Kurt Volker on Foreign Affairs

More from this show

Kurt Volker, the former NATO Ambassador and Executive Director of the McCain Institute, makes his regular appearance on Arizona Horizon to discuss foreign affairs.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A four-day contempt of court hearing for Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio began today. Arpaio and his chief deputy are accused of failing to obey a U.S. district judge's orders in a racial profiling case against the sheriff's office. Today's testimony included a sergeant in the sheriff's department saying that Arpaio personally instructed him to Effectively defy the judge's orders. The sergeant testified that he held his ground and that the subjects were eventually released, but only after the sergeant on Arpaio's orders took their photographs.

Ted Simons: U.S. warships are keeping a close eye on a convoy of Iranian cargo vessels off the coast of Yemen. There's concern that the ships may contain weapons intended for HOUTHi rebels in Yemen. Here to talk about that and other foreign affairs issues is former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker, who currently heads ASU's McCain institute. Great to have you back.

Kurt Volker: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: Does it feel like the world is readying for some sort of conflict?

Kurt Volker: Well, I think that there are enormous number of crises right now and they keep spreading. Part of that they see a United States that has contracted some of its international role and they see that there are opportunities and the bad guys are the ones that step forward to fill the void.

Ted Simons: Yet U.S. war ships off of the coast of Yemen. What is going on there?

Kurt Volker: This is interesting. Saudi efforts to go after the Houthi rebels in Yemen. This has been fueling an Sunni Shiite -- we have begun to see it play out in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula. Air operation to go after them. We are going to try to stop the flow of arms from Iran, try to isolate the rebels and that coincides with Saudi Arabia today announcing the end of the air campaign to try to promote now a political settlement. See if it works.

Ted Simons: Why did they announce the end I know that some of those bombs were killing civilians?

Kurt Volker: They were losing frankly. Not achieving their objectives. Objective to restore the elected government and defeat the rebels and remove Iranian's influence. They were not succeeding at that. They were losing support from the civilian population because of the bombing and trying a different tact, trying to isolate the rebels instead.

Ted Simons: So this is still mostly a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Kurt Volker: This is still going on. It's going on here and in many other places.

Ted Simons: Nine U.S. warships, aircraft carrier included. Is this a deterrent, a show of force I mean what happens if these other Iranian ships don't stop?

Kurt Volker: I think it is a partial blockade to try to prevent the arms from getting through. I'm sure they will try to test it and see our resolve, whether we turn those ships around. A risk of some shots being fired. Obviously we don't want to see that but that is what a blockade means, you have to be willing to push those ships away.

Ted Simons: The presence of the war ships, did that push Saudi to stop the bombing and maybe push Iran to hold off?

Kurt Volker: I suspect discussions going on behind the scenes. I think probably we and others advising the Saudis what you are doing isn't going to work on its own. You've got to stop the flow of arms and have a political solution. So I think we are contributing in effort to help the Saudis out because I think what was going on was alienating the population.

Ted Simons: Presence of the war ship and impact on the nuclear talks with Iran --

Kurt Volker: Nuclear talks have gone downhill completely. As soon as the deal was -- no, no, that was not the deal. A lot of putting together back to do. Iranian rhetoric has gotten worse over this. Blasting the United States and saying they will not be deterred. I think maybe a U.S. show of force in the region is maybe something that is necessary to show we're serious but I don't think this is going to derail either side from continuing the negotiations. A few more months before the current interim agreement runs out.

Ted Simons: But it seems as though it is in Iran's best interest to just kicking the nuclear can down the road.

Kurt Volker: It is. They want to skate that line where they can maintain the capacity to produce enriched uranium to be able to have a breakout capacity later on. As quick as they can down the road and not to have to give up too much. They want to show strength in the eyes of their public. And one would have thought that the interim agreement as announced would have been sufficient for them and they are saying no, that is not even enough. We want to keep going beyond that. They doubt that we would stop them.

Ted Simons: From where you sit, what you have seen in the past, and you know so much more about this than most, is this posturing? Do the Iranian leaders have to do the -- keep the populous thinking that they are tough guys meanwhile behind the scenes they're saying all right, we can work with you.

