How can we run fair and safe elections in the time of social distancing? Diane talks with Ohio State University election law professor Edward Foley.
Heads of state attend the funeral of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres. Secretary of State John Kerry threatens to pull out of talks with Russia over a collapsed cease-fire in Syria. The U.S. plans to deploy 600 more troops to Iraq to fight the Islamic State. Dutch prosecutors link Russia to the passenger plane explosion over Ukraine back in 2014. Saudi Arabia responds after Congress passes a vetoed bill for 9/11 victims. And, the president of the Philippines compares himself to Hitler in his eagerness to kill drug users there. A panel of journalists joins guest host Joshua Johnson for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Scott Shane National security reporter for The New York Times; author of "Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President and the Rise of the Drone"
- Elise Labott Global affairs correspondent, CNN
- Shane Harris Senior correspondent, The Daily Beast; Future of War fellow, New America; author, "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" and "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State"
MR. JOSHUA JOHNSONThanks for joining us. I’m Joshua Johnson sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. It has been a busy week around the world. More violence in Syria, more tension between Russia and the U.S., global reaction to the death of an Israeli leader and yet another shocking comment from the president of the Philippines. Let's dive into the international hour of our Friday News Roundup with Scott Shane of The New York Times, Elise Labott of CNN and Shane Harris of The Daily Beast. Scott, Elise, Shane, welcome.
MR. SCOTT SHANEGood morning.
MS. ELISE LABOTTThank you.
MR. SHANE HARRISThanks for having us.
JOHNSONWe would love to get your take on this week's top international stories so call us, 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. Email us, email@example.com. Find us on Facebook or tweet us. We are @drshow. And there is a lot to talk about this hour. Syria, Russia, Ukraine, of course the Philippines, more on ISIS and the fight against terror, but let's begin with the death of Shimon Peres, the late Israeli leader who is being remembered this weekend. Shane, tell us about this man's legacy, Shimon Peres.
JOHNSONIt's kind of hard to sum up. Like, where do you begin to unpack his legacy?
HARRISSure. Well, I mean, you'd be hard pressed to find someone in Israel whose life really does traverse the birth and the evolution of Israel, of the nation of which he was one of the founding fathers. You know, from the independents and the development as a fledgling state to a military power in the region for which he was chiefly responsible for helping build them up, to a seeker of peace to an engine of technological innovation in the Middle East, Peres was really involved and at the heart of many of these efforts.
HARRISIt's hard to find a position, a senior position in government, that he did not hold in Israel. So really, this is somebody whose life just very much tells the story of the evolution of Israel and he's being remember as that today.
JOHNSONElise Labott, can you talk about some of the outpouring that's been coming from around the world and certainly from the leaders who are at the ceremony right now for Shimon Peres. What are people saying about him there in terms of how they remember him?
LABOTTWell, I mean, it's interesting because in the -- as Shane said, in the country, I think he's seen as the father and maybe even now the grandfather of the state of Israel. First building up the state and insuring its security and then saying that this security has to be held through peace. And that's, I think, what he was remember for around the world. So you had President Obama coming there. You had Bill Clinton. You had other world leaders. But what you didn't have is a lot of Arab leaders.
LABOTTInterestingly enough, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, was there to show his respect for Shimon Peres. Him and Prime Minister Netanyahu, in fact, shook hands. It was a very awkward handshake, but -- and President Abbas took a lot of heat from the Palestinian people for coming to the ceremony. I'm sure he's going to take a lot of heat for shaking hands with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But this is what Shimon Peres exemplified to the world.
LABOTTNow, the reason a lot of Arab nations were not there, because he -- Peres was a very controversial figure in not only forging settlements, but also as prime minister and his leadership during that attack in 1996 on the UN base in Lebanon and so while he is remembered by a lot of the world as a man of peace, he's also remembered by a lot of Arabs as a man of war. So there were some Arab representatives there, but not even Egypt or Jordan, who Israel has peace treaties with, the leaders were not there today.
JOHNSONScott Shane, what about Shimon Peres' legacy later in his life? How was he viewed in his twilight years?
SHANEWell, he was responsible for building up the tech industry in Israel, the defense industry and he was always sort of hovering over the political scene. This man as 93 and still going pretty strong at the end of his life. I think, you know, what's striking in retrospect is that he, you know, he sort of stood for the two-state solution and with him departing the scene, you know, there's not a lot of realistic hopes for that scenario, which should've drove so many rounds of peace talks for so many years and so much hope.
JOHNSONYeah, is there another -- I was just going to ask you about that in terms of his legacy. Who do you, if anyone, see that carries the mantle of Shimon Peres? There's not another one like him on the scene right now.
LABOTTWell, certainly not in Israel. I mean, and if you look at Israel right now, it's moving, you know, very much away from that dream that Scott talked about. I mean, if anything, you know, Shimon Peres was a dreamer. He dreamed of what was possible between Arabs and Israelis, as Scott said, that he was instrumental in building up the tech industry. He was also, in his later life, working on a lot of research about the brain and science and had a big institute.
