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.
President Obama promises retaliation against Russia over cyberattacks during the U.S. election. White House officials suggest Vladimir Putin was personally involved with the hacks while Donald Trump brushes off accusations of Russian interference. Renewed violence halts the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo. Putin calls for peace talks to end the war in Syria. Satellite images reveal China has installed weapons systems on contested islands in the South China Sea. And fallout continues over Donald Trump’s questioning of the “One China” policy.
- Yochi Dreazen Foreign editor, Vox; author, "The Invisible Front"
- Elise Labott Global affairs correspondent, CNN
- Shane Harris Senior writer, The Wall Street Journal; 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"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I’m Diane Rehm. President Obama says the U.S. will take action in response to Russian hacking and attempts to interfere with U.S. elections. The evacuation of eastern Aleppo is suspended after violence resumes and Beijing expresses serious concern over President-elect Trump's questioning of America's long-standing One China Policy. Here for this week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Yochi Dreazen of Vox News, Elise Labott of CNN and Shane Harris of The Wall Street Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are, of course, as always, welcome to join us. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MR. SHANE HARRISGood morning, Diane.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Diane.
MS. ELISE LABOTTHi, Diane. Thank you.
REHMShane, tell us about these mixed reports we're getting out of Syria as the refugees try to leave.
HARRISRight. It seems like it's sort of on again, off again in terms of the evacuation and there have reports of people firing on these convoys of people who were trying to leave and to get out of Aleppo, which has been besieged, the eastern part of Aleppo, specifically, which has been the sight of just so much bombing and carnage in recent days. Both sides, sort of the rebels and the government are blaming each other for that. Humanitarian aid workers have been told to pull out. It's not exactly clear why that is the case.
HARRISThey're expressing a bit of -- perplexed by that. But it's a pretty dire situation right now. And what needs to happen, obviously, from the U.S. perspective is to get these people out, to continue with this evacuation. So hopefully, we'll hear more on that very soon.
REHMDo we know how many people have been evacuated, Elise?
LABOTTWell, it's about 1,000 so far, we think. But again, the numbers are fluctuating wildly. About 250,000 people are stuck inside and then about 50,000 have already fled. So they're displaced, most of them inside Syria still, some of them have fled to neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey. But the reason, I think, that this is going so slow and it's so tenuous is because we've talked on the show in recent weeks about how the fear was, was that as these refugees left, as some of the opposition and the rebels left that the Russians would engage in a kind of scorched earth policy like they did in Grozny and the War in Chechnya when they said it was safe for people to leave.
LABOTTThey opened up the safe kind of humanitarian corridors and then they killed them as they were leaving. And so people are really -- there's so many wounded. The humanitarian situation is so dire, Diane, but these people are afraid to leave because as much of a hell inside Aleppo, they're afraid what lies beneath the borders.
DREAZENI think that -- two things worth mentioning. I agree with Elise's last point. One, for all the language that Western leaders, including Samantha Power, use about condemning this, I mean, the language itself is, how can you do this, you barbarians? Don't you have any shame left? The world has done nothing. And the reason why Aleppo is falling is because Assad and the Russians first besieged it, even though that's illegal under the laws of war, and then indiscriminately bombed it, including systematically destroying the hospitals, killing doctors. The last OB/GYN died, even though there are obviously pregnant women still in the city.
DREAZENAnd they wiped out the medical infrastructure. They barred food. They barred water. They barred sewage. So you've seen something on a scale that will look like Stalingrad, once you have people finally get into the city. And whatever the death toll is that we think is in the city, it will end up being exponentially higher. That's true of every conflict, once people can get in and count. Another very scary part of the evacuation is even in a best-case scenario, where many civilians make it out and are not shot on the way out, and best-case scenarios with Syria are all depressing, they'll be sent to the city of Idlib, excuse me, I-D-L-I-B.
DREAZENThe reason they're being sent there is that that city in that region is ringed by mountains. They'll be in one place. They will literally be in a single location where Russian aircraft can bomb them endlessly because there's nothing -- once they're there for there's no way for them to leave. So it's a hell in the city. The routes out are hellish. And where they're going may soon be hellish.
REHMWhy is the Syrian government providing these buses? Is it all for show?
HARRISIt sure seems that way, looking, frankly, from the outside that it is. And Yochi's absolutely right in the fact that the international community has sort of stood by and condemned this Russian bombing, indiscriminate attacking of civilians. At this point, it's no wonder why so many people are, in fact, afraid to leave. How can they trust that they're going to someplace that is any better. And we should also say, too, that these rebel groups are not necessarily going to stand down here. I mean, there's a high expectation that there could be guerrilla conflict that's going on.
