A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Guest Host: Derek McGinty
Kurdish and Iraqi forces open a new front in the fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. ISIS militants launch a counterattack against the strategic oil city of Kirkuk. The UN says it is still unable to deliver humanitarian aid and conduct medical evacuations in the Syrian city of Aleppo despite a pause in hostilities. European countries and Russia hold new talks on the conflict in Ukraine. Ecuador cuts off internet access to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. And during a visit to China, the president of the Philippines pivots away from the U.S. A panel of journalists joins guest host Derek McGinty for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief, Al Jazeera
- Indira Lakshmanan Foreign policy columnist for The Boston Globe and a contributor to Politico magazine
- Shane Harris Senior correspondent, The Daily Beast; Future of War fellow, New America; author, "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex" and "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State"
MR. DEREK MCGINTYThanks for joining us. I'm Derek McGinty, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She is back to work on Monday. Well, Kurdish and Iraqi forces opened a new front in the fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. On lockdown, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may really be feeling like a prisoner this week as Ecuador apparently has cut off his internet privileges, yet email dumps keep happening. And breaking bad, the president of the Philippines shocks the world and apparently a lot of his own people, saying the long-term close alliance with the United States is history. But did he really mean that?
MR. DEREK MCGINTYHere to talk about this week's top international stories, Abderrahim Foukara, regional director for the Americas at Al Jazeera Arabic, Indira Lakshmanan, foreign policy columnist for The Boston Globe and a contributor to Politico magazine, and Shane Harris, senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, future of war fellow at New America and author of the book "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex." Welcome to all three of you. So good to have you here with us.
MR. DEREK MCGINTYAnd so good to have your phone calls and your comments and questions at 800-433-8850. So let's just dive right into the Iraqi situation because outside Mosul apparently yesterday there was the most intense fighting there's been in quite some time, Shane.
MR. SHANE HARRISYeah, well, we're seeing forces now come in from the north and the east in sort of a pincer move around Mosul, taking villages and areas outside the city. Important to note that Iraqi forces are not in the city center yet. So this is -- there's another series of stages that have to go here, and the fighting inside Mosul itself is expected to be very bloody. ISIS fighters have also launched some suicide attacks already, there's probably booby traps that are going to be greeting forces on their way in.
MR. SHANE HARRISBut this is the beginning of the long-awaited campaign to retake the second-largest city in Iraq. And once it is taken, and I think most people presume it will be, that will effectively be the end of ISIS' Iraqi capital, anyway, and a real blow to the caliphate. But the big questions here are what happens after Mosul is taken in what is expected to be ultimately a tough but successful campaign.
MCGINTYOkay, we're going to talk about that, but in the meantime, how's the battle going right now, Mr. Foukara?
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAWell, I mean, we are hearing that ISIS are hitting back, not only in Mosul but elsewhere. It's very significant that the battle now has also shifted to Kirkuk, Kirkuk, large oil industry based in Kirkuk, and it has huge symbolism for the Kurds of Iraq. So if the reports coming from the news agency, from the ISIS, the Islamic State's news agency are to be believed, they have hit and are now in control of some parts of Kirkuk.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAThat's not necessarily what we're hearing from the other side, from the coalition, but the fact that no matter what, the fact that the battle has shifted to Kirkuk is obviously a very significant development.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANWell, I mean, let's take this all in the context, which is that ISIS forces marched into Mosul in June 2014. It's been two years. That was really the moment when the West and I'd say the United States public in particular woke up to the existence of ISIS in the first places and certainly to their lethality and, you know, the power that they suddenly had.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANClearly they still control Raqqa, their sort of birthplace and cradle in Syria, but if the forces were able to take them out of Mosul, they've already been expelled from other areas like Tikrit, you know, other important strongholds they had, this would be huge. But let's not forget this is not a campaign without costs. You know, just yesterday alone we're told by Iraqi coalition forces that there were 15 suicide bombs attacking their forces, there was a U.S. soldier who was killed yesterday by an improvised explosive device.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThere are many IEDs, I mean, they're not even counting the number of IEDs every single day that are being set up by ISIS. But to me the most interesting thing about all of this is, you know, it's something that came up even in the presidential debate this week, where you had Donald Trump criticizing the strategy and saying, why are they telegraphing what they're going to do about ISIS, that's just bad and giving them a chance to run away.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANAnd in fact every military scholar and planner and Pentagon official who I've talked to has said that's crazy. In fact, the whole point is you want to. A, you can't hide it because you're talking about thousands of soldiers who are coming in.
MCGINTYSo there was no way to have a surprise attack.
LAKSHMANANThere's no way to have a surprise attack. I mean, we're talking about thousands of forces coming in. And secondly, part of the point of that is to give civilians a chance to escape if they want to. I mean, we're talking about like a million people who live in Mosul under ISIS control, giving them a chance to get out, and also if Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, or any of his people try to escape, believe me, they are supposedly being monitored by U.S. Special Forces who want nothing more than for them to go out in a bunch of trucks out into the open desert so that they can be killed not in the middle of a civilian area.
