A special March Readers' Review: Diane and her guests discuss why fiction matters. A recent study indicates that fewer than half of all Americans are reading novels today. It suggests that those who do read fiction are better able to understand the emotions of others. A conversation about the social and personal benefits of reading fiction.
A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories: The U.S. begins airstrikes in northern Iraq against Islamic militants. U.S. food aid is dropped to refugees after Sunni radicals capture a strategic dam in Mosul. Israel and Hamas resume attacks after a three-day cease fire in Gaza. Presidential rivals in Afghanistan sign a unity government agreement. The World Health Organization declares a global emergency as Ebola continues to spread in West Africa.
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring."
- Elise Labott global affairs correspondent, CNN.
- Scott Wilson White House bureau chief and former foreign editor, The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The US carries out airstrikes on Islamic militants in northern Iraq. A ceasefire ends between Israel and Hamas and the World Health Organization declares the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency. Here for the international hour, "The Friday News Roundup," Paul Danahar of the BBC, Elise Labott of CNN and Scott Wilson of The Washington Post. I do hope you'll join us, weigh in my phone at 800-433-8850. If the lines are busy, you can always send us an email to email@example.com.
MS. DIANE REHMFollow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to see you all.
MR. PAUL DANAHARGood morning.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood to see you.
MR. SCOTT WILSONGood morning.
REHMPaul Danahar, President Obama authorized the airstrikes against Iraq to begin this morning. What was his rationale?
DANAHARWell, I think we can guess that finally, he's found a conflict that he thinks is fairly localized, has a clear objective, and will stop him getting so much flack for not doing any of the things he's always talked about, which is having a high moral value in America that will stop bad things happening around the world. When there is an American interest, and there is an American interest in this, because there are American personnel in Erbil.
DANAHARAround about 40 we think. So, that's a good reason to intervene. And we do have what may literally be a genocide of these people, these Yezidis, because they are a very small group of people, between 70,000, maybe a couple hundred thousand. And they're all pretty much located in one place in Iraq, so if they were taken over by ISIS. And ISIS considers them to be devil worshippers. They would wipe them out, so this is an intervention that I think Obama is probably comfortable with, because he can see a beginning and an end.
LABOTTWell, also I think it's interesting. This is in the north, where not only where you have this Yezidi population, where you have the Kurds, which have long been considered an ally of the administration, as opposed to the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. And the Kurds have always been a reliable ally, so basically, what President Obama said, in addition to these airstrikes that could protect US personnel, air drops to protect the Yezidis and perhaps help them get off this mountain.
LABOTTThe President was very clear. He's gonna authorize air strikes if ISIS starts advancing on the city of Erbil, which is a Kurdish area. And that he's going to protect this US ally. But I think this is the kind of -- he's been talking about, for months, assessing the situation on ISIS and it kind of really got away from him.
LABOTTAnd had to take this -- the kind of swift decisive action that's really not a hallmark of this administration.
WILSONYeah. I mean, I think that's exactly right. And it's -- it is late in coming. We've seen ISIS moving across the Syrian border into Iraq, sweeping into Mosul a few months ago, the second largest city in Iraq. The Kurds have been asking for help from the United States and I think, even in the President's own words last night, you see a bit of him trying to return to some of that first term idealism and interventions that happened in Libya.
WILSONHe said, you know, America is coming to help. And I think that that's part of his calculus.
REHMTell me who these religious minorities are. Elise, you mentioned Yezidis. Who are they?
LABOTTThe Yezidis are one of the oldest, ancient religions in the world. They were derived from Christianity, but are not Christians, are not Muslims. It's kind of the Drus, that, you know, originated from Islamic religion, but kind of adapted their own religion. They're considered to be, you know, ostracized in the Iraqi society, and that's why ISIS considers them devil worshippers. They're not really mainstreamed into the population. And that's why, when President Obama says he's trying to prevent a genocide, there was a real expectation. These ISIS had surrounded them in this mountain.
LABOTTAnd not only could they have died of starvation -- they basically were forced to make a choice between trying to go get food and water or being killed by ISIS.
DANAHARAnd these communities -- you can't become a Yezidi. You have to be born into it. So, that's why they're a very small group. No one can convert into their faith. So, it's something that, if it was lost, it would be lost for good, though there are...
REHMSo the US is dropping food and supplies.
DANAHARThey're dropping food. They're dropping -- and there's kind of an echo here of what happened with the Kurds and Saddam, you know? And I think it's an important symbolism here. That if Obama had not intervened in this circumstance, people would have looked back at what George Bush did and said, hang about, look, he's not even prepared to do this kind of operation. So I think it was a moment where Obama probably still didn't want to do anything, but kind of had to.
REHMBut don't you think people are still worried that the US is going to get back involved into Iraq?
WILSONI think there is worry about that. I think Obama was clear last night there would be no boots on the ground. But I think if you look at it from a regional perspective, what you essentially have is now the United States, quote end quote, returning to Iraq in a military capacity on behalf of an Islamic sect that the -- that many Sunni extremists believe are (word?) states. And that will -- that could very well radicalize, as if ISIS needed more radicalization. But it may help with recruiting.
WILSONIt may bring in people from Syria. It may bring in people from Yemen, North Africa to sort of join this fight again against the Americans, who seem to be defending this religious minority.
REHMHow much of Iraq does ISIS now control?
LABOTTIt's got a large part of the north, and there was a concern a few weeks ago that it might have been moving towards Baghdad. And this is when President Obama said I'm going to send in advisors. I'm going to assess. They're not a terribly large amount. I mean, we're talking maybe 10,000 fighters at the most. When you compare that to the hundreds of thousands in the Iraqi army, but the fear that they sow across the population, and this fits into the kind of lack of support for Prime Minister al-Maliki.
LABOTTA lot of these Iraqi soldiers just stood down. They said, I don't want to fight on behalf of this guy. And this is why the administration has been reluctant to get involved in a kind of whole hog way in Iraq. President Obama did leave the door open for greater involvement in the fight against ISIS in the country, but only once the Iraqis get their political act together. They already have a Speaker of Parliament and a President, but they still need a Prime Minister. They still need a lot of things to do.
LABOTTAnd the hope is that this inclusive government, which will include all aspects of the Iraqi population, would have enough political support to bite back ISIS. But the problem is President Obama's running up against a clock here.
LABOTTAnd what he saw what happened in the north is, you know, while he's assessing and while he's waiting for the Iraqis to get their act together, which last time took upwards of a year, this could just run away with him.
DANAHARThe irony is the artillery piece that was hit today was probably an American artillery piece that was given to the Iraqi army, then captured by ISIS when the Iraqi army ran away. So, you have this incredible mess that's going on here. And I imagine that some of the people operating this artillery may actually be former members of Saddam's army. Because what's happened is a lot of Sunnis have gone along with ISIS, not because they necessarily believe in their ideology, but because they hate Maliki.
DANAHARAnd they felt like Maliki wanted to take them out. And it was either we go against this guy or we stand with these guys. And they had no real choice in many of these communities. And that's why you've got this chaotic political situation. And I think we're now getting to the point where Maliki, clearly, is coming to the end of his reign. And that makes Obama think, well okay, I can now save political gains, and therefore I'll help you out militarily.
REHMSo, how much worse do you think this is likely to get?
WILSONI think it's likely to get worse. I don't know if it gets worse for the American military, necessarily, but ISIS is exploding across the region. I mean, I think it has the momentum. I think, as Obama said last night, whatever military operation begins and ends is going to be very circumscribed. I think one of the fears of the expansion is that Peshmerga, which is the Kurdish militia, essentially, that's always been a part of the Iraqi army, and remains a part of the Iraqi army, has not performed well. And in the past had.
WILSONSo does it expand into the Kurdish north and really touch on some of our long time allies there? But I don't see any real way that, at least, as outlined so far, the air operation that Obama has in mind is going to debilitate ISIS, or in any way really slow its momentum.
REHMAnd is there any risk to those fighters who are dropping bombs?
LABOTTWell, I mean, the idea is we don't really know what ISIS has. I mean, if you look, one of the concerns that the US has had across the region, and now -- and you saw it in Ukraine, when the Ukrainian separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17, you don't know if they have these surface to air missiles that they could shoot down a plane. This is a big problem now. And I think, also, one of their fears is, look, this limited US involvement could, you know, just get ISIS to say, oh well, these Yezidis are not worth it.
LABOTTLet's go -- we have bigger fish to fry. But although they could have their sights on hitting the US at some point, and that has been a concern, especially with western fighters going into Iraq to join the fight, they haven't really set their sights. Their main agenda is not the United States, but the concern is that this will, as we say, stir the hornet's nest. And then, then America really becomes in their sights. And does ISIS morph into something larger and more global and want to hit the United States and Europe?
