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: Frank Sesno
Donald Trump meets with the Mexican president. Mexicans protest, calling it a “historic error.” Brazil’s president is impeached and a new president is sworn in. The FBI says Russian hackers targeted U.S. election systems. A senior Islamic State strategist is reportedly killed in Syria in a drone strike. Both the U.S. and Russia claim credit for his death. The Turkish military and Syrian rebels fight in Kurdish territory in Syria. And the EU demands Apple pay Ireland up to 13 billion euros in back taxes. A panel of journalists joins guest host Frank Sesno for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Tom Bowman Pentagon correspondent, NPR
- Courtney Kube National security producer, NBC News
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring"
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd thanks for joining us. I’m Frank Sesno director of the school of media and public affairs at the Georgetown University sitting in for Diane Rehm today. Donald Trump meets with Mexico's president amid sharp criticism from the Mexican people. The Brazilian Senate votes to impeach the country's embattled president. And the FBI accuses Russian hackers of targeting U.S. election systems.
MR. FRANK SESNOA panel of journalists joins me now for an analysis of the top international stories. So here to discuss it, Tom Bowman of NPR, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Paul Danahar of the BBC. Welcome to you all.
MR. TOM BOWMANGood to be here.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEThank you.
MR. PAUL DANAHARThanks very much.
SESNOLet's start in Mexico which seems a reasonable place to start. Paul, why don't you take us there. A big roll of the dice, it seemed, for the Mexican president and it hasn't been playing very well before or since.
DANAHARIt was catastrophic for the American president. I mean, he's had a pretty bad...
SESNOMaybe the American president in due course, but...
DANAHARWell, yeah, you know, well, yeah, let's see. Yeah, I mean, he was elected in 2012. He was a new face of the old party. He was going to change things. He had all these ideas of reforms. He was going to change the energy sector, open it up to the world and then the old price clamps. Then it's been downhill every since. So this was a way of him to, I don't know -- I don’t know who was trying to be more presidential in this particular visit, but they both probably failed.
DANAHARBut now, he's being completely trashed by everyone in the country. There's a comedian that's created a superhero called Super Slap, reflecting what they say is a slap in the face of the Mexican people, having Donald Trump down, who's spent most of the year insulting them. So not a good day for him.
SESNOCourtney Kube, the Mexican president sort of blew things up, though, after Trump left with a tweet.
KUBERight. So during the press conference, the question that everyone wanted to know -- they held a joint press conference afterwards -- after their meeting and everyone wanted to know did they discuss the wall and who's going to pay for it. And Donald Trump was uncharacteristically solemn and subdued and, frankly, looked very presidential. It reminded me -- when I first saw the shot, I thought it look like the UN, you know. It was that green marble up at the UN.
KUBEIt reminded me exactly of that. So that was a win, optics win for him, but then -- and he said, when asked about the wall, he said, we discussed the wall. We did not discuss who was going to pay for it. Well, then, the Mexican president said -- tweeted that we are not going to pay for the wall. And then, of course, Donald Trump went to Arizona and said, they will pay for the wall and they don't know it. If you look at the language, they both are probably telling the truth because neither of them actually said -- it sounds like they didn't really discuss it, is what it came up to.
KUBEIt just -- it was sort of touched on, but not discussed, which makes sense. I mean, Donald Trump is not president. He's not going to build the wall. He's -- at any point, unless he becomes president and maybe not even then so it's a moot point at this point still.
SESNOTom Bowman, the Mexican president invited both candidates there. Donald Trump seized on it. One of the names that's been kicking around since this visit is Neville Chamberlain in Mexico.
BOWMANI don't -- I wouldn't go that far.
SESNOWell, no, that's what the critics have said. They've accused...
BOWMANOh, the critics have said?
SESNOYeah. They've accused the Mexican president of essentially being the, you know, accommodating this incredible thing. So the interesting thing is what impact this is having on political discourse and the equation in Mexico.
BOWMANOh, well, right. I mean, clearly he had a 23 percent approval rating, I think. He can only go down from here. This has to be one of the strangest invitations in international politics. Why you would invite the only person who's less popular than you to stand there after, you know, a meeting makes absolutely not sense. There are piñatas of Donald Trump down there people were beating. There were protests. A lot of former officials in Mexico are trashing their own president for inviting Donald Trump.
BOWMANThis would only have made sense if the Mexican president turned to Trump when he mentioned the wall and said, sir, let me just tell you right now, I am not paying for that wall. He may have gone up in the polls maybe five points or ten points, but for him to stand there lamely and listen to Donald Trump and say absolutely nothing, I think everyone on, you know, both sides of the Rio Grande are just scratching their heads, saying this made absolutely no sense. It's insane.
SESNOTo use the event to dress American candidate down.
KUBEI think there were some Mexicans who hoped that he would stand there and demand an apology and instead, he almost made Donald Trump -- made excuses for Donald Trump by saying, well, he seems like he wants to build a relationship and he didn't necessarily mean to insult people and whatnot. This could've actually been a PR win. So the Mexican president said that he understood there needs to be an -- there's a need for an open dialogue. I actually think this was a potential for him to look very leaderlike.
KUBEHe could've said, I understand, this is the major party candidate for president in the United States. There needs to be an open dialogue. We need good relations between our countries so I'm going to reach out to both of them and I'm going to stand here and I'm going to make a good faith effort to get to know them both or to have a relationship with both of them. Unfortunately, with someone like Donald Trump where he's built this campaign on this vitriolic language, much of it really directed at Mexicans and Mexican immigrants, he -- President Pena Nieto, if he had just looked a little stronger and said to Donald Trump, you have really hurt the Mexican people and I'm calling you here and asking you why you've done this, I think it actually could've been PR win instead of the disaster that it turned into.