MCGINTYBut what does it mean that, supposedly under siege and outnumbered, that ISIS could still mount some kind of attack on Kirkuk, which is, what, 150 miles away.
HARRISWell they're being blamed, those attacks, I think on sleeper cells this morning, too. So it may not be that what you're seeing is so much an extension of the force in Mosul as much as elements of ISIS elsewhere. But Indira's right. This could be a really big blow for ISIS in the city. There's about 5,000 members believed to be there. There are some signs that people are leaving.
HARRISOne question has been, for a lot of observers, whether or not ISIS will really try and mount a defense of Mosul, which is probably futile, or cut its losses and move these forces back into Syria, where it has more perhaps of a relative safe haven someplace like Raqqa. If they do that, though, I mean, losing Mosul and not having, you know, Iraq in the caliphate anymore is a big deal. I mean, the name of the group includes Iraq as part of its caliphate. So that would be, I just think, a huge morale blow and possibly could help blunt some of their recruitment drives.
FOUKARAI mean, two things. If they are defeated eventually, and obviously all the signs are that, you know, given the size of the coalition that eventually they will be defeated, what the size of the defeat is going to be, we can discuss that, but I think all the signs are that eventually they will be defeated. The question that arises is if and when they are defeated, who will emerge, what will emerge in their place?
FOUKARANow we have seen them as an organization that has emerged to eventually replace al-Qaeda in terms of the power and the sophistication and the appeal with which ISIS works. That clearly surpasses the power of al-Qaeda by leaps and bounds. That's number one. Number two, even after they are defeated, what will the -- what will the victory look like for the Iraqis in particular? The Iraqis have had an accumulation of huge challenges throughout their modern history but particularly since 2003.
FOUKARAAnd if ISIS is defeated in Mosul, one of the noises that we're already hearing, we're hearing it from a very important component of the coalition to fight ISIS, and that is Turkey with the mobilizing units, which are Shiite units, moving into Mosul. The Turks are not happy about that, and then the Turks are not happy about the role that the Kurds are playing within the coalition, the Shiite-Sunni component of this and the issue that Indira has referenced, you know, the huge violations of human rights, which human rights organizations are already talking about by the Iraqis.
MCGINTYAll of that -- all of that's really important, Mr. Foukara, but I want to go back to the first thing you said, which is how powerful ISIS has become and how they had surpassed al-Qaeda. And just yesterday we had a bit of a conversation about this, where ISIS was described as a movement, and you don't defeat a movement by shooting and killing people. Where does that movement go? If it loses ISIS, where does it go?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, given the size of their drive to recruit in various parts of the world, not just in the Middle East, we've seen that, we've seen that power, we've seen it in Europe, we've seen examples of it here in the United States. But let's leave Europe and the United States aside, just focus on the Middle East because the one thing that basically keeps feeding problems like the problem of ISIS is not being solved in the Middle East, not in Iraq, not in Syria, not in Egypt, not in Libya, and that is the security situations in those countries that basically -- and we've heard this from many Western leaders, that that anger keeps feeding the recruitment drive of ISIS.
FOUKARAAnd as I said, if ISIS disappears tomorrow, there is no guarantee that something much more powerful and much more sinister will not replace it.
LAKSHMANANLook, you know, of course any counterterrorism strategy is on one level whack-a-mole. You know, you're hitting down forces or cells, and they're popping up other places, and I have to say that intelligence not only, you know, in this country has done a pretty good job of fending off attacks. You know, just every year we hear about the FBI or the CIA, a number of plots that are exposed that were thwarted beforehand.
LAKSHMANANYou know, it's true, ISIS and affiliated groups are all over the world. The U.S. also has Special Forces advising all over the world, advising in Somalia against al-Shabaab, advising in Syria, advising in Afghanistan, you know, not to mention the main U.S. troops who are still in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a concern because we look at, you know, a campaign that the U.S. started 15 years ago, you know, 15 years ago this month, and now the Taliban has regrouped and is controlling 30 percent of the territory in Afghanistan that was once held by Afghan government, backed by the U.S.
LAKSHMANANSo it is -- I don't want to say it's circular, but there's no question that the evidence shows that core al-Qaeda has been reduced, and there's no reason to think that core ISIS couldn't also be reduced.
MCGINTYIndira Lakshmanan is foreign policy columnist for The Boston Globe and a contributor to Politico magazine. Abderrahim Foukara is bureau chief Al Jazeera Arabic, and Shane Harris is senior correspondent at The Daily Beast. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show.
MCGINTYWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Derek McGinty, your guest host for this afternoon, in this second hour of our world news roundup. We're discussing the top international stories of the week. And at the top of the list is the fight in Iraq against ISIS. And a lot of folks are saying that this is a huge test of President Obama's counterterrorism strategy, the so-called Obama Doctrine, and will it be successful? Shane.
HARRISYeah, it is a big test. Because the whole premise of the strategy has been that we can defeat, degrade and destroy ISIL, or ISIS, however you like to call it, without a major commitment of U.S. ground forces like we had in Iraq when we took on al-Qaida in Iraq, which was the predecessor to ISIS. And the idea here is that at base, that you can train up an Iraqi security force that can do the job with U.S. assistance and coalition air support. That has been slow going. It seems to be paying dividends insofar as ISIS has lost many of its key strongholds in Iraq, as we've been talking about, and the ranks have been reduced. We are killing more people than they are able to bring into Iraq and Syria right now. That's a good thing.
HARRISBut Mosul really is about the boots-on-the-ground component of this and retaking a major stronghold. So this is very much a big test as to whether or not this sort of light footprint from the United States and backing up the forces really can work.
MCGINTYIndira, I see you nodding your head over there.
LAKSHMANANI completely agree with Shane. And, you know, (laugh) when -- the real test here is that there are 5,000 American troops now in Iraq. And about half of them are very likely to be involved in this operation in one way or another. We're talking about 30,000 Iraqi and Kurdish forces. And, you know, 2,500 American forces is no small potatoes. And so even though the Obama administration has been derided by its critics for this leading from behind strategy and trying to put coalition partners in the front -- particularly in the case of Iraq -- it's not only for American domestic politics, where Americans don't want another Middle East war -- all polls show that -- but also Iraqis don't want to feel like Americans are leading the show.
LAKSHMANANSo at one point this week, the White House press secretary said something about, oh, you know, we've done this before in northern Iraq. And then he corrected himself quickly and said, I'm sorry, I mean that the Iraqis have done this before on a smaller scale. So, you know, they want to put out the message that Iraq is leading the fight. But there's no question that there is a huge amount of U.S. backing in this. And the test is, does it work here? And could it work in other countries where ISIS and similar organizations exist?
MCGINTYAnd then once the fight is over, are the Iraqis in position to actually run Mosul and keep some other version of ISIS or al-Qaida or whatever from springing up?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, first of all, let me say that the angry part of the fight against ISIS in Mosul is not likely to see an end by the 8th of November or even by the time the new president takes over in January here in the United States. I think that, depending on the dynamics on the ground, I'm not sure to what extent the Obama Doctrine will survive in the next administration -- little, much, I don't know what's going to happen with that. But do the Iraqi -- will the Iraqis need help from the United States? Regardless of who takes over in January in the United States, the Iraqis will continue to rely on crucial U.S. help to deal with that situation.
FOUKARAAnd the problem, as we heard before, the problems that the Iraqis will face in a place like Mosul -- it's not just military. Fine. The U.S. will lend its military support. I mean, all the indicators are there. The problem, can you actually administer a place like Mosul, given all the contradictions that will -- they are already bubbling to the surface -- but given all the contradictions that will have bubbled fully to the surface in terms of Shia, Sunni, what the Kurds want, what the Turks want, what the Iranians want, what the Saudis want. Will the Iraqis be able to manage all that? I'm not so sure.
MCGINTYAll right. I want to talk about what is one of my favorite stories of the week now, because it's the most important just because it's interesting. Down in Ecuador, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been hiding out in the embassy, they've decided he can't have access to the internet anymore, which is so ironic because of who he is and what WikiLeaks does. I just want to get your reactions to this. Shane.
HARRISYeah. So he's in the embassy in London, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, right?
MCGINTYThat's what I meant to say, yeah.
HARRISHe's been camped out there for a number of years now. He lost internet access several days ago. Initially, the government of Ecuador did not confirm or deny whether they were involved in this, but put out a statement saying he will continue to have asylum there at the embassy. Now the government is acknowledging that they did cut it off, because, they said, of the essentially -- the way that WikiLeaks was becoming involved in the U.S. political process and having an outsized effect on that. So clearly the Ecuadorian government deciding to try and clamp down this leak of emails that are coming.
MCGINTYSo the question I have is, when you say no internet access, does that mean he's not able to get an email or look at a YouTube video? Or is he completely cut off? I mean is he...
HARRISHe is -- he doesn't have internet access via the building he is in.
HARRISHe could probably go on his phone and get on Twitter, you know...
HARRIS...through a cell network. And he has people who work with WikiLeaks who are continuing to post these emails. There was the -- I think the 14th installment of the so-called Podesta emails, these emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta came out this morning. So it's still coming. And what's interesting is the Ecuadorian government hasn't really said why it did this. It's insisting that the State Department did not try to influence it to do this. Maybe they're thinking ahead to a possible Clinton administration and wanting to get on her good side. Who knows? But it's a really interesting development.
