The man who helped craft President Obama’s Russia reset policy explains what went wrong. Then, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. discusses the surprising results of his country’s recent elections.
President-elect Donald Trump says he’ll nominate retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis to be secretary of defense. Mattis supports a tough stance toward Iran and other U.S. adversaries. The director of the CIA warned that Trump’s promise to unravel the Iran nuclear deal would be “disastrous.” Syrian forces continue their assault on Aleppo. Russia is in talks with Syrian rebels over ending the nearly 6-year-old conflict, but no progress has been reported. And thousands of Cubans are lining the streets along the 500-mile funeral procession carrying the ashes of Fidel Castro. A panel of journalists joins Diane 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
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times; author of "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President-elect Trump chooses a retired Marine Corps general to run the Pentagon. Cubans turn out to watch Fidel Castro's ashes travel across the country. And Russia talks with Syrian rebels over a possible ceasefire in Aleppo. Here for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara with al-Jazeera, Indira Lakshmanan with The Boston Globe and Politico and Mark Landler of the New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we'll invite your questions and comments. Join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, it's been quite a week. Welcome, everybody.
MR. MARK LANDLERThank you.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGreat to be here .
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARANice to see you, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all. And Mark Landler, you have Donald Trump, the president-elect, announcer former general, James Mattis, to run the Pentagon. General Mattis is certainly widely respected, but he had been criticized for remarks he's made.
LANDLERHe has. I mean, perhaps one of the most notable and perhaps inflammatory of them was when he talked about fighting in Afghanistan and made the observation that when you go into a society where they force women to wear veils, it's actually a lot of fun to go in there and shoot people. So there's a little bit of a Marine kind of -- sort of swaggering Marine kind of ethic to the way that General Mattis talks. But what's fascinating about this guy is he's also -- he's a real soldier scholar.
LANDLERHe's an intellectual. And, in fact, in addition to his nickname Mad Dog Mattis and his call sign, which is Chaos for the chaos he rains down upon the enemy, he's been called a warrior monk and is considered extremely widely read. And in fact, has also been quoted as saying "one of the reasons I've never been caught flat-footed is because I read so much." He reads a lot of military history. He reads a lot of profiles of historical warriors.
LANDLERAnd so, you know, again, the irony is that a president who, by all accounts, doesn't read a great deal has chosen this rather introspective scholarly figure to be defense secretary even as we acknowledge he is given to some fairly swaggering pronouncements.
REHMI wonder how much difficulty he might have being confirmed.
LAKSHMANANI think that this might be one of President-elect Trump's easier confirmation tasks, honestly, because he is widely respected across the political spectrum. As Mark says, he said a lot of inflammatory things, but not ones that are so politicized. Politico actually ran a story yesterday about nine unforgettable quotes by General Mattis, some of which are unrepeatable on polite airwaves.
LAKSHMANANBut some of my favorite are, he says, "be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." I mean, that's terrifying.
LAKSHMANANIt's terrifying, but it goes to what Mark was saying about him sort of being this tough guy with this tough guy swagger who, on the other hand, has said that he has 10,000 books in his library and he says that it saves you a lot of time. You don't make the same mistakes other people make on the battlefield if you read about them, engage your brain before you engage your weapon, he says.
REHMAnd Abderrahim, he does seem to differ from Trump on a number of issues.
FOUKARAHe does this -- one thing, before we talk about how he differs with -- or from Trump. He does have one thing in common. The total disregard, as we've just heard now, for political correctness. He calls it the way he sees it and he doesn't care about that. That has -- overseas, for example, that's going to cause him some problems in the Middle East, but it's also gonna win him some friends and we can talk about that later on.
FOUKARABut the differences that he has had with -- or he has with Trump in terms of policy, principle among those differences, which I imagine they've reconciled now, is the position on Iran. Basically, he wasn't a big fan of the line that the Obama administration has taken on negotiations with Iran, although now that he is in the position where Donald Trump has tapped him for his cabinet, he seems to think that tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran may not necessarily be such a good thing.