BOWMANAnd the curious thing, Donald Trump is the one that came off looking presidential. He called him -- he's a friend. I look for good things for both the American people and the Mexican people. Maybe we'll deal with NAFTA a little bit. Everyone's watching this, saying, man, this guy actually looks like he has stature.
DANAHARAnd I think if Hillary had actually agreed, then he could've used Hillary to do the beating up on Trump and then just stood back and looked -- but when only Trump said yes, he boxed himself into a corner. He had to stand there and defend Mexico. Hillary may have done the job for him, if she turned up. But once he boxed himself in, he -- it was catastrophic not to react.
SESNOWe will be taking your comments, your calls, your questions throughout the hour here to talk about international developments over this past week so please give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. 800-433-8850. Send us your email at email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. So you mentioned Hillary Clinton just now. Let's play with that for a minute because she weighed in with a very harsh speech, foreign policy speech, where she attacked Donald Trump repeatedly. She cited the Mexico trip and said that he just -- these are her words, "failed his first foreign test." Paul?
DANAHARYeah, and I think, you know, it was an open goal for his anyways because he's completely dug himself deeper and deeper and deeper in terms of dealing with the outside world. I mean, when American diplomats go around the world, when they come to Europe, when they go anywhere, they just get asked, is he really going to become president? Because the outside world is petrified of the idea of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States and they really don't understand how America can go from Obama to Trump in the space of eight years.
DANAHARSo there is a great deal of concern. And she's playing to that. She knows that pretty much the international community is lined up behind her and she was, you know, easy for her to make herself more and more stateswoman like and to make him look less and less statesman like.
SESNOHow, then, does this visit, the Trump visit and the speech on immigration, play internationally, play around the world?
KUBEWell, I mean, you know, as Tom said, Donald Trump, from an optics perspective, he looked more presidential. This was his first international trip. It was an unusual choice because it's the one country that he is, you know, I think Tom said this earlier, is the -- even more unpopular than the sitting president, who is very unpopular. But Hillary Clinton, you know, she used his visit -- she was speaking before a military audience, largely veterans, and I think she used the visit as another attempt to kind of drive a wedge between Donald Trump and any military voters.
KUBEI don't know if it was successful or not, but she accused him of things like throwing temper tantrums and, you know, his -- acting like a loose cannon, how dangerous that is on the international scale and the potential for destruction of longstanding U.S. allies. And that's actually a very powerful and logical argument that she should be making.
DANAHARAnd the thing is that most of the rest of the world doesn't want to be standing next to Donald Trump. So we often get sort of candidates going around the world, they go to the Middle East, they go to the UK, sometimes they make a bit of a mistake about when they're actually there, but they go. And they get -- and they meet people. But no one in the rest of the world, particularly wants to stand next to Trump because he doesn't do them any good whatsoever. They genuinely don't think and they really don't hope that he's going to become the president.
DANAHARSo when he went to the UK, he went to Scotland. He flew in. He went to his golf course and he left. There was no visit to number 10 Downing...
BOWMANIn this case, also, he sounded reasonable when he was standing next to the Mexican president, you know, called him a friend again, you know, I wish the best things for both the American people and the Mexican people. And then, three hours later, he goes over and gives his full throated cry about 11 million people have to go. We're gonna build that wall. He did a complete 180. So I'm sure a lot of international leaders look at this and say, boy, this guy's going to be standing next to me?
BOWMANAnd then he goes back home and does the opposite.
SESNOCourtney Kube, you talked about an unpopular sitting president. So there's another unpopular sitting president who isn't sitting anymore and that is the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. She was removed from office this week. Bring us up to speed.
KUBESo she actually impeached back in -- or suspended back in May and then the trial was this week. She was impeached officially by the Senate. She's accused of banking -- breaking banking laws. She's accused of using government banks to temporarily fund some popular social programs. And while she didn't necessarily break any laws, it's actually this process -- it's called peddling and it's actually relatively common. She just did it on a larger scale than some of her predecessors had. One of the concerns or one of her -- the critics say is that she did this in an election years because she knew she was close, she may not win.
KUBEShe did it to maintain these very popular social programs. After she was elected by a very narrow margin, then she came out and said, well, the economy's actually in trouble and billions of dollars -- banks have been funding billions of dollars for these social programs. So her vice president turned political opponent was sworn in this week and he's already off to the G20 to begin, hopefully, rebuilding the economy.
BOWMANAnd analysts basically say this is a minor charge. She was concealing a budget deficit by borrowing from a state-owned bank. They say it's illegal, but not a criminal offense, which leads her supporters to say, this is really a coup going on here. This is, you know, you're going against a sitting president. You're going against the Workers Party. This is sort of a right wing coup going on. That was what her opponents are saying and it's caused more political unrest...
SESNOAnd what is her successor up against?
DANAHARWell, he's up against a country that basically won the Olympics and won the World Cup when everybody thought it was going to be one of the new bright economic giants, not only in the region, but in the whole world, and it's been downhill ever since. I was in Rio just a couple of weeks ago for the Olympics and the general mood of the country is one of the gloom and doom. The irony is, the people that voted her out, a lot of them are corrupt, much more corrupt than she is so nothing's going really well in Rio.
