Lawfare's Quinta Jurecic on what's next for the January 6th Committee and the steps Congress can take to safeguard American democracy.
Guest Host: Susan Page
International reaction to the mass shooting in Orlando. A British lawmaker dies in an attack and the country halts its campaign on the European Union referendum. And Russian government hackers are accused of breaking in to Democratic National Committee files. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Yochi Dreazen Managing editor, Foreign Policy; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Nancy Youssef Senior defense and national security correspondent, The Daily Beast
- Geoff Dyer Foreign policy correspondent, Financial Times; author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--and How America Can Win"
- Gaby Hinsliff Political columnist, the Guardian newspaper
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Global reaction to the mass shooting in Orlando. A British lawmaker is killed in an attack that brings the country's campaigning on the EU referendum to a halt. And more than 50 U.S. diplomats urge a reluctant President Obama to order military strikes against Syria's government.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen with Foreign Policy, Nancy Youssef at the Daily Beast and Geoff Dyer with the Financial Times. Thank you for joining us.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
MR. GEOFF DYERHi, Susan.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can always find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, let's start with a scoop this morning. I believe it was in the New York Times that 51 state department officials signed a memo urging the U.S. to carry out targeted air strikes against the Syrian government. This is interesting, it seems to me, Yochi, because it is really at odds with President Obama's policy and because it's a significant number of diplomats signing it. Is that unusual?
DREAZENIt is. I mean, this channel was set up specifically for this reason. It was set up so that people who thought policy was wrong had a formal way to do it without fear of retribution. What's interesting to me about this, beyond the fact that it's so many, as you said, and beyond the fact that it's so different from what the White House is doing is that there's no question that what the White House has said is its only strategy has failed.
DREAZENThere's absolutely no question about that. They've said they're committed to a diplomatic solution, that they're invested in finding a diplomatic deal. Talks have broken down. Assad says he will reclaim by force every territory that was lost. So there's no question all the strategies failed. The question then becomes what's the next strategy. And this could force the White House to either, you know, admit to the failure or potentially shift towards something that may not be air strike, but what's been called plan B, which would be arming moderate rebels, doing other things in the margin that are more aggressive than what's being down now.
PAGEWell, John Kerry, the Secretary of State, has talked about you have to have a plan B or else you have negotiating leverage at all. Is this what he has in mind?
YOUSSEFWell, what I thought was interesting in this is that the argument was that there should be more air strikes against Bashar al-Assad and it wasn't clear where and it wasn't clear that that would be effectual in terms of bringing stability to Syria, because -- and perhaps this is the military correspondent in me. There's nothing to indicate that air strikes alone will lead to the fall of Bashar al-Assad or the problems that plague Syria.
YOUSSEFAnd so I thought it was interesting that there's sort of this reach for a military solution from the diplomatic chord no less for a solution in Syria. And, moreover, the efforts, as Yochi talked about, in terms of the diplomacy have been quite challenging, but also arming moderate rebels in Aleppo, which is Syria's biggest city, those -- the moderate rebels that have been armed by the United States are in big, big trouble.
YOUSSEFThey've come under assault from Russian air strikes, from ISIS in some cases and so even those strategies that have been tried towards bringing down the Assad regime have struggled. And so where the solution comes from not only in terms of bringing down Assad, but who would come after him and what Syria would look like are still unanswered, even through this cable.
PAGESo this -- if there are all these unanswered questions about how it would work and if it would work, signing this is just a statement that what's currently happening is not working, Geoff?
DYERI think that's right. I mean, I think that what this tells you and shows you is that for the last three, four years, there's been a huge amount of dissatisfaction within the administration, within the bureaucracy about Syria policy. And the president has received lots of proposals over the last few years to do more to either, you know, conduct air strikes against the regime, to give more aid to rebels. And he's been very, very reluctant all this time to do that. He's afraid that, you know, these are just steps down a slippery slope that will pull the U.S., you know, fully into this war.
DYERAnd so he's been pushing back almost alone against a lot of the bureaucracy for the last few years. And just the fact that they're so many of these state department officials signing this letter just tells you the amount of churn there has been within the bureaucracy, within the system over Syria policy.
PAGESo Yochi, does this prompt -- what are the odds this prompts President Obama to rethink his opposition to these air strikes?
DREAZENZero. I mean, I think he has made clear that he considers himself to have made a historically correct choice by keeping the U.S. out of what could be a decade's long civil war. One other point, it's worth remembering that the state department, under John Kerry, has been more hawkish on Syria than the Pentagon for several years. You know, if we think back to right before the infamous Obama red line walk-back, where first he said he would bomb Syria for the chemical weapons attack, then last minute he said he wouldn't, John Kerry was the person -- not anyone from the Pentagon -- who went out the day before to give a Churchillian desk-pounding, this has gone too far, there will be repercussions.
DREAZENYou know, the strongest possible statement of imminent use of military force. President Obama, then, reversed it the next day without telling him. But that was the state department making those comments. Not the Pentagon.
YOUSSEFI would just say to that, what the Pentagon's commitment has been to is defeating ISIS, weakening ISIS, not answering the question of what happens to Syria. It has been extremely narrow. To the point, that when we started seeing moderate opposition who've been armed by the United States coming under attack in Aleppo, the U.S. military position was, essentially, that's not our problem because that doesn't get at the question of ISIS.
PAGELet's talk about the terrible shooting in Orlando this week, which we talked about in the first hour, in the domestic hour of the News Roundup. What was the reaction around the world, Geoff?