LAKSHMANANAnd on that, he was actually echoed this week by the current CIA director, John Brennon who said, what we should be doing is enforcing it as hard as possible. Also, in an op-ed in The Boston Globe, Alan Dershowitz, the retired law professor of Harvard who wrote an entire book attacking the Iran deal, saying it shouldn't be done, also came out in The Boston Globe saying, you really should enforce it now. It doesn't make sense to tear it up.
LAKSHMANANAnd one quick thought about Mattis, his outspokenness, I think, is going to be a real strength in serving in Trump's cabinet because he seems not afraid to speak out to Trump and speak truth to power and he has already said in his interview with Trump, we know, that he's against torture. It doesn’t work. And he seems to have changed Trump's mind on that, hopefully.
LANDLERI think Indira's right when she said that this shouldn't be a complicated confirmation hearing, but he will need to obtain a waiver from Congress because he hasn't been out of uniform the required seven years. And this raises a significant issue about civilian/military relations and civilian control of the military. He's not the first former general to serve as defense secretary. George Marshall did. But he's been a general recently, which means he's been involved in a lot of the military operations that are still ongoing.
LANDLERAnd among some in the Pentagon and the military community, there's a fear that if you put a general in who's been so recently involved and had such a stake in operations, it doesn't necessarily give him the distance and the objectivity he might need as secretary of defense. So I do think there is a valid debate to have about retired generals in these civilian jobs. He's not the first. Donald Trump's named Mike Flynn to be his national security advisor and David Petraeus is a candidate to be secretary of state.
LANDLERSo you could see a very top heavy cabinet with generals and retired generals and I think that raises some issues as well.
REHMHow high on the list is David Petraeus?
LANDLERYou know, that's been a bit of an opaque process, to say the least. People's fortunes have risen and fallen. There's sort of seemed to be about four candidates, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor...
REHMIs he really still in the running?
LANDLERThere was thinking in the past week, his star's receded. But there were some reports just today in the New York Post saying that he's telling people he's been offered the job. So you just can't know for sure. Mitt Romney, obviously, has been courted for it in a very visible way and has sort of pledged his allegiance to Donald Trump. David Petraeus has met with Trump and finally, Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee is also seen as a candidate.
LANDLERMost of these guys, Corker excepted, come with pros and cons, ranging from their business dealings to, in Petraeus' case, a scandal over the leaking of classified information. So we'll have to see. The thinking is that we'll probably know the answer to this over the weekend or by early next week.
REHMOver the weekend. And Abderrahim, which of those four do you think might work best with the Arab world?
FOUKARAProbably David Petraeus. I mean, he's, for one thing, very well known throughout the Middle East on account of his service in Iraq and on account of the counter terrorism strategy, which he claims he devised originally in Iraq, how do deal with the insurgency there. But the fact that he has served in that part of the world, he understands the language, he understands the customs and that would probably give him some advantage. If I may, just quickly, circle back to Mattis in the Middle East.
FOUKARAI think Mattis is another link in the chain of confusion that Trump is sowing in that part of the world because if you take, for example, the Gulf region, take the Saudis in particular, on the one hand, Trump has been saying that these countries, they're U.S. allies, but they should be forking out more money to contribute to that partnership. And people are feeling a little jittery about that.
FOUKARAOn the other hand, having tapped Mattis, knowing what Mattis' position on Iran is and knowing that there's a hot Cold War, excuse the oxymoron, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Saudis will probably be fans of Mattis in that particular department.
LAKSHMANANLet's not forget, though, that General Mattis actually was forced to leave his command early because of his disagreement, his very public disagreement, with the Obama administration over the Iran deal. He has said that Iran is the biggest threat in the Middle East and he has really singled it out. So, you know, that is something, as Mark pointed out, the fact that he is recently in uniform and the whole idea of someone who was in the military being over the entire Pentagon, which has, you know, at least in the last few decades, really been more of a civilian post, I think is interesting.
LAKSHMANANOn the secretary of state thing, I just want to mention that John Bolton is not out of the running, the former, you know, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, who's very polemical and very controversial, supposedly is still in talks with Donald Trump today. I, personally, have written in The Globe, I wrote a column about this last week that I think Mitt Romney would be the best choice for Trump. I think it would be really -- he'd be a salve to allies overseas who are very worried because he's very much in the foreign policy mainstream.
