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: Derek McGinty
Italy continues a desperate search for survivors of an earthquake that has claimed nearly 270 lives. Turkey blames PKK militants for a deadly car bomb targeting the police. Tensions rise between Washington and Tehran after Iran harasses a U.S. warship near the Persian Gulf. In France, what’s being called the “burkini wars” draws strong commentary from around the world. Insurgents in Afghanistan attack a university in the capital, killing more than a dozen students and staff. And the government of Colombia signs a peace deal with Marxist rebels to end a 52-year guerrilla war. A panel of journalists joins guest host Derek McGinty for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Peter Bergen CNN's national security analyst; a vice president and director of the international security program at New America; author of a new book, "United States of Jihad: The Untold Story of Americans Fighting for Radical Islam"
- Nadia Bilbassy Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya
- Shane Harris Senior correspondent, The Daily Beast; Future of War fellow, New America; author, "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" and "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State"
MR. DEREK MCGINTYThanks for joining us. I'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. The death toll in Italy surpasses 260 as rescue efforts now are beginning to turn to recovery following that devastating earthquake there. Turkey has launched a series of attacks against ISIS in Syria. And Columbia signs a peace treaty with the FARC rebels and that ends a guerilla war that's gone on for more than 50 years. There are many international stories we hope to get to this hour.
MR. DEREK MCGINTYHere to talk about them on the Friday News Roundup, Peter Bergen of CNN and New America, Nadia Bilbassy of al-Arabiya and Shane Harris of The Daily Beast. You can get in our conversation by calling the phone number 800-433-8850. You can send an email to email@example.com. And, of course, you can join us on Facebook and Twitter.
MR. DEREK MCGINTYI mentioned a few very dark stories, but let's turn our attention to what's a little bit of breaking news this morning and that is a court has ruled in France in the so-called burqini ban. Why is this important, Nadia?
MS. NADIA BILBASSYWell, it's very important because it has causes an outrage, especially in the social media. France actually one of the first and the only European country to ban the burqa and the niqab, which is a full coverage of women bodies and of their face. And that was considered for security reason. Some people understand that, especially in the rise of ISIS and other militants. But when women has decided to use what they call the burqini, which is actually an invention by a Lebanese Australian woman, which is a swim bodysuit, allow women of conservative background to enjoy a day on the beach.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYWhat we have seen of the images that came out was very shocking. We've seen the police in Nice asking a woman to basically to take her clothes off in public. And this has caused an incredible outrage, as I said. And therefore, many organizations, including Human Rights organization, went and they said to the -- they took the case to the court and they said, this is not acceptable. So this court in this particular town has overruled that and allowed women, for the time being, to use it. But it is a political issue.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYWe have seen that President Sarkozy or the former president who has an ambition to run again, has been using it. He called it provocative. It also shed -- it's not just a security issue or a social issue. It's an issue about assimilation in the French culture, the role of this Muslim minority. And the French has been, always since the colonial years, basically saying if you look like us -- and they said that to the former African colonies -- we will forget your color. And now, they wanted to do the same with the Muslims.
MCGINTYAnd we should note that court said, and we quote, "the ban seriously and clearly illegally breached fundament freedoms to come and go, freedom of beliefs and individual freedoms." So Shane Harris, it seems like it was repudiated pretty strongly.
MR. SHANE HARRISYeah, very much so. And I mean, Nadia eluded to the social media outrage, which was big when there was these images of this woman being forced to undress on the beach in front of her children. She was humiliated. Her children were crying. And yeah, this really puts a, you know, underscores the extent to which, right now, you have a country, France, that is very much on edge after a series of very deadly terrorist attacks.
MR. SHANE HARRISBut there is this longer history of France sort of trying to separate religion and national identity. And what has happened in that is that faith has been subordinated, whether it's Muslim women not being allowed to wear the veil or children not being able to wear crosses in school. So there has been this sort of, you know, (word?) I guess in France of making you French first and having a national identity and subordinating the religion.
MR. SHANE HARRISAnd I think this kind of reach may be a breaking point with this where it just seemed absurd that you are not allowing women to wear what, basically, it looks like a wetsuit. I mean, it's not as if they were parading around in burqas and protesting. They were just wearing things to cover themselves modestly.
MR. PETER BERGENYeah, I mean, you know, during the French Revolution, there was a real desire to repress the Catholic Church and there was a French concept called (word?) which essentially is a form of secularism, which is a very strong impetus in French society. And basically, this burqini debate is embedded in a much larger debate about the proper role of religion in society, which in France, traditionally, they've wanted to really push to the margins.
MCGINTYSo this is also, as you brought up, though, Shane, and we can all get into this for a minute, has been focused on because of the terror attacks that France has had to endure. And while a lot of people say, oh, that -- we would never have a burqini ban in this country, you wonder if we had endured terror attacks at the level that France has had to deal with, how we would react to it.
BILBASSYMaybe it will be a different reaction, but I still believe that France stand out on this and it's very different from the United States. I mean, here, there is a freedom of religion that's guaranteed and enshrined in the Constitution. People are allowed -- women, Muslim women -- Muslim American women are allowed to wear the hijab and to exhibit any symbol of religious affiliation, whether they were Muslims or Jews or Christians.
