After the deadly attacks in Paris on November 13, WAMU's The Diane Rehm Show hosted Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, alongside Peter Baker, reporter at the New York Times, James Bamford, columnist at Foreign Policy magazine, and Ambassador James Jeffrey, Philip Solondz distinguished visiting fellow at the Washington Institute.

Transcript

MS. DIANE REHM

Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Investigators continue to piece together clues regarding the deadly coordinated attacks in Paris last Friday night. At least one of the perpetrators is believed still at large. French authorities say the mastermind of the attack is a Belgian national currently in Syria. Here to talk about shifting views on the threat posed by ISIS and the international response, Peter Baker of the New York Times, Ambassador James Jeffrey of The Washington Institute.

MS. DIANE REHM

Joining us by phone from Vienna, Austria, James Bamford of Foreign Policy magazine and by phone from Brussels, Marc Pierini of Carnegie Europe. Your calls are always welcome. You can join us at 800,433-8850. Send an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.

MR. PETER BAKER

Thank you for having us.

MR. JAMES BAMFORD

Thank you, Diane, I appreciate it.

AMBASSADOR JAMES JEFFREY

Thanks for being...

REHM

James Bamford, let me start with you. And tell us about the investigation so far.

BAMFORD

Well, the investigation so far hasn't been going very well. They've been trying very hard to find some links to the people, other than the one major person involved, but they didn't have any really much of a clue in the first place, in terms of eavesdropping. They weren't able to pick up any phone calls. It was a total intelligence disaster at the beginning, largely because of new techniques and communications and that kept both the French, who have a very extensive intelligence operation, and the US, with the NSA and the CIA, completely in the dark.

BAMFORD

The perpetrators, apparently, were using either encryption or anonymizers like Tor, maybe even online games could've been used. So there's a variety of ways that this was kept in the dark of the intelligence agencies.

REHM

So where do we go from here, in terms of finding both the source and the other perpetrators?

BAMFORD

Well, I think it's just a matter of digging and digging and digging. They're just looking for clues right now. You know, people have met these perpetrators at one time or another and I think they're eventually going to get somebody who's seen something at some point. So it's very difficult, I think, for the investigators to start from virtually nothing and find out who was involved, how it took place and all the other details.

REHM

To you, Peter Baker, Secretary of State John Kerry met with French President Hollande and offered a somewhat optimistic view of a coordinated response. What are they saying?

BAKER

Right. Well, John Kerry is working on a diplomatic solution that would bring together the Russians, the Iranians, the Saudis and a number of other actors in Saudi and in Syria to finally put a ceasefire to the four-year civil war. If that were to actually happen, his argument is then that would allow a greater effort against ISIS coordinated with potentially Russia, France and other actors. He thinks it's -- he's very optimistic.

BAKER

He said that we're potentially weeks away from a halt of hostilities, at least between the government and the opposition forces, which would then open up this window, in effect, for a greater effort against the terrorist group.

REHM

And now that the Russians have acknowledged that there was a bomb on board the plane that blew up a couple of weeks ago, is Russia more willing to participate with the U.S. and France?

BAKER

Well, as a matter of fact, this morning, they launched attacks against Raqqah, the same ISIS stronghold that France has been hitting the last two days. They used sea-based cruise missiles from a submarine as well as long-ranged bombers. So, you know, that makes clear they're actually targeting ISIS for a change as opposed to opposition groups that have been supported by the United States.

Whether this leads to a more integrated effort or not is unclear. They didn't coordinate this with the United States in advance. They did notify the United States in advance, but they did not coordinate that with the United States. So, you know, it's still a very tense situation. President Putin of Russia and President Obama met in Turkey on the sidelines of this summit, but the Russians said that they're still pretty far apart in the way they view how this war should go.

REHM

What are the implications, Ambassador Jeffrey, of President Putin participating at least nominally?

