Volker on Foreign Affairs

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Get insight into the latest foreign affairs news with former NATO Ambassador and McCain Institute director Kurt Volker.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll discuss the latest foreign affairs with former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker. And we'll learn about the challenges faced by American Indian students in higher education. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

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

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Encouraging news on the health front. The rate of cardiovascular deaths in Arizona ranks among the top 20 percent of states, according to a united health foundation report. The report though also showed some discouraging news - Arizona ranked 43rd for early childhood immunization and 49th for per capita public health funding.

The past month has been a deadly reminder that attacks by the so-called Islamic state can take many forms and can happen as far from the middle East as a holiday gathering in San Bernardino. Here to update how the fight against ISIS is shaping foreign affairs is Kurt Volker, former NATO ambassador and now director of ASU's McCain Institute. Good to see you again. Thanks for being here, my oh my. You were here about a month ago, and the Paris attacks hadn't happened. San Bernardino hadn't happened. It's crazy times out there. Let's talk about the Paris attacks. The impact of those attacks on Europe.

KURT VOLKER: It's huge. It's huge. There's been a lot of things that have come as a result of this. One of them is that France had been seeking to overthrow Assad as part of changing Syria, dealing with the Syria crisis. Russia had come in, remember, on Assad's side in Syria. France now flipped the position. It says it's more important for us to go after ISIS than it is to get rid of Assad. So we are going to actually work with Russia and work with Assad to see if we can get rid of ISIS. That has flipped their position on that. On the refugees, they keep coming to Europe. The last I heard in Sweden, it was like 6,000 a week registering in Sweden. They're on track for 2% of their population this year. Chancellor Merkel just today came out and said we may have taken our fill, we're not sure we can take anymore. So you're going to see a push back on the refugee crisis as well. And you see Britain having a vote in Parliament to put their airplanes into bombing in Syria not just in Iraq in order to go after ISIS. And you see even Germany willing to providing intelligence support to the French. So Europe has shifted a lot as a result of this.

TED SIMONS: And politically I think the conservatives won the second vote in France, but the national front in France did pretty well and in Poland, a lurch to the right in Poland.

KURT VOLKER: Absolutely, you are seeing publics in Europe, whether it's in Germany, Poland, France, UK, Hungary, acting as though they believe their governments just don't get it. That we have refugees streaming in and we don't want them. We have terrorists attacking us and we're not prepared for that and we're not getting rid of the terrorists. The economy is still stagnating. We still have to bail out Greece and all of the other things that we're doing and the public has just had it. And particularly it was in Germany, where Merkel at one point said we will take all of the refugees that we can. The public just lost it. They started doing things like burning her -- figures of her, burning her an effigy, putting her in a casket as part of the protest to show how unhappy they were. This has never happened with her before in Germany.

TED SIMONS: I read just recently that Italy was trying to work with Libya on -- good luck with working -- who do you work with in Libya?

KURT VOLKER: Exactly. You don't even have one government. You have competing governments in Libya. Plus you have a lot of militias that control territory and will do just about anything for a profit and for guns. And you even have an ISIS-affiliated group in the Port of Sirte that says they're controlling that port. I can understand Italy's problem, though, because everybody is worried about the Syrian refugees and a lot of them coming across Turkey and the Balkans by foot - some of them by boat to Greece. Italy's got a problem with refugees or economic migrants coming from sub-Saharan Africa or north Africa through Libya which is largely ungoverned. And they, the European Union had said we can give asylum to refugees from a war zone, that doesn't apply to these economic migrants coming into Italy and Italy is stuck with them.

TED SIMONS: So Europe obviously, things are happening there. Tense situation. U.S. foreign policy, we keep hearing from some sides saying we need to ramp up the military presence over there. Other sides saying you do that, you are just basically recruiting efforts for ISIS and who knows who you would be fighting. You can't even tell the good guys from the bad. U.S. foreign policies, your thoughts.

