Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories: A blast kills at least sixteen at a UN school used as a civilian shelter in Gaza. The source of the bombing is unclear and Israelis and Palestinians blame each other. Secretary Kerry proposes a weeklong truce. Pro-Russian separatists hamper the international investigation on the downed Malaysian plane in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian rebels shoot down two Ukrainian military jets. President Obama meets with Central American presidents on the child migrant crisis. And the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram is suspected in bombings in Nigeria that kill at least seventy-five people.
- Michael Hirsh national editor, Politico; author of "At War with Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering its Chance to Build a Better World."
- Nancy Youssef national security correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers; she's back from a two-year posting as McClatchy's Middle East bureau chief.
- James Kitfield contributing editor, National Journal, Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest; senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Secretary Kerry proposes a week long cease fire between Israel and Hamas. President Obama meets with Central American Presidents today on child migrants. And the bodies of the downed Malaysian jet arrive in the Netherlands. Here for the week's top stories on the "International News Roundup," Michael Hirsh of Politico, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers and James Kitfield of Atlantic Media's Defense One and The Center for the Study of The Presidency and Congress.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, you are invited, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Happy Friday to all of you.
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHHappy Friday.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFHappy Friday.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDHappy Friday.
REHMGood to see you. I wonder, James Kitfield, about what's going on. The latest situation in Gaza. There are still competing arguments over who hit this UN school and killed 15 people.
KITFIELDRight. I mean, you have very close in urban fighting. That's why these periodic fights between Israel and Hamas in Gaza are always so deadly. Densely packed places. I mean, these UN schools are places where the Israelis tell people to flee to, so you would have thought they would be on the Israeli map as a place to avoid fire. We're not exactly sure what happened, what the Israelis are speculating. Maybe it was mortars fired by Hamas. We really don't know yet, but clearly this horrific carnage is causing a huge international pressure to reach some sort of a cease fire.
KITFIELDI expect that will happen. It always does happen, at some point, when Hamas has gained enough attention and Israel has gained enough condemnation for, you know, all the civilian death toll. The question is how do we reach that limit where it's become difficult for Israel to keep this up. You know, but we need to find a cease fire, and Secretary Kerry is in the region trying very hard to reach that.
REHMAnd the Israeli cabinet's meeting now, apparently two ministers walked out of that meeting, saying they were against any kind of truce. They want to continue going after Hamas. Nancy.
YOUSSEFYes, and that's an interesting development, because one of the developments we saw this week was the start of the ground offenses and there are a lot of surprises in it. I think there was an expectation among some that Hams would not be able to sustain a ground offensive. The fact that 33 Israeli soldiers were killed, one has been captured and feared dead. Three civilians killed. These are numbers that far surpass the death toll on the Israeli military side from 2006 and it took the Israeli military years to recover from the trauma of that war.
YOUSSEFAnd that rather than calming tensions and calming both sides, both sides are really digging in their heels more and more with each passing day. The New York Times is reporting that Secretary Kerry, who earlier this week was very ambitious about a wide peace plan, is now looking for something much more limited. Just a suspension of the violence, and as you say, an Israeli cabinet -- or Parliament that isn't eager to bring peace talks, but to use the -- digging in their heels even more and saying this is the opportunity to crush Hamas.
YOUSSEFThat these tentative peace deals of 2012 and in the past, that there's not an appetite to repeat that, but rather to use this an opportunity to crush what I think many think is a weakened Hamas.
REHMA weakened Hamas. Michael Hirsh?
HIRSHThat was the perception and Hamas well knew it. And that's one of the reasons why, Diane, I think the stakes in this conflict are higher for both sides than they have been in memory. Everything Nancy said is exactly right. The casualty levels for the Israelis are higher than they were. Back in 2006, in the wake of the failure of the peace talks, there has been a growing sense among Israelis that the two state solution is all but gone. Meanwhile, Hamas is desperate to recapture its stature.
HIRSHYou know, when it first took over Gaza in 2006, and I think that because those lines have been so sharply drawn between both sides that you're not going to see an end to this conflict, despite John Kerry's presence there right now, in trying to negotiate this week long cease fire.
KITFIELDYou know, I'm a little more hopeful than that, because I think, at this point, you know, Hamas has made its point. And I think that it does have -- Hamas has one major problem, which is, you know, in the past, it could support, you know, count on the support of Egypt to a certain degree when, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood, Prime Minister Morsi was there. Right now, he's -- it's being squeezed from the Egyptian side, who has destroyed a lot of their tunnels. Now the Israelis have destroyed a lot of their tunnels going into Israel.
