The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
Guest Host: Amy Walter
The battle to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS rages on. ISIS militants are kidnapping tens of thousands of people for use as human shields in Mosul. Syrian rebels begin a counter-attack against the army and its allies in Aleppo. NATO plans its biggest military build-up along the Russian border since the cold war. The French government shuts down a migrant camp in Calais. The president of the Philippines says he wants foreign troops out of his country. And the green-eyed Afghan girl–made famous when she appeared on the cover of national geographic 30 years ago—has been arrested in Pakistan. The international hour of the Friday news roundup. But first, this news.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times; author of a new book, "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power"
- Lara Jakes Managing editor for news, Foreign Policy magazine
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring"
MS. AMY WALTERThanks for joining us. I'm Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Iraqi officials accuse ISIS of using hostages as human shields in Mosul. French officials tear down a migrant camp in Calais known as The Jungle. And Syrian rebels launch an attack to break the siege in Aleppo. Here to discuss this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Mark Landler of the New York Times, Lara Jakes of Foreign Policy and Paul Danahar of the BBC.
MS. AMY WALTERThank you, everyone, for...
MR. MARK LANDLERGood morning, Amy.
MR. PAUL DANAHARThanks for inviting us.
MS. LARA JAKESHi.
WALTERWe're really happy to have you here. We're going to take your questions and comments throughout the hour. You can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send us your email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join us on Facebook or Twitter. And I think we've had a lot going on in the world today. I can't believe we're going to be able to get this all into one hour. But...
DANAHARIt's a busy world.
WALTER...we should -- it's been a very busy world.
JAKESWe're going to try.
WALTERWe're going to try to squeeze it all in, starting, of course, with the update on the battle to liberate Mosul. And maybe, Paul Danahar, if you can give us some update on what the military situation there looks like.
DANAHARWell, you've got the Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribes and Shia militia advised by U.S. soldiers, about 30,000 in total surrounding Mosul. The latest is that the ISIS or Islamic State group have apparently abducted around 10,000 civilians from around the city to use as human shields. We've seen the Iraqi forces moving slowly, slowly towards the center of Mosul, taking certain villages. There's been suicide attacks carried out. There have been sort of tunnels discovered where these guys are popping up and firing.
DANAHARWe've not got to the really bloody stage of the battle yet, by far. But it's, you know, it's tested -- the Iraqi forces have not been as organized as perhaps people would've hoped they would've been. So I think, you know, how they're going to deal with 10,000 human shields and not have serious kind of civilian casualties is a great concern.
WALTERHow are those -- how are they deploying these human shields? How will this work?
DANAHARWell, we haven't seen them. What we've -- what we understand is...
WALTERIt's an awful image.
DANAHAR…they've basically kind of forced villages in the surrounding areas to come into the city center. Those that have refused, there have been some mass executions that have taken place, mass murders. So we don't know how they're going to do it, but what we do know from Islamic State is they don't abide by any of the rules of war. So we could see also -- we could see people strapped with explosives. We could see people literally being pushed out in front of fighters.
DANAHARIt's a really, really -- I mean, there is probably no other type of warfare that's more complicated and difficult if you want to avoid civilian casualties and the opposition group literally using them as barricades.
WALTERAnd Lara, what do we -- Lara Jakes, what do we know about the folks who have been trying to leave, the civilians who've been trying to escape? Where do they go and what sort of pressure is this putting on other parts of the world, especially in Syria?
JAKESWell, where do go? Many, hundreds if not thousands, are trying to go north into the Kurdish areas of Iraq. Some have been trying to get to Syria. There was an escape passage to the West from Mosul into Syria, which is kind of amazing and shocking to think that Syria would be safer than Iraq right now. The area between Mosul and the Syrian border, I've been there many times, it is a vast desert that much of which right now is controlled by the Islamic State.
JAKESSo it is very perilous to try to make that crossing. And it's -- one thing to keep in mind here is that this is not going to be a migrant or a refugee flow that ends anytime soon, just like the battle itself is not going to end anytime soon. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq. Before this offensive, there were probably 1.8 million people still living in the center city or in the immediate environ. And we saw, for example, earlier this spring, the battle of Fallujah took over a month to clear and to hold when Iraqi forces and the Shia militias went in to battle ISIS.
JAKESThe same thing is going to happen here, if it doesn't take even more time.
WALTERAnd what about the ISIS fighters themselves who have been fighting on the outskirts? They are escaping or maybe some that are leaving Mosul right now. Are they going back into Syria? Where -- what do we know about them and are they trying to reconstitute themselves as they leave the besieged cities"?