DANAHARThat's a big distinction that we have to make, because ISIS is very much a localized organization. And I spoke to a lot of Israeli military intelligence people, and they said that when Obama went and (unintelligible) . They saw a shift towards localized, Middle Eastern approach of Al Qaida. And Al Qaida's now -- Al Qaida's dead. I mean, basically, it's redundant. ISIS are the new kids in town. They're the worst kids on the planet. I mean, there isn't anybody any worse than them.
DANAHARAnd they are now the rallying call for every crazy around the world that wants to show their Islamic credentials. And the real problem is, as Elise said, they go off, they fight, the lucky ones, the clever ones survive and then where do they go?
REHMPaul Danahar of the BBC, author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring." Elise Labott, Global Affairs Correspondent for CNN. Scott Wilson of The Washington Post. Short break. Right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Elise Labott of CNN, Scott Wilson, White House bureau chief, former foreign editor of the Washington Post, Paul Danahar of the BBC. News we have today that the Afghans have struck a deal to form a new united government. What are you hearing, Elise?
LABOTTWell, this is a result of this deal that Secretary Kerry worked out last month for an audit of the election results. And what he was hoping is both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the two feuding presidential candidates, both were claiming themselves to be the winner, both were claiming fraud in the election, that they would audit the election results.
LABOTTBut in the meantime they would form a unity government. Because whoever the winner of this election was, clearly it was a very close race and both have a lot to offer. And so there's been a lot of bickering back and forth over the last few weeks. Now they're announcing that they'll have a national unity government where, you know, each will have part of the duties of the chief executive.
LABOTTThe problem is that you really do not have the details of this agreement. And they say that they have agreement but the problem is, especially in Afghan politics, once you start to implement the agreement, each one, you know, claims more power for themselves. And you get back to right where you started.
WILSONYeah, I mean, I think that's right. And, I mean, Kerry -- you know, it feels at this point like it's a bit of the cliché about forming a partnership. You have, you know, Ghani and Abdullah and Ghani says, I like the -- yes, let's do, let's work together. I like the idea of Ghani and Abdullah as our name. And Abdullah says, no, no, no, no. Let's try Abdullah and Ghani, how about that?
WILSONI mean, Ghani said this morning he -- you know, a commitment to cooperation is what the deal is. And Mr. Abdullah said he accepted the need to work together. That doesn't really get you very far given how much the antagonism between these two. Kerry arrives in the same week that the most senior U.S. military officer in the post-9/11 wars was killed. And, you know, if you look at it also in the context of Iraq, right, these are Obama's -- this is the pillars of Obama's foreign policy legacy, ending wars in a way that's reasonable. And both places look very shaky.
DANAHARYeah, and Afghanistan doesn't have a very good history of sitting down and singing Kumbaya with each other. I mean, this is a country that is split geographically between different tribes. It's split politically. The last time they tried to have a -- after Mujahideen took back Kabul you had the prime minister then bombing his own capitol city in a row with the president.
DANAHARSo there's not a happy history when it comes to trying to iron out those. These two men absolutely can't stand each other. Afghanistan is incredibly divided. You may end up with a similar situation we have in Iraq where we have one having his own private army and the other one having his own private army. It's a recipe for disaster but frankly three isn't any other recipe, so it's a matter of seeing how it plays out.
REHMAnd talk about, as you mentioned, Scott, the circumstances of the U.S. general being killed.
WILSONYeah, I mean, it was a routine visit, is how the Pentagon described Major General Green's visit to an Afghan training academy. Again one of the, you know, main projects that the Americans have there to stand up an Afghan army that can defend the government, defend the state once the Americans and other NATO forces leave at the end of this year. He was there with other high-ranking NATO officials including a German brigadier general who was also wounded.
WILSONAnd, you know, again it highlights -- the administration would look at this and I think much of the country, and say, you know, if we needed any more evidence that it's time to leave. You know, what do you want? At the same time, you know, it just shows that the deep divisions within the security forces, the questions about loyalties, and it's going to be a country that we leave that has a lot more questions than answers.
REHMSo going to the title of your book, Paul Danahar, "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring," what has the Arab Spring brought?
DANAHARIt's brought chaos. It's brought religion back to the forefront of the dynamic of the region. I mean, if you look at the way the Middle East was run before, it was a bunch of fairly secular dictators that basically enforced religion back into the mosque, back into the village. It's now burst out onto the seams. And so what you've got now is this fight out between Shia and Sunni, people being persecuted if they're Christians or they're Yazidis.
