Kurt Volker on Foreign Affairs

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Former NATO Ambassador Kurt Volker and current executive director of Arizona State University’s McCain Institute brings us up to date on current foreign affairs with in-depth analysis.

TED SIMONS: UNITED NATIONS ENVOY TO SYRIA WARNED TODAY THAT THE REBEL-HELD CITY OF ALEPPO COULD BE DESTROYED BY THE END OF THE YEAR WITH THOUSANDS OF LIVES LOST. HERE WITH THE LATEST ON THE WORSENING SITUATION IN SYRIA AND AMERICA'S RESPONSE TO THE CRISIS IS FORMER NATO AMBASSADOR AND MCCAIN INSTITUTE DIRECTOR, KURT VOLKER.

KURT VOLKER: SEEMS LIKE EVERY TIME I'M HERE WE TALK ABOUT SYRIA.

TED SIMONS: WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH SYRIA IN GENERAL AND ALEPPO IN PARTICULAR?

KURT VOLKER: IT IS STUNNING. YOU HAVE THE ASSAD REGIME IN POWER. THEY'RE BEING ASSISTED BY IRAN, HEZBOLLAH AND RUSSIA. THEY ARE ATTACKING AN ENTIRE CITY. NOT JUST MILITARY TARGETS. THEY ARE LEVELING A CITY. 11 PLUS MILLION PEOPLE IN SYRIA ARE ALREADY DISPLACED FROM THEIR HOMES. WE HAVE A FEW HUNDRED THOUSAND LEFT IN ALEPPO AND THEY ARE BEING TARGETED AND BEING TOLD TO FLEE AND LEAVE DRIVING MORE PEOPLE ON TO THE STREETS. IT IS STUNNING WHAT IS HAPPENING.

TED SIMONS: AND AGAIN THE TARGET IS ALEPPO BECAUSE IT IS REBEL HELD BY WAY OF ISIS? ASSAD? WHO'S THE REBEL HERE?

KURT VOLKER: IT IS PRINCIPALLY PEOPLE THAT OPPOSE THE ASSAD REGIME WHICH IS LARGELY SHIITE. THE SUNNI POPULATION HAS SUPPORTED THE REBELS THAT ARE FIGHTING AGAINST THE ASSAD REGIME. HE HAS TRIED TO CONFLATE ALL THE OPPOSITION TO THE GOVERNMENT AS TERRORISTS. ASSAD HAS. TRYING TO SAY IF YOU OPPOSE ME THEN YOU ARE A TERRORIST AND THAT MAKES YOU THE SAME AS ISIS OR SOMETHING ELSE AND BY ATTACKING THEM THE WAY HE HAS HIS ACTIONS FORCED THEM TOGETHER BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL FIGHTING AGAINST A COMMON ENEMY.

TED SIMONS: TOTAL DESTRUCTION BY THE END OF THE YEAR. I MEAN THE PLACE LITERALLY TURNED TO RUBBLE.

KURT VOLKER: WELL YOU SEE THE PICTURES NOW, IT IS ALMOST THERE. THIS WAS SYRIA'S LARGEST CITY BEFORE THIS CONFLICT STARTED. IT IS MOSTLY RUBBLE IN THE CITY AS IT IS NOW. HE'S OFFERED TO ESCORT REBEL FIGHTER OUT PERSONALLY GOING THERE. BUT THIS IS ALLOWING ASSAD TO COMPLETE THIS MILITARY TAKEOVER OF AREAS FROM THE CITY POPULATION.

TED SIMONS: LAST MONTH THERE WAS AN AID CONVOY ATTACKED AND LOOKS LIKE RUSSIAN AIRPLANES WERE RESPONSIBLE. WHAT IS THE RESPONSE TO THIS?

KURT VOLKER: IT IS SHOCKINGLY QUIET. YOU DON'T HEAR THE OUTRAGE. RUSSIA SAYS IT WASN'T US AND THEY PRETEND THERE IS A MYSTERY TO WHAT REALLY HAPPENED. THE UNITED STATES, SYRIAN AIR FORCE AND RUSSIA ARE THE ONLY ONES FLYING IN THE AIR AND WE DIDN'T DO THIS. WE'RE NOT IN THAT AREA, WE'RE NOT CONDUCTING THOSE ATTACKS. IT WAS EITHER RUSSIA OR THE ASSAD REGIME AND MOST LIKELY IT WAS RUSSIA GIVEN THE ORDINANCE THAT WAS FOUND.