Kurt Volker: No, I think it is slightly different than that. I think they do this anti-American dance as you call it in order to try to influence the population and influence the region, strengthen their own negotiating position. Ultimately I think they doubt that we have the will to use military force to knock out their facilities. They doubt that Israel will be able to do it effectively either. They are playing with this agreement to dissuade us, get the maximum possible, stretch out the timelines, but part is showing this resolve to trash everything if they don't get what they want.

Ted Simons: Yet we need them, and they need us in the fight against the Islamic state.

Kurt Volker: We are cooperating together in Iraq. They are supporting the Iraqi government. We are also supporting the Iraqi government. Supporting the Iraqi Kurds in this fight against Isis. Isis is an Sunni element like Saudis are Sunnis but that is the extreme violent group that is out there -- no one really wants to support them so we have an enemy.

Ted Simons: We have a problem in Iraq. It sounds like Anbar province --

Kurt Volker: That's serious. Ramadi has been taken over by Isis now. Tikrit has been taken, it's been taken back now by Isis - Isis also attacked the major oil refinery there so Isis is not on the ropes by any stretch. The problem here is that the local population in the Sunni area is very distrustful of the government in Baghdad because of this relationship with Iran. For some of them they are going to look at Isis as the lesser of two evils.

Ted Simons: Is Isis yet another result of Saddam Hussein's old guard? Are these

Kurt Volker: They're trying to recruit now. Isis is a result really of the collapse of Syria and Assad's attacks against his own people and Isis was the most virulent group to rise up in that rebellion against Assad led by a guy -who was a prisoner of U.S. forces when we were in Iraq Al Baghdadi- they are now in a position to recruit people from the former regime in Iraq, who are trained and competent former military leaders and commanders that could add to the capacity of Isis.

Ted Simons: Where are they getting their money, resources? Who is behind these folks?

Kurt Volker: That's a great question. Some of it is self-generated. They are able to produce oil and gas and sell it on the black-market and get dollars for it. Control significant pieces of territory. They have raided what we call federal reserve offices, central bank offices in parts of Iraq. They are making millions a month.

Ted Simons: Is there any way for the U.S., the west, other parties in the Middle East to control that flow of money?

Kurt Volker: We have to try. I think the most important thing is to get the right coalition together to surround and squeeze Isis. Right now there are a lot of people who doubt our resolve in tackling Isis because of our unwillingness to commit to their total defeat. We say degrade and eventually defeat. Turkey, difficult issue working together against Isis because they want removing Assad and Syria to be part of that. With Iraq, we don't have a government in Iraq that the Sunni population trusts. Kurds, they want more direct flows of arms to help them. They are the most competent player in the region at the moment. We don't have a together strong coalition. We need that to really encircle Isis and put the pressure on them.

Ted Simons: I don't know who -- this video of Isis killing Ethiopian Christians in Libya. And now Libya is a supreme basket case. We will get to the immigrants coming into Italy in a second here. Is that video authentic and what -- does Ethiopia respond like Egypt did with bombing campaigns?

Kurt Volker: There is no reason to think it is not authentic. Isis has done this all over the place. You see it as copycat killings. It may not be Isis or be the same people in Iraq, but people in Somalia or Ethiopia trying to mimic and so that they are faithful to that same violent religious ideology. In terms of what you do about that, you have to strengthen states and governance and we have to do this cooperatively as a community that doesn't support and favor these things. Right now we have such weak states, as you pointed out, Libya, Somalia, or Mali that we are seeing the inability to control territory and the ability of the radical groups to gain control of assets and then export their violence from there. --

Ted Simons: It feels like these radical group are modern day pirates --

Kurt Volker: They are but of a very, very extreme version.

Ted Simons: The attempts to control pirates in the past -- they're not a state.

Kurt Volker: What we did when we had pirates, early days of our republic, was go in there and kill them. And that was really what we did. So, we are tired of wars in the middle east. We don't want to talk about boots on the ground, but the fact is, you know, piracy on the high seas was punishable by death period.