BILBASSYAnd as Peter said, I think in France, in particular, it's just very akin to the situation in Turkey with Ataturk. The question of secularism is very, very strong in the French society. And basically, they wanted to say, if you want to live here among us, although they have almost, like, 5 million immigrants there, most of them from North Africa, you have to act like us. And what was disturbing that you saw this image that Shane talked about, basically, that there was French women in their bikini sitting there completely silent.
BILBASSYAnd some of them were actually, according to social media, were saying to this woman, go back home. So this is not a good way to integrate the minorities. And there is another striking image and I'll end with that, which is there's a cartoon of -- being used by many people on the social media of ISIS and other jihadist group forcing women to dress up with -- under a gunpoint and they have a similar picture of the same image of the French police forcing women to undress.
MCGINTYSo do you have a sense that by having a ban like that, it was actually a recruiting tool for ISIS.
HARRISThere's been a lot of criticism on that very point. They're saying that there are people who may have been wearing this garment who, now that it's become a political issue and a question of sort of, you know, oppressing people's faith, that now maybe people want to start wearing it in defiance or you're driving people to become less integrated and more angry at the state. That you're creating a bigger problem than the one you were apparently trying to solve.
MCGINTYAnd apparently, they were fining women for wearing this, but a lot of women were wearing over and over and taking the fine over and over.
BILBASSYWell, it's not just that, but actually the sale of the burqini has went up by 200 percent apparently. And it wasn't just Muslim women who was buying it, but also other religious groups, like Hindus and others who -- some people use it to protect themselves from the sun as well.
MCGINTYNadia Bilbassy of al-Arabiya, Shane Harris is with The Daily Beast, Peter Bergen is with CNN and New America. We're talking about the top international stories of the week. Our number's 800-433-8850. Let's shift gears back to Italy where it's been a devastating earthquake this past week and a very grim situation as the death toll has just climbed and climbed.
BERGENYeah, we're seeing a death toll around, I think, 260 was probably the last count. Some of these towns, these very old, old beautiful cities will be rendered inhabitable after this earthquake. And now, as you said earlier, Derek, this is kind of moving into more of a recovery phase than a rescue phase. Many people will not be able to go back to their homes. There's really just -- there's nothing left. The scenes of devastation have been pretty striking.
MCGINTYNow, Italy is not new to earthquakes. I mean, that's a -- it's a very -- there's a fault line there that's been -- they've have many earthquakes and they've always rebuilt afterwards. Is there something different this time?
BILBASSYWell, you're right. They had earthquakes before in '76, I believe, and 1980 and they lost 1,000 or 3,000 people. But it's always about -- I mean, some people -- I don't want to be -- it sounds really critical of Italy, but many people think that it's like almost third world country in terms of services. The worst thing about this earthquake is it cuts off roads. So this -- the epicenter, which is -- I think it was 70 kilometer away from Rome -- was in the town called Amatrice, if I pronounced it right.
BILBASSYAnd it's basically was devastated. So trying to get people who are in shelters now, who being -- have a temporary homes in tents is almost impossible because it's mountainous areas, 3,000 feet above sea level and trying to get the essential supplies of food and medicine to the stranded people proves to be really, really difficult.
BERGENI think the big story here is 70 percent of buildings in Italy are not earthquake resistant, even though, as you said, I mean, there's been eight earthquakes and they're sort of in the recent past, which gets to something that Nadia sort of gestured out, which is, you know, essentially the sort of corrupt nature of the town governance. And so, you know, apparently a lot of new buildings are not being -- it's not...
BERGEN...are not being built to the correct standards, even though they know that this is a real possibility.
MCGINTYThat's not good news. That's actually fairly grim if they're not rebuilding to the correct standards. Is that just a matter of resource or just the government is not forcing people to do that?
HARRISWell, it's probably a bit of both. I think Peter pointed to sort of the classic dysfunction of the Italian government where, I mean, how many governments have there been over the past several years and, you know, kind of endemic corruption. And then, you get into the local and regional aspects of this, I’m sure. And surely, I mean, some of these places were in very remote areas where it would be very difficult to rebuild anyway so there's probably a history of understanding you take some risk.
HARRISBut I think there's just -- there's so little left at this point that it's almost, you know, for a lot of these people I think they're just going to move on and go somewhere else.
MCGINTYYou know, one of the interesting things about this. You've seen so much attention paid to this because some people would argue that it's because it's in Europe and not in a developing part of the world.
BILBASSYIt's a good point, actually. I was in Haiti after the earthquake and first of all, you can understand that -- and you can see the level of devastation once you are there and especially the aftershocks, which is -- Italy has suffered, I think, 200 of them. And I was in Haiti in Port du Ponce just after that and you feel it. And you -- there's no place, really, to run to. But also, you're absolutely right. It's just like human tragedies always magnified or have better attention when it happens in Europe then it happens in a third world country.
BILBASSYMaybe they will cover it for the first day, but then they forget about it. And it's not just national disasters, but civil wars and conflict and famine and all this kind of things because people in the Western world don't relate to it. It seems like far away. The media, which is -- I have to admit this, also partially guilty of covering conflicts like this or natural disasters.
MCGINTYI'm Derek McGinty and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MCGINTYI'm Derek McGinty sitting in for Diane Rehm. Welcome back to the broadcast, where we've been talking about the international stories, the big international stories of the week. And we're going to move on. But we're getting so much reaction to this burqini story that we're going to have to spend at least a few more minutes talking about it, in part with Shirley, who lives in Washington, D.C. Shirley.