DYERAn outpouring of sympathy, I think, was the simple way to describe it. Sympathy of just the raw nature of the violence, but also in particular sympathy of the fact that it was a LGBT -- a gay club that was attacked. That caused a huge amount of reaction around the world. So you saw, for instance, in Soho in London, a massive vigil of people turned out in sympathy to the victims. The London Gay Men's Choir sang a beautiful song. There were several thousand people there.
DYERYou even saw a lot of sympathy in a place like Russia, which has come under a lot of criticism in recent years for its 2013 law, which seemed to ban what they called gay propaganda. But even Russian foreign minister officials came out in public and criticized some homophobic reactions that had been on the Internet in Russia. So there's really a strong wave of sympathy, particularly around the LGBT aspect of this tragedy.
PAGEYou know, that's interesting because that's different than what we might have seen a decade ago when it comes -- right, yeah.
DYEREven two years ago, it would've been very different. I mean, it's a real sort of, you know, a mark of the way that the cultures change and the way that the people around the world think about these issues.
PAGEWhat about the ISIS aspect of this? Because we don't know -- there's a lot we don't know about the shooter, but we do know that he was at least claiming some allegiance to ISIS.
DREAZENRight. As was the case in San Bernardino. And there's been the fear not just of, you know, so-called lone wolf attackers, people who don't have actual communication from ISIS, not receiving money from ISIS or directives from ISIS, but are drawn to the cause. And there's something very interesting and very scary that not long ago, al-Qaida was the group that if you wanted to carry out an attack and you wanted to just name yourself a terrorist to global attention, you would say you were al-Qaida in area X, al-Qaida in area Y.
DREAZENNow you say you're part of the Islamic State. That was the case in London. That was the case in Paris and this horrible attack involving the policeman and his partner and their child, which I'm sure we'll get to. That was the case in San Bernardino and now it's the case in Orlando. It was interesting that one of the comments that came out, you know, to Geoff's point about sympathy on the other end of it, the people in the Brexit camp, the camp that says let us leave the EU, part of that camp -- an argument right after the Orlando attack was there will be an attack in Britain like this because this deal, if we stay in the EU, will allow in too many Muslims.
DREAZENWhere it was an explicit fear tactic of saying Orlando happened in America. This will happen here in England if Muslims keep coming. So you're seeing this outpouring of support on the one hand, but then, you're also seeing the kind of Trump message spread to other countries of keep Muslims out because inherently they're dangerous.
YOUSSEFOne of the things that I took away, as someone who's been covering the war and ISIS, is we've seen a lot of territory losses suffered by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. By U.S. military estimate, 45 percent of the land they held in Iraq, 20 percent in Syria. And yet, the group continues to be potent, that it is essentially a virtual caliphate and, in fact, as it's lost territory, we've seen it move towards less of a caliphate in the physical sense and more of a terror group. We've seen bombings in Baghdad.
YOUSSEFAnd in the run-up to this, in the run-up to Ramadan, we saw a message from a spokesman calling for people to do these kinds of attacks. And so the challenge is, with the U.S. strategies, even as you lose territory, it doesn't eliminate the ISIS threat because as long as they're able to inspire or lead people to do things in their name, they continue on, even as it appears with each of these attacks, they have less and less actual say in terms of the operations, the funding, the directing of these attacks.
YOUSSEFSo on one hand, if you go after the territory, you have the threat of these kinds of attacks. If you don't go after the territory, it's a breeding ground for them to train, direct, fund attacks like Paris and Brussels.
PAGEWe want to talk about what's happening on the ground in Iraq in just a minute, but first, Geoff, tell us about this attack that Yochi mentioned in Paris of an off-duty police officer. Really a terrible story.
DYERAnother truly tragic and grim event from this week. He was an off-duty police officer. He was stabbed by someone who also claimed to be doing so in the name of ISIS, who, apparently, seemed to stream the event on his Facebook page while the attack was taking place. The police officer's wife was also attacked and their three-year-old child was with them at the time. So a truly grim event. But it also -- it does shed some of the light on the very, the slightly different kinds of challenges that law enforcement faces in Europe and faces in the U.S.
DYERIn the U.S. with the Omar Mateen case, we've seen this complicated story this week of someone who had some sort of vague attraction to jihadi causes, but unclear just how strongly. But self-radicalizes over the Internet from mixed in with a complicated story, but maybe mental illness. In this case, what we see is someone who had a past history of support for terrorist organizations, was a hardened criminal and spent time in prison. And what you find particularly in France and Belgium is these networks of ISIS sympathizers.
DYERA lot of them really have connections with convicts. A lot of them spent time in prison. Prison is often sometimes a place where they have become radicalized. It's a very different type of person, although ending up with the same kind of -- same very grime type of action.
PAGEAnd so in both cases, known to law enforcement officials, thought perhaps to be a danger and yet, not stopped before they attacked.
DYERAnd in the French case, not only been in prison, but he'd been under surveillance for some time as well.
PAGEGeoff Dyer, he's the foreign policy correspondent for the Financial Times and we're also joined this hour by Nancy Youssef, the senior defense and national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of Foreign Policy. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to be joined on the phone by Gaby Hinsliff. She's joining us from Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom.
PAGEShe's a columnist with The Guardian newspaper. She's going to bring us up-to-date on the latest that's happening there in the wake of the terrible death yesterday of Jo Cox. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're joined now from Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom by Gaby Hinsliff, a political columnist with the Guardian newspaper. Gaby, thanks so much for joining us.
MS. GABY HINSLIFFThank you for having me.