LABOTTSo he was someone who saw this potential for the region and there is nobody really on either side. And that's what -- when you read about these tributes to him, that's what they say, that the worry that there's nobody who's going to carry on that mantle. And, in fact, today, the funeral was very interesting because it was kind of part funeral, part, you know, peace conference in which people like President Obama said, you know, he was the leader of this nation and has this dream. It's important now for the next generation of Israelis and their friends to carry on.
LABOTTAnd the worry is that there is nobody there that sees it in those terms, that he did. And it's just very interesting. Roger Cohn of the New York Times had a very thoughtful opinion piece the other day and he said if Shimon Peres' parting words to Netanyahu and Abbas would be, it would probably be "imagine" because he imagined what could be. And I don't think that anybody is really thinking about the region in those terms right now.
HARRISOh, remember, too, that Peres', you know, signature achievement in peace was helping with Yitzhak Rabin crafting the Oslo Accords and, of course, Rabin was assassinated shortly after those accords were signed. That assassin's bullet was also meant for Peres. He meant to kill them both and Peres survived. And I think it is clear that sort of a dream of peace was, you know, severely, you know, took a big hit when Rabin died and there's still a legacy of that and this feeling in Israel that something died with him.
HARRISAnd Perez did kind of keep that alive and keep that going and I think, as my colleagues have said, with him gone now, it's really -- that light seems, in a way, to kind of gone out. I don't meant to be too pessimistic about it, but when I was in Israel in June, I mean, you couldn't find people who really thought that the two-state solution was viable. There's a real resignation that the conflict as it exists now is just the way things are going to be and people hope for peace, but it is very much hoping.
HARRISThey don't really, A, plan on it...
JOHNSONYeah, and then, maybe to Elise's point, that might be why some of those world leaders were saying that at his funeral to kind of make sure that that voice didn't disappear. Like, no, really, you need to remember this man's legacy and this is what Shimon Peres would've wanted.
SHANEYeah, one footnote, if people heard President Obama speaking today in Israel, I mean, this was a pretty unusual thing for him to pick up and go there. He felt quite close to Shimon Peres and, you know, you couldn't help but think about this famously difficult relationship he's had, you know, through his entire presidency with Netanyahu, you know, a sort of cold peace between them and, you know, there he was talking about peace in Israel. And, you know, there was a certain element of -- there was something poignant, I guess, about his -- Obama's not finding somebody to work closely with on this issue that has, you know, kind of haunted foreign relations for decades.
JOHNSONSpeaking of foreign relations, there was a bill in Congress that has raised some new concerns about the United States' relations with other nations. And before we get to break, let's bring up this bill. It's a bill that would allow the family members of 9/11 victims to sue other nations, alleging that they had a role in the attacks, specifically targeted toward Saudi Arabia. The president had vetoed this out of concern that it would make it harder for the United States, really, to prosecute its war on terror in any kind of a cohesive way around the world. And Congress overwhelming overrode that veto, the first veto of President Obama's presidency.
JOHNSONIf you missed our show about that, it was the first hour of "The Diane Rehm Show" yesterday. You can listen to that hour again at drshow.org. What do we make of this override? Scott Shane, are there any rumblings right now in terms of other nations saying, okay, you passed this bill. Here's what we're going to do. Has that started to happen?
SHANEYou know, a lot of countries have made remarks about how this might have some dire consequences. The Saudis have paid a whole of money to lobbyists to point this out. But, you know, what's funny is that even in wake of that overwhelming and unprecedented override vote, quite a number of members of Congress began sort of hemming and hawing about how they had reservations about this. And Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, called it yesterday a case of rapid onset buyers' remorse.
SHANESo, you know, there's even some possibility that Congress will revisit this at some point.
HARRISYeah, I think one of the things that the overwhelming support, which maybe was, you know, on the surface looked that way for sure, maybe not so much, as Scott points out, I think this demonstrates the tremendous political influence that 15 years after 9/11 that the victims' families still have. They pressed very hard for this bill. They persuaded many members to vote for it, but they also persuaded many members to go with them, even though they had misgivings about it. And one of the key things that the administration had a concern about is this principle of sovereign immunity, this idea that basically you cannot sue sovereign governments.
HARRISThe fear now is that this principle will be eroded and it will trigger retaliatory lawsuits all around the world.
JOHNSONWell, this certainly effects the way that President Obama had wanted to prosecute the war on terror. When we come back, we'll talk about the latest movements and how the president is prosecuting the war, including an effort to deploy hundreds more troops to Iraq. We'll continue that conversation with Scott Shane of the New York Times, Elise Labott of CNN and Shane Harris of The Daily Beast. I'm Joshua Johnson. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show" from WAMU and NPR.