KURT VOLKER: Alright, we've got three major crises going on simultaneously now. We have the ISIS-Middle East crisis from Libya through Syria and Iraq and through Iran and the nuclear issue and it may see Afghanistan getting worse again - that whole arc. We've got Russia invading its neighbors, annexing territory, threatening others, threatening nuclear weapons, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. We've got China building out the islands in the South China sea, trying to militarize its claim to this air and sea space that it had not militarized before - and that is quite directly challenging us. We had a destroyer go through there. We had our Secretary of Defense land on a carrier in that zone to try to keep our flag out there. So we've got all of three of these simultaneously. If I were to give any advice on this, China we have to engage and try to keep this stable. Russia, we have to block and that means forcefully block, but ISIS we have to destroy them. We just have to defeat them.

TED SIMONS: How do you do that?

KURT VOLKER: I think we make that the clear goal that we are going to eliminate them. I think President Obama is inching there. He went to the Pentagon today, gave a press conference from the Pentagon, very rare for him. He still hasn't added new steps. I think we should put everything on the table and see what will it take - bombing, will it take ground troops, will it take an alliance with other countries, will it take supporting the Kurds more and directly with weapons there -- whatever it takes to go after them.

TED SIMONS: Are we not asking though -- taking the critic side, you're just asking for a protracted war. If you send ground troops in there, good luck fella.

KURT VOLKER: Look what's happened in the last three years. We've had the opportunity over the three years, as the Syrian crisis went from a few thousand people being killed to over 300,000 people being killed. The whole destruction of the state, probably irreparably now. The elimination of any real border between Iraq and Syria. The rise of the Islamic state -- wasn't there a few years ago. This is relatively new. And all of this has happened from failing to grapple with that and it will continue to metastasize as Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East, a dictator-terrorist conflict in the Middle East. And it is touching Europe directly and it is going to be touching us. The shootings in San Bernardino, wasn't ISIS directed perhaps, but certainly ISIS inspired.

TED SIMONS: Yes. You mentioned working with our allies and other forces to get rid of ISIS. Give me a capsule summary of some of the players - Russia in this fight.

KURT VOLKER: Russia is pursuing its own interests, very clearly. And that interest at the moment is to have Assad in power and a Russian military footprint in Syria, naval and air, which they've got, and to show off their military capabilities, they've done things like launch cruise missiles from a submarine. They didn't need to do that but wanted to show they can. That's sending a message to others in Europe and elsewhere. And they're very happy to go after first the U.S. supported rebels in Syria. So that they create a binary choice between Assad or ISIS. So we have to go against Isis. And that will be the way that he keeps them in power. Russia becomes an ally of Iran, an ally of Assad and a big player in the Middle East region.

TED SIMONS: Iran's place in all of this.

KURT VOLKER: Iran is a Shia theocracy, closely tied to the Shia Assad government in Syria, and to the Syria Hezbollah movement out of Lebanon. They have moved Hezbollah up into Syria to help Assad defend the swathes of territory he they can. And they are very committed to keeping Assad in power and to keeping that Shia hold in the Middle East. And they've opened the other front in Yemen, on the Arabian peninsula, supporting a Shia fighting force there that Saudis are fighting against.

TED SIMONS: What is the Saudi influence in all of this?
KURT VOLKER: Saudi Arabia's got a whole lot of things going on. One of them is, they want to block the Shia Iranian influence. That's one. Second, they're worried about Iran now on a path to getting a nuclear weapon. They are going to be thinking about do they need to get a nuclear weapon. They have supported extremist ideology and let that spread throughout the Middle East as a way of keeping it out of their own country to the degree they can, they're exporting it. Well, sow the wind and reap the whirlwind, that's what's happening now. In Syria, they were supporting just about any group that would take the support to fight against Assad. That included al-Nusra and some other bad actors. They have now started again to see the effects of this and ratcheted it back and trying to rechannel some of that support.

TED SIMONS: With that in mind, the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia -- can you fight ISIS and not fight Saudi Arabia?

