The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: Amy Walter
A fragile truce in Syria appears to have collapsed as the Syrian regime carries out a new offensive in the city of Aleppo. In his last address to the UN General Assembly while in office, President Obama rebukes the trend toward nationalism in some nations and calls for greater global economic integration. More than 100 migrants are feared drowned after their boat capsized near Egypt. Russia’s national election authority says it will examine evidence of fraud at several polling stations. And Washington gives Boeing the nod to sell passenger planes to Iran. A panel of journalists joins guest host Amy Walter for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring"
- Nancy Youssef Senior defense and national security correspondent, The Daily Beast
- Christian Caryl Senior fellow, Legatum Institute; contributing editor, Foreign Policy magazine; author of "Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century"
MS. AMY WALTERThanks for joining us. I'm Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report sitting in for Diane Rehm. U.S. and Russia agree to talks to try to revive the Syrian ceasefire. Egyptian officials say more than 100 people died after a migrant boat capsized off the Egyptian coast. And the U.S. allows Boeing to sell passenger planes to Iran. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Paul Danahar with the BBC, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast and Christian Caryl with Foreign Policy. Thank you all for being here today.
MR. CHRISTIAN CARYLThanks very much.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHi.
MR. PAUL DANAHARThank you.
WALTERYeah, I'm glad that you're all here. We'll be taking your calls, your comments, your questions throughout the hour. You can call us, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us your email at email@example.com. You can join us on Facebook. You can send us a Twitter. Paul Danahar, I want you to walk us through what has been happening this week with Syria. I feel like if you just left off following Syria last Friday, you'd have a very different impression of where things are on this Friday. So if you could tell us just the whole host of issues that have occurred.
DANAHARYeah, I mean, there was an air of optimism, which is a rare thing in Syria because, you know, September the 12th, we had what was going to be a seven-day ceasefire. A lot of effort went into it. If they gave out Nobel Prizes for effort, I think Mr. Kerry would've got his. But what we haven't seen is much achievement. And then, on Monday, we had just the worst incident so far, probably, regarding humanitarian workers. For the first time, we saw a humanitarian aid convoy being hit from the air.
DANAHARAnd it was carrying 31 trucks worth of water and food and sanitation and it basically got blown out of the -- off the road. A large part of it did. And then, there was a week of recriminations and we had the Russians complaining and the Americans complaining and they'd already been complaining over the weekend because the Americans had hit what they thought were a group of ISIS fighters and actually it turned out to be a group of government -- Syrian government soldiers.
DANAHARSo it began on a Friday. It started to fall apart over the weekend. It got even worse on Monday. Then, we had a whole week where the whole world got together at the UN to show how there was world solidarity over Syria and they fought all week and then we got to the end of the week and last night, the Syrians began attacking Aleppo. And, you know, we're now worse off probably a week after the ceasefire than we were before the ceasefire took hold because what you've not got is the Syrian government saying, well, you know, we tried and now we're going hell for leather towards Aleppo.
DANAHARAnd there's just absolutely not credibility left, I don't think, in trying to nail down some ceasefire or anything really between this present administration and the Russians because with the best will in the world, I think Mr. Kerry's just had circles run around him this week by the Russians and the Syrians. He's got great intentions. There is no "or else" in his strategy because he doesn't have a president that supports him. So it's been a bad week for Syria.
WALTERWell, I want to raise that -- or build on that point that you made about not having the president with him. There was an interesting story today in the New York Times about the fact that, you know, President Obama seems to, once again, put Syria at arm's length. He made his final statement -- his final speech in front of the UN this week, didn't mention Syria at all. The White House saying, well, it's because he wants Secretary Kerry to take the lead.
WALTERNancy Youssef, why don't you tell us a little bit about your expectations, both for the U.S. and John Kerry and as well as the legacy that President Obama wants to leave behind.
YOUSSEFSo interestingly it kind of depends on how things shape up in Syria for the remaining few months of his presidency. We are now seeing an aggressive campaign in Eastern Aleppo against the rebels there. Up until this point, we've seen a strategy by Assad of essentially siege and starve opposition groups because it's very hard to take over an urban area. And so that has been the Assad campaign approach. And now, this week, in the last few days, we've seen a much more aggressive campaign after Aleppo.
YOUSSEFIf Aleppo is no longer in -- Eastern Aleppo, excuse me, is no longer in the control of the opposition or firmly in Assad control, that's a major defeat for the opposition and really raised questions about how much the U.S. did or did not support those fighters on the ground who sort of took the U.S. at their word, that they would support them. It becomes a major victory for the Assad regime. And I think the conflict that you're seeing, arguably, is that this is an administration that has essentially taken the military option off the table in terms of dealing with Aleppo and yet, doesn't seem very confident in the diplomatic one.