PAGEWe, of course, have been reading and hearing about the death of Jo Cox, a rising star in Britain's parliament, shot and stabbed to death yesterday. Bring us up to date on what we know now about this attack.
HINSLIFFYeah. I mean, the mood here is just very shocked, numb, disbelieving. People kind of can't take it in. We've thought of ourselves as a country where this sort of thing doesn't happen, where gun crime is rare. And we're still really trying to unravel what happened here. There is obviously a suspect being questioned by police. But it's unclear, as yet, exactly what his motive is. But the conversation here today is very much about reflecting on our political culture, I would say.
HINSLIFFWe've been going through a very bitter, very angry referendum campaign on whether Britain should leave Europe. It's got very personal. And that's got people wondering -- maybe that has nothing to do with this killing -- but it has got people thinking, is this actually how we want to do politics? Is it safe to do politics amid this kind of climate of rage really and very personal attacks by politicians on each other.
PAGEWell, of course, Jo Cox was, as I understand it, an advocate of staying in the EU.
HINSLIFFShe was. And...
PAGESo that -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
HINSLIFFSorry. I was going to say, she was also a very passionate advocate for the rights of refugees. And immigration has been a huge issue in this campaign. You know, this issue was very much at the heart of the issues involved here. But as I say, you know, we don't yet know what the motivation for this attack was, whether this had anything to do with it or not.
PAGEWell, there were reports that the assailant shouted, Britain first, during the attack. Do we know now if that's correct, that he did indeed say that?
HINSLIFFWe have conflicting eyewitness reports. There are a couple of eyewitnesses who say they did hear him say something like Britain first or put Britain first, that's the name of the far-right political movement here. But it's also more generally used as a slogan for wanting less immigration. But there are other eyewitnesses who say they didn't hear that. So it's unclear. It also looks as if the suspect who's currently being questioned, we know had a history of mental health problems. And also there is some evidence of far-right sympathies. It's looks as if he subscribed to a South African neo-Nazi magazine, for example, but that was back in the 1980s.
HINSLIFFSo it's still unclear whether that is what drives it, or whether, you know, his mental state may have had more to do with it, or whether there's some other element that we're missing. You know, was there a personal grudge against her or some issue that we're unaware of in the background? So there's a lot of debate about quite where this is coming from.
PAGEThe Brexit vote -- the campaigning on it has been halted for a day or two.
PAGEBut the Brexit vote is expected to go ahead next week, is that correct?
HINSLIFFYes. I think it's kind of too late to call off the referendum now. But campaigning is suspended, I expect at least until the beginning of next week. No one really has the appetite for arguing about what feels like almost a petty issue now by comparison.
PAGEYou know, we know that from polling that it's been a pretty close fight. We think the divide is pretty close in Britain. What kind of impact do you think this could have on the vote?
HINSLIFFIt's very hard to say. I think both the remain and leave sides are very wary of being seen to politicize this death by kind of, you know, saying it will go one way or the other. But I think what it has made people do, there's been a lot of talk about how fragile, how precious democracy is. You know, it's being seen not just as an attack on one woman, but as an attack on democracy itself, you know, when politicians (word?) keeps doing their jobs. And I think -- what I think it really will do is make people turn out and vote. You know, Jo Cox gave her life to fighting for the things that she believed in and, quite literally, seems to have paid the price of a life for that. The least the rest of us can do is turn out the vote, put a cross in a box.
HINSLIFFSo I think it will be a very high turnout. And I think a lot of people will have her in mind as they vote.
PAGEGaby Hinsliff, thank you so much for joining us.
PAGEGaby Hinsliff is a political columnist with the Guardian newspaper. And she was joining us from Oxfordshire in the U.K. You know, I'm really struck by what seems to be a different response in the U.K. to a political assassination, to what happens after shootings here. I mean, I'm thinking that they seem a little less -- more reflective and less political in their response. Is that fair, Yochi, do you think?
DREAZENI think that there's less fear mongering there than here. I mean, post-Orlando, you've had every Republican who spoke to it say, this proves Obama's failing. I mean, John McCain had that really kind of offensive phrase that Obama was directly responsible for the atrocity and the massacre in Orlando. In Britain, you do -- I think part of it, as in Israel, is that this is a country that's seen terrorism before. It's seen politicians assassinated. It's seen attempts to kill politicians. It's seen car bombings and other attacks. Here, we sort of give in immediately to fear, anger and now bigotry, in a way that that country doesn't.
PAGENancy, what do you think?
YOUSSEFI couldn't help but think about Gabby Giffords and what happened to her, which is quite similar. And there seemed to be an impassioned debate then. And what struck me is that both women really seemed to care about the issue and be really connected with their voters in a way that we don't often see. And I think in a way, because of that, there's a commitment to sort of talking about issues and not delving into sort of vitriol. Now, whether it leads to substantive change in the U.K., we'll see. We didn't really see that here after Gabby Giffords' injury, even though here was a congresswoman who had been shot while meeting with her constituents.
YOUSSEFBut you hear about Jo Cox and her compassion toward Syrian refugees, her eagerness to go out and really meet the voters, that it seems that it would be almost inappropriate to do anything other than, as Gabby said, go out and vote. And I think whether that leads to substantive change, we'll see. But it -- we can't dismiss the value that it's leading to changes in rhetoric, because it has been quite ugly, the debate over the Brexit, just in terms of language.
PAGEGeoff, what kind of impact do you think this terrible attack is likely to have on next week's vote?
DYERWell, it's very hard to say in substantive terms because we just don't know about the motives and so on. But I think what Gaby Hinsliff said, the most interesting thing was the issue about the turnout. That's where it really could affect the election. Because, if it's a high turnout, that will favor the remain camp. This is one of these elections where the passion is on the leave side and the people who want to leave the EU on the Brexit side. So their base is more motivated because they're really highly strung up about this issue. And the risk for the government that wants to stay in the EU is that the people who want to stay don't actually turn their vote. They're not so motivated. They're not quite so interested.
DYERIf this does actually lead to a much higher turnout than was previously expected, then that's probably very good news for the remain camp.
PAGEOur friend, Jerry Seib, of The Wall Street Journal -- often a panelist here on "The News Roundup," had an interesting column this morning where he talked about parallels between the impulse toward this Brexit vote and what we see in American politics happening in our presidential election, that there's really some discontent that's fueling prospects that we hadn't considered to be really very likely politically.
DREAZENYeah. I mean, it's also interesting that in one case though, in the case of the Brexit, you have a vote that's imminent. So you will imminently see, potentially, as Geoff mentioned, whether turnout is higher than expected and we will imminently see whether the Brexit happened or doesn't happen. In the presidential race, we're still unbearably six long months away from this hellish nightmare finally coming to an end. I mean, the Brexit, one way or another, it ends next week.
DREAZENIn the case of this election, even though there are parallels, it will continue. Things will get uglier most likely because the kind of bigotry you're hearing is not dissipating. If anything, it's getting louder. And one can only wish that we were as close to a decision here as they are to in Britain.
PAGEDoes the Brexit vote matter to America, to the United States, Nancy? Is this going to have implications for us?
YOUSSEFSure. I mean, in the sense that if you have a U.K. that leaves the European Union, there's fears of recession and potentially global recession, that this is not just in the isolation of Europe but has the potential of real effects on the world economy, given -- depending on how it goes, particularly if the U.K. decides to leave. It's hard to see that it doesn't have some implications on the world economy.
PAGELet's talk about what's happening in Iraq. There have been some big developments on the ground. News out just this morning, the Iraqi military says they took back a central government compound in Fallujah. That's a name a lot of Americans recognize because of the long U.S.-led war there. How significant is this do you think? Yochi.
DREAZENI think if Fallujah is retaken and if it's retaken relatively quickly, it will be one of -- one step in a very important process. But the second test will be, once Fallujah is back in government hands, what's done to the Sunni population of Fallujah? There have already been reports, fairly credibly, that Shiite militias have been abducting, torturing, killing Sunni residents of the city, as those Sunni residents tried to flee the fighting.
DREAZENIf that continues, that suggests that the war for Mosul -- which is the ultimate battle that will take place at some point this year or next year for Iraq and U.S. on one side and ISIS on the other -- if you do see evidence that Shiite militia, who are doing the vast bulk of the fighting, cannot be restrained, that their inclination is, fight to take the city and while you're doing it kill as many Sunnis as you can, that would be one step forward on the battlefield but one step massively backward in the sectarian strife.
YOUSSEFI would just add to that, that it's -- domestically, the embattled prime minister there, Haider al-Abadi, needed this victory, particularly because there's a perception among some Iraqis that a lot of the bombings that have been inflicted on Baghdad in recent weeks are coming from fighters traveling by way of Fallujah. And I think just having this sort of military victory has been essential, given that he's been under tremendous pressure and facing internal strife over the future of his premiership.
YOUSSEFThat said, how much affect Mosul would have on -- or, excuse me, Fallujah would have on Mosul is really not clear. Because the city of Mosul was not essential to actually removing ISIS from its capital in Iraq, in the city of Mosul. And so this was a battle that the Iraqis wanted more than the U.S. And if it falls or appears to fall in the next few weeks, it'd be faster than we anticipated and it would be a huge boost potentially to the prime minister.
PAGEAll right. Let's go to the phones. We'll go to Florida Keys, Fla., and talk to Shaun. Shaun, hi. You're on the air.
SHAUNVery pleasant, good morning, all. You know, we discuss ad nauseam these conflicts that are going on in the Middle East. We try to discuss them in such a way that it makes sense, that we understand them. We don't understand them. We created these problems. And creating these problems, well like what we're doing now is just creating further problems. We can't solve those problems. If we're going to do anything, let's take food over and try to get them some electricity and do a few things, but get the hell out of there. The only thing we're doing is continuing to follow along with what the British Empire did. They failed, just as the Romans did, just as every other empire has failed. We call -- don't call ourselves an empire, but that's exactly what we're doing.
SHAUNAnd now they're coming over here. And we're worried about the terrorists that are going to be coming over here. And we're completely ignoring any kind of reality as to why they might be coming over here. We're over there blowing up all sorts of things.
PAGEYou know, Shaun, thanks very much for your call. You know, your comments are something like an email we got from Muhammad in Alexandria. He writes, why do you and the U.S. media pass over the fact that the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq and the destruction of its civil society is the major if not the source of ISIS-related terrorism emanating from the Middle East. Is that something that we have not paid sufficient attention to, do you think, Nancy?
YOUSSEFI don't know. I feel like it's something that comes up in some context in every one of these stories we write and every policy decision that's been made in the region since then. I have to tell you, I have this debate with my Iraqi friends all the time. And often where we sort of differ is not about whether the 2003 invasion was sort of the first domino to fall, but what responsibility do the Iraqis have in trying to rebuild a state that isn't so sectarian based? I mean, you can argue that the U.S. created that system with the government it formed. But how -- where is the Iraqi responsibility in sort of rebuilding the state?
YOUSSEFI say that because your previous caller talked about, why not put in money towards reconstruction? There were actually billions put in and billions stolen by Iraqi elected leaders. And so it -- I wish it were as simple as just remove the military and put money into the state, because that hasn't proven to be a successful approach either.
PAGEYou know, in Shaun's comments on the phone, Geoff, it seemed to me you heard some echoes of the debate that's going on in Great Britain now.
DYEROver whether to be involved in Syria or?
PAGEYes. And now we're being -- now we have all these immigrants coming in, creating problems. And we should, I mean, he's basically arguing we should withdraw a bit from the world, right? Because we can't solve these problems and we just get enmeshed in them.
DYERAbsolutely. That's been a big part of the Brexit debate. That the people who want to leave the EU, they in a sense want to try and set up a bit of a fortress. One of the main phrases they use is, we can take control of our destiny by leaving the EU. Somehow we can isolate ourself from these problems and just block ourselves off with the English Channel and we'll be cut off from all the turmoil in the Middle East. Most people think that's a very naïve and head-in-the-sand type of view, but it's definitely part of the underlying political debate.
PAGEYou know, when the referendum got started, I think there was some skepticism it could pass. Now, polls show it very close. Have you been surprised by the success that it's had so far, whether or not it passes next week?
DYERVery much so. I mean, one of the striking things is that the elite of opinion now amongst economists and so on has been absolutely, almost overwhelming, saying that it's a very, very, very bad idea. But really and that -- another echo of the Trump phenomenon here, there's a very strong anti-elite opinion amongst the U.K. voters at the moment. They really don't care so much that all these big wigs at the IMF and the OECD are telling them that it's a bad idea. And that they don't respect institutions in the same way that we're seeing some of this revolt against the establishment that's been bolstering Donald Trump.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's talk briefly about this deal Iran is negotiating with Boeing. What do we know about this, Yochi?
DREAZENWe know two things. One, it's enormous. It's potentially worth tens of billions of dollars, although the exact size is not yet known. It also means that you will have American planes flying the friendly skies of Iran for the first time since 1979. This is the second major deal Iran has signed with aircraft makers. The first was with Airbus earlier in January. But this is interesting for a lot of reasons. One, it's an American company. It's an American company that builds a lot of the U.S. civilian fleet. It has -- Boeing has military contracts. But also because it's still not clear -- it's still not clear exactly what an American company doing business in Iran has to go through to do business in Iran.
DREAZENAnd the supreme leader, who loves to use Twitter -- we've nicknamed him -- in our office, we call him the Ayatrollah, because he just loves to tweet out things at the U.S. He's tweeted out repeatedly that the sanctions haven't been lifted, regulations are still unclear and he's willing to tear up the deal because of it. So it's interesting that you have the Ayatollah saying, it's still not moving quickly enough. You have Boeing signing a deal. And you have Washington saying, we still don't quite know how you, Boeing, will do business without running afoul of sanctions.
PAGEThis could solidify, though, or improve U.S.-Iranian relations, right? A business relationship, a huge -- the purchase of a huge number of these airplanes.
YOUSSEFWell, it would be the first major contract signing since the Iran deal was negotiated. But you're hearing Republicans coming out and great opposition to it. For Iran, this would be an opportunity to improve its aging fleet. But it's interesting that, even in this debate, the Iran deal might have been signed. But from both sides, you still hear reference to the great Satan in Iran and here to the rhetoric about Iran and its role in things like Syria and everything else, that even though the ink has dried on the contract, it hasn't changed attitudes. And this is potentially the very first step in it. But where it goes and how long it'll take before we start to see substantive changes in terms of how the rhetoric is exchanged between the two countries, we'll have to wait and see.
DYERI think, symbolically, it's very important. Because what you've seen since the Iran deal was signed was it was supposed to be a case of Iran agrees to give up on its nuclear weapons program for at least, for some number of years, and get sanctions relief in return. But since then you've seen a whole bunch of particularly European banks and companies afraid to go back into Iran, even though in theory the sanctions -- many of the sanctions are going to be lifted. Because they're afraid that the U.S. authorities are going to find some way to catch them up on the remaining sanctions that exist.
DYERSo seeing that a big U.S. company, with the approval of the U.S. government, is doing such a high-profile in Iran might help change some of the sentiment amongst other countries in the world whether or not it's safe to go back into Iran or not.
PAGENancy, you said some Republicans are against this. Republicans are usually in favor of commerce. Why are they against this deal?
YOUSSEFBecause it's the Iran deal. And they're opposed to that. And, as Geoff pointed out, that this would be sort of sanctioning the deal and showing its potential progress and economic development within Iran. And so on -- realistically, this is a potential political win for the president and they're not going to give in that easily.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to talk about those Russian hackers attacking the Democratic National Committee computer system in search of knowledge of Donald Trump. And we're going to take your calls. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio for the international hour of our "Friday News Roundup," Nancy Youssef, senior defense and national security correspondent for The Daily Beast, Geoff Dyer, he's the author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China -- and How American Can Win," and Yochi Dreazen, he is the author of "The Invisible Front."
PAGEWell, this is just in, the global governing body for track and field has just announced that Russia's track and field team has been barred from competing in this summer's Rio games because of a far-reaching doping conspiracy. Yochi, I think there's some sense that this has never happened before in the Olympics' history.
