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: Indira Lakshmanan
Leaders of two dozen NATO countries convene a two-day summit in Warsaw. President Obama announces the U.S. will keep a force of 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. And the fallout from Brexit continues. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Christian Caryl Senior fellow, Legatum Institute; contributing editor, Foreign Policy magazine; author of "Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century"
- Nadia Bilbassy Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya
- 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"
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThanks for joining us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, a columnist for The Boston Globe, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Leaders of two dozen NATO countries meet in Warsaw to strengthen the military alliance after Britain's vote to leave the European Union. President Obama announces we will keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. A 2.6 million word British inquiry excoriates former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the UK's involvement in the Iraq war and a woman is set to lead the UK for the first time since Margaret Thatcher.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANJoining me for the international hour of this week's news roundup, Christian Caryl with Foreign Policy, Nadia Bilbassy of al-Arabiya and Geoff Dyer with the Financial Times. Welcome to all of you.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning, Indira.
MR. GEOFF DYERGood morning.
MR. CHRISTIAN CARYLGood morning.
LAKSHMANANThanks for being here. And as always, we want to hear from all of you, our listeners, so you can call us anytime with your comments and your questions throughout the hour, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email to email@example.com. You can join us on Facebook or send us a tweet to @drshow. So let's start out, guys, with talking about NATO. Leaders of the military alliance are meeting in Poland at a time of tensions with Russia, terrorist attacks worldwide and a migrant crisis caused by the war in Syria.
LAKSHMANANTell us, Christian, why is this summit being called the most significant one since the end of the Cold War?
CARYLWell, that's a excellent question. I think there are several reasons. First of all, there's, of course, most immediately, the Brexit vote, which has completely jolted the alliance. I think many people in Washington and probably in a lot of other European NATO capitals were not prepared for this at all. The second thing is, of course, the Islamic State, the threat from ISIS, which has shown itself so dramatically over the past few weeks. And the third thing is the relationship with Russia, which is becoming increasingly fraught.
CARYLRussia has attacked its neighbors three times over the past few years. That is a serious threat, a serious issue. It has put NATO back at the forefront of the agenda, but it's done so at a time when NATO is arguably weaker than it's ever been before because of the forces that are pulling very hard at the internal cohesion of the European Union.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, Nadia, tell us what are the leaders actually hoping to accomplish, that summit's only two days long for the leaders. What are they going to be able to get done about ISIS or Russia or anything else?
BILBASSYWell, ironically, this summit is the last for President Obama and it's happening in Warsaw in Poland, which had joined NATO in 1999 and they were really hoping that it's going to be really a big summit for them because they wanted to show that they are very worried about Russia basically and they wanted to show that NATO is there to protect them. And there has been talk about that in this summit actually that NATO countries, member states, which is, I think, it's attended by 28 European Unions and 26 from worldwide, that they will be able to put battalions on the border.
BILBASSYAnd in Baltic states, like Estonia and Moldova, it's a (word?) some people say that the Russians will laugh at that because the maximum they can be able to put is around four battalions of, like, 800 to 1,000 troops, while they need much more than that. The estimate is, like, probably five to seven and much, much stronger. But, you know, the whole essence of NATO is always with Russia in particular, regarding Poland is always being -- dealing with it from the perspective of strength and negotiation.
BILBASSYNow, in this summit, it comes really at the worst time, even for President Obama, that's been distracted domestically by what happened in Dallas and he's been informed and he's been making statement instead of just focusing on the bigger threat as Christian just eluded to, which is ISIS. Can they really get their forces together? Can they train Iraqi troops as we have seen these atrocities that hit Karada in center of Baghdad and killed almost 300 people?
BILBASSYAre they able to maintain this idea that ISIS is no longer wanted just to be content with the state in Iraq and Syria, but they wanted to show their ability and their potent in striking from Turkey to Bangladesh to elsewhere? Are they able to do all of that? We will see. And I think that the elephant in the room is the Brexit and the leave of the -- or the decision of Britain to leave the European Union and will this impact NATO or not? I think that will be on top of the agenda.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, before the Brexit vote, before the latest ISIS related, enable or ISIS inspired attacks over the last week that have killed more than 300 people, the main thing on the agenda was supposed to be the military alliance of 28 nations convincing Russia that NATO means business and, as Nadia says, part of the importance is that it's in Poland right on the edge there of Russia. So Geoff, tell us how is Russia going to respond to a stronger NATO presence in the Baltic States? What are possible scenarios?
DYEROh, well, that's the key question. I mean, it's possible that this will act as a deterrent to Russia, that Russia will take note of this and realize that NATO is very serious about defending the territorial integrity of its members, including the Baltic states, but it's also entirely possible the Russians will see this as a provocation and they will seek to increase their military presence along their own Western border. And particularly, what a lot of NATO officials are worried about is the area Kaliningrad, which is this little thin sliver of territory, separate from the rest of Russia, but between Poland and Lithuania where there has been a military buildup going on and they're worried that Russia will seek to build up even more the military presence there.
DYERHeighten even more of the tensions between key NATO members and the Russians.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, we, of course, have to remind listeners, especially some of our younger listeners, that those Baltic states used to be part of the Soviet Union and so this is all, you know, stuff that has changed in the last 25 years. But Christian, I want to ask you, you know, not every nation within the 28 member alliance is completely comfortable with taking a tougher position towards Russia, even though we're two years since Russia seized Crimea and has been destabilizing the whole part of Ukraine on its border. Tell us more.
CARYLYes. Well, that's a very important point. There are a whole range of different things going on. I'm not sure we can get into all of them. But let's just take, for example, Turkey, which is a country people rarely think about in the context of NATO. It's one of the biggest NATO members and has one of the biggest military forces. They have just embarked on a diplomatic rapprochement with Russia, right? President Erdogan has just decided to get over a bad patch in his relations with Russia after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane that crossed the border.
CARYLNow, they're trying to mend fences again. So I wonder very much what the Turkish position at the summit will be. Then, you have people like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has said that he's a great admirer of Putin and wants closer relations with Russia. And then, you have a whole host of other factors, such as the rise of these new right wing populists, some of them not so new, like France's Marie Le Pen, who have also expressed great admiration for Putin and seem to cast a lot of doubt on the need for NATO today. So there are a lot of question marks there.
LAKSHMANANWell, you know, also there's the whole question of Italy and some of the other southern NATO states who were concerned about the sanctions against Russia over Ukraine a couple years ago and were pushing against that all along. Geoff, I want to ask you, as someone from the other side of the Atlantic, what about the concerns that NATO has about Britain's exit from the European Union. How much is that going to affect this conversation at the summit?
DYERWell, it's going to be in the background of every conversation, but it's going to be something that's going to take a long time to play out. I mean, if Brexit is a key moment that accelerates the unraveling of the European Union and accelerates the growth of these nationalist forces, particularly some of those pro-right nationalist forces are more sympathetic towards Putin and Russia, then absolutely, that would be the start of something that would be very, very damaging to NATO. But it's not all inevitable that is the way it's going to play out, Diane. And you could, for instance, imagine a situation where a British government that leaves the EU actually tries to increase its presence in NATO, increase its military spending because that's one of the other ways it can seem relevant, can punch above its weight, as Britain likes to say, in international affairs.
DYERSo there's a clear risk to the Western alliance. It's a clear risk to NATO from Brexit, but none of this is inevitable. None of it's preordained.
LAKSHMANANAnd specifically, what did President Obama say today about Britain's vote to leave the EU? He was trying to calm concerns at NATO, right?
DYERHe was trying to make precisely that point, that, you know, nothing's inevitable here. Don't think that just because Britain has done this that somehow, you know, the tide of nationalism is going to be unleashed again and we're back to the 1930s in New York. That was the message he was trying to get across, but that's obviously the thing we're going to be watching over the next few years as this plays out.
LAKSHMANANNadia, tell us about the ISIS aspect here, the terrorism, because that's also something very much on the minds of Turkey, in particular, one of the key NATO members, but also the U.S. and all of Europe.
BILBASSYAbsolutely. And I think this kind of complicated the relationship between Turkey and the United States and other European countries, precisely because there is accusation and some evidence to support that, that Turkey has allowed thousands of fighters to cross the border between Turkey and Syria. And many people, as I said, when you go to Istanbul airport and you see these people taking domestic flights to Gaziantep and Antakya, which is the southern cities in Turkey, that everybody knows that they call them the Jihadi Express, or spot the jihadists.
BILBASSYBasically, they know they were going to Syria. And there was a miscalculation because I think President Erdogan was thinking that he wanted to get Assad out and the only potent force to fight him was these jihadists and he thought he can control them. But obviously, what we have seen in Ataturk airport attack last week that he could not. And these are monsters that you cannot deal with and you cannot cooperate with. You cannot close an eye upon. So hence, I think Turkey now has come into a different policy from -- as Christian just mentioned as well, in terms of Russia, that all this tension with Russia, now they wanted to force some kind of alliance.
BILBASSYAnd there is talks, although the White House has denied it, that there is a plan that the president was considering whereby he and Russia will cooperate in hitting Jabhat al-Nusra, which is al-Qaida affiliate, in Syria and ISIS in return for keeping the moderate opposition in Syria.
LAKSHMANANAnd so there might be actually something in practical terms that NATO members can do against Islamic terrorists that that could be discussed this week.
BILBASSYOh, sure. For sure, I think, they can discuss how and also training in both of Iraqi troops in Iraq and in Jordan as well. It's very vital to fight ISIS.
LAKSHMANANAll right. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to start going to your calls and your questions. We'll be talking more about this week's international headlines. Stay with us.
LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me in the studio today to talk about this week's international headlines, Christian Caryl, a senior fellow with the Legatum Institute, a contributing editor with Foreign Policy magazine, and author of "Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century," Nadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya television, Geoff Dyer, a foreign policy correspondent with the Financial Times and author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China -- And How American Can Win."