HARRISThe Syrian government believes that the rebels will relocate to Idlib and try and make -- maybe even try and make another stand there. So we have not seen the end of this, which is almost unfathomable to think, I mean, how awful this situation has been to imagine that this is not the end. It's just -- it's so incredibly profoundly sad.
LABOTTAnd, I mean, as we talk about that this is not the end and they're moving to Idlib, first of all, Assad was very clear. This is just the beginning. He's comparing this an historical, you know, proportions to what's happened right now and saying this is, you know, just the first way that we're gonna kind of liberate the whole country from terrorists. And as these people are moving to Idlib, which is, you know, going to be, obviously, one of the next, you know, battles, the Syrian civilians are kind of pawns in this shifting regional dynamics, right, where support for the opposition is waning.
LABOTTCertainly, Donald Trump has said that he, as president, would, you know, make some kind of deal with the Russians and that includes, you know, leave -- it does include leaving Assad in power, if you look at what they're talking about and ending support for the opposition. And then, you have Turkey who, you know, now that they have that rapprochement with Russia, is also kind of, you know, and their concerns about the Kurds, their support for the hardcore rebel opposition that has been fighting Assad is also waning.
LABOTTAnd I think that the international community in some ways, while they do want to end the bloodshed and the suffering of these people, they're also coming along to the recognition that Syria is winning. Assad is winning. And if there is going to be a way to end this war, it's going to have to be a surrender of the opposition.
DREAZENI think it's also the case that Vladimir Putin has won. I mean, Bashar al-Assad is going to stay in power. When the Obama legacy is written, there's no question this will be the biggest black mark on it. I mean, the number of dead in Syria, whether it's 500,000, a million, a million and a half, it's so beyond comprehension. And when the Russians started to bomb, it's important to remember what the U.S. said. First, they said, we won't do anything. Then, they said it will be a quagmire and Russia will be stuck there.
DREAZENThen, they said they'll start to lose people and money for no reason. That was false on every front. They accomplished their goals with almost no deaths. Bashar al-Assad will stay in power. The obvious counterpoint is, well, that's because the Russians indiscriminately barrel-bombed civilians and the U.S. would never do that. The Russians won.
REHMLet's close this part of our discussion by hearing Samantha Power. As she spoke, I guess we have that ready or perhaps not. All right. We'll hear that a little later. You really believe Russia has won in this whole issue.
DREAZENI do. Not just because they have shown that they will go to, literally, to war to keep their allies in power, but they have also shown that the U.S. won't. For all the talk that Russia policy under Donald Trump will be softer, that the U.S. will move away from trying to confront him, that they'll be much friendlier to Vladimir Putin, it's also worth remember that for all that Obama did sanctions wise, for all Obama did rhetorically, when it came to Syria, he did not stand up to him.
REHMAll right. Let's hear Samantha Power.
MS. SAMANTHA POWERAre you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?
REHMSyrians or Russians both.
LABOTTOr Russians and also the Iranians who have been helping them, you know, Bashar al-Assad wage this battle. And you know, Samantha Power has really been the kind of voice of humanity in the security council. But, you know, going back to what Yochi is saying, you know, it's -- you have to have more than just rhetoric. You have to have action behind your words. And yes, Russia and Syria and Iran have shown, you know, an unprecedented level of barbarism in this conflict, but the inaction of the United States particularly, but also, you know, largely the rest of the international...
REHMWhat could the United States have done?
HARRISWell, the critics of the Obama administration policy listed they could've armed the Syrian rebels sooner. They could have stood up and enforced the so-called red line that Obama promised that he would not allow the Syrians to cross when he used chemical weapons in his civilian population. These are all maybe could have, should have, would have. And Yochi's right, that when the history is written and I think there will be a black mark on the administration, those questions, those decisions will come under tremendous scrutiny. They already are.
HARRISIt's worth noting, too, that after Samantha Power's remarks, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations sort of gave it back to her and said, where were you when these things were happening? Where were you standing up to these atrocities? Which was pretty rich, but it's something that a lot of critics of the Obama administration will say is it's fine to sit there and lecture the inhumanity of the Russians, but at the same time, where were we, why didn't we do more?
LABOTTJust something very short. If you listened to President-elect Trump last night, he talked -- something he said on the campaign trail about safe zones. That he's going to create this -- suffering is unbelievable and he's going to create safe zones in Iraq. Now, what does safe zones mean? This is something that, you know, President Obama has been under pressure to do for, you know, several years. A safe zone, in effect, is a no-fly zone where you have Syrian civilians going into an area and there's an agreement that there's not going to be any bombing of that area.
LABOTTWho would need to agree to that? The Syrians and the Russians who are bombing them. And if they don't, if they go over, are you going to shoot a Russian plane down? I don't think President Trump is going to do that.