SESNOThey've got a long way to go. Well, coming up, more on the Friday News Roundup. Your calls, your questions, our conversation about the world with our panel. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno of the George Washington University sitting in for Diane today. If you'd like to join our conversation with a question or a comment, please give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Or send us your email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are speaking with Tom Bowman of the NPR, Pentagon correspondent, Courtney Kube, national security producer at NBC News, and Paul Danahar, Washington bureau chief at the BBC and author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring."
SESNOSo let us use that, Paul, as a segue to move to that general region of the country and a very significant development this past week. A senior Islamic State strategist, so-called voice of ISLIS -- ISIS, being killed.
DANAHARYeah. But I think it's a really, really big deal. Because al-Adnani, in many ways, was the charisma of ISIS. You know, he brought the kind of bin Laden factor to ISIS. He was the one that announced the creation of the state.
SESNOHe was the public face.
DANAHARHe was the face. He's the one that said, we are now the Islamic State. We are now a caliphate and al-Bagdadi is our leader. He is the one that was publicly feuding with the al-Qaida leader, al-Zawahiri, he was mocking him as, you know, like, you're out of touch. He was the man that led and wooed away a whole generation of young jihadis towards ISIS and away from al-Qaida. Because, you know, he was actually in the room saying, we'll use this video. This is the gory video we're going to put out now and this is how we're going to use it. There are claims that he was also involved in directing the attacks abroad.
DANAHARAnd he was the one that came out and said, in 2014, lone-wolf attacks are the way forward. Forget the al-Qaida spectaculars. If you've got a knife, if you've got a car, run them over.
SESNOSo there were stories last week that said, even with his death, that won't be that significant because there are plenty of others or the movement will continue. Do you agree with that, disagree with that?
BOWMANNo, I think that that's a good point. That, you know, again it is a good thing that this guy is gone. He did inspire a whole new generation. He was, I guess, linked to the attacks in Paris and Brussels. But you have to remember too that a lot of the people he inspired and trained are probably in Europe right now. There could be more attacks in Europe as a result of his death. The bottom line is, Raqqa and Mosul still have not fallen. It's going to take a long time before they get those cities back. And there is a huge number of ISIS fighters still out there and inspiring people not only in the Middle East and in Europe, but probably around the world.
BOWMANSo, you know, these hits have happened before. Remember Jihadi John, the British guy that was decapitating Western hostages. And then we have finance ministers killed from Raqqa. And every time it happens, the Pentagon says, well, this is a big win. And it just keeps going on.
SESNOAnd yet, that this happens as they're losing territory. So is the cumulative effect having a bite, taking a toll?
KUBEI think that ISIS is in a lot of ways on its heels right now. The campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has gained a lot of momentum recently. They went right through Mambij without as much pushback as they thought they would get. Up in the north near Jarabulus the Turks have been able to take that back and a bunch of the border towns, just sort of sweeping west across the border area. So ISIS, it's fair to say that the campaign against ISIS is going well. I agree with both Paul and with Tom that Adnani is -- was a very important figure. He probably will continue to inspire after his death.
KUBEBut the reality is ISIS -- the coalition has picked off like 120 ISIS fighters, no one as important as him, but it doesn't really have a practical, daily impact. It has more of a symbolic, maybe a hiccup. But they are -- ISIS has become such a bureaucratic institution that they always have leaders in place. They have -- it's much like an actual bureaucracy, a bureaucratic government -- they have people who are ready to step in to take that next spot. So as far as on a day-to-day basis, it's not going to have a real big (word?)
SESNOAnd Paul Danahar, both the U.S. and Russia are claiming credit in killing this guy.
DANAHARYeah. Yeah. And it's interesting really. Because, I mean, I think the Pentagon response to the Russian claim that they did was a wonderful bit of diplomacy. It was kind of a nice way of saying, that's kind of B.S. frankly. But I think what's really interesting about this is, if he was generally targeted as it being him and they knew where he was at the time, then I think that's quite important. Because if they can find someone like him and target him and kill him, then that suggests that they're actually making some inroads into the organization. Will it end ISIS? No, it won't end ISIS. But does it show perhaps they're penetrating some of ISIS? Perhaps.
BOWMANRight. And there's one thing good the Americans, you know, one thing they're good at is basically with the drone warfare, with intercepting communications, with targeting someone, staying up in the sky for dozens of hours, watching someone. When they got the Taliban leader in Pakistan, after he traveled from Iran, they actually had his SIM-card number. So they knew exactly who it was. They could pick up his conversations and then target him once he got to -- outside an area where there is, you know, no people, there wouldn't be many civilian casualties. So I'm guessing it was probably an American drone strike. We'll have to get more information. They're -- they say they're still looking into it.
SESNOMeanwhile the region continues to convulse. The complicated war in Syria got even more complicated with Syrian rebels pushing into Kurdish territory, with help from Turkey. And now we see U.S. allies potentially pitted against one another. So Courtney, can you give us a little bit of a primer here so that people can follow this?
KUBESure. So it is very complicated but it's broken down into this. The Turks have allied with this group of Free Syrian Army -- they are Syrian Arabs that the U.S. actually trained some of them years ago or months ago in the very first train and equip program that was largely failed. They were across the border in Turkey. They were building up to 1,500 to 2,000 or so fighters. This week, they started lobbing artillery across the border and eventually sent tanks across the border, they said to go after ISIS. But in reality...