LAKSHMANANChristian, the 1979 word in the title of your book makes me thing, of course, of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was the very beginning of a long story that now brings us to this week with President Obama making the announcement that he is going to slow down the pace of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Of course, withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq was a big pillar of his campaign eight years ago. So tell us what happened this week.
CARYLWell, President Obama announced that he was actually not going to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan to the level that people had originally anticipated. When he came into office, there were 40,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Today there are still 10,000. And he had put out the idea that that number might decline to something in the area of 5,000. And now he's said, actually no, we're going to withdraw maybe 1,500 troops at the most. But the level is going to remain pretty much in the same ballpark.
CARYLAnd the reason for that is that, despite the billions of dollars NATO has poured into Afghanistan over the past few years, despite years and years of effort, the Afghan Security Forces, the security forces of the government of Afghanistan that we recognize, still have not really been able to cope with the Taliban threat. The Taliban control today about a fifth of the country. And an end to that war is not in sight. So President Obama basically showed some flexibility by acknowledging that it doesn't look like there's going to be a situation anytime soon where we can just pull out all the U.S. troops.
LAKSHMANANWell, Nadia, let me ask you, what difference, on the ground, is it going to make between having 8,400 U.S. troops versus 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
BILBASSYWell, I guess the president, of the decision, upon the advice from the generals, especially General Nicholson, who thought that he should keep that number. And I think Senator Graham as well, he said a very important kind of statement saying that, if you withdraw now, even if the number, as you said, 8,400, you will have another Iraq. And the difference here is, while the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi Prime Minister at the time said, I don't want American troops to stay in Iraq, this Afghan government wants the American troops and NATO to stay there. So for him it's an investment. This is the longest America had. And to withdraw now, it's basically guaranteed...
LAKSHMANANHave ever had. It's longer than Vietnam even.
BILBASSYWell, it's true. It's true. He's going to guarantee complete chaos. I mean, there is no peace process. We don't know anything, any more about this -- the new Taliban leader who wanted to get into negotiation, that started somehow in Qatar a long time ago and now it's ended. So you don't have a diplomatic initiatives. You don't have security forces that's able to protect the country, with hundreds of dead -- mainly police officers, cadets in Kabul. And don't -- let's not forget, not a long time ago, that Taliban were able to hold the city of Kunduz, the town of -- I mean, the city, a big city of Kunduz, even if it's for a short period. It shows they are very potent forces.
BILBASSYAnd therefore the president, although as you said I'm sure he's relying on some kind of intelligence and some kind of military advice why this number, but it cannot be reduced just to 5,500 because the country is big. You need just not to train and to shut intelligence, but you need sometimes to lax or to relax these rules to allow them to engage at some point.
LAKSHMANANGeoff, let me ask you, to what extent is this partly about sending a message to the Afghan government and -- of support -- and to the Taliban enemies? How much of it is about messaging and symbolism, as opposed to tactical calculations about a few thousand troops?
DYERI think that's definitely part of it. It's a way of saying to the Afghan government, we're still supporting you and we're going to be here with you and we're going to support your military and we're going to keep up this training operation. We're not leaving anytime soon. But I think that, you know, the thing sort of, as my colleagues have been saying, that's hanging over this is the specter of the withdrawal from Iraq.
DYERWhether there was an option or not for the U.S. to actually stay in Iraq or not, just the idea that, you know, that the U.S. pulled out in 2011 and that helped facilitate the rise of sectarian violence and the rise of a new civil war, that is a reality that's going to hang -- that's hanging over this administration and it's going to hang over the next administration. Whether the next president wants to try and get out of Afghanistan or not is going to face that dilemma right from the start of his or her administration.
LAKSHMANANWe have an email from a listener, Barbara, who says, in all of the reporting I've seen and heard about troops in Afghanistan, I see nothing about the wishes of the Afghan government. This they, did President Ashraf Ghani request the extension? Does anyone know?
CARYLWell, I think as Nadia just said, this is a very different situation from Iraq, where the Iraqi government at the time said they didn't want U.S. troops in any significant numbers in the country anymore. President Ashraf Ghani has said very explicitly -- I'm not, I may be mistaken, but I believe also with parliamentary support -- that they want U.S. troops to stay in the country. And I think the announcement, as Geoff was saying, the announcement that President Obama made had a very clear political point in that he was renewing the American promise of assistance to that government and saying, we're not leaving anytime soon.
DYERAnd for the Afghan government, it's not just about the U.S. -- presence of the U.S. military and the NATO military force. They worry that if the military leaves, then the political will to keep giving the economic aid, which their government completely relies on, will start to disappear.
DYERSo it's both things for the Afghan government.
LAKSHMANANGood point. It's about sending a message that the war is not over and getting money for humanitarian and economic projects as well. Nadia.
BILBASSYThe White House also said that President Obama will meet with President Ghani in the summit today or tomorrow. So to give us even more...
LAKSHMANANAt the NATO Summit.
BILBASSY...at the NATO Summit, to give it more importance. One last point I would add...
LAKSHMANANOf course, Ashraf Ghani is there because, even though Afghanistan is not a member of NATO, they have NATO forces in their country.