REHMElise Labott of CNN. Short break here. Your comments, your questions when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. A number of our listeners are asking us about Donald Trump's appointment of the new ambassador to Israel. Yochi, tell us who he is and why there is such controversy about him?
DREAZENSo, first, like so many of Donald Trump's picks, he's somebody who has absolutely no experience whatsoever in government. He's a bankruptcy lawyer who has never served in government, certainly never served in the State Department, and certainly never done anything quite as delicate as being ambassador to a place as explosive as Israel. He is somebody who praises settlements. He is somebody who says that the idea of a two-state solution, which has been the U.S. policy, Republican and Democrat, for decades, should be thrown out the window. He's accused the State Department, so the place he will work, of being institutionally anti-Semitic.
DREAZENAnd I think most strikingly -- and I say this now on a personal level as well as a professional one -- most repugnant to me hearing it, is to compare those who favor a two-state solution, more specifically J Street, which is a left-of-center pro-Israel advocacy group to Kapos. And to say that other Jews are equivalent or worse than Jews who helped Nazis commit the Holocaust is so beyond the pale that it, to my mind, dwarfs anything else that he has said or might do in office.
DREAZENIt is worth noting that if Rex Tillerson is confirmed to secretary of state -- Rex Tillerson having run Exxon Mobil, spent more time in the Arab world than probably any U.S. leader in decades -- so it's not clear to me that if you have this insanely hawkish, pro-Israel ambassador working for a secretary of state who himself is very likely empathetic to Arab leaders, having worked with them for so long, that dynamic will be fascinating to watch.
REHMWho would have recommended him as ambassador to Israel?
DREAZENThere's a lot of presumption that Jared Kushner or the Kushner family, who have themselves donated to groups which donate to things in the West Bank...
REHMAnd that's his son-in-law.
DREAZEN...his son-in-law, who's going to have a White House job.
LABOTTAnd also Sheldon Adelson, who is one of Netanyahu's biggest bankers. He's basically bankrolling this Israeli newspaper that a lot of people see as kind of a propaganda arm for Benjamin Netanyahu. When I was in Israel, that was just coming up. And also, he was one of Trump's Israel advisers during the campaign. So there was wide expectation that, you know, even that he would be a kind of peace envoy or ambassador to Israel. We understand that maybe Kusher, Jared Kushner would take some kind of role.
LABOTTYou know, Donald Trump is also saying that he would like to, you know, take a stab at negotiating Mid-East peace. He sees this as a, you know, deal, a little bit less complex than some of the Syria conflicts, which are more sectarian. He thinks that this might be something he could sink his teeth into. Jared Kushner is expected to take a role in that. But the question is, with an appointment of someone like David Friedman -- who would be interested in helping Israel continue the settlements, to, you know, take a much more sympathetic line towards Israel -- is the idea of a two-state solution dead? Is the idea of Mid-East peace dead?
LABOTTAnd if you look at what's going on in the region, Israel has better relations with Saudi Arabia, with some of the other Gulf States, because of the threat posed by Iran. It's really not the number one issue that you hear from Arab leaders anymore. Of course, the danger is that, you know, with a situation like Friedman there, you know, not being there to check what Israel is doing on settlements or, you know, things like that, that there could be an eruption in the Palestinian territories, which could cause the issue to come back on the front burner. Friedman has also talked about, you know, in his statement last night, he said, I look forward to serving the American interests in Israel from the embassy in the eternal capital of Jerusalem.
HARRISRight. Which was just such an extraordinary thing to say, and send sort of all of the signals that he wants to send in one sentence. Of course, the United States has its embassy in Tel Aviv and does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It's a disputed...
REHMBut with President Donald Trump in there...
HARRISHe might just decide that that's the new policy, and he says so. I mean, the Friedman appointment, I think, also signals -- it's part of a pattern of Donald Trump picking people who do not have, as Yochi said, foreign policy and government expertise. I read that as saying that he does not affirmatively value that experience and expertise. I think he might look at Friedman as somebody who can go in there, do things differently, because he looks at the history of Middle East peace experts, let's say, and says, well, no one's been able to do it before. So let's try something radically different.
HARRISWe're going to engage in a very big experiment in governance in the next four years. And this kind of philosophy of how Trump is picking people is going to be tested.
REHMI want to ask you all about the issue of alleged Russian hacking into the -- not only the DNC but with the entire election process. There are many people who are saying liberals just need to get over it. Hillary lost and that's all there is to it. And yet there are these ongoing questions. How much evidence is there and what is the evidence that Russia may have played a role in defeating Hillary Clinton?