MCGINTYWell, I think it dovetails with an email we got from somebody who's just calling themselves R, who asks the question. "Why hasn't the U.S. government put pressure on Ecuador to turn over Julian Assange?"
LAKSHMANANOh, wow. I mean, that is a total political hot potato. He has been in the embassy as a sort of self-imposed captivity for more than four years now, in Ecuador.
MCGINTYHas it been that long?
LAKSHMANANIt has. It's been since June of 2012. And this is a complicated case. He's not there because of something that he did with WikiLeaks. He's there because he's accused of rape in Sweden.
LAKSHMANANSo it's very important that people understand this. There were these August 2010 allegations of rape against two women -- sexual assault and rape in Sweden. And Sweden wanted to extradite him from Britain to there. So he -- what he did was, he sought and took political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, two years later, when the British government was ready to extradite him over this rape case. So it's not because of WikiLeaks that he's in this self-imposed exile. But I will say, you know, he was worried that if he got extradited to Sweden that not only could he be prosecuted there, but he was afraid that then Sweden, he might get extradited to the U.S., even though the U.S. has never actually put charges against him.
LAKSHMANANI've written about this quite a bit and I have to say, it's very interesting. Because, although at the time, the U.S. government was furious about the first WikiLeaks leaks that came out -- it was all those State Department cables. Remember? In 2010.
MCGINTYRight. And he also got a hold of some Snowden's business as well.
LAKSHMANANWell, he got involved in that later.
LAKSHMANANBut Snowden was his own thing. But he -- but WikiLeaks first released all these Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning emails...
MCGINTYAh, yes. That's right.
LAKSHMANAN...the Afghanistan related and all these worldwide cables in 2010. And the State Department, under Hillary Clinton at the time, was furious about this. And the government certainly looked at. Because what they said is, you're endangering U.S. interests all over the world and you're endangering confidential U.S. sources, whose names appeared in all of these emails. But apparently, the U.S. government looked into this and finally decided they had no actual grounds to prosecute WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, because they were not the ones who actually did the leaking. It was Bradley Manning who did that and he has indeed been prosecuted and is in captivity.
LAKSHMANANWhereas they said, well, basically WikiLeaks was playing the role of -- almost like a journalistic organization. And they said, this gives us a New York Times problem, is what they said at the time, the Department of Justice. We can't prosecute him or then we'd have to prosecute people who do things like the Pentagon Papers. But he definitely has a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, no question. (laugh)
LAKSHMANANAnd they've made it very clear that they're weighing in on the side of Trump and against Hillary in this election.
MCGINTYRobert in Miami, you're on the air. Go ahead.
ROBERTYes, good morning. Thank you for taking my call. I'd actually make a comment with regard to Ecuador shutting off internet access to Julian Assange, considering that the U.N. itself has declared that the right to access the internet is itself a human right. And I would like to take your comments off the air. Thank you.
MCGINTYAll right. Thank you, Robert. Thoughts anyone?
FOUKARAI mean, first of all, let me just reference that amazing story which appeared two days ago with an amazing picture that goes with it of an Australian fan of Julian Assange's just outside the embassy, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, shouting the news to Assange through a megaphone, which, it just gives you an idea of the commitment on the part of some of his fans. But it also gives you an idea of how drastic the cutoff by the Ecuadorians has been when it came to the internet. But to address the issue that the caller has raised, I mean, sure. Access to the internet is a fundamental right recognized by the U.N. The problem is that the current regime in Ecuador -- at least in the eyes of its critics inside Ecuador and outside -- is not exactly committed to all the rights recognized by the United Nations.
LAKSHMANANAnd let's face it, when you're sitting as a country in the Western Hemisphere, which is, you know, considered a domain of the United States, it's very hard when you hear that the Russians are being accused of spying to undermine the U.S. election -- regardless of who wins in the end, Clinton or Trump -- and still continue to host someone who is associated with the Russians and what the Russians are trying to do in the United States and elsewhere.
MCGINTYAll right. So that brings to mind two questions. First of all, is it safe to say that there was some pressure from the United States on Ecuador to do this? Or are you saying there's just assumed pressure that Ecuador may have taken upon itself to make this move?
FOUKARAI don't have any hard facts that there was pressure from the United States. My sense is that whether there is pressure or not, the story drives itself by itself. The concern drives itself by itself, on the part of the Ecuadorians.
LAKSHMANANI agree. The State Department wouldn't need to pick up the phone and call Quito and say, hey, we'd like you to do this. It's kind of obvious. I mean there's been extensive reporting that has shown a convergence. The New York Times did a whole project on this showing a convergence between Russian interests and material that has come out of WikiLeaks in the last couple of years. And so if -- given the evidence that we know that WikiLeaks released the DNC emails that were hacked by Russians, according to all the U.S. intelligence agencies. WikiLeaks released the Podesta emails, which were hacked by the Russians, according to all U.S. intelligence agencies. So at this point, Ecuador may be thinking, hey, we don't want to be a part of this.
