Guest Host: David Gregory

A Syrian man stands next to the debris outside a building hit by overnight shelling in Aleppo's rebel-held Qasr al-Bustan neighbourhood on June 9, 2016.

A Syrian man stands next to the debris outside a building hit by overnight shelling in Aleppo's rebel-held Qasr al-Bustan neighbourhood on June 9, 2016.

Is the Obama administration preparing to expand the U.S. military role in Afghanistan? Reports point to new action against the Taliban. Residents of a besieged suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus receive food from aid organizations for the first time in years. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi visits the White House, pledging to try to ratify the Paris climate change accord this year. Thousands flee the fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, where ISIL is said to be gunning down those trying to escape. And an attack by the Taliban in Afghanistan kills an NPR photojournalist and an Afghan interpreter. A panel of journalists joins guest host David Gregory for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.


  • James Kitfield Contributing editor, National Journal; senior fellow, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
  • Laura Rozen Reporter, Al-Monitor
  • Ishaan Tharoor Foreign affairs writer, The Washington Post
  • Jason Beaubien Global health and development correspondent for NPR


  • 11:06:54

    MR. DAVID GREGORYThank you for joining us. I'm David Gregory of CNN and host of the David Gregory podcast sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She is on a station visit to WMFE in Orlando, Florida. The Obama administration approves expanding the U.S. military's support role in Afghanistan, according to multiple news reports. Airstrikes in Syria continue to destroy hospitals in rebel-held areas. And on a visit to Washington, India's prime minister pledges to work toward joining the Paris climate agreement.

  • 11:07:26

    MR. DAVID GREGORYJoining me for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of the National Journal and the Center For the Study of the Presidency and Congress, Laura Rozen of Al-Monitor, Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post. Welcome all. Ishaan, sorry about the hesitation there on your last name. We'll also be taking your comments and your calls.

  • 11:07:53

    MR. DAVID GREGORYDo call us at 800-433-8850. Send us your email at Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good to have all of you here.

  • 11:08:07

    MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood to be here.

  • 11:08:08

    GREGORYWe made it. It's Friday. A lot of election news this week here in the U.S., but also some important international reporting as well. James Kitfield, the story about Afghanistan and whether the administration is prepared to expand the U.S. military role there, what do we know and what we don't know about what this means?

  • 11:08:28

    KITFIELDWell, this is part of a really a dynamic tension that's existed since 2011. If you'll remember when the administration came in and announced the surge, but very quick, Obama, when he announced that surge, announced deadlines for pulling the surge troops out, then pulling combat troops out in 2012 and 2013, hoping to get all troops out by the end of his second term, which is end of this year. The military has resisted this all along. It thinks that conditions on the ground should dictate how quickly you pull troops out.

  • 11:09:01

    KITFIELDThe former commander, John Campbell, resisted, said we got to slow this sort of withdrawal timeline down because the Taliban are making gains. The Obama administration also, as it stopped its combat role, said that the U.S. military could no longer support actions against the Taliban, which in the military makes absolutely no sense 'cause the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are joined at the hip. And we found that out recently when as the Taliban has made gains in Afghanistan, there was a huge al-Qaeda camp that they found last year and there was a huge attack on that.

  • 11:09:33

    KITFIELDSo now, most recently in this dynamic tension, the new commander, General Nicholson, I believe, has said that he need new authorities to help the Afghan rebel forces. We, basically, have only put our special forces, train and assist guys, with their special forces that are mostly involving counterterrorism operations. The Taliban have made so many gains now that they have asked for and gotten authority to embed our train and assist, meaning our conduit to U.S. air power with regular Afghan forces as they fight the Taliban when it can have a "strategic effect," which is more semantics that, like boots on the ground, are trying to hide the fact that we are basically, you know, losing right now to the Taliban and the guys on the ground want to turn that around.

  • 11:10:20

    GREGORYSo Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post, there's a lot of Pentagon ease in all of this. What does it really mean about what our role is? And as people understand it, we know that the use of drone strikes have been prominent by the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Is the concern that we start to have a mission creep around sending more U.S. soldiers with Afghan soldiers, as they're trying to put down the Taliban?

  • 11:10:48

    MR. ISHAAN THAROORThere certainly may be that concern over time, but this move is a clear recognition that the existing plan is not working. The current deployment, I believe, around -- under 10,000 troops, they have been tasked with two different roles. One is, as James was discussing, a kind of support assist train role with the Afghan army and the other was to be involved in the fight against al-Qaeda as well as Islamic State cells operating in (word?) and there's a worrying upsurge in that.

  • 11:11:21

    MR. ISHAAN THAROORThis means that you'll see more American troops going out with regular Afghan army units and, as James also said, the possibility of an expanded air war. The racking -- the simple fact is that the Taliban have not been defeated 15 years later. They've captured huge chunks of Helmand Province. Their ability to launch attacks in the heart of Afghanistan and the capital and safe areas in the capital remains unchecked and so this war is -- there's no end to this war in sight, even after eight years of an Obama administration that has been very keen to wipe it's hands clean of sort of the project of war in Afghanistan.

  • 11:11:58

    GREGORYAnd Laura, I remember General Petraeus, a commander of forces in Iraq, before he was the commander -- the commander of the surge in Iraq and the commander of U.S. forces, of allied forces in Afghanistan, talked about an Iraq that was good enough. He talked, similarly, about an Afghanistan end that was good enough. Well, we've seen an Iraq that that ending was not anywhere near good enough so what's going to be good enough in Afghanistan?