JEFFREY

It's of some importance on the margins. It has little military value because you're not going to deal with ISIS unless you can launch a ground offensive. Politically, it's interesting, but not necessarily positive because if you cannot deal with Assad, and Russia's been, along with Iran, one of the big blockers of getting Assad out, you will not mobilize the Turks, the Sunni Arab states and the Sunni Arab populations of Iraq and Syria against ISIS.

You won't do it, period. The war will go on both against Assad and with ISIS.

REHM

So you and Senator John McCain are both arguing for troops on the ground, American troops on the ground.

JEFFREY

Absolutely. We need to have at least -- and I can't say the numbers. It would be nothing like Iraq, but we need to launch offensives with American forces, rather like the Kurds did with some 6 or 7,000 troops just the other day in Sinjar. That kind of offensive will have a huge impact on everybody else and mobilize all of our friends.

REHM

All right. And before we get Jim Bamford's response on that, I'd like to go to Marc Pierini because over the weekend, French President Hollande declared the attacks to be acts of war and ordered not only ramped up air strikes, but a tightened emergency state of affairs in France. What does that mean, Marc?

MR. MARC PIERINI

Well, this is a state of emergency. The government can declare that on its own for 12 days. Now, a law is going to go through Parliament to extend it to three months. That's a normal procedure. And the shock is immense, therefore the response has to be very big. This is the first time ever, of course, that there were suicide bombers on French territory and also you have to realize that these attacks have been conducted or directed from Syria and planned and prepared in Belgium and conducted in France.

So these are at least three countries and the attackers have benefitted from the EU fundamental freedoms. We have Schengen, therefore no border controls. We have freedom of association, freedom of speech, internet is free therefore there is a very big difficulty for intelligence in catching up all these people, all the more so that they keep changing. Most of the French citizens, Belgian citizens involved are newcomers.

They're not on the radar screen until this time so it is an immense difficulty. The citizens want a response. Well, the bombings on Raqqah are a response, but the rest is basically getting better organized at French level and at EU level. On Friday, you're going to see EU home affairs ministers meeting. They are going to work on weapons legislation, passenger name record, sharing of intelligence and probably some restrictions on Schengen, on the free movement.

REHM

Well, help me to understand what that state of emergency could mean for the citizens of France and will that take constitutional changes.

PIERINI

Well, in itself, it doesn't take constitutional changes. It allows the police to conduct searches, to conduct arrests any time of the day, directly without the judiciary being involved. Therefore, it's a dent, if you want, in the rule of law, but people generally understand that. It's not that France has had that state of emergency too often. It happened during the Algerian Independence War in the late '50s and early '60s and it happened a couple of times for other occasions, but very short.

That is not too much of a political problem. What is a problem, politically speaking, in France is that this whole movement, this attack, revives the discussion on getting more police, getting more restrictive on French citizens that go to Syria and come back. There will be a draft law on destituting French citizens who have double citizenship if they get into criminal act, but none of this is really an instant fix to the issue.

This is why you have this, plus the military action in Raqqah.

REHM

So how do you think French citizens themselves are reacting to his heightened state of emergency?

PIERINI

Well, initially, people will like it. It's reassuring to see troops in the streets and more controls at the airports or at the station, but everybody knows that in the medium and long run, this is a very divisive issue. France has one of the highest percentage of Muslim population among the European states, second after Bulgaria. Bulgaria is a special case because of history. And it is very divisive. It's, of course, a minute fraction of the Muslim population in France.

REHM

All right. Short break here. Marc Pierini is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. Short break, right back.

REHM

Welcome back. We're talking about the ongoing investigation into the ISIS attacks against Paris and of course other targets. The Russian passenger plane that was blown up a few weeks ago and now President Putin has declared there was a bomb that caused that. And you have a number of other areas that have been hit. Here in the studio, Peter Baker of The New York Times, Ambassador James Jeffrey of The Washington Institute, he's former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Turkey. James Bamford is on the line with us from Vienna, Austria. He's a columnist for Foreign Policy Magazine. And Marc Pierini is on the line with us. He's visiting scholar for Carnegie Europe.

