Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
The FBI says it has growing evidence Russia passed hacked emails to WikiLeaks. President Assad vows to retake Aleppo, as airstrikes leave more than a 150 dead in eastern Syria. The U.S. hits radar installations in Yemen in response to an attack on an American navy destroyer. Iran moves warships into nearby waters. Aid finally reaches remote areas of Haiti hit by Hurricane Matthew as a new outbreak of cholera spreads. And leaders in Thailand call for stability after the death of their king, the world’s longest reigning monarch. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Tom Bowman Pentagon correspondent, NPR
- Yeganeh Torbati Reporter, Reuters, covering foreign policy
- David Sanger National security correspondent, The New York Times; author, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Vladimir Putin cancels a visit to France after disagreements over Syria. An American warship fires cruise missiles at rebel areas in Yemen. And the Haitian government says more than one million people need urgent aid following Hurricane Matthew. Joining me for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Tom Bowman of NPR, Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters and David Sanger of the New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, we'll welcome your calls, questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Well, a busy week for all of you.
MR. TOM BOWMANGood to be here.
MS. YEGANEH TORBATIThank you, Diane.
MR. DAVID SANGERThanks for having us back.
REHMTom Bowman, another deadly weekend. Aleppo with more than 150 killed. why has this situation deteriorated again?
BOWMANWell, ceasefires have fallen apart. The Russians and their Syrian allies clearly want to take Aleppo and they're moving in that direction. You're right. Hundreds more have died. They are actually targeting hospitals, according to John Kerry, which, by its definition, is a war crime. And once they take Aleppo, which seems highly likely, then most of the country, most of the western part of the country where most of the population is, is now in the hands, firmly in the hands of the Assad regime and its Russian ally.
BOWMANAnd at that point, they're in pretty good shape, relatively speaking, about taking part -- back the largest part of the country. And then, when talk turns to, well, how do we move ahead, Russia and Syria can say, it's over. We pretty much have the bulk of the country. Why are we negotiating over anything?
REHMAnd is that what's going to happen tomorrow when Russia and the U.S. meet in Switzerland, David?
SANGERWell, Secretary Kerry, just a week and a half after declaring that we were basically cutting off our contacts with Russia, is going to meet with Sergei Lavrov, his counterpart, in Lausanne, Switzerland, which is where much of the Iran deal was negotiated, also with the Russians there. And I don't expect that this is going to be a terribly productive meeting because at this moment, the United States has virtually no leverage for all the reasons that Tom just laid out.
SANGERPresident Obama has decided, whether you agree with him or not agree with him, that the U.S. is not going to get involved militarily on the ground and will do a very limited amount in the air. The effort to deconflict with the Russians and ultimately to have a coordinated effort with the Russians fell apart last month. That was negotiated between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov in early September and fell apart by late September.
SANGERSo at this moment, if you're the Russians and you're looking at this, you're seeing a president who's going to be out of office in three and a half months. You're seeing a president who has not been willing to go commit military resources despite the fact that Mr. Kerry has made no secret of the fact that he had urged that earlier on. So the Russians have absolutely no interest in doing anything other than run the clock here.
REHMAnd Yeganeh, French officials have called for a war crimes inquiry into Syria so how does Russia take that?
TORBATIWell, it really shows us the kind of the increasing international isolation of Russia. President Putin was supposed to go to France next week to help kind of open a Russian Orthodox church. That was cancelled when French leader, Hollande said that he wanted to scrap the agenda and only talk about Syria. And this sort of, you know, the French and Russians, historically, have had a better relationship and less fraught relationship than the one between Russia and the United States. So, you know, for it to reach this point where the French are even reportedly leading discussions over possible new EU sanctions on Russia over its actions in Syria, really shows kind of the depth of international outrage over what's happening in Syria.
REHMSo Tom, is there any indication that Russia could change its strategy in Syria?
BOWMANAbsolutely none. They're going to press ahead, take Aleppo. And, again, once Aleppo is taken, they're just going to say to John Kerry, what are we talking about? What are we negotiating over? It's over.