KITFIELDSo, at some point, Hamas is going to be -- want to put an end to this. But, you know, I don't expect they'll get all their demands, their, you know, prerequisites for a cease fire, but I don't imagine this going on for weeks.
YOUSSEFWell, the question, I think, becomes will they get the end of the economic blockade in some form? And Egypt plays a very key role in this, and the fact that they've been unwilling to open the Rafah border crossing, which goes from the Sinai into Gaza. And so, the question becomes who's gonna give -- and Egypt has no incentive to do that. Egypt has equated Hamas with the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of their war on terror. The United States is reaching out to Qatar and Turkey, but how much influence can they have in terms of creating the end of an economic blockade remains unclear.
YOUSSEFAnd so, you're right that these things have always ended in some sort of negotiation, but how that happens in this climate where both sides feel that they either have a right or winning -- Hamas feels that it is winning the war of international perception. Perhaps we don't feel it in this country, but throughout Europe, they get that sense. And Israel believes that this is an opportunity to finally crush a threat.
REHMWhat about the death toll on the Palestinian side, Nancy?
YOUSSEFYes. Today, we crossed 800. It's a remarkable number. The United Nations estimates that three quarters of those were civilians. Israelis have said that they've killed 500 militants. They are breathtaking numbers, and the stories and the photos that have come out this week are just devastating.
HIRSHYeah, and again, even though I don't disagree with James' assessment of the relative weakness of Hamas, I think the motivations are high. They do know that large parts of Europe are with them. There are protests in the West Bank, which is controlled by Fatah, where protestors are burying Hamas flags, which is quite remarkable, given the acrimony between Hamas and Fatah. And a sense that this is it for them. One of the most remarkable things that's happened in the last few days is the idea of the Israel defense forces uncovering these intricate tunnels that Hamas has used.
HIRSHSome of these have been stocked with tranquilizers, presumably to use against kidnapped Israelis. So, Hamas's basic infrastructure is being uncovered now, and the Israelis show every sign that they're not going to stop there, which means that Hamas can't stop itself.
REHMBut let's talk about what Hamas and Abbas are asking for in the way of changes to Gaza.
KITFIELDWell, and we should point out the fact that Abbas, who runs the more secular and moderate, you know, Palestinian authority in the West Bank, reached a unity government with Hamas. And, cause he was so frustrated by the failure of the peace talks...
REHMBut that's who Kerry's been talking to is Abbas.
KITFIELDWell, exactly, because he's the moderate. So, the problem with these -- this cycle of conflict, and we tell this to our Israeli friends all the time is that, you know, you have to take advantage of the interludes between these violent conflicts to reach a peace deal because all these conflicts continually empower the extremists on both sides, both in the Israeli body politic and also on the Palestinian side. So once again, as we talked about, Hamas thinks it's being empowered while Abbas looks like a stooge of the Israelis.
KITFIELDYou know, he's got protests on the West Bank. He can't reach a deal through a peaceful means with Israel. Just had nine months of peace talks come to a spectacular failing conclusion recently. So it's that lack of hope. So, you know, and believe me, once this is over, and Martin Indyk said this recently, I think, on NPR, is that you'll have to get back to the strategic problem is there are grievances on both sides and you have to address those. Because if you keep going in this cycle of violence, slowly but surely, everyone loses hope and the extremists are empowered, and you're talking about perpetual conflict.
YOUSSEFOne of the things that I'm watching for in the next few days is the death toll on both sides. That is, how much will the Israelis will be willing to sustain the ongoing deaths of their troops. Another one today. And on the Palestinian side, will the residents of Gaza start to lash out, as we started to see early indications of, on Hamas, because of the risks that they are being put under? When you have something like a UN shelter bombed and 15 people killed, where are they supposed to go?
YOUSSEFAnd there's a -- you can start to feel the resentment on the street from the people within Gaza toward Hamas. So I think those are both indicators. And also, if there is increased violence in the West Bank, because that would mean Israel would essentially face a two front conflict, one in the West Bank and in Gaza. And that would put a kind of pressure on it, so those, in my estimation are the metrics that we look for in the next few days to see if we're closer or further away from some sort of cease fire.