YOUSSEFAnd that's where you find the president. He's sort of saying to Kerry, go ahead, fight as hard as you can for a diplomatic solution and quietly saying, I actually don't think it's going to work.
WALTERWell, and it seems that he went even further than that, Christian Caryl. This is a report, Doris Kearns Goodwin interviewed him for Vanity Fair and he is quoted as saying in that, "I do ask myself was there something that we hadn't thought of, was there some move that is beyond what was being presented to me that maybe a Churchill could've seen or an Eisenhower might have figured out." So is this a president who is struggling to really come to terms with his relationship with Syria and what does that tell us about plans going forward?
CARYLWell, I don't know. I did find that very striking. I was very struck by his speech at the general assembly. A friend of mind said yesterday, it's almost as if the president is an observer, a sort of passive observer. He stands there. He's a brilliant analyst. He comments and it's almost as if he has no role to play in any of this. And it was especially striking considering that Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, held a speech this week in which he really criticized Syria incredibly harshly and frankly, very unusual for the head of the United Nations.
CARYLSo one is left kind of contemplating the Obama enigma, right? He does seem very concerned about Syria, but he's never really had a policy. And this will, I think, remain one of the great blotches on his presidency. He just never has formulated a proper policy.
DANAHARI mean, let's look back at -- I mean, he cares about climate change. Remember back in 2009 when the Indians and the Chinese tried to stitch up a deal and him and Clinton famously barged into the room, took it over and then just banged something out. There's never been that energy focused towards the Middle East in general or Syria in particular. It's always been a do I have to really do this kind of approach. And, you know, to look back now and go, could I have done something else, people have been saying do something for five years.
DANAHARSo I mean, you can -- I think where you have to admire the man is he took a decision, there's an intellectual purity about the way that he's run his administration. I think this is wrong. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to be driven by focus groups. But to look back now and say, could I have done more, he wasn't in a blind fog. He had an awful lot of advice from an awful lot of people and he chose no.
WALTERWell, and Nancy Youssef, one of the things that is being discussed once again is arming the Kurds. And it seems that that chatter has increased once again, internal debate within the administration. Can you give us any insights about whether or not we're going to see that and also, what it would mean for the region and our relationships there?
YOUSSEFSure. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the administration was considering sort of openly arming Kurds. Now, to be frank, there have been indirect arms going to the United States to Kurds in 2014 and 2015. And the way that they've done it was through this force called the Syrian Democratic Force, which was ostensibly both Arab and Kurdish. And so the reason the United States had to do that was so that they could say to their NATO partner in the north, Turkey, don't worry. We are not arming people who you despise to create a standing autonomous region on your southern border.
YOUSSEFNow, we're at a point where the administration and, I think, the United States military, in particular, wants to see the Kurds armed directly because it's an incentive for them to go in and help Arab forces, and arguably lead Arab forces, into a battle to retake the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria. And so that's sort of the discussion that's emerged this week. There seems to be a real push by the United States military to use the Kurds, who they see as the best fighters, and give the incentives to go into Raqqa because for the Kurds, there's not an incentive otherwise.
YOUSSEFIt is not a city that they see as part of this potential semi-autonomous region. It is an Arab-dominated city. And for the military, they see this as an incentive. Erdogan in Turkey has already come out and said that he saw two planes arrive in Kobani, giving the Kurds arms and so this really threatens to undermine the already fragile relationship between Turkey and the United States.
WALTERDid you want to weigh in on that as well?
WALTEROh, okay. I just wanted to ask if you could go further about that, about the relationship with Turkey and where do we need to -- where does the U.S. need to be in that relationship to feel comfortable or confident?
YOUSSEFWell, I mean, I think it's for Turkey, how do you have a relationship with the Kurds, who are your best fighting force, and the Turks who see them as a direct threat to their sovereignty. And so its created a very -- if it were on Facebook, it would be it's complicated on both ends really.
DANAHARYeah, and I think if you look back at the way that the -- I mean, there used to be a time when Obama would say, Erdogan, you know, I talk to him more than anybody else. The Turks had their -- no problems with neighbors policy. It was all going really, really well and then the Arab Spring happened. And that relationship has gone down and down and down because Erdogan's basically been furious about the way that there's been inaction, as he sees it, by the entire Western partners.
DANAHARHe's been furious about the fact that the Arab League has been chucking people in left, right and center and mucking up his backyard. And the relationship now is terrible. It's never been any worse. And so the problem you've got is you also need the Turks because you don't have a policy without the Turks because all the action's up in the north. I mean, there was a period when they thought, well, we'll work with the Jordanians and go up from the south and blady-blady-blah. That didn't work.
DANAHARSo all the action's up north. Without Turkey, you've got nothing. And the relationship is appalling and post coup, it's even worse. Post-coup in Turkey, that is.