LAKSHMANANLike, we just don't want to get involved. Because most countries recognize the policy of not interfering in foreign countries' elections.
HARRISAnd it's a largely symbolic gesture, given that WikiLeaks has the infrastructure to continue publishing these emails.
MCGINTYWell, that was the next question...
MCGINTY...is that are the emails still coming out?
HARRISYeah, absolutely. And they -- and he's promised that they'll be coming out from now till election day and beyond.
HARRISAnd if we weren't talking -- if we weren't dealing with Donald Trump and some of his outrageous comments about sexual assault, this would be a much bigger story.
HARRISIt is revealing a lot about the inner workings of the campaign. It's revealing things that Hillary Clinton would prefer not be out there. But I agree with my colleagues, I mean, they would sort of -- the writing was on the wall for Ecuador here. It's like, why don't you do us a solid and at least symbolically try to shut him down.
LAKSHMANANEven if nobody says do us a solid.
LAKSHMANANBut the ultimate point is, Julian Assange is not the one pressing the button to release these emails.
HARRISYeah. That's right.
LAKSHMANANWikiLeaks is an entire structure that exists, independent of him, outside of that embassy.
MCGINTYIndira Lakshmanan is foreign policy columnist for The Boston Globe and a contributor to Politico magazine. Abderrahim Foukara is bureau chief at Al Jazeera Arabic. And Shane Harris, senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, a Future of War fellow at New America and author of the book, "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex." I'm Derek McGinty and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll take another phone call. Hammish -- Hamish, I should say, in Sycamore, Ill. You're on the air.
HAMISHYes, good morning. I am kind of interested in this situation in the Philippines. It appears to me as though the people in the Philippines are -- acted very much the same way the people in the United States are when they elected this new leader, that people seem to be tired of business as usual and the -- they're searching for somebody to make a change. And I think the United States should take a serious look at this -- at what's happening.
MCGINTYI think they are looking at it seriously. Now, we had -- we were talking about Duterte, the president of the Philippines. He goes to China and basically says, and I'm quoting now, "I have separated from them," talking about the United States. How serious is he?
HARRISWell, how serious is he is a great question, considering some of the other really outrageous comments that President Duterte has made in the past, saying he admires Hitler, distancing himself from the United States, canceling military exercises. And look, generally speaking, there is a clear trend on the part of the government in the Philippines to try and distance itself from the United States and align itself more closely with China. After he made these comments to a trade group, saying that I'm separating from the United States -- whatever that means -- and signing $13.5 billion in trade deals with China, some of his advisers tried to come back and sort of backpedal this.
HARRISBut there's no doubt that he has made, I mean, a -- kind of a cornerstone, I guess, now of his foreign policy, aligning himself much closely -- more closely with his Asian neighbors. And whether this is something that's going to be a smart strategy for him domestically, we'll see. But he rode in, as the caller alluded to, on this wave of sort of popular support largely aimed at combating drug abuse and the illegal drug trade in the Philippines. And this sort of -- he is a kind of an outrageous figure but also had a lot of popular support in the country.
FOUKARAThe comparison that -- or the similarities that the caller sees between what's happening in the Philippines and what's happening here in the United States, I mean, I just find it absolutely perplexing that -- whether here in the United States, the Philippines or other parts of the world -- that people nowadays can listen to somebody saying some really whacky and offensive things. And instead of recognizing them for what they are, they say, he's being honest. I don't know what that means for -- as a global trend. But it is certainly there, beyond the United States and the Philippines.
FOUKARAAnd while we're talking about global trends, there is something obviously that's happening to global alliances in the second half of the Obama administration. Whether you're looking at the Philippines or you're looking at Turkey or you're looking at Egypt or you're looking Saudi Arabia or you're looking at Israel...
FOUKARA...or Pakistan, many countries around the world are actually reviewing or taking a harder look at their alliance with the United States. Whether -- how pivotal this review -- how real will it actually be at the end of the day, I don't know. I mean, in the case of the Philippines, it seems to me -- it seems to me, and I don't have any hard facts here -- that he's letting off steam at this particular point in time. Whether, in terms of the security of his country, he can actually rely on the Chinese -- and he has some serious disagreements with the Chinese -- and ditch the Americans, I don't know whether he can actually do that and continue to get away with it and secure the best interests of his country.
MCGINTYNow from what I understand, the United States is still pretty popular among the populace in the Philippines.
LAKSHMANANYes. Among rank and file Filipinos, no question.
LAKSHMANANAnd let's not forget, not only is the Philippines a treaty ally of the United States, we are obligated under treaty to defend them if they come under attack by anyone, including China. So they're a treaty ally. People need to remember that. But they're also, no question, our most important ally in Southeast Asia. I mean, the only one who would rival them in all of Asia would be Japan and South Korea, which are also treaty allies. Okay, so put that first.