SANGERThat moment Assad -- let's remember here why did the Russians come in a year and a month ago. They came in because they thought Assad was on the edge of losing power. That was when President Obama came out and said, you know, good luck to the Russians because this is going to be a quagmire. And he may ultimately be right. But for the first year, they accomplished a huge amount with the air power. And the main thing they accomplished is there is no credible threat right now to Assad's rule.
BOWMANAnd also, by the way, there's talk of war crimes. The French have raised it, so has John Kerry. You need a security council approval for some sort of a war crimes investigation. That will never happen with a Russian veto. It could happen someday in the future if there's a new Syrian government and they decide to investigate people. But for the short term, there's absolutely no chance of any war crimes investigation, even though there seems to pretty clear evidence that there are war crimes.
BOWMANIf you target a hospital or a civilian location, as Secretary Kerry said, that’s a war crime.
REHMThat constitutes a war crime.
REHMI'm glad you clarified that, Tom.
BOWMANTargeting's the key word.
REHMTargeting. And indeed, Russia is certainly in the news in this country also because the FBI is reportedly investigating the hacks into John Podesta's email. Is there any evidence, real evidence, that the Russians are behind this. President Obama has said, we believe Russia is involved in this. What's the evidence, Yeganeh?
TORBATIRight. So the Obama administration, officially, accused Russia, last week, of being behind these hacks. But prior to that, intelligence agencies had said that some of the signatures used by the hackers linked back to kind of the known activity -- known signatures of Russian hackers and so that was kind of the link. But for the administration to come out and say it was a new thing that happened. And you know, the White House says that President Obama will decide on a proportional response.
TORBATIWe don't exactly know what that is yet. It could be possible sanctions, cyber sanctions. It could be an attack that -- a cyber attack that we might not ever really find out about that the U.S. commits against Russia. So there's sort of a range of things that they're considering right now.
REHMWhat kind of damage could the U.S. do in reverse on Russia?
SANGERWell, this is a fascinating question. Pardon me. Because it gets to one of the hardest issues in cyber, which is how do you respond and do you respond in kind with another cyber attack? Or do you respond by doing something else, as Yeganeh has suggested? So the something else could be economic sanctions, could be restrictions on Russians coming to the United States.
BOWMANAnd I think that's actually more likely. You see restrictions on the Russians coming to the United States, some sort of more economic sanctions as well. People are talking in the Pentagon, say the last thing you want to do is get into a tennis game with the Russians...
BOWMAN...over cyber attacks. They hit, let's say, John Podesta's emails. You turn off the lights in Putin's dacha or the Kremlin. Where does it end up? And as people tell me who follow this, follow cyber, they say, listen, the United States is much more vulnerable to cyber attacks. You could take down ATMs. You could take down all sorts of, you know, places in the United States, turn off the lights here and there and that's what you don't want to happen. I believe they have used cyber attacks in the past, I'm told, against North Korea, but using it against Russia would be very, very difficult.
SANGERWell, we have used it quite famously, obviously, against Iran to take out the centrifuges in operation Olympic games, but the bigger issue here is trying to figure out where Putin's lines are. Could he do what Tom has just suggested? Could he go after our power grid? Could he go after the cell phone network? Yes, he could, but what great powers learn in the course of doing cyber attacks is there's a limit beyond which the response could be kinetic. We could come after you as a conventional warfare act.
SANGERPutin has been very careful here to stay in that gray zone. He was there in Ukraine when he turned off some -- the power for just 275,000 Ukrainians, but didn't turn off the whole country. In this case, he has been careful to be operating in areas where you're stealing emails and making them public, but stealing emails is something the United States does as well. It just doesn't make them public.
TORBATIWell, it's interesting also the response of Russian officials has sort of shifted. You know, maybe a couple of weeks ago, it was a strict denial that they had anything to do with this. This week, instead, Putin said that it was actually irrelevant who stole the emails. What's important is what's in them. And then, the Foreign Minister Lavrov said on Wednesday that, you know, the U.S. hadn't proved that Russia had done this. So it's -- they're not...
SANGERAnd he also said, we haven't denied that we've done it right after Putin had denied it.
TORBATIRight. It's not a strict denial.
BOWMANAnd it's interesting, too, what is going on here? Are they trying to swing the election, as some allege, to their favorite guy, Trump, who speaks highly of Vladimir Putin? Are they just trying to undermine American democracy, which most people think? Just to embarrass the Americans, say, listen, you criticize me, you criticize the Russians, look at your own dirty laundry, which I’m hanging up on the line for you. Just like he's trying to undermine NATO, that's what most people think is going on here.
REHMTom Bowman, he's Pentagon correspondent for NPR. Yeganeh Torbati is a reporter with Reuters covering Foreign Policy. David Sanger is national security correspondent for the New York Times. When we come back, we'll talk more about Wikileaks and what's going on. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. In regard to those WikiLeaks and certainly people assume Julian Assange is behind that, David Sanger, why does Julian Assange dislike Hillary Clinton so much?
SANGERWell, you know, Diane, there's a great confluence of interest here. And it's why does Assange dislike Hillary Clinton and why does Vladimir Putin dislike Hillary Clinton? So let's take the second one first, because it lead to there. Putin believes that in the 2011 elections in Russia, when Hillary Clinton issued a statement and made several public comments suggesting that the election had basically been fixed to get Putin's party more solidly into the Russian parliament, that that led to street protests in Moscow, which Putin put down very quickly.
SANGERBut it turns out Vladimir Putin doesn't really like street protests in Russia. And he went and -- because Prime Minister Medvedev went and complained to the Americans, quite directly, about Hillary Clinton's interference in the elections. So answer number one may simply be, while we think this is new, they think it's revenge. Okay. So then let's that this -- that takes us to Assange. Assange's big release of WikiLeak documents -- the State Department cables and the Pentagon cables -- came out in 2010. Secretary Clinton was secretary of the state at the time. She condemned it. She maintained that he had harmed American diplomacy for a generation. I think that was a bit of an overstatement.
SANGERHe believes that the United States is out to get him and is behind criminal prosecutions. That may well be the case. He's taken refuge, as you know, in London in the Ecuadorian embassy. And so he sees Hillary Clinton as the personification of what he was trying to expose in 2010. When you read the State Department cables, what did you discover? And I was part of The Times project that went through all 250,000 of them. You discovered American diplomats were by and large doing what they said they were doing.
REHMInteresting. So little bit of history, little bit of context, which is what we hope to bring you. Here's a question regarding Yemen. And that is, why the U.S. is now firing on a Yemen stronghold? Tom.
BOWMANBecause that stronghold was firing on the U.S. ship, the USS Mason on two occasions over the past week. Some missiles were fired from the shore. I'm told that maybe one of the missiles was actually shot down by the USS Mason. The others may have fallen harmlessly into the sea. And as a result of those attacks -- and there was also attack on a Emirati vessel as well, it was disabled during the past week or so -- the United States fired back from the USS Nitze and struck three radar locations on the Red Sea coast of Yemen, took them out. They were in remote areas and the U.S. says there was no chance for any civilian casualties. So the question is, what happens next?
BOWMANAnd do the rebels actually do something more to attack shipping in those sea lanes, those very important sea lanes going through the Red Sea? Do they hit the U.S. somehow? We'll just have to see what happens. But the U.S. said, listen, we're not going to get deeply involved in this war. Basically this was a self-defense effort -- a limited self-defense effort.
REHMHaven't I heard that message previously, Yeganeh?
TORBATIRight. So this is kind of a dangerous point for the United States if it's not looking to get involved in Yemen. And the context here, of course, is that the whole Saudi-led campaign in Yemen has been very problematic. There have been about 4,000 civilian deaths so far since the campaign started in March 2015. The U.S. has been helping with both intelligence sharing, to find sites, and also refueling. Now there was a really strong statement put out by the White House on Saturday, after airstrikes hit a funeral procession -- funeral hall in Yemen, killing, you know, hundreds of people -- killing and injuring hundreds of people. And they said that, you know, the U.S. support for the campaign does not come -- is not a blank check.
TORBATINow, the problem is though that Yemenis may see things differently, now that the U.S. is engaged actually in direct strikes on Houthi-held areas.
REHMSo how much of a Naval presence does the U.S. have there?
BOWMANWell, again, they're providing logistic support, they're refueling Saudi aircraft, they're providing intelligence support. They're not actually picking targets. That's done by the Saudis. But we, I believe, reportedly, they're basically saying these are no-strike areas that you shouldn't hit. But clearly that hasn't worked. The Saudis, as we know now, over the past week, hit a funeral hall and -- that killed 140 people, injured more than 500. And again, as, you know, we hear that 4,000 civilians have died in this effort.
BOWMANNow this whole effort was supposed to prevent the Houthi rebels from crossing into the Saudi territory to secure their border. But clearly, over the past, you know, year and a half now, the Saudis have moved much deep into Yemen and in a full-scale war now.
REHMAnd we are there to support, protect the Saudis?
SANGERWell, we are there to some degree to support the Saudis. But we're also there to beat back the Iranians to some degree. I mean, this is more than anything else a proxy war. You're going, you used to...
REHMYou just used the word war, David.
SANGERThat's right, I did. And it is a proxy war between the Saudis and the Iranians to a great degree. They don't want Iranian-backed forces right on their border. And that's why this is such a dangerous sort of moment for the United States. The U.S. position has been, keep some remove from this. Provide the refueling that was just described, because the Saudis can't do that by themselves. But don't get directly involved.
SANGERNow, where does that line get drawn? It gets drawn when you take a shot at an American Naval ship, because that can't go unresponded to.
TORBATIAnd we saw an announcement from the Iranian government that they had moved two ships to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, that kind of very tight area near Yemen. Now those ships, they said, had been moved there from October 5, but they made the announcement after the U.S. had struck the Houthi area. So it could be sort of a signaling that, you know, they're also -- the Iranians are also there to protect their allies.
BOWMANBut that never is a good thing when you have Iranian ships near U.S. ships. There could be miscalculation. There could be, you know, something happen. So that's not a good development.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones. First to Eric in Manassas, Va. You're on the air.
ERICOh, thank you. My point is, why should we even -- I know it's going to sound like an awful question -- but why should we even care about what goes on in Syria? It seems to me that the Russians haven't learned a thing from our involvement in the Middle East, which has been nothing but a -- pretty much a bloody quagmire. If anything, let the Russians have it and watch them basically do what we have done over the last 30 years, which is basically bleed. But, which sounds cruel, I understand. But it doesn't seem like they've even paid attention to anything we've tried to do over the last 30 years.
TORBATII think, yeah, I understand the caller's point. The thing with a situation like Syria is that it does have national security ramifications for the U.S. The Syrian refugee crisis is pushing millions of people into Europe. There are questions, I mean, about the advent of ISIS was, you know, it came about in part because of the instability in Syria and they were able to find a home there. ISIS has now attacked U.S. allies. It's kidnapped journalists and killed them very publicly. This does have national security ramifications. It's not a problem that has just been confined to Syria.
SANGERWell, I think the caller gets at two big issues. One is, should we be in Syria at all. And then that second one that that gets to is, if so, what is our mission. Our mission right now is pretty much limited to ISIS, as Yeganeh seemed to suggest. ISIS is in Iraq. ISIS is in Syria and a few other places. And that's where most of the mission is. But the caller raises sort of a more basic question. Why not do what Donald Trump was arguing earlier in the campaign, just pull everybody out. It's a big mess. Let them sort it out.
SANGERIn the Syria case there are three reasons. There's a humanitarian reason, a strategic reason and then a destabilization of the allies reason. The humanitarian reason is pretty clear. I mean, if we're sitting around watching what is approaching a genocide here and half a -- nearly half a million people killed, we're getting up near, you know, we're half of Rwanda at this point. The strategic reason, if Syria becomes a Russian and Iranian stronghold, that definitely affects the dynamic within the Middle East. And if you, you know, what's the main -- the main lesson that we've learned in the Middle East is they don't play by Las Vegas rules, right? What happens there does not stay there.
SANGERAnd the third one of course is, as these refugees come into Europe, it's been destabilizing some of our closest allies.
BOWMANThat's right. And clearly Russia, right now, is in the prime position. They are back in the Middle East. They have stabilized Syria. And that does -- that's not going to change. They're only going to get more emboldened as, again, Aleppo falls. And you -- it -- but clearly the U.S., their only role there right now, and they'll say this publicly, is to defeat ISIS. Initially, they said Assad has to go. And then Kerry said, well, he doesn't have to go today or next month or whenever. That was his comment. So it is to go after ISIS. And General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says the centerpiece for ISIS is the caliphate itself. You have to destroy the caliphate. And right now, their headquarters is in Raqqa.
BOWMANSo there are reasons for being in Syria -- the humanitarian reason, the strategic reason and to take out ISIS.
REHMAll right. To Stephen in Pittsburgh, Pa. You're on the air.
STEPHENHi. Thanks for taking my call.
STEPHENMy question is, you know, in relation to the hacked DNC emails. Isn't it possible that Russia or whoever hacked into the DNC emails, could manipulate the contents? And wouldn't that then be considered propaganda?
SANGERThis is a classic Russian information war kind of technique, in which you start by releasing completely true information. And then the next batch is also true. And the third one's got a few manipulated elements in it, so that it gets much harder for people to deny by saying, well, yeah, all the rest was true but not these three. So far, we have not seen an example -- or at least I haven't seen an example of data manipulation here.
SANGERIt's also a big issue if you are worried about the November 8 election, where, again, the two ways that hackers could disrupt are either in deleting registration rolls so that, you know, people show up and they say, I just registered two months ago. And they say, we're terribly sorry, Diane, but we don't have a record of you here. And then you've got to do a provisional ballot and it gets messy. And the second is the concern about data manipulation as the results are transmitted. That's a harder thing to get at, but not impossible.
REHMPretty scary stuff. Do you want to make a brief comment?
BOWMANNo. Clearly the big concern here is not the release of the hacked emails, but also the electoral system. Can they damage that? People say, no, it's so, you know -- there are so many systems for 50 systems, it's hard to hack into all of them. And Homeland Security is going to work with the states to make sure they're hardened.
REHMTom Bowman of NPR. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go to Jacob here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
DAVIDAll right. Thank you very much for taking my call. Actually, my question is, I think that is the core of the conflict to ISIS so far I remember, I mean, lately. Who voted -- I need answer from your guests -- who voted in the world arena to have the United States to have a final say to decide who is good and who is bad? Because this is the core of all conflicts. Because the United States decides if somebody must go, somebody just as like, will have the conflict in Syria. So can you give me an answer for this question please?
BOWMANWell, I think you could say someone is bad if someone's targeting hospitals and killing, you know, up to a half a million civilians and being a brutal dictator. I don't think that's a judgment call. I think that's pretty clear.
SANGERYou know, if the United States is deciding who stays and who goes in Syria and elsewhere, we're not doing a terribly good job of it.
REHMThat's for sure.
SANGERI mean, okay. So President Obama went out into the Rose Garden in 2011 and he said, Assad has got to leave. Okay? It wasn't -- there was nothing -- he didn't say how he was going to have to leave. He was suggesting that if the Arab Spring kept on, he should go out that way. Well, here we are, five years later, and when I look around, Assad looks like he's still there.
REHMYeah. For sure. All right. And let's see, to Keith, in Portsmouth, Ark., you're on the air.
KEITHHi. Thank you for taking my call.
KEITHYeah. My question is, I was watching the first presidential debate and, when the issues of the cybersecurity came up, I noticed that Donald Trump in particular seemed to have a lack of an actual policy on it. And he gave his anecdote about his relative who said that he thinks that he could basically operate a computer better than him. And I just got concerned with our future with cybersecurity. So I was wondering if there were any other candidates who had an actual policy lined out to increase our cyber defense in the future.
SANGERWell, I've done two interviews with Mr. Trump and I've raised cyber with both of them and I haven't gotten anything particularly detailed in what he would do. And yeah, he was referring at that point to, I think, to his 10-year-old son. And in the Clinton campaign, you have seen a series of statements, if you go on the website, about what their cybersecurity plan would be. But it's essentially an extension of what the Obama administration's doing already.