SHIRLEYYeah. I just got back from six weeks in Europe, three of which was spent in France. I was there with Nice. I was there when ruin happened. In fact, I was in Normandy. France is a wonderful country. Now let me tell you, if you're going to wear a burqini, why are you wearing a burqini? Because of some cultural or some chauvinistic approach to life? You're wearing it because a man is not supposed to gaze on your body. Then stay at home and don't go swimming. I mean, I'm so infuriated by the whole conversation because it doesn't make any sense. Why are you wearing a burqini? Why are you wearing a full-face -- it doesn't make any sense in a secular society. And a country like France has to protect itself.
MCGINTYAll right. Shirley makes an interesting point, although I think it goes more in depth than that for the women who are making that choice.
BILBASSYIt is. It's not actually -- I mean, I can see the point of the caller. But it's not as black and white. If you go back to Turkey, and we're going to talk about it -- Turkey in a different situation. But Ataturk came up with the idea that the society has to be extremely secular, in a way that he banned women from wearing headscarves -- not burqinis at the time but a headscarf. And that -- what this did as an effect or a side-effect is prevented women who come from rural area, conservative family background, from going to universities, from being educated, from going to hospitals, even military hospitals, because they're not allowed to wear headscarves.
BILBASSYNow, I understand that Europe is Europe and we understand, especially now, that they have this debate about the identity. And I think Shane has alluded to that earlier. But still, if you're a conservative woman and you don't have to be a Muslim. What about orthodox Jewish women? What about nuns? What about other minorities, Amishes, God knows what? Does that mean that they have to prevented from enjoying a day on the beach or doing whatever they have to do? No, the society has to be tolerant of others. And I think it's okay for the government to use its power to stop people from exhibiting any religious symbols in schools, because it's public schools. Private schools, they can do whatever they want.
BILBASSYAs long as their freedom does not infringe on the other people in the society, they have the right to do it. And we have to accept that.
BERGENYou know, I think the key point about France, the key statistic is about 10 percent of the population are Muslim, up to 60 percent of the prison population is Muslim.
BERGENWhich is an astonishing number. And so that gets to the question of the disenfranchisement, the marginalization and the alienation of the French Muslim population. Now there's a lot of French Muslims who have reason to be aggrieved. You are two and a half times less likely to be called back to a job interview if you have a Muslim sounding name versus a Christian sounding name. You are, you know, the unemployment rate in the banlieue, (sp?) in the sort of essentially project...
BERGEN...is, you know, like 50 percent. And France doesn't have -- there's no French dream or EU dream. I mean, the American dream is (word?) pretty well for American Muslims. So this is a problem. The burqini is a proxy for this larger issue, which is the integration of this population, which is getting bigger. There's, you know, massive waves of immigration. We have seen the rise of these proto-fascist parties all across Europe and in France in reaction. And this is a very toxic mix together.
BILBASSYYeah, just one point, which is interesting what you mention about 10 percent of the population, 60 percent of people in jail. And this is very similar to the situation African Americans in the United States. And, yes, it is -- they have been marginalized and, you know...
BERGENIt is very similar with the following difference. The rate of incarceration for French Muslims is much higher than the rate of black, you know, for, I mean, it's too high in America.
BILBASSYIn America, yeah.
BERGENIt's, I think, something like 40 percent and 12 percent of the population are African American. So it's bad in this country. It's even worse in France.
BILBASSYYeah. For sure, but is very similar, yeah, situation in a way.
MCGINTYWell said. Let's talk about Turkey. You brought up Turkey. Because there are three or four different things going on there right now that we have to get to. First of all, they've finally, in the wake of this coup that was defeated...
MCGINTY...now there is an incursion against ISIS in Syria and there is talk that they really wanted to do this a long time before but the coup plotters were finding ways within the military to keep that from happening. Shane.
HARRISWell, and you alluded to the fact that's just been -- they've -- maybe they've said they've been wanting to do it for a long time. The United States has also been wanting them to do this for a long time. So from our perspective this was a positive development. President Erdogan is getting backing from quarters to do this that he would not have gotten it from before. And this may have something to do with the military being flushed out of some of these other people. But yeah, very significant action -- tanks, fighter aircraft and special operations forces went in.
HARRISAnd why this is important is because they've gone in and it allowed the Turks to then insert rebel groups that are mostly Arab and Turk men to help free up some of this last remaining territory around a town on the border with Turkey that ISIS had been using as a stronghold. And we've been pushing the Turks to do more about securing the border to stop the flow of foreign fighters, to go in there and hit ISIS sort of in their neighborhood. And they seem to have been largely compelled to do it I think by this wave of just devastating suicide attacks in Turkey, most recently one at a wedding about a week ago that killed 54 people.
HARRISSo Turkey is now, at least for now, in the mix. But of course we can to this. They have lots of other sort of forces they're fighting and people that they don't want to see get a strong hand, in addition to ISIS. So it's not just as simple as Turkey going in and hitting ISIS finally.
BILBASSYWell, of course, I mean ISIS has been posing a threat to Turkey for a while. But I think they can still somehow, not handle it but they're aware of it. And the last three attacks, whether it was on the airport or in the town of Suruc (sp?) what it's killed almost 120 people, mainly Kurds, and the last one in Gaziantep that Shane talked about. But I think the bigger picture here is one word is the Kurds...