BILBASSYCorrect. One last point I will add is the danger of ISIS and al-Qaida regrouping in Afghanistan. If you think that they are -- we are done with, I think we are wrong. And this is why the president decided to keep these troops. As we have seen, the attack in Bangladesh is very close in Southeast Asia and also al-Qaida there. And as we force ISIS to leave Iraq and Syria with more airstrike and taking land from them, they have to go back to the old home, if you want, and Taliban is there to welcome them. It's very easy for them to restructure and to get together, whether it's al-Qaida or even the new rising threat of ISIS.
LAKSHMANANGood point to remind listeners that one of the original havens for international Islamic violent extremists was actually Afghanistan...
LAKSHMANAN...prior to the 9/11 attacks. We now think about so many other countries being havens, but that was an original haven. All right. Well, Christian, I want to ask you, given President Obama's promise eight years ago on the campaign trail that he was going to take U.S. troops out of Middle Eastern wars and end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as well as Iraq -- I'm also thinking of the Jeffrey Goldberg article, with all those interviews he compiled in Atlantic, where the president seemed to suggest that he felt a little bit pushed into doing that troop surge in 2009 and adding 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan. So how difficult do you think it was for the president to come to this decision to slow down the withdrawal?
CARYLWell, that's an excellent question. And I think your reference to the Jeffrey Goldberg article is very relevant. Because President Obama made it very clear in that article that he does sometimes feel pressured by what he called the foreign policy establishment to take certain decisions. On the other hand, I think it's important to remember that, when he came into office, the Democrats mostly held the position that the Iraq war was the bad war, the war that we could have avoided. And that Afghanistan was the...
BILBASSYThe good war.
CARYL...the good war, right, the legitimate war, precisely because al-Qaida had been based there. So I think perhaps he feels a bit more flexibility in this case than he might have felt on the Iraq war. I mean, remember, he denounced the Iraq war long before he became president. I don't recall him coming out quite that negatively against the Afghanistan war. So I don't think his stake here is quite as profound.
DYERAnd the other interesting thing, just how ambiguous public opinion is towards Afghanistan. I mean, the politics around the Iraq war are still ferocious on both sides. But there's no strong body of public opinion pushing the president to pull out of Afghanistan, nor is there a huge or strong body of public opinion pushing him to stay. It's a rather ambivalent position the American public has towards the country's longest-ever war.
LAKSHMANANNadia, we were talking a minute ago about Islamic terrorism around the world. There was yet another suicide bombing in Iraq...
LAKSHMANAN...this one at a Shia shrine in Balad late yesterday. Tell us, quickly, what do we know so far?
BILBASSYWell, this is a typical modus operandi of ISIS. Basically, they go for the Shiite shrines. They took the Shiite centers because they consider them the enemy. And we have seen even the biggest strike they have done last week in Karada, as I mentioned, and it was striking Shiites and to a larger extent Christians as well. And it's a message for them that we are able to strike in the heart of Baghdad. And the security apparatus that works for President Abadi is not working at all.
LAKSHMANANI'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, it's striking to me that this striking of the shrine has followed a horrific bombing in Baghdad over the weekend...
LAKSHMANAN...that also targeted an area where there were largely Shiites. We know almost 300 people dead from that attack alone. I'm wondering, what do these back-to-back attacks mean for the stability of the Iraqi government, for Prime Minister al-Abadi?
CARYLWell, I think there's a very important element that often gets lost in the reporting, which is that the people who run the Islamic State are not stupid. They know that the only way they can really be conclusively be beaten is politically, not just on the battlefield but politically. And Prime Minister Abadi, if he wants to really beat ISIS, he has to show Sunnis in Iraq that he's willing to reconcile with them, that he's willing to bring them back into the political fold. And attacks like these are designed explicitly, by targeting Shia, by targeting a zoned constituency, are intended to drive a wedge between Sunni and Shia and to limit the prime minister's ability to make that kind of deal.
CARYLSo basically, these terrorist attacks are targeting the possibility of political reconciliation in Iraq by deepening the sectarian divide. That's the fundamental thing here.
LAKSHMANANBecause he has been trying to decentralize power, allow regional governors, for example, to, you know, in Anbar to have more control.
BILBASSYAnd Tikrit was a successful example. But also, as they lose territory in Fallujah especially. And there was a debate about the (word?) , which is a popular Shiite forces, that they will enter Sunni towns and they were saying that we actually were going to allow people -- Sunnis to run it and (word?) and whatever.
BILBASSYBut I wanted to come back to a very important point as well, regarding this attack. It wasn't just, as Christian just said, that, absolutely, they are very -- they know exactly what ISIS want and they can exploit the political division. But there is a huge security gap here. The fact that they were able to drive this huge truck to the -- to a shopping center and kill 300 people. And guess what? This metal detectors, apparently, that they have in force in the -- around Baghdad, they didn't work. And the biggest scandal of all...