DANAHARAnd there's no negotiation with people that believe that God is on their side. And that's the big problem. That's what Israel is facing now in the Sinai, in the north. There used to be fighting over land. Now they face fighting people over God. You can't really have a ceasefire with those kind of people. And that's the big problem now in the Middle East.
DANAHARAmerica and the western world doesn't really know how to talk to these people. We don't know where to start and we don't know how to negotiate. And they don't want to negotiate, and that makes it really difficult.
REHMIt's pretty scary stuff.
LABOTTAnd you saw -- you know, the euphoria of the Arab Spring when everyone thought that this was about economic opportunity and poverty and human rights and democracy. And those people that took to the streets in all these capitols have really been marginalized to these long simmering ethnic religious conflicts.
LABOTTAnd I don't really think these two phases, this euphoria of the Arab Spring, the election -- the sweeping election of the Islamists and their overthrow that we've seen throughout the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, I don't think anything has been -- has shown where this is going. And I think we're in for a very turbulent decade or so while this shakes itself out and through various phases.
WILSONYeah, nearly every conflict across the region now is being defined in many ways by religious sect. And I heard an interesting report this morning from Turkey that now Turkey is -- with an election on Sunday, that Prime Minister Erdogan recently called out a parliamentarian and said, you're an Alawite. Why don't you, you know, tell everybody that you're an Alawite? And those were the kind of sectarian criticisms and charges that just didn't exist in a largely secular Turkey.
DANAHARNow the reality is now that no one really knows where the old lines that were drawn by the Europeans back after the First World War are going to end up. The borders have seized to exist and that's the philosophy behind organizations like ISIS. What they're saying is, the borders of the Middle East were drawn up by foreigners. We want to wipe them out. We want to start again. We want to retake the Middle East.
DANAHARAnd that's a really, really dangerous ideology when it's combined with the idea that you're only a good Muslim if you're my kind of Muslim. And if you're not my kind of Muslim, I can kill you. So nobody is safe from these kind of people. And there's nowhere to go for many parts of -- for many people in the world.
LABOTTWell, and for me the question of the so-called Westphalian system of the west drawing the borders of this region and ISIS trying to change it, if the people of the region had their choice, not these ISIS crazies but as this all shakes out, how would they -- would they go back to the borders as they were drawn from the west? Or would they choose -- in Iraq, for instance, we're talking about federalism and three different areas of Iraq, where would this region want it to go? And that could really fundamentally, I think, shift these titanic plates of where the region was and where it's going.
DANAHARWe had that with Europe with Czechoslovakia and we had that with Yugoslavia, which ended very violently. And I think the reality is now that what we're seeing is the Middle East coming undone. And it's how it gets puts back together and whether it gets put back together.
LABOTTAnd who puts it back together.
REHMAnd who puts it back together. Boy, that was a short 72-hour ceasefire, was it not, between Hamas and Israel and Gaza?
WILSONYeah, it certainly was. And I think expectations whether fair or not were high that it would hold, even though I think, you know, Hamas made very clear that it didn't intend to abide by it after 72 hours if certain conditions weren't met. Those conditions largely have to do with the borders of Gaza, the boundaries that -- both into Israel and the one southern boundary into the Sinai that have all been very much sealed, particularly tightened since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in -- was elected in Egypt.
REHMSo what would or could happen if those borders were expanded?
WILSONWell, it opens up commerce. It opens up -- and not only does it open up commerce. It opens up legal commerce, right. So you get along what used to be known as the Philadelphia corridor in southern -- in the southern Gaza Strip bordering the Sinai, you have hundreds of tunnels that Hamas charges taxes on, whether it's weapons or fish or Pepsi. Everything they take a profit from.
WILSONSisi, who is no friend of Hamas having overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt Mohamed Morsi, has begun really clamping down on those tunnels. A lot of Israelis believe that's what this was all about, that Hamas was in a way protesting Egypt's moves against the tunnels in the south and the choking off of the economy and Hamas' s income and needed to draw Israel in to get sort of a broader arrangement to resolve it. I don't know if that's entirely true. But I do know that right now what Hamas wants for political reasons is some economy and some freedom to bring goods in.
REHMThey are so densely populated, they have so few avenues of resource.