DREAZENIt's sort of mind boggling. I mean, this stems back in some cases to a really extraordinary piece of writing in The New York Times where they had done a deep investigative piece about systematic Russian doping during the Sochi Olympics, where basically the Russian Intelligence Service was helping to sneak clean urine in and, you know, drugged urine out. So, I mean, really think about that. Like the Russian -- the equivalent to the Russian FBI and CIA were helping athletes cheat. And that raised the immediate question of, should Sochi be revisited? Should those gold medals be revoked? And there was enormous pressure because Russia has been accused in tournaments other than the Olympics to do what has just been done.
DREAZENIt was thought that it couldn't possibly happen because Russia is enormous. Russia has hosted the Olympics recently and spent $50 or $60 billion doing so. They have denied the charges. But for this to happen in advance of Rio, which is already losing people because of Zika, the fact that they've just impeached their president, their water supply is full of disgusting toilet-esque things, I mean, these Olympics will be potentially catastrophic. And the fact that Russia is being pulled out of them is just further evidence of how bad these are likely to be.
YOUSSEFAnd Russia seemed to recognize that. Because literally, all the way up until pretty much the last minute, they were making plans. No, no, no. We're going to make reforms. We take this seriously. And it fell to a committee that was less than reassured that there'd be real changes.
ANNOUNCERWhat do you think of this, Geoff?
DYERWell, I think, as Yochi said, it's just another black mark for the Rio Olympics that are just -- that's just becoming very, very, very complicated -- with Zika, you know, with the fact that the president has been suspended and she's probably going to be actually formally, finally impeached during the Olympics. Their economy is in collapse. However, as someone -- I got married in Rio and very, very fond of the city -- I would say that I still think I'll probably end up -- the Olympics always has this dynamic where, in the months beforehand, it seems like everything's falling apart, it seems like everything's terrible.
DYERBut as long as it looks good and as long as the facilities are okay, it's such an extraordinary spectacle that we, in the media, we tend to switch to a different dynamic as soon as it starts. I mean, we declare it a great success. So I wouldn't write off the Olympics just yet. But it's full of problems and it's going to be very, very controversial.
PAGEYou know, I wonder if we ought to give some credit to the IAAF, which is that global governing body for track and field, for taking action. Because we know that that is often a difficult thing to get governing bodies to do.
DREAZENRight. Especially against the country that's as powerful, wealthy and rich as Russia. I mean, think about this in comparison to the World Cup, where Qatar has been credibly accused of effectively using slave labor to build facilities for a soccer tournament that'll be held in 120-degree heat, that they clearly got by bribing the officials who were the World Cup. There's been pressure, in fact, revisited pressure for it to be canceled and moved. It hasn't happened. Russia's a bigger country and richer country and more powerful country and these bodies felt that they had the ability to stand up to it.
PAGEWhile we're talking about Russia, we should talk about another extraordinary story this week, which reports that Russian hackers associated with the Russian government broke into the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, one of them for a year, monitoring information, interested apparently in Donald Trump. Nancy, have you ever heard of such a thing?
YOUSSEFNot -- now, I mean, we heard of hacking of campaign headquarters -- I guess, most infamously, at the Watergate. But this kind of effort by a foreign government to find out about a presidential candidate who they allegedly were eager to endorse, as much as the Russians are going to endorse a presidential candidate anyway.
YOUSSEFAnd so they -- this was discovered. There have been two hacks. One in the last year, as you made reference to. And this one, in particular, in which they went after all the Democratic National Convention -- Committee, excuse me, and all the opposition information they had about Donald Trump, so whatever they could come up with in terms of attacking Donald Trump, which I find kind of interesting because presumably that'll all come out in the public at some point during the election. So I don't know if Russia's sort of hedging its bets about how to sort of get at Donald Trump, should he be president, now that they know everything that the Democratic National Committee knows about means to attack him or whatnot.
YOUSSEFBut it was an extraordinary breach. And it really -- and the interesting thing is you had two different hacks, it appears, by two different parts of the Russian government -- although the Russians officially deny it -- that didn't seem to know that the other was hacking different parts of the DNC. So the Russian cyber campaign against -- we've already seen against the State Department and other government offices -- so now the DNC has just been quite thorough.
PAGEGeoff, maybe I'm just naïve. I mean, do you think that U.S.-backed government hackers are -- I guess there's not a DNC-equivalent in Russia -- but targeting party headquarters in foreign capitals to get information that might be had there?
DYERWell, I think the Edward Snowden revelations suggest to us that that's absolutely the case. And I'm sure the NSA is doing precisely this kind of things. I mean, from one level, it seems a fairly obvious target for the Russians to go after. It's a private organization so there's much less security than a government computer system would be. The fascinating thing is, you know, what do they want to do with this information? Do they just want to try and find out what people know about Donald Trump because maybe he might be president and so they need to know? Or are they going to start leaking this information selectively during the campaign to -- in some way to try and influence the campaign?
DYERWe already saw one, what seemed to be a leak from this hack earlier this week, a big dossier of information appeared on the Net. It was from a journalistic point of view. It was kind of disappointing. I mean, it was basically a sort of clippings exercise of a Google search. There was no -- none of the real, actual, exclusive research we would imagine that the DNC and the Clinton campaign are doing on Donald Trump. But we don't know. Maybe there'll be other things that'll be leaked in the coming days and months.
YOUSSEFIt's still early in the campaign.