KUBEThe Turks, that is, the Turks and this Free Syrian Army contingent of Syrian Arabs. In reality, they do go after some ISIS, but they were also going after some Syrian Kurds, called the YPG. So why are the Syrian Kurds up there? This operation in Mambij that we've mentioned, this was actually an operation by the Syrian Democratic Forces where there were a group of Syrian Kurds, the YPG, and some Syrian Arabs. They fought in Mambij together. They fought together. They pushed ISIS out north, out of the city.
KUBEThe agreement, because Turkey was -- never wanted any kind of Kurdish help there, frankly. They see all Kurds, no matter what, as terrorists. The agreement was, after Mambij was cleared, the YPG, the Syrian Kurds would move back east across the Euphrates and never go towards Turkey. In fact, when the ISIS fighters started moving north out of Mambij, the YPG followed them. The Turks saw that as a threat and they started firing on them and attacking them with artillery and tanks.
KUBESo why is this so complicated? Because the YPG are probably the strongest fighting force on the ground in Syria right now and they're U.S. backed. The U.S. has special operations forces with them...
KUBEAnd then there's the Free Syrian Army. So they're both U.S. trained and backed groups and they're literally fighting against each other right now.
SESNOSo just to be really clear about this, Tom, the U.S. is working with some of these Kurds.
SESNOCorrect. The Turks view Kurds, as Courtney just said, as terrorists.
SESNOTurkey is a NATO-American ally.
BOWMANAnd the Kurds are the best fighters the U.S. has.
SESNOSo, bottom line?
BOWMANIt's going to be a huge problem. This is the most interesting thing to watch over the coming weeks. Do the Turks keep hitting the YPG, the Kurdish fighters? And do the Kurds actually move back across the Euphrates heading east? Because the U.S. wants them to start pressing Raqqa, the ISIS capital. And the -- here's the other thing that complicates matters even further. There were two Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria. What the Turks want to prevent is those joining and having a huge enclave all along the southern part of the Turkish-Syrian border. So look for the Turks to block that move for the Kurds to connect those two enclaves and have a nice strip along the border. That's what's coming up next.
DANAHARAnd I think we're going to see, because the attempted coup in Turkey I think has changed the game, it's given Erdogan a lot more capacity to tell the army what to do. There was a kind of a bit of an argument going on in the army. How much do you want to get involved in this? What do we want to do? What are our tactics? And now it's like, you'll do as I want. And there's no more argument in the army. They're doing as he wants. Because anyone who was arguing is now locked up. So I think we're going to see a much more aggressive role from Turkey in the future.
BOWMANAnd that's one of the concerns of the Americans, that a lot of these generals and admirals have been removed by Erdogan and they're wondering if these people, first of all, are competent enough to take on the ISIS fight and if they'll actually know what they're doing and -- or will they just be sort of lackeys for Erdogan?
SESNOCourtney, many Kurds have been suspicious and wary of Western powers for a hundred years, because they feel they've been betrayed.
SESNOSome of them are worrying, based on what's playing out now, that that's about to happen again.
SESNOAnd that the United States will betray them.
KUBEYeah. It's -- there are already some Kurdish fighters who are saying, this is just another case of the West making promises that they're going to back us and then abandoning us.
SESNOAnd what is America's response to that?
KUBESo, America's in an impossible position right now. Because who are they going to choose? Are they going to stop backing Turkey, a NATO ally, stop? No, they aren't going to. Are they going to stop siding with these YPG fighters, the strongest fighting force there? No. So all they're doing is standing in the middle and telling everyone, hey, wait, wait. Stop fighting amongst yourselves. Let's all focus on ISIS. But no one's listening. It's actually a very interesting picture into how the U.S. has very little influence in the region right now.
BOWMANAnd the Kurds should be worried, because they're going to be knifed in the back as they have been several times over the past century. And -- but the problem is, the U.S. needs them again to press Raqqa. So the Kurds, they have nothing left to do but work with the United States, get supplied by them. Their best hope is, when the smoke clears, when the civil war ends, when ISIS is defeated, maybe get some sort of an enclave in Northern Syria. Maybe it's a loose confederation of some sort. That's the best they could hope for out of this whole thing.
SESNOTom Bowman, what are your sources at the Pentagon telling you is going to be their response to this?
SESNONo. To the -- well, to the overall situation on the ground. How are they dealing with this?
BOWMANHow is the Pentagon dealing with this?
BOWMANWell, again, they're hoping -- they're -- one of the things they want to do is have the -- they're acting as a referee. They want the Turks and the Kurds to stop hitting each other and they want them to focus on ISIS. But the concern is that the Kurds may say, well, hang on a second. You know, if I'm going to die for nothing, what do I get from this in the end. What they want them to do is continue to push south, to take the ISIS capital Raqqa. They what they hope...
SESNOAnd post-coup, how much influence does the United States of America and the military have with the Turks?
BOWMANNot too much.
KUBEYeah. There was, after the coup, the Turks were really angry that in immediate aftermath of the coup, that senior American leaders didn't go there and express their support. The first person who went there was General Dunford, a week or two afterwards. And he got an earful from them saying, why isn't the U.S. coming out and supporting us? Why are they -- they saw it as a tepid response.
SESNOPaul Danahar, another subject. We learned this week about potential Russian hacking into U.S. election systems.
DANAHARYeah, the Russia I think this kind of plays off what we've just been talking about. Because the level of good faith around the world between America and Russia is so bad now that they -- the Russians are being accused of hacking into the registration systems in Illinois and Arizona, attempting to basically influence an American election. And this is symptomatic of just how bad relations have got between America and Russia. The whole -- we really do have a very quietly undeclared cold war in all of this.