JOHNSONIt's the international hour of the Friday News Roundup on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Joshua Johnson sitting in for Diane Rehm, spending the hour with Scott Shane of The New York Times, Elise Labott of CNN, and Shane Harris of The Daily Beast. So when we went to break, we were talking about this bill in Congress that the president says could have a nasty effect on the way that we prosecute the war on terror. In terms of the way the president is prosecuting that war, he authorized sending another 600 American troops to Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in this battle to fight ISIS in Iraq in the city of Mosul. Shane Harris, what's the thought process behind this deployment?
HARRISWell, I think the thought process is that U.S. military officials are hopeful that a campaign to retake Mosul will begin in October. That may be the October surprise that we've all been wondering about. It is going to be a very tough slog there not trying to dampen those expectations. But sending in these forces is a sign of both support, I think, for the Iraqis who are going to be in the lead, and also probably an acknowledgement by the Pentagon that we do need to add some more people -- enablers, as they like to call them. They're -- the administration is always quick to say these are not frontline combat forces who will be leading the fight. They'll be supporting and enabling.
HARRISBut it does bring the total number of U.S. forces on the ground to about 5,000, in a country where we thought we had pulled our troops out from several years ago. So it's a sign that I think we are -- the Obama administration is investing in this fight to come in what will be the final months of his administration.
JOHNSONHow concerned are we about the implications of this? Elise Labott, there was an editorial in The Washington Post titled, "And Then What?" which talks about the potential for what it called a potentially catastrophic day-after problem. Where even if this assault is successful, it could leave behind all these other unexpected, unintended consequences in the wake of our action, that whoever's left over there is going to have to clean up. What do we make of that?
LABOTTWell, it's true. I mean, first of all, let's just think of the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people that could be displaced in Iraq. I think that there's a real concern about that. And there is a plan for the day after in terms of trying to mitigate the humanitarian costs of that. The Prime Minister Abadi will also have to deal with, you know, the remnants of what happens. And that's why I think it's really important that he's trying to get the Iraqis to take the lead so that it's not as if the U.S. just hands over, you know, the ground to them when they're done. And that's why the U.S. is kind of staying in the back.
LABOTTI mean, I think an Iraqi victory is supposed to spell the end of ISIS in Iraq, trying to end the caliphate in Iraq. There will still be some remnants. But the fear now is that a lot of those foreign fighters are going to go back to where they came from. And one of the big concerns is that they're going to go back to Europe. You've already seen some foreign fighters joining cells that were responsible for the Paris and Brussels attack. And about 30 percent of the foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria are expected to go back to Europe. And that's why there's a real scramble not only to work with the Iraqi government in terms of sealing its borders so people don't escape, but also working with European intelligence agencies to make sure that they're ready for this.
LABOTTThe FBI Director Comey had spoken about this, CIA Director Brennan. There is a real concern and it's not clear whether European intelligence agencies, all of which are disparate and not really working together within a EU context, are ready for this.
JOHNSONYeah. We do want to talk about the impact of militants on Europe a little further ahead in the hour. We also want to get your take on the week's international news. Be sure to give us a call, 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook or tweet us, we are @drshow.
JOHNSONScott Shane, what about the possibility of mission creep? You know, there are 5,000 forces on the ground, as Shane Harris said -- or there would be after this surge, this increase of troops. A lot of Americans heard, we're getting out of Iraq. Great, we're getting out of Iraq. No, wait. We're sending 600 people back. Oh, and we already have about 5,400 -- 4,400 on the ground now, so then there'll be 5,000. But we're getting out of Iraq. How does this not -- how is this not mission creep?
SHANEWell, I mean it is a variety of mission creep, certainly from the point of view of President Obama, who came into office, you know, almost eight years ago with sort of job one to get the U.S. extricated from these big, tangled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, you know, that was what his heart was set on. That's what he worked hard to do. And so you have a very reluctant president, you know, getting back in. And you have the debate that's popped up in the presidential race as to whether it would have made more sense to work harder to leave some kind of residual force to perhaps prevent the rise of ISIS in Iraq in the first place.
SHANEBut I think the, you know, what's happening here is, you know, both presidential candidates call for destroying ISIS or crushing ISIS and, in fact, ISIS is being slowly but surely crushed. It's this sort of law of unintended consequences that comes into play. You even see it in the case of that New York bombing, for example, with Ahmad Rahami, there's some belief that when he went to Pakistan for a year, he tried to get into Syria and may have been thwarted. Well, so what did he do? He came back to the United States and set off bombs in New York and New Jersey. So I think even the U.S., in addition to Europe, may begin to feel the sort of long reach of the ideology of ISIS, even as it gets crushed in the region.
JOHNSONSpeaking of Syria, let's talk about that. There's a lot to talk about with Syria, with a situation that seems to keep getting worse and worse. Elise Labott, the Secretary of State John Kerry had threatened to end all talks with Russia on Syria unless these attacks in the city of Aleppo stops. Walk us through what's going on with that.