Ted Simons: Back to the Ethiopia, could they align with Egypt to respond but who do you respond against?

Kurt Volker: Different groups, getting funding, sometimes sharing tactics and sometimes personnel. Libya, we removed Khadafi from power a few years ago, but we never helped the government that emerged gain control of the country. No stabilization operation, no follow-on, no collection of weapons. As a result of that, all of these various groups stayed in place and have grown and there is total chaos in the country.

Ted Simons: Such chaos you have folks trying to leave from Libya, closest way to get to southern Europe, going into Italy. Boats are capsizing we are hearing Christians are throwing Muslims overboard, it just sounds crazy.

Kurt Volker: First off if you are a poor worker in any of these places where governments are breaking down. Economy is not functioning, very little hope and you feel physically threatened, what do you want to do, get on a boat and go to Europe? You go to places that are ungoverned. Once you get to the European Union, EU has a policy that they will treat you as a prospect for asylum. They will feed you, clothe you, and it will take some time. Even if you don't make it in the end, but you think that you probably will, you will be better taken care of their than you were where you were coming from. People are flocking to these boats. Paying money to get on them. And this is not handled well by the EU I have to say. They don't have the resources in place to stop these. They get on the high seas, Mediterranean and some of them capsize. We have seen 3,000 more people die in this space of time than we saw last year, three times as many. 30,000 people die on the Mediterranean this year --

Ted Simons: What does the EU do?

Kurt Volker: You have to look at the policy of repatriation. It is a brutal policy. We are going to take these people back to where they came from. But if you don't do that, people are going to continue to see the incentive to get on the boats. That's one policy they will have to look at, returning of the refugees to countries where they came from. The second is that the EU has to have an EU-wide approach. Right now the brunt of this falls on to Italy because it is the closest point of land to where they're coming from. Italians aren't capable of dealing with this themselves. They need a lot more EU support.

Ted Simons: Will we -- as far as the rest of the EU, does this -- I know that immigration and migrants in Europe, it is becoming a major topic. How is that affecting politics over there?

Kurt Volker: Exactly. It is fueling anti-immigrant sentiment, anti-Muslim sentiment -- and it is happening in France. You see the party of LE pen, far right party, among the most popular in France right now. Scary thought that they would win an election. Anti-sentiment -- you see -- in Germany and you see it throughout central Europe as well. So, it is shifting politics in Europe.

Ted Simons: Isis alone seems to be shifting politics or at least political thought all over the world. You have a group like that, people want security. Start leaning to the right maybe farther than they otherwise would.

Kurt Volker: You go to your national identity, security, ethnic tribalism, you want law and order, you want police, you want military.

Ted Simons: Does that mean that the Assads, Husseins, Gadhafis of the world, we used to think of them as necessary evils. Was that all-together wrong?

Kurt Volker: Well, I hate to think of it that way. Because there is no reason we should be forced into extremes. We either support a dictator who brutalizes his people or we are trying to not support a dictator and end up with these terrorists. A wide swath of people in every country, of people who just want to have normal lives. They feel boxed out by the two extremes. We, United States, western community, should be helping provide some security. Work with the governments that are there, but then also work with them, ease up on the human rights, protect the rights of your population, find ways to be inclusive. It is a long way to go. I think we have actually gone backwards since 2011 and the days of the Arab spring. If you just have brutal dictatorships, it will push the groups underground and fuel more extremism down the road. --

Ted Simons: The Arab spring just seems like millions and millions years ago.

Kurt Volker: Tunisia is a success story -if you look at Tunisia they've had successful elections that should be the model we would like to see elsewhere.

Ted Simons: Great to speak with you. Thank you for being here.

Kurt Volker: Thank you.


Kurt Volker:Former Ambassador and Executive Director, McCain Institute and United States;

Delivering Democracy Lecture

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

The four men of Il Divo
airs June 2

Il Divo XX: Live from Taipei

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

A photo journalist walking a destroyed city

Frontline: 20 Days in Mariupol

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: