Volker on Foreign Affairs

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Kurt Volker, former NATO Ambassador and executive director of the McCain Institute, will give insight into the latest foreign affairs news.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," insight into increased violence in the middle east with former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker. And a study released today profiles Arizona's largest voting block. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. An institute of justice report calls Arizona's civil asset forfeiture laws among the worst in the country. The report notes that money and property seized by law enforcement in Arizona quadrupled from to 2002 to 2012 and that the state's laws increasingly equate to a quote policing for profit atmosphere that undermines the legal system and the concept of innocent until proven guilty.

TED SIMONS: Former NATO ambassador and McCain institute executive director Kurt Volker joins us each month for analysis of the latest in foreign affairs, including increasing violence across the middle east. Here now is ambassador Kurt Volker. Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

KURT VOLKER: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: So much going on over there and it never seems to get better, including literally today, people killed in suicide bombs in Beirut.

KURT VOLKER: Yes, exactly. Two bombers, one on a motorcycle. They took out 37 people, few hundred wounded. And these are SUNNI terrorists -ISIS coming down from Syria, and killing Shiite civilians militia, Hezbollah, and they're the ones fighting with the Assad regime in Syria and bombing shia. We are seeing the spillover of the war in Syria back into Lebanon. Anyone who's been around in those years as an adult, will remember the terrible Civil Wars in Lebanon in the past and we sure hope this doesn't revive that.

TED SIMONS: Beirut -- is that a fragile piece still over there?

KURT VOLKER: It has been increasingly stable up until now, until the Syria war. Because even though there was still the religious divisions within the city, they had kind of settled, everyone knew whose was what, where do different groups live. But if this gets unglued again because of actual violence against one group or another, you could see revenge violence and things could spin out of control.

TED SIMONS: So Isis behind the attack, apparently, claimed responsibility.


TED SIMONS: Also apparently, claiming the Sinai peninsula outshoot or subset of Isis, claiming responsibility for the jet crash. Talk to us about that.

KURT VOLKER: I don't think we should be surprised by this. Because Russia has intervened in Syria on the side of the Assad government. Whether it is Isis directly in Syria or a proxy or a copycat or someone who wants to identify with Isis, and there is an Isis copycat terrorist group in the Sinai peninsula. Slip a bomb on an aircraft, goes up in the air and blows up. That looks to be like what happened. We don't have all of the information and evidence, but that does seem to be the most likely explanation. And that will bring Russia in even more at this stage.

TED SIMONS: So it will bring Russia in even more?

KURT VOLKER: I think so. Putin is already using Syria as a justification for his authoritarian government at home, interventions abroad, showing that Russia is a great power, fighting the great fights, protecting the Russian people. If a few hundred Russians are killed tragically on this airliner, he will use that to double down.

TED SIMONS: If you double down though and sometimes you lose, at what point do the Russian people say, you know, enough of this business? These are folks that remember Afghanistan, I would imagine.

KURT VOLKER: That's right. First off, I think there is probably a point. I don't think it is one airliner. But if it's a handful. If you remember us in the 1970s, at a certain point we felt beaten down by terrorism. I think that could happen in Russia. But that's not where we are today. We have one and I think Putin is using it assertively. There are big differences between the soviet approach in Afghanistan,and what Russia is doing in Syria. In Afghanistan, Russia went in heavily and tried to control the entire security environment with Russian forces and impose its own government. It had its own ideology, a communist ideology and was really trying to clamp down and run a very big and violent country. Syria is much more a targeted intervention, prop up the Assad regime, take out some of the rebels -and preserve their base in the western part of Syria.

TED SIMONS: Repercussions of the jet crash, it sounds like all flights to Egypt are now banned. That has to be a killer to Egyptian tourism and the economy.

KURT VOLKER: It is going to take a hit and they are going to have to find work-arounds. The key thing strengthening security at the Cairo airport and avoiding flights that go anywhere near the Sinai peninsula and they will probably be able to reopen at some point. They will have remedial work to get things back to the point where the airlines have confidence.

TED SIMONS: Work out the equation for me. It sounds as though Russia is accused of attacking Assad's enemies. Isis is an enemy. But there are a bunch of others there and we're saying -- if they're not going after Isis, Isis downs a jetliner, doesn't that say to Russia, we are going to start going after Isis.

KURT VOLKER: I think the two narratives will start to converge pretty soon. Up until now, Russia has intervened in Syria primarily to prop up Assad. They want him in power. That's in alliance with Iran and alliance that preserves the space around where Russia has a base and it's an old ally of Russia and the region. They have been going after the U.S.-backed rebels that are more moderate in opposition, in order to force a binary choice, do you support Assad or the Isis terrorists? Once they have that choice, they put the rest of the world in the position by saying you have to be with us, to support Assad is the only way to defeat ISIS. That was always part of the idea. I think it will accelerate now that there will be clamors going against Isis inside Russia even, because of the attack by Isis on the Russian airliner.