LABOTTWell, you know, the last two weeks have really been a whirlwind in terms of this diplomacy and the, you know, very quick spiraling of the situation in Aleppo. On September 9, Secretary Kerry had the cease-fire in Geneva with Foreign Minister Lavrov. By the time they got to the U.N., that cease-fire was unraveling. You had the -- that, what the U.S. calls an accidental strike on that Syrian Air Force. And then that was followed by a systematic bombardment, assault of Aleppo, which is really some of the worst fighting since the war began. And this constant bombardment by the Syrian regime and the Russians of hospitals, of ambulances, of medical workers.
LABOTTThere is reports that the city -- at least eastern Aleppo, which the rebels held -- is out of water and that regime forces are now surrounding for a final assault. Secretary Kerry is saying, listen, there's no point in talking about a cease-fire and saying there's a cease-fire and continuing to work together, if you're going to continue to actually be bombing the people that we're trying to end the violence for. And so he gave a very stern ultimatum to Foreign Minister Lavrov. If you don't stop, we're going to stop what the Russians really want, which is this kind of joint military cooperation against terrorist groups in this city.
LABOTTI think it's getting very close to the end of the line. Secretary Kerry is supposed to be speaking with Foreign Minister Lavrov today. And I -- knowing Secretary Kerry, I don't think he wants to completely throw in the towel. But you can't say that the Russians are acting kind of constructively. And so I think the U.S. will start to look at some other options.
JOHNSONYeah. Shane Harris, what are the Russians saying? What is their point of view in all of this?
HARRISWell, I mean, the Russians will always say that they're in here fighting terrorist groups and that this is all a campaign to go after ISIS and these militants. But I mean, look, I mean, from the Russian perspective, this is about its influence in the region. This is about propping up Bashar al-Assad. That really calculus hasn't changed. They want that ally in the region. They want access to these ports. So I think you have to kind of go back to first principles with the Russians on a lot of this.
HARRISAnd the other options that we could be talking about here may not be so good for the Russians, right? I mean, from the administration's perspective, the White House has long been betting, since the Russians got more deeply involved in this and directly involved, that this could become like another Afghanistan for Russia. They use words like quagmire. We find ourselves, you know, hoping and openly talking about that maybe this will pull Putin in farther than he thought that he ever wanted to go. There seems to be, from what I can tell, no backing off from the Russian perspective. I think they feel pretty good about the way that progress is being made. And as Scott said, ISIS is being, you know, slowly but surely crushed.
HARRISWe have a lot to do with that though, as well. And if we were to start saying, well we're not going to help you in this campaign anymore. We're not going to be attacking these militant groups. We'll leave it to you. You know, then maybe Russia will then not be so sanguine about its options.
JOHNSONScott Shane, let's talk about what's happening on the ground. Elise Labott laid out a bit of how awful the fighting is. Lay out for us what the fighting actually is. It sounds like there's talk about the Obama administration's consideration of arming some of the rebels, the use of these bunker-buster bombs on the ground. I mean, it sounds partly very grisly and partly very complex and chaotic on the ground, where there are no clear battle lines and no clear paths to what should be done next.
SHANEYes. Well, I mean, you know, this is -- this -- Syria has really become hell on earth. Three hundred thousand people killed. It's gone on for years and years, what started in the, you know, in the sort of hopeful time of the Arab Spring in 2011, has turned into this sort of unending nightmare for Syrians, really wherever they live. But Aleppo is right now a particular hell. It's the worst bombardment of the war and that's saying something. And, you know, you had people retreating into basements and shelters underground to try to hide from these bombs. Now there are reports that so-called bunker-buster bombs are actually reaching them there.
SHANEAnd the U.S., you know, you kind of have to admire John Kerry's persistence in these, you know, against the odds in these kinds of situations. But, you know, it seems that the Russians, there was little evidence that they were taking seriously the notion of a cease-fire and a great deal of evidence that they wanted to kind of consolidate the gains for the Assad government and, you know, sort of go for the kill in Aleppo. And that is very ugly.
JOHNSONElise, I see you nodding your head to that.
LABOTTWell, yeah. I mean, look, there has always been a lot of criticism of John Kerry that he's being played by the Russians. And he would say, I'm not going to apologize for trying to find a diplomatic solution. There is a belief that Russia is trying to use the talks and use this kind of open-ended diplomacy for a strategic advantage on the ground. But on John Kerry's side, what leverage does he really have when you have a president that's pretty much said publicly, I'm not interested in a military intervention on the ground. And so the Russians know that Kerry is shooting with an empty gun to some extent.
LABOTTNow, I do think that there is some talk within the administration, as Aleppo is teetering on the brink of collapse, of what can we do not only to help the Syrians from this constant onslaught, but also to gain some more leverage on the ground? I mean, that could be anything, as what Shane would said, from allowing the allies to send more sophisticated weaponry -- so far, the U.S. has really been opposed to that -- to some targeted strikes on, you know, Syrian bases or something like that. I think the president is going to be loath to do that.
LABOTTBut this situation is quickly spiraling completely out of control. And so I know the president just has a few months left in his administration. I don't know if he has a few months left to make a decision on trying to do something.
JOHNSONThat's Elise Labott of CNN. I'm Joshua Johnson. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's dive in on the phones now, 800-433-8850, beginning with Jerry in Winston-Salem, N.C. Jerry, welcome.
JERRYThank you. I believe I recently read that the Saudis are going to increase, excuse me, decrease their oil production, which I believe will raise gasoline prices at the pump. Is this their response to the 9/11 passage bill?
JOHNSONGood question, Jerry. I'm not sure if they're directly connected. Do -- Shane Harris?
HARRISI'm not sure if they're directly connected. But one related aspect of this is that the Saudis have threatened to sell off various, you know, U.S. assets and Treasury Bonds and these kind of things, to sort of try to unwind themselves from investment and the United States. And this was one of the big things that came up that Saudi lobbyists in Washington were pushing too, was sort of the stick that the Saudis might use against the United States if the terrorism bill were passed and these lawsuits were allowed.
HARRISEconomists will tell you it is -- it probably would hurt them more than it hurts us. And it would not be so easy to unwind their positions in these financial markets. But they have, yes, openly talked about basically using some kind of economic stick, if you like, to try and deter us from passing this bill.
JOHNSONLet's keep going on the phones with Gideon in Orlando, Fla. Gideon, welcome.
GIDEONHi, thanks for taking my call, Josh.
JOHNSONSure. What's on your mind?
GIDEONSo, yeah, I was involved at the White House actually when President Peres came as his last meeting with President Obama, as president of Israel. And I was just in Israel this past summer and I actually dog sat for the Peres's family dog. So I was incredibly saddened when I heard about his death. And I wanted to just bring up to the panel another contribution that he made to Israel and the world was his focus on scientific advancements on the nanotechnology. And he just unveiled, like a couple months ago, the -- a new center for innovation in Israel. So I'd love if you guys could speak a little bit more to that and his contributions in that field.
JOHNSONYeah, we can do that, Gideon. Thanks for bringing that up. Elise?
LABOTTWell, I think we addressed that he had the Peres Center, which was really looking into scientific advancements on, you know, brain research, other types of scientific technology. And as Shane said, he was also very instrumental in helping build up this idea as Israel as a high-tech country. I think when Peres was asked recently what his biggest regret was, he said I didn't dream big enough.
LABOTTAnd so this was a person who always was looking to the future in -- and in his recent life, these scientific advancements and such were something he was working very intensely on.
HARRISYeah. I mean, you hear this phrase a lot in Israel, they describe themselves now as the start-up nation. And the technological advancement, particularly in Tel Aviv, and new apps and things that are being developed has really been quite remarkable. And I think Peres was someone who kind of saw this over the horizon and pushed for it long before it became sort of the thing that everyone is talking about now. So I think he gets a lot of credit for having that foresight.
JOHNSONYou know, we had the conversation in the first segment about Shimon Peres's legacy. And it's a mixed legacy, among people who see him as much more dovish than hawkish and then people who say, well, you were also very involved with building up Israel's military and it's armaments and so on. Was this the kind of thing that Shimon Peres began to do later in his life, to kind of guild his legacy? Or was that forward-thinking nature always a part of who he was, the way he was part of Israel's public life?
LABOTTI think it was always part of his life in terms of, it was just in stages. Like, first, he was there helping to build up Israel's defenses. He was working on the creation of these settlements in the West Bank. But then he grew to realize that the only way to continue to move forward and to keep advancing and to keep growing was to secure these advancements. And that was through peace. And so I don't think -- I don't think really it was about a legacy. I think he just kept moving forward and seeing how Israel could grow and what was the best way to do that. And first, it was by looking inward in terms of being, as Shane said, a start-up nation, but, later, looking outward in terms of the region and Israel's place in it.
JOHNSONTime to take one more break before we wrap up the international hour of our Friday News Roundup with Elise Labott of CNN, Scott Shane of The New York Times, and Shane Harris of The Daily Beast, and with you. We welcome your calls, your questions and thoughts, 800-433-8850. Email us, email@example.com. I'm Joshua Johnson sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're back in a minute. Stay close.
JOHNSONBack again with the Friday news roundup, the international hour. I'm Joshua Johnson, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're continuing to take your questions and thoughts about the week's international news, 800-433-8850. And email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to start with an email from Sharon in Kent, Ohio. And first of all, Sharon, my heart really goes out to you. Thank you for being willing to write this down and send this to us.