LAKSHMANANAnd he has, you know, been supportive of NATO. He was the one, who you'll remember, in 2012, said during the debate against President Obama that Russia was our biggest geopolitical foe and President Obama made fun of him and said, you know, you're -- the 1980s is calling. They want their foreign policy back. But he wasn't wrong.
REHMIndira Lakshmanan of The Boston Globe and Politico magazine. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. A number of you have called in to say that General Mattis was misquoted. I have in front of me a quote from The New York Times, in which he said, you go into Afghanistan. You got guys that slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. He said this in 2005. And then the end of that quote, so it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. So I hope that that is the quote that many of you are concerned about. That is the quote that we have.
REHMLet's talk about Syria. As we look at these secret talks between Russia and rebel groups in Aleppo, Abderrahim, what's going on?
FOUKARAWell, The Financial Times is basically depicting these talks as a first, as something new. But there are people in the region, including among the Syrian opposition, including the Turks, who are saying that this is not new. The talks had been going on, various rounds of them, between the Russians and the armed opposition of Syria. Incidentally, the Turks are basically acting as the go-between in the current round of talks between Moscow and the Syrian rebels, hosting the talks in Ankara.
FOUKARAWhether these talks about a cease-fire are actually going to lead to anything or not, I think it depends on how you interpret the Russian strategic position in Syria. Are they there, the way they claim, to basically fight terrorist groups? Or are they there to help Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, extend or restore his authority over the whole territory -- over the whole Syrian territory, as he's said multiple times he wants to do?
FOUKARAIf the aim is to basically buttress the regime of Bashar al-Assad to its former glory, so to speak, then no -- it seems to me -- no amount of talks to achieve a cease-fire are actually going to lead to anything between the Russians and the Syrian rebels.
LANDLERAnd I don't think we should discount the effect that Donald Trump's election has had on the dynamics here either. Trump, during the campaign, made it clear that he is more sympathetic to the Russian position on this. And that, for him, any political settlement that leads to the ouster of Assad takes a backseat to teaming up to fight the Islamic State. And I think the fact that the United States will cease to be a player...
LANDLER...seeking Assad's ouster is going to change calculations on both sides -- both Assad himself, but the Russians and the rebels. The rebels -- the moderate rebels will probably feel to some extent betrayed and thrown under the bus. And I think the Russians and Assad will feel much less pressure. This also comes on top of all the military advances they've made in eastern Aleppo, just in recent days. So I feel like the election, combined with the military offensive in Aleppo has really changed this dynamic and the discussion we've had for months about the likelihood of a cease-fire, is now happening in a fundamentally different context.
REHMAnd meanwhile, how dire is the situation in Aleppo?
LAKSHMANANAbsolutely awful. I mean this is a city that was once the financial capital of Syria. It's been in rebel hands for a few years now. But the city is divided. And the Syrian government, in just the last couple of months -- backed by Russian airpower, of course -- has taken back 40 percent of the territory that had been controlled by rebels. You're talking about, according to U.N. estimates, more than 200,000 people who are trapped in Aleppo, who don't have food. I mean we've seen reports from the front lines of people literally starving to death, people who are now being evacuated.
LAKSHMANANThere was one story of a woman who was pushing her dead, elderly mother in a wheelchair. And her mother had literally died of starvation because for days they hadn't had food. So the Syrian government has been utterly relentless about this, backed by, as Mark said, an emboldened Russian government, which I think is just going all-out to take back Aleppo, because they don't feel that the Obama administration is going to do anything before -- in the next two months to stop them. And they know that Donald Trump has said his number one priority is fighting ISIS. And this comes at the same time that the rebels in Aleppo have formed this new military alliance...
LAKSHMANAN...to try to have this united defense against the Syrians and the Russians. But I thought, one of the most interesting and confusing things is what Abderrahim was talking about, which is the Turks and the Russians, who have backed completely different sides in this, you know, more than five-year-long battle now, that they are saying we both want a cease-fire. But they obviously have fundamentally different interests. The only thing that they agree on is they both think ISIS is bad. But the Russians and the Syrian government have used rebels as a catchphrase for anyone who's opposed to Bashar al-Assad, not just ISIS.