REHM

James Bamford, you heard Ambassador Jeffrey say that the only way to deal with ISIS at this point is for the U.S. to put boots on the ground. Would you agree?

BAMFORD

No, I actually agree with President Obama. I just think it's a big mistake to get deeper and deeper involved in this. We, you know, it's these constant regime changes that we've been involved in, in the Middle East, that have gotten us into the problem in the first place, starting with Iraq. And, you know, had we not created this vacuum that existed after the destruction of Iraq, ISIS may never have started in the first place. I think the idea is to start pulling back from the Middle East and letting people in the Middle East solve their own problems and start working on issues at home more than getting further and further involved over there.

REHM

France and the U.S. are talking about intelligence sharing. To what extent will that ease the problem of ISIS?

BAMFORD

Well, you know, you have to look back at the track record. It has been dismal. We've missed virtually every terrorist incident -- not we, but we, the British, the French, everybody, has missed virtually every terrorist event from the beginning, starting with the first World Trade Center attack, the attack on the USS Kohl, the attack on U.S. embassies in East Africa, 9/11, the Times Square bombing attempt, the underwear bomber attempt, the marathon bombing and the two bombings in France so far -- Charlie Hebdo and this one on, last week. So...

REHM

Why do you think that is? We have spent billions of dollars on intelligence gathering. Why have we, the U.S., and other countries missed so much?

BAMFORD

Well, the intelligence isn't good. It's just not very good intelligence for -- the CIA, for example, human intelligence has been very bad. It was human intelligence that got us into -- bad human intelligence that got us into the war in Iraq in the first place. And the NSA, with signals intelligence, it's a, you know, the people there are always telling me it's the problem of volume -- of variety and basically it's just too much information coming at the same time and from too many different places. So it's so difficult these days to try to pick up any kind of information when you're dealing with people who are using encryption or could be using any kind of form of communications.

The NSA eventually picks up a lot of this information, but it doesn't get to analyze it until weeks after the event. So the track record has been horrible. And if you have a horrible track record of preventing terrorist attempts, terrorist actions and you should be very careful about getting into more and more military involvements in the Middle East.

REHM

Ambassador Jeffrey.

JEFFREY

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Bamford, other than the first sentence where he disagreed with me. He's made my case. He's made the case convincingly that you cannot defend against a terrorist force of the magnitude of a state with 9 million people, with the mission of turning the Middle East and eventually the world upside down. And we've seen that repeatedly. He's absolutely right. So what do you do about it? The Obama administration, despite the president's talking about containment, which is essentially what he's done, has an official policy of degrading and destroying ISIS, taking the offensive. That's the right strategy.

The problem is his operational tactics are not working. And they will not work even with a bit more special forces, a bit more bombing, until you come up with a competent ground force to take these guys out. As far as regime change, unless he wants to keep the current regime in Raqqah in place and have more Parises, I'm all for regime change against ISIS. Thank you.

REHM

James Bamford.

BAMFORD

Well, I'd be happy to have regime change against ISIS. The problem is every time we go in to change a regime, it doesn't turn out very well. Libya is a perfect example of that. Everybody went in thinking, oh, this will be -- will bring freedom and democracy and happiness to Libya. And it's a total disaster. The United States had to basically run out of the country. We tried changing the regime in Iraq and you can see how that happened, and on and on and on. I mean, we've got Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and so forth.

So there's other problems that the U.S. has to deal with. We've got problems of gun control in the United States that kill far more people than terrorists. You get 30,000 people a year dying from gun control. We have bridges that are falling down and so forth. So I think that the -- this emphasis on trying to solve every Middle East crisis by going in there and bombing a country doesn't work very well, especially when it turns out that the retribution that comes back from that in the form of terrorist actions are total surprises when they happen. We've never solved -- or we've never prevented a major terrorist incident yet.