JOHNSONI cry every time I see those desperate Syrian refugees. I can't call in because I might start crying. But what exactly is Obama supposed to do, boots on the ground? Who wants to offer up their son or daughter? The VA is already overwhelmed with the results of Iraq. Take in refugees? We can hardly take care of the poor we already have. Provide serious weapons? To who? With what money? I don't get this. Please help me here.
HARRISI think she's probably expressing a lot of the frustration that's within the White House, as well, and President Obama has clearly evinced on this, too. This is someone who ran for president promising to get us out of wars and not get us into new ones and that I think has been really a guiding principle for him in a lot of this -- in this belief that I think Obama has that we continuously overestimate our power to change things in the world through force and sometimes even diplomacy.
HARRISAnd that I think is what's been guiding a lot of his hesitation to go deeper into this. The humanitarian aspects of this are not lost on anyone, but I think that Obama probably -- what the caller is saying would resonate with him, as well, of what else would you have me do.
JOHNSONScott Shane, did you want to chime in?
SHANEYeah, well, I was just going to say that, you know, the caller is just an American citizen out there having these thoughts, and she may suspect that in the -- you know, in the halls of the Pentagon or inside the White House, people have a more sophisticated take on this. I don't think they really do. I think there is huge amount of frustration and even anguish over the lack of good choices in Syria.
JOHNSONThat's actually comforting to me, really, because it means that you don't have to be a -- if that's so, you don't have to be a foreign policy genius to see there are no easy solutions to this. So even, you know, for Sharon in Ohio, looking at this from the outside, it's rough all the way around. It's not just a lack of knowledge. This is -- this is thorny stuff.
LABOTTI do think, though, that when it comes specifically to the case in Syria that one of the frustrations of the people in the administration is would we be in this situation now had they done something earlier on -- you know, a year ago Russia was not fully invested militarily in Syria, bombing Syrian positions. You know, had the U.S., you know, done a little bit more -- they did try to arm the rebels and get them together, but had there been a more intensive effort, had they taken out some of the Syrian air force earlier, would there be the kind of refugee flow that we have now.
LABOTTAnd I think now the consequences for President Obama of wading more militarily in are much more dire and high-stakes than they would have been three, four years ago, and I think that's the situation that the administration finds itself in. Do the risks of getting involved now outweigh the risks of what you can have later on if you don't?
HARRISJust to amplify what Elise said, I mean, just we go back to the famous red line moment, where Obama said he was going to take action in Syria and then said no, I’m going to leave it up to Congress, and we ultimately didn't do it. You know, to bring this back to Israel for a second, when I was there talking to national security officials a few months ago, I was struck by the number of people who said this administration just doesn't have much credibility with us anymore because of that moment.
HARRISAnd there's a real -- these are the consequences, sometimes, of inaction, which is not take a position one way or the other on what he should've done, but that did have real repercussions among our allies, who looked at this and said we don't believe you when you say you're going to go in.
JOHNSONLet's keep going on the phones now with Mark in Chicago. Mark, welcome.
MARKHi, actually Elise basically hit on all the points there. I mean, the way Putin got into -- Russia got into a quagmire in Afghanistan was that we supplied ground-to-air missiles, which took out the Soviet helicopters. Right now the equation is much more risky. So we might have lost the moment. The horse is out of the barn.
JOHNSONI hear you, Mark, thanks for calling in. Let's keep going on the phones with Harry in Portsmouth, Ohio. Harry, welcome.
JOHNSONHey there, Harry, are you there?
JOHNSONWhat's on your mind, Harry?
HARRYWell, I was wondering, for the families, the victims of 9/11, if they're going to sue Saudi Arabia, who is going to enforce their reward? Like if it's monetary, is the U.S. going to go in there and say, hey, you've got to pay this? And how are we going to get them to pay? And if it's just a thank you, you know, I just don't know what they're actually suing for as compensation and how do they plan to collect.
JOHNSONThat's actually a great question, Harry. Elise and then Scott?
LABOTTI think that this is one of the questions about whether this is, you know, a symbolic gesture because there's very little evidence that Saudi Arabia was directly involved in 9/11. There were a lot of rumors, there is a lot of innuendo, there's some circumstantial evidence that there were connections between members of the Saudi royal family and some of the hijackers but no concrete proof. And so the question is, A, will a court of law find them guilty, and B, what would happen if they do.
LABOTTI mean, that's why Saudi Arabia now is talking about possibly divesting its investments in the United States. The Congress would presumably have to have a legislation, or the administration would have to freeze some of the Saudi assets, which I can't imagine any administration doing. So that's why I think a lot of experts think that the Congress is playing with fire here because you're not really going to get much from this legislation in terms of holding Saudis accountable for 9/11, but you're going to get a whole lot of damage to U.S. around the world and perhaps, as we've been talking about, being sued for its own actions.
SHANEYeah, that's -- that's the reason there was such a big push back from the administration. I believe I'm right in saying that the U.S. has bombed or droned seven countries in the Obama administration, a lot of people hurt, a lot of civilians killed. You know, are we creating sort of causes of litigation in many, many countries, and will we no longer be able to say, hey, sovereign immunity because we have, you know, moved away from that principle.
JOHNSONHere's a comment that was posted on our website. Sendbe writes, the expulsion of ISIS from Mosul won't be the end. If those murderers are to be prevented from returning, the Sunni Arabs will need to be given a place within the post-ISIS order. Shane Harris, is that a thorny proposition at best? Is that...
HARRISOh, this is what I think, he's getting to the heart of the conflict here.
HARRISI mean, there is an immediate military solution, I suppose, for cleaning out ISIS, but look what you have in this -- this is a -- this is a sectarian conflict at base. This is Sunni versus Shiite. This is something that, you know, the -- ultimately the people who live there will have to reconcile. So ISIS, you know, flares up as a manifestation of this conflict, and you can take that out, but you're not really addressing the underlying sort of symptoms of this, that produce this.
HARRISSo, you know, we should absolutely, as the caller says, not think that just because there may be a victory in Mosul that we can sort of, you know, walk away from this and say great, you know, these conflicts are now taken care of. They won't be.
JOHNSONAll right, let's keep working our way through the international news of the week. The president of the Philippines, don't roll your eyes at me, we knew we had to...
SHANENo, I'm not...
LABOTTI'm not rolling your eyes at you, I'm rolling your eyes at what we're about to talk about.
JOHNSONI know, I know, and it has to be discussed because it is -- it's so -- like it's one of those where you just kind of go what that he even said this out lot. Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, has been making a name for himself as a rather, shall we say...
JOHNSONFirebrand is a good word for it.
JOHNSONAnd today the brand of his fire burned yet again with a very sharp comment in which he compared himself to Hitler. Elise, I think you have the text of it. This is in the context of the Philippines' war on drugs, which is basically, like, his brand. That's how he became president.
LABOTTThat's right, and just to set the scene, as you said, firebrand has been, you know, sharp tongue, called President Obama son of a bitch or a son of a whore or how you determine the translation for criticizing this war on drugs where thousands of people have been killed. Nineteen hundred people have died, including 700 in police operations. And so there is a real concern about human rights in the country that is at the heart of this.
LABOTTSo what President Duterte said today was that when he's talking about his killing of -- he wants to kill millions of drug addicts, just -- and criminals just as Hitler killed Jews during the Holocaust. Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there is three million. What about three million drug addicts there are? I'd be happy to slaughter them, he said. At least Germany had Hitler. The Philippines would have me. You know my victims. I would like them to all be criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.
JOHNSONThat was the quote from President Duterte. I don't even, like -- Scott, what do we do with this?
SHANEWell I mean, generally...
JOHNSONAlthough, well actually before you answer, before you answer, I'm trying to be, trying to kind of view it from another perspective. This is the people that the Philippines elected to be their president partly because he had this agenda when he was a mayor in the Philippines of having the exact same message, like Filipinos know this is who he is.
JOHNSONHe didn't suddenly change. They knew him, and they said that's the guy we want to be our leader.
SHANEAnd he remains extremely popular in the country.
SHANEBut in -- you know, when politics get overheated, usually somebody calls their opponent Hitler or compares their opponent to Hitler. This is the first time I can remember that a politician has stepped forward and said no, I'm the guy who's like Hitler.
LABOTTAnd glorified the Holocaust, by the way.
LABOTTI mean, look, it is -- you know, he has a sharp tongue, and he definitely likes to make a splash with what he says. The question is his methods and what's going on in the country. I think the U.S. is trying to rise above -- you know, Duterte also said that this upcoming military exercise with the U.S., military exercise with the Philippines and the U.S., is going to be its last. You know, he's talking -- there's a much bigger context in the concern of his actions, moving more towards China, moving away from the United States.
LABOTTThe question is his methods, and is he going to act like Hitler and slaughter all of the drug addicts and criminals in his country extra-judiciously? I think there's more of a concern about that than any one kind of fiery comment.
JOHNSONYeah, and as it relates to the relationship with China, you know, there's this joint military exercise coming up with the United States. President Duterte has said this one would be the last one, and he would shift his alliances further away from the U.S. and closer to China and Russia. Shane, what does that mean going forward?
HARRISWell that's a concern, obviously, to the United States. It was a concern to the Philippines' defense minister, who said that he was not informed of this decision by the president and would be seeking to get more answers and clarification from him about it. You know, obviously this has to do with China's adventurism in the South China Seas and these areas that are claimed by -- that are disputed by many countries. We would like to see, of course, the Philippines remain closer to us as a bulwark against China strategically, as they long have been.