HIRSHNow, Secretary Kerry in his typical quixotic manner, is trying to use these negotiations over a cease fire to resurrect the peace talks that failed. But I think that he's gotta sort of get a grip on reality, if you will, and address what I hear from many Israelis, who were expert in the peace negotiations, which is that you cannot expect final settlement of the biggest issues. You gotta reach an interim agreement and Benjamin Netanyahu, you have a Prime Minister who clearly is not willing to engage on these final settlement issues.
HIRSHSo, what they need to is completely re-orient what they tried to do over the past year, which was address those issues. Jerusalem, right of return, and come to some sort of an interim deal that will not only implement a cease fire, but will at least start to make progress toward some sort of a two state settlement. Because the two state concept, which many Israelis themselves believe is crucial, is all but gone with the wind right now.
REHMMichael Hirsh. He's National Editor at Politico. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about what's happening in Ukraine, take your calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with James Kitfield. he's contributing editor at National Journal and Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest. He's senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and the Congress. Nancy Youssef is national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Michael Hirsh is national editor at Politico.
REHMOn the Israeli subject, here's an email from Larry. He says do not forget that according to (word?) the Kerry proposal allows Israel to pursue its military objectives, destroy the tunnels and whatever but stops any Hamas resistance. No guarantees of removing the blockade, just negotiation. Why wouldn't Hamas jump at this opportunity?"
YOUSSEFBecause it doesn't deal with the economic issues. Remember -- to give you a sense, in Gaza young men -- the unemployment rate is about 46 percent. Things like fishing are banned. The border crossing, I've been to it and it is a scene of constant suffering, is the only way I can describe it, during peaceful times. And remember it's been closed under the Sisi government in Egypt for most of the past year.
YOUSSEFAnd so Hamas has sort of raised expectations, if you will, among some in saying that we're winning the campaign of public perception. We're defending against an Israel that has limited your ability to live. So how can they, at this point, come forward and say we'll accept a peace deal that doesn't change your economic standing at all after all the suffering that has happened around you for the past 17 days?
KITFIELDI don't believe the Kerry plan says that Israel can stay engaged inside Gaza and continue to -- I mean, that is a nonstarter obviously for obvious reasons. He wants a ceasefire that gets the Israeli forces out of Gaza but also stops the rockets because Israel can't seem to be backing down while rockets are raining down on the cities. So that to me is a deal -- you know, whether the blockade will be lifted or not, it will not be lifted as part of the ceasefire because Israel cannot be seen as giving in to major concessions under fire from a terrorist group that is a stated terrorist group from us.
REHMSo what do you have to do to get those rockets to stop firing?
HIRSHWell, Diane, I mean, the sad fact is the Israelis believe that they have to effectively destroy Hamas, which is another reason why I don't think this ends. I mean, one of the real dangers here is that even as anti-Israel sentiment grows internationally there's even a sort of divestment movement that Palestinians have started up, which is starting to gain traction. And the Israelis should be worried about it. This is effectively turning, you know, Israel into what South Africa was in the 1980s and perceived as an anti-apartheid state against which colleges and other major pension funds are divesting.
HIRSHEven as that's happening, on the ground in Israel public opinion is shifting toward a harder line. You have Naftali Bennett, a far right member of Netanyahu's coalition, calling for effectively a military-type occupation security zone in the West Bank. Meanwhile obviously, Palestinians, formerly moderates, are agitating in the West Bank. So you have the real potential here for a wider war if Kerry fails.
REHMAnd what about the halt in U.S. airlines landing in Israel, James? How much does that hurt?
KITFIELDOh, that hurts Israel a great deal. I mean, they stake their reputation and their brand as being this one sort of pocket of stability and technological advancement and economic opportunity in the Middle East.
REHMSo why did the U.S. do that?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, on the face of it the FAA doesn't look at the politics of this. It looks at the risk factors. And a rocket did land within a couple of kilometers of the airport. And with the recent shoot-down of the Malaysian 17 over Ukraine, they're very skittish about, you know, civilian air traffic into conflict zones.
KITFIELDSo, you know, the Israelis immediately thought, well, maybe they're trying to put pressure on us by cutting down, because once we did it of course the Europeans followed suit. So were we trying to pressure them? You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I would be somewhat surprised if that was the case because that kind of thing tends to come out. And it would really sour U.S. Israeli relations if it...
REHMIt would be a first step, Nancy.
YOUSSEFIt would be a first step. And, as James says, Israel was not happy with it. And John Kerry was on a plane from Cairo to Jerusalem within hours of that announcement because of the perception that it gave that -- you know, Israel's always said, whatever's going on this is a safe place to live. And the defiance that was happening even within this country, Michael Bloomberg taking an El Al flight, the Israeli airline, in the middle of that embargo on travel was certainly a sign of the divisions within this country about the decision.
YOUSSEFIt was an interesting development in that it suggested if you believe that there was a form of pressure, the variety of options needed given the dynamics of the Middle East have changed so much that the players that would've been involved, Egypt primarily is no longer there and that everybody's looking at sort of alternative and creative and unheard of really approaches at trying to push sides and to agree to a ceasefire if you believe it was a strategic move.
KITFIELDIn some ways it marked Hamas's greatest victory in memory. And we shouldn't speak of it in the past tense because even though the FAA has lifted its ban, not all airlines have resumed their flights into Tel Aviv. And we don't know when that's going to happen. We don't know whether political pressure on the part of protesting publics in Europe, for example, might be part of that.
KITFIELDWe are also not quite sure why the FAA lifted its ban. The Israelis say that they reassured the FAA that this was the most protected air zone in the world, which in some respects Israel is. On the other hand, there was a lot of political pressure from Senator Ted Cruz and others on Capitol Hill to lift the ban. So we don't really know why it happened. And it's not really an issue that's quite over yet. We have to see if airlines resume.
REHMHere's an email from Chris who says, "I know two of the soldiers killed in Israel were Americans. Is Israel the only country where Americans can enlist?" I can't recall Americans joining other foreign countries' armies.
HIRSHYou know, I was kind of struck by that story because it's not only Americans but apparently thousands of sort of foreigners have come to Israel. And I guess, you know, if you're -- because it's a Jewish state and if you're Jewish around the world you might feel like when it's under attack it's your responsibility to come help. But I don't -- I'm not aware that Americans are part of other foreign military forces. It's an interesting question. I've never really run that to ground.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to the Ukraine and the latest on the Malaysian airliner, Nancy. Do we know with certainty who fired the missile that downed the plane?
YOUSSEFWe do not and it's sort of remarkable in terms of how little is known at this point. There are suggestions that separatists using Russian equipment potentially trained by Russians used -- shot down this plane. It hasn't been confirmed. And it's a very delicate thing once that confirmation happens because it demands a lot from the international community in terms of how one responds to Russia. Does the international community put more international sanctions on Russia? And how Putin himself -- Vladimir Putin himself will respond to that.
YOUSSEFAnd so it's been very carefully approached in terms of the language that people use in terms of what is known and what isn't known. What we saw instead was a beautiful and solemn ceremony in the Netherlands as the victims were brought back. And that was such an important thing for not only the 193 of the 298 who were Dutch and killed on that flight. But also for Malaysians, many of them who are Muslim and who saw the bodies lying on the ground, a violation of Islamic practices to which demand an immediate burial.
HIRSHThere is no definitive evidence yet but most of the witness testimony, most of the evidence accumulated which I think, you know, will be added to once the data from the black box is examined and analyzed indicating whether the pilots, you know, saw a missile contrail headed their way. In addition to which we know that the very sophisticated Russian SA11, SA 12 anti -- missile systems that were in the hands of the separatists either because they overran the Ukrainian military base or because they were supplied by the Russians were the most likely suspects here, the only type of missile system Doppler-guided that could reach that height, say 33,000'.
HIRSHSo there's nothing conclusive yet. Russian propaganda continues to say that this was, you know, shot down by the Ukrainian air force. But the indications are overwhelming that this was a missile launched by the separatists.
REHMAnd here's what Phil in Indianapolis says. "To what extent are Americans the victims of propaganda very much as the Russians are?" He says, "I'm told rebels in Ukraine thought they were firing on a Ukrainian bomber. And the Ukrainian government have been frequently bombing cities in Eastern Ukraine. Was the shooting down of MH17 a defensive response to repeated Ukrainian air force aggression? I've heard virtually nothing about this in American media. What's true," James?
KITFIELDYou know, I'm a little bit in disagreement. I mean, I think we -- you know, we know what happened. I just don't think that we've got the person, you know, raising his hand saying, yes I did it. But other than that, we had -- we tracked the radar coming from rebel-controlled territory of a missile going towards that aircraft. We saw that aircraft disappear from radar. We heard the rebels brag about it on social media and then quickly realized when a civilian took that down from social media we've intercepted communications between commanders of saying that they did that and what to do in the aftermath and then realized. So we pretty much know what happened.
REHMWhat about the black boxes?