FOUKARAI mean the -- as a follow-up to what Indira has just said, I think to better understand the Turkish position on this, you also have to bear in mind that relations with the Obama administration have not been so good, especially since the attempted coup in Turkey, with the Turks -- the Turkish government saying that the United States is hosting a terrorist, Fethullah Gulen, as they called him.
FOUKARAAnd he is behind -- he was behind the attempted coup. The other thing is, as the Turks have basically over the last five years pushed for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad, relations reached a very difficult point with the Russians when the Russian military aircraft was downed in Turkish territory. They have since patched things up with the Russians. But here's the thing, it depends what the Russians do in Aleppo. Because if -- Aleppo -- the arms to the rebels through that part of Syria usually transited from Turkey to Aleppo.
FOUKARAIf the Russians actually do manage to cut off that route for the weaponry getting in the hands of the rebels, two problems. The rebels themselves face a problem in Aleppo, although they've formed now or they're trying to form this united army. But the other thing is, where do they go from Aleppo? The concern on the Turkish side is that many of them will seek to actually get into Turkey. That becomes a huge problem for the Turks.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about ISIS in Iraq, Mark. And yesterday the Pentagon told reporters Iraqi forces are making significant progress in isolating Mosul. Tell us the significance there.
LANDLERYeah, the offensive on Mosul has sort of come from the east and the southeast, trying to break into the city from those two sides. There's now a third axis coming in from the north. And what the Pentagon said yesterday in its briefing is that these troops are now really on the doorstep of Mosul. Another important development involved Iraqi forces cutting off a highway that's west of Mosul. And that's a main artery that connects Mosul with Syria. And so much as Abderrahim was talking about, routes for weapons to travel to Aleppo from Turkey, this is an important route for supplies to flow from Syria into Mosul to ISIS in the city. And cutting this off really isolates the troops that are in the city.
LANDLERNone of this is to say that Mosul's on the verge of collapse. The situation is different in Mosul than in Aleppo. There's still deeply entrenched, embedded troops there. And, you know, the ICRC and others have said that this is a battle that's likely to take months to finally conquer Mosul. But these are important early steps in the offensive.
REHMAll right. But the question remains, if a General Mattis is indeed confirmed as Secretary of Defense, what is he going to do about all of these incredibly hot spots?
LANDLERWell, I mean, the important thing about General Mattis, as I think I tried to say earlier, is he's had experience in all these things. He was an actually battlefield commander in Iraq. So he will bring all his prior experiences...
REHMWill he change how the U.S. responds in these areas?
LANDLERUltimately, the defense secretary is a member of the president's cabinet. So it will depend entirely on what President-elect Trump wants to do.
REHMYou've heard President-elect Trump say some pretty outlandish things, like we're going to, in Syria, bomb the whatever out of them. I mean, one has to wonder.
LANDLERWell, you know, the thing about Donald Trump on this topic, as on many others, is that there's been a lot of contradictory signals. He's talked about avoiding the mistakes of George W. Bush in Iraq. He's talked about, as you say, bombing ISIS into oblivion. He's also, at one point in a Republican debate, talked about deploying 20,000 to 30,000 American ground troops, because he'd been told by the generals, that was a possible successful strategy. So there's a great deal of uncertainty about what the ground truth of his strategy is going to be.
LANDLERBut that, to me, is almost as important as what Mattis' experience is. Mattis will be a persuasive voice. He won't be the only voice that the president listens to on this.
LAKSHMANANYeah. Mark's absolutely right. And particularly on the point that Trump has been so contradictory. While he did make the comment about potentially putting U.S. troops on the ground to fight ISIS, more recently he has said the opposite, that he would never put U.S. troops on the ground. So in some ways, it's almost as if he's most influenced by who he last spoke to who impresses him as knowing a lot of things. You're going to have two generals -- one in the cabinet, one right there whispering in his ear in the White House as national security adviser, both of whom have a very strong view against Islamic State, both of whom have a very full-on view. But is going to be perhaps modulated by whoever he chooses as secretary of state.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, look, I think it remains to be seen. It's been hard for the Obama administration to deal with it. I don't know that it's going to be any easier for the Trump administration to do better.