SANGERI think what we have learned from the Russia experience is that the core question that we were just discussing earlier, which is how do you secure cyber-attacks, we are not very much further along on them than we were at the beginning of the Obama administration, which is to say, they've built up a lot of structure, the NSA is much more sophisticated now, Department of Homeland Security is built up a lot, but on the fundamental strategy, we're still not really there.
REHMHow come? Go ahead.
TORBATIWell, one of the key -- one of the ways in which the Obama administration wanted to kind of combat cyber-attacks and deter them was through these sanctions. The problem is that it's very difficult to sanction -- to trace back a specific cyber-attack to a government entity. It could be kind of independent actors who are maybe paid by the government or, you know, in some way linked to the government. But it's very hard to blame a specific cyber-attack on a specific entity that you can then sanction, and so it's difficult to sort of, like, layout that punishment.
REHMYeganeh Torbati, she is a reporter with Reuters, covering foreign policy. Short break here. And when we come back, we'll talk about the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and how Haiti is faring.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday news roundup, this week with Tom Bowman of NPR, Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters and David Sanger, he's with the New York Times and is the author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power." Let's go to George in Indianapolis, Indiana, you're on the air.
GEORGEMy question was about Aleppo, and isolationism hasn't always served the United States well, and I understand the reluctance to commit American troops in yet another Mideast conflict, but I feel like it would be a blotch on Obama's legacy if he didn't do something about Aleppo. And what I'm suggesting is a no-fly zone, even unilaterally, to send a message to the Russians that they can't keep doing what they're doing.
TORBATIRight, I mean, this is an option that's been considered, and it's an option that, you know, Hillary Clinton has also talked about. What military planners and experts say is that even just a no-fly zone, which maybe sounds like not doing a whole lot, and it sounds like it could be at least a minimal step, that does take a lot of U.S. troops, or at least U.S. assets, to enforce. It's not quite as simple as it sounds. That's what the Obama administration, at least, would say.
BOWMANRight, they have been talking about this for years, a no-fly zone, but with the situation in Aleppo now, I'm not sure what you would gain by having a no-fly zone. You could prevent the Russians and the Syrians from flying there, from bombing, but then you would have to have some people on the ground, as well, to provide humanitarian aid. Who would do that? That's another question.
SANGERYou also have to remember that if you had the option of a no-fly zone prior to the Russian entry into the war a year ago, you probably don't really have it now because a year ago, the United States would've been the only one up with significant air assets, and had the Syrians gone up to challenge that with their own air force, it would've been a pretty short fight. But going up and running the risk and running into Russian pilots and then having to make the decision do you shoot down a Russian plane because it's violated your definition of the no-fly zone, you're suddenly in a much bigger and more complex problem.
BOWMANAnd there's also continued talk about taking out Syrian aircraft on the ground. You could do that from missiles fired from the Mediterranean. But then the question would be you take out all the Syrian aircraft, still have the Russian aircraft.
REHMAnd to Liam in Milford, New Hampshire, you're on the air.
LIAMGood morning, Diane.
LIAMI just had a question and a comment. First a comment. I think a lot of people tend to underestimate just the sheer complexity of the situation in Syria, you know, with all of the different countries and interests involved. But I think that one of the biggest issues the U.S. has that we haven't -- we don't have a defined strategy, it looks like. One of your panelists said that, you know, Obama said a couple months ago that, you know Assad has to go, but then he doesn't have to go, or he has to go soon.
LIAMAnd I was just wondering -- and I understand that reluctance, you know, I think a lot of people are reluctant to have another break it and bought it situation with Iraq. But I was just wondering if your panel might want to weigh in on what they personally think if the U.S. were to commit this sort of a direct strategy and some goals, what that might look like.
BOWMANWell, I mean, you have to go back four, five years when the entire national security establishment said arm and train the rebels, give them, you know, very heavy firepower to use as leverage.
REHMToo late for that.
BOWMANAnd that was not done. So now you're kind of playing catchup, we've been talking the whole show about Aleppo. You're getting toward the endgame. There's really not much you can do at this point. And clearly everybody realizes this is very complex. But if you're not going to have leverage, as Secretary Kerry complained about on that tape talking to, you know, Syrian operatives, that I argued for military force, I lost that argument, at this point there's very little you can do.
