U.S. Foreign Policy, ISIS, War


TED SIMONS: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND OUR GENERAL OUTLOOK ON THE WORLD COULD ALL BE CHANGING UNDER THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION. JOINING US NOW IS ANAND GOPAL AN AWARD WINNING JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR WHO IS NOW A VISITING PROFESSOR AT ASU'S CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION AND CONFLICT AND ALSO WITH US: JOHN CARLSON, THE CENTER'S ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR. GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US. YOU ARE A RESEARCH PROFESSOR BUT YOU HAVE REALLY -- TALK ABOUT BOOTS ON THE GROUND. YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND AFGHANISTAN. WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW?

ANAND GOPAL: WELL, THE WORLD IS ON FIRE. I WAS JUST IN MOSUL AND HALF OF THE CITY IS CONTROLLED BY ISIS AND HALF BY ANTI-ISIS FORCES. MILITARILY THE ANTI-ISIS FORCES ARE WINNING BUT HUMANITARIAN WISE LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE DYING.

TED SIMONS: LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE DYING AND FROM A DISTANCE IT IS HARD TO FIGURE WHO THE GOOD GUYS ARE AND WHO THE BAD GUYS ARE. TALK ABOUT THE SITUATION AS YOU SEE WHEN WHEN YOU THERE.

ANAND GOPAL: PART OF THE PROBLEM HAS BEEN IS WE TEND TO THINK WHO THE U.S. BACKS ARE THE GOOD GUYS. BUT ON THE GROUND THAT'S NOT OFTEN THE CASE, THE U.S. FOR EXAMPLE IN IRAQ HAS BACKED WARLORDS AND MILITIA THAT HAS CAUSED A LOT OF CHAOS. THE DANGER IN THAT IS EVEN IF WE DEFEAT ISIS, THE CONDITIONS THAT LED TO THE RISE OF ISIS HAVE NOT BEEN ADDRESSED.

TED SIMONS: THAT IS THE PRACTICAL DANGER IN SOMETHING LIKE THAT. THE MORAL DANGER OF BACKING CERTAIN SIDES THAT MAY NOT BE THE NICEST GUYS ON EARTH.

JOHN CARLSON: I THINK WE HAVE SEEN A SET OF DIFFICULT DECISIONS TO MAKE AND I'M NOT SURE WE HAVE ALWAYS MADE THE RIGHT KINDS OF DECISIONS. I THINK WE HAVE CHOSEN SAFETY OVER RISK AND THAT HAS HAD A TREMENDOUS HUMANITARIAN COST FOR PEOPLE IN SYRIA ESSPECIALLY AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD TOO.

TED SIMONS: THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IS AN AMERICAN FIRST ADMINISTRATION AND IT SOUNDS LIKE IT IS GOING TO GO AFTER WHATEVER IT WANTS TO GO AFTER REGARDLESS OF CONSEQUENCES. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? WHAT ARE YOU SEEING?

JOHN CARLSON: I AM A LITTLE CONCERNED ABOUT THE LOSS OF MORAL VOCABULARY FROM THE AMERICAN PRESIDENCY. YOU DON'T SEE THAT OR HEAR THAT OF FIND A PLACE FOR LONG STANDING AMERICAN VALUES, DEMOCRACY, FREEDOM, HUMAN DIGNITY THAT HAVE BEEN PART OF THE CENTRAL RHETORIC OF ALL OF OUR PRESIDENTS THAT HAVE SET OUT IDEALS THAT THEY WERE COMMITTED TO EVEN IF WE SOMETIMES FAIL TO LIVE UP TO THEM. THE FAILURE TO LIVE UP TO THEM IS ONE THING BUT THE FAILURE TO EVEN ESPOUSE THEM OR HOLD THEM IS QUITE ANOTHER.

TED SIMONS: YOU WERE IN AFGHANISTAN AND WALKED THE COUNTRY. YOU WITH FAMILIES AND BROKE BREAD WITH FOLKS THERE. WHAT DO WE GET WRONG ABOUT THEM? WHAT DO THEY GET WRONG ABOUT US?

ANAND GOPAL: WE TEND TO SEE THE CONFLICT IN VERY BLACK AND WHITE TERMS. THERE ARE GOOD GUYS AND BAD GUYS TERRORISTS AND ANTI-TERRORISTS OR NON-TERRORIST. THE REALITY IS THERE MUCH MORE SHADES OF GRAY ON THE GROUND. PEOPLE WHO. DO WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO TO SURVIVE. FOR EXAMPLE, TALIBAN FIGHTERS WHO MAY HAVE SWITCHED SIDES. TALIBAN FIGHTERS WHO MAY HAVE PICKED UP WEAPONS TO FIGHT NOT BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO BUT BECAUSE THEY FELT THEY HAD NO OTHER CHOICE. THAT'S A MAJOR MISUNDERSTANDING THAT WE HAVE. ON THEIR SIDE PARTICULARLY IN AFGHANISTAN, MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW WHY THE U.S. INVADED OR HAVE A STRONG SENSE OF SEPTEMBER 11TH OR THE WAR ON TERROR. FROM THEIR POINT OF VIEW THIS IS AN OCCUPATION. THIS IS A FOREIGN ARMY MUCH LIKE THE RUSSIANS COMING IN AND TELLING THEM WHAT TO DO.