I think when the director of NSA had to testify before Congress, he pointed to one instance where their intelligence was able to find a potential terrorist operation and that was a taxi driver in San Diego who happened to send $7,000 to a group in Somalia. So that was it. And so if you can't prevent terrorist actions and, you know, you should not look to generate them.

REHM

All right. But now considering the fact that you, James Bamford, say that intelligence is not working, putting boots on the ground won't work, what would your next step be as far as ISIS is concerned?

BAMFORD

Well, luckily, I don't have to make those decisions.

REHM

I realize that.

BAMFORD

I have been arguing for years, if not longer -- for a decade, at least since Iraq, that we shouldn't be getting heavily involved in the Middle East. I was against the Iraq War in the first place. I wrote a whole book about how we got involved. And we're at the point now where it's almost impossible to pull out. But it was because of all these continuous involvements in the Middle East that we are where we are -- where we are with ISIS and so forth. So we're down a road I never wanted to go. And how you get out of this dead-end right now, I don't really have an idea.

REHM

Ambassador Jeffrey, how is putting thousands of troops on the ground -- however many you're talking about -- how is that likely to help the situation in Syria and deal with ISIS?

JEFFREY

It won't deal with every problem. And I have to agree with Mr. Bamford. I didn't like the Iraq War either. I was ordered into it for three years. But I learned a lot there. And one thing is, right now, ISIS is not an insurgency, it's not a terrorist group like the al-Qaida folks hiding in the mountains of Pakistan. It is a state, as it says, and it's got an army of 30,000 troops -- some well trained and equipped. If you want to get rid of ISIS -- as Mr. Bamford and almost everybody else, including Barack Obama, say they do -- you have to go in and drive these guys out, just like we've learned since the time of the Romans. And there's only one way to do that, with ground forces.

We've tried local ground forces for 18 months. It's hasn't worked. It's either contain them or -- and put up with more Parises -- or go in and get them.

REHM

Peter Baker, talk about the U.S. public's response to the idea of putting troops on the ground.

BAKER

Yeah. No, it's really interesting. I mean, polls show that the public, even before the Paris attacks, was pretty not convinced that the current strategy was working, that what the president is trying with ISIS is sufficient or adequate to the threat. At the same time, they don't support, you know, a majority support ground troops at this point. So, I mean, the public is sort of where the general body politic is. Which is to say that, you know, it understand that we haven't made the progress that everybody would like to see against ISIS, but it's not -- it finds the solutions that the Ambassador is suggesting here to be, you know, problematic.

And so the trick is, you know, what does a leadership do? President Obama has made very clear where he's at. My guess is he's not going to change his mind in the next year. But I think that it's interesting to know, and we don’t' know yet, whether or not Paris has changed some of that attitude. The poll we took, for instance, was before Paris. Is there more of an appetite today for ground troops, given the idea of Paris and that the idea of Paris could happen here. That we haven't tested yet.

REHM

Marc Pierini, let's move for a moment to the migrant flow and how the attacks in Paris might affect how migrants are able to go into various countries, including France.

PIERINI

Well, this is the other crisis. This year, by the end of next month, the EU will have received one million people: 800,000 from the Aegean, Western Balkans track, and 200,000 from the Central Mediterranean. This is primarily triggered by the Syrian civil war, but also criminal networks, mafias of traffickers have had up to this -- (word?) refugees in Iran, Afghans, Pakistanis, et cetera. So if you make a simple calculation that every single of these people has spent -- and this is a very conservative estimate -- $2,500 to $3,000, this is $3 billion spent. And this is not counting food and lodging and life vests and fake live vests and dinghies and so on.

So this is just for traffickers. There is very little that governments can do against such a huge flow of money. It's not entirely new because 20, 25 years ago, we had that on the Strait of Gibraltar. Ten years ago we had that from Libya, too, but it was much smaller. Now, Syrians have a lot more money and the international traffickers are much faster, reactive. They have Facebook pages, Twitter and so on. So they see a market and they offer services. That is the big issue. And of course, apart from the inadequate answer -- response to these crises by the EU, we have now a backlash of the Paris attacks.

Because you only need one case, you know, one Syrian passport fake that -- found in Paris in these attacks on Friday night, to have the whole political spectrum say, Oh, wait a minute. This refugee policy, accepting all these people, is not good because terrorists will hide. This may be one in 100,000, but it has an impact. And if you followed French television debates last night, after the president spoke in front of the congress, that was the whole thing, with a backlash also on Turkey. Because people now blame Turkey for a lax policy on refugees and a lax policy on jihadists. So there's a kind of amalgamation of the two issues, very unfortunately, to the detriment most probably of these asylum seekers, who are just running for their life.

REHM

And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Comment, Ambassador Jeffrey, on the crisis of migration.

JEFFREY

First of all, it's driven not by ISIS but by the other problem that's linked, that I made reference to earlier, the Iranian-Russian-Assad regime war against the vast majority of the 20-plus million population of Syria. Most of these people are fleeing from Syria, although now some are from Iraq, Afghanistan and God knows where. But his crisis is also partially made in Europe. My friend, Marc Pierini, knows all the details. But this goes to 20 years of extremely idealistic, legally based refugee policy in Europe that can't withstand a flow like this. And it is pulling apart the entire continent. It is one of the other offshoots of following a policy of ignoring the Middle East, frankly, and its wars.

REHM

All right. I'm going to open the phones, take a call from Peoria, Ill. Robert, you're on the air.

ROBERT

Hi. Thank you, Diane, for taking my call.

REHM

Surely.

ROBERT

I was wondering, how is it that the terrorists' encryption is superior to the French and American governments' to decode the encryption. They are able to hide their machinations with impunity. This is a major problem that is -- that receives scant attention.

REHM

All right.

ROBERT

We don't have good (word?) ...

REHM

Pete -- sorry, James Bamford.

BAMFORD

Well, it's a very good question. That's really the -- one of the essential questions right now is, what -- how do you go after terrorists now that encryption is becoming very prolific. It is very easy to use encryption, and not only encryption but a variety of other platforms in order to hide your communications. There's been a lot of calls in the United States now to force the companies who are involved in communications and encryption and so forth to allow the FBI and the U.S. intelligence agencies to have a backdoor, in other words access to the actual encryption keys and so forth.

President Obama has been against that. He's been pushing against that and he actually vetoed the United States doing that recently. But now there's a great deal of pressure because of the Paris attacks to give the FBI and the intelligence agencies backdoor access. The problem with that is, though, it just means that the terrorists would buy the encryption from a foreign company...

REHM

Hmm.

BAMFORD

...and just avoid the U.S. company. At the same time, it would hurt the U.S. companies enormously because who's going to buy a piece of American encryption with a guaranteed backdoor to the NSA? So...

REHM

Peter Baker, do you want to comment?

BAKER

Well, what's interesting, I mean, what James -- he sums up the issue very nicely. I think what's interesting is, in a broader sense, this event for the moment has moved the center of gravity on a number of these security-related debates on surveillance, on Guantanamo, which the president at one point was going to put out a plan to close again this week -- now they're not going to -- and on the issue of troops on the ground, what to do about ISIS.

REHM

Peter Baker of The New York Times. Short break. More of your calls, comments, when we come back. Stay with us.

REHM

Welcome back. I want to go for a moment back to Marc Pierini because of something you said about a fake passport. Do we know for certain that passport was fake? There have been lots of comments about that, Peter Baker.

BAKER

The last I saw had not confirmed that. I think they suspect that. And, you know, what's really interesting is these people that they're going after a mix, right. The one person who came in through the refugee flow has obviously inflamed the debate about refugees, but several of these people are French. They're French nationals. They've lived there for a long time. You know, obviously there was plotting in Belgium. So how do you respond to different threats from different walks of life, different ways of dealing with?

Do you -- there's a lot of talk about the suburbs of Paris in France. That's a code word for Muslim communities in there. They're talking about what to do about the mosques. And it has, you know, it has a potential to really change the nature of the debate in Europe, and the question is whether it does here, too.

REHM

Marc Pierini, what do we know about that so-called fake passport?

PIERINI

Well, of course it's not yet confirmed, but what is clear is that because the network and the asylum-seekers themselves know that you stand a far greater chance to be granted asylum and refugee status if you're Syrian rather than Pakistani or Eretrian, well, they will do everything possible to get a Syrian passport. So you, one, a cottage industry of fake Syrian passports, and you also have, for different reasons, the Syrian government making money by delivering faster Syrian passports.

Only two years ago, and two or three or years ago, you needed, if you were a Syrian citizen living in Istanbul, you needed to send your passport back to Damascus, and you'd have to wait three months. Now Syrian consulates around the worlds can issue passports. It's $250. And we hear that there is a traffic there, too. Months ago, about a month ago, on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, a man was caught with 10,000 blank Syrian passports in his car.

So this is going to be a recurrent problem.

REHM

Interesting, interesting. All right, here's an email from Mike. I'll address to you, Ambassador Jeffrey. What will it take to get Putin to realize he needs to be part of the solution against ISIS? How much he be convinced that the stature in the world he desires will be better attained by playing a more constructive role against ISIS?

JEFFREY

That's a big order because Mr. Putin doesn't like the current world order. He doesn't like ISIS, but he's willing to instrumentalize ISIS to expand his power in the Middle East, and that's what he's been doing since September. So I'm not so sure he can be brought on a team, nor is it necessary. We don't need his military power to take down ISIS.

REHM

Hasn't he taken something of a first step by acknowledging to the world that his plane was brought down by a bomb?

BAKER

Yeah, they were unwilling to say that for quite a number of days. It reminds me of 2004, when two Chechen suicide bombers brought down two Russian planes at the exact same time. The initial rush in explanation was, well, our planes are so bad that mechanical issues on both planes at the same time happened to bring them down. They don't like to admit that kind of thing. But now they have, and they have, in fact, as we said, hit Raqqah, along with the French, not necessarily in coordination but at the same time.

The broader point, though, is that what Vladimir Putin is telling President Obama and the Americans right now I told you so. And his view of the world is that autocrats like Bashar al-Assad in Syria, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, like Kaddafi in Libya, are better than Islamic extremist groups, and you, the United States, have been too willing to cast aside these people who can be allies.

REHM

Of course as Ambassador Jeffrey said, there's no way this country, the United States is going to accept Bashar al-Assad as part of any solution because, in fact, he has waged war against his own people, and that's where the fundamental divide between Russia and the United States exists on this right now.

And here's an email from, let's see, I can't quite see his name, but it's for you, James Bamford. It says, it doesn't seem fair to say the intelligence agencies have a horrible track record. The public sees only the failures, never the successes. So it's easy for Bamford to list a litany of terrorist attacks that intelligence agencies could not stop.

BAMFORD

Well, actually after the Snowden release, the director of NSA was called before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and at that time they were talking about how there were something like 54 times that the NSA had managed to stop terrorist activity, stop a plot or whatever. And by the time the director was holding up his hand and under oath, it came down to one instant, the one instant I mentioned of the San Diego taxi driver sending money to Somalia.

So they had an opportunity to talk about all the successes that they've had, and they could've even done that in classified session, but none of that ever came out. So, I mean, what else can you conclude if they don't say they've ever had any major successes? That's what I take them at their word.

REHM

All right, let's go to Ray in Florahome, Florida. You're on the air.

RAY

Hello, Ms. Rehm, and thank you so much for taking my call.

REHM

Sure.

RAY

My question is, after this horrendous attack in Paris, the French began this bombing campaign in Raqqah. According to the news, they were given the information on where to bomb from us. If that is true, why didn't we act on that information? Why haven't we, I don't think to date, as far as I know, dropped any bombs on Raqqah? And I'll take my question off of the air.

REHM

All right, thanks for calling.

JEFFREY

It's a great question. It gets to how this military campaign has been conducted by the U.S. government. We have done some strikes on Raqqah. We actually did a Special Forces ground raid there at one point. But we've been very careful because we have extremely, extremely restrictive rules of engagement. These are the rules of engagement we've taken from the counterterrorism drone war, where if there are any civilians close to any target, we don't hit it because we have, frankly, the luxury of doing so. We don't have that luxury with ISIS, and the French certainly don't think so, as well.

REHM

James Bamford, do you want to comment?

BAMFORD

No, I think Ambassador Jeffrey sums it up pretty well.

REHM

All right, and here's an email from Jeremy in Cincinnati for you, Peter Baker. The several governors announcing they would refuse Syrian refugees in their states are playing into ISIS' hands. It seems clean ISIS wanted the Syrian passport found in order to make it harder for Syrian refugees to receive asylum in Europe and the U.S. If Syrians can't leave Syria, then ISIS would be able to impose their laws on more people.

BAKER

Yeah, I think it's why people are being careful about this passport and trying to figure out what this person really did do or didn't do in order not to fall into the trap of some sort of fake-out. You know, the governors you mentioned, you know, it's correct, about two dozen governors said they don't want Syrian refugees. They're certainly, you know, you know, channeling the, you know, frustration of Americans who fear the idea that in among them, among all these people who in fact are fleeing war, are people who might do damage.

And, you know, the answer that people give is okay, fine, we need to find a way to make Syria safe for them to want to stay, and that's, you know, that's the ultimate answer to this question because, in fact, the refugees aren't going to be here tomorrow anyway.

REHM

Ambassador Jeffrey?

JEFFREY

I think that ISIS is very, very interested in keeping people in Syria so that, as Peter said, that they can recruit them, and they can be part of their empire, whereas the Assad regime is interested in pushing them out. So you have two factors in play here. We just have to wait and see what the story is behind this passport.

REHM

All right, let's go to Dan in Le Roy, New York. Hi there, you're on the air.

DAN

Good morning, Diane.

REHM

Hi.

DAN

Yes, I'd like to praise Mr. Bamford as a voice of reason. It's pretty obvious or ISIS or whatever entity they really as is trying to bait us into putting boots on the ground over there, and I don't see any upside. ISIS was making all kinds of progress until they committed egregious acts of murder online in order to trump up hatred against them and to bring us into war, to hammer them when they were making all this progress for a land grab to create a caliphate. It makes absolutely no sense.

REHM

Marc Pierini, would you agree that ISIS is trying to bait the U.S. to get into the war by putting boots on the ground?

PIERINI

Absolutely, trying to bait the U.S. and the Europeans, as well. But there is another element to this, that if you read the fatwahs issued by al-Baghdadi or by his lieutenants and some of them in French language, they say you have to fight the infidels wherever you are, whatever your equipment is. If you have a rifle, use a rifle. If you have a knife, use a knife. If you don't have any of these, ram your car into the crowd. And this, I remind you, occurred twice last year before Christmas in France. And if not, you push somebody under the Metro car.

So, you know, we are now -- this is where you see the limitation of the internal operations. We are now looking at perhaps a few thousand people in France and Belgium that are receptive to these messages and may do something that has them nowhere near being on a suspect's list with intelligence forces. I will remind the audience that France has 4.7 million Muslims. Belgium has 630,000. That's in total over 5 million. You only need one in 1,000 of these people to have a group where, you know, fanatics can recruit followers for very simple things, not what happened in Paris, which is a rather sophisticated operation, well-coordinated and, you know, a number of targets and so on, but smaller things.