SESNOWhat do we know about how good the proof is about this? I mean...
SESNO...is this just an allegation or is there something to back this up?
DANAHARThe FBI says it's credible. On a scale of one to ten, it's about an eight. So I mean they're taking it quite seriously.
BOWMANThat's right. And I was talking to people yesterday about this. They're very concerned about it. They're spending a lot of money, a lot of time trying to look into this further. But there's a real concern now about undermining the election, you know, if more states are hacked into, you know, what's the faith in the whole system? Would you have to go back to paper ballots, let's say, in some states?
SESNOOh my gosh, hanging chads? Say it ain't so.
BOWMANHanging chads, that's right. But there's a huge concern about this and where does this go from here? At the same time, you have, you know, a Donald Trump saying, you know, the election's going to be rigged and stolen. This is not a good thing to have.
KUBEYeah. The reality is, the Russians can't really manipulate the votes. They probably can't do much. But what they can do is sow concern and doubt. And when you have Donald Trump out there saying, the elections could be rigged. And the only way that I'll lose is if people are cheating. Then that already sows concern. And especially -- so one thing the Russians could do. If they can hack into databases, they could arguably delete names. So then when people would show up to vote, their names wouldn't be there. They wouldn't be able to vote.
KUBEIf that's widespread and especially if it's an area that might be tight or might be close or ends up swinging for one candidate versus the other, then that, in and of itself, will sow discontent in voters an people will be -- will start screaming that the election was rigged.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to call us, please do, at 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. The hacking incident follows a similar or a somewhat similar DNC, Democratic National Committee computer hack. Tell us about that. And is that related, do we think, to what we're hearing about the Russians potentially hacking into Arizona and Illinois?
KUBESo the DNC hack seems to be -- have tighter, closer ties to the actual -- the Kremlin, to the Russian government, as opposed to what we're seeing in the voters, which -- the voter databases, which seem to be potentially Russian and backed, but maybe aren't necessarily tied to the government. Vladimir Putin actually gave an interview to Bloomberg overnight, that came out several hours ago in which he said, well, why is everyone paying so much attention to who actually did this. What matters is the information got out there, specifically about the DNC hack, which we all saw in July, that led to the chair, the party chair stepping down.
KUBESo they are -- they could be similar. I think the larger concern here is, you know, for a long time we saw Russian hacking as more of -- having more of like an economic bent, looking more towards economic espionage. If in fact they're focusing more on politics and like fomenting chaos and sowing doubt in politics, that's a change. That's a difference.
SESNONow let's bring the audience into this. We have a tweet from Alex. What is the U.S. exit strategy after ISIS regarding Turkish policy versus Kurdish interests in the Middle East.
BOWMANThere is no exit strategy. I think that's been a problem for, you know, many years now.
DANAHARThere was no entry strategy either.
SESNOThat's even more of a problem. So, you know, I think one of the interesting stories, when the smoke clears on this is, what happens with Iraq and Syria? Are those countries just gone? Do they not exist anymore? And if that's the case, who draws the lines? Churchill and Gertrude Bell are dead. They're not around to draw these lines again. So what happens? I think that's the most fascinating story of all.
SESNOTom, it's going to be so interesting when we have the foreign policy presidential debates. Because presumably and maybe for the first time in a sustained way, the candidates are going to be asked questions like that, specific questions where they're going to have to respond. We haven't heard much of that in that level of detail from the campaign trail certainly.
BOWMANNo we have not at all. One of the problems, let's face it, Donald Trump really has no experience in foreign affairs. I was talking to a retired general that said, his lack of knowledge on national security issues is just unfathomable.
SESNOLet us go to the calls. Richard from Massachusetts joins us. Hi, Richard.
RICHARDHi, Frank. Thank you. You kind of stole my thunder a little bit.
SESNOOh, I don't ever want to do that.
RICHARDYeah. Well, I'm old enough to remember, you know, the Vietnam War and it was for 10 years that we were there and all that. And you know, back then, we had a Senate Foreign Relations Committee that would have hearings on the war and different aspects of the war. And we had some great senators that -- during that period. Today, the -- we've been in the Middle East for over 15 years. And I don't hear anything from the Foreign Relations Committee having (unintelligible) Right now, Yemen -- we're supplying Saudi Arabia with all kinds of weapons and intelligence and the war in Yemen's been going on for a year and a half. And nobody's saying a darn thing about it.
SESNOAll right. Let me ask Paul to jump in here.
DANAHARYeah. Like I think that's -- there's a lot of discussions going on. Just nobody seems to know what to do. I think one of the interesting things, Hillary Clinton's response to Donald Trump's talking about foreign policy was, you know, she said, you know, he -- we've got to contain ISIS. We've got to -- we can't contain ISIS so we've got to defeat them, which was a dig at Donald Trump. But it was also a dig at the policy of Barack Obama, because he sat back far too long and -- to decide what he was going to do. So I think that the listener's got a good point.
SESNOWell, first of all, it's great to hear such a Boston accent.
BOWMANI've lost a bit of mine over the years. But it's great...
SESNOWith a little prodding, you could probably get back to it.
BOWMANI think I could. It's not that hard. So what Richard raises is a good point, that basically, you know, Congress is not doing much on this. You know why? Because they don't want to own it.
SESNOThey don't want to own it. Because if you own it and you break it and you still own it.
SESNOYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We are talking, the International News Roundup. And we'll be back with our guests and more of your questions and calls after a brief break. We're talking with Tom Bowman, Courtney Kube and Paul Danahar. We'll be back.
SESNOWelcome back to the Diane Rehm Show. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Diane today. We're talking with Tom Bowman, Pentagon correspondent for NPR, Courtney Kube, national security producer at NBC News, Paul Danahar, he's the Washington bureau chief at the BBC, author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring."
SESNOSo here's an email from Eric. Eric asks you all, so if the Russians are trying to influence our elections, which way are they learning, Courtney?
KUBEWell, I think the assumption is that they would be leaning towards Donald Trump being the next president because of the positive things that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have said about one another. There's also some allegations that some of Trump's top campaign people have ties to Russia and whatnot. So that's the assumption.
KUBEI think that anyone who tries to know what Russia or Vladimir Putin are trying to do or tries to assess it is probably opening themselves up for criticism because he is always doing the unexpected, so...
SESNOPaul, what's the view from the BBC?
DANAHARI don't think we have a view officially. But no, look, I mean, if you look at the kind of leaks that are coming out that the Russians are being blamed for, particularly the leaks over the DNC, I mean, the -- it's clearly seen as they're trying to put their kind of finger on the scale a little bit towards -- towards Trump. I mean, every single government that has to do tough negotiations with America would like to be dealing with someone that the establishment is not convinced by and that is untested in terms of, you know, being presidential.
DANAHARSo it would make sense. Maybe there's something even deeper that we can't work out, and he really wants Clinton to get it, but I doubt it.
SESNOTo the phones now, and James calls us from Miami, Florida. James, thanks for your patience and standing by. Go ahead.
JAMESYeah, thank you for taking my call, first of all. I just want to start by saying that I'm an avid NPR listeners. I'm also an LGBTQ American, and I was listening to your panel's discussion of Donald Trump's visit to Mexico. And they all seemed to be very anti-Trump and biased against Trump. And as an NPR listeners, I expect the, you know, the programs to be impartial. So, you know, it's fine if you want to have anti-Trump people on your panel, but I think you should have had at least one or two people that are -- you know, support Trump or are not necessarily biased against him.
JAMESI thought -- somebody said, I don't remember who it was, that Trump looked presidential. I watched the whole meeting there with Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto, and I thought he -- I thought Trump was very presidential.
SESNOAll right, let me bounce that off the panel, and perhaps you want to explain where you're coming from as journalists and how you handle what do in fact seem to sound like a number of comments raising questions and criticisms about Donald Trump. Paul Danahar?
DANAHARI think journalists are probably the only people that are enjoying this election. I mean it's -- it's remarkable for us. I mean, I think -- you know, we are seeing such an amazing campaign. The man himself is generating so much news. I mean, you look at the newspapers, we were just browsing through the, he's on the front page, or his issues are on the front pages every time.
DANAHARI don't think it's a matter that we -- we're for or against candidate. What we're doing is it being confronted with an amazing campaign, and we're trying to dig into it and work out what's going on.
SESNOTom Bowman, what's your opinion?
BOWMANI don't think we're biased against Trump. I think anybody looking at this, seeing him in Mexico, everyone would say he looked presidential. Again he called the Mexican president a friend, he said I want the best for both the Mexicans and Americans, we can work out NAFTA and so forth and so on. But clearly he came back to the United States and did a 180, there's no question. Objectively that's what everybody would say, Trump supporters or people who don't like him.
KUBEYeah, it's not our job to be in favor of either of the candidates, but I think it is absolutely fair to say that he looked presidential. I think I also said that he looked solemn, maybe, and I -- it is absolutely fair to say that is uncharacteristic because you can turn directly to the speech he gave several hours later, which was very bombastic and playing to the crowd, which of course was, you know, animated and even cheering for things that you would think they may not have even been in favor of.
KUBESo I don't think that any of us meant any -- meant is as a negative aspect, that he looked presidential.
BOWMANAnd one other thing, it's true that his campaign has been all over the map on this issue just in the last two weeks. He talked about softening, he talked about maybe we can -- some other people, you know, who are here illegally don't have to leave right away. And then he gave this full-throated defense of his position.
DANAHARBut, I mean, the whole point of his campaign is I'm not like the rest of them. So what was interesting this week was that he acted like the rest of them just for about an hour when he was with the Mexican president. But there was a distinction. He's been running on I'm not business as usual.
SESNOI have an email from Deepak here, who said the following. Trump wants to build a wall on the southern border to stop Mexicans coming into the United States, yet the northern border with Canada is wide open for criminal Russians, Eastern Europeans and others. Certainly as you were just saying, Donald Trump is driving the agenda here. If we're going to talk about walls and border security, why not the northern border?
KUBEThat -- I mean, Deepak makes an excellent point. It's probably something that should be part of the conversation. If you go on Donald Trump's website, I was on it this week looking to see what some of his national security policies are, and he doesn't discuss any of them other than building a wall on his website, in the south.
BOWMANThat being said, you know, if you've been across the border in Canada, and I have in Montana and also Northern Vermont, you don't get the population flow across those borders that you do in Mexico.
SESNOIt's just a different thing, different groups.
SESNOOkay, back to the phones. Lydia joins us from the other Woodstock, Woodstock, Illinois. Hi Lydia.
LYDIAHi, thank you. We had the president of Mexico doing a portraiture of Donald Trump in formal tennis lights, just like the portrait he has in his mansion in Florida. This doesn't mean that Donald is ready to go to Wimbledon. And to tell you the truth, Donald knows that. He is a lobber. He, like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, relies 100 percent on what tennis players know when they first start the game of tennis, which is an underhanded, inartful, unskilled strategy.