BILBASSY...for them is an existential threat. The last developments that we have seen on the border between Turkey and Syria was basically allowing the Kurdish forces, it's called the YPG, which is akin to the PKK in Iraq, to expand their territory beyond the west of the Euphrates River. So when they manage -- when they were so worried that this town will fall into the most -- a town called Jarabulus, it basically will have a whole strip of land, will connect Kubanyu (sp?) which is a city that was liberated and mainly Kurdish, on the east to the West of the Euphrates, which is connect two cities, one is Azaz and the other one is Afrin. Maybe the viewers won't be interested in the names.
BILBASSYBut the whole idea is basically for Turkey to have a Kurdish, autonomous strip of land on their border is no under the -- and the dead bodies literally, they will take it. And therefore the move was designed to stop them from going there. And we'll talk about Biden visit now. Basically, one of the messages that the United States, this administration, has decided to give a stern message to the Kurds to say to them, do not cross. Otherwise you're going to lose our support. And they wanted to appease Turkey on that.
MCGINTYThey feel as though they need Turkey. The United States feels as though it needs Turkey as a bulwark in that region, right?
BERGENWell, 100 percent, because, you know, ISIS has a math problem, which is the United States and its allies is killing about 2,000 of their fighters every month. And that's been going on for over two years now. So -- and their force is estimated to being 15,000 to 13,000 at any given time. The only way they've been able to replenish is by foreign fighters. And the foreign fighters have come from all around the Muslim world. And they've come universally through Turkey, because of the very long border. And the Turks have now, well, you know, after a lot of pressure from a variety of countries, have really cut back on the ability of foreign fighters to transit.
BERGENAnd the Pentagon said in April that the number of foreign fighters joining ISIS has dropped from 2,000 to 200 a month. So the long-term prognosis for ISIS, you know, with -- now you've got Turkey actually invading -- is not good. I mean General Petraeus told me in June that he believes Mosul, which is the second-largest city in Iraq, controlled by ISIS, may fall within the Obama administration's tenure...
BERGEN...which is pretty soon. So -- and, you know, this is General Petraeus. He's not, you know, he's in the position to make these assessments. And whether that happens, you know, in that timeframe, you know, we don't know. But the fact is, is ISIS is in deep, deep trouble. And every week brings more bad news.
BILBASSYAnd actually, just one extra point about their foreign fighters, they are resorting now to children.
BILBASSYSo the person -- the suicide bomber that did the last attack in Turkey on a -- in a wedding party and killed 50 people was a child. And his ages could be 12 or 14 year old. So...
MCGINTYI think a lot of people thought that that was a sign of just how deep...
MCGINTY...well, how desperate they were or how deeply they've been able to penetrate, that they could get children to do that sort of thing.
BILBASSYWell, I mean it's easy to get a child and to send him somewhere. And especially with the foreign fighters. I mean we have seen grotesque pictures of kids as young as seven year old executing prisoners.
BILBASSYSo -- and they are the sons of ISIS fighters.
MCGINTYWell, you mentioned Joe Biden, the vice president, made a trip to Turkey. It didn't look like he got a warm welcome when he went over there. Did I get that wrong, Shane?
HARRISNo. There -- he with open arms. Everyone was having a great time. What are you talking about? What were you looking at? No, but Vice President Biden was there. In addition to, as Nadia alluded to earlier, making this statement, very strongly by the way, to the Kurdish rebels that we have been supporting, you have to withdraw back to the east of the Euphrates. So in a way, it's just -- Turkey is getting something from this intervention too, let's remember, was there also to deliver emphatically a message that the United States was not in any way, at all involved with the coup in your country.
MCGINTYBut not going to necessarily extradite the Philadelphia-based...
MCGINTY...the Pennsylvania-based cleric who Turkey...
HARRISYeah, Fethullah Gulen, you're right.
MCGINTY...blames for it.
HARRISRight. Exactly. So this is a cleric living in self-exile in Pennsylvania, who Turkey says, this is the guy who fomented the coup. We want him back. You're to extradite him. And there are, you know, you can call them conspiracy theories -- we certainly would in the U.S. government -- going around that the U.S. was behind the coup. It put him up to it. So -- and Biden went there and I mean just really I mean at a point where that he was almost screaming, he was sort of delivering this so emphatically. Like, we didn't have a part in the coup -- that coup that we really object to, that we were outraged by. Did I mention we didn't have a part in the coup? I mean it just sort of driving it home.
HARRISIt's important, as Peter alluded to earlier, this -- we need Turkey so desperately in this as a strategic bulwark against ISIS. And I think Biden needed to go over there and sort of deliver this message. Whether it was warmly received or not, you can judge by the pictures. And I think -- what was the Turkish comment we were talking about earlier?
MCGINTYI think there was a -- I don't want to misquote it, but it was something along the lines of Biden wasted a trip and we waster our time.
HARRISRight, right, right.
HARRISSo it's an important relationship that's having some strains right now, let's say.
MCGINTYYeah. Well, it's been having some strains for quite some time though, because of Erdogan's sense that he's taken more power...
MCGINTY...and his -- made a lot of concerns that perhaps he's an authoritarian figure.