KITFIELDI think the black boxes will tell us very little because it'll be an abrupt stop. I don't think they'll see that contrail coming because, you know, pilots tend to look straight ahead. There's a missile coming up, it's not something I believe that they will see coming. We'll wait and see but I'll be very surprised if the black boxes dispute any of the narrative I just said.
KITFIELDNow on the question of, did they think it was a military plane? Yes, they did. They said that also in that intercepted -- they were very proud. They have shot down, I think, six or eight helicopters, a military transport, yesterday shot down two military aircraft. They have very sophisticated surface-to-air missiles. And they're using them with great effect, which makes you wonder whether they get either trained or there are Russians who're actually operating this stuff because they're being very effective.
KITFIELDSo to me it's not a great mystery what happened. What worries me is that after all this international condemnation, Russia is, according to U.S. intelligence, poised to pour more heavy weaponry into that part of Eastern Ukraine. So Russia has not taken this as a lesson to stop supporting the rebels.
KITFIELDAnd to the last point of the listener, yes, they are being bombed by the Ukrainian government. I mean, the Ukrainian government is still the authority that is in charge of Ukraine. And these separatists who have basically claimed, you know, independent regions of Ukraine are by international law not a legal entity. So they're trying to reclaim their territory.
HIRSHYeah, I mean, it was done in defense. You can certainly say that. What remains, I think, really at issue here is the role of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. How careless was he responsible to allow such sophisticated systems to fall into the hands of these rather poorly organized separatists that clearly his government has been fostering, whether it was because they were supplied and urged to overrun the Ukrainian military bases in Donetsk or whether they actually directly got supplied with it, you know, this is a question for Putin.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Nancy.
YOUSSEFWell, one of the interesting developments that James had mentioned was that the United States said yesterday that Russians are shooting artillery from inside Russia into Ukraine, that they're sending heavier rocket launchers than were there before. And the presumption is that the reason that they're doing it is because the Ukrainians will not fire at Russia. So this becomes a way to defend the separatists in a way that the Ukrainians cannot respond to.
YOUSSEFAnd so it was interesting that the United States came out of the State Department briefing, which was somewhat surprising, and it seemed that the United States is trying to put international pressure by shining a spotlight on the degree and the intensity with which the Russians are getting involved so much so that they're firing from within their borders.
REHMSo what about tougher sanctions? Is the EU going to join the U.S.?
KITFIELDI mean, that is the $64 million question. If they won't do it now, you would have to wonder if they will ever do it. And quite honestly the west looks extremely weak right now. The Dutch obviously having lost almost 200 of its citizens are taking a hard line. So is the United Kingdom. But there is heavy resistance amongst certainly Germany, which has, you know, a huge trade relationship with Russia.
KITFIELDAnd some of those really weak economies that were sort of upended by the financial crises that don't feel that now's the time to sort of royal the economic trade with Russia. But...
REHMAnd dependent on all that fuel oil coming there.
KITFIELDCorrect, correct. So for various reasons, you know, the -- and if you're Putin and you're reading this, I mean, there's no other conclusion you can draw except for I can get away with this because the west is very weak. They're not going to put in meaningful sanctions.
HIRSHYeah, I mean, the biggest problem is that the EU is 28 nations and we the United States are one. So, you know, we can decide a lot easier than they do. And each of these countries, France, Germany, the UK has different types of trade relationships. The UK has a very big financial interest. France has like I think it's a $1.6 billion contract to deliver aircraft to Russia. Germany has an enormous fuel dependence on Russia. So you have a lot of reluctant space there.
HIRSHI will say though, however, in the last day or so after a week of waffling, there has been a decision taken by the EU, which still needs to be approved, to sanction an additional 15 Russians. So they are finally stepping up, it appears. And what you're seeing is Vladimir Putin is becoming more and more isolated here even as he stepped up his own efforts.
REHMWhat about Ukraine's prime minister resigning yesterday? Was this a surprise, Nancy?
YOUSSEFNot really. I know it looks like it was in the middle of all this that it was a surprise, but it was rather expected given that this sort of transitional sort of period that Ukraine was in. So it was -- I'd, when I heard it, thought maybe this was tied to the violence and whatnot. And it doesn't appear to be. This was rather expected and it comes at a time when Ukrainians are divided about whether their military's doing better or worse at fending off the aggression from separatists.
REHMCourse the country is on the verge of financial collapse.
KITFIELDRight. It's in very difficult shape. But, you know, the head of state there is the Prime Minister Poroshenko and he basically approved this resignation and it apparently sets up some elections in the fall. I think that they want to sort of send the message that they're in a transformational period. And my reading was the same as Nancy's. It was not really as closely tied to the violence as it first looked.