HARRISRight. So the evidence that we've seen -- and I think it's compelling and persuasive -- let's put it in sort it in two categories. There's what the government has come out and said in an extraordinary, rare, joint statement of all the intelligence agencies in October, where they came out and said, we believe this was directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. More so, we believe that it was done to interfere, their word, with the U.S. election process. It is highly unusual even in private for intelligence agencies to try and say it was done by this person for this reason. Imputing motive to someone is something intelligence agencies are reluctant to do. So they believe the evidence is strong.
HARRISSecondly, we've seen independent computer experts come out, examine the intrusions on the networks at these places, look at the malware that was used, and essentially kind of do a, you know, a CSI if you like, a digital forensic study, and said these are the same techniques, the same kinds of malware, the same kinds of patterns, the same trade craft that we've seen from Russian actor groups that have been positively linked to other break-ins at the State Department, at the White House, at the Defense Department, going back many, many years. So the evidence I think is, from the point of view of the intelligence community and security experts, pretty overwhelming.
HARRISIt's a hard case to make, however, to skeptics of that, when you can't show it to them. When you can't put it up on the website and say go look at it for yourself, just take my word for it. And that's where Donald Trump has come out and said, how can we trust this? These are the same people who screwed up on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He's, you know, obviously going right to that skepticism that is at the heart of people's concerns about whether this is real, accurate information.
LABOTTOkay. And there's the hacking, the Russian, you know, what they see is. They don't have, you know, Vladimir Putin's fingerprints on it. But they do have -- these are sophisticated hacking tools that only the top levels of the government are using. And so they believe that that's why they're assigning, you know, his involvement. I think what Donald Trump is, you know, out of sorts about is that this all plays in to the idea that he didn't win the election fair and square. Clearly, the Democrats are claiming that. But the intelligence community has never claimed that he did not win the election. You know, if you heard election officials during the whole campaign, they said, no. Donald -- Russia would never be able to influence the election.
LABOTTSo, you know, I think it's an unknowable, whether any of this affected Hillary Clinton's chances. You heard John Podesta the other day blaming the FBI. At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton's email, her decision to use the email server, is different than Russian hacking and all of that. And I think that's all being conflated. I think, if this was not about the ideal of Donald Trump's legitimacy, he might be more amenable to looking at what Russia did or didn't do as an issue in terms of a U.S. cyber policy.
LABOTTBut because it's so conflated with the election, I think that's why he has a little bit of blinders on in terms of whether the intelligence is good or bad. And it's picking a fight with the intelligence community that's going to need to advise him on some of these monumental national security issues.
DREAZENSo I have to disagree fairly strongly with my friend Elise on much of that. I think that comparing this to Hillary's server is -- it's just comical, the difference in importance, one has the other. You know, Hillary's email server was a terrible error in judgment that showed that her defensiveness, her personality flaws. This, by many measures, is an act of war. This is something unprecedented in the history of the United States. And so when we talk about conflating the two...
LABOTTI just said that's not why she -- that the Democrats were saying that Russian hacking is the reason that she didn't win.
DREAZENRight. But, to me, the bigger issue is that actually Democrats are not saying that. There's been pressure, including from left-wing columnist Michael Tomasky (sp?) , who's very persuasive, that what you would need is Democrats to say that. That Hillary Clinton, because she was trying to be graceful, that Barack Obama, because he doesn't want to appear partisan, did not say this before the election. So you don't have prominent Democrats, you don't have Hillary, you don't have John Podesta, you don't have Barack Obama, you don't have Joe Biden. The leaders of the party have not said this influenced it. They have not said this questions his legitimacy. They've gone way to the other extreme.
DREAZENAnd there's also the substantive difference. The FBI intervened in an unprecedented way before the election. This was known by the president in October. The president did not say a word about Russian influence that could have impacted the election because he didn't want to appear like he was shaping the outcome. So if anything, what Democrats will likely say going forward is, we should have said more, we Democrats. The White House should have said more. And by not saying it, they enabled this hack to have much more impact than it otherwise might have had.
HARRISI agree with Elise and that it's unknowable whether this actually had an outcome on the election. The important thing now, though, for policymakers -- and Donald Trump is going to have this question land squarely in his lap -- is what do you do for the next election? Because the Russians will do this again. This is not the first time that they've done this. They have done this in European elections. They have been behind fake websites across Europe.
HARRISThe EU did a big study on this last year. The Obama administration has done a classified assessment of Russian influence in foreign elections. You've seen already, in the past couple of weeks, the Germans and the British coming out and warning their security services, warning it's happening here too. It's not been getting a lot of attention, but there is sort of a German version of the DNC WikiLeaks scandal going on right now. This is the Russian playbook.
REHMWhat about congressional elections? There were questions raised there.
