. So it's sort of to be able to see that the enemy's not always so different from ourselves when it comes to the citizens. And the type of destruction that could be done by a bomb 71 years ago compared to what could be done by one that was done today.
BEN-ACHOURHow does your mom make sense of that experience? How does she -- yeah.
KATHLEENWell, she did pass away last year.
KATHLEENBut she knew that a book was going to be published regarding her experience. And she said that war is hellish on both sides. And she was very upset and angry. But the attitude at that time, as far as what she experienced in her circle, where she was, was that they followed the emperor and he wanted them to go into war, and this is what can happen in war. They were very grateful that maybe they could have some peace. They weren't grateful for the bomb, I'm not saying that.
KATHLEENBut they at least -- when they ended the war they felt maybe they can try to rebuild their lives somehow. And it took my mother a lot of time of trying to trust again, trying to get close to people again because she was hurt so deeply and lost so much so quickly that day. She was about two miles away from the epicenter.
BEN-ACHOURWow, that's amazing. That's incredible. Thank you, Kathleen, for that. It, you know, that does go to show just how far the U.S. and Japan have come.
DREAZENYeah, I mean, it's something that President Obama referenced today twice. He first talked about how we can mourn the loss. So he didn't say he apologized, but he quite movingly in my mind said you do mourn the deaths of women and children in this blast. And he also talked about how -- the amazing fact that Japan could go from a battlefield enemy to our -- one of our closest allies, one of our closest trading partners. Vietnam, potentially becoming an ally again.
DREAZENYou know, the arch of history is fascinating. You wonder if it's possible. It's hard to imagine it, but is it possible that 30 years from now or 50 years from now there's a Syrian government which is an American ally or an Iraqi government that's an American ally?
DREAZENVery, very difficult to imagine, but 70 years ago when we were fighting in the Pacific, you know, David's father is a veteran. When the fighting was brutal, brutal, brutal, the idea that you could have an American-Japanese relationship this close would have seemed equally impossible.
SANGERAnd you know, it's been a long time in the going. You know, Hirohito died in…
SANGER…the emperor, Emperor Hirohito died in 1988, '89, I guess 1989. And President George H.W. Bush had just been elected president or had just taken office. Here was a man who was shot out of his airplane by the Japanese over the Pacific. Right?
BEN-ACHOUROh, my goodness.
SANGERAnd he came to Hirohito's funeral, sat in the front, spoke about the relationships. Well, I saw what President Obama was doing today as sort of a closing of the circle that really had a big element from George H.W. Bush 25 years ago. And tells you what a bipartisan effort this has been and gives you a little bit of a view about why -- from the earlier discussion we were having about whether allies were rattled about the discussion underway coming out of the Trump campaign and elsewhere and not just Donald Trump, why that is. And it's because this has been such a tonality of bipartisan effort.
BEN-ACHOURWell, I'm so glad that Kathleen called because it's always, you know, a lovely reminder to take the long view. Let's go back to the Middle East, the actual Middle East this time. Iraqi ground forces began the fight to retake Fallujah, which has been held by ISIS. What's the latest, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, the latest is the Iraqi forces, along with counterterrorism elitist force and what they call al-Hashd al-Sha'bi, which is a Shiite militia known as popular mobilization forces, are on the outskirt of Fallujah. So they -- around 20 kilometer there is a place called Garma. Now Fallujah is a very interesting city because of many reasons.
BILBASSYFirst of all it was during the heart of the American invasion in 2004, it was a stronghold of Al-Qaida at the time. Eighty U.S. Marines were killed, over 2000 Iraqis. The city almost destroyed by then because the war was going through block by block. Now, what we left from the city, after ISIS took hold of it almost two years ago is 70,000 civilians. Most of them cannot leave, oddly enough.
BILBASSYThey're trapped. And they can -- all the ISIS hold them like hostages, basically. They suffering from a shortage of food, of medicine, death among civilians are very, very high. And this is also the heartland of the Sunni. So for the Prime Minister Al-Abadi it was very important decision to take of Fallujah because if you remember there was a recent wave of bombing in Baghdad itself. And most of it, according to the Iraqis, was planned in Fallujah by ISIS.
BILBASSYAnd for him, he was under pressure, especially that he is a challenger now with Muqtada al-Sadr. Every now and then he goes to the Green Zone and he has -- he mobilizes supporters, thousands of them, demanding that reform in the government, ending corruption, etcetera. So for him it's very important to take on this city. Second, they also wanted to isolate it because in the preparation for the biggest of all battles, which is Mosul.
BILBASSYIt's not gonna happen now because everybody know the Iraqis' forces are not yet ready, but if they can isolate it from the South and from the West after they took Ramadi -- there was a series of victory for the Iraqi and American coalitions there in Tikrit and Baiji and Anbar Province and in taking Ramadi. But not Fallujah is, you know, it's gonna be awhile before they get into the city itself.
BILBASSYAnd one caveat here is I think that there is an agreement that the Shiite militia should not enter the city 'cause this is a Sunni land. And there has been -- especially one like Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and the Kata'ib Hezbollah, they should not enter the city because this is a sectarian war in the end. Yes, it is a military one trying to root out ISIS, but in the end, it's a political solution. It's a very sensitive issue.
BEN-ACHOURYochi, how does this fit into the bigger picture of where ISIS is at that this point and where we are?
DREAZENSure, I mean, in the year -- I lived in Iraq for several years and covered a lot of the fighting in the Fallujah, the first attempt to take it and then the second and spent a lot of time in the city. What's interesting about this is two things to my mind. One, to the Sunni there's incredible emotional resonance in one particular way. When the surge and the awakening, the sahwa, as it was called in Arabic.
DREAZENWhen the Sunni tribes allied with U.S. Marines to kick out Al-Qaida in Iraq and very successfully, they need to have -- those tribes were being trained by the U.S., trying to be persuaded by the U.S. to fight again. They need something tangible. And if the U.S., in its own way, can assist the Iraqis in taking back Fallujah, to the tribes that we're trying enlist to fight for Mosul, that's a very important gain. So in some ways it's a symbolic thing.
DREAZENAnother aspect, which is not talked about, the U.S. and its allies and the Iraqis, the Israelis, for that matter, are very concerned about the stability of Jordan. They're very concerned about the Jordanian government falling. It has a huge amount of Iraqi refugees. It has a very large Islamic State presence. If you conquer Fallujah, and more importantly the highway that connects Fallujah to other parts in Anbar, you protect the border of Jordan.
DREAZENAnbar Province borders Jordan and if Anbar Province is under ISIS control and major cities are under ISIS control, the threat to Jordan, which is real and significant and growing is a major threat. If you can take back Fallujah, take back Ramadi, take back the highways, you protect Jordan, which is of vital importance and not talked about enough, frankly.
BEN-ACHOURYou know, that's a really great point, because we talk about, and we're gonna talk about Europe, but you know, we talk about the refugee burden in countries like, you know, Germany, which, let's say they take in a million. They have a population of, what, 60, 80 million, something like that...
BILBASSYEighty million plus.
BEN-ACHOURYou know, in places like Lebanon and Jordan, it's 25% of the population is now a refugee from Syria, right?
DREAZENYeah, in Jordan, it's well over a million people, it's a staggering figure and they can't…
BEN-ACHOURHow are they dealing with that?
DREAZENThe Gulf states are pumping money in as fast as they can, but the Jordanian government is weak, the Jordanian economy is weak. You have tremendous unemployment among the refugees. It's not sustainable, you can't have a country of six million people take in a million refugees, and that country stay stable, and it just won't happen.
BILBASSYIt's not just the Syrians as well, the Jordanians took the Palestinians before, after '48 and '67 wars, they took the Iraqis after the American invasion. And now they're taking the Syrians, so definitely it poses a huge risk for the Jordanian government, as Yochi just said, and Zaatari camp, which has housed most of the refuges, the Syrian refugees, is almost like the third largest city in Jordan. You can imagine. And the U.N., they're trying to help, as you said, Gulf States, but still, the needs, I mean, I think every time King Abdullah comes to Washington, one of the main things that he asks is basically from Congress or the White House, is you have to increase the amount of economic aid that you give us to deal with the refugee crisis.
SANGERThe other thing it tells you is, the numbers that we are discussing taking in, are so tiny compared to the absolute numbers that are going in to Jordan and elsewhere, but they're even tinier as a percentage of our population. Here we've got over 300 million people, and we're arguing about 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 coming in, and not all those 100,000 would even be Syrians. And, you know, since we were just discussing Vietnam before, we did take in substantially more, hundreds of thousands of the Vietnamese boat people, and you know, you go on university campuses today where three of us spend a lot of time usually visiting and talking to students, and the children of those people who came in are some of the most accomplished students that you can find, and they've, you know, really reinvigorated the American economy.
SANGERThere is a fear, of course, and you're gonna see it exaggerated I'm sure in the campaign, that some number of people who come in in the refugee force could exact acts of terror. And, but overall, the numbers we're taking in are quite small.
BEN-ACHOURI'm Sabri Ben-Achour with Marketplace, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, to Europe, on Monday, a far right candidate was narrowly, less than a percent, defeated in Austria's presidential election. Give us the background here.
BEN-ACHOURGo for it, Nadia, go for it.
BILBASSYSo this is really an interesting case, to compare it to the rest of Europe, but in Austria in particular, there were two candidates. One is extreme right wing, that came from almost a Nazi background, and he won the first round of election by almost 37 percent, and his name is Norbert Hofer. And then in the second round, it seems that people panicked, and they thought, oh my God, we're gonna have the first right winger in a government lead in Europe, so they actually tilted the election in the favor of his competitor, his name is Alexander Van der Bellen. He's a 70 year old, he's an economic professor, and he came from the Green Party.
BILBASSYSo in a way, it's just like you see the extreme spectrum of both. You have the extreme right, and in a way, if you can the Green Party the extreme left, but also it shows that Europe is tilting towards the right, especially in Austria. There is this gap between what people are thinking and what people really want, and it's in a way, you can make this analogous situation to the U.S. and this rise with the anger within the Republican Party, despite the leadership, because it seems like the central rightists and leftists in Europe has been basically pushed into the margin, and the one who is rising are the right winger.
BILBASSYNow, it's very scary because in the end, he won by tiniest of all margins, as you said, it's like 50.3% to 49.7%. But the issues were, like, people, especially, I mean, the people who came to his aid was the Viennese, was the people of Vienna, basically, and the city dwellers...
BILBASSYUrban population, women, and college educated. So again, you can make really comparison to the U.S. and the way of who's supporting who, like Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump, etcetera, but they don't want globalization, they worry about immigration. They question the identity of what is it to be a European, and this is really, I think it's an important issue.
BEN-ACHOURYochi, what do you think this would have meant for Austria if he had been elected?
DREAZENI mean, Austria, obviously, is a country that has a terrible history of right wing politicians. I mean, when they had an Austrian that lead the U.N., it came out...
DREAZEN...that he had a Nazi background. Jorg Haider who was another far right leader who almost took power. So the fact that it was Austria is not terribly surprising. What's interesting here is what it shows you about the strategies other far right politicians are using across Europe, which is, this...
BEN-ACHOUR'Cause this is happening...
DREAZENIn France and elsewhere. He was not a screaming, foaming at the mouth, pound the table kind of candidate. He was very pleasant looking, he was fairly handsome, he was very soft spoken. Marine Le Pen in France kicked out her father, and she presents, again, a very respectable face. So what you're seeing is not simply the rise of the far right, but the far right knowing how to present itself in a way that's much more appealing and much more moderate seeming than the previous generation of the far right, which had Nazis, you know, people with a Swastika at the rallies who pounded the table and seemed paranoid and sociopathic. He did not seem that way. Marine Le Pen does not seem that way. And that makes them in some ways, depending on your point of view, more dangerous.
BEN-ACHOURWhere, I mean, we have seen far right candidates performing well in Poland, Slovakia, Cyprus, Germany, France, Sweden...
BEN-ACHOURWhere is this coming from?
DREAZENSome of it is, I think, economic, some of it, I mean, London and England is considering leaving the EU, but it's Islamic. I mean, fundamentally it is a deep seeded fear about a flood of refugees who are Muslim, changing the demographics of Europe, and it's a fear of terrorism. And every time there's an attack like Brussels, the next Brussels, the next Paris, those feelings will grow and the support for these parties will grow.
BILBASSYYeah, I think that dynamic has shifted in Europe greatly, and especially with the crisis in Syria and these refugees coming from Afghanistan, from Iraq, from all conflict zone, and some of them, of course, migrant -- economic migrant. So people are really worried and if you go to any European cities, I mean, I was in Berlin recently. You see streets resemble, like the Middle East. And if you're a German, you would -- if you think of isolationist policy, you said, these people are gonna change the social fabric of our society, and therefore, you can see, even if not publically endorsing them, in their heart, they will vote for these people.
SANGEREven though, as we mentioned before, these are tiny proportions of people compared to...
DREAZENThey are, but if you go into a place like Munich, and so forth, near the train station, you do see their numbers….
SANGERYou see them.
DREAZEN...as Nadia points out, and it is gonna change the fabric, and to some degree, that's what the German government's trying to do, because it's got a shortage of labor right now.
BEN-ACHOURAll right, I'm Sabri Ben-Achour with Marketplace, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me today was Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of foreign policy, Nadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya, David Sanger, national security correspondent for "The New York Times." Thank you, all of you, for sitting down with me.
DREAZENThank you, have a good weekend.
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