DANAHARThey do. And the realities of this conflict is that Hamas was weaker before than they probably are now. They were completely isolated. They had nowhere to go. No one was talking to them. For Hamas, the reason why they feel they can say no to the ceasefire is that they're back in the game again. I mean, they don't really care about how many civilians die on many levels because they think that they are fighting a war and there will be casualties.
DANAHARWhat they want to do is get back in the game, have some kind of support from the Qataris or maybe the Turks, someone to speak on their behalf. And before this war nobody was. And now they are.
LABOTTWell, and you even heard President Obama say the other day that the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. You talk about densely populated. It's the most densely populated area in the world. And these people are in a prison. And that is why there were so many civilian casualties because these people have nowhere to go. Israel says, okay evacuate your area. They're going to another area that's also being shelled by the Israelis.
LABOTTThey have nowhere to go. Obviously Israelis are blaming Hamas. And at the initial that is true but I think that there's a recognition that Gaza cannot continue to be isolated anymore. And look, this was the policy of the Obama Administration, if you remember, with Secretary Kerry. West Bank first, let's develop the West Bank. Let's show these people in Gaza what they're missing and they'll uprise against Hamas. That is not happening.
LABOTTSo now the goal is to open up Gaza, get some economic develop in there. Have President Abbas and the Palestinian authority man some of these crossings so that the Israeli's and the Egyptians are more comfortable with the security arrangements. That, in turn, will empower President Abbas and hopefully delegitimize Hamas. I mean, that's the pipe dream here. That's the pipe dream.
REHMYou're shaking your head.
DANAHARI agree with Elise, that's the idea but it's not going to happen in Gaza. I mean, the reality is now that Fatah was kicked out of Gaza. The Hamas are not going to let them back in again. Yeah, they'll take the money to pay off some of the people that support Fatah because that keeps people happy. And they may have -- when you go in and out of Gaza there is someone from the PA that sits on the last bit before you go into Israel. So they normally have somebody there anyway. But it's a guy at a desk making a little stamp. He isn't running anything.
REHMAnd, of course, all these people were told they could go back to their homes during this truce, and now they're bombing again. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How can Gaza be rebuilt?
WILSONIt's a really good -- I mean, you know, it's the question that's followed every one of these episodes. It -- and there's -- this has been the worst even since, you know, the 2009 Gaza Israel conflict. And it's -- reports are that it's just been absolutely devastated. But there does have to be, you know, some formulation of how you allow in construction, goods and all these sorts of things. It's just never worked. I mean, they've never opened up.
WILSONAnd, as Paul said, look, you know, Hamas tried to join the PA and implicitly join the sort of two-state solution idea in 2006 winning parliamentary elections. They were immediately frozen. The PA was immediately choked off from all international funding, including American funding. Clashes ensued the following year. I mean, really awful Fatah Hamas fighting in Gaza, throwing people off the top of buildings and burning people. And it was horrendous.
WILSONAnd it's just never healed. And there's just really no real chance. The idea of bringing the PA back to Gaza isn't -- it doesn't make sense on a number of levels. It won't happen. And so I don't know how Israel starts to feel comfortable enough allowing cement and rebar that's used in missile construction and all kinds of stuff in without some assurances.
LABOTTThere is talk about, you know, rebuilding already and who's going to do that. And maybe there should be some kind of marshal plan. But Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General just said yesterday, look, we build up -- the international community builds up Gaza and it's destroyed again and then we build it up again. And we're not doing it anymore. This is the last time we're doing it.
LABOTTSo there is a recognition, I think across the world, even in Israel that there needs to be some fundamental change in the status quo so that you're not continuing to do this. And Israel, I think this time more than so in 2012 or 2008 is on the international stage getting so much criticism. And there is talk about them being brought to the international criminal court, which they're very concerned about. I think that there's a recognition. I don't know how you get there. I don't think they know how you get there. But you can't -- this can't end without some kind of at least desire to change the status quo.
WILSONOne of the things you see in Gaza you see large housing projects funded by particular governments, the emirates or Qatar. And these were done largely when -- over the years but many of them when Morsi, who was an ally of Hamas, was in power. I think part of the question that -- the complicating question this time also is, is Egypt -- what will they allow to get through? Morsi would ease up on the tunnels at times, allow this construction aid to come in to allow these governments to really build their own projects in Gaza and advertise them. I'm not sure Sisi's going to be at all interested in that kind of work.
DANAHARI think the other thing is that Israel doesn't want to see Hamas get taken out because they're really worried about what will come after Hamas, some Jihad or something even worse than that. So Israel looks at the Gaza Strip as run by people that have some statehood responsibilities and therefore some accountability to the local population, a bit like Hezbollah. Hezbollah and Hamas are in the same box.