DREAZENYou had Democratic candidates' information leaked there too, in individual races in the House. Races that were competitive where some of the Democrats were sort of stunned that they would have had, you know, that their stuff would have been seen as so important to Russia that it had been leaked as well. Some of the stuff that was leaked, interestingly, was internal Democratic files about Democrats. So typically, when a Democrat's running for office, or a Republican for that matter, their own party will do an assessment of their possible vulnerabilities. That's what was leaked.
DREAZENSo, often, this wasn't that they hacked the Republicans or even the candidate themselves. They hacked the Democratic Party files on their own candidates, which identified that person's weaknesses, then leaked them out. In a couple of cases, the Democratic candidates basically pleaded with their Republican opponents not to make use of it and basically said, you know, appealed to their patriotism. That didn't work. In one case, it did. But the Democrat still lost.
HARRISOh, sorry. Go, Elise, ahead.
LABOTTNo, go ahead.
HARRISThere's something I was just going to say, a really fast thing about this and the nuance with which these things were leaked. The Russian government has not traditionally been understood, or at least not Vladimir Putin, to have a very specific, kind of deep understanding of how our politics work. It's actually sort of leading investigators in this privately to question whether there was somebody helping interpret the way our system works and saying, these are the people you need to leak on. These are the people that you need to go target.
HARRISWe focus on the DNC and the Clinton campaign. There were state level operatives that were targeted on this. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was targeted. It was a very sophisticated operation. Either someone was helping the Russians or they have gone to school really quickly on how our politics work.
REHMShane Harris of The Wall Street Journal. He's the author of "At War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And here's a tweet which says, for all the criticism of Obama's Syria policy, I haven't heard anyone give effective action that would not have resulted in war with Russia.
LABOTTWell, the thing is, last year -- last September when the Russians went in, it was over. The question is what could have President Obama done up until that point? And that would have been, building up the Syrian opposition, which was difficult because, you know, they didn't have their act together either and they weren't united. They were very divided. That could have been aiding the opposition with more arms, training them better, some kind of no-fly zone at the time. And as Yochi was saying earlier, you know, this kept snowballing.
LABOTTThe longer the inaction continued, the more that gave Russia leverage on the ground. And by the time that it was so dire and the Russian bombing campaign intensified, there was nothing that the U.S. could do because that most certainly would have been going to war with Russia. But there are very -- several points along the last five years where action by President Obama, a smaller action, would have precluded him having to get involved in an air war with Russia right now.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones here to Hammed in Arlington, Va. You're on the air.
HAMMADGood morning, Diane.
HAMMADThank you for educating us for the last 20 years that you've been on this radio. I've been learning a lot of stuff and mannerism and how you approach all the questions. Thank you for everything you do for us. I grew up with your radio station, so I want to say that first, so out of the way.
HAMMADI just want to say, I think one of the guests said it clearly, as a president of the United States, when you say something, Diane, it means what you say, it has to deliver. When the President Obama says that there's a red line and he did not deliver that red line, Russia knew that they can play games with the Barack Obama. I'm not going to only blame Barack Obama. I'm also blame John Kerry. He's been traveling one place to another place with the Russian, making deals they do not deliver. They bide their time. They make sure that they're going to do what they need to do. And most of all, one of the guests say clearly, Russia did win. Syria President Bashar Assad, he is feeling his victories today.
HAMMADAnd I am so angry with -- right now with the President Obama saying right now, we're going to do something about, they attack us about our election. Mr. President knew everything. What can he do right now to solve the problems?
LABOTTWell, he's not going to be able to solve the problem in Syria. I mean, this is definitely going to go on to the next administration. There are a lot of questions about how he's going to go about it, whether he's going to make a deal with the Russians, how that's going to portend for the Syrian people. But he can do something before he leaves office on what he sees -- not necessarily the hacking per se or the spying or anything, you know, the espionage, because that's something that the U.S. does against Russia. But this whole idea that Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. democracy, for whatever motives that it was, tried to interfere with the U.S. electoral systems and messing with the U.S. democracy.
LABOTTAnd so there are a lot of options being considered. Some of them will be cyber and covert that we may not see. Some of them could be sanctions that he imposes as he walks out the door. Donald Trump has talked about release of -- overturning some of those sanctions when he comes into office. But there is a lot of Republican resistance to what Russia is doing right now. So President Trump would have problems with his own party if he continues to deny Russian actions in this election tampering.
HARRISMike McFaul, who was the former U.S. ambassador to Russia had a very smart observation on Twitter the other night, which was that the most powerful weapon that the president has right now is transparency. In the 30-some days that he has left, he could make the decision to declassify and disclose information about those hacks and put that out there. That's probably the best chance he has.
REHMAnd he is holding a press conference this afternoon. We will be very interested to hear what President Obama has to say. Right now, a short break. Your calls, comments, when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about many things in this hour, but let's open the phones and go to Henry in Birmingham, Alabama. You're on the air.