BILBASSY...that there were sold during Prime Minister Maliki by a British businessman -- British businessman, to Geoff I have to turn left -- and he -- the Iraqis paid $40 million for it. And you know what they were use? They were fake metal detectors that they were used to find golf balls lost on the track.
LAKSHMANANOh, my goodness.
BILBASSYCan you believe it? And basically people were criticizing the Prime Minister al-Maliki before and al-Abadi. And now it shows, it just, there is corruption inside the security forces to the degree that the interior minister has to resign. And today al-Abadi has sacked three or four of senior security officers.
CARYLYes, of course. One of the points of these attacks is always to show, your government can't protect you.
LAKSHMANANGeoff, quickly, I mean, this -- we're talking about Iraq -- but this is one of a spate of attacks by extremists that have punctuated, in the last week, the end of the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. We've seen them in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Turkey. Why have the Islamic radicals chosen Ramadan and why target Muslim nations?
DYERThese are, you know, the Ramadan thing has been something that happened last year and again this year. And it's a, you know, there was a message sent out by Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the spokesman of ISIS, who said that, at the start of Ramadan, we want to have a month of calamity, giving this message to people around -- to ISIS supporters around the world to conduct these attacks.
DYERBut what they're trying to show through this is they have this phenomenal international reach, you know, the attacks from Bangladesh and Turkey. We've seen some in France as well. It's really all over the world that they're trying to show that, you know, even if you take some of our territory in Iraq and in Syria, we are able to get back at you anywhere around the world that you want.
LAKSHMANANI'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join in our conversation, you can call us anytime at 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on Facebook or on Twitter.
LAKSHMANANNadia, I want to follow up with what Geoff said, because obviously we know from the U.S. military reports, the coalition military reports, that ISIS has lost 50 percent of the land it was holding in Iraq, 20 percent of the land it was holding in Syria. So is ISIS simply lashing out because they're losing?
BILBASSYYes. I mean, this is what John Brennan said, the director of the CIA. And from -- if you talk to the intelligence, kind of, milieu, they will tell you that in the old days that al-Qaida is more dangerous than ISIS for one reason, al-Qaida always targeted Western targets. They wanted kill Americans, Europeans, all over the world. While ISIS was content of having so-called a state of their own and inviting people to come and join them. Now they're losing this state. So basically they wanted to show they are a formidable force. And this is a recruiting tool for them, to show that they can strike anywhere.
BILBASSYWhat's bizarre about the latest attacks, not just in Bangladesh to show that they are able to hold hostages and to kill people, and in Turkey, which is a soft target, by the way. I think all of us has been in and out of Ataturk Airport numerous times and we know that, despite the security there, that they still are able to kill people there. But the most significant of all was the attack in Medina. This is the holiest shrine in Islam. And they're trying to kill people next to the tomb of prophet Muhammad. This is defying sanity and everything that you know about ISIS. Nobody can understand why on earth they wanted to kill people there. And they lost. And I think it's turning public opinion against them.
BILBASSYAnd let me remind you one last thing, the majority of victims of ISIS are Muslims.
LAKSHMANANThat's exactly right. I'm so glad you made that point. And I'm also glad that you brought up Medina, because I want to ask, in attacking the burial place of Islam's prophet Muhammad, have they overreached? I mean, if there was any waning or residual sympathy for them among Muslims around the world, have they now finally turned the needle against themselves?
BILBASSYI mean a popular movement for sure. But there are some people who is sympathetic with the plight of the -- of, for example, with the Iraqis in Syria, the Sunnis, and with the Syrians, because the world abandoned them at the death of half a million people. But saying that, the fact that they're killing innocent people, they're killing Muslims everywhere, they just -- they want to kill. And to the people in Saudi Arabia...
LAKSHMANANBut why attack in Saudi Arabia, which is one of the most conservative Muslim countries in the world?
BILBASSYWell they have been -- they have been, by the way, attacking Saudi Arabia for years. It’s not just new. And they had three attacks. One in Qatif, which is a Shiite area, and they're trying to kill somebody close to the U.S. Embassy in Jeddah, the consulate in Jeddah. And the worst of all was trying to reach people inside the Haram Sharif where people were praying at the end of Ramadan next to the prophets. I mean, can you imagine if they -- there was a gun battle, they're trying killing people next to the prophet's tomb? I mean, it's crazy. I mean, nobody can understand why they're trying to do that.
LAKSHMANANChristian, quickly, tell us what's different about the investigation into the attackers in Bangladesh? These were Muslim men, apparently inspired by ISIS, but from privileged backgrounds, which is not what we've seen in some of the other ISIS-related attacks. Although I remember that in 9/11, Mohamed Atta was a pretty privileged guy and apparently shopped in Target and ate at McDonald's or something on the day of the attacks.
BILBASSYBin Laden to start with.
LAKSHMANANBin Laden, of course.
CARYLYes. Well, I know, I have to say I wasn't that surprised when that came out about the Bangladesh attackers. Because one thing we have seen in this Islamic civil war with al-Qaida and ISIS is that very often the attackers come from elite parts of society. They're not all desperate dead-enders by any means. They're very often educated doctors and lawyers. We need to get away from this idea that they're just depressed people who want to kill themselves.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, we are going to take a short break. But when we come back, we're going to be going to your calls and your questions. Stay with us.
LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, a columnist with the Boston Globe, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And joining me this hour to talk about all this week's top international headlines, Christian Caryl, senior fellow with the Legatum Institute and a contributing editor with Foreign Policy magazine, Nadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya, and Geoff Dyer, foreign policy correspondent with the Financial Times.
LAKSHMANANSo I want to go to the phones and bring in our listeners here. Ron in Wainscot, New York, you're on the line.
RONGood morning, pleasure to be on the show.
LAKSHMANANThanks for calling.
RONI have a speculative question for your panel. What do you anticipate would have happened had the United States not intervened in Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded and thereby creating the Mujahedeen and set a lot of events into motion.
LAKSHMANANAll right, interesting question, it is hypothetical, but let's maybe go to Christian, since you have a book that begins in 1979, the year of that Soviet invasion.
CARYLWell thank you very much for mentioning the book. I think it is important to remember that the Mujahedeen, as the caller mentioned them, actually started fighting the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan long before the Soviet invasion, long before the United States got involved in helping them. When Jimmy Carter made the decision to support the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, it was a covert, covert program of support initially, they had already been fighting against the Soviet-backed government there, the communist government there, and certainly U.S. support and Pakistani support for the Mujahedeen during the war helped them a lot. We by no means created them or, you know, were the only factor involved in their rise. They were very much an indigenous force.
BILBASSYI actually always think about this, what we have seen in the whole Middle East and the greater Middle East. It goes back to three very important events. One was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in '79. Second was -- and the creation, of course, of the whole Islamic movement of some Arab countries who don't want people there. They said, okay, go to Afghanistan and fight against this godless occupation, which were the Russians, and led to what, to the birth of al-Qaeda, indirectly.
BILBASSYAnd second was the concept of the Iranian revolution and the concept of exporting political Islam that led now to this...
LAKSHMANANThe revolution that also happened in 1979, for that matter.
BILBASSYExactly, it's the same date, actually, and it led to the sectarian strife that we have seen now, to this tension between the Sunnis and the Shiites. And the last was American invasion of Iraq that became a magnet for al-Qaeda and later on for ISIS. So all these big events have -- indirectly were a catalyst for what we have seen in all the violence and all -- I mean, to a large extent, I think they can be responsible for what we have seen today.
LAKSHMANANAll three of these major, watershed events playing a role in midwifing the birth of Islamic extremism. Interesting, Nadia Bilbassy. Okay, let's go to a call from Jim in Kent, Ohio. Jim, you're on the air.
JIMYes, well first, before I get to my question about NATO, I'd like to point out to your guests on that last comment that the Afghan revolution, communist revolution, took place in April of 1978, and the Soviet invasion, as you called it, took place in -- at the end of '79, but it was in response to Jimmy Carter's policy to support these radicals to fight the new communist government in Afghanistan. So I mean, and the Afghan government actually asked the Soviets to come in and help them against these Mujahedeen.
LAKSHMANANOkay, well, we'll let Christian respond to that in a second. But go ahead, did you have another question?
JIMOkay, yeah, well, Donald Trump said that he would disband NATO. And to me, I think most -- most of what he said is nuts, and he's not credible in any kind of sense as a candidate or anything else, really, but to me that's the one thing he said that makes sense, for us to just get out of NATO, just abandon it and -- because once the Warsaw Pact dissolved in 1989, the reason for NATO ceased to exist. Since that time, it went from being a defensive alliance to an offensive one.
LAKSHMANANAll right, well thank you for your call. Let's first address, if there's anything you want to say about the Afghan part of his comment, Christian, and then I'd like to go to Geoff on the NATO question.
CARYLWell, I'm not sure how deeply we want to get into the events of 1978 and 1979 in Afghanistan.
LAKSHMANANJust a quick response.
CARYLBut as the caller himself noted, the communist government took power there in the spring of 1978, and as soon as it took power, there was an uprising in large parts of the country, an indigenous uprising against very, very Draconian, communist reform plans that had nothing to do with the United States. So again...
LAKSHMANANAll right. Geoff, what about his comment that he thinks the U.S. should get out of NATO and that NATO is irrelevant, a comment that I think a lot of the leaders of the 28 nations gathered in Warsaw would thoroughly reject? Tell us, what's your reaction?
DYERI think the way to think about this NATO summit, it's back to the future. I mean, ever since the end of the Cold War, NATO has had this identity crisis, hasn't really understood what its function was. It did obviously go and take part in Afghanistan for 15 years, but it hasn't quite understood what its main core is now. But what this summit about -- is about reinforcing it, the basic NATO idea of territorial defense of our member states from outside threat from the east, from now Russia.
DYERNow if you are an Estonian or Polish or Lithuanian, you absolutely today think that Russia is a direct threat to your security and could potentially -- has the capacity to invade your country. Now what the caller is getting at is there is a legitimate argument to suggest that maybe some of the things the West has done in the last 20 years, the advance of NATO perhaps, trying to get Ukraine in the mid-2000s into NATO, maybe some of these things have stimulated this more aggressive Russian posture.
