The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: John Donvan
Russia warns the U.S. against military intervention in Syria and the Syrian regime gains control of a key area of the long-besieged city of Aleppo. More than 11,000 migrants – many from North Africa – are rescued this week trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. Dozens don’t make it. The president of Colombia wins the Nobel Peace Prize, but Colombian officials grapple with how to further a peace deal with rebels after voters rejected it. The president of the Philippines says President Obama should “go to hell.” Hurricane Matthew kills as many as 300 people in Haiti. And the UN selects a new secretary general.
- Yochi Dreazen Foreign editor, Vox; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Karoun Demirjian Reporter, The Washington Post
- Matthew Lee Diplomatic writer, Associated Press
MR. JOHN DONVANThank you very much for joining us. I'm John Donvan, host of the Intelligence Squared US Debate, sitting in for Diane Rehm, who is on a station visit to WYPR in Baltimore. Well, Russia is warning the US against intervening in the war in Syria while thousands of migrants are rescued off the Libyan coast. And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos just days after his country rejected a peace accord with the FARC rebels.
MR. JOHN DONVANJoining us for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen, he is foreign editor at Vox, Karoun Demirjian, reporter at The Washington Post, and Matthew Lee, diplomatic writer at The Associated Press. Thank you all for being here.
MR. MATTHEW LEEGood to be here, John.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, John.
MS. KAROUN DEMIRJIANThank you.
DONVANMatthew Lee, as we go to air, we have news that John Kerry, our secretary of state, is demanding an investigation into Russia's actions in Syria on the grounds of war crimes.
LEECorrect. He was meeting with the French foreign minister just a few -- about an hour ago and made this call to investigate not just the Russian actions, but also Syrian actions. It specifically related to the targeting or alleged targeting of civilians in Aleppo, which, you know, the city has been just -- the eastern part of it has been pretty much reduced to rubble over the past couple of weeks and this is the strongest that we've heard from the United States in terms of some kind of accountability for what's been going on there.
DONVANKaroun Demirjian, I mean, it's the strongest both in terms of an indicator of just how bad things are in Aleppo, but also how bad things are in US/Russian relations. Back up for us a little bit, if we go back five weeks ago, five weeks ago, the US and Russia had worked out a ceasefire agreement and they were talking towards a future of some sort of political resolution. What broke in the meantime?
DEMIRJIANRight, right. I mean, the theme of the discussions between the United States and Russia was all about coordination and cooperation starting this summer, really. And everyone had high hopes -- or not everyone, but they had high hopes, I guess, that this would lead to a coordinated ceasefire that would basically let them open up a humanitarian corridor to be able to get some aid to these -- I think it's about 275,000 people that are left in Eastern Aleppo that are either trying to get out or starving in there and something had to be done.
DONVANAll very positive.
DEMIRJIANAll very positive intensions, right, but they never quite came to fruition because there was -- the ceasefire -- the humanitarian aid delivery was contingent on the ceasefire sticking for, I believe, about a week. It didn't happen and so things started to deteriorate and then about a week ago, you saw the deterioration accelerate dramatically as the United States decided to cut off the coordination with Russia. I mean, we didn't entirely stop talking. Kerry and Lavrov kept speaking, but they -- we cut off that coordinated approach.
DEMIRJIANThen, a day later or something, I forget the exact chronology, but Russia announced that it was pulling out of this nuclear security arrangement that we've had for decades and decades about reducing plutonium stockpiles and then you see just kind of the tit for tat escalate, involving many more issues than Syria, but the generally speaking, the umbrella of relations, the gloves are off. Now, we're seeing war crimes a few days ago. Russia was saying we're not going to play ball with you on major agreements that we've had going forever until you compensate us for all of your sanctions.
DEMIRJIANAnd these are impossible demands, basically, to the other side, but it tells you that, basically, this is no longer a happy, let's try to lean towards singing Kumbayah and joining hands and making this work moment, at least right now.
DONVANYochi Dreazen, what explains to you this breakdown?
DREAZENI think that oftentimes when you look at a conflict, the side that feels more invested and is willing to do more, tends to win. Russia feels more invested. Russia is willing to do more than the US ever has been. Russia is likelier to win. I mean, if you take a step back, even -- another step back, the Obama administration rationale for not intervening has always been if you use force, you won't accomplish anything and you'll get bogged down. Russia has used force. It accomplished a lot. It has not been bogged down. You can argue about whether it's easier to defend a government than topple one.
DREAZENThere are all kinds of other factors, but just in cold terms, Russia intervened when Bashar al-Assad was if not losing, at least roughly at a stalemate. They turned the tide. Bashar al-Assad, by any measure, is now winning. The fall of Aleppo may not be inevitable, but it's likely to be soon. What Russia and Syria have begun doing, you know, as Karoun mentioned kind of on the diplomatic side, they're effectively carpet-bombing what's left of Aleppo.
DREAZENThey're using barrel bombs as both Russian planes, Russian attack helicopters, Syrian planes, Syrian attack helicopters. So it isn't just violence resumed. It's that the violence is worse that it's been at any point in the past year. And just as a last point, the target of civilians is a part of it, but part of what Kerry is talking about even more specifically is the targeting of hospitals and aid workers. And there's absolutely no question that it's deliberate. Bashar al-Assad has been, piece by piece, destroying what's left of the hospital network, the sort of impromptu medical network.
DREAZENAmbulances are being bombed from the air. Doctors are being killed. The last pediatrician is dead, the last surgeon is dead, the last dentist is dead.
DONVANWhat strategy is behind that? What's the strategy, if in any way Assad wants to be able to lead afterwards, what's the strategy in alienating a population so much that you're murdering its doctors on purpose?
DEMIRJIANI mean, it's really bleak, but it's basically starve or submit or, you know, we will...
DONVANI'll break you.
DEMIRJIAN...I'll break you and I'll break your spirit, right? I'm going to break -- if I target hospitals, if I, you know, starve -- I believe there's allegations of white phosphorus being used, too. Things that are just blatantly would be, you know, war crimes.
LEEIt's pretty much how the Russian playbook in Chechnya, how they dealt with the uprising there. But it's also very much out of the playbook of Assad, the father, who, you know, crushed by going -- crushed uprising on Hama years and years ago by basically obliterating the place. This is not, you know, it is not unprecedented, unfortunately, in either of the playbooks of Russia or Syria.
DONVANRemind us, Matthew, why Russia supports Assad in the first place.
LEEWell, there are several reasons. I mean, one is that they have a small naval base in the Tartus, which is their link to the eastern Mediterranean which they don't want to give up, but they've also had a long-standing -- Russia has had a long-standing relationship with the Assad family. It's always been, you know, kind of their spot, their point of influence in the Middle East, which has, you know, traditionally been an American kind of place with the US relationship with Israel, US relationship with Jordan, US relationship with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
LEESo with those alliances, if you will, in a bit of disrepair at the moment, particularly the US relationship with Israel, the Russians see a -- they see an opening.
DEMIRJIANThere's another few elements there that matter, too. I mean, Russia has the argument to make that it has concerns about Islamic terrorism in its country as well and they often draw the line back to Chechnya and the Caucasus, basically, the North Caucasus, to make the point of we have to fight, you know, ISIS, et cetera, abroad. And then, one other thing, which I realize, you know, is I guess a little controversial, but at least I think can partially explain why (word?) gets in on the side of Assad in this is that Putin doesn't like seeing leaders of countries, even if they're rather Draconian leaders, toppled.
DEMIRJIANI think that this is an argument that has been used in other places as well. He sees himself in figures like, you know, Yanukovych in Ukraine and he's not exactly the same as Assad in Syria, but there's some sort of sympathy.
DONVANYou think it's that personal for him, you think.
DEMIRJIANWell, I just think that, like, there's a -- perhaps not all the way to, you know, the hour of death with Assad, that sort of thing, not to that extreme, but in general that's -- Russia's very, very big on the sovereignty argument, especially when it comes down to, you know, a leader that maybe other leaders in the world don't like that much.
DONVANYochi Dreazen, what marks the point at which Assad says, okay, I have Aleppo again, it's mine? And what are the implications of that if that happens?
DREAZENSo Assad, on Thursday, offered something that was almost immediately, in a very sad way, laughed at by the rest of the world where he offered effectively an amnesty to the last -- to about a thousand fighters still in Aleppo from the Nusra Front, which is an al-Qaida-linked group that is actually a very effective battleground group, effectively said, lay down your weapons, leave the city, you'll be safe and then I'll stop bombing what's left. And no one, I think, in the world who follows this took it very seriously.
DREAZENStaffan de Mistura, who is the UN special envoy for Syria, put out this kind of dramatic, really vivid appeal. We think of the UN as this kind of bloodless organization run by bloodless diplomats. And de Mistura, in this very personal way, said I will personally go to Aleppo and I will personally escort the fighters of Nusra out of Aleppo if you, Russia, and you, Syria, will stop bombing the city. Don't destroy 275,000 people for 1,000 people. I will personally walk them out. And it's an extraordinary moment in this when we think about what that says when you have that level of desperation and sadness by a diplomat.
LEERight. And it is very clear that de Mistura, the envoy, is just frustrated beyond belief. It's no -- I don't think it's any kind of a secret that he has toyed with leaving the post, but has been convinced to stay on. I mean, it's really kind of -- it's a completely thankless job and, you know, his two or three -- three predecessors now have there been, beginning with Kofi Annan way back, you know, four years ago or five years ago, have all left in complete frustration and desperation, basically. So yes, it is sad state of affairs.
DONVANWe have a website comment from a listener. It says, give Syria to Assad. At least we can work with him. He is the one person who can be bought off. We have a minute before break. I want to give you each ten seconds to respond to that thought. Yochi Dreazen.
DREAZENIf you sodium pentothal to most of Assad's neighbors, especially the Israelis, they would agree with that 100 percent.
DEMIRJIANSome people ready to pull them -- don't see an end to the fighting so some people might agree with that. I think others say how can you, at this point, do that, given everything that you've been through and how bloody it's been.
LEEI would just say that there was a point right after 9/11 that we were working with -- that the US was working with Assad. And, you know, there's a very famous photograph of Secretary Kerry, then Senator Kerry, having dinner with -- he and his wife having dinner with President Assad and his wife. So it, you know, it's...
DONVANWe forget he was going to be one of the reformers at one point.
DEMIRJIANWay back in the day.
DONVANAll right. When we come back, we're going to be talking about the migrant crisis flaring up again in the Mediterranean, terrible scenes, terrible scenes from the last few days. Our guests are Yochi Dreazen, foreign editor at Vox, Karoun Demirjian, reporter at The Washington Post, and Matthew Lee, diplomatic writer at The Associated Press. I'm John Donvan and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DONVANWelcome back. I'm John Donvan, host of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debates sitting in for Diane Rehm. This is our weekly news roundup on the international front. Our guests, Yochi Dreazen, foreign editor at Vox and author of "The Invisible Front," and Karoun Demirjian, reporter at The Washington Post, Matthew Lee, diplomatic writer at the Associated Press. I want to remind our listeners also that the second presidential debate is on Sunday, Sunday night. And our colleague, Robert Siegel, will be anchoring live coverage airing on many NPR stations beginning at nine o'clock Eastern, along with live fact checking at NPR.org.
DONVANYou can join our conversation and we hope that you will. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. Or send us your email at email@example.com. Or join us on Facebook or on Twitter. As we mentioned before the break, a new wave of migrants, actually initially stranded in the Mediterranean this week and rescues carried out by the Italians, not fully successful. Lots of people ended up drowning. Yochi, what -- why a sudden surge again in the numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean? Where are they coming from?
DREAZENThey're coming from both places you'd expect, like Syria, like some of the other Arab countries, Libya and others, that have been hit by just unrelenting violence. And they're coming from Afghanistan in huge numbers, which gets a lot less attention than Syrian refugees. The refugee crisis is often shorthanded to Syrian refugee crisis, when in actuality it's much broader. It's Libyan, it's Afghan, it's other countries. Libya is a very appealing place from which refugees to leave, because from it to Italy is a relatively short distance.
DREAZENIt's about 130 miles. So the feeling is, if you can make that 130 miles, you get to safety. Of course, the Mediterranean is dangerous. You've had hundreds die this year, thousands if not tens of thousands in years past. Some of the individual stories this year -- this week, alone, we had 11,000 who were saved -- are extraordinary. There was one wooden boat, photos of it went sort of viral.
DONVANYeah. We're radio...
DONVAN...but describe what that boat looked like.
DREAZENSure. So you had a flotilla of boats. But there was one that was a wooden boat in particular that was not very big -- it was maybe 100 feet I would say -- that had 1,000 people crammed onto it. And this was a wooden boat. And you had...
DONVANIt's astounding. They're standing, packed shoulder to shoulder, from the front -- left to right, front to back. It looks like a cattle car without a top on it.
DREAZENExactly. In some cases, lying down with others lying stacked on top of them.
DREAZENI mean they're absolutely horrifying. On some of these boats you had mothers -- pregnant women gave birth to children on these boats as these boats were making their way across the waves. Some of the boats have tops, as you say, some don't. But this is the level of desperation people have to get out of Afghanistan, to get out of Libya, to get out of Syria, and try to get to Europe. And of course, when they get to Europe, the response of many in Europe, now we're going to send you back.
DONVANMatthew, we have the EU and Afghanistan actually talking about an arrangement...
DONVAN...to send refugees from Afghanistan back to Afghanistan, which is essentially back into a war zone.
LEERight. Especially now around Kunduz, where the situation is getting bleaker by the day, the Taliban move -- on the march again. Yeah, it's a really, really bad problem. It was, you know, we said the same thing about a year ago, that this was, you know, and they, people kind of, how could it ever get worse? Well, it's starting to look like it's getting worse. And let's also remember, it's not just people from these frontline states that these -- that are fleeing. You have Eritreans involved here, you have Somalis, you have Nigerians. It's really just the whole instability of the Middle East, North Africa, but then parts of sub-Saharan Africa has really come to a head. And that's what we're seeing in all these people fleeing.
DONVANKaroun Demirjian, what does it say -- knowing what we know about the conditions they face crossing, the likelihood of drowning, of being abused, and then getting to a Europe that turns them back -- what does it say about the situations that they're fleeing in the first place. Are people not aware of what's ahead? Or are they fully aware but it's worth a risk that they're willing to take.
DEMIRJIANI mean they may not be completely aware of every little twist and turn, but I think the desperation that both Yochi and Matt just referred to is very, very real. I mean you don't make the decision to flee your home for an uncertain end through, I mean, all of these people are also coming from countries where it's not just like you walk down the street and hop on the boat and try to cross the Mediterranean. I mean, there's a tough journey to even get to that part. And I think people anticipate a difficult, you know, clawing on for dear life once they get to Europe. But it's clearly worth it to have a hope of having a future.
DEMIRJIANAnd, I mean, what they're facing is so bleak that it's, I mean, you saw people describe those conditions on those ships is like the equivalent of slave ships I think I saw one person describe it as. And that's an unfathomable thing if you're not in as desperate a situation as which these people are.
DONVANAnd as Matthew just said, last year we were talking about it would never get worse and now it's getting worse. And what I don't hear from you, from me, from anyone, is any idea of a solution to this. It's more that we're -- we have nothing to say.
LEEIt's more -- it's an attempt -- I think what we're seeing is an attempt to manage this crisis.
LEEAnd the problem with that is that it really can't be managed without addressing the root cause of why these people are fleeing, which is violence, war, and severe, severe economic hardship.
DEMIRJIANAnd it can't be managed better in the interim, also, without resolving the issues that you have in Europe right now, where you have a huge backlash in a lot of countries that are, if not the very first stop, the second stop for a lot of these migrants as they're trying to get to safe haven...
DEMIRJIAN...just don't want them. So you've got xenophobia on the rise like crazy, which is helping to fuel some of these deals to send people back. I mean, there was enough international outrage when we were talking at the beginning of the year about deals to send Syrian migrants back to Turkey. That wasn't back to Syria. This is going all the way back now to Afghanistan that we're talking. And people are swallowing it.
DREAZENI think that there is a belief many people have, listeners, journalists, friends, relatives, we like the word crisis in a way, because crisis implies solution and it implies something temporary. Something happens. It's a crisis. The crisis is resolved. Things go back, in some ways, to what they were. I think, when we think about refugees, this isn't a crisis. This is the new reality of the way that much of the world will interact with Europe and much of the world will interact with the United States.
DREAZENBecause the things people are fleeing are violence, the things people are fleeing or soon will be fleeing will be climate change. There will be parts of the world that are submerged. And people who live in the coastal areas like Bangladesh or Pakistan decide, we can no longer live here. It's water shortages, it's food shortages. So this idea of the mass movement of desperate people moving to places that don't want them and can't hold them, this isn't something that, if we could just magically think of (word?) will be fixed.
DREAZENIt's not going away.
DEMIRJIANAnd if you just look at the United States too. I mean, how are we dealing with this? We're having a really knock-down, drag-out fight about Skittles and things like that.
DEMIRJIANI mean, but really, you know, if there's one bad egg, we have to turn away entire...
DONVANI guess the best thing that can be said -- and maybe it's the best thing that can be said, is that the Italian Navy went out and pulled most of those people to safety. But that's not saying that much.
DEMIRJIANNo. Well, there are remarkable things happening in the Mediterranean right now. The Italians, the Greeks, the coordination between the Greeks and Turks, even who don't even like each other very much.
DEMIRJIANI mean, the people that are on the actual, very frontline that is the coast of this are doing a pretty impressive job with very limited resources, which is -- that's not sustainable. It doesn't stop there.
DONVANYeah. I feel like we should almost give a moment of silence, since we are so short of answers. The Peace Prize, Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, Matthew, this week, in rather ironic circumstance. Tell us who won, and what did he win for?
LEEWell, it was President Santos of Colombia who, you know, about a month ago or just a couple weeks ago was riding high, had just signed the official signing of this peace deal that he had negotiated with the revolutionary armed forces of Columbia, the FARC, after, you know, 50 years of civil war.
DONVANThat's a war that has -- all of our lives, that war has been there.
LEEHey, precisely. The longest-running war in this hemisphere, in the Western Hemisphere, as well as -- and the longest-running war in the world. And anyway, the deal was signed, a big ceremony in Cartagena. Secretary Kerry went down there. And then he put it up for a vote to the Colombian people. And lo and behold, they rejected the deal.
LEEExactly. And so we're in a kind of an uncomfortable impasse, although they have extended the terms of the deal on a temporary basis now, including the protection for the ex-guerillas. It is clear that the Colombian population is deeply, deeply divided about this idea. And...
DONVANNot because they support FARC in any way.
LEENo, no, no, no. That they think it's too lenient...
LEE...on the terms, allow the FARC to, let's say, I think they would say, get away with decades of crime or decades -- without any accountability. And that is an issue.
DONVANIt's a fair criticism of the deal, is it not? Yochi Dreazen.
DREAZENIt is. I mean, we think about, if we were to put it into a U.S. context or in other countries like Israel, it might be the equivalent of Israel saying to Hamas, we now have an amnesty. Those of you who planned or carried out suicide bombings, bus bombings, it's forgiven. Let's move forward. There's an interesting element to this that we wrote about this week where, depending on one's political views here, it resonates, which is that pollsters in Colombia were embarrassingly wrong, running up the vote. As was the case in (word?) frankly. They said this would pass by 60 to 40 margin, 58 to 42 margin, and it lost. It was close but it lost.
DREAZENAnd one of the reasons it lost, pollsters now believe, which is an interesting one, references a point Matt made, that this lavish ceremony, this signing ceremony, actually angered many voters. They didn't look at this as, hey, our country did great and the world's celebrating it. They looked at it as, we gave too much. The world is patting us on the back for having given too much. This government did something we don't like and is celebrating. It's spiking the football too soon. No.
DONVANSo half the Colombian population probably violently -- vehemently disagrees with this Peace Prize going to President Santos, who get's nearly a million dollars, by the way.
DEMIRJIANRight. Well, I mean, it's -- I would just like to know exactly what day the Nobel Peace Prize Committee voted. Because I know they vote in October but I don't know exact. Because, really, there's been so many fits and starts, right? I mean, one, the referendum. Not -- and referendums this year, that's like a whole other topic that we can talk about globally. But and then Santos saying that, okay, the cease fire is going to end at the end of October. I mean, did they vote before that or after that?
DEMIRJIANBut, yeah, it's, you know, this is just really interesting. Especially when you've got such a high-profile deal to think about that element of that big signing ceremony. Because, you know, this is the whole science of peace and reconciliation commissions which happen all over the world, right? There's less attention when it's someplace like Northern Uganda, right? Where people just kind of have to learn to deal with some of the really horrible stuff that happened. And then in this situation, right, that's always an element of it. If you want things to kind of calm down -- I saw a piece about it this week -- like, there has to be a little bit of absorbing injustice on the side of the people who were wronged, right, in order to have the peace reign.
DEMIRJIANBut when it's this high profile, when everybody's talking about it, when there's this half century of anger and, you know, it's very difficult to do.
DONVANLet's go to some of our listeners and bring in Frank from Charlotte, N.C. Frank, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
FRANKOh, hi. Okay.
FRANKI have a question and a comment. Okay, you have one of your persons on your panel keep mention that Israel. And the thing is though that Israel has an American Colonel that was captured off the coast of Gaza in prison right now, today, to -- that was arrested, a female, a few days ago. And I don't see why we give Israel anything. Okay? And then about Aleppo, the Russians bombing Aleppo, what are we going to do after they shoot down two of our planes?
DONVANAll right, Frank. Let me take the second question. I'm going to come back to your first question for later in the program, because we're going to be talking about Israel. Let's get to the second question. Matthew, do you want to take that? If Syria shoots down a U.S. plane.
LEEYeah. That would be a -- that would be bad, to put it mildly. An even worse scenario, worst-case scenario would be if there is some kind of shooting between the United States and Russia. And that is one of the reasons -- or if, of course, if Russia would decide to come to the defense militarily of any Syrian military target that was hit by the United States. And this is the main reason why -- or one of the main reasons why there is so much reticence in this administration about actually increasing the intervention that so many people are calling for.
DONVANI'm John Donvan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Yochi Dreazen, let's talk now about Israel-U.S. relations. Frank's question was -- it sounded to me like he was asking why the U.S. -- I think he was suggesting that the U.S. gives Israel a pass on a lot of things that it wouldn't give to other countries, a charge that's often brought up. But at the same time, there's a counter narrative that U.S.-Israeli relations under the Obama administration have not been at all rosy-sweet. And this week, share with us what happened in terms of the new settlement announced outside of Jerusalem.
DREAZENSure. So two things happened actually in the last couple of weeks that are both worth mentioning. The first is that Israel and the U.S. signed what is the biggest and most lucrative and most -- just farthest-reaching security package in American or Israeli history. It's a 10-year agreement under which Israel will get roughly $4 billion a year to purchase American weapons. There's no deal that the U.S. has with any other country. So for those who believe Israel, which is wealthy and powerful relative to its neighbors, already gets too much, this makes them think they're getting too much still. For those who think Israel is endangered by a rising Iran and endangered by Islamic State, they would look at this and say, hey, this is a great deal.
DREAZENBut what happened this week is extraordinary. First, you had the death of Shimon Peres, where you had both Barack Obama and other American officials, Bill Clinton, travel to Israel. In the case of Barack Obama, he gave a speech that singled out the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who also attended the funeral. Mahmoud Abbas was the one leader that Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention by name. So it was very clearly Obama saying, you, Israel, you, Netanyahu, have to do more for peace.
DREAZENRight afterwards, Israel announced that it was approving the construction of a new settlement. So not expanding the existing one, but building one new from scratch. That led to what was the longest denunciation I've seen in a written State Department press release about Israel in quite some time.
DONVANHow bad was it? How harsh was it?
DREAZENIt was -- they -- everything they could think to throw, they threw. They threw the Shimon Peres just died card. They threw the we just gave you a security package card. It was just paragraph after paragraph after paragraph. I spoke with the State Department afterwards to just gauge, kind of, the level of anger and was told that that was a draft. There was a draft that was angrier still...
DREAZEN...of things that were in it. And that they just felt personally betrayed on some level. That the U.S. had just given this deal, just sent the president to Israel, and the response was new settlement construction.
DONVANKaroun, remind us why the U.S. opposes settlement expansion in the West Bank.
DEMIRJIANBecause it kind of undercuts the whole idea that you can ever get to a two-state solution. That, you know, you can have a Palestinian state built out over much of the West Bank/Gaza and have Israel be, you know, the part that everybody recognizes as Israel. This goes back to, you know, all the U.N. resolutions about what the lines are. We're talking about, you know, 1948 lines, '67 lines, and the whole negotiation is based on these internationally recognized boundaries. And when you have settlement construction behind those lines, it...
DONVANSlices away at the territory.
DEMIRJIAN...it chips away, it kind of like erodes away, I think, actually at the actual territories that you're talking about, making that conclusion harder.
DONVANSo, Matthew Lee, given that logic and given the United States -- U.S.'s strong position against settlement expansion, and given the fact that, as Yochi set up for us, in a very, very embarrassing time, Israel goes ahead and expands settlements.
DONVANWhat are we to conclude about Israel's take on the U.S.?
LEEWell, this current Israeli government is clearly not a huge fan of the Obama administration, even though they were -- they profess to be and they have said that they were very grateful and they welcomed and they thanked the U.S. for this memorandum of understanding, this 10-year, $38 billion deal. But they're going to do what they think is in their own national interest. And clearly, by going ahead with these projects, they think that that's in their national interest.
LEEOne of the more interesting lines in this lengthy State Department statement that Yochi was talking about was a line that said that, if this goes ahead, if this new construction goes ahead, the Israelis will be cementing a path to a one-state reality, in which it is impossible for Israel to retain its character as a Jewish state and be a democracy at the same time. And that suggests that the administration thinks that not only is Prime Minister Netanyahu not really committed to a two-state solution, but is actively working against one.
DONVANOkay. More after the break. I'm John Donvan and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DONVANWelcome back. I'm John Donvan. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We are discussing the week's events on the international horizon. Our guests are Yochi Dreazen, who is foreign editor at Vox, Karoun Demirjian, who is a reporter at The Washington Post, and Matthew Lee, diplomatic writer at the Associated Press. A few of the stories that we haven't mentioned, Hurricane Matthew. Matthew slammed into Haiti and hit pretty hard.
LEEYeah, it did. My namesake hurricane, unfortunately, I'm rooting for myself to become a tropical depression or just a heavy thunderstorm, but yeah, it really nailed southwest Haiti, death tool anywhere now 300 to 500. It's a really dismal situation there, thousands of people left without homes. And you just have to wonder, Haiti has gone through so much over the last decade, well even less than -- obviously more than a decade, but in terms of natural disasters, this is a country that seems to be a target for them continually.
LEEIt's the poorest country in the hemisphere, and it's just like once they start to recover from one disaster, they get hit again.
DONVANIt's somewhat tragic how Haiti's plight slips from consciousness because five years ago it was top of the headlines, and churches everywhere, schools were sending people down, and yet the routineness of its disaster becomes non-news after a while.
LEEIt certainly does, and that is very unfortunate. One thing that I guess -- I hesitate to say be thankful for is that it only hit the southwest portion of it. So further towards -- further east, towards the Dominican Republic, was largely spared. But still this is a country that has gone through more than its fair share of horrific natural disasters.
DONVANOne of the organizations that is there through it, several organizations like World Health Organization, et cetera, is the United Nations. And Yochi Dreazen, we have a new secretary-general of the United Nations.
DREAZENWe do, we have a Portuguese, a former Portuguese prime minister, actually beloved within the U.N., named Antonio Guterres.
DONVANI don't think most of us know much about him.
DREAZENI think that's very likely. He is...
LEEAlthough one wonder how much have people known in the past abut past U.N. secretary-generals before they became...
DREAZENIt's true. I mean, Kofi Annan kind of had a global celebrity that the current U.N. secretary, Ban Ki-moon, most definitely does not have. He's a very polite South Korean that can quite literally fade into a corner of the room without people noticing. Antonio Guterres is different. This is someone who is both beloved within the U.N., he's been the high commissioner for refugees and was seen as having done a very good job. He's also beloved in some ways outside the U.N. because when he was prime minister of Portugal, he pushed through a really interesting law that decriminalized all drugs.
DREAZENPortugal was fighting a heroin epidemic, it had marijuana problems, it had cocaine problems. He pushed through a full decriminalization, the result of which is is...
DONVANThis was in the '90s, was it?
DREAZENThis is the '90s. Portugal right now, its drug addiction rate is five times lower than that of its neighbors. HIV infections are down by about 95 percent, which they believe is linked to the fact that you don't have the same sharing of needles. But you took someone who -- the current U.N. secretary-general, who was seen as kind of ineffectual, soft-spoken and weak, you put in someone who is high profile, willing to speak out and very much a popular figure.
DREAZENWhat's interesting of course is we often think of the U.N. secretary-general as being this very powerful world leader, and he or she is not. They don't run the U.N. They don't run any army. They don't run peacekeeping. They can advise a security council and can advise a general assembly, but their actual power is very limited.
DREAZENWe spoke to someone this week who pointed out that the secretary-general is much more secretary than general, which is punchy but also very accurate.
DEMIRJIANFull disclosure, about 10 years ago, the last time they were picking a U.N. secretary-general, before I was a journalist, I was an intern at the U.N., and I remember the whole selection process of Ban Ki-moon. It's just really interesting to see how different the United Nations is approaching this than they did 110 years ago.
DEMIRJIANBecause -- well just because, you know, it took longer, first of all, the first time, 10 years ago. But also the fact that it's making a much more gutsy move, I think, with Guterres because he does have opinions about this, because he has been in the middle of some of the biggest crises that have been -- or I know we talked about how the word crisis is not exactly right for refugees, right, it's more of a reality, but he has been in the thick of that versus a safer choice who's kind of on the outside.
DEMIRJIANAnd I mean, I think Ban Ki-moon came in talking a lot about restructuring the secretariat and, you know, HR things more so than the actual, you know, public missions and the big, global crises that the U.N. was going to have to tackle. So it's just interesting to see the switch. And then the other thing I just mentioned is that the celebrity status of U.N. secretary-generals, it's interesting because they're usually not celebrities before they come in. So this is even a little bit different in that way.
DEMIRJIANAnd some of the most powerful UNSGs have been global nobodies who just happened to be a hell of a lot stronger than anybody thought by the time they took over that top seat. So it's always a little bit of a let's see what's going to happen this time, but I think we know a lot more about the entity than we usually do.
LEEAnd the one disappointment with Guterres from some people's point of view is that this had been the year that a lot of people had hoped or expected or at least hoped that a woman would be named to the top spot, and...
DREAZENHas never happened.
LEECorrect, and nine secretaries-general, that's nine secretaries-general, nine men, and there had been a movement, support to try and get a woman into that top job. It did not happen, obviously.
DONVANThe Philippines, its colorful president with some sometimes colorful language this week has suggested -- suggested that he might need to tell President Obama to quote-unquote go to hell. Yochi Dreazen, we're chuckling, and maybe we shouldn't be. What is -- how serious is the acrimony, how meaningful is the acrimony that we're hearing from President Duterte?