REHMJames Kitfield, Nancy Youssef, Michael Hirsh. They're all here to answer your questions after we take a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, this week with Nancy Youssef and James Kitfield and Michael Hirsh. Here's the first email question. "Where are the Hamas rockets made?" Eric in Charlotte, N.C. wants to know.
KITFIELDThe sophisticated rockets -- and each time we've had these fights between Israel and Gaza, the rockets get more sophisticated -- and they're, they come from Iran. And that's why, you know, Iran has been so helpful to Assad in Syria in his fight against his own civil -- his rebels, because the conduit to Hamas was through Syria and Damascus and then from there to Hezbollah and Lebanon, and then passed from there to Hamas. They've captured any number of ships over the years with loads of these Iranian rockets bound for the Hamas. So we know where their sophisticated rockets come from and it's Teheran.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Marjory in Hollis, N.H. You're on the air.
MARJORYYes, thank you for taking my call.
MARJORYI believe our Congress' bias towards Israel is actually hurting the peace talks. For example, 2006, Israel attached Lebanon, killed over 1,300 people, totally devastated the Lebanon infrastructure. At that time, Iraqi had elect -- Iraqis had elected al-Maliki. Maliki criticized Israel for the bombing of Lebanon. He said it was overkill. Well, our Congress is outraged. I remember, Maliki was scheduled to visit Washington and our Congress said that they would not meet with him. So our soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq to bring them democracy. And who we elected leader dares to criticize Israel, Congress attacks him?
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call.
KITFIELDThe listener is correct that Israel has very, very strong support in Congress, in a way that no Arab Muslim country has, particularly not Iraq. That's been true for a very long time. For -- there's all kinds of historic reasons for it but it's undeniable.
REHMAll right, let's talk for a moment about Nigeria and Boko Haram. A report on the News Hour the other night suggested that Boko Haram's power and strength is spreading throughout, far -- much farther than we have perceived it in the past, Nancy.
YOUSSEFThat's right. There were two attacks, explosives, this Wednesday -- this past Wednesday in the northern city of Kaduna, an area that was presumed to be sort of out of the immediate grasp of Boko Haram. They had targeted a sheik, a moderate sheik what didn't sort of prescribe to their brand of Islam. And they targeted the runner up in the 2011 presidential election and killed 75 people. And one of the things that it sort of showcases in essence, their effort to stretch the Nigerian military.
YOUSSEFThat rather than just sort of focusing on the northeast in the areas that they were presumed to target, that these attacks forced the Nigerian military to stretch their resources across the country. President Goodluck Jonathan asked for an additional one billion and was essentially snubbed for that money, but came on the heels of this attack. And it comes at a time when we -- this week we entered the 100-day mark of the 200-plus girls who were taken, whose capture sparked an international campaign. And they remain missing despite this international pressure.
YOUSSEFAnd so these attacks plus the ongoing detention of those girls really capture the breadth and the scope of Boko Haram's grip on Nigeria.
HIRSHExactly right. And, you know, this has unnerving parallels to what's happened with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the spread of an extremist radical group, the feebleness of the national military encountering, in the case of Nigeria and in the case of Iraq. And of course, this goes right to the criticism one hears more and more often on Capitol Hill about President Obama, about whether he's retrenched too much in U.S. foreign policy, whether there's been too little help, too little aid both to the Nigerians and to the Iraqi government, whether we withdrew too precipitously in 2011, for example.
HIRSHAnd I think it's the crux of the issue, you know. Across the Islamic world, you have the rise of these extremist groups. In the case of ISIS, one that the joint, you know, our joint chiefs chairman has deemed to be actually worse than al-Qaeda, more extreme than al-Qaeda, if that's imaginable. And so this has become a region-wide crisis.
KITFIELDYou know, I've talked to senior intelligence officials on this very subject recently and Mike's exactly right. And here's why it's so worrisome to them. We know, because of documents found at Osama bin Laden's compound when he was killed by our Navy Seals, that he was in conversation with the leaders of Boko Haram, giving them not only advice, but also asking other affiliates to give it support. It got support from al-Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb in terms of weapons.
KITFIELDThese groups are talking to each other. Al-Qaeda and Islamic Maghred, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, ISIS in Iraq and Al Nasiriyah in Syria. These groups are all now talking to each other. The reason we recently had a heightened bomb alert was because a bomber from the master bomb makers of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who've launched two attacks on America already, one of their bomb makers went to Syria and was, you know, basically hobnobbing with the Syrian groups that are now taking over Iraq.