DYERBut if you are in one of those Eastern NATO countries at the moment, you absolutely feel the Russian threat breathing down your neck, and you don't think that NATO is irrelevant by any shape or means.
LAKSHMANANAll right, Nadia, let's talk a little bit about the political fallout from the Brexit vote. We now know that a woman is going to lead Britain for the first times since Margaret Thatcher, and it's between two of them. Tell us about the candidates.
BILBASSYIt is a choice between two women.
LAKSHMANANTheresa May, the home secretary.
BILBASSYTheresa May and Andrea Leadsom. So it's really interesting because this will be -- we will guarantee that we're going to have a woman prime minister in Britain after the exit of Margaret Thatcher in 1990, and actually I was a student in England at the time. I remember the protest against Thatcher during these years. And it's interesting to see these two women, who came by default.
LAKSHMANANAgain from the same Conservative Party.
BILBASSYThe same Conservative Party.
LAKSHMANANThere hasn't been a woman Labour leader.
BILBASSYBut this is a different establishment from what we used to see, which is the Eton, Oxford, male-dominated Conservative Party, or the Tory Party. We have two women, who came -- different background. One of them is more known because she is a home secretary and who is Theresa May, and the other one is -- not many people know her. Actually I was talking Geoff before we came on air, and he said not many British people actually are aware of her because she's a junior minister who's about energy, et cetera, and she had -- she worked in the financial secretary before.
BILBASSYBut this is -- it's really interesting because Cameron miscalculated, obviously, as we discussed over the weeks about this referendum, and the fact that now the whole establishment, not just the Tories but also Labour Party, but as a result that even people are questioning the leadership of Corbett. And...
LAKSHMANANJeremy Corbett, the Labour leader.
BILBASSYJeremy Corbett was the Labour leader and also talking about the two potential leaders for the Conservatives, which is Johnson and also another colorful character, who was not in the Conservative but in the independent party that also had to exit, Farage.
BILBASSYFarage or Farage. So basically you have these two women come into the scene, and I was -- one of the interesting articles that I read was that -- a quote by Oscar Wilde, who said you cannot believe that because of this exit or because of this leave movement that you have a complete shake-up of the political establishment on every level. The head of the independent party is gone. The prime minister is going. The chancellor of exchequer will leave. The head of Labour Party is going to leave. And if you don't have -- Oscar Wilde said that you have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at this scene.
LAKSHMANANAll right, well, I don't know how many people in Britain are laughing over the effect that the Brexit vote has had on global markets, the pound at its lowest level in 31 years, Standard and Poor's stripping the country of its AAA credit rating, Goldman Sachs predicting a recession. Tell us, what's the latest on that front, Christian?
CARYLWell, the latest -- I'm not sure if it's the absolute latest, but George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, had to get together with the heads of a bunch of the big, British banks and reaffirm their support for London as a global financial center because now a lot of other European capitals and financial centers are trying to lure business away from London, now that it looks like it will no longer be part of the European Union.
CARYLAgain, this is the sort of thing that, you know, if you'd told me a month this was going to happen, I would have said you were absolutely nuts.
LAKSHMANANI have to ask you, Geoff, these two women who we're talking about, both Tory Party leaders, but Theresa May was against the Brexit vote, and Andrea Leadsom was for it. So what kind of a difference do you think it would make? Does that affect who will be chosen? Or does it affect how either one of them would carry out the actual exit, the negotiations with the EU to leave? Is it possible that Theresa May might say, you know what, guess what, psych, I don't -- I didn't want to leave, and we're all reconsidering it, so it's not going to happen?
DYERI think it has influence on both things. First of all, the election. The election now goes to the party membership. There are 150,000 members. It's not -- it's not like in the U.S. of whether you're a registered Republican or Democrat. This is the party activists. And they tend to be very anti-European Union, probably quite a lot of them, a majority of them in favor of Brexit.
DYERSo though Theresa May is the favorite, she's the more established person, you know, she is a very important person in the Cabinet, has been for six years, the fact that Andrea Leadsom was in favor of Brexit gives her an advantage in appealing to the members of the party. So even though she's not that well-known, she still has a reasonable chance to come out of this as the leader.
DYERThe second bit is how this plays out in how Britain approaches Brexit, there are two kind of philosophies that people who support Brexit really come at it from. One is to say we want to cut down in immigration from the EU. That's the real driving force behind the Ukip party, the kind of more right-wing Independence Party. Also a lot of conservative members really wanted to cut down on immigration.
DYERBut there's another school of thought that says it's an opportunity just to really -- to really have a much more free market philosophy, to have this bonfire of regulations. We'll kind of keep a good trading relationship with the EU, but we'll be more free to just tear up regulations and reduce taxes and have a much more Thatcherite-type economic model. Andrea Leadsom is probably going to be more leaning towards the immigration issue if she becomes the leader. Theresa May will be less worried about immigration and more worried about trying to have a more competitive, low-tax, free-market British economy.