WALTERI want to get us back to the UN general assembly speech, but I have to make a quick a break. When we come back, we're going to have more of the Friday News Roundup.
WALTERWelcome back. I'm Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report, sitting in for Diane Rehm, and we're joined now for the international news roundup with Paul Danahar at the BBC, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast and Christian Caryl with Foreign Policy. I wanted to bring up the president's final speech here to the U.N. General Assembly by starting off with a clip from the president's remarks.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAToday a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself. So the answer cannot be a simple rejection of global integration. Instead we must work together to make sure the benefits of such integration are broadly shared and that the disruptions, economic, political and cultural, that are caused by integration are squarely addressed.
WALTERNancy Youssef, this sounded more like a rebuke of the politics of this country than an address to the rest of the world. I'm curious your response to that.
YOUSSEFWell, he never mentioned Donald Trump's name.
WALTERNo, he did not.
YOUSSEFAnd he never mentioned the election. And the speech was -- the presumption was that he would take this opportunity to really about his last seven -- the last seven years and his impact on global policy, and he made some reference to that. He talked about the nuclear deal and the normalization of relations with Cuba. He talked about the Paris climate accords. And yet the speech felt more about the next seven weeks than about the past seven years because there were all these sort of references that seemingly came back to the U.S. presidential election.
YOUSSEFHe made three references to walls, and as we all know, Donald Trump has made call for building a wall around Mexico. He even at one point referred to mosquitoes don't respect walls in talking about the Zika crisis. He talked about aggressive nationalism and crude populism. And so there was a feeling that this was as much his concern about what lies ahead rather than past accomplishments.
WALTERBut Christian Caryl, he did talk about, as Nancy pointed out, nationalism, populism. These aren't issues that are just United States issues. This -- we're seeing this of course around the world. Tell us what you think he was trying to say in that to other parts of the world that are experiencing some of what we're seeing here now in the rising tide. Obviously they're affected by the immigration crisis, et cetera.
CARYLWell, I think he was trying to stake out the moral high ground for the United States to an extent. You know, there were a couple of sideswipes against Russia and China against, as you said, aggressive nationalism. He touted the virtues of not just American democracy but the idea of free and open societies, all of his talk against walls. But I -- you know, I thought it was very eloquent and at times quite impressive, but again there's this kind of high-mindedness to it that is almost ethereal at times, it almost feels like he's giving a lecture, you know, that doesn't really have much to do with actual politics.
CARYLYou know, he talked about how great democracy is and how good democratic values are, but, you know, he gave some very high-minded speeches early in his administration, you know, the famous speech in Cairo where he talked about bringing freedom to the Arab world. And, you know, what is left of that? Very -- almost nothing.
DANAHARIt's like candy floss, you know. Is that what you call it here, candy floss?
WALTERWhat is that? Oh, cotton candy.
DANAHARCotton candy, yeah. If I -- I mean, it looks really big, you know, and really impressive, and then you bite into it, and it's kind of gone. And I think that's been a problem with a lot of these speeches because you go back and track them, and you talk about what they contain and the ambitions inside them and the moral high ground that he's staking, and then you say right, and then you did -- and it's the then you did that has been letting him down because if you're going to -- if you're really going to into the international stage and say I really believe this, and you are the most powerful man in the world, then people kind of think okay, well do it.
DANAHARAnd there's been, I think, a sense around the world that he hasn't done it. He's done it in climate change, he's done it about things that he really passionately cares about, but he's not done it in areas where people think -- people are dying. I mean, what are you going to do about it? And he said, well, I don't think I can do anything about it.
WALTERYes, the hope and change optimism of the very first speech or the Cairo speech certainly gone. Do you get the sense that this is a man who just has been ground down by the realities of the office and the realities of what's to come, the sort of depressing that I came in thinking we could do all of these things, and I'm leaving now, and not only have they not been solved, but now we have to fight this nationalism and populism.
DANAHARI don't think so. I think actually he believes that what he's done is the right thing for America. I think that he -- I don't think he's lost faith in himself. I think he believes that he's taken very difficult decisions, that it was right to keep America out of Syria, it was right not to get America involved in other people's wars, it's been really difficult for him, and I think intellectually and morally he may struggle with that, but I don't think he regrets the last seven years at all.
WALTERI -- I want to bring in one of our callers here, Benjamin from North Carolina, Washington, North Carolina, talking about Syria. Benjamin, thank you for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
WALTERPlease go ahead.
BENJAMINMy question is with regard to Europe and Syria. Is there anything that Europe or European countries individually could practically accomplish to improve things there?
WALTEROkay, I think we lost you, but the question on the table, Nancy Youssef, you want to start?