TED SIMONS: 50 U.S. special OPS troops sent to Syria. It sounds like a Kurd offensive is underway. Are we changing our policy regarding Syria?

KURT VOLKER: No, we are not. We need more review and strategy, what is our plan for Syria? Right now we are bombing Isis from a distance. That has not had much effect. In fact, Isis has more people, more territory and more money than they did when we started a year ago. We are now putting a few people on the ground to help with targeting and help coordinate some of the local forces, particularly the Kurds that are there. That will not have the strategic impact on Isis that we would want. Getting the Kurds on the ground to retake some areas and providing a more direct support, including air support, that's a very good development. I'm still worried the incremental decision-making about well, we're willing to try this. We're willing to try that. As opposed to strategic decision-making, we're going to get rid of Isis. Here is what it will take and we are going to go do it.

TED SIMONS: I know that the Secretary of state Kerry, I believe, flew to Vienna again today and still things that a diplomatic solution is possible out there and some are saying that these 50, you know, special OPS troops, the Kurd offensive, just having 50 American personnel on the ground sends a message that there is possible leverage there. You're smiling. I don't think you're buying it.

KURT VOLKER: I don't buy it. Put yourself in the position of Assad or of Isis or Sunnis there, Iran, Russia, where you are acting on the ground. You have your people there. You're fighting. You feel like you have a chance of winning and taking territory. Are you going to sit at a table and say oh, never mind, I don't want to do that. No, you are going to pursue the advantage on the ground. So, a diplomatic solution eventually is necessary, but it is only ever going to reflect the balance of forces on the ground, and those guys feel they have a long way to go in changing that balance in their favor before they would ever reach any agreement.

TED SIMONS: I know the U.S. goals are for cease-fire, number one, and to get to a time table at least for Assad to leave power. From what I've read, it sounds like Iran is saying no chance to either. Everyone wants a cease-fire. As far as Assad leaving, Iran doesn't want that at all. Would Russia even entertain that? It sounds like they may be more flexible.

KURT VOLKER: I think what Russia is trying to show is that they're a reasonable player in the global spectrum of power brokers and they're looking for a solution. That is just what they're trying to say, I mean look at the what they're doing. What they're doing is putting in Russian aircraft, forces, firing upon opponents of Assad. They're propping up his regime in practice, creating a situation where there is no alternative to Assad. Now, whether Assad personally is in charge sometime down the road, I'm sure that as long as Russia had guarantees it is the same apparatus, and that the same Russian interests are protected, it is less important that he be there as a person, but the reality is he will be there as a person because that whole regime depends upon the structure that is in place.

TED SIMONS: And thus, Syria, would depend upon the structure that is in place.

KURT VOLKER: Absolutely.

TED SIMONS: Is Syria just a failed concept? Can it survive as an independent nation?

KURT VOLKER: I don't believe it can. I don't believe that Assad, Russians and the Iranians -- in fact, it is going to stoke the Civil War, more opposition, arms, people, equipment, money, will flow in from other Sunni states, the more they appear to be losing, the more money that will come in. It will expand the Civil War. I really believe there is no gaining it all back. Instead you will see a division of Iraq and of Syria into constituent pieces, some which are Sunni led with a close alliance with Iran - some of those are Sunni led, Kurds in northern Iraq trying to protect themselves and create a separate state.

TED SIMONS: Will that happen without a full-fledged regional war or will that happen after the bombings? And are we in the opening days of a major conflict over there?

KURT VOLKER: It is already happening that there is a major conflict. When you talk about countries like Turkey having American aircraft in their own fighting from their territory. Kurds in northern Iraq fighting, Iran, forces on the ground. Hezbollah from Lebanon, supporting Assad, Assad there funding equipment, support coming in at various levels to various groups from Saudi Arabia, UAE, it is already beginning. We have already seen a lot of it. It can get worse. This is what we seen in the Syria crisis from 2012. A lot of us argued we should have intervened then before it got out of hand because you could see it was going to get worse. Every year it has gotten worse and we are not on a trajectory to see it fixed yet.

TED SIMONS: And Israel's place in all of this.

KURT VOLKER: Well, they're between a rock and hard place. Do you want to have an authoritarian dictator in Syria with a big army and a stoked up Hezbolla on your North as your neighbor? Or do you want to have Isis terrorists to the north as your neighbor? Neither one of these is ideal and that's why Israel is feeling both very vulnerable and doing everything possible about its own national defense and why it would like to get more support in that from the U.S.

TED SIMONS: Is it getting more support? It sounds as though Netanyahu and Obama are at least within the same --

KURT VOLKER: Here is the way I would put it. There is a fundamental disagreement between the U.S. and Israel over the Iran nuclear deal and the risk that Iran in the end of the day ends up with a nuclear weapon, which Israel views as an existential threat. That disagreement hasn't changed. But in the meantime, we also have Iran sponsoring, Hezbollah sponsoring -- we have other fighting going on. Israel has a lot of interest at stake here. They're trying to put aside that one difference to see whether there is more that we can agree on in other areas.

TED SIMONS: We can't let you go and go all of the way -- halfway across the globe from the middle east to South China. What is going on over there?

KURT VOLKER: This is really interesting and I hope people pay attention to this over time. China has always claimed that all of these islands in the South China sea, and also Japanese islands are Chinese territory -- they claim that all of the air space and sea space in there, vast area, is all Chinese as well. They have never backed this up military. They just said so. Now they are starting to back it up militarily. They put on air fields they're doing land reclamation on some of these islands. We put our ships through there, put a destroyer through that area two weeks ago, and the Chinese protested massively that we're violating their sovereignty. Ash Carter, secretary of defense Carter went to visit the U.S. carrier in the South China sea. Chinese viewed that as provocative. To his credit, Carter is being very smart here, he is not giving an inch on freedom of navigation and on these being international waters, territories that everyone should have access to. He's also trying to keep the dialogue with China open. But China is unilaterally changing the rules here, and they're claiming territory that the Philippines, or Vietnam, or Japan also claims. The risks are gradually rising due to the conflict in Asia.

TED SIMONS: Economy in China is not doing that well right now, is that what we're seeing?

KURT VOLKER: Not to the degree that Putin does that. Putin is a master at this. He is using international crises and involvement to justify his rule at home. In China, there's a little bit of that and they are having problems and it does show they are standing for Chinese interest. This is also a long-standing, patient Chinese policy to claim these areas and as they become stronger economically and stronger militarily, they are putting in place the work to try to defend those. That's where the change is coming from and that is why it is risky.

TED SIMONS: We have you on each month and we talk about a variety of things. It seems as though things around the -- it is getting crazy out there.


TED SIMONS: Is that just me?

KURT VOLKER: It is. I honestly think it is and I think it is worse than anything that we have seen in -- really since the World War II era in terms of the degree of dangers including dangers to the United States. It is just crazy right now. You have Iran, with nuclear weapon down the road. You have Iran acting regionally. You have Saudi Arabia, UAE, others, supporting groups that are fighting against that. You have the Civil War in Syria. You have the bombing in Lebanon today. You have the refugee crisis that is overwhelming Europe as a result of this -- you have a failed state of Libya where economic migrants are coming through. You have Russia occupying parts of Ukraine, annexing parts of others, building up their military, flying mock bombing runs against NATO countries. You have China, the Isis terrorists that see themselves as a global caliphate -- this is crazy and it is just getting worse.

TED SIMONS: All right. Good to have you here for the analysis. Thank you so much. Good to see you again.

KURT VOLKER: Thank you.

A study released today provides an in-depth look at independent voters in Arizona, now the largest block of voters in the state. The citizens clean election commission contracted the Morrison institute for public policy to conduct the study. Joining us now is David Daugherty of the Morrison institute, and Tom Collins, executive director of the citizens clean elections commission. Good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us.


TED SIMONS: An in-depth study of registered Arizona independent voters. Talk to us about this.

DAVID DAUGHERTY: It is the largest voting block, as you mentioned, it represents 37% of all registered voters. The problem is, or was, I guess, we didn't know much about them. They are simply people who are registered voters who have not attached themselves to either of the major political parties. So, we call them independent voters. It makes it sound like it is a party, but really it as collection of people who are not attached to any political party.

TED SIMONS: With that in mind, who is the Arizona independent voter?

TOM COLLINS: Well, I think that what the Morrison institute study did tell us was that there are a group of folks who have some views that some of them align with republican party, some of them align with the democratic party, but there's a group of voters who are in the middle, who really care about not being aligned with either party and see themselves as folks who look at things on an issue-by-issue basis rather than through a party or candidate lens.

TED SIMONS: Did the report look at why these folks who apparently have enough gumption to say no and no, why they are not showing up at the polling places?