LAKSHMANANI'm Indira Lakshmanan, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Nadia, tell us about this Chilcot report, this 2.6-million word, exhaustive report conducted by Sir John Chilcot over the UK's involvement in the Iraq War.
BILBASSYWell, this is an independent report. As you said, it took almost nine years in the making. What's interesting about it, it reinstated what everybody knows about it, that basically the reasons for war was relying on flawed intelligence, the fact that Iraq did not pose any security threat to the United States or to Europe, the fact that Saddam Hussein has no link to al-Qaeda per se. All of this -- and the diplomatic channels were not exhausted enough before they went to war.
BILBASSYBut what's interesting, I think, is this little, personal memo that Tony Blair, the prime minister at the time, brought to President Bush. And he said to him, I'll be with you no matter what. Even going against advice of his senior advisors and assistants, and some say even he lied. And he said he changed that memo. And the fact that he wholeheartedly committed to a war that everybody thought that the United States and the neocon that was surrounded President Bush was determined to have no matter what.
BILBASSYAnd they're trying -- they already have the case, and they're trying to find the evidence afterwards. Tony Blair I think lost credibility. I don't know if you hear him in the press conference. He was talking about there hasn't been a day that he has not been reliving this. And what's ironic about it, and I found it a bit really astonishing, that -- the fact that he said, and this is why I spend all my time in the Middle East.
BILBASSYI mean, he was the most failed head of -- representative of the quartet, as if he did something amazing to save the Middle East. Tony Blair is a very controversial character. People say that he's very obsessed with people with money and power, and despite the fact that he introduced himself as a new Bill Clinton in British politics at the time, modernizing the Labour Party. But unfortunately, I think this is going to be sticking with him, despite the fact there was no new evidence, but I think it put Tony Blair on the spot.
LAKSHMANANWell, one legacy of this no doubt is I think British politicians are going to be very careful about writing any memos or emails saying that they're with the U.S. or anyone else unconditionally. All right, let me read an email from Carol in Cary, North Carolina, who says ISIS uses Western indifference to Muslims as a recruiting tool. Isn't it in our best interest to take better care of refugees from Syria to counteract ISIS' propaganda? If we want the Middle East to turn against radicalism, why don't we treat refugees better? Christian?
CARYLWell, I think the caller absolutely has a point. I think one of the big problems in all this has been the lack of a coherent policy on refugees and migrants and immigration in general throughout the West that maybe we need to start seeing this as not just a domestic, political and economic issue but also as a security issue to a certain degree.
LAKSHMANANAll right, well let me take a last call from Doug in Naperville, Illinois. Doug, you're on the air.
DOUGThank you, and good morning, Indira and panel.
DOUGI'd be grateful if you could please discuss the life and witness of Elie Wiesel. Thank you.
LAKSHMANANThat is a wonderful question to take us out of our hour on a somber but also uplifting note. Elie Wiesel, of course the Holocaust survivor who died this past week. Who would like to reflect on his legacy? Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, I mean, definitely he was an icon of the anti-Nazism, and he stood up for rights, human rights, wherever it exists, in Rwanda, in Kosovo, elsewhere. He was a moral voice of what happened to one of the worse tragedies in human history, which is the Holocaust. President Obama said he was a moral voice, probably the strongest moral voice that we have heard, and we're going to -- everybody's going to miss him.
BILBASSYI have one criticism, though, that he never spoke against the rights of the Palestinians. And it's...
LAKSHMANANIn support of the rights.
BILBASSYIn support of the rights of the Palestinians, that he was somehow supportive of Prime Minister Netanyahu, in support of the settlement movement. The worst violator of human rights is occupation, and the Palestinians have been under occupation for more than 40 years.
LAKSHMANANChristian, your take on Elie Wiesel?
CARYLI think he was, in fact, a monumental figure. He -- it's a horrible cliché now when we talk about giving voice to the voiceless, but I've spoken to friends who are the children of Holocaust survivors, who have told me that their parents could never really talk about the stuff that happened to them. And he came along, and he made it -- he enabled people to go to become open about these things in a way they never were before. And I think it's largely due to him that people can discuss this issue as openly as we can today.
LAKSHMANANAnd of course the whole never forget movement of the Holocaust. It's striking. As you say, Holocaust survivors are dying out. He was of course in our 80s. You make the point about it being hard for Holocaust survivors to talk about their experiences. I'm actually the daughter of a concentration camp survivor from Poland, and I have to agree with you that Elie Wiesel showed great leadership and, for many people who lived through that horrible experience, was a real light in getting them to talk about their feelings, share those and of course make sure that it never happens again.
LAKSHMANANWell, thank you so much to all of you for helping us wrap up a very difficult week in the news. Christian Caryl, senior fellow with the Legatum Institute, contributing editor with Foreign Policy, Nadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya, and Geoff Dyer, foreign policy correspondent with the Financial Times. Thank you all so much for joining us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, a columnist with the Boston Globe, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And thanks to all of you out there for listening.
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