HENRYHello, how are you?
REHMI'm good, thanks, go right ahead, sir.
HENRYThank you for -- thank you for taking my call.
HENRYI have several observations -- several observations about Trump and a lot of the things you're saying. I find Trump's kind of a -- he started out as a populist. He didn't run as a Democrat, didn't run as a Republican, he ran as a populist, almost like Jackson would have, but he's a merchant prince. And so what his method is is more like a -- he's been called a gamer or a dealmaker. So his narrative is designed to unsettle people to strike the best deal. It's a lot like a narrative Sun-Tzu attack, using the precepts of Sun-Tzu, Sun-Tzu.
HENRYBut I'm afraid that what we've done is that we've lost the first cyberwar because the techniques that they are using in our system they first used in Syria to eliminate the opposition and track them down. Of all the Arab countries in Arab Spring that -- that failed in the revolution, Syria through its cyberattacks or cybertracking of dissidents tracked them down.
HARRISYeah, I think, well, there's a different issue there that is certainly the case, that the Syrian government did monitor dissidents through the Internet and used it to track them down. There's no indication that the Russians did that. But what the Russians did very effectively, this is generally called an information campaign or a disinformation campaign. They muddied the waters. They sowed dissent. They put out -- made it so email after email came out from Hillary Clinton, and every day there was a story about something about the Clinton Foundation or something about Hillary Clinton's corruption rather than a focus on the fact that the Russians tried to hack and subvert our election system.
HARRISThat is very, very effective. They are excellent at this. They've been doing it for decades. This is sort of Cold War-style tactics. They now brought it into the U.S. election in an unprecedented way. And in that sense in this -- if you want to call it losing a cyberwar, the extent that, you know, we, you know, were attacked by them in this way, and they achieved their objective, yeah, we lost round one here.
REHMHere's an email from John. Why should we be looking at the Russian hacks of the DNC any differently than if they physically sent spies and broke into the DNC and stole documents and then leaked them? It seems to me the reaction would be much more serious if this were a physical act of espionage, but in effect it's no different.
DREAZENI agree completely. There was a photo in the New York Times this week of the file cabinet that was broken into during the Watergate break-in.
DREAZENNext to the server that was broken into by the Russians, which really drove it home. If anything, what the Russians were able to do because it was not a physical break-in was spread this much more easily than they could have if it was. And it's something that -- you know, to Shane's point about disinformation, Vladimir Putin weaponized the American press. There will have to be, by the U.S. media, a lot of self-reflection come January, and part of it is everything once it was leaked was public, was public and was made public by the New York Times and by Vox and by the Wall Street Journal and by CNN. It lead coverage all the time, day after day after day after day after day.
DREAZENAnd the argument was, by everyone, by us, by our bosses, was its newsworthy inherently. But at some point there should have been a question of are you helping someone, some hostile group, harm an American political candidate in the heat of the election. And whatever the intent, whatever judgment calls were made, that happened.
LABOTTI'm going to disagree. I think that obviously the Russians were involved in the hacking, they were involved in the DNC. Right before the Democrats' convention, there was that whole thing about leaked emails with Donna Brazile and her, you know, trying to -- and about the debate question. There was the whole idea of how the DNC was trying to conspire against Bernie Sanders, and that was clearly controversial.
LABOTTAnd there was no -- I mean even though as we were saying, there's no fingerprints of Vladimir Putin on these hacks that show that he deliberately did it to discredit Hillary Clinton, he very well might have because there's no love lost between Donald -- between Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton. I just -- as I was saying before, and maybe I should clarify, I think that's being conflated with the, like, year and a half of emails of Hillary Clinton that were released day by day by day, and Yochi's right, the press was very involved in dissecting all of those emails.
LABOTTI think it's just -- it was kind of a snowball effect that first started with the server and all of those emails. There were, like, I don't know, 55,000, and I know because I was personally reading all of them. They were not hacked by Russia and leaked.
HARRISThe government released those.
LABOTTThe government, the State Department released those. And so by the time that the Russians were involved, and some of those emails were kind of released and hacked, I just think it was a snowball effect. This is all being conflated, and the whole idea of Russia interfering in the U.S. democracy, in the U.S. election system, and how the next president, Donald Trump, is going to deal with that I think is the question at hand. I don't necessarily know if he was able to influence the election is really...
REHMWe have a question from Chip about ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his connections to Russia, Shane.
HARRISSo this is -- this is very well-documented in a big New York Times piece over the summer that Paul Manafort did business with Viktor Yanukovych, who was the former president in Ukraine and who was ousted in the popular uprising there, an uprising it's important to note that the government in Moscow believes was stoked and fomented by the United States and by the Central Intelligence Agency, which there's no evidence of that.