TED SIMONS: WHEN THEY HEAR ABOUT THE BASE CAMPS AND THE WHOLE NINE YARDS THAT LED UP TO 9/11 DOES THAT CHANGE MINDS? OR IS IT -- IT ALMOST FEELS IT IS SO TRIBAL OVER THERE THAT THE CONCEPT OF NATIONALITY IS A LITTLE BIT LOST. IS THAT A FAIR STATEMENT OR NOT FAIR?

ANAND GOPAL: IT IS A RURAL COUNTRY BUT YOU HAVE TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN SOLDIERS ARE BREAKING INTO YOUR HOUSE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND TAKING YOUR LOVED ONES AWAY YOU ARE NOT WORRIED ABOUT AL-QAEDA BUT WORRIED ABOUT KEEPING YOUR LOVED ONES SAFE. THAT'S BEEN THE REALITY OF THE GROUND FOR MOST AFGHANS.

TED SIMONS: IN TERMS OF PEOPLE BREAKING INTO THEIR HOMES. ARE THEY GOVERNMENT?

ANAND GOPAL: GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, WAR LORDS, AMERICAN SOLDIERS.

TED SIMONS: HOW DO THEY PICK A SIDE?

ANAND GOPAL: WHOEVER CAN PROTECT THEM. THAT'S BEEN THE GUIDING PRINCIPLE IN AFGHANISTAN. WHOEVER CAN PROTECT YOU THAT'S THE SIDE YOU ARE GOING TO SUPPORT.

TED SIMONS: WITH THOSE MOVING GOAL POSTS HOW DO YOU FIGHT A MORAL CONFLICT?

JOHN CARLSON: I THINK ONE OF THE PROBLEMS AND ANAND ALLUDED TO THIS IN AFGHANISTAN BUT YOU CAN SEE IT IN SYRIA AS WELL IS THE FACT THAT WE TEND TO SEE THIS ONLY THROUGH THE LENS OF TERRORISM AND WE SAY GOOD GUYS OR BAD GUYS BASED ON THAT FRAMEWORK. WE HAVE OTHER KINDS OF WAYS OF THINKING ABOUT CATASTROPHES LIKE WE SEE IN SYRIA. IT IS A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS AND THAT KIND OF THINKING WE WAGED WARS FOR HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION IN THE PAST. WE INTERVENED IN THE BALKINS AND COSVOE WHEN THERE A FRACTION OF THE NUMBER OF CASUALTIES OR REFUGEES IN SYRIA.

TED SIMONS: SIDEWAYS QUESTION. NATIONAL IDENTITIES. ARE THEY FORMED DIFFERENTLY IN THESE OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY THAN THEY ARE IN THE WEST?

JOHN CARLSON: I SUPPOSE THEY WOULD BE. ONE NEED TO BE AWARE OF THAT AND THESE ARE IDENTITIES PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO RECLAIM. IN THE CASE OF SYRIA IT STARTED UP AS AN UPRISING TO TRY TO TAKE BACK THE COUNTRY FROM A DICTATOR. THAT REQUIRES A NEW NATIONAL IDENTITY. IT'S THE PEOPLE TRYING TO CLAIM IT. WE HAVE TO RESPECT THAT. WE SAY THAT WE RESPECT THAT AND WE SHOULD.

TED SIMONS: AS FAR AS ISIS IS CONCERNED IN THE MIDDLE EAST, I AM CONSTANTLY -- THEY ALMOST GO OUT OF THEIR WAY TO BE AS SHOCKING AND BRUTAL AS HUMANLY, INHUMANELY POSSIBLE. WHO FINDS THIS CHARMING? WHO THINKS ISIS IS MY TICKET TO SOMETHING? WHAT IS GOING ON OVER THERE?