JAKESSo just like Paul said, some are coming back into Mosul. They're going into the villages. They're bringing the villagers back into Mosul to use as the human shields. Some are going into Raqqah. And we have heard the secretary of defense and other top military officials say that the United States needs to now focus on Raqqah, which is a city in Syria, which is where the Islamic State is trying to base its caliphate and so they're fleeing there. And one of the reasons, I believe, the military is saying that they want to hold a new offensive against Raqqah soon is to be able to squeeze that, to squeeze the Islamic State out of Raqqah while the offensive in Mosul is going on and really make the Islamic State run and hide.
JAKESOne other thing that I thought was interesting this week was that we saw some Islamic State fighters go to the city of Kirkuk, which is a little southeast of the city of Mosul in Iraq. Kirkuk is a city that has always been very split between Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Even before the Islamic State came to prominence in 2011/2012, Kirkuk was known as the city in Iraq that was seen as a powder keg because of this ethnic clash. And so it may be that the Islamic State is trying to go to Kirkuk to rally support among other Sunni Arabs and against the Kurdish and the Peshmerga.
WALTERWell, I'm glad you raised the issue of Raqqah and Mark Landler, I want to talk to you about that. What the situation would look like should we go into Raqqah, is that even possible to be able to do both of these things at once, physically possible? If you can give us an update on that.
LANDLERYeah. The U.S. and its allies would like to do into Raqqah within a few weeks and I think their strategy or their thinking is that they want to, you know, exploit the momentum they're generating in Mosul. They have the Islamic State on the back foot in Mosul, they believe, and they want to seize that moment to go into Raqqah. Raqqah is much more complicated if that's possible, because Mosul's plenty complicated. But in Raqqah, you have a situation where some of the most battle-hardened troops that could be part of that offensive are Syrian Kurds.
LANDLERAnd these Syrian Kurds are deeply suspected by the Turks. The Turks view them as effectively synonymous with the PKK, a Kurdish militant group inside Turkey. And so the Turks are obdurately opposed to the Syrian Kurds taking part in the Raqqah offensive. But the American Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, just this week, talking about what would be required for a successful campaign against Raqqah, said that the Kurds have to be a part of that, while acknowledging that he hasn't yet figured out how he's going to get the Turks on board.
LANDLERSo there's this very complicated ethnic and political dynamic around how you structure the troops that are going to attack Raqqah. And I think that that's something that the administration's been puzzling through in the United States. President Obama spoke with the president of Turkey, Erdogan, just in the past week and while he praised Erdogan for Turkey's role in helping in this effort, Erdogan made it very clear to him, he doesn't want to see the Kurds be a part of this and spoke publically about that admonition afterwards.
LANDLERSo I think the U.S. faces and extremely complicated diplomatic effort in addition to the military effort before they even begin the offensive against Raqqah.
DANAHARI think the other thing also is it's going to depend a lot on how ISIS fights. If it tries to fight as a conventional army, it's going to lose eventually because so many troops are going to be set against it. But it may not. It may try and, you know, filter away and send its guys out into the community and maybe some across the border, act like refugees, carry out suicide attacks. If you look through history at things like the Tamil Tigers, for example, in Sri Lanka, they were really, really effective until they started trying to govern and run things and be an army and then they were wiped out.
DANAHARAnd so I think one of the interesting things will be what does the Islamic State do? Does it decide to reformat itself and change the way that it fights? Will it become a guerilla fighting unit or will it try and fight as an Islamic army and, you know, and probably lose in that case.
JAKESI would just like to remind people as well that the Islamic State was -- and was formed really a decade ago. It was al-Qaida in Iraq and it's the main Sunni insurgency that fought the government of Iraq and American troops and other coalition troops in Iraq from 2003 on. And so it morphed -- this is important to remember because it morphed, because at some point very late in the Iraq war, before the American forces came home at the end of 2011, the Islamic State was almost dormant.
JAKESIt wasn't quite dormant. I was in Baghdad at the time and there were still bombings every day and people were being killed, but it was not the huge explosions and huge attacks of hundreds of people killed every day. It was several dozen. I'm not trying to make light and say that, you know, anybody who dies is okay. I, obviously, don't think is the case, but it did go underground for a while. And in 2012, I was still there and we saw the resurgence of what is now the Islamic State.
JAKESSo that is to say that this group could remorph itself. It could go dormant. It could go underground and I would not be at all surprised if that's exactly what it does.
WALTERGo ahead, Mark.
LANDLERThere's one other point I'd make about Raqqah in particular. If ISIS is driven out of that stronghold, in addition to dispersing into the countryside, there is some fear that some of the European recruits to ISIS could find their way back to Europe, to France, to Belgium and other countries. And so this is something that the president of France talked about in the past week, that there's some 4,000 Europeans who are fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
LANDLERAnd some number of those will find their way back and so, you know, there's this idea that President Obama, among others, have talked a lot about that as ISIS' territory shrinks, some of the way it lashes out is in terrorist attacks in Europe and perhaps even here. So that's a prospect that we have to consider as well.