DREAZENI mean, there are two parts to this that really jumped out at me, one slightly lighter and one slightly more serious. The lighter one is Donald Trump looks like the most pro-Putin candidate the U.S. has seen ever. He speaks of Putin as a strong man who knows how to deal with the pesky media, a smart man, a strong man. And Putin has returned the love and spoken highly about Trump. So it is interesting that they're trying to find out the negative stuff about a person who is the most positive towards their leader.
DREAZENThe slightly more serious one -- and I don't want to speak for Nancy or Geoff, but other colleagues of mine have had the same experience -- when there have been visiting foreign leaders doing interviews with us, we ask them questions and then almost, in the ones I've done recently, at some point of the interview, they -- that stops and they ask questions of me about Trump. You know, world leaders are baffled. They're trying to figure out, what if what he says is true? What's bluster? And that's never really happened before, where you've had this many world leaders genuinely confused, baffled, terrified about a major party's presidential candidate.
PAGEWell, Nancy and Geoff, have you had that happen too?
DYEROh, absolutely. And they're confused about what Donald Trump says because so many of his policy statements are both outlandish and contradictory. But they're also -- there's another issue where they're -- they don't quite know who to talk to. With another campaign, there would be -- by this stage, there would be whole layers of advisers who they would -- embassies in Washington would connect with them. They'd get a briefing of what the candidate really thinks about these things and what they should be thinking about his statements. But in the Trump case, it's very hard for a lot of embassies to find out who to actually connect with, who to talk to in the Trump campaign to try and get them to explain what it is that he really thinks.
PAGENancy, what are you hearing?
YOUSSEFWell, I would say, not just in our capacities but just in travel. I was in India recently and I was at the airport. And the man barely spoke English. He figured out I was American and the first word he said to me was, Trump? So you get this sense of curiosity around the world. And I can tell you, my friends in the Middle East are just fascinated by the developments here. So you get it in your -- we -- I think we get it in our jobs and some of the people we interact with. But just stepping out into the world and you'll hear the confusion about how -- what does he stand for? What does it mean for U.S. foreign policy?
PAGESo there's curiosity. And of course he's a less familiar figure on the world stage in governmental terms anyway than previous presidential nominees. Is there also concern about the substance of what he's saying, Yochi?
DREAZENA deep concern. I mean, if you're a European country, you're scared about the fact that he says NATO is obsolete and the U.S. should get out. Plus he says, Russia is a country he can do business with. Putin's a leader he could do business with. If you're Israel, you worry about where he is on the Israel-Palestine question. If you're in Asia, you wonder about him saying, Japan and South Korea should just develop their own nuclear weapons so the U.S. could leave. I think there's almost literally no part of the world where -- full of U.S. allies, where leaders of those countries aren't terrified about what Trump is saying about their countries.
DYERYeah, I mean, just take, you know, the Europeans or the Asians, I mean, he's talked about maybe even pulling out of NATO, you know, withdrawing some of the assistance to the Japanese and South Koreans, allowing them to have nuclear weapons. Those -- if those policies are actually implemented, those would fundamentally change the way those countries think about their security, think about their foreign policy. Those would be revolutions in their foreign policy. So this is not just something where it's a bit of campaign rhetoric. I mean, these are hugely, you know, vast changes in both U.S. policy with fundamental implications for these countries. So inevitably they're very freaked out.
PAGELet's go to the phones and talk to Kathy. She's calling us from Sarasota, Fla. Kathy, thank you for holding on.
KATHYYeah. I'm very upset about some of the comments, some of the reporters were talking about earlier regarding the Iran-Boeing deal. Because, you know, the slant on this show is so liberal. You know, there's some of us out here concerned about a country that has such poor human rights. They have no integrity. And they -- the reporters are just so cavalier, it's like, oh, they're just holding back progress or something. It's not that we're holding back progress. It's this country's not trustworthy. They've already done things that are, you know, violating the deal, several times. And there's nothing that's being done about it.
KATHYAnd now they seem to approve of this Boeing going down there fixing up all their airplanes. You know, that's just ridiculous.
PAGESo, Kathy, I think one of the arguments being made is it would strengthen ties, make it more likely that Iran would abide by other deals made, like the nuclear deal. But you think that this airplane deal would be bad for the United States?
KATHYTo me, I do think it's bad for us. Because we're dealing with a country that has a history of not being trustworthy. They've never, ever -- they've never done anything or abided by anything that they've agreed to in the past. They do not have the same -- they are -- their human rights against women are -- is horrendous. They're just a people that I just don't trust and I don't think that we should be validating any kind of deal with him, when they've already violated the terms of this agreement.
PAGEAll right, Kathy. Thank you very much for your call and hearing your perspective. Now, first, this -- Kathy's statement that they've already violated terms of the Iran nuclear deal. Is that correct?
DREAZENThey violated things that are in the spirit of the deal but not necessarily the deal itself. I think a lot of what Kathy is saying on the substance of it is correct. I mean, they've done a series of ballistic missile tests, which were not explicitly covered as part of the nuclear deal, but the U.S. sort of, I think, wink-nodded, assumed that that would not happen. There's talk in Congress about putting new sanctions on Iran because of the ballistic missile tests. All of us know Jason Rezaian, an American journalist who was kept in brutal captivity by the Iranians, so no journalist I think in the U.S. is sort of cavalier about the Iranian human rights record. People -- we have personal connections to it.
DREAZENIran is still meddling with Hezbollah on the borders with Israel. Iran is fighting on behalf of Assad in Syria. So there's very little doubt that they are doing many, many things that are directly contradictory to what the U.S. had hoped they would do.