BILBASSYFor sure. But I think that the administration is making a calculation now. And one of the things that was missing from Biden statement was, any criticism of the thousands of people that the Erdogan government has arrested -- whether it's civil servants, teachers, military, anybody that has a remote connection...
BILBASSY...exactly, with the coup -- so he was completely silent. He was mum on it. And they -- he said that basically, well his aides was saying that he decided to raise this in private. He didn't want to talk about it. (unintelligible)
MCGINTYIs this another one of those sort of really bad choices the United States has to make in foreign policy, when you have an ally that you need but has become unsavory in a lot of ways, and you're trying to balance out whether you criticize or abandon when you need this country to help you? It's just almost.
BERGENYeah, I mean I remember the night of the coup. It took the United States, I thought, quite a long time...
BERGEN...to say, we're against this. I mean, you know, it happened at night. And -- but it seemed to be -- take at least three hours for the government to say...
HARRISYeah. See how it plays out first.
BERGEN...this is -- yeah, it wasn't really clear where it was going. Of course, the military coupists were our secularists, you know. So -- I mean, more in line with perhaps American values than Erdogan certainly. So, you know, but, you know, he's in power. He's going to be in power, you know, for the foreseeable future, because he's become even more popular than he was before. As Nadia said, he arrested, you know, tens of thousands of people who pose any kind of form of dissent. And, you know, we're going to be dealing with him for a long time now.
BILBASSYYeah. But it's not just, sorry.
MCGINTYI was just going to ask, do you think it's likely that the cleric in Pennsylvania will be extradited?
BILBASSYNo, I don't think so.
HARRISI don't think so.
BILBASSYBecause actually this is what Biden said, another of his famous quotes. He said, I wish he doesn't even live in the United States.
BERGENYeah. And yet what crime has he committed?
BILBASSYSo, yeah. I mean, basically...
HARRISAnd there's no proof of this, yeah.
BILBASSYThere is a team of the Justice Department lawyers now, they are in Ankara and they're discussing -- I mean, the Turks saying that we handed over the evidence. And the U.S. saying, basically, it's not a political decision. It's not for the president to say, here, or I'm going to hand him over. There is a process. And if he's guilty, then it is the Justice Department that is going to hand him over. But so far it doesn't seem like there is an evidence. But who knows? We don't know anything about it. But Turkey is a very important ally, considering Syria and considering this new (word?) with Russia. Now the Russians are a good friend of Mr. Erdogan.
MCGINTYI'm Derek McGinty and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going through the top international stories of the week this hour. My guests, Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, Nadia Bilbassy, she's Washington bureau chief at Al Arabiya, and Shane Harris is senior correspondent at The Daily Beast and a Future of War fellow at New America. Our phone number is 800-433-8850, 800-433-8850. Deanna in Largo, Fla., you're on the air.
DEANNAHi. I know this is sort of jumping around, but back to your burqa thing. I'm a Christian, but I am saying, if I knew how to wear a scarf the way that they are -- properly do, I would just in solidarity. I think women of all, everywhere, should just start wearing scarves. We're talking about a minority of women who have the least ability to speak out and be heard. Yet all of these countries, all of these situations where they're being persecuted for their religion -- which in this country is what we were founded on -- I just think it's so ludicrous. I mean, pick on -- they're picking on women who have no say. They have -- they're not allowed to drive a car. They're not allowed to go out without a chaperone.
DEANNAThey're -- it's -- to me, it's just ludicrous that they're picking on these women. And I wish just we would have a scarf day that we women -- every woman in the world would put on a scarf just to show that we are stronger than just these powers that be to pick something so minute and so -- it's so innocent.
MCGINTYAll right. You know, Deanna, I appreciate what you're saying. But, you know, we have this email on the other side we just got from someone named Michael, who says, are you for integration into society or not? On one hand you advocate remaining separate through dress and then you say they should integrate. So that seems to me to sort of encapsulate the argument. And of course we've gone through it several times today already. Let us continue to have a conversation regarding the situation in Iraq and Turkey. We got this email from another Michael, I'm sure, who says, aren't the Kurds the ones on the grounds fighting ISIS? It seems they are a better bulwark against ISIS than Turkey.
HARRISYeah, I mean, this is -- the Kurds are -- been a very effective fighting force on the ground there and we need them. And, you know, the United States is -- this is when Biden goes over and he makes this sort of, you know, a redline argument, if you like, about going back to the east of the Euphrates. We're having to balance this. I mean these are groups that we've supported, that we want to encourage, but that the Turks see as an existential threat. I mean, this gives you a sense of just how difficult and precarious this whole situation is. I mean, the layers of state craft that are involved here and they're interlocking, they are complicated. The alliances are frequently changing. This is just the latest iteration of that. But, yes, we need the Kurds.
BILBASSYI mean, they are a very effective fighting force, no doubt about that. And the Americans have been relying on them. But this is, remember, is something that is really significant, which is this town, Jarabulus, that was liberated yesterday while Biden and Erdogan were talking. It took them two hours to liberate it. And guess who liberated it from ISIS's hands? It wasn't the Kurds. It was the Free Syrian Army. When was the last time we heard about the Free Syrian Army? Why? Because they got the logistics from the Americans and the Kurds.