DREAZENSo I think you just kind of captured the whole problem with the Philippines right now in your question because some of it is hard not to laugh at, and then some of it is very serious. Amazingly, his comment about how Obama should go to hell was the less offensive of his comments this week, the more offensive when he said that Hitler killed three million Jews, obviously the number was wrong, I'm proud to say that I will kill three million drug dealers. So likening oneself to Hitler is usually not something politicians like to do, but he proudly did it and then of course had to apologize when he realized how offensive and idiotic it was.
DREAZENWith the Philippines there is a serious issue. The Philippines is a country that is on the front line of the pushback against China in the South China Sea. They're one of the countries where they're seeing Chinese ships get closer and closer. They're seeing China grab more and more of a sea that they feel that they have the rights to use. They're the country that actually took China to The Hague. The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines. China said we won't abide by it, the Philippines said we have a treaty with the United States, of course the United States must have our back on this, and the United States has winked, nodded and basically made clear that they don't.
DREAZENAnd what Duterte and his government have been saying, once you get past the kind of go to hell and called Obama other names that may not be NPR appropriate, beyond that is we expected our ally, the United States, to stand with us against China, they haven't, so we're willing to unshackle ourselves, which is a word they used, from the United States and move closer to China.
DREAZENSo there is a very big kind of geostrategic issue, and there -- it's a point that has come up in other questions. There's a lack a lack of trust in President Obama. There's a willingness to challenge him, a willingness to insult him, a willingness to push him near the end of his term that may not have been there one year ago, four years ago, eight years ago.
LEEWhat's kind of strange about this is that it's really -- it was not self-apparent that this split had to happen or was definitely going to come. I was with Secretary Kerry in Manilla just about two months ago. They had a very friendly meeting, Secretary Kerry did with President Duterte, and a good meeting with the foreign minister, who was the one who used the unshackling line.
LEEAnd it was really, I've been told, there's no indication that the private conversation was anything like the -- or included anything like the rhetoric we're hearing right now from the president, who just seems determined to make things very difficult for the United States to continue.
DONVANI'm wondering, Karoun, if I'm connecting the dots incorrectly by saying that in the course of this conversation, we have heard about Israel slapping the U.S. in the face with the settlements, we have talked about Russia making its choices in Syria without due regard to U.S. positions and intentions in Syria, and now we have the president of the Philippines insulting the president of the United States. Is there a thread of disrespect that is unusual and relatively unprecedented, or am I?
DEMIRJIANIf you want to draw the thread, I would say that maybe at a different point in time it would be unusual, but we are in October 2016 right now, and what is it, October 7, which means that we are, well, probably -- I'm not good at counting exactly, but we are just about -- a little over a month away from the election.
DONVANYou think it's about being a lame duck?
DEMIRJIANI just think in general you see a lot of big-world, simmering crises turn. I mean, you had the Operation Cast Lead, was it, in Gaza that kind of exploded during the period in between presidents in early 2009 or the very, very, very end of 2008, I forget exactly which day it started. You see shifts happening in global power plays, basically, and when better to do that, when there isn't going to be an immediate sustained consequence, I should say, from the current administration.
DONVANNow I mean, if Hillary Clinton wins, different story perhaps, but right now this is the most questioning, vulnerable period that we're in for other people to make at least a gesture, even if they're not going to follow all the way through, even if the Philippines does not rip up that aid contract and still takes our money and just wanted to get its -- you know, to be able to let its...
DEMIRJIANVent its spleen a little bit. But really, this is the moment to vent your spleen at the United States because the consequences are limited.
LEEAnd let's not forget North Korea. Let's not forget North Korea in this, which has so far this year, you know, conducted a number of nuclear tests and really testing the resolve of both the United States and the international community more generally.
DONVANLet's turn to some listeners again and bring in Pat from Houston. Pat, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
PATHey, yes, thanks for taking my call, John.
PATLove the show. Yeah, so my question is, does the panel think that Assad would be -- wouldn't he be a better alternative than, like ISIS? He's secular, he protects the minorities, and also maybe some countries aren't ready for democracy. I mean look at Iraq, look at Libya. Don't -- you know, some countries haven't evolved to that level yet. And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you so much, and hit them with the high.
DONVANWhy don't you take that, Yochi.
DREAZENYeah, to the second part, I spent a bunch of years living in Iraq, where it was then and is now an open question of whether democracy can operate. I don't think it's a question of culture, I don't think it's a question of come countries, some ethnicities, some religions simply can't do it, but I do think it's a question about democracy isn't simply voting. Democracy is all the things that surround voting. It's a justice system, and it's laws that people follow, which many countries don't have.
DREAZENYou know, to the first question, there's a reason why Bashar al-Assad is popular in some swaths of his country, even though Alawite, his particular ethnic group, is a teeny percentage, it's about 12 percent. Sunnis trust him, Christians trust him, Kurds trust him because they worry that the alternative is ISIS, the alternative is people being beheaded in the streets.
DREAZENYou know, Assad is someone that multiple generations of U.S. leaders, multiple generations of Israeli leaders, whether it's the father and now the son, have trusted and have felt was somebody they could work with. He has shown himself now to be barbaric at a level that his father never did, but I think there is still that flicker of he's better than the alternative, which is a horrifically depressing thought but probably an accurate one.
DONVANI'm John Donvan, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you want to jump in on that thought, Matt?
LEEYeah, I would just say this is the Russian position 100 percent. They don’t necessarily -- they're not necessarily in love with Assad, that he is the only person or that he himself is the person that has to lead. But they look around, and they say, well, what is -- what is the alternative. And they've had that opinion for many years now.
DONVANLet's bring in Chappelle, I'm reading your name and trying to pronounce it correctly, Chappelle in Indianapolis, you can tell me if I got your name correctly or not.
CHAPPELLEYou got it right, sir, appreciate it.
DONVANOh, terrific, thank you. What's your question or comment?
CHAPPELLEEarlier in the show, someone stated that Russia has met its objectives in Syria, and it's not bogged down. My question is how do we know they're not bogged down or about to be bogged down. And if they are bogged down, isn't it better that Russia is bogged down in that area, losing blood and treasure instead of the U.S.?
DEMIRJIANI don't think Russia's entirely met its objectives. Otherwise it would have an incentive to stop fighting, which it's not. It seems to keep accelerating the types of attacks that it's doing. And I think that when we're talking about being bogged down versus not being bogged down, I think the United States had predicted that Russia would get stuck in a quagmire, right, and I think that what people are saying is that, well, if it is, it's a very sustainable quagmire because Russia's not hemorrhaging so much money that it's got to run out to protect its interests. He clearly doesn't think that it's losing. It's clearly improving its position and Assad's position in the process.
DEMIRJIANAnd the argument that the caller made is something that you've heard -- I think Donald Trump even made this argument, of, like, why should it be our problem, basically why don't we let the Russians have Syria and let them deal with the mess, and that's fine, which is an argument that you can make. I mean, it puts a lot of people's lives in the crosshairs of what's going to happen, and we have, you know, invested at least a lot of political capital, and, you know, money, as well, in trying to make sure that we don't completely just wash our hands of Syria.
DEMIRJIANBut the other thing is that, you know, borders do matter for that country, but it's not like one thing sticks to one country there. So if you want to say, okay, well, let's just leave Syria entirely, you're going to be talking about the same thing with Iraq. Russia and Iran are allies. One thing connects to another, and it's very difficult to say, well, we're just going to not touch that one, but it's okay, we'll be able to maintain control of everything else.
LEEAnd let's remember Turkey in here, too.
DEMIRJIANOh that, too, yeah, yeah, yeah, huge, yes.
DONVANLet's bring in Paul from St. Louis. Paul, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAULThank you. I heard today that the Russians are moving in the direction of a presence in both Cuba and Vietnam, and obviously I'm wondering what your consideration is about the broadest implications of this are.
LEEIt is true. There was a hearing in the Duma, I believe, earlier, in which a senior Russian military official answered a question about whether the Russians were -- whether he was thinking about returning to bases that the former Soviet Union had in Cuba and Vietnam, and he said it is under consideration, which is true, but there isn't any immediate move, I don't think, to do that. It would entail a very large investment of money that frankly if in fact Putin wants to stay in Syria, and I would note that the Duma today voted again, you can call it a rubber stamp or whatever, but to keep their base, their air base in Syria open indefinitely.
LEESo if he is going to be investing this much treasure, not to mention the blood part of it, in Syria, I think that in the short term it's probably unlike that we're going to see the Russians to go back to Cam Ranh Bay or to Havana.
DEMIRJIANI think that that's a really important point to make. I mean, Russia doesn't have unlimited resources. But the other thing that I think is just, you know, interesting to note is that, you know, there's a reason to bring up Cuba, there's a reason to bring up Vietnam, and that's because one of the best arguments and tools Russia has is the emotional one.
DEMIRJIANI mean, you can't say Cuba and Vietnam, that we're going to go back there without having that -- you know, make people in the West go we remember those places and what they meant, you know, in the '60s and the '70s. And Russia's making a bid right now to be a global power of the same stature as the United States, and really this has been, in many ways, Syria, Ukraine, everything that you want to talk about has been trying to bid up its authority back to what it used to be back in the -- you know, not exactly like the Soviet Union but at least having the stature that, you know, Russia feels like its owed. And so to say things like Cuba and Vietnam, you know...
DONVANFor our final question in our final minute, maybe you can each take 10 seconds to answer. How closely do you feel, Yochi Dreazen, the world is watching our election campaign?
DREAZENI think more closely than any election in my lifetime. When there have been foreign leaders visiting, where there's been an opportunity to interview them, usually now it's been at some point them saying enough, let me ask you about Donald Trump, let me ask you about the election, which I've never experienced before.
DEMIRJIANCompletely. You see it covered that people in foreign countries are covering the election in almost as much real time as we are, which is very telling.
DEMIRJIANYeah, yeah. It's fun to look at foreign news websites, actually, when this stuff is happening in the United States because they're really with us pretty much. And then it's also -- you talk to -- I mean, I am often covering Congress, right. You talk to members after they come back from CODELs, and no matter where they've come back from, they are getting inundated with questions about what are you guys doing.
LEEIt is a global preoccupation right now.
DONVANSo the world is our news, and we're their news. All right, thanks very much for all of you participating in this weekly roundup of the world news. I want to thank Yochi Dreazen, foreign editor at Vox, Karoun Demirjian, a reporter at The Washington Post, and Matthew Lee, diplomatic writer at the Associated Press. Thanks to all of you who asked questions and those who didn't get to for waiting on line for such a long time. I'm John Donvan, and you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
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