DANAHARBoko Haram and ISIS, it's a different kettle of fish. And Netanyahu has been slightly disingenuous by trying to lump them altogether. He knows, and most of the international community knows, that Hamas is not ISIS. There would be no ceasefire with ISIS if ISIS were running Gaza. And everybody knows that while Hamas has got to do something to look after the local population, there is some negotiation with them. They know the PA are not going to back.
REHMSo do you expect a new negotiation, a new five-minute truce?
DANAHARYeah, I think there will be. And I think the fact that so far the retaliation has been low level suggests that. But it's not going to resolve the crisis.
REHMAll right. We'll take a short break. Your calls when we come back. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We have more topics on the agenda. But I do want to open the phones. Let's go first to John in Murray, Ky. Hi, you're on the air.
JOHNI was a captain in the U.S. Army in 2008, 2009. And we were on a military transition team operating in the Sinjar region. And I just wanted to make a comment that the Yazidis were the translators for every transition team and every group that went outside the wire in Iraq for years. And I feel strongly that we need to do everything we can to help these people out. And I would even go so far as to offer the translators and their families citizenship.
REHMThat's very interesting, John.
WILSONIt is. And I'd seen that noted before, John, yeah, thank you for your service. But I -- this is a problem in Afghanistan, in other parts of Iraq, on how we manage these people. And I, you know, that is -- it's remarkable how the -- that the Yazidis were, you know, working arm-in-arm with American forces there. And, you know, there does have to be some kind of acknowledgement. And I think that's part of what's driving Obama.
REHMExactly. All right, let's go to Tipton, Ga. Hi, Chet.
CHETHi, Diane. First, I realized while I was on hold, I've been listening and learning from you for almost 30 years now, so we're getting on...
REHMThat's terrific. Thank you so much.
CHETMy question, I guess, or comment concerns the first part of the discussion today, was about ISIS. And given the fact that most everyone agrees that al-Qaida is not really a thing of the past but not as much of a threat. When you consider that history repeats itself and you'd look at how ISIS is so -- is growing and so radical and so dangerous, and what al-Qaida did to the world economy and in general, it looks to me like world governments would step up and, as Barney Fife would say, do some bud-nipping. I know that's simplistic and it's a complex issue, but basically that's what it boils down to.
REHMAll right. Paul.
DANAHARYeah, I mean, who would have thought a few years ago that we'd be saying that al-Qaida is not the worst thing on the planet. I mean it shows you how bad ISIS is, that al-Qaida threw them out. And the fact, I think, that the international community has sat back and waited until we get to the state where we have a terrorist organization with an army -- not just a militia, but actually an army that has heavy artillery, that can carry out attacks on cities using big weapons. This is a terrible state of affairs for everybody, not just people in the Middle East.
DANAHARBut as we've said, if you get Westerners being drawn into this type of organization, they one day will go home and they will start attacking in their own homelands.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Khalid who's here in Washington. You're on the air.
KHALIDYes, ma'am. We are a society that have faced 72 military-genocide campaigns on the Turk and the Persian at the past. And today, we are facing one more and far more worse than what it was at the past, which is from ISIS, which they tend to eliminate our race from the existence. And now, all these children are starving to death and they are dying. And nobody's even listening to these people and their health. We are here in front of the White House. We want the American officials to hear our voice, to hear our -- read our message, to touch our children how we feel.
KHALIDBecause people have suffered. People have loss. And we are now waiting for mercy from God to send us some military support.
REHMAll right, Khalid. And there is passion everywhere, Scott.
WILSONAbsolutely. I imagine, I mean, he may be Yazidi. He may be a Christian. Nonetheless, I mean, I guess he should take some heart in that Obama seems to have heard the voice to some degree. Whether or not that's an enduring commitment, I guess we'll wait and see.
REHMAll right. And to Steven in Salem, Ind. You're on the air.
STEVENYes, Diane. I wanted to first thank you for the excellence of your broadcast over these years.
STEVENYou also have such a high-quality panel today.
STEVENSeem to have recurring theme both from the guests and from the panelists, and that is that history continues to repeat itself. I know in Afghanistan, for example, the Turks could not bring order, neither could the British, neither could the Russians. And somehow Americans have this idea that we can go in and suddenly there's going to be order everywhere. I'm a bit bemused, if it weren't for the size of the tragedy, at American thinking. We are such isolationists. We think we can go in and impose order on tribal societies.
REHMDo you think it has been hubris driving us?
LABOTTIn this particular case, no. I think that President Obama has been very reluctant for that very reason. And he said yesterday, America, there is not American military solution to this. He has -- he's saying, America can't get involved everywhere. But when we can prevent horrific violence on that mass scale, we must. But, you know, he hasn't explained why this humanitarian emergency demands an American response, as opposed to Syria where some 170 people -- 70,000 people have died. And nobody has the sense, really, why in this case, not others. And what really matters to the U.S.? I don't think he's really made that clear yet.
DANAHARAnd he articulated a point a few years ago. He said, you know, why not go into the Congo, and but why go into Syria? And I think it was a slightly disingenuous idea because at the end of the day, whether we like it or not, what happens in Africa tends to stay in Africa. What happens in the Middle East doesn't. The Vegas rules don't really apply there. So you have to basically look at what the crisis is and what it means for America. And I think the thing about the Middle East, you can't walk away from it. You can pivot to Asia, but you can't pivot the whole way, because the Middle East will always drag you back into it.
REHMAll right. To Detroit, Mich. Hi there, Alex.
ALEXHi, Diane. How are you?
ALEXI have a comment specifically to the conflict in Gaza, and it's a question. My opinion is that the Hamas militants and Hamas as an organization has in the past few years have changed their tactics. They're no longer, in essence, fighting a war with Israel with weapons. They're fighting a war with Israel in the media.
ALEXAll the rockets that they're sending, they're launching against Israel. They're (word?) against innocent civilians as well, but they don't care whether they kill or not anymore, in the sense that they're more concerned for the fact that they will only have their own citizens being shown on the news in the situations where they're killed or hurt. And the media is constantly playing into their hands.
LABOTTThis is the Israeli narrative, right? That Hamas doesn't care about the Palestinian people. And if the media, if that dumb media covers those -- the death of these Palestinian civilians, that they're playing right into Hamas' hands. It is true that, look, the Hamas rockets are not really hitting Israel in a major way and having major casualties. What they're doing is they're sewing fear among the Israeli public. But they know that the Israelis are going to launch this terrible -- this, you know, asymmetrical response, let's call it that. And there are going to be tons of Palestinian civilians. And the truth is that they don't really care.
LABOTTBecause if they cared about Palestinian, you know, real civilians, they wouldn't be -- there are reports that they have put rockets in homes and in schools and that they've used human shields. You know, there's a lot of definitions of what that means. But it is true that there is more of a war of hearts and minds, if you will, going on right now against Israel than there is a real war, because they're not doing anything to Israel really.
DANAHARAnd the reality is that Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organization. So they're expected to do bad things. And Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, it calls itself, and therefore is held at a different standard. So when you end up killing a kid for every Hamas militant that you kill, you are going to get a lot of flack form everybody -- not just the media, from this president, quietly, from the state department, from the European Union. That's the problem that Israel face, not a level playing field.
REHMHere's an email from Ernie in Seattle. He says, ISIS is a serious threat to more than Arbil, Baghdad and the Yazidis. It's a threat to the entire Middle East and to the U.S. They're only 7,000 to 10,000 strong and many are deployed in the open, away from cities. Couldn't an air-only attack succeed here? Airpower was decisive in Kosovo. Scott.
WILSONI agree with Ernie, that it's a much bigger threat than just to those cities. It's spans the border with Syria. It's in Lebanon. It's weakening Jordan. They -- we were talking about it earlier, but, you know, it's the territory. It's the land, right? This is an ungoverned space, in the jargon of this administration that it did not want to see Afghanistan returned to, and now much closer to the very heart of the Middle East, you're going to have a wide expanse of land that is under ISIS control.
REHMUnless -- and what he is saying, why couldn't you take airpower in and take them out?
DANAHARI don't pretend to be a military strategist. It -- on its face, it seems like, you know, they are along the rivers. They are along -- we know where they are. It does seem that there are opportunities to weaken them. I think we're showing right now, with some of the operations we've done this morning against artillery pieces, it's not that hard to identify them. I don't know what the rationale is. But I can't argue that that doesn't seem to make some sense.
REHMAnd Joshua says, "I wonder if this isn't the beginning of the end of Iraq as a state. It seems our only solid allies are the Kurds, who deserve recognition."