HARRISNow he wants to move more towards the Chinese side, and Duterte said we're going to suspend these exercises because China doesn't want us to do them. So at least overtly, he is saying, you know, look, this is my calculation, I want to make the Chinese happy on this one, I'm going to give this to them. Notably he made this announcement while he was speaking to a ground of Filipinos while he was in Vietnam. I can't imagine that the Vietnamese government was really pleased to hear this, either.
LABOTTThat's right because China was supposed to -- the Philippines was supposed to be a buffer against China, and that's why the U.S. had gotten much more involved in East Asia and started strengthening the relationship with the Philippines.
JOHNSONThat's Elise Labott of CNN and Shane Harris of the Daily Beast. I'm Joshua Johnson, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Let's try to keep going on the phones with as much of the time as we have remaining in the hour. Mark in Cincinnati, Mark welcome.
MARKOh wow, hi.
MARKI got through so quick. Thank you. I just want to make a comment about Syria and Bashar al-Assad, and what's happening in the Middle East for people who are not familiar with the Middle East is first of all, I just want to say a short story here real quick. I know you're -- your show ends soon.
MARKI had a relative that was actually directly a translator through the U.S. Army to Saddam Hussein throughout the two years he lived in a jail cell in Camp Slayer.
JOHNSONHe was Saddam Hussein's translator?
MARKYeah, he's my uncle.
MARKI actually had a conversation with him yesterday because I haven't talked to him in a while, talking about, you know, those days and what's happening and what's happening in Syria. And, you know, I'm just saying that because it's related to all the -- all the carnage that's happening in Syria and the dictatorship and Bashar al-Assad.
MARKAnd, you know, we have, as a country here in the U.S., we have no understanding of what the culture would be like in the Middle East without a very strong and, I hate to say it, ruthless person. You know, he was saying that Saddam Hussein was telling him that if I could -- if I wasn't tough, they would eat me up. The people, he called them savages, his own people. They were not ready for anything yet. I was preparing them to, you know, civilization because they're just, you know, tribal, and they don't understand anything.
MARKThey -- I would be assassinated in minutes if I wasn't ruthless and tough. And that's -- that's really true with most Middle Eastern countries.
JOHNSONOkay, Mark, that's a really interesting point, and I saw, Elise Labott, I saw you kind of nodding in a little bit of acknowledgement. I mean, does he have a point at all that you -- that because of the way these countries exist that there has to be a strongman at the top?
LABOTTWell, there is a perception that there is. I'm not going to say that the people of the Middle East don't deserve democracy and human rights and rule of law.
LABOTTI think that there is a perception that, you know, because these dictators have ruled for so long, there are no institutions and the type of civil society that would allow them to live without, you know, some kind of strongman. I think that you've seen, you know, the Arab Spring, where people were fighting for democracy and their rights. It was a little bit of a mixed experiment. And now you see a return to the kind of strongman in Egypt, per se, where that is a much more comfortable, you know, type of leadership.
LABOTTSo I mean, I think he makes a point. I think that, you know, you would talk to democracy advocates and people who are favoring more, you know, broad-based rule that that's really an excuse.
HARRISYeah, just as one other point, I mean, Bashar al-Assad, you know, he saw Saddam Hussein hanged, he saw what happened to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. I mean, these leaders see this, and they're going to -- they're not going to open up their societies, they're going to, I think, as the caller said, see themselves as much more under threat. And this has what has been the other story of the post-Arab Spring is that these strong leaders, you know, resisting change and hanging on to what they have because they've seen what happens to their counterparts, frankly.
SHANEAnd because of weak institutions in the region, which is a direct result of this sort of one-man rule, you have people retreating to other forms of identity. They feel insecure, so they retreat to sect, Sunni or Shiite. The Kurds are, you know, kind of jockeying for their own state, and so you really have a period that's going all the way back to World War I and the Sykes–Picot Agreement where you're going to be redrawing the map of the Middle East, And it's not pretty.
JOHNSONIt sounds like this is -- the situation in Iraq and the situation in Syria are kind of doomed to be complex and sectarian and messy for quite some time.
HARRISOh, I think so. I mean, not to be too pessimistic, but I mean, I don't know what the -- I don't know anyone who has a great idea for the way forward, as we said earlier. It's not as if there is some secret plan sitting someplace, and neither candidate has one, by the way, to magically make this all reverse itself.
JOHNSONThat's Shane Harris of the Daily Beast, Elise Labott of CNN, Scott Shane of The New York Times. Sorry to end the hour on such a pessimistic note, but at least, at least Rodrigo Duterte kind of shook things up and made it a little more fiery.
LABOTTWell, Oktoberfest is coming up, so maybe that's more positive. We'll talk about that next week.
JOHNSONI can't believe -- well, when October comes around, maybe Diane will talk about Oktoberfest. So we will right that one down. Shane, Scott, Elise, thank you all for spending the hour with us.
HARRISThank you very much.
JOHNSONRemember, we did do that show about the 9/11 bill. Do check it out on our website, drshow.org. Until we meet again, I'm Joshua Johnson, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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