MCGINTYI'm Derek McGinty. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MCGINTYWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Derek McGinty, sitting in for Diane. And joining me here in the studio as we handle the top international stories of the week, Nadia Bilbassy, Washington bureau chief at Al Arabiya, Shane Harris, senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, author of the book "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex," and Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst and the director of the international security program at New America. His book is called "United States of Jihad: The Untold Story of Americans Fighting for Radical Islam."
MCGINTYI want to get back to a couple of emails we've gotten here. One is from James, and he asks the question, is it possible that Turkey's making these accusations against us to put us on the defensive so we'll be less likely to protest the curtailment of democracy.
BERGENWell, it's interesting, we have been, as Nadia said earlier, I think president -- Vice President Biden was pretty silent on that issue. I don't know if it's so much of that's precisely why they're pressuring it. I mean, the conspiracy theories have sort of abounded in Turkey over this, and I think that there's sort of maybe a broader sense of, you know, U.S. meddling in power and influence in the region that they are pushing back against.
BERGENBut, you know, it's certainly an opportune moment, I would guess, for Erdogan to bring this up and to keep pressing on it, which is I think why you saw Vice President Biden so strongly insist that it wasn't true.
MCGINTYOn another political tip here, email comes our way from Eva, who asks, will Obama ever get credit for the inroads against ISIS. Does he deserve credit? And Peter, you just mentioned that they were in really bad shape.
BERGENWell, he was the founder of ISIS. So, you know, he's never going to get credit, right? I mean, no, for somebody who's supposedly the co-founder of ISIS with Hillary Clinton, I mean he is a guy who's killed 45,000 members of ISIS, according to the leader of the anti-ISIS coalition, General Sean McFarland, just about two weeks ago. ISIS has halved the salaries of its soldiers because we've done so much damage to their financing system.
BERGENThe rate of foreign fighters going to join ISIS has slowed to a trickle. They lost 50 percent of their territory in Iraq and 25 percent in Syria. I mean, he should be getting credit.
BILBASSYSure, absolutely, but I will criticize the administration for the lack of action in Syria. Actually I went to Syria just in the beginning of the events in 2012, and ISIS just started to set the shop there. And I think because the international community, without the United States, nobody moves, as you know. I mean, the leader of the world. If there was some kind of action by the United States by this administration, ISIS wouldn't exist in the first place.
BILBASSYIt was easy for them to come to a place in the heart of the Middle East. It's not (unintelligible) it's not Afghanistan. You can drive through Europe, and people saw atrocities. The biggest victim of the Syrian people, or the people who suffered most as victims in Syria, by -- it was by the hand of the regime. It's not just by ISIS. ISIS, because the -- we see them on television, they're beheading people, and they're a barbaric group that, you know, operates outside of everything that we know and we describe as civilized.
BILBASSYBut the Syrian regime killed at least 500,000 people. Twelve million people have been displaced. Most of them are Sunnis. And they will change the map and the dynamic and the ethnicity of the Middle East as we know it in Syria. So they're the guilty partner, and I think the administration could have done something to -- early in the beginning of the conflict to stop ISIS from coming to Syria.
HARRISJust a quick (unintelligible) thing. Both my colleagues make excellent points. The caller asked me will Obama get credit for it. I think one thing you will not see the administration do is try to take too much credit for it because precisely I think of the reasons that Nadia's pointing to, that if they're seen as saying, well, look, our strategy against ISIS worked, the comeback to that will be, well, your strategy to basically not to go too far into it, to rely on other people, and oh, by the way, what did you do about Syria.
HARRISSo I mean Peter is right that the U.S. policy has led to, I think it's fair to say, a crippling of ISIS, but I don't think that you're going to see the president taking victory laps on that in the final months of his administration.
MCGINTYYou know, they say the generals are always fighting the last war, and I wonder if, in that same spirit, President Obama was too hesitant to get involved in another foreign adventure after things went so badly in Iraq and not better in Afghanistan.
HARRISI think that's right and Peter, and you've interviewed President Obama on these very topics, and...
BERGENWell, I mean, there's no doubt that he was hesitant, but I think also the American, there was no demand signal from the American public to send in --you know, I mean, Lindsey Graham was the only Republican candidate who actually came up with a number, he said 25,000 soldiers, and he was out of the race very quickly. And so the United States doesn't want to become embroiled in another big land war.
BERGENBut, you know, I think that what Nadia was saying is absolutely true. If we had imposed a no-fly zone early on, you know, I mean, Assad enjoys total air superiority. We can impose that no-fly zone overnight, and yet we didn't do it.
MCGINTYAnd especially after the red line comment from the president over the chemical weapons. He said if he uses chemical weapons, it's a red line, and then of course he didn't do anything.
BILBASSYYeah, and to be honest, it's a misconception to believe that anybody in Syria, whether it's the opposition or regional power or anyone, has asked the United States to send troops. They never asked us for a sizable number of troops. In the beginning, there is many other tools that could have been implemented, and to the dismay of many senior officials in the administration, including Ambassador Robert Ford, who was ambassador to Syria, and he disagreed with the administration on what they could have done.
BILBASSYI think there was no political will whatsoever to do anything there, and as you said, the (unintelligible) in Syria, in Iraq, and the president was not willing to do much. He thinks, and he still say it, and I actually interviewed him, too, and he said -- I asked him will you assure us that the bloodshed in Syria will end before we leave, and he said no. And for him, he sees this as a conflict that goes back two thousands of years between Shiites and Sunnis, which is not fair, really.