LYDIAAnd he doesn't want to give it up because it's gotten them so far, and it got him on the playing field. Sarah Palin spent a great deal of time in Arizona cultivating that crowd. She had a house there. She lived there. She is a lobber par excellent, and the Republican Party owes us an apology for building strategies around people who are like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and Ann Coulter, prime lobbers.
SESNOOkay, Lydia, thank you very much. Well, this is what's great about the audience for "The Diane Rehm Show," okay. We are literate, and we have an analogy here. It's a tennis analogy. And you're the closest to Wimbledon with your accent, so have at it.
DANAHARLook, I mean, I think there's nothing -- no one can argue that the -- there's been some uncharacteristically interesting characters that have been thrown up recently on the Republican side of American politics. And you can see a lot of the establishment wondering how they got where they are. I mean, this is a man that has managed to wipe the floor with everyone that everybody else thought was obviously going to be the candidate.
DANAHARSo I mean, you know, the tactics, I guess you argue about depending on your political point of view, but you have to say that so far the people that have been carrying out those tactics have been quite successful.
BOWMANAnd the other thing, too, we have to remember that both Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, they're sort of appealing to a narrow section of the electorate, and I think some of campaign advisors for Trump had hoped he would broaden his appeal to suburban voters and not just those, let's say, less educated folks who, you know, have lost their jobs.
DANAHARBut I think it was interesting with campaigns all around the world as I've moved on is in the old days, to find out what was going on, you had to come through us lot, the establishment.
SESNOThrough the media, through the press.
DANAHARYeah, and nowadays you can only get what you want and only that point of view from social media. You don't need to go onto television to get -- so I think people are getting their own ideas reflected back at them and amplified, and that's taking the -- the middle ground debate is being lost because everyone knows exactly what they think, and they're not prepared to change, and I don't think challenged.
SESNOWell, the other thing that Donald Trump has shown is how you set the agenda with social media as a candidate.
SESNOAnd that is something that is going to resonate around the world, as well, because there will not be a candidate in any country who is not going to be able to see how this candidate has driven his political allies and opponents, the media and others, by virtue of his tweets and his statements at all times of the day and night.
BOWMANAnd also calling in...
SESNODavid joins us from Grand Rapids, Michigan. David, go ahead.
DAVIDYes, my name is David (unintelligible) Grand Rapids, Michigan, originally from Africa. Well, I was for Bernie 100 percent, but then, you know, what I think when Bernie petered out, blown out of the waters, and because of that, I crossed straight to Trump.
SESNOYou went from Bernie to Trump?
DAVIDNow I'm for Trump.
DAVIDAnd now it's happening again. Everybody is told whoever speaks -- this is our radio, everybody -- believe me, 100 percent, almost 100 percent of the foreigners listen to NPR. This is a radio for all foreigners. But the more negative you put on Trump, the more people run there from Hillary. The more negative stuff you put on Trump, and some of these -- some of them are (unintelligible) but people see through, they just cross over to Trump.
SESNOSo what you're saying you think the coverage is too negative toward Trump?
DAVIDToo negative to (unintelligible)
SESNOToo negative toward Trump. What do you think the media should do, and what do you think a journalist should do if he or she hears Donald Trump contradict something that he has said shortly before that or make a statement that is factually incorrect?
DAVIDFor example we have Hillary with emails and everything, now, okay, they talk about it negatively but not so deeply negatively and hatred and all stuff. But if someone digs up, like, Hillary's emails, so negatively and with hatred and all that, everybody's going to run away.
SESNOTom Bowman, that's -- David raises a very interesting point about the overall just pervasive negativity of this campaign, whether it's coming from Trump or from Hillary or from the media or anywhere else. You know, if 1984 was, you know, morning in America, as others have said, this is midnight in America, at least if you listen to the political discourse. Is that part of this problem that he's picking up on?
BOWMANYeah, I think so, and first of all, both candidates are incredibly unpopular. That's one of the problems here. So both are hammering at each other. And Donald Trump is, let's face it, he's a bulldog when it comes to these tactics. We've never seen anybody quite like him, you know, Lyin' Ted and Crooked Hillary. I mean, you would never in the past see anybody say things like that. So I think that's part of the problem here is, you know, you have both candidates hitting each other pretty hard and not really talking about the issue enough.
BOWMANAnd that's another point with Trump, that you try to press him on certain issues, he said the military's going to be fantastic, it's going to be huge, without any specifics.
KUBEBut this is also just a criticism of the media in general. Like Tom and I, we cover the military. I can't tell you how many times I go to a military panel, and the argument is you got -- all you do is negative news. You do bad news, you don't do good news. Our job is not to do news that's good or bad. Our job is to cover the news, to report it accurately, to report it factually. That does include what we see. So that does include, at times, some more subjective things.
KUBEBut our job is to cover the news, good or bad.
DANAHARAnd let's be honest, this is a lesser-of-two-evils campaign. You know, there's so much dislike of both candidates that inevitably the coverage is going to be much more negative. No one's offering a, you know, a shining anything. They're just basically saying this guy's terrible, or this woman, she's a liar, he's an idiot. So the whole tone of the campaign is incredibly negative, which means the coverage of the campaign is inevitably negative.
DANAHARAnd I don't think we can get away from that cycle because both sides are driving it.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And if you'd like to join our conversation in the remaining minutes, please do so at 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Very interesting question, email from Earl, coming back to the conversation of Russian hacking into computer systems and everything else going on. At what point, Earl asks, does Russian interference in American elections become an act of war.