DANAHARYeah, I mean, the reality is that Iraq has always been held together by force. It was created by the British. It was held together by Saddam. And the reality -- I think, we began to see the beginning of the end of Iraq when the Iraqi Army ran away from ISIS. I mean, this is the second stage, I think. It's very unlikely that we're going to see this country function as one country. It may still be called Iraq on some bit of sort of headed notepaper somewhere. But increasingly it will move apart politically.
REHMDid President Obama make a mistake in announcing a withdrawal too soon? Elise.
LABOTTWell, a lot of people think that he did. I mean, there was all this talk about how he was not able to get a BSA, a kind of status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government. There were some -- many people, including privately within his own administration, who said he didn't really try very hard. He campaigned for president on getting the U.S. troops out. He was able to fulfill that promise. A lot of people blame President Bush for going into Iraq. And clearly there were a lot of problems with the way the U.S. went in and the post-war planning. But the way that the U.S. got out of Iraq and a lack of political engagement.
LABOTTWhen the U.S. withdrew its forces, it really did -- and we've talked a lot about it on this show -- it really did tamp down its diplomatic engagement. And that's the problem I think that you've seen across the administration in its intervention.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You wanted to add something.
WILSONExactly. Yeah, no, I agree with everything Elise said. I'd also say, I think that this is a different -- this changes that argument, what is happening right now, I think. In the first couple years after 2011, then at the end of 2011, he got to talk about it in 2012, his reelection year, that he ended the war in Iraq, so to speak. The violence that occurred in Iraq after that, it was hard to know what 10,000 U.S. soldiers might be doing to stop it. It was car-bombing. It was much more random, dislocated a bit. This is territorial expansion and taking.
WILSONAnd it's hard, you know, would 10,000 Americans along the Kurdish border there have stopped ISIS from moving on Mosul? I don't know the answer to that. But it's a different question than it was two years ago.
REHMAll right. To Tony in St. Petersburg, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
TONYHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
TONYI just want to say that all of our problems and all of our woes in this region -- not just in the Palestinian region, but in Iraq -- come down to one thing. It's not a bombing escapade. It's not us going back in. It has to be a political solution. And you have to bring those states that are sponsoring the Palestinians for example -- they're getting their rockets from someplace. I mean, it's Iran. You know, so we have to basically, politically bring in all of those states that are sponsoring either ISIS or the Palestinians and get them into a situation where they're not sponsoring.
TONYBecause if there is a war and if there is something going on, it's because somebody's supplying them with arms. And so that's really the solution. It's a political solution.
REHMIt would be good if we could get all those people to a table and begin talking.
DANAHARAnd they'll lie to us, which is what happens with countries in the Middle East, in the Gulf. You'll have the leadership sitting down and saying, oh, these people are terrible. But their own, some of their own princes will be funding these kind of guys. And the problem is, is that people will tell you one thing when they're sitting around a table.
DANAHARThey'll fly home and they'll turn a blind eye when money goes through Kuwait to fund ISIS or money goes through Qatar to fund Hamas. The problem is people are not upfront about this because there's too much going on beneath the surface that the West really doesn't understand.
WILSONAnd to add on that -- the other problem with this is, these countries don't want to. They don't -- they have -- their interests are not our interests. Their interests very much sometimes are to stand in opposition of the American and Israeli project in the region. And so, you know, the idea that this is an Obama mantra, right -- common interests, common values, shared values. Paul got at this earlier. Our values aren't the same. Religion has changed the values and goals of many in the Middle East since the Arab Spring began.
WILSONAnd it's difficult to talk and it's difficult to negotiate. But I think the idea that, if we could only do this, things would be fine, is a noble one. It's ignoring the fact that there's real opposition to what the American -- the nature of the American presence in the world right now.
LABOTTThe problem is that every one of the conflicts that you see right now -- whether it's Syria, whether it's in Iraq, whether -- and now you're looking at what's happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These are becoming proxy conflicts, with Iran on one side, Qatar and, you know, Turkey on another side, and Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Egypt on another. And the United States is kind of caught between trying to balance all of these interests and at the same time try and find a solution. Which, it's true what we've said, the U.S. cannot solve all of these problems. A lot of times it's the region that needs to do it.
REHMYou got the last word today.
LABOTTI love that.
REHMYeah, I know you do. Elise Labott, Scott Wilson, Paul Danahar, have a great weekend everybody.
DANAHARThanks very much, Diane.
WILSONThank you, Diane.
LABOTTThank you, Diane.
REHMThank you, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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