TED SIMONS: WITH THAT IN MIND, AND YOU MENTION THE U.S. IS FLYING IN THE AREA, THERE HAVE BEEN CALLS FOR A NO-FLY ZONE, AT LEAST A PARTIAL NO-FLY ZONE IN SYRIA. YOUR THOUGHTS?

KURT VOLKER: I THINK IT IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD HAVE DONE A LONG TIME AGO AND STILL HAVE TO DO IT NOW. IT HAS TO BE COUPLED WITH A SAFE ZONE ON THE GROUND. PEOPLE HAVE TO HAVE A SAFE PLACE TO GO. YOU NEED A CORRIDOR WHERE WE SAY THESE ARE THE LINES, WE WILL PROTECT THIS AREA, YOU PROTECT THAT AREA AND LET'S STABILIZE THE CONFLICT. THAT CAN GIVE RELIEF TO THE POPULATION THAT IS SUFFERING AND ALLOWS THEM TO TURN THE FIGHT BACK TO ISIS AGAIN. WHAT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW IS WE ARE NOT WILLING TO MAKE THOSE MILITARY STEPS SO ASSAD AND RUSSIA WILL KEEP PRESSING MILITARILY AGAINST THE POPULATION.

TED SIMONS: WHAT ARE WE DOING? A COUPLE STRIKES? TRAINING?

KURT VOLKER: A COUPLE STRIKES AGAINST ISIS AND PROVIDING SOME TRAINING AND EQUIPMENT TO REBELS WHO SAY THEY WILL FIGHT AGAINST ISIS, BUT WE'RE NOT SUPPORTING THEM IN THE FIGHT AGAINST ASSAD.

TED SIMONS: YOU DON'T WANT TO WISH ILL ON ANYTHING BUT RUSSIA EVENTUALLY -- THIS IS GOING TO END. IS THIS IS A POSSIBLE QUAGMIRE FOR RUSSIA?

KURT VOLKER: NO, THEY DON'T NEED AN EXIT STRATEGY. IF THINGS DON'T GO WELL THEY CAN LEAVE THE NEXT DAY AND NO ONE BLAMES THEM. THEY CAN WE TRIED AND LEFT. THEY DON'T NEED A DEFINED OUTCOME OR ACHIEVE A PARTICULAR GOAL. THE CONFLICT AND STRUGGLE ITSELF ENHANCES RUSSIA'S RELATIONSHIP WITH IRAN, ENHANCES RUSSIA'S POSITION IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND THAT SERVES THE PURPOSE AS IT IS. THEY DON'T NEED MORE.

TED SIMONS: IF THE UNITED STATES WERE DOING THIS -- REDUCING A CITY TO RUBBLE WE WOULD BE THE TARGET OF HOW MANY TERRORIST ATTACKS FROM NOW UNTIL ETERNITY. WHERE IS THE MUSLIM WORLD OUTCRY AGAINST RUSSIA?

KURT VOLKER: IT IS A GREAT QUESTION. YOU KNOW HOW THE OUTCRY WOULD BE IF IT WERE THE UNITED STATES AND WE DON'T SEE IT. IN EUROPE, WHERE I WAS LAST MONTH IN SEPTEMBER, THERE WAS STILL A SENSE AT LEAST RUSSIA IS DOING SOMETHING BECAUSE WE HAVE ALL THESE REFUGES. THEY ARE TRYING SOMETHING. WITHOUT PUTTING THE TWO TOGETHER SAYING WHAT RUSSIA IS DOING IS CAUSING THE REFUGE FLOW.

TED SIMONS: THE IDEA THAT- GOODNESS GRACIOUS, AL-QAEDA WAS INSPIRED BY A MILITARY BASE. JUST A BASE. RUSSIA IS MASSACRING PEOPLE AND I DON'T SEE THE WORLD ESPECIALLY THE MUSLIM WORLD RISING UP.

KURT VOLKER: AT THE MOMENT YOU DON'T. RUSSIA APPEARS TO BE STRONG, ACTING DECISIVELY, SUPPORTING THE ASSAD REGIME, AND PEOPLE ARE GIVING RUSSIA RESPECT FOR PLAYING A STRONG ROLE. IT IS STUNNING BUT THAT IS WHAT WE ARE SEEING.