LAKSHMANANSecondly, just before Duterte came into office, under his predecessor, the United States signed with the Philippines a number of agreements to reopen bases, basically, which was the first time in decades, since the U.S. was kind of forked out -- forced out of Clark and Subic. So...
MCGINTYHold that thought, Indira.
MCGINTYWe're going to continue when we come back. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MCGINTYWelcome back to the Diane Rehm Show. I'm your guest host Derek McGinty, and this is our roundup of the big international stories of the week. My guests here in studio, Abderrahim Foukara, he is bureau chief at Al Jazeera Arabic, Indira Lakshmanan is foreign policy columnist for The Boston Globe, Shane Harris is a senior correspondent at The Daily Beast.
MCGINTYAnd Indira, you were talking about our friend President Duterte, our apparently former friend President Duterte. (laugh) You call him Trump on steroids.
LAKSHMANANHe is Trump on steroids, and, you know, one of the things -- in fact one of his nicknames in the Philippines is Duterte Harry, which I like (laugh) because he's this law and order president who used to be the mayor of Devau City, an important city in the south of the Philippines, and he led all these law and order campaigns that not only included police going out and just shooting suspected drug dealers but these vigilante groups, basically kind of death squads, roaming around the city, and this is what they're doing now nationwide in the Philippines.
LAKSHMANANSo just -- he's only been in office a couple of months, folks, and more than 3,000 people have been killed in this drug war. So a lot of these are extrajudicial killings, and some of the things he's said, I mean, we all became aware of him when he called the president of the United States the son of a -- I'm not going to say it but a really bad word when they were about to meet at a big summit in Asia.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, he was made because Obama had been asked about his anti-drug campaign that was killing all these people. But in the past he's said even crazier things, like he talked about a missionary, an Australian missionary in the Philippines who had gone in to help prisoners in a Philippine jail, and there was a prison break, and she was raped and murdered.
LAKSHMANANAnd he made a remark saying she was pretty, I as mayor should have been the first in line.
MCGINTYOh my goodness.
LAKSHMANANYeah, yeah, kind of curdles the blood. But nonetheless, Filipinos are very aware of who this guy is, and he was overwhelmingly elected. But the interesting tension here from a geopolitical point of view is that Filipinos were supportive of the United States being given access to bases because they wanted United States help to defend against Chinese incursions into what is currently Philippine territory, islands that China says, no, we have a right to those South China Sea island, and The Philippines says no, these have always been our Filipino islands.
LAKSHMANANThe U.S. has been very supportive of The Philippines in this case, so for him to now pivot and say I'm on China's side, for -- The Philippines won a court arbitration, an international court arbitration that those are their islands, and he said after they won, well, we might be willing to negotiate something with China.
MCGINTYWell let me ask this question. Does he have autocratic tendencies, and is that why he's so attracted to the Chinese?
FOUKARAWell, it depends who you talk to, but clearly he does have autocratic tendencies, and he has the support in the Philippines to actually behave the way he is behaving. Indira mentioned the war on drugs. Many Filipinos are obviously so fed up with the issue of drugs that when somebody like Dirty Harry, excuse the...
MCGINTYThat's actually tremendous.
FOUKARAWhen he comes -- when he comes along, and he says I want to take a tough stance on the issue of drugs, even if it veers off into this crazy talk that he's been having about if we were to burn them, we should be able to burn them, and it's not the United States' place to tell us whether we should burn drug addicts or not, but he does have the support.
FOUKARADoes he have enough support, the practical support that he really needs to pivot off this alliance with the United States to China? I'm not so sure about that not just because of, you know, the terms of the alliance and because of the investment by the United States in the security of The Philippines, but also because a new alliance with China is still uncharted territory for The Philippines, and it's not guaranteed to what extent they would actually go along with it all the way, the Chinese that is.
MCGINTYAnd there are, what, a few million Filipinos here in this country, many of whom send a lot of money back to The Philippines, don't they?
HARRISSure, I mean, there's remittances that go back, there's a long history between these countries. I mean, it's a long tradition. I think just there's also -- we were talking about his autocratic tendencies, I think there's some delusions of grandeur here, as well. I mean, there was -- he made a speech saying he was separating from the United States, where he said that the United States does not speak with, quote, "the larynx of civility," so, interesting sort of metaphor there.
MCGINTYA term that I've not heard.
HARRISI hadn't, either. But he said, maybe I will go to Russia and talk to Putin and tell him that the three of us are against the world, China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way. (laugh) There is not a trilateral alliance of China, Philippines and Russia against the world. I mean, it's just a very interesting posturing on his part and maybe wanting to be seen to be aligned with people who are tough and strong and may be standing up to the United States. But I don't think that Moscow is anticipating a call from Manilla on this anytime soon.