YOUSSEFWell, militarily we've seen many European partners joining the coalition, but practically speaking, the U.S. military is so much bigger and so much more -- bigger, really, that they've sort of led the coalition campaign, and sort of -- they are the ones that come up with the targets, they are the ones that come up with the intelligence and essentially deploy European partners to then carry out strikes on a particular target.
YOUSSEFSo we've seen that militarily. In terms of policy, I think there has been some efforts, but the reality is the United States is seen as the -- what has to be the leading partner in all this in part because of the size of its military force and its -- early on it sort of pushed to engage on Syria when there was talk about things like Bashar al-Assad must go.
DANAHARI think also, I mean, I think there is a real concern in the administration in America and across kind of American political body of politics and thinking that the Europeans are now so distracted by their own internal collapse on some levels, and certainly the confusion that's reigning in Europe, that they are really worried about the next seven years. I mean, is there going to be any attempt at all to try and -- by the Europeans to have a kind of -- supporting America in what it wants to do when they can't even decide who's going to be part of Europe and how Europe's going to look. So I think there's a great deal of worry that Europe will be so distracted in the coming years that America will be once again asked to basically act alone around the world, which I think will be frustrating for the Americans.
WALTERI wanted to switch gears a little bit from Europe to Russia. The -- there was an election in Russia over the weekend. It looks as if Putin's party consolidated more power in parliament, but there are also some discussions about what actually happened there, what we need to know. Christian, if you can tell us what -- what's actually going on there.
CARYLYes, well, it was a very impressive election result for Putin's United Russia Party, the ruling party. They gained over three-quarters of the seats in parliament, which gives them a super-majority, which means they can change the constitution, they can do anything they want. Now is this, you know, an outcome of genuine grassroots democracy in Russia? I don't think so because elections in Russia have become grand exercises in theater. In fact they're an arm of Putin's own policy making.
CARYLThe bigger story here is that Putin is -- you should see this election as part of a big move by Putin to change the way he runs Russia. And very quickly, he's been firing a lot of the most powerful people in Russia, some of his oldest friends, and putting non-entities in their place. He's creating a new -- apparently a new, revived version of the old Soviet KGB. He's created a new national guard, which has 400,000 heavily armed soldiers in it, which is apparently designed to protect him and keep him in power.
CARYLSo there's -- there's an emerging pattern here, which suggests that he is preparing for the next phase of his rule. He's really shaking things up in a big, big way, and to some extent I think that the -- most of the media in the United States haven't really been following this story and giving the -- and giving it the credit it deserves.
WALTERThat is absolutely true. What do you think this says about the next president's relationship with Putin and the ultimate goal, you think, of Putin in dealing with the rest of the world?
CARYLI think that depends quite dramatically on who becomes president.
WALTEROn who the president is, of course.
CARYLAs we've seen, Hillary Clinton just within the past few days has become notably more hawkish in her remarks about Russia while Trump continues to sound very conciliatory and almost a bit like a fanboy of Vladimir Putin. So that will depend very, very much on who actually wins the election.
DANAHARI think also what's interesting is we're seeing a great deal of -- we're seeing a kind of return of the strongman politics around the world. We're seeing China become much more nationalistic, much more strident. We're seeing the same thing in Russia, across the Middle East. We're seeing the return of people like Sisi as a kind of strongman of the Arab world. We've gone -- there was a period where we all looked to kind of getting around the campfire and working it out amongst ourselves, and now we're seeing across the world now big, strong characters taking control of their countries, taking control of the instruments of power, internally and externally, and then standing up and saying I want this.
DANAHARAnd the next president, whomever that may be, is going to have to kind of deal with a very different world than the last one did because the last one was still riding the cusp of let's all sit down and get together because of the post-Bush era. This one's got a real struggle because those people that were quite weak then have now become very strong.
WALTERI wanted to switch gears for a moment back to the Middle East, talk about what happened with the Egyptian group of migrants. A boat filled with these migrants capsized. Do we know how many people were on it, Nancy Youssef? And tell us a little bit -- I mean, I think for those of us who have been maybe passively paying attention to migration and the migration crisis, we think of Libya, we think of Turkey, we don't necessarily think of Egypt.
YOUSSEFYeah, I'm almost not objective because I'm an Egyptian. I've been following events there on a very personal level. And I have to tell you it was so disheartening to see migrant boats off the Egyptian coast, and not only -- boats filled with majority Egyptians because ostensibly, I think people saw this and thought -- maybe they thought it would be easier to leave from Egypt than Libya because of all the sort of stopgaps they've been having there. This was a boat headed to Italy. It was designed, I think, to hold 200, or the estimates are maybe 400, that they spent five days out at sea, and every day they'd add more people onto the boat, and it was the last 150 on day five that led to the capsizing of the boat.