TED SIMONS: WHY IS RUSSIA SO INTERESTED IN SYRIA?

KURT VOLKER: PARTLY IT IS THE ACCESS TO THE MEDITERRANEAN. PARTLY IT IS THE GLOBAL PERCEPTION AND HOW IT PAYS BACK INSIDE RUSSIA. PUTIN SELLS THE PUBLIC THIS NARRATIVE HOW HE IS REBUILDING A GREAT RUSSIA AND MAKING IT A GREAT POWER ON THE WORLD'S STAGE AGAIN. PEOPLE LIKE THAT AND THAT ALLOWS HIM TO CONTINUE TO HAVE AUTHORITARIAN ROLE.

TED SIMONS: WHAT ABOUT TURKEY'S ROLE IN THIS?

KURT VOLKER: TURKEY SHOT DOWN A RUSSIAN PLANE. AND SINCE THEN TURKEY AND RUSSIA HAVE REESTABLISHED A COOPERATIVE RELATIONSHIP OVER MANY ISSUES BECAUSE THEY CAN SEE THEY HAVE SHARED INTEREST OF WHAT THEY CAN DO IN FIGHTING SOME THINGS IN THAT REGION.

TED SIMONS: WHAT IS TURKEY FIGHTING? THE SYRIAN KURDS?

KURT VOLKER: THE TURKS WOULD SAY THE TURKS ARE FIGHTING TERRORISM AND THE KURDS IN SYRIA DO CONDUCT ATTACKS AGAINST TURKEY AND LABEL THEM AS TERRORISTS AND THEY DON'T DISTINGUISH THEM JUST LIKE RUSSIA DOESN'T DISTINGUISH REBEL GROUPS IN SYRIA AND ISIS. SO THERE IS SOME SHARED INTEREST. BUT OF COURSE THE VERY BIG DIFFERENCE IS TURKEY BELIEVES THE ASSAD REGIME HAS TO GO AND RUSSIA IS PROPPING IT UP.

TED SIMONS: THAT IS GOING TO LAGGER HEAD EVENTUALLY?

KURT VOLKER: I THINK WHAT WILL HAPPEN HERE, EVENTUALLY, IS YOU WILL HAVE TO SEE STABILIZATION OF DIVIDING LINES INSIDE SYRIA. SYRIA WILL NEVER BE GOVERNED AGAIN BY ONE-GROUP ONLY. THINGS NEED TO STABILIZE AND THEN YOU CAN HELP HUMANITARIAN AID CAN GET IN.

TED SIMONS: WHAT IS THE REFUGE CRISIS IN EUROPE -- ANY SIGNS OF THAT EASING AT ALL SOME?

KURT VOLKER: NO, IT IS NOT. THERE WAS A PERIOD EARLIER THIS YEAR, THE FIRST FEW MONTHS OF THE YEAR, WHEN THEY HAD A DEAL BETWEEN EUROPE AND TURKEY WHERE EUROPE WAS PAYING TURKEY AND TURKS WERE SUPPOSED TO KEEP THE REFUGES THERE. THEN YOU HAD A MILITARY COOP IN TURKEY AND THE GOVERNMENT CRACKED DOWN AGAINST THE COOP PLOTTERS ARRESTING TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE. EUROPE THEN PROTESTED YOU ARE CRACKING DOWN ON SOCIETY HERE. AND TURKEY SAID WELL WE DON'T HAVE TO STOP THE REFUGE FLOW IF YOU DON'T WANT US TO SO IT IS GOING BACK UP. PLUS YOU HAVE THE MIGRANTS COMING UP FROM AFRICA AND LIBYA.

TED SIMONS: IS THERE AN ANSWER FOR THIS MIGRANT FLOW INTO EUROPE? IT SOUNDS LIKE -- I AM HEARING THAT HUNGARY IS HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THEIR GOVERNMENT SIMPLY BECAUSE OF THIS ONE ISSUE.