DANAHARI don't think we're there yet, and I suspect that there's...
SESNOLet's hope not, but the point is even if it's not an act of war, at what point is it more than a mere nuisance, and what does the United States of America do about that.
DANAHARI guess you have to wonder what the United States of America is doing already. I mean, I imagine from the Soviet point -- that's a slip of the tongue. From the Russian point of view they probably think an awful lot that's going on at the moment is against them anyway. So I don't think we're going to get to the point where the American government is going to stand up and say, you know, you're verging on a kind of an act of aggression.
DANAHARAnd there's always this deniability about Internet hacks because you can't really prove them. The Chinese have been accused of doing all sorts of hacking stuff. I don't think we'll get to the point where someone will be able to stand up and actually point a finger because these guys are clever.
KUBEYeah, Harry Reid this week sent a letter to the FBI director, asking him to investigate and saying that this has the potential for large-scale election tampering and vote-counting issues and all these sorts of things. But at this point it's -- it's not an attack. It's not what you would consider a cyber attack, which could -- this is something that Cyber command has been really fighting with is at what point does it actually constitute an act of war.
KUBEAt this point we aren't seeing that with this, it seems to be more of a nuisance and a potential larger problem but not an attack.
SESNOCourtney, I want to bring you back to something you were talking about so well earlier, trying to explain the situation in Syria and Turkey with respect to the Kurds because there's a very important question here from Michael, who sends us an email and asks a very simple question that is worth a moment. Why is there so much resistance, Michael asks, to the Kurds re-establishing or establishing a country, their own country, Kurdistan?
KUBESo the Kurds in Southern Turkey have been -- they have been demanding their own sovereign area in Turkey for some time, for years, and they have carried it out, they've carried out a lot of attacks against the Turkish people, guerrilla attacks essentially because they want to have their own territory, and the Turks won't allow it. So Turkey sees any Kurdish person as a terrorist threat.
KUBEThe Kurds, on the other hand, especially the Syrian Kurds, are saying they just want to establish a safe area where they can live. You know, Tom mentioned this area of the Afrin Kurds over in the west, there's also the Kobani Kurds. They live almost autonomously -- with total autonomy, the same frankly in Northern Iraq.
KUBEYou know, they really live with a lot of autonomy. The Turks will -- I cannot envision a scenario where the Turkish government will allow the Kurds to have any area that is actually their own state. They will always see that as a threat.
BOWMANAnd the concern is if you're -- if the Kurds in Syria are able to have that strip along the border between Turkey and Syria, it could serve as a magnet for the Turkish Kurds to say we want to join that, too, let's carve out a piece of Turkey.
KUBETo embolden them.
BOWMANThe Turks will never, ever allow that.
SESNOBack to an email here that we've got, and this is -- actually may address some of the earlier questions that we heard about, why isn't there more positive and different coverage of Donald Trump. This says please compare the international experience of Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama when they ran for president to Donald Trump, their international experience. In fact George W. Bush had very little international experience. George H.W. Bush had an enormous amount of experience. So we see all ends of the spectrum here.
DANAHARWe do, but I think what's interesting in this campaign is if you look back, you know, you've only had to make one mistake, scream at the wrong pitch in a rally or talk about, you know, the 49 percent, one comment where you seem to be flip-flopping or doing something a bit silly, and you lost. But Donald Trump has been able to change his mind and reinvent himself and say something outrageous and take it back and then say it again and still survive. It's completely overturned everything.
DANAHARWe all thought that the media image is what drove campaign (unintelligible) you had a nice, shiny image, and everyone loved you, and you could -- people would be conned by that. He's just saying this is me, this is what I think, I'm going to change my mind, and he's still been successful. So we're all in uncharted territory here. It's a Ph.D. waiting to be done, isn't it?
SESNOTo write several.
BOWMANNo, it is a good point. George W. Bush, of course, had no foreign policy experience, he was governor of Texas. I think he said the only country he visited was Mexico at that time.
BOWMANIf I had that kind of money, man, I'd be going everywhere in the world. Clinton of course was a governor, had very little foreign policy experience, as well. And President Obama, as a senator, served in the Armed Services Committee, made trips abroad but, you know, didn't have all that much of foreign policy experience.
SESNOWell certainly this is one of the things that puzzles especially our European friends so much because the parliamentary system and their own proximity to all these other countries, they have vast international experience if someone actually becomes prime minister. Our presidential system is entirely different, and it's hard for the world to understand that.
DANAHARYeah, but what normally happens is you have a group of people that are built around this inexperienced international figure, and then you look at them and go okay, that's a good -- that's a wise decision, that person's clever, they've done this, they've done that. And people have looked to the people that Trump has built around himself and said I'm not sure these are the right caliber of people to help run America.
SESNOFinally, last question, Tom, to you. Fallout to either candidate from the Mexico visit and continuing to keep this immigration issue front and center in this campaign.
BOWMANI don't think there's much -- well for Trump, he's gone back to his old ways of everyone has to leave, 11 million people. So he's going to continue to have that narrow slice of the electorate. So that's all he's going to get, I think.
SESNOLooked at with a domestic prism but very much a globalized campaign. Tom Bowman, Courtney Kube, Paul Danahar, thank you all very much for joining us.
DANAHARThanks very much.
SESNOThe conversation was terrific. You've been listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno. Have a very safe and a very pleasant weekend.
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