WALTERWe're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to have more of the Friday News Roundup.
WALTERWelcome back. I'm Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report sitting in for Diane Rehm. And I'm joined this hour for the international roundup by Mark Landler. He's the White House correspondent at The New York Times. He's also the author of "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power." I have Lara Jakes here, the managing editor for news at Foreign Policy magazine, and Paul Danahar, Washington bureau chief at the BBC and author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring.
WALTERWe were talking before the break about the situation in Mosul and in Raqqah. And, Paul Danahar, I just want to go with you to sort of -- I know it can't be completely wrapped up -- but certainly the rhetoric within the political campaign here for president and throughout the last year has been focused on destroying ISIS.
WALTERWe're going to get rid of ISIS. And here's one way to do it, we're going to bomb them. We're going to go into Mosul. We're going to go and we're going to eradicate them. And yet, certainly what I'm hearing today is that they're not going away. They're going to reconstitute and we may see more terrorist attacks around the world.
DANAHARWell, if you were ISIS, you wouldn't stand there in your uniform and say come get me. I mean, and the reality is that this is a group, Lara was saying, you know, it's managed to change and morph itself and adapt to its environment. It used to be an offshoot of al-Qaida. It changed again. There's no reason why it can't change again. And the situation is that the battle arenas that people are fighting in are incredibly complicated. You know, just in Aleppo, you know, we have Iraqi Shia militia on the side of Assad. And these same Iraqi Shia militia are on the U.S. side fighting ISIS in Iraq, next door.
DANAHARSo you don't have simple lines of battle. You don't have sides that stay on your side. They decide whose side they're going to be on depending on which country -- almost which village, which province. And so it's incredibly complicated. So simple, black and white, we're going to destroy this, we're going to get rid of that, it just won't happen. Because these are not conventional armies. These are not conventional states. These are morphing and changing and adapting to their environment. And because we're big, conventional armies, we're slow at doing that, in a way that they're not.
WALTERI want to stay in the region for a minute and talk about the situation in Aleppo. Lara Jakes, a new round of fighting in Aleppo. Can you give us the update...
WALTER...from there and what we see happening.
JAKESSure. Well, as of this morning, it sounded like there were more of the Sunni rebels were trying to shore up eastern Aleppo, an area that's seen so much fighting. Aleppo is divided between regime loyalists and rebels. And the rebels are trying to shore up their base there, their populations there. What I had heard this morning or what I'd seen this morning is that it doesn't seem to be going very well for the rebels.
JAKESAnd when we talk about conventional armies, conventional governments, it's important to think about the extent that some of the Assad regime's allies are playing in Syria and in places like Aleppo. There was a bombing not too far away in Northern Syria this week or a couple of children's schools. We've seen dozens of people die. The numbers have varied anywhere from 11 to 22 children in these schools. The UNICEF chief said that it was a crime against humanity or a war crime.
JAKESAnd the Russians came right out -- Vladimir Putin is an ally of President Assad in Syria -- and the Russians came out and said, actually, this all is propaganda. And if you want to see some attacks, there are some other attacks elsewhere that we are not responsible for and this tape has been spliced and your evidence is ridiculous. Just yesterday, in the U.N. Security Council, the Russian ambassador denied that there was any bombing of chemical weapons use in 2014 and 2015 by the regime in rebel-held areas across Syria.
JAKESSo I, you know, we have no idea how Aleppo is going to go. It's been a place that we've seen various attempts at cease-fires over the last year or so. They have all broken. I would be hard pressed to believe that this is going turn out much differently.
WALTERI'm going to take a caller here. Jim from Cleveland, Ohio. Jim, you're on the air.
JIMYes. Thank you for my call.
JIMI just had a couple comments. I was a infantry officer, Army infantry officer for 10 years. I served time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also I was a DOD contractor after I got out, in 2008 to 2010, studying groups like, at the time, with ISI. We -- you guys are discussing issues in regards to conventional operations and, you know, going against conventional forces trying to take back Mosul. You know, us supporting the Iraqis. Excuse me.
JIMMy question and a comment and I'll take it offline, is what are we doing? Let's say the Iraqis are successful, because we're essentially playing whack-a-mole. What are we doing with our foreign policy strategy to ensure that the glue -- that the government of Iraq is strong and not overtly oppressive against its own citizens or people that they perceive who are aligned with ISIS or ISIL, you know, post taking back Mosul?
JIMAnd, you know, Syria is another issue, obviously, with Assad. But within Iraq, what do you recommend? What does the panel recommend the next administration, whether it’s, you know, a Clinton or a Trump, you know, administration taking as the way forward instead of, you know, that would actually act as, you know, a benevolent leader in the region? Thank you.
JAKESCan I answer that really quickly?
JAKESBecause I have some strong thoughts on this. I would suspect that the best way forward is to make sure that the police forces and the authorities in the regions across Iraq are dominated by whatever religious or ethnic group that is in that community. It's very hard for Shia police forces to go up to a Sunni city like Mosul and have a lot of buy-in with the residents, right? I mean, especially when you see Shia militias that are backed by Iran come into some of the Sunni cities and you hear of atrocities that the Shia militias are committing as well, in the name of the government troops.
JAKESA couple of years ago we saw Shia -- Iraqi Army but predominantly Shia troops go up to Mosul and imprison people Mosulis (sp?) and torture them while they were in prisons. Human Rights Watch has done many stories on this and documented people who were crammed into tiny cells, who were whipped, who were starved. These were mostly Sunnis who were being tortured by Shia authorities, even if they were government authorities. So I think the first and the strongest thing to do would be to make sure that government forces are -- in certain areas, are dominated by people who reflect those communities.
WALTERWho gets to make that decision, though?
JAKESWell, the -- of course, the government of Iraq does.
WALTERAnd what kind of influence can the U.S. or any other outside organization have on that?
JAKESThe United States pays a lot, you know, millions if not billions of dollars to Iraq in helping with foreign military sales, with helping Iraq buy tanks, with training its troops, with providing munitions and artillery. So to think that there's not a whole lot of influence that the United States has here is not right.
LANDLERWhat I'd add, I guess, is that the, I mean, the U.S. has had bitter experience with this. The Maliki government, which was the predecessor government to this one, basically did engage in that kind of score settling and revenge and disregarded repeated efforts by the U.S. to ask them to bridge sectarian divides. The Abadi government, the Haider Abadi government is viewed as much more constructive in this area than Maliki was. And that explains why the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq has actually improved, you know, in the last six months or so.
LANDLERBut, you know, what it goes to is that the U.S. is still in, at the end of the day, kind of vulnerable to whoever their partner is. And if the partner's unreliable, as Karzai was in Afghanistan, for example, you just can't get a lot done. And there's no sort of assurance that the Abadi government is the model we're going to see going forward. There could be a return of Maliki, for example.
LANDLERSo this is one of the kind of built-in limitations you have when you build your counterterrorism strategy around working with partners and sharing the burden with partners. You have to have the right partner in order to have it work. And this is, I think, one of the insights that President Obama has kind of learned the hard way over the last few years, as he's kind of developed this strategy of burden sharing and developing these kind of partnerships.
DANAHARYou can't, I mean, the problem is you can't walk away again. You can't just say, like, okay, this guy's in charge now and we'll just step back. Because you can't trust them not to be influenced by internal political circumstances. It means that guys that one day look actually quite reasonable are no longer looking reasonable anymore. And, you know, the U.S. has had a bit of a history. You know, it saw the guys in the Sunni Awakening being basically murdered on the streets, having helped the U.S. kind of get to the stage where they could withdraw, they were left alone. The same thing happened in Afghanistan.
DANAHARThe problem is that a lot of these -- a lot of American partners look at history in a way that sometimes we in the West don't, and say, are we going to put all of our eggs in the American basket? Because when we do do that and when we've done that in the past, we lose our eggs. And so you have to kind of overcome this suspicion, the, you know, there's a partnership now. Will it be there five or ten years' time? Because otherwise they hedge their bets. They kind of keep relations with some of the dodgy characters just in case they need them locally if they lose American support.
DANAHARSo I think the important thing for the next president is to decide, if you actually want to have influence in the Middle East, in Iraq and Syria, you have to show them that you're going to be there for more than an electoral cycle. You've got to give a sense of, we're not going to walk away from this no matter how difficult it comes. I don't mean put troops on the ground, but have serious people involved in it. You don't hand it over to your V.P. and walk away. You've got to have the president seeming -- seen to be engaged in these problems.
WALTERHow do you do that though at a time when we're going to have a transition of power between one president and the next? Is this something that President Obama can do...
DANAHARNo, I don't think he...
WALTER...in the next...
DANAHARNo, I don't think...
WALTER...few months here...
DANAHARI don't think he can really do...
DANAHARI mean you may have some successes. You know, you may up with Mosul being -- may -- it may fall in inverted (word?) to the Iraqi forces and that would be great. But I don't think the American -- this American president has much capacity now. I think the big problem for the next American president is Europe -- which is supposed to be a kind of big, helpful ally -- is so consumed with its own problems that increasingly America -- it's been trying to pull away from being the world's policeman under Obama.
DANAHARAnd I think circumstances are going to push it much more forward, whether it likes it or not, as having to take on a lot of these issues.
WALTERYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. You can find us on Facebook or send us a tweet.
WALTERSpeaking of Europe, I'm going to move us over there to the events that happened in Calais this week with the French clearing a migrant camp, which was known at the Jungle. Mark Landler, what prompted this action and what has happened to these migrants?
LANDLERWell, this is a camp that has a fairly long history. It goes back to the late '90s. And it, in recent years, with the, you know, the influx of refugees from Syria, from Afghanistan and elsewhere, it's population has swelled up to 6,000 or 8,000 people. And it's become a source of real tension between France and Britain. Calais, of course, is right on the English Channel. And the -- many of these migrants had hoped to smuggle themselves or otherwise get over to Britain. And the British were understandably very concerned about this. Francois Hollande, the French president, had promised to resolve this issue at some point before the end of 2016. He didn't want it to become a big election year dispute in France.
LANDLERThere was a lot of skepticism about whether the French would ever actually take action. But they finally did. They sent in the authorities and dismantled the camp. And developed a complicated and politically difficult plan to disperse the inhabitants of the camp to cities and towns and villages around France. When these people get to these intake centers, their asylum applications will be reviewed again. Presumably most will be accepted, but some won't and be sent back to wherever they came from. There's a subset of people here who are unaccompanied minors, children whose status is, of course, very uncertain. And it's a sort of a tragedy what will happen to them.
LANDLERSo this has been a -- it's a sort of a symbol, honestly, of the great crisis that the migrant influx has presented for Europe. And so the French attacking this camp, on the one hand, removes this ugly symbol. But on the other hand, it reinforces the problem that all of the European countries are having integrating these large, new refugee populations into their own population.
WALTERWell, and that brings us to a post here on the Diane Rehm Facebook page. The person writes in, the burning of the refugee camp in Calais should be thoroughly investigated. First reports in the field are not always accurate or precise. But so far it seems cut and dried that the Calais was burned down by refugees themselves. Entirely possible. On the other hand, one must ask whether not the camps were burned by terrorists, be they ISIS or al-Qaida or right-wing French extremists. Paul Danahar, any?
DANAHARI don't think we've got ISIS burning down camps in -- on Calais. And what we have here is, as Mark was saying, it's a problem that just won't go away because we haven't got to the roots of the problem, which is all these people coming into Europe because their own homes are often in complete turmoil. Sometimes it is economic migrants. Often it's people fleeing wars. The problem that we have in Europe is that Europe -- this issue has basically broken up European unity.
DANAHARBecause you've got all these new countries that don't want to play up or get involved in dealing with the migrant issue. You have the older countries, like the U.K., where immigration has been a massive issue and has now led to even leaving the EU. Europe is basically putting a sticking plaster on all these kind of things relating to migrants. This is a step forward. As Mark was saying, we had a similar situation back in 1999. That camp was eventually shut down, then this one came back again. No doubt, you know, five, six years from now, maybe before then, we'll have another camp sitting on Calais. Because the people are desperate.
DANAHARAnd now we're seeing them die by the hundreds trying to get across, you know, waterways. Shutting down a camp is not going to deal with the problem.
WALTERAnd, Lara Jakes, where are these migrants being sent? And do we have any indication of what life is like for them as they're being put into other parts of France?
JAKESWell, so the Calais migrants or refugees are being processed. They're being sent to other parts around -- of France, trying to get asylum or otherwise means of residency. And many are trying to still get into Britain. And that's where they always wanted to go in the first place. That's why they were in this port city, Calais, which is right across the channel from the U.K.
JAKESAnd what's life like for them? I mean, anybody who goes to Europe these days sees people on the streets who are, you know, we think we have a homeless problem in the United States -- and we absolutely do -- but these are young children who come with their parents, who pack up their belongings into grocery bags every morning and they sleep on cardboard cutouts. I just got from a year in Rome and people were sleeping at the foot of the Vatican every morning, right by the river.
JAKESAnd there was a very, you know, just a heart-rendering video, I believe on the BBC yesterday, of two Syrian children who were in Turkey, for example, 13 years old. They'd get up every morning and they'd go to work. The little boy lost his job and the presenter said, well, what will you do? How will you support your family now that you've lost your job? And the camera zoomed in on this little boy who just started crying. It wasn't just that he had lost his home and lost everything, it was that he couldn't provide for his family. And I really challenge anybody to look at that video and not feel some compassion for people who are migrants and coming out of these war-torn areas into a Western population who just does not want to welcome them.
WALTERWe're going to take a quick break. But coming up, we'll take your calls and your questions for our panel. We'll be right back.
WALTERWelcome back. I'm Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report, sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm joined today on the international roundup by Mark Landler, he's the White House correspondent at the New York Times, he's also -- also author of "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power," Lara Jakes, the managing editor for news at Foreign Policy magazine, and Paul Danahar, the Washington bureau chief at the BBC, and he's also the author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring."
WALTERAs long as we were moving toward Europe, let's talk a little bit about what's happening with Eastern Europe and with NATO. They have -- they're planning right now the biggest military buildup along the Russian border since the Cold War. Lara Jakes, can you tell us a little bit about what is happening and why?
JAKESSure, well the United Kingdom is sending jets to Romania. The United States is sending troops, tanks, artillery, to Poland. Other NATO countries are following suit by adding other military assistance. It's interesting to remember just a couple of years ago, the United States was trying to retract some of its tanks and brigades from these exact areas and also in Germany. But okay, a couple of years later, and here we are back again, seen this movie before.
JAKESIn the meantime, Russia is stationing some nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad. They have started steaming some warships into the Baltic Sea. So it does look like there's this huge buildup. But I would really caution against any kind of World War III fears right now. What this really seems to be is a lot of muscle-flexing by both sides. And one thing that I've heard a lot of over the year is that the Russians are really bristling at this idea that they are no longer a superpower.
JAKESAnd this seems like President Putin's mandate, to reposition Russia and have it universally recognized as a superpower, a global superpower. And so this may be him saying hey, you cannot ignore us, you cannot think that we are some small, piddly country, we are a force to be reckoned with. And in fact yesterday he, himself, told people in Sochi that it's, quote, stupid and unrealistic to think that Russia might attack anyone in Europe. So again, this might be a lot of muscle flexing and, hey, wake up world, we are still a superpower.
WALTERSomewhere -- Or Paul Danahar, do you want to say this is just saber-rattling, we're not in a Cold War 2.0?
DANAHARNo we're not, but I do think that the Europeans have a certain amount of responsibility for the way that Russia has reacted to this because it did basically ignore Russia and ignore their concerns and begin to push closer and closer to areas that Russia felt were very much their sphere of influence. And, you know, it just -- and no one in Europe really listened, and so the noises were being made, and the Russians were, like, we're not happy about this, we're not happy about that.
DANAHARAnd then with this attitude in Europe of, like, well who cares what you think. I mean you guys are -- you're past history, you know, we're moving forward, and we're building this big -- and so, you know, while you can argue that Russia has been really aggressive and is particularly kind of playing up this kind of strongman role and trying to reassert itself, I think it's partly in -- as a consequence of the Europeans not taking Russia seriously until Putin got back into power.
DANAHARAnd now he's saying, you know what, guys, we're back, and we're not going to get pushed around again like we were pushed around.
WALTERBut at the same time, Mark, Spain, there was a flotilla of Russian warships that wanted to refuel in Spain, and then they withdrew that, and Spain says, well, the reason that they didn't want to come refuel here is because we started asking questions about whether these ships were going to be used in the siege of Aleppo so that it goes beyond just stuff happening in Europe, it's Russian involvement in Syria, Russian...
LANDLERI mean, Russia is perceived rightly as a bad actor in Syria, and they are a key ingredient to Assad's bombardment of Aleppo. I think one of the interesting points I wanted to make about this is that for months the Obama administration had predicted that Putin would come to regret his incursion into Ukraine and regret his intervention into Syria, that these two things would rebound badly on him, backfire on him, if you will.
LANDLERThere's no evidence so far that that's happened. The intervention in Syria has not caused him political problems at home. If anything, it's enhanced his popularity. And I'd say the same for the Crimea annexation in Ukraine. And if anything, the Russians are, one could argue, punching above their weight at the moment as a player on the global stage.
LANDLERAnd so in some ways the lesson for other would-be strongmen around the world is a troubling one. You can actually enhance your popularity at home and build your profile abroad with this kind of behavior. So I think as we look, later in the show perhaps, to the Philippines or to China, there's evidence that we could see more of this kind of muscle flexing in other sensitive areas.
JAKESI'd like to add another perspective on that, that, you know, all politics is local, as they say, and it's important to remember that Europe does not look at all issues in a uniform way of light, right. And so what we may be seeing a little bit of in Spain and in Italy and in other Southern European countries is hey, you know, Russia has been a big trading partner for us for a long time, and we're not -- we're getting as hurt by the sanctions that are on Russia because of Ukraine and elsewhere as they are.
JAKESAnd at a time when the economy in Europe is tanking, at a time when Europe is trying, especially Southern Europe around the Mediterranean, are trying to deal with this huge influx of millions of migrants, they're seeing Russia do more in Syria on the ground than maybe the West is because Russia actually has troops there.
JAKESYou know, this flotilla that came through was trying to do something in Aleppo. And so it has really driven a wedge among European lawmakers, maybe on a country-by-country basis, but definitely there is this discussion going on in Southern Europe right now.
WALTERAnd is this also ripping apart NATO in terms of the ability to work together on this issue?
JAKESYou know, I don't know if it's ripping it apart. I don't...
WALTEROr at least increasing tensions in the same way.
DANAHARThe Brits in particular I think are going to play a much bigger role in NATO because they want to reassure Europe that they still have value outside of the European Union. So I think you will see the British in particular trying to kind of punch even more above their weight to show that they're, you know, they're still big players in the world. So I think NATO is still relevant.
DANAHARI think the issue that we've got is basically there's no or else at the moment in Western politics. So, you know, you can do pretty much what you want around the world in most parts of the world, and the Europeans and the Americans and the U.N. will make lots of noise about it, but there's no or else, if you don't stop this, this is going to happen, because nothing does happen, and we -- it goes all the way back to the red line in Syria. And the Russians have basically -- you know, all sorts of threats were made against the Russians. If they went into Crimea, this was going to happen. And, you know, they've managed to survived.
DANAHARAnd as Mark was saying, you're basically being told at the moment give it a go. If you're a leader around the world, and you want to push the envelope a bit, have a crack at it because there's no one really at the moment that wants to stop you.
WALTERThat's pushing back.
LANDLERAnd here, by the way, is a place where the U.S. election, you know, weighs in very directly because you have one candidate on the Republican side who's professing closer relations with Vladimir Putin and another candidate who has a historically antagonistic relationship with Putin and would probably, at least rhetorically, push back much harder against him.
LANDLERNow whether that would translate to concrete action, as Paul says, is maybe somewhat questionable, but I do think that here the U.S. election presents a clear choice, and if there's ever going to be an or else in this equation, it may depend on Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump winning in a couple of weeks.
WALTERI'm going to move us over to The Philippines for a moment. There's been a lot of action there with the president of The Philippines in the news again this week. He was in Beijing, he was in Japan, talking about the relationship with the U.S. And Lara, do you want to give us his take, and then we're going to get into some of the other things that he did?
JAKESWell apparently President Duterte found God on his flight home from Japan yesterday. This is a man who has had some, shall we say, spicy language for the likes of President Obama and Pope Francis, and he's flying home from Japan after saying that maybe, you know, that all foreign troops will leave The Philippines within two years. It's important to remember that the United States is The Philippines' most valuable military ally. There was a new treaty signed just two years ago to give U.S. troops more access to Filipino bases.
JAKESAnyway, so Duterte has been saying troops must get out, we don't need your help with this kind of dangerous counterterror mission in southern Philippines. Anyway, he's flying home, and he hears the voice of God come to him and say stop using spicy language. And so he tells the reporters aboard his plane, okay, I am no longer going to use profanity, and the reporter said, well, really, even -- even when you're talking about the United States and Europe. And he said, well, actually, there's a time for everything. But so we've got that going for us.
JAKESBut it's hard really to know where Duterte is coming from these days. He says things like we no longer want U.S. military assistance, and then he backs off a couple of days later, or even immediately after he makes these comments, his aides kind of rush in and say no, no, no, he didn't really mean that. So it's really hard to know where this relationship is going to go moving forward.
WALTERWell that's a very good segue because, Mark Landler, you wrote about that this week and that Hillary Clinton has a relationship with this part of the world when she was secretary of state, and while his pushback may be a repudiation to Barack Obama, it's also one to Hillary Clinton, as well.
LANDLERThat's right. I mean, she was, if you'll recall, the person who sort of laid the groundwork for what became President Obama's Asian pivot. And, you know, she was one of the people in the administration who really reached out to shore up relationships across Southeast Asia with the Vietnamese, with the Malaysians, with the Filipinos. So this is problematic for her.
LANDLERYou know, she actually stood on the deck of an American ship in Manila Bay to reaffirm the importance of the treaty between the U.S. and The Philippines. So she's got something invested in this personally, and while Lara's exactly right to say that we don't know whether Duterte's erratic personality really means a seminal change in the U.S.-Philippine relationship, even the possibility of that is problematic for an administration that counts this pivot to Asia as one of the few things in foreign policy, arguably, that went quite well for them.
LANDLERSo I think that if you saw a President Hillary Clinton, probably one of the first things she would try to do is to go out to that part of the world and shore up those relationships because regardless of how all-consuming the Middle East is going to be, she really does view Asia, as Obama did, as sort of the future for the United States. So that's where the broader implication of this very personal story comes in.
WALTERI'm Amy Walter. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And Mark, though, how much does the tensions between The Philippines and the U.S. signal maybe broader problems, especially the fact that TPP was supposed to be part of that pivot to Asia with countries like Malaysia and Vietnam and others? Is this going to signal bigger, broader problems from those sorts of countries?
LANDLERWell, I mean, you know, certainly Hillary Clinton reversed herself on TPP in the course of this campaign.
LANDLERAnd if TPP were to die politically because of antitrade fervor in this country, it would be a major plank of the Asian pivot that fell away. And also it would be the loss of something that, for The Philippines, for Vietnam, for Malaysia, is an important counterbalance to the influence of China. I mean, we're basically engaged in a geopolitical contest with the Chinese for influence in that part of the world, and TPP was an important lever for the United States to maintain American influence and to bind these countries to the United States.
LANDLERSo the loss of that would be another major setback, and I think in Duterte's leaning toward Beijing, we're beginning to see how difficult that contest is going to be and how the Chinese won't hesitate to throw their weight around and try to bind these countries closer to themselves through the strength of foreign investment, money and that sort of thing.
DANAHARWe're seeing an -- what appears to be an attempt by the present Chinese president to possibly get a third term, which shows you that you've got a power struggle going on in China, and if we end up with kind of a long-term Chinese president that doesn't have to keep rotating, then you really are going to see a continuation in quite a strong foreign policy from China, and we're going to see that come over not only in trade but -- I mean, I think there were reports today that for the first time The Philippines have been allowed to fish in areas that China was refusing to allow them to fish in, some contested islands.
DANAHARAnd so, you know, Duterte can go back and say, look, guys, my approach to China has already paid off. So the Chinese, because they don't have to worry about what the public back home thinks about foreign policy, they can just do what they want, can be really quite nimble when it comes to kind of exploiting possible relationships, whereas America and all the Western powers have to kind of balance the demands back home and business demands and political demands.
DANAHARThe Chinese can be really fast and can switch straightaway and say, right, let's do this, and let's do that. And then a place like Asia, where they were promised this pivot, and they found themselves not quite getting the attention and love they were hoping for, the Chinese can give it to you big-time, and big bucks come along with it. And so, you know, if you've got people like Duterte that's basically, you know, one of these kind of short-term politicians who wants to make a name for himself, that's quite an attractive proposition.
WALTERI want to move us from Duterte, who is very popular at home, to a leader who is very unpopular, and that's President Maduro of Venezuela. We now have hundreds of thousands of protestors in the streets. Lara, do you want to give -- tell us a little bit about what's happening there. Tell our listeners how we got to this place.
JAKESSure, so let's take a step back and look at where Venezuela is today. It's got a 30-million-person population. About 30,000 people are expected to be killed this year alone in murders, kidnapping and other crimes. It used to be a very rich economy. It's now very poor. Oil prices have tanked. The fact that it has one of the largest oil reserves in the world, if not the largest, means -- is almost nothing now. Hugo Chavez built this government, it was a revolution to bring a democracy. It is now one of the most oppressive governments in the world.
JAKESAnd so you have President Nicolas Maduro facing a push by opposition to bring a referendum to boot him from office. And last week a lower court sided with President Maduro and said we are not going to pursue this. And so that has sparked outrage nationwide and brought out thousands of people in protest.
WALTERBecause the courts, who are basically controlled by him.
JAKESCorrect and the security services, as well.
WALTERAnd the entire civil service is doing this. So is there any way that we're going to see change in the power structure in Venezuela?
DANAHARI think the reality is that while the army and the police are being paid, no. I mean, we keep -- as journalists we keep looking at Venezuela and waiting for the moment where it's going to fall over, every now and then we try and send people on because we think this is the moment, and it doesn't, and it doesn't because the infrastructure of suppression, the infrastructure of government, is still in place when it comes to his paying the bills for the army and the police.
DANAHARNow if he can't afford to do that anymore, then things may change. But while he still has his fingertips around all of those groups, it will be very difficult because the problem, when you get to this sort of situation, people get -- and spend all their days trying to find food and trying to find work, and so they don't have the energy or almost the power to revolt. It's when you end up with the police and the army saying, you know what, we're sick of this guy, too, that's when things tend to bubble up. And I think with Venezuela, it's just -- look at Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's had the same situation, an economy collapsing, a dictatorial leader, in many people's eyes, and the guy's hung in there because he still manages to hang on to the army and the police, and I think that's kind of what we have in Venezuela.
WALTERThank you all for joining us, and thank you, listeners, for being with us for this hour. I'm Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks again for listening.
Most Recent Shows
Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr talks about his new novel, "Cloud Cuckoo Land," and why he says his job as a writer is to reveal our interconnections as people, and as a planet.
Rep. Adam Schiff discusses the Democrats' agenda heading into the midterms, the January 6th investigation, and his new book, "Midnight In Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could."
Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times science and global health reporter, discusses vaccine safety, parent hesitancy, and what vaccinating this age group could mean for the future of the pandemic.