KURT VOLKER: EVERY COUNTRY IN EUROPE IS HAVING AN ISSUE. THIS IS WHY WE SEE THE RISE OF THE SWEDEN DEMOCRATS, THE NATIONAL FRONT IN FRANCE, FIVE STAR MOVEMENT IN ITALY. EVERYONE IS SAYING OUR GOVERNMENTS DON'T GET IT. THEY ARE NOT DEALING WITH THIS PROBLEM AND WE SEE IT AFFECTING US CULTURALLY, ECONOMICALLY, POLITICALLY, AND ON SECURITY TERMS AS WELL. ULTIMATELY, YOU GOT TO STOP THE WAR IN SYRIA AND ESTABLISH SOMETHING ELSE AND YOU HAVE TO HELP LIBYA FORM A GOVERNMENT THEY CAN CONTROL AGAIN. THOSE STEPS WILL DO A LOT TO STEM THE REFUGE CRISIS.

TED SIMONS: CAN YOU DO THOSE TWO STEPS WHEN SO MANY HUMAN BEINGS THAT USED TO LIVE THERE, THAT USED TO HAVE A SENSE OF PLACE AND PERMANENCE THERE, THEY ARE NOT EVEN THERE ANYMORE?

KURT VOLKER: YOU STILL NEED TO DO IT. THERE ARE ENOUGH PEOPLE THERE. YOU HAVE TO CREATE SECURITY AND CREATE A PLACE. ULTIMATELY, MOST REFUGES DO WANT TO GO HOME. THEY WANT TO BE IN THEIR COUNTRY. THEY WANT TO BE AMONG THEIR PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE COMFORTABLE CULTURALLY AND SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE AND REBUILD BUT THEY CANNOT DO THAT WITHOUT THE SECURE ENVIRONMENT TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT.

TED SIMONS: SO WHAT YOU HAVE SAYING IS SYRIA FIRST, LIBYA MAYBE AND GET THOSE THINGS FIGURED OUT.

KURT VOLKER: YUP. I DON'T KNOW YOU CAN WAIT ON THESE FRANKLY. IF YOU ARE THE NEW PRESIDENT COMING IN, YOU WILL HAVE SYRIA, LIBYA, RUSSIA WITH UKRAINE AND CHINA TESTING TO SEE WHAT WE ARE WILLING TO DO ESPECIALLY IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. YOU WILL HAVE TO TACKLE THESE THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. FORTUNATELY THEY ARE DIFFERENT IN NATURE. YOU'VE GOT TO BLOCK RUSSIA, DESTROY ISIS, AND ENGAGE CHINA. I THINK IF WE CAN DO THAT WE'LL HAVE A STRATEGY IN PLACE.

TED SIMONS: ARE WE READY AND WILLING TO ENGAGE CHINA?

KURT VOLKER: I THINK SO. THAT IS THE ONE I AM MOST CONFIDANT ABOUT. YOU DON'T WANT TO BE IN CONFLICT WITH CHINA. WE DO HAVE SOME SHARED INTERESTS WITH CHINA AND I THINK WE CAN BUILD ON THAT. WITH RUSSIA, WE HAVE TO BLOCK THEIR AGGRESSIVE EXPANSION TENDENCIES. WITH THESE CONFLICTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST, WE'VE GOT TO STABILIZE THEM.

TED SIMONS: WE TALKED ABOUT RUSSIA AND BROUGHT UP CHINA. WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHINA AND RUSSIA?

KURT VOLKER: CHINA IS PATIENT. RUSSIA HAS A DECLINING POPULATION AND ECONOMY AND HUGE TERRITORY WHERE THEY CANNOT CONTROL ALL THE TERRITORY IN THE EAST SO WELL AND CHINA HAS A HUGE POPULATION, DYNAMIC ECONOMY, COHESIVE SOCIETY AND A GOVERNMENT THAT LOOKS AFTER THE PEOPLE AND SOCIETY IN TERMS OF LIFTING PEOPLE OUT OF POVERTY, EDUCATION AND HEALTH. SO CHINA IS PATIENT. RUSSIA WOULD LOVE TO SELL ENERGY TO CHINA BUT IT NEEDS CHINESE INVESTMENT AND CHINA DOESN'T WANT TO PAY AN ABSORBENT PRICE. THEY ARE PLAYING IT OUT. THEY ARE NOT AT EACH OTHER'S THROAT. RUSSIA HAS MORE OF AN INTEREST IN GETTING MONEY FROM CHINA THAN CHINA DOES FROM RUSSIA.

TED SIMONS: WHAT A WORLD. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

KURT VOLKER: GREAT TO BE HERE. THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Kurt Volker, Former NATO Ambassador & executive director of Arizona State University's McCain Institute

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