REHMAnd one of the people, apparently, Trump has spoken with recently is Russian President Vladimir Putin. At first, we were told that Putin had spoken with people around Trump. Now Putin is saying he has spoken directly to Trump. What's that conversation perhaps been like, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAWell, I would imagine, just first of all, on the face of it, based on all the things that Trump had said during the election campaign, that it would have been a very friendly conversation. And from Putin's point of view, a very constructive conversation with Putin. Hillary is out of the way. We all know that the Russians were not particularly looking forward to having Hillary as the president. Obama is about to get out of the way in a couple of months. We know that the Russians, you know, for all the talks with John Kerry over Syria, they have not been feeling very easy about the Obama administration.
FOUKARAWith Trump, at least up to this point in time, they seem to feel that they can work with him in the same way that he'd said that he can work with them over many issues, including Syria and the Middle East at large. If I may just say, very quickly, about Mattis and Trump, it also depends on how much slack Trump will actually cut Mattis to deal with things that are happening outside the United States, given Trump's interest in dealing, at least according to what he says, with things happening in the United States.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And here's a caller in Richmond, Va. David, you're on the air.
DAVIDHi, Diane. First time caller, a long-time listener. I wanted to ask about the -- one of the panelists said something about the Russian position being only either to prop up Bashar al-Assad or to fight terrorism. And it was sort of presented as if they were mutually exclusive plans. But sort of what I see is like a two-prong, like a two-step approach to Syria, wherein they would like to end the civil war, quell terrorism, to then ensure the integrity of the Syrian state and possible transition Assad out of power. But I don't think they're exclusive. I think they kind of have to go one after the other. And so I just wanted to see what the panelists thought about, you know, presenting that as like mutually -- of those as mutually exclusive objective in Syria by Russia.
REHMI don't think that's what either you, Mark, or you, Indira, intended.
LANDLERNo, not at all. I mean, I guess the point I would make is that the Russians have a couple of priorities that I think, in some cases, are complementary. They've got -- they have a very big strategic stake in Syria. And Assad has been a client of theirs. So there is a strategic stake there in preserving the sovereignty integrity of that regime. And then they have a very major stake in fighting the Islamic State, as does the United States and its partners. So I don't see this as an either/or. They happen to be happening in the same theater. So they're sometimes presented as being, you know, a question of priorities. But they're both, you know, I would argue they're both extremely important to the Russians.
LAKSHMANANYes, that's right. I think the Russians are trying to do both at the same time. And so far, they've been successful in doing both at the same time. The either/or is that the United States says that some of the rebels are terrorists and others of the rebels are not. Some of the rebels, remember, are being backed by the CIA. And the Russians say, no. There's no either/or. That anyone who's a rebel against Assad, they're all terrorists. Which is the same line that Assad himself has taken.
FOUKARAA couple of days ago, Madeleine Albright, who as we all know was secretary of state for Bill Clinton, Stephen Hadley, who was national security adviser in the second Bush administration, one Democrat, one Republican, they launched a bipartisan taskforce for Middle East strategy. And one of the things that the study touched upon is the issue of Bashar al-Assad. And both of them said that they see Bashar al-Assad as a source of terrorism, rather than as a potential ally in the fight against terrorism as far as the United States is concerned.
FOUKARAAnd therefore, from that point of view, there's not going to be -- if the Trump administration does adopt that point of view -- there's not going to be a lot of agreement with the Russians. Because the Russians do see supporting Bashar al-Assad and fighting terrorism in Syria and throughout the Middle East as one and the same.
REHMAbderrahim Foukara, he's Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera. Indira Lakshmanan, foreign policy columnist for The Boston Globe, a contributor to Politico magazine, Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York times. He's the author of "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power." Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday news roundup, This week with Indira Lakshmanan, Mark Landler and Abderrahim Foukara. Let's go right back to the phones, to Hussan, you're on the air.
HUSSANHi Diane, I have a question with -- regarding choose General James Mattis for secretary of Defense.
HUSSANIs -- I know that there is a precedent for doing that. Can you talk about the implications of changing the law to allow him to serve as secretary of state?
LANDLERWell, I think first of all, what we're talking about is granting a waiver. So you're not abrogating the law. You're basically granting him a waiver. And I think that -- I think the important point you're raising, which is a very valid one, is whether it's wise to have not just a general but one who's very recently been in uniform running the Pentagon or for that matter any of the other civilian national security jobs. And given that we have another general designate as national security advisor and a candidate for secretary of state who is also a general, I think there's this real question about whether one thing you lose is civilian control and secondly whether there'll be an over-militarization of our foreign policy.
LANDLERAnd by that I don't necessarily mean that we will pull the military lever more than we should. Generals have a very sort of mixed record, actually, on the use of force. If you look at the Obama administration as a precedent, General Petraeus and General McChrystal were rather aggressive about deploying a large number of troops into Afghanistan in the early years of the administration. In some of the later debates over military force, General Dempsey and Admiral Mullen were actually somewhat -- much more restrained, whether it was getting involve in the Libya Arab Spring revolt or later getting involved militarily with the no-fly zone in Syria.
LANDLERThe Pentagon in both of this cases took a much more restrained, cautious approach. So generals don't automatically equal putting us into war, but what they do is they do think about foreign policy problems from a military perspective, as opposed to diplomatic or a development perspective. And I think the valid question here is whether the president will get the variety of opinions he needs for tackling foreign policy problems or whether everything will be seen through the prism of the military.
LAKSHMANANAnd just being in charge of the Pentagon doesn't mean that you necessarily see things from a military or through a military prism because remember Bob Gates, who was a defense -- civilian defense secretary both for Republican and Democrat presidents, formed this real alliance with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state where his push was, hey, we're being asked to do all these things that the secretary of state's department should be doing, like, you know, building wells, doing development work, all these provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan.
LAKSHMANANHe said that's not our role, and he begged Congress to give more money to the State Department budget with Hillary Clinton sitting next to him. He said this is ridiculous, you keep throwing money at us at the Pentagon when we don't need more money, when it's really the State Department that needs more money to do development. I mean on - on Trump's predilection for generals, I would just say Trump clearly leans macho. He loves macho guys, and we know this, you know, his admiration he has for Putin, you know, he likes guys who ride bareback shirtless.
LAKSHMANANSo, you know, this is -- he even announced General Mattis', you know, naming by referring to him as Mad Dog Mattis. He didn't even say General James Mattis, and Mad Dog is apparently a nickname that General Mattis himself does not overly love.
REHMDoes not like, yeah.
LAKSHMANANAnd as Abderrahim was reminding us, that was the name that Ronald Reagan used for Gaddafi. He said he was the mad dog of the Middle East. So it's not necessarily complimentary, but I think that Trump himself sees it as colorful, which by the way is the same word that Putin used in Russian to describe Trump during the campaign, and a lot of people translated it as bright, but it's not actually what Putin said. Putin said colorful.
FOUKARAI mean, he also referred to him or compared him to General Patton.
REHMExactly, he made that comparison.
FOUKARAYes, he made that comparison.
FOUKARAYeah, in terms of the strength but also in terms of Patton's vision, vision of war. But I think at the end of the day, things will become clearer when the chips are down, the chips are down in a place like Syria, for example, whether he is close, whether Mattis is close to Trump's vision or not. You know, situation like Syria, the issue of toppling Bashar al-Assad is obviously not going to be on the agenda for Trump, but actually letting the Russians prop him up completely is going to cause problems for the United States with the Saudis as just one example because the Saudis feel that if Bashar is propped up, then that gives the Iranians further influence in the Saudi neighborhood.
REHMWhat a complicated world we live in.
LANDLERWell, and the only other point I'd make is that there are other personalities we're going to have to pay attention to who may be important. The Vice President-elect Mike Pence has been apparently very conscientiously getting every intel briefing that he can and reading through papers and trying to get up to speed on these issues. I think...
LANDLERPresident-elect Trump apparently is doing a little less of that.
LANDLERNot taking the intel community up on its offer of briefings, not reading as much.
REHMWell how do you -- how do you reconcile that with an election when the people of America have, with the Electoral College on the 19th of December, elected him president? How can he not view these intelligence briefings? Does he not consider them important?
LANDLERWell, I can't get inside his head, and I wouldn't want to venture a guess, but I do think -- I mean, the argument the Trump transition people have made is look, he's meeting with 10, 15 people a day, his day's already 12 hours long, there'll be time for intelligence briefings when he gets through this intense period of putting a Cabinet together.
REHMBut shouldn't he be examining those as he makes his choices?
LANDLERAbsolutely, and I think that his unwillingness so far to do that has been revealed in some of these rather bizarre telephone calls he's had with foreign leaders. If you look at the one he had with the Pakistani prime minister, he managed to upset a decade of diplomacy in South Asia with a friendly, you know, two-, three-minute phone call. He also lavished praise on the president of Kazakhstan, who is a communist strongman, who was re-elected in his last election with 97.7 percent of the vote, and President-elect Trump told the man that his performance was a miracle.
LANDLERSo, you know, you have a president who's winging it. He's a seat-of-his-pants kind of player. He's going to continue to be that. He's clearly not changing his stripes just because he's gotten the job. And I think for the -- you know, for the folks who wear pinstripes at the State Department, every day is a new adventure when they see what this guy's conversations are with foreign leaders, conversations, by the way, that it appears that the State Department has had no role in preparing him for, either in talking points or background.
LANDLERSo it truly -- we are in an uncharted territory.
LAKSHMANANIt's stunning, really. I mean, you know, as it is, State Department foreign service officers complain bitterly about certain secretaries of state not reading their briefing books enough. Hillary Clinton was well-known to have inhaled, basically memorized photographically every word in her briefing book. Her -- the current Secretary of State John Kerry is much more of a seat-of-his-pants guy, doesn't read every single word of the briefing book. But this is unprecedented that Donald Trump is not even asking for the briefing book, much less opening it up to read it.
LAKSHMANANAnd the Pakistani call was a really interesting one because the Pakistani government did something which is not normal to do, which is they released a verbatim transcript, or least a supposedly verbatim transcript of the conversation that the Trump campaign has not disputed. And what's so striking about is honestly how shallow it was, that Trump basically just said you're the greatest leader ever, you're fantastic, Pakistan is a fantastic country, I can't wait to come there, it's beautiful, you're beautiful, it's all beautiful. It was crazy.
LAKSHMANANYou know, this is the same man who during the campaign criticized Pakistan so much. Now of course once you're elected president, much better that you should be friendly with Pakistan, but there was no substance in the conversation. That's my point. It was just a bunch of superlatives, and, you know...
REHMTo go now to Pat in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, you're on the air.
PATThank you for all you do. You're a treasure.
PATThere's been so much talk about Mr. Trump building a wall between his business and complex, but what about all of his properties should al-Qaeda or ISIS decide to have an attack against his, you know, one of his hotels in Istanbul? What would that do -- how would that complicate both his business and international situation in terms of a crisis when his business and presidency would then be so intertwined?
LANDLERWell, I think it's an extremely important question. It's one that we've tried to explore in our newspaper in the past couple of weeks, and it sort of cuts both ways. One is what is the threat that these Trump-branded properties pose. And we should note, by the way, that he doesn't necessarily own a lot of these buildings. He sort of...
REHMBut his name is on it.
LANDLERHis brand name, he licenses his name, so there are local developers in each of these countries that have poured tens or hundreds of millions of dollars into projects that you could argue now are big, fat targets for terrorists. So that's one issue. But secondly the fact that he has all these business arrangements in these countries then raises a whole range of questions about whether U.S. policy will be influenced, whether he might give countries preferential treatment or give certain players within countries preferential treatment or not do certain things because he would harm interests and relationships he has in these countries.
LANDLERSo there are -- and it goes across the globe, from The Philippines to India to Latin America to Turkey, and nothing he said so far suggests he's willing to sever those ties to the extent he would need to to avoid these issues.
FOUKARAI mean, I would only add that in the specific case of Turkey, for example because Turkey is so close to the line of fire in the Middle East, should there be an attack on one of these properties in Turkey, then yes, obviously that's going to open a can of worms. Will the United States be defending United States' property, or will it be defending the property of the individual called Donald Trump, especially if there's loss of life while defending that property on the part of the United States, if Turks or Americans get killed.