  • 11:12:24

    MS. LAURA ROZENI don't know what the end state is, but, you know, I will say that the surge now or the expansion of authorities that Obama has given the Pentagon do assist the Afghan forces going after the Taliban comes as there's no political track. There's no peace process. The U.S. did do a drone strike against a Taliban commander in Pakistan a couple weeks ago and the new person appointed said he also won't negotiates. So, you know, I think that the Obama administration has been wanting the military mission to help support a political track and there is not one.

  • 11:12:56

    THAROORRight. It's important to note that the Obama administration on January 2015, you know, restrained American military power specifically to get some kind of tentative peace process in track between Afghan officials, Afghan Taliban in Pakistan and this looks like a resumption of perhaps not, you know, a war, but a change in plan.

  • 11:13:17

    GREGORYIsn't it realistic to assume, James Kitfield, that the Taliban is going to be part of the future Afghanistan government one way or the other whether we like it or not?

  • 11:13:29

    KITFIELDAnd quite honestly, we haven't opposed that. We have said all along that, you know, it's going to be a political solution that ends this conflict and we have been very keen to get that political solution on the table with these peace talks. The problem is, disjointed on the Afghan side and the Taliban have not been very forthcoming in terms of compromises on this. They have demanded all along that they will not even talk until all foreign troops are out.

  • 11:13:52

    KITFIELDThat's a nonstarter from our side. You know, but you mentioned Iraq and Iraq, I think, was the key turning point in the administration's thinking on this. They pulled all the troops out of Iraq, excuse me, end of 2011 and it went south. They do not want, in this election year, for Afghanistan to go south on them on Obama's last watch. So I think that they're basically saying, we'll try to hold in place as much as possible. Let the next president take on this challenge. But they certainly don’t want a sort of ISIS-like, you know, narrative to unfold in Afghanistan when the Taliban comes sweeping in to, you know, big, huge chunks of Afghanistan uncontested.

  • 11:14:28

    KITFIELDAnd the fact of the matter is, the military has said all along, you know, you said, what is the sustainable end state? It is so the Afghan security forces can keep, you know, their own country, can police their own country and that means keep al-Qaeda from coming back and establishing training bases. They cannot do that without U.S. air power. Simply cannot do it and you can't build that capability in the matter of five, ten years. That's something that's going to take years and years.

  • 11:14:52

    GREGORYBut Laura, the president has been adamant about sticking to time tables about withdrawal, adamant about winding up conflict. Certainly that was his view in Iraq. He did make a decision to surge in Afghanistan, but he doesn't appear likely to support endless war. But do you think he's learned from the example of Iraq, that a residual force is important?

  • 11:15:13

    ROZENI think, yeah. I think it's what James was saying , that they pulled out and now they're back there again in Iraq and I think they're worried about the same situation happening in Afghanistan. And I think that, you know, whether we keep 9800 troops or it goes down to 5,000, by the end of his term, it does not seem to have been yet determined.

  • 11:15:34

    THAROORAnd like in Iraq, you have a partner in the capital that is, you know, a deeply problematic government, one that's riddled with corruption, one that has difficulties extending its rule beyond certain areas and it's not exactly an ideal circumstance for building peace.

  • 11:15:51

    GREGORYA spotlight on Afghanistan as well as the tragedy there continues to unfold, the NPR photojournalist David Gilkey and his Afghan interpreter were killed there on Sunday. Gilkey was the first civilian American journalist to be killed during the 15-year conflict. James, talk a little bit about what happened.

  • 11:16:12

    KITFIELDSo they -- and this gets to the point that American troops have pulled out from any kind of combat role. So if a journalist, you know, I've been to Afghanistan and I assume some of my colleagues here have, too. You know, you can embed with the U.S. troops and there's a certain amount of security you get with that, including, you know, being medivaced off a field, if you're hurt, by American helicopters. That no longer exists so American journalists over there have to embed with Afghan security forces.

  • 11:16:36

    KITFIELDNot as good. Not -- don't have the logistics, don't have the medivac so it's much more dangerous for these journalists and unfortunate -- you know, tragically with David, you know, they were in a convoy. It was in Helmond Province, as we've talked about, which is -- Taliban has, you know, a stronghold traditionally for them. They've come back there. They have a huge presence there. Their convoy was ambushed and these two journalists were tragically killed.

  • 11:17:00


  • 11:17:01

    ROZENYeah, that was exactly my point was that, you know, David Gilkey, in one of the pieces that NPR aired this week after his death, had talked about two other fellow photojournalists who had been killed in Libya and he was saying he felt like when he was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that someone always had his back. And it was striking and sad in the attack that killed him this week, that he was embedded with Afghan security forces. And it seemed to die for a conflict, you know, basically the Afghan's conflict that's become so distant from American public consciousness and it's very troubling.

  • 11:17:40

    GREGORYAnd the level of danger for journalists, how often we forget, especially those like David and his interpreter who were embedded and who, you know, are in very, very risky situations on a daily basis.

  • 11:17:54

    THAROORAbsolutely. The last few years has seen a really worrying, you know, state for journalism not -- you have dangerous conflict zones where they're facing lots of risk and at the same time, institutions that aren’t full able to support journalists in a long time.

  • 11:18:14

    GREGORYRight. We're going to take a break here. When we come back, more of the Friday News Roundup.

  • 11:20:02

    GREGORYWelcome back. I'm David Gregory sitting in today for Diane Rehm. We are -- during our discussion here, we are in the middle of our international hour of the Friday News Roundup. Joining me is James Kitfield, a contributing editor of the National Journal, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, Laura Rozen, reporter with Al-Monitor, and Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs writer for The Washington Post. We're taking your comments and calls as well. Please do join us. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. Or send an email to You can also find us on Facebook or send us a tweet.

  • 11:20:42

    GREGORYBefore the break, we were talking about the loss this week of David Gilkey of NPR and his Afghan interpreter, both killed on a -- as part of a convoy covering the war in Afghanistan. Joining us now is, from NPR headquarters here in Washington, D.C., is NPR reporter Jason Beaubien. Jason, it's good to have you. We're so sorry for you and your colleagues about your loss this week.

  • 11:21:11

    MR. JASON BEAUBIENOh, thank you. Good to be with you.

  • 11:21:13

    GREGORYYou knew David Gilkey well, of course. You worked with him, a number of hotspots over the year. And I was struck, in your own writing about him, about what made him such an effective storyteller.

  • 11:21:25

    BEAUBIENI think what made him an effective storyteller was that he was able to just get into situations and end up blending in, which is kind of amazing if you know David, because he's really a big guy. He was, you know, kind of bulky. He was over six feet. But he could get into a room, whether it be a hospital or, you know, a trench somewhere, and just end up becoming part of the scene so that people would just accept him. And he was able to absorb what's happening in those situations in a way that some other people aren't able to and to bring back stories such as what's happening even now in Afghanistan, because of putting himself into those places.

  • 11:22:11

    BEAUBIENAnd that was something he really sought out and was, you know, that's what he made his life work, with getting into some incredibly tough places, staying there, telling the story that might otherwise not get told.

  • 11:22:25

    GREGORYHow aware was he and how much did it weigh on his mind, the dangers that he faced, the dangers that he subjected himself to in covering the war?

  • 11:22:35

    BEAUBIENHe was very aware. He was covering Afghanistan since 9/11. He was in and out of there throughout this entire war and it was very much in the front of his mind. I mean, it -- he talked to me about it regularly. We just were in South Sudan and, you know, he was looking for going on this trip and he was nervous about it, and nervous in a good way. Nervous that he knew that it's a dangerous situation and he knew that the changing dynamics there, you know, with the U.S. role being pushed to the back burner and the Afghan forces coming to the forefront was making it much more risky.

  • 11:23:18

    BEAUBIENBut he also very much believed in, you know, that's why our team was there, that this portion of this story also needs to get told, not just, you know, the moment, you know, when the troops invade. It's very important to be covering this moment as well and what, you know, this part of U.S. foreign policy, you know, what's happening after U.S. troops pull back. And unfortunately, you know, his death does illustrate just how insecure it is and the huge challenges that are facing Afghan security forces. Unfortunately, you know, the loss of his life just really underscores that, that this is an incredibly difficult place not just for journalists but for other people who are looking for peace and stability there.

  • 11:24:11

    GREGORYRight and for Afghans as well, who...

  • 11:24:12


  • 11:24:13

    GREGORY...who work along with American journalists on the ground. And of course, I guess, what's so powerful, particularly about a photo-journalist, is his ability to bear witness visually and bring the story home in the way that he did.

  • 11:24:28

    BEAUBIENYeah. And, you know, his -- Zabi Tamanna was the Afghan translator that was working with him. You know, he's a journalist who also was a freelance writer from Afghanistan, also very dedicated to covering that, you know, and he lost his life in that attack as well.

  • 11:24:46

    GREGORYYeah. Jason Beaubien, thanks so much for being with us. Again, our condolences to you and to all of your colleagues. But your remembrances, I think, elevate David's life and his memory.

  • 11:24:57

    BEAUBIENGreat. Thank you very much.

  • 11:24:58

    GREGORYThank you. Laura, thought on this, about David Gilkey, before we move on?

  • 11:25:04

    ROZENNo. I've been very moved by his colleague's coverage of him and describing how he would make children and people he was covering sort of forget he was there and be very, very comfortable.

  • 11:25:13

    GREGORYHmm. Well, we'll continue to think about him, his family and his colleagues. In other international news this week, a big focus in the Middle East in both Syria and Iraq. In Syria, what was so striking, some good news. You had, Ishaan, you had international agencies able to get some food into suburban areas outside of Damascus. But you also saw Assad in a defiant speech saying that there's going to be nothing but war, that he wants to reclaim every inch of territory. What does it all mean?

  • 11:25:45

    THAROORIt's a muddled situation as it has been for some time. Assad, as we know, has long declared his desire to rid the country of terrorists. This is his shorthand for anybody who opposes him. And he gave a very kind of blustery speech in Damascus earlier this week, sort of doubling down on his desire to liberate, using his language, the whole country. He directed a program towards Turkish President Erdogan, who he believes wants to -- he has a kind of a better (word?) from his forces. And he signaled what is clearly also the intent of Moscow to an extent to support him in this endeavor.

  • 11:26:31

    THAROORThis is while you get the sense that whatever fragile ceasefire and stuff existed have constantly been violated. You have regime and Russian bombings around Aleppo hitting civilian targets.

  • 11:26:45

    GREGORYLike hospitals, principally.

  • 11:26:47

    THAROORExactly. And you also have at the same time a worrying offensive from the south of Aleppo from al-Qaida-linked militia, Jabhat al-Nusra. So it's an incredibly complicated situation. And within this maelstrom, ordinary civilians and people trying to flee a dizzyingly complicated conflict are finding it hard to find places to go. So while, yes, a bit of relief got through to certain communities, the actual space for escape is also being narrowed by the very sort of complicated set of offensives.

  • 11:27:20

    KITFIELDYou know, that speech to me signaled the end of any sort of charade about we're in the middle of a ceasefire and a peace process. There is no peace process and there is no ceasefire. And it was clear very early on that, you know Russia's talking about withdrawing its forces was a charade. The idea that he wouldn't attack -- he was only going to attack, quote, unquote, "terrorists." But he also includes those of the opposition who we've been supporting all along. It would -- this puts Secretary Kerry in a really precarious position, because he's been sort of trying to, you know, use the threat of military escalation on our part as coercion to keep Assad in line with the ceasefire.

  • 11:27:57

    KITFIELDHe's -- Assad's blown through every single, you know, directive involved in that ceasefire, whether it was blocking the humanitarian aid, whether it was attacking civilian, you know, structures like hospitals. And Kerry's looking more and more feckless. And it's very clear that Obama is not going to agree to any kind of escalation. So we're, you know, we've kind of got our secretary of state way out ahead of his skis, if you will. And it's making America look pretty feckless, because everyone understands we're not getting any more involved.

  • 11:28:24

    KITFIELDKerry has no other card to play and he's -- so he has to sort of keep up with -- I mean, the last deadline that was blown through was if they didn't open up these humanitarian corridors, we're going to do airdrops. And we've had till June 1 to do the airdrops. Well, that deadline passed, no airdrops. That would require U.S. Air Force to actually, you know, guarantee the safety of those aircraft who are doing the airdrops. That means getting in line with the Russians, who are totally not playing ball on this. So we're looking extremely feckless with this.

  • 11:28:51

    GREGORYAnd, Laura, we have aid agencies getting food into Damascus, which is a good sign that some of that work can be done. And yet you had airstrikes hitting three hospitals in Aleppo on Wednesday. Why? How is that happening?

  • 11:29:07

    ROZENYou know, aid got in for the first time in over three years to the Damascus suburb. But Darayya, last night, they were shelling it the day before, they're shelling it again today. But it's the first time these people have had bread in three years. The U.N. envoy, Staffan de Mistura, gave a grim press conference yesterday saying that he's pushing back the next round of peace talks because they're, you know, it's not ripe enough to bring about a solution. And he said that there is this pattern of sometimes the Assad regime giving written permission for aid to be delivered and then shelling the same city that's supposed to get the aid. And as you mentioned, pediatric hospitals are also being hit near Aleppo.

  • 11:29:46

    ROZENLet me just say that I think the situation is more muddled than a charade, a pure charade. Assad often gives these maximalist speeches and then a few days later the Russians push back on it.

  • 11:29:56


  • 11:29:57

    ROZENAnd again, we had that this week. The Russian, Iranian and Syrian defense ministers are meeting in Iran. And they came out and the Iran defense minister, a close ally of the Syrians, said, we support the ceasefire as long as it doesn't give an advantage to terrorists. And it was a much different message than you might expect from Assad's closest allies.

  • 11:30:17


  • 11:30:18

    THAROORI mean, I think, yes, in Teheran and in Moscow there is an understanding that Assad can't truly win this war and that, whatever advances need to be made, there's eventually going to have to be some kind of political situation. The question is, how much leverage can we give the Assad regime until we get to that point?

  • 11:30:39

    GREGORYA question on our website from Bishaun to this point. Can someone ask the guests about repartition of Syria and Iraq and/or establishing safe zones, as some, like Senator McCain of Arizona, have mentioned. A regional solution, breaking these warring factions into their constituent parts seems like a possible way to brink this stalemate. Anyone?

  • 11:31:02

    KITFIELDYou know, I have said for a long time that the chances of Syria becoming a unified country again, to me, are much less than 50 percent. Iraq, maybe 50 percent. And the problem is the problem of governance. You now have had so much bloodshed, so much slaughter, and it's sectarian in nature. So it's sect against sect, tribe against tribe. It's very hard for me to see how -- and clearly we have absolutely no leverage in dictating to these governments to make the reconciliation moves. Certainly, Assad's a butcher. He's killed more than 400,000 of his own civilians. He's off the table.

  • 11:31:35

    KITFIELDBut even in Iraq, we have been unable to get the prime minister there to sort of reach out to the Sunnis in a reconciliation process that is coherent in any fashion. So, yes, a federalism that looks like sort of patched together along the lines of the sects, you know, the Kurds in the north of Iraq, the Kurds in the north of Syria, the Sunnis in the west of Iraq, the Shias in the center and the south. This seems to me to be the most likely outcome. Because we have shown time and again, we would like to have some more of unified states here, but we have no leverage to force that and we have no military stake in the game to do that other than to attack ISIS.

  • 11:32:12

    GREGORYI'm David Gregory. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." About Iraq, Laura, here we have thousands fleeing the fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, this week. Tell us a little bit more about what's going on there.

  • 11:32:25

    ROZENSo the Iraqi government put Fallujah as a -- Fallujah a priority instead of Mosul, because it's so close to Baghdad and they were having terrorist attacks in Baghdad. And so you have these allied kind of Shiite militias that -- and you've seen the Iranian IRGC commander also in a photograph near Fallujah, you know, encircling it, and some U.S. airpower. And then you have these terrified Sunni residents of Fallujah inside, who are afraid of retribution from these Shiite militias and also having a very hard time getting out and ISIS using them as human shields.

  • 11:33:02

    ROZENSo it seems like more people got out and the U.S. has been pressuring the Iraqi government and the Shiite militias to not enter the city and to -- so there's been this kind of pause in the situation where they haven't taken the city yet.

  • 11:33:15

    GREGORYSo you have the fight against ISIS in Iraq, Ishaan. You also have Syrian rebels fighting with ISIS in Syria. How is it all going? Is ISIS getting weaker?

  • 11:33:28

    THAROORThe big picture is, yes, probably. But this is -- there's not immediate end in sight. ISIS has been losing ground on many fronts. But that doesn't mean its capacity to inflict harm has diminished. You're seeing it lash out in Iraq in all sorts of horrific suicide bombings and blasts. And its capacity to do so in parts of Syria remains the same as well. Also, I mean, this offensive that you're seeing in Iraq, led by the Iraqi government, on a certain level we've watched this movie before. This is -- they've gone into Anbar Province. Last year, they reclaimed Ramadi. A few months ago, they captured Hit. Now they're on the verge of approaching -- of regaining Fallujah.

  • 11:34:12

    THAROORBut the question is, as it was a decade ago, you may win this battle but how are you going to keep the peace?

  • 11:34:20

    GREGORYLet me go back to the phones here. Jerrod calling from San Antonia, Texas, this morning. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:34:27

    JERRODHi. My point was with, especially in Syria, which is a majority Sunni country, it's like we're trying -- I think our policy is flawed. Because we're trying to take back majority Sunni areas with militias that are pretty much Kurdish. And I think that's what started the problem in Syria to begin with, was a majority Sunni country being controlled by a minority Alawite family. And what have you seen? Through the last 40 years, like Hama, the people rise up, the Assad family massacres them. And now we have this again.

  • 11:35:01

    JERRODAnd so I think our policy of trying to take and hold Sunni areas with Kurdish militias or Shiite militias is flawed. We're basically saying to Syrians in Sunni and Iraq -- I mean, Sunnis in Syria and Iraq that you have to be controlled by another ethnic group.

  • 11:35:18

    GREGORYRight. Right. Thank you. Laura.

  • 11:35:21

    ROZENYeah. I mean, you sound like a lot of the Syrians opposition that I talk to and that are on Twitter and saying the same thing. You know, why doesn't the U.S. support a moderate Sunni force. And, you know, of course the U.S. does in Syria, the Free Syrian Army. But they found, I think, the Kurds more effective fighters and been able to take territory more.

  • 11:35:41

    THAROORI do think it's important to note that among the Kurdish militia, it's an umbrella group, it's called the SDF. There are Sunni-Arab units. And I think on a -- in a broader sense, Syria existed for centuries and at least for the last half century as a rather diverse, intermingled country. We talk about it in these kind of very broad-brush strokes, as this is Syria, this is Sunni, this is Shia, this is Kurdish, this is Alawite, and so on. But I think it's important to recognize that sectarianism is in part created by conflict, the -- and conflict that is political.

  • 11:36:16

    THAROORIt's not the other way around, that you had an Assad government that in a sense provoked these divisions, exploited these divisions to maintain power for so many decades, but it's a failure of political governance not a cultural hatred that triggered the Syrian conflict.

  • 11:36:33

    GREGORYJames, one of my questions is, in this election year in the U.S. and at a time when President Obama has made a big bet on inaction, particularly in Syria and Iraq, what is then left for the next president? And if it's Hillary Clinton, for example, we know that she's much more hawkish on these two questions than he is.

  • 11:36:57

    KITFIELDMm-hmm. You're left with a burning inbox and that's too bad. But quite honestly, Obama was left with a burning inbox too. So, you know, he's going to be passing one along. He's going to be in two wars that he had hoped to basically end by now. That is not going to happen. Whoever is the next president is going to inherit that. If you want, you know, it's impossible to tell what Donald Trump's going to do because he's so all over the place. You would think, from Hillary Clinton, we have a pretty good track record. She thought we should not have pulled out of Iraq -- all of our troops out of Iraq in 2011. And she also thought that we should have been more aggressive in Syria early on. So you would think that she'd be more aggressive there.

  • 11:37:36

    GREGORYYeah. We're going to take another break here. We'll come back, more of our discussion in the International News Roundup, your calls and questions as well.

  • 11:40:02

    GREGORYWelcome back. I'm David Gregory, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. We are back on the international news roundup here on Fridays. With us this hour, James Kitfield, contributing editor of the National Journal, Laura Rozen, a reporter with Al-Monitor, and Ishaan Tharoor, foreign affairs writer for The Washington Post. There is another round of violence across parts of the Middle East that we should turn our attention to, as well. Ishaan, in Turkey two deadly bombings this week, this morning a Kurdish militant group claiming responsibility for the attack in Istanbul, Prime Minister Erdogan coming to America to honor Muhammad Ali at his funeral in Louisville before returning home today. What can you tell us?

  • 11:40:46

    THAROORWell yes, this is part of a worrying trend we've seen over the past year of Kurdish groups. These are specifically a splinter faction of the main group that's known as the PKK bombing usually police or security force targets in Ankara and Istanbul. The last bombing this week was directed at a bus carrying police officers, and this is part of the, you know, decades-long, violent Kurdish insurgency against the Turkish state. What they have said, though, that this is -- what's particularly stressful for the Turkish government is that this is in a context where tourism is massively down in Turkey, where the Islamic state has also been launching attacks more on tourist targets than what the Kurds do, which is attack mostly the state and police officers and so on.

  • 11:41:42

    THAROORAnd this is part of the kind of unraveling you're seeing in Turkey, as well, which is also a spillover effect from the Syrian conflict and for all sorts of complicated reasons we can get into.

  • 11:41:53

    GREGORYBut it's also a time of political consolidation by Prime Minister Erdogan that's deeply troubling.

  • 11:41:58


  • 11:41:59

    GREGORYPresident, excuse me, deeply troubling within the country and to allies, as well.

  • 11:42:05

    ROZENYes, very much so, and, you know...

  • 11:42:06

    GREGORYRight, in fact, it's who he put in as prime minister that's part of that consolidation, right?

  • 11:42:09

    ROZENRight, right. No, and it's -- oh, it's adding to the tension in the U.S.-Turkey relationship because as we were mentioning in the earlier segment, the U.S. is working very closely with the PKK, the Syrian PKK in Syria, the YPG, to advance against ISIS, and they're very effective. And you saw U.S. Special Forces wearing the insignia of even this Syrian Kurdish group and getting in some trouble for it because it makes the Turks very frustrated, and they're, you know, suffering terrorism from this PKK offshoot.

  • 11:42:41

    KITFIELDYou know, to the earlier point, conflicts left to burn create all kinds of problems, sectarian conflict. You know, before the Syrian war, Erdogan had actually reached out to the Kurds and doing very well. I was in Turkey when he was doing this. The Turkish problem was on its way to going out of -- going away. But as soon as the Syrian war started to spill over, the Kurds, you know, agitating, people are fighting, Turkey has been inundated with more than two million Syrian refugees. Think about that.

  • 11:43:08

    KITFIELDAnd it's -- they're bringing a lot of violence with them, and it's -- and so Turkey's on its heels. It is fighting a renewed Kurdish separatist terrorist group, the PKK, who we recognize as a terrorist group, as well, as well as ISIS, which has launched attacks in Istanbul, which is a fantastic city, one of the great tourist draws in the world, is now a place where there's bombings almost every other month.

  • 11:43:31

    KITFIELDSo -- and we should not be surprised that the strongman of Turkey that Turkey is turning to in this time of crisis is someone like Erdogan, who's going to increase his authoritarian powers and is using this in a way to increase his authoritarian powers. So again, our friend Turkey, which is a NATO ally, is going off the rails on a number of fronts.

  • 11:43:49

    GREGORYAnd complicated, too, the fact that we are, the United States government, is a natural friend of the Kurds and the Kurdish movement between...

  • 11:43:57

    KITFIELDGreatly complicated.

  • 11:43:58

    GREGORYBetween Syria and Iraq and the complications with Turkey. I want to turn to Israel because here we also have, in a political moment in the United States, questions about the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and there's been quite a bit of turmoil within the Israeli government. And in the middle of all that, a deadly attack at a market at Tel-Aviv on Wednesday. Laura, remind us what happened there and what the response has been and the U.S. response to how the Israelis have handled it thus far.

  • 11:44:27

    ROZENIt's really tragic. Two cousins from Hebron, Palestinians, one who had been studying in Jordan, one who was from this town near Hebron, started shooting at a chocolate café in a nice part of Tel Aviv and killed four civilians and wounded several more. And there was this bizarre story, I don't know if you saw, that one of the shooters was wounded on the ground in the café, and the other one ran out and asked someone, a passerby, could he have a glass of water.

  • 11:45:04

    ROZENAnd he went into the person's home, it was an Israeli police officer, the police officer gave him the water, ran to the scene to try to help out, saw that the person on the ground, the shooter, was wearing the same suited outfit as the man he'd just let into his apartment, ran back and arrested him.

  • 11:45:17


  • 11:45:18

    ROZENHe was sitting with his wife.

  • 11:45:20

    GREGORYAnd so the response, James, to all of this by the Israeli government has been what?

  • 11:45:25

    KITFIELDTo basically, you know, stop 180,000 permits that allow Palestinians to come into Israel proper during the Ramadan month, to go to these cousins and basically take away all the work permits for their tribe, for their clan. And, you know, we should say this is part of a sort of low-level intifada that's been going on for about a year now, more than 30 Israelis killed, a couple of Americans, by Palestinian attacks.

  • 11:45:56

    KITFIELDYou know, before the last election, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there will be no two-state solution on his watch. He has appointed very rightwing people to his Cabinet, including his defense minister Avigdor Lieberman.

  • 11:46:10

    GREGORYYes, Lieberman, yeah.

  • 11:46:12

    KITFIELDWho himself is a settler. So there -- there's no hope in the situation anymore, and that lack of hope, which is something that our -- you know, this administration has worked on that the previous administration has worked on, going back 40 years American administrations have worked on the two-state solution because left -- it's like a shark, you know, left to its own devices, this conflict also will go, you know, south.

  • 11:46:35

    GREGORYAnd Ishaan, there was the concern by the State Department this week that the Israelis were engaged in a form of collective punishment, even though they felt there was obviously a need to respond, that it had gone too far.

  • 11:46:48

    THAROORYes, I mean, that's -- and you can interpret its current action, revoking tens of thousands of travel permits to ordinary Palestinians, as a very obvious form of collective punishment. And at the same time to pick up where James was speaking, what you are seeing is the effect of a very rightwing government in Israel that doesn't have to worry about a constituency that needs to see a two-state solution pushed forward. You had the morning, the terror attack in Tel Aviv was on Wednesday night. On Wednesday morning you had a top minister in Netanyahu's government proposing a plan to annex half of the West Bank.

  • 11:47:25

    THAROORSo you've seen the total unraveling of the peace process, even though it was moribund before, anyway, and at the same time you're seeing in Israel, when these, there horrible terrorist attacks happen, there is a conversation, but when they don't, there's not much of a concern for a political resolution to the Palestinian question.

  • 11:47:45

    GREGORYAnd Laura Rozen, what is it -- what are the implications? I mean, we're not going to get to Middle East peace, we're not going to get to Israeli-Palestinian peace or a process even this year, but there's a lot of handwringing going on in the U.S. about the U.S.-Israeli relationship, whether the Democratic Party, for instance, with the impact of Bernie Sanders, is taking a harder-line view toward Israel at a time when Israel is moving to the right.

  • 11:48:10

    ROZENI mean, I think especially in the debate over the Iran nuclear deal, there was a kind of chilling of the relationship between the Democratic Party and the Israeli government, and there was a sense that they were interfering too -- the Israeli government was interfering too much in a U.S. domestic political process. And I think there was also a perception earlier that Netanyahu in particular, you know, favors the Republicans and even in 2012 kind of maybe looked too much, whether it was true or not, that he supported Romney.

  • 11:48:38

    ROZENYou know, I feel like the Obama administration and the Democrats more widely are kind of -- they understand who Netanyahu is, and it's not like a -- there's not a huge amount of tension right now. The concern is what you all are saying, is how do we go from here, how do you preserve the two-state solution for a next administration to try to advance. You saw Kerry meet with -- go to a French-initiated conference last Friday, which seems like three months ago that the U.S. did not disguise their ambivalence about because they don't feel like the parties are ready to negotiate.

  • 11:49:11

    ROZENSo if France and Russia and the United States want a deal, it doesn't matter because Netanyahu's not going to do it. And you've seen Netanyahu reject that French proposal but say he might be interested in the Arab peace initiative if he could modify it and showing some willingness to have direct talks that the Arab states might support.

  • 11:49:29


  • 11:49:31

    KITFIELDTo your point about the politics of this, especially the United States, I mean the -- if I'm Israel, and I'm looking at Bernie Sanders and what he said, which is you have to consider the Palestinians in this equation, well not just Israel, I'm looking at a new generation of Americans and a new generation of Democrats that don't have the same feeling of the generation that we grew up with, watching the small country, democracy, Israel, fight all these Arab countries in six -- or five different wars, you know, a little David-and-Goliath thing.

  • 11:49:56

    KITFIELDYou know, we're 40 years into an occupation here that everyone admits has to be solved, and I think they're in danger, if they keep this drift to the right and keep sort of ignoring the need to reach a two-state solution, that you're going to -- they're going to lose a whole generation of Americans, and at that point there's be no one left to defend Israel in the United Nations. We're it. We're the only country that still defends it in the United Nations.

  • 11:50:17

    GREGORYThe question, though, is what kind of partner is available on the Palestinian side to work with if there were a willing Israeli government.

  • 11:50:26

    KITFIELDWell, I mean, for the longest time we've thought Abadi was -- Abbas, I should say, was about the best you could get, and -- but he's been marginalized by this sort of stalemate for so long that you have to wonder. I mean, that's been one of the warnings that we've been issuing to Israel is that this guy's about as good as you're going to get. But the next generation is going to be more radical, more extremist. That message never seemed to get across. So it's a problem.

  • 11:50:52

    THAROORAnd yes, absolutely, among the Palestinian street, to use that term of art, he's a -- him and the Fatah as a political movement are deeply unpopular. There have been all sorts of civil society protests against them and against the governance of the PA, and at the same time you also have the other alternative is Hamas, which is nobody's real alternative.

  • 11:51:17

    GREGORYI'm David Gregory, you are listening to the Diane Rehm Show. If the Middle East peace is not going to be the president's legacy, there are other aspects of his foreign policy that he's spending considerable time on, and one is climate change, something that he's spoken out about forcefully. And we had a visit this week by India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, visiting the White House, and he and the president made several announcement, James, first of all announced a crucial step toward ratifying the Paris agreement to limit greenhouse gases, bringing the accord close to full implementation.

  • 11:51:52

    GREGORYAnd the fact that India wanted to ratify that this year is significant. Explain why.

  • 11:51:58

    KITFIELDWell, because this is -- this is an Obama legacy issue, the Paris accords and to address climate change. It's the most aggressive accord, international, that we've reached. He wants that very much to be part of his legacy. It has to get 55 percent of the pollution -- the countries responsible for polluting greenhouses gases onboard, and then it becomes ratified. And India is such a big country and such a big polluter that it gets it very close to that -- to that ratification number.

  • 11:52:27

    KITFIELDAnd if that happens, it's much harder for, say, a future President Trump to do what he said he wants to do, which is basically to tear the accord up. So it's very important for them to get over this goal line of ratification before the end of this year, and India just gave them a huge bump in that direction.

  • 11:52:44

    GREGORYI remember covering the Bush administration, and when we were in India, and the business cooperation, and of course India is going to be buying all these nuclear reactors, completing that deal by next year, you have closer business ties, you have the environmental tie but now, you know, closer military ties, as well, Laura.

  • 11:53:01

    ROZENYes, and I was struck. I was at the White House press briefing the day that Modi and Obama were having lunch. And, you know, you have the leaders of the two largest democracies in the world, and about 75 percent of the questions at the press briefing were about, you know, when is Obama going to nominate -- endorse Hillary Clinton. It was, you know, the campaign fever and the, you know -- basically I think so much of what we're discussing today about Obama's foreign policy legacy depends on who succeeds him in the White House and will there be someone there who can secure the Iran deal, can advance the climate change agreement, k, on health care and other issues, as well.

  • 11:53:39

    ROZENAnd it seems to have sort of changed the focus of even what the White House is thinking about these days.

  • 11:53:41

    GREGORYIshaan, again the issue with Obama's foreign policy overall is very much suspended around two propositions, one that America's inaction will prove to be the right course, and yet he has a potential successor here who's likely to be a little bit more adventurous than he was in foreign affairs.

  • 11:54:06

    THAROORIndeed, and rather than inaction, it's kind of enshrined as sort of inertia in a numerous set of places, from Iraq to Palestine to the sort of grinding stalemate we're seeing in Syria. And yeah, we'll see how his former secretary of state, if she does end up being president, takes forward some of the initiatives or sort of stillborn policy ideas that existed before.

  • 11:54:35

    THAROORI think the one thing that Secretary of State Clinton did propose was this pivot to Asia that we haven't really seen come into fruition. Deepening ties with India is certainly part of that pivot strategically, as well as a reinvigorated commitment to some kind of role in policing the South China Sea, as was discussed earlier this week by Secretary Kerry.

  • 11:54:59

    THAROORBut yes, it does certainly hinge on a Democratic victory in November.

  • 11:55:05

    GREGORYI think one of the more fundamental questions, James, is whether America's safer. You have threats in the South China Sea, you have the pivot to Asia, you have Iraq and Afghanistan in this kind of stalled and very worrisome place and of course ISIS. How safe are we at this stage, after eight years of Obama, nearly?

  • 11:55:25

    KITFIELDWe're not -- I wouldn't say we're safer, but I don't put all that on Obama, either. These are very, very trying times. I think they would tax any leader. But if you listen to our national security top, you know, DNI Clapper up to the chairman of the joint chiefs, this is the most complex array of threats they have seen in their 40 years. I would agree with that. The world is increasingly unstable, and we're seeing that -- and America is increasingly in a retrenchment mode under Obama.

  • 11:55:56

    KITFIELDFine, I understand the rationale behind that, but we've created a lot of vacuums that are being filled by very, very bad actors, whether it's the ISIS of the world and Islamic extremists writ large or whether Russia, you know, feels more aggressive in Ukraine and Crimea or China and the South China Sea. Clearly the world feels the absence of American power, and it is -- the vacuum is being filled by bad actors, and the next president is going to have to deal with that.

  • 11:56:20

    GREGORYGo ahead, Laura.

  • 11:56:23

    ROZENIt's not very sexy, but I will say that there's a kind of model I've seen in U.S. diplomacy the past couple years of, you know, where you get all the countries that are involved in a conflict like Syria, Russia, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and you get them into the room and you sort of hammer out an international framework and a roadmap, and you keep hearing the same lingo. At the same time, the conflict is still going on, and you look for opportunities to be able to advance it.

  • 11:56:46

    ROZENAnd I do think that is something that -- it is not sexy, it has not shown the results anyone would wish, but they did get a partial ceasefire that has reduced the violence partly in Syria, even if it's not what we would want, and I think that is something that Secretary Clinton, if she wins the White House, and who knows who will be advising President Trump if he wins the White House, would be using when they inherit these horrible conflicts.

  • 11:57:09

    THAROORDespite the chaos of the moment in various places, I think there's still a very strong argument for the Obama, that inaction is probably preferable to aggressive action in certain arenas. In Iraq, we're still living with the legacy of the Iraq War, and perhaps that's overshadowed much of the conversation. But there are arguments on both sides in this very muddled picture.

  • 11:57:30

    GREGORYAll right, thank you all very much for your time and for your thoughts today. I'm David Gregory, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks so much for listening. Have a good weekend.

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