KURT VOLKER: This has gone from bad to worse to worse to worse. We now have multiple conflicts going on. We've got the Sunni-Shia conflict, we've got the moderate Sunni-terrorist Sunni, we've got the dictator terrorists, we've got regional powers, we've got global powers -- the only way this settles again is if you are going to have states that govern and you work with these states to try to create some security and stability. And then we have to work on that leading to opportunities for people. So it gives people alternatives to extremism to oppose governments which is how we got into this. That is a tall order, but at this stage, it has got so bad that we can't afford to let the conflicts rage and to let groups like ISIS and al-Nusra or ISIS which has affiliates in Libya and Afghanistan to continue to spread. We have got to stop this.

TED SIMONS: Real quickly, one last country. Turkey's place in all of this.

KURT VOLKER: Turkey, Sunni, they have a problem with Kurdish terrorism inside Turkey. But they have a great relationship with Iraqi Kurds right next door. They're worried about what happens in a chaotic Syria. They want to see Assad go because they believe, and I think the Turks are right about this, if Assad stays in power, the Civil War continues because the Sunnis won't settle for that. So they're trying to push back against Assad staying in power. That puts Turkey and Russia in direct conflicts over goals. I don't think they're going to have a war over this - it's all about Syria - but their goals are diametrically opposed now.

TED SIMONS: Much is being made of a certain presidential candidate suggesting a quote, unquote, complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S. A ban on Muslims, killing militants and their families. Donald Trump's comments - do they affect America's image, prestige, impact, around the world?

KURT VOLKER: I think it's too hard to answer that right now, to be honest. Clearly in my view they're outrageous comments, because Muslims are our allies in much of this as well. The king of Jordan can't come here because he's a Muslim? He got in a fighter aircraft himself to bomb ISIS. I think we have to differentiate a little bit here. It is not about a person's identity based on a religion, it is about their behavior. Certainly we have a lot of allies in the Muslim world. That said, there is a perception of American weakness out there. And I think that Trump while people will have huge problems with what he is saying, they may also see someone who is going to bring American strength back to the table and in some places that is desired. I don't know how that plays outside.

TED SIMONS: So the pride and braggadocio then may work in other parts of the country?

KURT VOLKER: Put it this way. People are tired of -- or are afraid of a United States that is pulled back too much from the world. They don't know what Donald Trump would be and they are very afraid of what he would actually do. But the stirrings of U.S. re-engagement I think are things they would welcome. They just hope there is someone sane at the steering wheel.

TED SIMONS: We have a minute or two left here. Climb 195 countries come to climate talk agreements. The last time around was Copenhagen back in 2009, whenever that was. That was a complete disaster. What changed?

KURT VOLKER: What changed is the framework. We were trying to do or what the governments were trying to do with Copenhagen was to have legally binding framework for cutting greenhouse gas emission where everybody would be obliged to perform. What Paris did, instead, was voluntary quotas. Every country comes forward with what it is willing to do and you accumulate all of that. U.S. put forward a figure of 26 to 28% reduction by 2030. Others come forward with other things. China came forward with its targets that it wants to hit by 2030. And then people update their plans as time progresses and they see what more they can do. And the idea is that instead of something that was going to fail, such as Copenhagen did, this is something that can succeed because countries are voluntarily taking it on. I think it raises a lot of questions about what actually happens. How do you measure this accurately? How do you know countries are doing what they said they would do? If there is a provision, that there's money transferred from developed countries to developing countries, that they will cut even more? How do you know that that actually has that effect. I think there is a lot of questions yet to be answered in the implementation.

TED SIMONS: It is encouraging to see that many countries come together --

KURT VOLKER: It is. Because it's a reversal from where we were. I think it was wise to change the framework because it was never going to work the way it was teed up before.

TED SIMONS: Ambassador Kurt Volker, always a pleasure to have you here, thanks for joining us.

KURT VOLKER: Thank you.

Kurt Volker:NATO Ambassador and McCain Institute director

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