TOM COLLINS:That is a really good question. That leads directly into the one of the reasons why the clean elections commission wanted to work with Morrison on this. It is absolutely the case that these folks are not turning up to vote. It is also the case, and David can talk specifically about this, that they're reporting, when you ask them, that they are voting. So there's a disconnect there, but they're also telling us that they don't know that they're allowed to vote in primaries. That's something that the commission has worked on in the past, in 2014, but that continues to be an ongoing issue --

TED SIMONS: Again, what did you find -- are these folks alienated, apathetic, a little of both?

DAVID DAUGHERTY: I don't think apathetic. Although, to Tom's point, they don't vote nearly as much as Democrats or Republicans vote. They are not as impactful on elections as you would expect. But they are people who believe that neither party represents their position and they're disappointed in the partisanship that goes on at the capitol. They're disappointed in the fighting between the two. A lot of them think they're not concentrating enough on governance, the two parties, and they're concentrating on simply getting their own agendas. So they have stepped back.

TED SIMONS: So they see things independently, they're upset with what democrats and republicans are doing, but do they actually vote independently? Does an independent who leans right, don't they usually vote along GOP lines and the same thing on the other side?

DAVID DAUGHERTY: We actually looked at that. We asked all of these people to place themselves along a continuum, a 10-point continuum from extremely conservative to extremely liberal. Then we took the one through threes and eight through tens, the extremely conservative, and compared their voting patterns and attitude patterns against democrats and republicans. And those folks do align themselves. The middle group, 75%, don't align with either party and they're the group we really looked at.

TED SIMONS: Clean elections commission trying to get the folks out to the polling place. What needs to be done to attract them?

TOM COLLINS:Well, I think one of the things that we will be looking at as we go forward with our voter education program is how can we make information that we do provide more salient to these voters? For example, the clean elections act provides for candidate statement pamphlets and debates and those kind of things. But if you see a disconnect between the candidate and the party and the issue that you care about, if you don't make that connection, then you are not going to see your vote as relevant. And, really, when you are voting for a candidate, you are, in fact, voting on an issue. If you care about education, candidates will have views on education. They are going to go and advance those. I think part of it is to try to connect the issues with the candidates in a way that is easier for voters to get ahold of. One of the other problems you have if you are looking at things through a partisan lens, is that the information you are getting is not for you or it is spun by somebody. One of the things that the commission provides, is information that originates with the candidates,is presented for you to consider one way or the other. It's easier to connect issues with the candidates and we have some things in the pipeline that we think will help with that.

TED SIMONS: And yet parties say that's what they do. They tell you that you may not be up on all of the issues, but if you identify as republican or democrat, this candidate republican or democrat they are kind of with you.

TOM COLLINS:That's exactly right. The signaling around party is clear. If you are going to reject party and by rejecting party reject participating, right, and then what you're doing is -- it is not that you're not voting. You are just allowing the folks who you think shouldn't be controlling the system to be the only ones who are voting.

TED SIMONS: Do you agree with that?

DAVID DAUGHERTY: I do agree with that. What has happened with independents is they feel they need to analyze each issue independently because they don't follow that common thread that is available from the democrats and republicans. If I vote for a democrat or a democratic platform, pretty much tell me which way I ought to vote on everything. These folks are unwilling to do that, they're unwilling to follow that kind of lead.

TED SIMONS: Which makes it more difficult for them to get excited to vote.

DAVID DAUGHERTY: That's what they tell us. They have to do more research to determine what they should vote.

TED SIMONS: But the potential impact of independent voters in the next election, again, provided they show up, what is it?

DAVID DAUGHERTY: I don't think they will have a big impact on which candidates get elected. I think they could have some big impact on propositions and ballot initiatives. What we found is this moderate independent group, this 75% of independents tend to be fiscally lean somewhat conservative, but socially lean somewhat liberal. So, if the ballot initiatives come up, they could have some impact there.

TED SIMONS: Interesting. As far as a study showing what independent voters want and what they don't want, what do they see as the future of Arizona?

TOM COLLINS: Well, I think that the study indicates that there is some pretty big areas of consensus around spending more money on education, around some electoral issues, they want more disclosure than we currently have across all party lines, universal agreement about that that independents share. Specific issues where independents are more likely -- modern independent group is more like a democrat and other issues where they're more like republicans. You know, our view at the commission in terms of taking that forward to implement is to try to sort of say, look, you know, as we construct, we're working on an app right now. And one of the things we want to build into that app is an ability to go issue by issue through candidates because then we think that you will be able to make it real for them.

TED SIMONS: Get that information out there. Interesting stuff. Good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.


TED SIMONS: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening

Kurt Volker:Former NATO Ambassador and executive director of the McCain Institute

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