HARRISBut that -- that tie between Manafort to Yanukovych and a Kremlin-friendly government is sort of, you know, amplified by other connections that Trump himself has had with business dealings in Russia, that foreign policy advisors around him have had connections in Russia, as well. And I think the Manafort example is probably the clearest, the one we know the most about, but it's -- it raises all these other questions about not only Trump's affinity for Putin as a leader but about actual interests that he and his associates have there.
REHMAnd an email from Annie, regarding Rex Tillerson, a discussion is focused on his accomplishments, which are in a narrow silo, advancing interests and profits of a global mega-corporation. This discussion conflates for-profit corporate interests with the interest of the American people. These interests are not the same, Yochi.
DREAZENI think that's exactly right. I mean, for people who have not yet read -- and this will maybe push up sales slightly, Steve Coll's book from 2012 about Exxon was riveting then, I've been re-reading it now, and it's extraordinary partly because there are example after example after example, and this is kind of the premise of the book, that Exxon-Mobil, because it is so big, has a foreign policy all of its own, and that foreign policy sometimes coincides with U.S. foreign policy, and sometimes it doesn't.
DREAZENOne of the examples was when the Kurds in Northern Iraq were trying to strike oil deals, Exxon-Mobil struck a deal with the Kurds that did not go through Baghdad, and when the State Department said this is entirely in violation of American foreign policy, Rex Tillerson's response was, my responsibility is to the people who own shares of Exxon stock.
DREAZENAnd when you've spent decades working for a company, when -- even if its positions are at odds with stated U.S. government policy, how do you pivot from that? How do you pivot to serving the interests of the United States?
LABOTTWell, he has a new boss now. His boss is the president of the United States, and he -- he's accountable to the American people, not to the shareholders of Exxon-Mobil, and that's why Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state, James Baker, former secretary of state, Steve Hadley, national security -- former national security advisor, all of whom who have done business with Exxon, let's be clear, as -- they consulted, their firm consulted with Exxon-Mobil. But they did recommend Rex Tillerson to the president. They all felt that someone from the foreign policy establishment was not going to be appropriate for this particular president. You needed someone who had a different profile, and they argued that Rex Tillerson, because of his international dealings, had a, you know, geostrategic view of the world. They say that, you know, geopolitics, oil is geopolitics with a capital G.
LABOTTHe understands this. He understands how to forge relationships and make deals, and they thought that these skills were transferrable. Whether he can, you know, pivot as Yochi said from working for Exxon to working to the United States, this is going to be his job now.
REHMAll right, let's take a call from Berrien Springs, Michigan, James, you're on the air.
JAMESHi, Diane. Yesterday on the Sean Hannity show, Mr. Hannity interviewed Julian Assange for like a half an hour. And Mr. Assange stated that the emails that WikiLeaks released did not come from a state actor. And I was wondering what your panel would think of that.
DREAZENFirst of all, I don't believe that for an instant, and secondly, it may be literally true that Russia may have first passed it to a different group, which then passed it to him, so he might be literally telling the truth by the letter, but he allowed WikiLeaks to become a part of the American election. He has been openly bragging that he has influenced the election, he was open with his contempt for Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks, which once was seen as a somewhat transparent, somewhat heroic whistleblowing organization, a movie was made about it with Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, now helped Russia interfere with U.S. elections.
LABOTTAnd he has a show on Russia Today. I mean, he works for the Russian government in some aspects because Russia Today is an arm of the Russian propaganda. So he's -- his ties to Russia are very clear. His, you know, hatred for Hillary Clinton is all very clear. So, you know, he could say that. It's possible, and, you know, possibly likely that, as Yochi said, that he passed it on, but he doesn't have a lot of credibility on that issue.
REHMAnd Alex in Raleigh, North Carolina, says a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan says he was personally handed the hacked material from the DNC by a whistleblower within the DNC and that it did not come from Russia at all and that we should read the Washington Times.
HARRISRight, this is a theory that's being put out, that the actual source of the information was a DNC staffer on the inside. There is zero evidence of that.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And switching to Asia, let's talk about Donald Trump's One China Plan.
DREAZENSo he's looked at what has again, as was the case with Israel, been American foreign policy for decades, which says that Taiwan, although it has its own military, it has its own government, it is part of China, and at some point those two -- those entities will have to make a deal that brings it back into some more formal arrangement with China and basically said that doesn't make any sense, I'm going to take a phone call from the president of Taiwan, I will refer to her as the president of Taiwan, I will openly say this policy may need to be thrown out the window.