FOUKARABut look, I find it amazing that we as media did not go to the lengths we are going to now to discuss these things during the election campaign, and I listened to your first hour, and it -- it's really a fascinating situation because it seems to me that even if we had tackled these things and covered them amply during the election campaign, the people who decided to vote for him, there's nothing, it seems, that would have made them change their mind about voting for him.
REHMBack again to the question of facts and whether certain media have certain facts, and other media have other facts and whether people believe what they choose to believe, and that's where we are, Mark.
LANDLERNo, it is, and, you know, Abderrahim is right. I think this question of his web of international business connections was under-explored. I don't think, however, that the question of him not paying federal income taxes for more than a decade was under-explored. That was on the front page of our newspaper. And it's worth noting that at the Harvard symposium yesterday, where the campaign teams of Trump and Clinton met to sort of do a post-mortem on the campaign and why Trump won and Hillary lost that Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for Trump, suggested that the editor of the New York Times should be jailed for having run the article on Donald Trump's taxes, an amazing assertion.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And even with the election over, at the Carrier plant yesterday when he mentioned Hillary Clinton, his opponent in the election, lock her up was the chant.
LAKSHMANANPeople shouted from the audience lock her up, even though Donald Trump himself has backed off from saying that he would do that. But the animus is not done, and as Mark said, at the Kennedy School at Harvard yesterday, there were -- you know, there was a lot of bad blood between the campaign managers and top aides for Clinton and -- and Trump, where Clinton's people were saying, you know, you trafficked in hate, and you leveraged bigotry, and you knew what you were doing.
REHMYou heard that?
LAKSHMANANAnd Kellyanne Conway -- yeah.
LANDLEROh yeah, no, I mean, it was extremely bitter, and Jen Palmieri, who was the communications director for Clinton, said at one point -- I want to say I'm paraphrasing here, but the quote was I would rather have lost than won using the tactics that you, the Trump campaign used.
REHMInteresting. All right, let's talk about Fidel Castro, whose ashes are now traveling across the country to -- on a four-day journey across Cuba.
FOUKARAYes, so the leader maximo, as they call him in Cuba, or the (unintelligible) or whatever they call him there, is finally gone, after a period of -- long period of uncertainty as to his fate. Was he actually dead, was he not, what his state of health was, what it was not.
REHMDo we know how he died?
FOUKARAWe don't know how he died. So basically his brother Raul, who's been in charge, came out, and he said Castro is gone, and his wish was to be cremated. And in the world of politics, these are very important symbolic issues, whether you choose to be cremated or to be buried or -- especially given Cuba's or the regime's relationship with Catholicism in Cuba, the fact that he chose, according to Raul, to be cremated is definitely something to be cremated.
FOUKARABut no matter, the fact is that a lot of Cubans in Cuba are basically mourning the passing of Castro as someone who's led them ironically through 60 years of hardship, the hardship imposed by the embargo. But it was also very significant that on the other side of the waters, in Miami, there was jubilation that Castro is gone.
FOUKARAAnd that the Castro era is gone.
LAKSHMANANWell, I've been to Cuba many times, and plenty of Cubans in Cuba were not mourning Fidel's passing. And it's fair to say -- I mean, Fidel has been out of power for 10 years. He handed over the presidency to his brother in 2006, and, you know, basically it's already been in Raul Castro's hands. And part of what he's been doing is trying to privatize the economy.
LAKSHMANANI don't think we can say that there's going to be a sudden change between before Fidel's death and after in the sense that Raul has already been running the show for a decade, but the human rights abuses will not be missed, and -- but I think that the Castro regime remains, even with Fidel gone.
REHMWhat about the Trump regime's reaction to Castro and Cuba?
LANDLERWell Donald Trump issued an extremely toughly worded description of sort of good riddance to Fidel Castro, and he's also said that he would revisit President Obama's diplomatic opening to Cuba. And so I think one of the things you'll see the Obama administration try to do in its final weeks is to sew up that deal as tightly as it can so that it won't be reversed, or it'll be much more difficult to reverse by the new president.
REHMMark Landler, Indira Lakshmanan, Abderrahim Foukara, thank you all so much, and we've been talking about the Trump transition. I talked with Jane Mayer earlier this week. You can hear that conversation on our website. Go to drshow.org, and click on blog. Thanks for listening, everybody, I'm Diane Rehm.
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