BILBASSYI mean, there is definitely a religious element into it, but it's purely political. It's a regime that was dominating the political life in Syria for decades, and they were willing to burn the country down for one family to survive, which is the Assad family.
MCGINTYRobert in Bulverde, Texas, you're on the air. Go ahead, Robert, thanks for waiting.
ROBERTYes, I would say that the United States is more and more being caught in a giant pincer movement from China on the east and Russia on the west, and the Europeans, as far as NATO goes, have not paid their monetary dues, met their manpower commitments or their materiel commitments. So we're borrowing money from China to support Europe against Russia, and the Europeans are playing both sides against the middle.
ROBERTAnd that is a more dangerous situation than the Middle East. To me the Middle East is a sideshow just because of the violence going on there. That violence does not represent a threat to the United States of America.
HARRISWell, I think that's a point lots of people would debate, and I think you'll probably see it brought up in the presidential debates because at least one of the nominees, or Donald Trump, has taken a position on many of these issues that are in line with what the caller is expressing. Look, there's no doubt it's a complicated world.
HARRISBut, you know, as we've all been saying, you know, the United States is a leader, and many things don't happen in these regions unless we step in. This is not a point at which we can simply withdraw and say, well, it has nothing to do with us. It has a lot to do with us, even if you can't tangibly put your finger on it every day and every moment.
MCGINTYIf there is one point of good news this week we can look at it, it is in Colombia, where a 52-year-old guerrilla war has apparently come to an end with the signing of a peace deal with the FARC.
BERGENYeah, and, you know, it's a big deal because, you know, this -- the war has been going on for more than five decades, more than 200,000 people died. Colombia, which I used to visit fairly often in the early '90s, was the most dangerous place in the world, I mean, by almost any metric. Bogota, the capital, was a sort of free fire zone, Medellin, one of the main cities. And, you know, and Colombia has really transformed.
BERGENThe economy is doing well. FARC, this guerrilla group, is laying down its arms. They are in some levels one of the largest cocaine organizations in the world. You know, and, you know, this still hasn't -- there's a referendum that's going to have to happen for the Colombia people to agree to this, and it's controversial because some of the FARC soldiers will get sort of payments when they put down their arms, and, you know, there'll be immunity from crimes and these kinds of things. But that always happens in these kinds of agreements.
BERGENI mean, look at Northern Ireland, where people who were essentially, member of the NRA are now in the -- essentially members of the government. I mean, this is the way peace happens, which is you have to make uncomfortable compromises.
MCGINTYLet's talk to Juan in Miami, Florida, about this. Juan, are you still there?
JUANYes, thank you for having my call. I am from Colombia. I've been in this country for over 25 years. I don't believe on the peace talk in Colombia because the guerrilla, they don't have any ideology. The only ideology they had was to control the territory, to grow the plants to obtain the cocaine to bring to the United States. I don't believe in that at all. I think it's just a cover-up. And also another...
MCGINTYWell, let us address that very quickly, Juan. Go ahead, Nadia, you wanted to say something.
BILBASSYWell, I'll say, I mean, give peace a chance. Look, most of these rebels, they get tired. Civil wars end when two parties are, like, unwilling, and they don't want to continue fighting anymore. This is the longest war in the Western Hemisphere, and it's good news. And actually you have to credit President Santos for that, who is an unlikely partner, who has used the military to hammer the FARC, and he killed many of their leaders.
BILBASSYSo it is a compromise. I mean, we -- of course we have to be cynical about it. As Peter just said, none of these peace -- the deals, especially when a country -- when you have over 50 years of fighting that will come to the rosy kind of end, you know, Jeffersonian democracies are going to be implemented, and everybody's going to live happily ever after. But I think it's a good -- it's a good accord, and as I said, the details still need to be sorted out.
BILBASSYAnd it actually reminded me of another situation although historically in a different context, which is in South Africa, when you had President de Klerk, who came out, was a very unlikely president to have a peace deal with the ANC, and he came, and he -- what we have now, of course, the rest is history, Nelson Mandela being elected as the president. So I mean, these negotiations have been going on for a while, you know, be it the Norwegians and the Cubans and whatever, but you can be cynical.
BILBASSYAnd I think the most relevant question is what will happen with the cocaine trade, that these guys who funded themselves to be the longest, probably running guerrilla group in Latin America because they relied on this money, and now somebody else is going to fill the vacuum and take it.
MCGINTYRight, the cocaine trade's not going away.
BILBASSYNo, criminal gangs are going to -- it's not going to go away, and users I guess still want it. So you have a market there.
MCGINTYLet's move on to North Korea, which fired a missile from a submarine this week. You know, we talked about this. A few months ago I had the pleasure of substituting, hosting here, and we had a whole conversation about North Korea and the fact that the country's very dangerous, but the leadership is so odd, so kooky as it were, that people don't want to take them seriously.
HARRISRight, right, odd and kooky is one way of putting it, and, you know, and also North Korea is where United States intelligence is a bit of a black box. We've never really had a completely good idea of what's going on in there at any one moment and certainly not with this new leader. The launch of this ballistic missile from a submarine was greeted by Kim Jung-un as a great victory. Now they fired it towards Japan, it was obviously seen as a threatening measure.