DYERYes. And the argument for the nuclear deal is that, before the deal, Iran was maybe two or three months away from having enough material to build a nuclear bomb. Under the deal, at least for the next 10 to 15 years, it's probably about a year away from it. That's the main argument for it. The other stuff about, well maybe this would be a bridge to some sort of rapprochement or reconciliation or at least a moderately less bad relationship with Iran, those are potential benefits that might have some upside for the U.S. But that's not the meat of it. The meat of it was to make Iran further away from having a nuclear weapon.
PAGEKathy, thanks for your call. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've gotten a lot of feedback on the first topic we talked about, which was the letter -- the document that was signed by 51 State Department officials urging stronger action and targeted airstrikes on the Assad regime. Here's one listener who writes, if we attack Assad, we're heating our proxy war with Russia. And another emailer, Nick, says, do any of your guests believe implementing a military campaign in Syria can be conducted without a direct military confrontation with Russia. Is that a risk here?
DREAZENIt's certainly a risk because you have Russian airplanes. I mean, Vladimir Putin announced, what was it, six weeks ago or so, that he was pulling out of Syria, mission accomplished, but actually didn't. He still has attack aircraft, he still has planes, he's still bombing. And so if you had U.S. planes and Russian planes flying in the same airspace, it's a very real possibility even just of an accident, of a U.S. bomb hitting a Russian target on the ground, of a U.S. plane hitting a Russian plane. I think it's a very real risk.
PAGEHere's a tweet from Emma on this topic. She writes, Obama has kept us out of a senseless war that has nothing to do with the U.S. Don't send troops.
DYERWell, there's -- one of the ironies of this memo is, this is officials at the State Department calling for U.S. military action against the Assad regime. But as Nancy mentioned earlier, the Pentagon itself is often -- there are different views in the Pentagon -- but it's often much more skeptical about this. One of the reasons being the risk of getting involved in a confrontation with Russia. But also they are a bit more skeptical of the idea of, you know, they -- some of them would have the same view as President Obama that, if you start along this line of attacking the Assad regime, then you end up getting drawn much more directly into this conflict yourself. And that's something they want to avoid.
YOUSSEFI just wanted to address something that Emma mentioned about not dragging troops into Syria. There are U.S. troops in Syria right now. There are at least 250 Special Forces that are working side by side with local Kurdish and Arab forces. They have gotten as close as 18 miles from Raqqa, which is the ISIS capital. And they are near Manbij, which is a city that the U.S. is working with Kurdish and Arab forces to try to liberate. It is a key thorough way for ISIS from Turkey into Syria. And so one of the things that I think the administration has really tried to not talk about is that U.S. troops are in Syria. And they are very close to the front lines.
PAGEIs there a risk that that military involvement could get bigger?
YOUSSEFWell, it has gotten bigger. Because remember, when it started, it was 50 advisers. Even the war itself against ISIS, remember, it started as no boots on the ground, then no combat boots on the ground, then troops in Iraq, then 50 advisers in Syria. And now we have at least 250 more. So we're starting to see these slow increments in terms of U.S. involvement and engagement. And not just in numbers but in their proximity to the front lines of the war itself.
PAGEHere's another tweet on the subject. Aren't the diplomats urging strikes against Assad years too late for the strikes to be useful? Is it too late, Yochi?
DREAZENI mean, what's interesting is if you look back at 2010, '11, you had basically the entire Obama war cabinet, including then Secretary of State Clinton -- so you had, you know, the previous top U.S. diplomat -- universally arguing in favor of arming the Syrian rebels. Because at that time it was thought, Assad is losing territory. He's losing ground. They are gaining ground. He might actually be willing to do a deal. At this point, if you're Assad, you are winning. You have Russian backing. You have Iranian backing. You have Hezbollah backing. The moderate opposition has been decimated. The U.S. has not armed them. The U.S. is not really bombing with any seriousness. Why would you make a deal?
PAGEGeoff, you mentioned reaction around the world to the Orlando shootings and the reaction on behalf of the LGBT community. And we saw a reflection of that, I thought, in Great Britain this week, when Prince William appeared on the cover of a leading gay magazine. Was that a big deal?
DYERIt's one of these interesting events where, even two or three years ago, this would have been a huge deal. It's very interesting it happened now. But actually it isn't that big a deal. It almost seems a fairly normal thing that the -- for the heir to the throne in the U.K. would appear on the cover of a gay magazine. That's just a sign...
PAGEBut it never happened before.
DYERIt hasn't ever happened before. But I think it's a sign that the culture has changed so much, I think both in the U.K. and in the U.S. around these issues, that it seems fantastically uncontroversial.
DREAZENAt the same time, though, it's been very depressing to watch Republicans try to argue that this was not a hate crime and that gays were not the target. It took days before you had some leading Republicans acknowledge that, no, this was a hate crime directed at gays. Jeff Sessions said it was just a nightclub. Another Republican said it was a nightclub popular with women, which is emphatically not the case in the case of Pulse. But it is true, I think, in Britain you have leader is it's not a big deal. Here it's not a big deal for President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and to explicitly say, we stand with the LGBT community. This was a hate crime. But you had Republicans refuse to acknowledge that that's what it was.
PAGEAnd Republicans may have done that, but Donald Trump, for one, reached out explicitly to gay voters for support in the wake of this, as did Hillary Clinton. And that also reflects, I think, the changing times that we see. Well, I want to thank our panel for being with us this hour. Geoff Dyer, Nancy Youssef, Yochi Dreazen, thank you so much for being with us.
YOUSSEFThank you, Susan.
DYERThank you very much.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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