KITFIELDSo what the, you know, Mike Flynn who's the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency told me was, if these groups start to build connective tissue and act in unison in some way, this is a much more dangerous situation than even pre-9/11, because they've got a bigger footprint...
REHMWhat should the U.S. be doing if that is the case?
KITFIELDWe should take every one of these groups as mortal enemies of the United States. And the groups and the countries that are willing to confront them themselves, we should be giving weapons, training, surveillance, drones. We should be basically partnering with groups and countries who are being challenged by these groups because, believe me, they will turn themselves first locally, then regionally -- as we've seen with ISIS -- it will then become a global agenda for them. Because that's what ties to al-Qaeda's vision.
YOUSSEFSo I'm going biases of Egypt and Libya, because I've just spent the last two years there. And James is right. The challenge though, in the region that -- North Africa, for example -- is in the post-Arab-Spring world you have in the case of Libya, no state, and in the case of Egypt, a state that is so aggressively fighting back against those who oppose it, that it is locking up people by the thousands. And I've seen with my own eyes the creation of these new extremists on the ground by people who have been, in the case of Egypt, ostracized by their state, called terrorists by their state.
YOUSSEFAnd in the case of Libya, in the absence of the state, with all these little fiefdoms that are emerging, and so, the challenge becomes the sort of stop-gaps that the United States had come to depend on, dictators frankly, are no longer there. And the absence of the state or the -- or a state that fears the return of opposition, whether it be liberal or Islamist, has created I think a fertile ground for those who are looking to recruit extremists.
REHMAnd just how long ago was it we were talking about the Arab Spring?
HIRSHWell, I could just say that, I mean, this is hardly Barack Obama's fault, right? But the bottom line is you have almost total failure of the Arab Spring. Rather than secular moderates, who are completely out of the picture now, you have dictators as with Sisi in Egypt or the restoration of Assad in parts of Syria, against radical groups that are the most powerful organized movements in the region. And that includes ISIS, it includes these other groups that James mentioned. So that's not Barack Obama's fault. But what Republican critics do say about Obama is that he has been somewhat in denial about this.
HIRSHAnd his eagerness to be the president who is known as, you know, for ending two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to deal with nation building at home, as he's called it so often, that his administration has been in denial about the, you know, links that James was just talking about in terms of the rise of these groups and the way they're talking to each other.
REHMYou know, to say he's been in denial is one thing. To say that there are discussions ongoing, there are probably operatives in each of these countries trying to figure out the situation, I don't think he's ignoring anything. Do you?
HIRSHI don't think he's ignoring it. As a matter of fact, you know, and I totally agree with Nancy, I mean, the administration fought very hard against the military coup that, you know, basically made the Muslim Brotherhood, quote, unquote, "a terrorist organization." That's how you create an insurgency. You don't give them a path into the politics.
HIRSHThey had followed a path into politics, admittedly horrible at governing -- which was probably not surprising -- but, you know, you could have waited till the next election to have them voted out rather than to have a military dictatorship come in there and start sort of basically calling them terrorists and creating the very thing that you don't want, so...
REHMAll right. To Terry in Florence, Ky. You're on the air.
TERRYGood morning. I wanted to bring to the attention of the panel about the different groups that are being kicked out of Mosul as ISIS takes over there. And I wanted to ask, why is the media not really interested in talking about the different groups that get pushed out and what happens to them? In America, you know, we pay special attention to the Christian communities, but even beyond that there are several different variations on Islam in there. And they're -- the stories that are coming out are very, very worrisome.
HIRSHWell, I would not agree that the media is ignoring it. There's obviously a lot of smoke and debris coming from all these other stories we've been discussing. It's hard to focus on everything at once, which is a big problem for Obama. But just in the last day or so, the ISIS militants in Mosul blew up the Shrine of Yunus, the so-called -- supposed grave place of Jonah, the Prophet Jonah, a place revered by all three major religions. Clearly, this is a brutal group. And the scariest thing about them is that they are not just destroying things. They are also -- are governing in a very repressive fashion.
HIRSHI mean, they've killed, in the last several days, three Sunni clerics in Mosul who urged resistance to them. And they're a Sunni group. So this has been horrific. We, you know, the media is paying attention to it. But again, it's hard to focus on everything at once.
YOUSSEFI know, Terry, it might seem like ignoring. But think about the issues that have come up, the countries, the crises that have come up this summer. By my list -- Nigeria, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, in addition to the issues that we've been talking about today, Ukraine and Gaza and the Israeli conflict. And so it's been such a tumultuous summer and so many places are erupting that what might seem like ignoring is really I think a world overwhelmed by the number of crises confronting it.
REHMAnd one more. The president is meeting with Central American leaders today. What does he hope to get from that meeting?
KITFIELDWell, he hopes to get cooperation for them to receive these deportees. You know, we've got 70,000-plus unaccompanied minors now, who we're trying to figure out what to do with. A lot -- a good portion of those are going to need to be sent back. And he wants to have them receive them and take care of them. And they're going to want more money to do that. So -- and they're making the argument that is absolutely true, that the problem is really America's voracious appetite for illegal drugs. We're created these cartels, first in Colombia. They've squeezed the balloon there.
KITFIELDThey've moved to Mexico. Squeezed the balloon there, and they went right down the chain of custody of those drugs into Central America, to the point where Honduras now is murder capital of the world, gangs running amuck. It's, you know, a lightly governed space that they can't really control. So that's part and parcel of the problem and we do share some responsibility.
YOUSSEFSo it's a very high-profile meeting -- three presidents from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras meeting with the president. And there will be this push-pull, as James talks about, about what can the United States do in terms of funding. Efforts to stop these problems. And the way that the United States did it with play in Columbia and in Mexico. And the president coming back and saying that the responsibility on you is to encourage your populations not to come to the United States, to try to deal with the problems that are pushing people to leave your countries.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Lameen in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
LAMEENGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
LAMEENI wanted to first point out that I'm calling from a neutral point of view, and that means I am neither a Palestinian nor an Israeli. As a matter of fact, I'm an African native. But anyway, I wanted to -- I realize that if we ever wanted to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, we need to start being honest about it. And what I mean by that is, it's the predominant opinion here in the U.S., from the president all the way to the individual person on the street, is that Israel has the right to defend itself. I know that they were called to the same society that Palestinians may -- probably have the same concept as well, that they have the right to defend themselves too.
LAMEENThe other point is that, I am disappointed about the naivety of the American government, because they think that these can be established under the (word?) circumstance of Gaza, which is literally a prison, an open prison, like everybody describes it. Thank you very much.
YOUSSEFWell, Lameen raises an interesting point, because one of the things the United States has said over and over again is that Israel has the right to defend itself. Those who say -- who have a different point of view, would say, does it require this level of intensity of fighting? Does it require this kind of ground offensive? Does it require this many strikes for Israel to defend itself? And that's the question that I think Lameen is raising is, what is an acceptable level of response to that threat? And that's a debate that certainly is happening across the world, certainly across the Arab world and even in parts of Europe where you're starting to see some of this resistance to the Israel's claims that this is a necessary measure to defend itself.
HIRSHLook, you know, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems very, very complex. It always has. But at bottom, it's really quite simple. You have two people who want to occupy the same dot on the map, which is a physical impossibility. Now, Israel is stronger than the Palestinians. And they have been exercising that strength. And that's, you know, that's really the whole ballgame. And it's not going to end because you don't have a politician on either side, frankly, with the vision and guts -- perhaps since Yitzhak Rabin, you know, in 1995 -- to make the compromises necessary about that particular dot on the map. And...
REHMDo you never believe we will get to a fair, two-state solution?
HIRSHA year ago, five, I would have believed it more than it seems like it's possible now. It does seem like the trend lines are going in the opposite direction, both in terms of the, you know, the opinion in both the Palestinian and Israeli, on both sides. There seems to be a sense of despair that a two-state solution can never be achieved.
KITFIELDI, you know, I share Mike's pessimism. But I will say this. There's a reason why five U.S. presidents have gone hard at this problem, because the -- if you don't solve this problem and Israel does become a pariah, apartheid State. It's clear in the demographics of the situation we're very close to Israel. It's going to be very hard to maintain that relationship with a state that is increasingly internationally isolated. And that happens more and more each year. The Israelis know this too. So I think we're going to keep going at this until eventually, you know, Israel will come around.
REHMLast quick word, Nancy.
YOUSSEFWell, just I -- how can you not want to keep fighting for a solution given the violence that we've seen on both sides this week?
REHMNancy Youssef, James Kitfield, Michael Hirsh, thank you all so much. We didn't solve the world's problems though.
REHMHave a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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