MCGINTYYou know, we did get a question on our website, posted by somebody calling themselves Dreamqueen, and she or he asks, "where did all the hostility in the Philippines come from? Is it the whole country, or is it just Duterte? And I say pull all American investment and aid."
LAKSHMANANOkay, well, I mean, the hostility that has been expressed has been from Duterte, not from the country. Even his government, his senior officials as Shane said earlier, have tried to walk back his comments about the separation, which implies a divorce, from the United States. The State Department is extremely upset about this and puzzled, particularly when after this, Duterte comments that he made about President Obama, their meeting was canceled at the summit, but then they ended up having a little pull-aside and exchanging some polite remarks.
LAKSHMANANThe United States is trying to sort of brush this off and ignore this guy because the bureaucracy of the Philippine government is still very much, you know, happy to have Americans there advising in bases and Special Forces who are helping them against their own, by the way, radical Islamic terrorism problem that they have in the south of the country.
MCGINTYNot to mention the weapons we send them, as well.
LAKSHMANANLots of weapons, and the Philippine people, as we were talking about earlier, are very pro-American. At the same time the majority of them are very pro-Duterte at the moment, and I know because when I wrote a column about this, boy, I got a lot of email from Filipinos overseas saying, how dare you criticize Duterte for his human rights abuses.
LAKSHMANANIf you lived here, you would know how the war on drugs is critical. So, you know, there are strong opinions about this.
FOUKARAI mean, it also seems to me that he's -- obviously when he's making these statements about the United States, he's playing to the gallery both in The Philippines and in China. And incidentally he's not the only one who is using this kind of rhetoric as some sort of blackmail, if you will. I mean, we've heard the Egyptians, for example, old and close ally of the United States, after the coup in 2013 saying okay, if you don't want to go along with us, we'll go to the Russians.
FOUKARAAnd in fact the president of Egypt started developing relations, military relations with the Russians. But ultimately the -- you cannot go around the United States if you are the Philippines because the United States is a country that's basically trying to pivot away from the Middle East to the Pacific, and the security situation between the United States and The Philippines, the United States and Japan and other countries in the region, is so vital. I think you can make those noises if you will, but at the end of the day it's very hard to practically pivot from the United States to China if you're The Philippines.
MCGINTYLet's get to some more phone calls. Arnold in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, you're on the air, thank you.
ARNOLDHi, to keep this brief, my question is this, or it's -- it's actually a comment. If you recall, back 15 years ago, the press really didn't do its due diligence in informing the American public about how some of the evidence that came forth with regard to Saddam Hussein having WMDs, how it was not exactly solid. And what I see again is a very similar scenario in various three-letter agencies working hand in glove a'la Judy Miller at the New York Times 15 years ago, to now kind of feeding paranoia and hysteria about certain other countries.
MCGINTYGive me an example of that.
ARNOLDAn example would be the -- the attribution of the...
HARRISOf the emails to Russia, the email hacks.
ARNOLDEmails through Russia.
MCGINTYAh, okay, there you go. I just wanted to be sure what you were talking about.
HARRISSure, yeah, I mean, I'll address that. I've been covering this extensively, and I think the caller is right to have skepticism when you talk about intelligence agencies coming out and attributing certain actions and particularly motivations, as they did in this case, which is highly, highly unusual for intelligence agencies. And to harken back to the, you know, the bad calls about WMD in Iraq, I guess what we can say here is that there is a lot of technical evidence that has been reviewed also by independent security companies looking at this, who have gotten information directly from the DNC and others who have handed it over to say essentially come in and look at this and map it.
HARRISThe profile of these hacker groups, down to the kind of malware they use, the kind of targeting they use, the tactics and techniques, matches up with other instances in which there is high confidence that it's the same group of actors. And yes, we should always have some skepticism about attribution in these cases because it can be very difficult, but I don't think that they would have made it -- and I know they did not take this decision lightly to come out and do this, particularly because of the moment at which arrives, knowing that if you come out and say Russia is trying to meddle with the elections, there will be great scrutiny and skepticism that greets that.
HARRISI hope that the intelligence community has learned from its mistakes, but also the kinds of calls you're making when it comes to attributing cyberattacks and guessing about a WMD program and a country to which you don't have access are fundamentally different sets of calculations. So it's a little bit of apples and oranges to say, well, they screwed up in Iraq, why should we trust them on this.
LAKSHMANANI think Shane is absolutely right, and some of the analysis that has been done not only by U.S. intelligence agencies but also, as he says, independent companies, has involved Russian code, right. Shane, so that's something that, you know -- plus I believe is it true, that Guccifer, which is essentially a Russian hacker, hacking collective, has taken responsibility for this.
LAKSHMANANHas outright said, yes.
HARRISRight, has now come out and essentially said yes, this is who I am. And so there are a lot of -- there are multiple data points on this, including ones that can be independently corroborated and people coming forward now and claiming responsibility for this, as well.