TORBATIAnd actually President Obama is meeting with his national security council today to weigh, you know, what possible military options there are when it comes to Syria. You know, they could strike some Syrian bases, they could strike munitions depots, but then we're also told that he might not decide anything, and he might take a middle option to maybe allow U.S. allies to ship more and different kinds of weapons to Syrian rebels. But...
BOWMANBut again if you strike Syrian bases and Syrian aircraft at this point in the game, you still have the Russians flying and dropping bombs.
BOWMANIt's not going to get you anything.
SANGERAnd the rebels as they exist today are not exactly as they existed when this issue came up four years ago. They're much more integrated now with other groups, including al-Nusra and others that are inimical to American interests. So President Obama's concern from the beginning was how do we know that the rebel groups that we are supporting will ultimately be operating in our interests. And, you know, we went through this in Afghanistan, and we ended up discovering that people we were supporting as the opposition that was on our side then became al-Qaeda later on.
REHMAll right, I want to ask you all about Haiti, which is still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. How is the aid effort going on, Yeganeh?
TORBATISo we have aid coming into the capital. The problem is that the worst hit part of Haiti was the southwestern tip, and the bridge that connects the capital to that area collapsed as part of the hurricane. And so, you know, it's been very difficult to get aid in. It's been getting in through ships and through helicopters, but it's been pretty slow going. And so now you're seeing a lot of concerns raised about possible cholera spreading. There have been a few cases. And then of course we remember after the earthquakes in 2010, you know, 10,000 people died from cholera. So that is -- it's a big concern, and the doctors there are working to get that aid through, but it's just a logistical challenge.
BOWMANIt's very difficult, and they were just kind of, you know, getting back on their feet after the earthquake five years ago, and in a place like Haiti, with such dire poverty, they just -- it's very hard for them to, you know, survive something like this, when their shacks are just wiped out by a hurricane. I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of people are without any kind of shelter at all.
BOWMANAnd that again, you know, with the sewage mixing with your well water, there's a cholera threat, and there is -- are some cases of cholera now. And you're right, the Navy sent down two ships with a good amount of aid, some heavy lift helicopters, but in a place like Haiti that is in such bad shape with the roads washed out as well, it's very, very hard to quickly get that aid out there, and it's a, you know, horrible situation.
TORBATII mean, even before the hurricane, just some statistics. One in three Haitians had access to proper latrines. Three in five had access to safe water. So you can really see the elements of a cholera crisis kind of brewing there.
REHMAnd let's talk for a moment about the South Korean Samsung, David Sanger, a huge recall of its Note 7 phones that have been a big hit for the company, and now what's going to happen?
SANGERWell, this -- this hit Samsung hard because they were actually doing pretty well a year ago versus Apple, and if you don't believe it, look at what's happened to Apple stock since the Samsung batteries began to self-immolate. Now Samsung itself, its size and its political power inside South Korea can't be overestimated. I used to cover South Korea when I was based in Japan, and it's a huge chunk of the South Korean economy, not just the cell phone part of it, which is a significant business but all of the other Samsung enterprises.
SANGERAnd you're now seeing a hit not only to their ability to go compete with Apple, but you're seeing reputational effect all of the Samsung brands. And this isn't the only quality control problem they've had, so other products are beginning to get examined, as well.
SANGERWell, they call Samsung -- they call Korea, rather, South Korea, the Republic of Samsung, huge part of their economy, I think 20 percent of their GDP. So, you know, how this turns out for the company could have huge impacts in the economy of South Korea.
TORBATIIt also I think raises deeper questions for the South Koreans as to the role of these sort of family-owned conglomerates in their economy, Samsung is one of them, LG is another. They're -- you know, the big South Korean brands that we know are part of these huge businesses, these conglomerates, that really have a huge impact. And so I think if you're, you know, a regular Korean, you kind of start questioning, well, do we need -- should we be depending so much on one of these companies, and if they have a bad incident like the Note, you know, it can potentially, like, have serious ramifications for the entire economy.
REHMBut we do know that companies can bounce back. How likely is Samsung to do so?