HARRISHe came out and declared this shows that we are going to be able to challenge U.S. hegemony, and our missiles can reach the United States and other targets. That's not true because one problem is that a missile like this, that's great if you can build it. You also need a submarine that can actually go long distances without having to surface, you know, for air and fuel and deliver it, and they don't have that.
HARRISSo, you know, what North Korea has done over the past year or two also has been trying to make these very big claims, for instance that they developed a hydrogen bomb. Experts came out and said no, you really didn't, it's something less than that. So they're trying to project this idea of strength and technological advancement when really they don't have all the components to create a viable nuclear program that we would consider truly an existential threat.
HARRISNow that said, you don't not take them seriously because of that because clearly North Korea is investing in this. They've become much more aggressive in their missile testing. They've become much more aggressive in cyber-attacks against the United States. So a lot of this I think does go back to the question of what is Kim Jong-un's real intention here. Does he really mean to build a credible nuclear arsenal, which I think we're probably not going to let that happen, and he certainly knows the retaliation from the U.S. for using it would be pure devastation of his country? Or is he just trying to project? And I just don't think we have a great answer to that right now.
MCGINTYThis is the Diane Rehm Show. I want to get to what do you do about him. I mean, sooner or later, you have to do -- don't you have to do something?
HARRISWell, I mean, there's a lot -- I guess we've done a lot in terms of sanctioning.
MCGINTYBut sanctions don't work against a country that has almost no trade already.
HARRISWell that's right, it has no...
BILBASSYThey have nothing.
HARRISWhat more could you possibly do to them? We've sort of thrown everything at them. I mean, to some extent I think what we try to do to them is to try to get China to exert influence.
BILBASSYYeah, (unintelligible) China.
HARRISOver Pyongyang. There -- but there's no doubt that, I mean, I think we watch this very closely. We -- we through counter-proliferation techniques and all these kinds of things, we're trying to keep the materials away from them to be able to build this. You know, there's also the question that gets more complicated is what about advice that we believe they've given to Iran and to other countries on their nuclear weapons program.
HARRISSo we try to basically do everything we can to box North Korea in, but to this point, if you are, you know, a kooky dictator, and you decide you want to do something kooky, there's perhaps very little we can do to stop you.
MCGINTYLet's take one or two more phone calls. Ben in Gainesville, Florida, you're on the air, go ahead.
BENHi there. So I have a friend from Turkey, and, well, she's a co-worker of mine, and we were having lunch the other day, and she was telling me that during the coup, she was getting text messages from her friends that were serving in the military on either side of the coup, and they were kind of confused about what was going on. They were being -- they were just following orders, and I guess the implication being that the people in the street, you know, acting as the arms and legs of the coup were unaware as to what they were doing, just following orders.
BENAnd so I guess I want to know what you guys think about that.
MCGINTYIt does suggest, if that's so, a level of disorganization, but maybe coups are always that way. I don't know. What do you think?
BILBASSYWell, I mean, one of the analyses that I have read that the reason it didn't succeed, because it wasn't a full army coup on a senior level. There was a small number within the army, but -- that obviously were involved in it to the degree -- I mean, it was sophisticated to the degree that the U.S. F-16 planes to bomb part of the parliament, that also Biden was taken also to tour and to look at on his trip.
BILBASSYBut the fact that it was confusion for sure, I mean, initially nobody knew what was going on, and we thought that some people say there is one conspiracy theory that I came across that actually the Russians has tipped Erdogan into, and this is why he's -- now they have these cozy, warm relationship between Moscow and Ankara is that they told him what's going on.
BILBASSYBut I mean, who knows? I don't know. Maybe Peter knows more than I do about what's going on.
BERGENI mean, I don't -- I mean, the coup was badly executed, which made it very confusing. I mean, Rule 101 in a coup is you arrest...
BILBASSYYou get rid of the head.
BERGENYou arrest or kill the leader you're trying to get rid of. You don't just let him, you know, get on his iPhone.
BILBASSYAddress you on Facebook.
HARRISAddress you in Face Time, you know.
MCGINTYRallying his supporters.
BERGENAnd so yeah, it was very confusing, but I think it's very confusing when there are revolutions, and it's very confusing when there's any kind of violence like this.
HARRISJust an anecdotal point in our own reporting on when the coup was breaking at the Daily Beast, and we were hearing from a couple people, very anecdotally, that there were rumors going around in Turkey that this was -- that Erdogan had actually fomented the coup to make it look like (unintelligible) detractors.
HARRISSo, you know, so there were conspiracy theories and wheels within wheels moving in the midst of it. But, you know, my colleagues are right. It was very chaotic, very poorly planned, and we saw how quickly it was put down.
MCGINTYIt folded up within days.
HARRISYeah, and it was not clear at all that, you know, all the senior military were on board with this. But yeah, Coup 101 rules were not followed in this case.
MCGINTYWell Shane Harris is senior correspondent at The Daily Beast and a Future of War fellow at New America. he is author of the book "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex." Nadia Bilbassy is Washington bureau chief at Al Arabiya, and Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, the director of the International Security Program at New America and author of "United States of Jihad: The Untold Story of Americans Fighting for Radical Islam." This has been the Diane Rehm Show, and we are still getting calls about the burqini, just so -- just so everybody knows. I want to thank everybody for listening. Again, this is "The Diane Rehm Show."
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