FOUKARAI mean, the problem is that as Hillary Clinton said during the debate, when you have 16 or 17 intelligence agencies saying something, then you have to sit up and listen. But the problem -- what I personally find perplexing about what's being said about the Russians trying to meddle with the U.S. election, I'm -- to this particular point in time, I'm not clear in my head whether the intelligence agencies are saying that the Russians are trying to undermine the credibility of the U.S. election or to actually physically and materially rig the results of the election because James Clapper, the head of intelligence, came out yesterday, and he said the ballot boxes cannot be rigged because they're not connected to the internet, and therefore the Russians cannot tamper with the results of the...
MCGINTYI did not get the impression that he meant that but so much as to inflame public opinion in one direction or another.
LAKSHMANANWell there was also the case of a couple of states who said that there were attempts to hack their actual voting system, and they had alleged that those were potentially tied to the Russians.
HARRISRight, I mean, and you've seen states also come out and say that their voter registration files have been targeted. Now that's different than vote counts. This is more I think about sowing distrust in the results or making people think something is fishy here, we shouldn't trust these results so that sort of broad kind of sowing suspicion about the election.
MCGINTYYou're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. So then the question becomes, what should the United States be doing about this? How strong a reaction do you make?
HARRISWell, what they are doing about it has been two-fold. One is that extraordinary statement we saw coming out and attributing the attacks to Russian and saying in order to do X, Y and Z, which usually intelligence agencies don't like to assess motivation, that's kind of getting in someone's head, which tells you that they think they have pretty good access to the people doing this and might be watching their communications talking about it.
HARRISAnd the other is the Homeland Security Department has come out and put states on notice with the FBI and said listen, we have a decentralized election system, it's up to you and these individual states to ensure that your voting systems, your registration files, anything connected to the internet is secure, and if you ask us, we will come in and help you scan those systems. And to date more than half of all states have taken DHS up on that offer, and about a dozen local and county boards, as well, and that number is growing.
HARRISSo they're saying essentially to the Feds, come in here and help us check these systems, and let's make sure that they're secure.
LAKSHMANANMost states fortunately do have a paper trail backup of votes that are done using a computerized system, but I read that I think it's five states that don't have any paper trail backup, and that is of course a concern. And, you know, to the -- I completely take the caller's point, which is -- I think the difference, though, in 2002, 2003, was that there were many intelligence agents who knew that the evidence was not bad, but they were politically being told, they were being told by political leaders, yeah, don't use that, or they were being, you know, fed other information.
LAKSHMANANThat's a different thing from what we're talking about here, which is saying, who is the one responsible behind these attacks that are directly affecting us, where we can look at the origin.
MCGINTYIf the United States is that certain about who's done this, if there is retaliation, would we even know?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, we certain -- we heard very recently Joe Biden say that the United States does plan to retaliate, but it plans to retaliate at a time of its choosing. And although that reminds me of rhetoric that sometimes I hear in the Middle East when governments do not plan to follow up on that, obviously the issue here is much more serious than that.
FOUKARAWill we know when the United States retaliates against the Russians? I guess the Russians are not going to keep quiet about it when it happens.
LAKSHMANANOr they might to not -- to not show that they've been hacked, you know.
FOUKARAWell, I mean, given -- yes, I mean, you could argue it both ways. But just looking at the behavior of Putin now and the stature that he's trying to build for Russia and himself globally, it seems very -- to me very unlikely that if Russia were to be hit that Russia would keep quiet about it.
LAKSHMANANI just want to make one quick point, which is understanding the motivations of Russia and why Putin would want to interfere in the U.S. election and why he might favor Trump over Hillary Clinton. There was that whole exchange with you're a puppet, no you're a puppet, no, you know, you're the puppet, that whole thing, who's the puppet. Well I would advise everyone to read an excellent column that ran in the Washington Post on Monday by Jackson Diehl where he explained that essentially Putin does not believe that the color revolutions in Ukraine and Central European countries were independent democratic revolutions against Putin-backed, pro-Kremlin figures.
LAKSHMANANHe believes that the U.S. and the State Department got involved and sort of fed democracy into those places. He's upset.
MCGINTYSo this is payback.
LAKSHMANANHe's resentful, and this is payback. Now he may be wrong, but he sees the U.S. hand interfering in other elections against pro-Kremlin types, and he wants to do the same, is the argument in this column.
MCGINTYAll right, Indira Lakshmanan is a foreign policy columnist for The Boston Globe, a contributor to Politico magazine. Abderrahim Foukara is a bureau chief at Al Jazeera Arabic. And Shane Harris is senior correspondent at The Daily Beast, future of war fellow at New America and author of the book "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex." I want to thank the three of you for taking part in our international news roundup, we really appreciate it.
MCGINTYI'm Derek McGinty. Diane Rehm will be back Monday, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show.
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