SANGEROh, look, I don't think this is fatal to the company, but it takes them a long time, just as it took, you know, when the Tylenol crisis happened, or you've seen other crises involving automobile recalls and so forth. So they'll get this solved, but in the meantime they're going to lose a lot of market share, and, you know, Yeganeh's right that to the South Koreans, you know, there's been almost no political challenge to the (unintelligible) these big corporate conglomerates.
SANGERAnd when there isn't that kind of challenge and internal criticism and competition, it allows things like this to happen because they get an air of infallibility about them.
REHMDavid Sanger of the New York Times, he is the national security correspondent for that newspaper, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And let's take a call from Fayetteville, Arkansas, you're on the air, Tucker.
TUCKERHi, I was just wanting to know how we can justify being in the Middle East considering how many proxy wars we're doing. We're doing a proxy war against Iran in Yemen, we're doing a proxy against Russia in Syria, and it really doesn't make any sense because in Yemen we're allied with the Saudi Arabians, who are predominately followers of Wahhabism, and in Syria we are supposedly fighting against ISIS when they also are the -- a big Wahhabism, and it really doesn't make any sense how we can be allies with Iraq, which is Shiite, yet we're pretty much (unintelligible) against Iran when Iraq and Iran are close allies because they're both Shiite.
REHMIt's a pretty confusing situation, Yeganeh.
TORBATIWell, I think Tucker's captured really the kind of maze of alliances and rivalries and straight-up enmity that the U.S. finds itself in when it comes to the Middle East, and this is, you know, President Obama probably has some of those same instincts as Tucker does. He wanted to pivot to Asia and to focus on other areas where he felt that, you know, had been left behind or had been neglected in the Bush administration.
TORBATIAnd yet he finds himself unable to sort of extricate himself from the region and extricate the United States. The U.S. has just decided to send more troops to Iraq in order to retake -- help the Iraqis retake Mosul. By the way, that was the third increase in the last six months. So it, you know, it's U.S. interests, it's the humanitarian issue, it's wanting to get rid of ISIS, which has been targeting the United States. Those are all the factors that are keeping that are keeping the U.S. involved in the Middle East.
REHMAnd finally the king of Thailand has died. He had an extraordinary relationship with his people, Tom.
BOWMANThat's right, very revered leader, a king in power and on the throne for 70, the longest serving monarch, and again very beloved. The heir to the throne I've seen referred to as a jet-setting playboy, which is an archaic term.
BOWMANCrown prince. And the concern now is with the old king gone and the new one coming in, fractures in society, you know, most of the money in there, in Thailand, is spent in Bangkok and the surrounding areas, and not much money goes out to the hinterlands. You know, there's a great disparity between the haves and the have nots. So there's a question of with the military in control here, you know, can they -- will they have to put down a restive population once this new king comes in. Will the country just basically fracture?
TORBATIRight, I mean, the Thai king obviously he doesn't have sort of a political role, but it was more of a ceremonial function, but he did serve as sort of a uniting figure, you know, throughout Thailand's history in this century, which included, you know, military coups including one in 2014. And the military justifies its intervention in politics really by pointing to, you know, defending the monarchy. And so without that kind of revered figure now, how will that dynamic change? It'll be interesting to see.
REHMAll right, and finally I think we must note that the Nobel Committee chose Bob Dylan for its Nobel Prize for Literature, creating a fair amount of controversy, David Sanger, among those who feel that the type of literature that Bob Dylan has created in his poetry perhaps did not rise to the level that those who criticize expect from the Nobel Committee.
SANGERWell it's a remarkable thing because, I mean, here we hear the strains in the back of the music that many of us at this table grew up with, and so I think it brought a warmness to our heart. But this was an unpredictable choice. I mean, you know, you hear nominees around and about, and I think when this announcement came out, it was a shock to a lot of people but I think very refreshing in many ways.
SANGERYou know, this is a Nobel Committee that's been criticized for a lot of things, particularly on the side of the Peace Prize. I don't think you're going to hear much on this one.
REHMAnd it's a good upnote on which to end. David Sanger of the New York Times, Yeganeh Torbati Reuters, Tom Bowman of NPR, thank you all so much.
TORBATIThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening, all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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