YOUSSEFIt wasn't even the authorities, according to the survivors, who rescued them. It was fishermen who are still bringing bodies back to the shores of Rosetta, which is a city near Alexandria. And for me what was just so disheartening about it is these are -- these are people seeking to leave Egypt because of the lack of economic opportunity there, and you see it. The Egyptian pound is falling precipitously. There was a man on one of the -- a survivor who was earning 100 Egyptian pounds a day, that's about $10 a day, to support his family in a country where food prices have doubled.
YOUSSEFAnd there's no sense of optimism about a real economic fix, and so it was devastating. It really spoke to the problems of the state, not only because of the economic situation but on a practical level the inability to even rescue those offshore. And so it was -- it was, I think for Egyptians as well, it was just -- it was really shocking to see because on one hand, to go from Libya to Italy is one voyage, but to say that I'm willing to go from Egypt now to Italy, it's a much, much longer trip, and it spoke to the -- it was a physical manifestation of the frustrations in that country.
WALTERWell as you pointed out, these were economic migrants, many folks, as you pointed out, desperate to leave to get work. But there's also some concern that there are traffickers who were trying to get other people out of Egypt. And Christian Caryl, talk about it, as well, as a place for maybe some not-so-great folks coming through, using Egypt now as an opportunity to get over to Europe.
CARYLYes, well I think there is certainly that risk. Egypt currently does have a problem with jihadist insurgents in various parts of the country. I'm not entirely confident that the borders to the west, to some very troubled areas like Libya, are water -- are airtight. We've certainly seen a lot of jihadists moving across the border from Libya into Tunisia, which is a country that's also having a lot of trouble coping with that issue.
CARYLI mean, North Africa in general looks very, very unstable, kind of a swirling mess of various groups and ideologies. So I think the -- this is definitely going to be a big problem for the future.
WALTERI just want to say that I'm Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Go ahead, Paul.
DANAHARNo, I think part of the problem also is that there has been an attempt to try and tighten up the previous routes out of Libya.
DANAHARAcross from Turkey and from Greece. So what it does show is that people are very desperate, and it shows that the smugglers are even more ruthless than people thought they were because, you know, when they shut down one area, they go to the next most difficult, and then the next most difficult. And it's just -- it's just impossible, it seems, to turn this off because people are running away from stuff that's really horrible at home, and until things at home get better...
WALTERThey're going to keep trying to go.
DANAHARThey're going to keep trying.
WALTERSo Egypt may be the next front on this, and we should expect more of this, Nancy, that we are going to see more and more of these boats and unfortunately more tragedy?
YOUSSEFWell, on the economic front there is nothing to suggest that Egypt is going to turn around economically. On the contrary, you're seeing the falling Egyptian pound and rising food prices. And in terms of the migrant crisis, there's an expectation that 2016 will be one of the most busy years in terms of migrant movements ever. And so there's nothing on the horizon that suggests that either the political situations that people are fleeing or the economic ones are going to subside such that people don't take enormous risks to themselves and their families to just go to another country on the prospect of potential opportunity.
CARYLWell, it was my understanding that some of the -- that the passengers on the boat included also Somalis, Sudanese, some Syrians. The crisis in South Sudan is deepening by the day. It's not going to go away. There are a whole bunch of these simmering problems, Eretria, Ethiopia, places in Africa. So there -- we're getting more and more sources of instability for these -- that are generating these refugees.
WALTERAnd we're going to see potentially much more of this as we move forward. I wanted to take a call from Dana, Wheatland, Indiana. Dana, you're on the air.
DANAOkay, can you hear me?
WALTERI can. You have just about a minute before we have to take break, so if you can just give your comment, and we'll take it right after the break.
DANAThe comment concerns what's going on in Syria. My son has been -- he has recently returned from Syria. About nine months ago, he left and joined the Syrian Democratic Forces, specifically the YPG, to help fight ISIS. He's recently returned, and one of the things that they saw while they were there was that it was -- ISIS would frequently attack from across Turkey. They were -- they would be -- they were being harbored by Turkey and attacking the Kurdish forces there.
DANAAlso he -- when he was with the American forces there, the Special Forces, what he would see occasionally, they'd be more than willing to join the fight but were not able to. So there's a lot more going on the ground than we hear about, and I just wanted to say my son had -- has a special interest in it and...
WALTERAnd a special perspective. Dana, thank you for your call. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll answer your questions, we'll take your calls and questions for our panel.
WALTERWelcome back. I'm Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We just took a break after we gotten a call from Dana, talking about his son's experience as a freedom fighter in Syria, what he saw there. We also had several emails about Syria falling into the similar lines of what Charles talks about here, where he says, regarding Syria, I wonder if Obama was faced with a situation in which there were no good options in Syria. A rational approach in such a situation might be to wait and see if some opportunity presented itself.
WALTERSo I'm wondering if you all aren't too hard on Obama and his apparent passivity. I'll just go around the horn. Christian Caryl, start with you. You can answer either one or put them both together.
CARYLWell, look, I'll be very frank. I am an admirer of the president. I've always tended to find myself supporting him. I'll just put that out there. But I have to say that the United States, as Paul was saying earlier, is the most powerful country in the world. The president is the most powerful person in the world. Yes, the options in Syria have been bad from the start, but I don't think that's an excuse for a complete lack of policy, right.
CARYLThere never has been a proper Syria policy, and the wait-and-see approach has made things worse. It's that simple. We basically ceded policy in Syria to Putin and the Russians, and they are now helping Assad win the war, and a Syria in which Assad wins with Russian and Iranian backing I think is not a win for the Syrian people, not a win for the United States. So yeah, maybe the options were bad, but we have not a policy, and the result has been disaster.
YOUSSEFTo Dana, who was talking about his son's frontline experiences, it's interesting to hear him describe it because one of the things Dana said was that we don't get the kind of detail when you're 6,000 miles away, and I can certainly appreciate that. I mean, I've spent a lot of time overseas, and it's really striking how things sort of seem here versus how they seem there, and I think he was really speaking to the various and complex alliances sometimes that seem contradictory and yet somehow all these mini-factions and battles that play out, that when you sort to step back from as far as Washington, you don't quite see.
YOUSSEFAnd on Aleppo, I think the frustration that sort of might be coming through is the situation in Aleppo is so dire, I don't even know if words can capture. This -- we're talking about a war in which children are being starved to death as a means of military victory, where hospitals are being hit with a -- on a regular basis, where people who do no harm to anyone, who have no stake in this fight, who in fact are trying to help like humanitarian workers, some believe were intentionally targeted by either Syrian or Russian forces.
YOUSSEFAnd so I think some of the frustration you're hearing is a reflection of a desperate desire to see some change on the ground. From a -- not just -- from a moral perspective, because it's been going on for so long, and even if Aleppo, Eastern Aleppo, falls to the Assad regime, you know, there's a Russian saying I saw that actions are bad and worse, and I think one cannot find a scenario where there's a solution or where this ends in a way that's humane.
CARYLVery quickly, let's just -- you know, let's just think about it for a second, half-a-million deaths, approaching half-a-million deaths, half the population of the country either refugees or displaced, the entire region destabilized, Europe destabilized, not really a bright moment for U.S. foreign policy or for global policy.
WALTERAnd Paul Danahar, you start us off on the conversation on Syria.
DANAHARYeah, look, I think -- I think the point is there wasn't a policy, or if there was a policy, it was a policy of containment. It was, let's just keep it all in Syria and see where this goes. And it was a policy of un-policy or non-policy that failed. And the things that he has done, he was -- it was suggested that he should've done them a couple of years before he began to try them. So he's now doing what people said he should've done in 2012.
DANAHARIt's not worked now, but that's because it's too late to do those kind of things, and think the other thing about it is that he set himself up as a man who believed in certain values. He believed that, you know, people should not be being starved to death and bombed in their homes, that tyrants should not be allowed to carry on doing what they're doing, that red lines would be drawn.
DANAHARAnd I think the problem has been that he set himself up to be something that he turned out not to be, and I think if he'd had been a man that said right from the beginning, didn't have the flowery rhetoric, didn't stand up and offer himself up as a kind of beacon of hope to so many communities -- I mean this speech in Cairo was incredibly important. It was called a new beginning, and a new beginning implies you're going to do something new, and he didn't do something new, he went back to the old policies.
DANAHARAnd I think that's why a lot of people have said if you say you're going to do something, you have to do it, whether it be a red line in Syria, whether it be standing up against people that abuse other people's human rights. If you say it in the beginning, I'm not getting involved, and you don't get involved, well then fair enough, and I think that's the problem. The expectations were raised, and people's ambitions were dashed.
WALTERI want to make a transition here to another big issue that happened this week that the United States gave final approval for Boeing to sell airplanes to Iran. Christian, why is this such a big deal?
CARYLIt's a big deal because it comes on the heels of the news about the very controversial decision by the Obama administration to transfer a very large sum of money back to the Iranians as part of the Iran nuclear deal. And that -- that -- the way that story came out made it a perfect target for a lot of conservatives, who are very, very unhappy about the Iran deal. And now oddly enough it looks like the Iranians may be taking some of that money to buy U.S. airplanes, quite a large number of them, and thus perhaps create -- provide a large number of jobs for U.S. aviation workers.
CARYLSo it's kind of an odd twist, but I think -- I think actually Nancy wants to weigh in on this.
YOUSSEFWell, I was just going to say, you know, a little -- I just want to go back. IranAir, is sort of a makeshift in the sense that a lot of the planes are aging. Some of them were bought, some say illegally. Hundreds upon hundreds of Iranians have died in plane crashes. And here you have a $17 billion sale of 80 Boeing commercial planes. And as Christian pointed out, with that sale it's sort of codifying relations between Iran and the United States. You have more workers, you have more business, you have potentially more Americans now traveling to Iran.
YOUSSEFSo it's really the sort of first tangible step towards normalizing relations. Now the question becomes will it continue through the next administration, will these kinds of deals allow to be -- go forward under the next administration. We'll have to wait and see.
WALTERWell, and Paul Danahar, some things that Republicans have said is that they are worried that these commercial aircrafts are going to be used to transport troops and weapons and that members of Congress are saying we're going to make this difficult for this deal to come through. Can you address some of that?
DANAHARWell, let's be honest. I mean, if the Americans didn't do it, the Europeans would have done. I mean, the Europeans have been chomping at the bit to get back into Iran. They didn't really want to leave. And if the Europeans didn't do it, then the Chinese would've done it. So at the end of the day, this was going to happen. If Americans are going to make -- get some of their money back that they sent, and if American jobs are going to be created out of it, then so be it.
DANAHARI mean, I think it was going to happen. It's not a case of someone saying either you buy Boeing, or you buy nothing. So I think while people are going to make those kind of noises, and they're talking obviously to their constituency, at the end of the day they know that this is going to happen one way or another. So I guess maybe buy American planes rather than buy somebody else's.
WALTERWell, this goes to Michael's comment. He emailed us, saying something smells about this Boeing deal, Obama gives $7 billion to Iran, he then approves the sale of the Boeing jets to Iran, wondering if it's a backroom, under-the-table maneuver. To your point, this was -- we were going to see airplane sales no matter what.
DANAHARYeah, and look...
WALTERThis is not about a backroom deal.
DANAHARIt took an awful lot of pressure to get the Chinese and the Indians in particular to pull away from Iran because they didn't want to do it, and the Europeans, and there's so many German companies and all sorts that want to do work in Iran and will do work with Iran. And part of the process, surely, if you're going to try and influence a country, if you're going to try and normalize relationships over time, business relationships, putting money in people's pockets and then threatening to take it away is actually quite a good incentive to make people change the way that they work internally.
DANAHARSo I think while it may feel a bit smelly to some people, I think over time people will see it as a way to quietly influence a government, maybe from the ground up because they can't do it from the top down.
WALTERAnd this still seems like such a political hot potato that is there ever going to be agreement in this country about whether we should be helping, doing work with, Iran? Right, as soon as you say Iran deal, you're going to get Republicans who say there's something that is fishy about this. You talk to Democrats, they want to support Obama. Is this where we're -- what we're going to be left with any time we see one of these deals?
DANAHARThe problem with Iran, I mean, coming to this from an outsider, is that it's the bogeyman. It's like -- if you want to look around and say who do we really dislike, it's the Iranians, and that goes back, obviously, to kind of past history. But there are -- there are lots of nasty people out there that American is dealing with one way or another with very bad human rights situations, and they're threatening all sorts of people.
DANAHARAnd I think what this is, it's the reality of politics. A decision has been made to try and engage with Iran. So you may as well do it on as many levels as you can to try and have as much influence as you can. Otherwise you're basically giving them money, not building up relations, and then they do what they want with it, and you've got no power over them at all then.
YOUSSEFAnd I would just add I think the domino effect because with improved relations between the U.S. and Iran, you have a lot of Sunni partners in the region who are quite nervous at a time when arguably there's a real power struggle going on between the Shiite and Sunni powers in the region for territory. We see this in Yemen and in Iraq, as well. And so I think that -- the dominos that fall from building this new relationship creates a feeling of (unintelligible)
DANAHARAnd the other thing is you need Boeing's spare parts in the future. So if you sell them a load of planes, you then have some kind of control over whether they keep getting the spare parts to keep these things in the air. So there's a kind of long-term game in there, as well, I suspect.
WALTERI want to take a couple of phone calls here. One was from Devon from -- excuse me, from Blacksburg, Virginia. Devon, you're on the air.
DEVONHi, thanks. One issue that seems to be overlooked is the morality of who we sell what to, and just this past week Chris Murphy and Rand Paul had co-sponsored a bill to stop the sale of arms and tanks to Saudi Arabia in the same week, or close, that Bob Graham came out and gave us some really piercing insights about the Saudis' role in 9/11. I mean, it's odd to me that it's not getting more attention that America and British companies, such as BAE Systems, are making a lot of money on these war actions. BAE Systems (unintelligible) American branch, and -- not an American branch, but they actually operate American ammunition plants in Tennessee and at the Holsten Plant in Virginia, the Radford Plant.
DEVONBAE is making money off of this war, as is -- as are American companies, you know, like Alliant Tech Systems and, you know, General Dynamics. I mean, it's just a huge dog chasing its tail, money-making adventure that I think it's time we acknowledged we do play a huge role, and it's immoral, and it really needs to stop.
WALTERDevon, thank you very much. Before we give our guests a chance to answer, I'm Amy Walter, you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Paul Danahar, you want to respond?
DANAHARYeah, the arms industry is cynical. I think we can all agree that the world has kind of known that. I mean, the reality is that all these industries see opportunities around the world, as long as they're acting within the laws of their own country in terms of end use of these weapons, they're allowed to do it.
DANAHARLook, the arms industry is deeply cynical. By definition they're making things that kill people for a profit. So they are going to sell these things where they can, within the legal parameters that they're under. Whether that be British manufacturers or American or Israeli or German, that's what they do, that's what their jobs are.
DANAHARSo I think yes, I mean, I think we can be very cynical about sort of complaining about someone's human rights record and then suddenly giving them some tanks or some guns or whatever, but that's the way the world works, and I think it's very difficult to stop that because so much money is involved.
WALTERI want to take one more call here from Christine from Cleveland, Ohio. We've had a lot of discussion, of course, about the president, his decisions on Syria. I think Christine wants to bring that up, as well. Christine, welcome to the Diane Rehm Show. You're on the air.
CHRISTINEHi, thanks for taking my call. Yeah, I just -- in regards to the Syrian intervention argument and discussion that you've recently had, I just -- I feel strongly that I wanted to bring up a different perspective because I think a lot of what your guests talk about is sort of counterfactual. I mean, it's what might have happened or what could have happened if we had done something, and I just want to kind of compare it to the intervention in Libya, which has turned into a complete nightmare.
CHRISTINEI'm not saying that I'm not completely empathizing with the people of Syria and what's happening to them, that's an awful tragedy, but it possibly could have been worse if we had gone in and, say, you know, Assad was not in power anymore. Maybe it would've created a whole plethora of other problems that would've enabled ISIS, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
CHRISTINESo I think we're being a little bit unfair to Obama in not allowing for that perspective to come through, as well, because we just don't know what would have happened. And I know our hands are kind of tied, but I just -- looking at what happened in Libya, I think it was a complete catastrophe. I mean, Gaddafi was a bad dictator, but it's worse now. So I just wanted to make that point.
WALTERChristine, yes, thank you, thank you very much. Christian, do you want to respond to this? We've been kind of going back and forth, but I think she brings up some good points.
CARYLI think those are absolutely valid points. The Libya comparison is, I think, entirely valid. I think the -- one of the issues here is that we've been saying that Obama's policy has been a non-policy, and I think that's quite accurate. In the early stages of this war, people did discuss various options. There -- there was the understanding that you didn't necessarily have to put boots on the ground, you know, you didn't necessarily have to go in guns blazing. There were various other options that might have -- might have been -- might have been in the mix.
CARYLBut we're simply stating in the -- at the end of the day, I think you have to acknowledge that the United States has not done anything.
DANAHARI think if you look at Libya, I mean, one of the lessons that the president says he's learnt is you have to think about the day after. Now that was a lesson that was supposed to be learnt in 2003, when the invasion of Iraq happened, and everybody said what are we going to do on the day after. So I think some of the criticisms are, yes, Libya turned into a mess, but I was in Libya on the day Gaddafi fell, and I was in Libya for six months of that year, and you could see an awful lot of optimism on the ground.
DANAHARA lot of people were coming back, Libyan exiles were coming back to try and build a new country, and they were doing it all on their own. I mean, a lot of effort was spent kind of getting rid of Gaddafi, but nothing was really put into the country to help rebuild the institutions because you have to remember Gaddafi ran the whole country like his own social club.
DANAHARI mean, there were no government institutions that weren't Gaddafi-fied. So you needed -- everybody knew what the problem was, and I think there were lessons that were learnt in Iraq, for example if you get rid of the Ba'ath Party, it will fall apart. But what happened in Libya was Gaddafi's version of the Ba'ath Party was removed by default because he went, it went.
DANAHARSo there were clear parallels there with things that had happened in the past and therefore things you could do differently, and that didn't happen in Libya. And so I think, you know, you can argue, well, you know, what if we'd done this, what if we'd done that. I think Syria is something where you can't say, yes, well with hindsight because a lot of people were saying at the time, if you don't do this, there's going to be trouble.
WALTERThank you, Paul Danahar from the BBC, Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast, Christian Caryl with Foreign Policy. I'm Amy Walter with the Cook political Report, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thank you for listening.
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