DREAZENChina reacted to the first phone call with relative restraint, to the next set of tweets with much less restraint, and now you're seeing action, tangibly, on the ground. The Spratly Islands, which are some of the most disputed of the artificial islands that China's been building, previously did not have weaponry. They now do. And whether you're going to say that that's a direct response to Trump, whether that's something they might have done anyway, he is again taking what had been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy and saying, hey, if we throw it away, let's see what happens.
DREAZENIt is worth pointing out, in fairness to him, there was a bit of hypocrisy that -- and internal incoherence to the policy. He points out accurately the U.S. doesn't recognize Taiwan, but it sells billions of dollars of weapons every year to Taiwan. And that is a fair, accurate point. That said, to have an American president just say let's throw this out the window and see what sticks is mildly terrifying when you're talking about a superpower like China.
HARRISI was going to say it's as if he's approaching it -- I question for the first part whether or not Donald Trump really has thought deeply on the One China Policy. I'm skeptical of that. And he's treating it almost as a negotiating point in a contract. China regards the One China Policy is a bedrock of its sovereignty. So to say to them, well, I don't know that we have to acknowledge that is not like saying well, I'm not sure I like this provision of a contract, you're questioning their sovereignty, their -- how they view themselves existentially as a nation.
HARRISIf he hasn't realized that by now, he certainly must, given the reaction, but, I mean, Yochi's right. I mean, we're entering now a very dangerous period. You can't expect to say these things to China, regardless of whether you like the policy or not, and not expect them to react forcefully.
REHMI want to go back to our caller and our emailer, citing Sean Hannity and the Washington Times on issues regarding the DNC hacked material. If Sean Hannity puts that out on the air, and you all say there is absolutely no evidence to support that, is that an example, in your mind, of fake news?
DREAZENI think it's slightly different in the sense that fake -- he's not making up out of whole cloth the idea that Hillary Clinton is raping and murdering children at a pizza shop in Washington. So it's -- I think it is fake, and it is false but of a sort of different level of import. But it's worth noting that the scariest part about Sean Hannity saying that, to my mind, isn't that he says it on air, it's that the people who help him say it, the analysts that have helped him say that for years, are now literally working for Donald Trump.
DREAZENSo you've had some of the most far-right commentators on Fox News who are now members of Trump's national security staff, and that to me is really, really scary because then it's no longer words on air that may be fake news, may not be fake news, these are words being spoken directly into the ear of a president who does not know foreign policy and does not know the military or the intelligence world.
LABOTTAnd when Donald Trump is briefed by the intelligence community, and they say we have -- and this is what -- you know, when Sean Hannity says this, it's flying in the face of specific agencies and, you know, private firms that Sean -- that Shane talked about in terms of that they found Russian, you know, kind of malware and Russian fingerprints on this.
LABOTTSo when Donald Trump is listening to an intelligence briefing, and he says I don't trust this intelligence, I don't believe this intelligence, where do you go from there? I mean, take this specific Russian issue aside because, as we've been talking about, it is conflated with his own legitimacy and his election and the hacking. But if they're going to brief him on Syria, if they're going to brief him on Iran, if they're going to brief him on other areas of Russia, and he doesn't trust what the analysts tell him, I think this is the scariest thing, and this is setting up, you know, risks for Donald Trump in terms of the intelligence community that's going to be briefing him to make these monumental decisions.
REHMHe could pick and choose what it is he believes in.
LABOTTHe can pick and choose, but if he's -- what is he going to base his intelligence on? You know, you heard him through the campaign say I'm smarter than the generals, I don't trust the intelligence. If he's going to go on his gut and not the kind of intelligence that's laid before him and the advice of career analysts at the State Department, at the Defense Department, at the CIA, at the DNI, you know, this is a very different way of operating, and it raises a lot of questions.
REHMGoing with his gut got him elected.
HARRISAnd that's I think how he'll respond. He'll say I'm smart, I got here, I defied all expectations, and I suppose he has a point that he certainly defied expectations. But this rupture between the president-elect and the intelligence community, we've never seen anything like this, the president-elect openly questioning not just the capability and the competence but the integrity of the CIA, saying you're doing this for political motives, coming out and saying these hackers were trying to help me get elected. We've just never seen that before.
HARRISAnd the relationship that a president has with his intelligence community is so important and so fragile, this is -- this portends for dangerous times, I think.
REHMShane Harris, Elise Labott, Yochi Dreazen, before we go I want to thank you all for coming here week after week after week and being part of this Friday news roundup. Thank you all so much.
LABOTTIt's been a pleasure, a real honor, Diane.
HARRISDiane, thank you so much.
DREAZENSpeaking from the heart, being on -- I think I can speak for all of us on this one, being part of the last one is a genuine honor for all three of us, so thank you.
HARRISIt really is. Thank you for having us this last time.
REHMThank you, and thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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