So the authorities are also worried of what can happen between now and Christmas, for example, on the street.

REHM

Peter Baker?

BAKER

Well, and that's, you know, we have been lucky here in the United States in that basically our Muslim population has tended to be more assimilated, tended to be wealthier, tend to be more part of American society than we have seen often in Europe, and therefore, you know, they consider themselves Americans just like everybody else, and they have a stake in the society, and that's clearly an issue that has not been resolved in Europe, and that's one reason we've been luckier, I think, here in terms of the last 14 years.

REHM

On this point of ISIS trying to lure the U.S. into the struggle, that's precisely what President Obama has said he wants to avoid, the so-called trap.

BAKER

Yeah, he does view it that way. He does view the idea of a ground war as a repeat of the Iraq mistake. He does frame the debate in a binary kind of term. Either you support his strategy, or you must support, in effect, an Iraq-style war. And saw it interestingly yesterday when he gave this press conference in Turkey. I mean, he was a little defensive about it. He was a little testy at some of the second-guessing. But his view is you need to give this time, that he can intensify the types of things we're doing, meaning airstrikes, meaning, you know, small Special Operations forces in (unintelligible) that he's just sent, meaning assistance to local forces, but that anything behind that in his view is political pandering.

REHM

And you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And let's go to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Lee, you're on the air.

LEE

Yeah, I have a question. Basically since we all -- it's been almost a consensus that the war that we went over there were basically a mistake. Should we be worried about Russia taking the brunt of it right now? Are we worried about them setting up bases, or -- I'm just trying to figure out what we are worried about.

REHM

Peter Baker?

BAKER

Well, that's a very good question. They do have a base already in Syria. It's really their only base in the entire region, and that's where they have sent their air forces and some small ground contingent. And we do worry about, I think the United States does worry about Russia having a greater influence in the Middle East because they don't see it as a constructive one. it's also interesting attempt, it seems, by Vladimir Putin to get out of the box that he's been in because of his intervention in Ukraine.

BAKER

You know, nobody's talking about Ukraine right now. He still has part of the eastern part of Ukraine basically under the control of separatists supported by Moscow, but nobody's talking about that. Instead they're talking about how we can be partners with Russia in this war against ISIS. That's a better place, from his point of view, than he was just a few months ago.

REHM

Marc Pierini, what's your view of how Russia is currently behaving?

PIERINI

Well, seen from Brussels, first of all Western Syria is now a Russian protectorate. Basically what Russia did was to rescue Assad from the cliff at the very moment his army was going to lose control of this middle section around Homs and Hama between the northwestern Alawite region and the capital, Damascus. So that -- they rescued 40 years ally, military ally. That's the first objective.

The second objective was to have a military stronghold there, and they have this expanding base, and finally making a statement on the world order, which you've heard in Putin's speech at the U.N. General Assembly a few weeks ago. I think by now we have to get used to the fact that the Russians are an inevitable interlocutor for the Western world about Syria. They also, by the way, in my view, made a statement vis-à-vis Iran. Russia didn't like the idea of Iran being the predominant support of Assad.

The key issue here is now will Russia direct the discussions about a political transition. This idea that it's for the Syrian people to decide, well, fine. I've been the U.N. ambassador to Syria at the same time Ryan Crocker was the ambassador. I observed elections. And there is nothing like an election in Syria. You don't even have a booth where you can put your ballot in an envelope. You do it on an open table in front of the police.

REHM

All right, and we'll have to leave it right there. Marc Pierini, former European Union ambassador to Turkey, Syria and Morocco, James Bamford, Foreign Policy Magazine, Ambassador James Jeffrey of The Washington Institute, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, and Peter Baker of the New York Times, thank you all.

BAKER

Thank you very much.

PIERINI

Thank you, Diane.

BAMFORD

Thank you.

JEFFREY

Thank you.

REHM

And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

This interview was originally broadcast on WAMU’s Diane Rehm Show.