ANAND GOPAL: IF YOU LOOK AT ISIS PROPAGANDA, THE PROPAGANDA THEY SEND TO THE WEST IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT THEY SEND LOCALLY. LOCALLY IT IS ALL ABOUT LOCAL OPPRESSION. THIS GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN OPPRESSING YOU THE REGIME HAS BEEN OPPRESSING YOU AND WE CAN PROTECT YOU AND ACTUALLY FIGHT AGAINST HIM. FOR FOREIGN AUDIENCES YOU ARE EXACTLY RIGHT. THEY REALIZE THAT BY HAVING THIS THEATRICS IT GETS THE MEDIA TALKING. EVERY IS TALKING ABOUT ISIS AND THE WHOLE WORLD KNOWS ABOUT ISIS AND THAT CACHE APPEARS TO A SMALL NUMBER OF PEOPLE. THAT'S BEEN THEIR STRATEGY VERY BRILLIANTLY.

TED SIMONS: IS THAT SMALL NUMBER OF PEOPLE SO STRONG AND SO DEDICATED THAT IT CAN CONTINUE TO HOLDOUT AGAINST WHAT I WOULD IMAGINE ARE A LOT OF FOLKS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA WHO HAVE PRETTY MUCH HAD IT AND WOULD LIKE THIS TO THE STOP.

ANAND GOPAL: ISIS IS LOOSING MILITARILY AND I SUSPECT IN THE NEXT YEAR THEY WILL BE DEFEATED BUT THE QUESTION AGAIN IS WHAT IS NEXT? IF WE DON'T ADDRESS THE FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES THAT LEAD TO THEIR RISE IN THE FIRST PLACE WE WILL BE TALKING ABOUT SOME OTHER GROUP IN ANOTHER 10 YEARS.

TED SIMONS: IT SEEMS LIKE 10-30-50 YEARS AGO WE'VE ALWAYS BEEN TALKING ABOUT THE MIDDLE EAST AS HAVING CONFLICT. WHY THE PERSISTENT CONFLICT OVER THERE?

JOHN CARLSON: THE REASONS ARE MANY AND VARIED AND WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO GO INTO ALL OF THEM. MUCH HAS TO DO WITH HISTORY OF INTERVENTION, IT HAS TO DO WITH HOW THE STATES HAVE BEEN FORMED AND MUCH HAS TO DO WITH HOW THEY HAVE BEEN PRESERVED OFTEN TIMES UNDER AUTHORITARIAN FORCE. WE HAVE GONE THROUGH A PERIOD OF TIME THROUGH THE RECENT WARS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA AND MANY PART OF THE MIDDLE EAST WHERE WE HAVE TRIED TO SAY AND RECOGNIZE THAT AUTHORITARIANS HAVE NO PLACE IN THE FUTURE AND YET WE HAVE ALSO RETURNED TO SORT OF ACCEPTING AUTHORITARIANISM AS A WAY OF KEEPING PEACE AND ORDER.

TED SIMONS: IF THE PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST HAD THEIR WAY. WOULD THEY JUST GET THEIR LEADERS - I GUESS YOU NEED TO FIND OUT WHO THEIR LEADERS ARE IN THE FIRST PLACE. GET THEM IN A ROOM WITH A BIG MAP AND SAY WE ARE STARTING OVER. WORLD WAR I, WORLD WAR II, THOSE BOUNDARIES ARE OVER. WOULD THAT HELP THE SITUATION OR ACERBATE THE SITUATION?

ANAND GOPAL: I THINK WHAT WE'VE SEEN IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS IS MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST TRYING REWRITE THIS THEIR HISTORY, TRYING TO HAVE DEMOCRACY, TRYING TO GET RID OF DICTATORS. AS JOHN ALLUDED TO THE PROBLEM HERE IS OUTSIDE FORCES THAT PROP UP DICTATORSHIPS AND AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES. YOU CANNOT TALK ABOUT THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE EAST AND THE VIOLENCE OVER THERE WITHOUT TALKING ABOUT THE OUTSIDE FORCES LIKE THE UNITED STATES WHICH IS DEEPLY IMPLICATED IN THE LAST 30 YEARS FOR EXAMPLE IN IRAQ IN VIOLENCE.

TED SIMONS: YET PEOPLE WILL SAY IF WE DID NOT GET INVOLVED THE SITUATION WOULD BE WORSE. IS THAT A VALID ARGUMENT?

ANAND GOPAL: I AM NOT SURE THAT IS A VALID ARGUMENT BECAUSE THESE AREN'T PLACES THAT HAVE ALWAYS HAD WAR. IRAQ WAS NOT A PLACE THAT ALWAYS HAD CONFLICT.

TED SIMONS: THE IDEA THAT WE ARE HELPING. SHOULD WE STOP HELPING?

JOHN CARLSON: IT IS ALWAYS A CASE-BY-CASE BASIS. I THINK FROM WHERE WE SIT NOW, THE EFFORT TO HELP IN IRAQ WAS NOT HELPFUL AT ALL. THE CASE IN LIBYA, THE JURY MAY STILL BE OUT ON THAT. WE MAY FIND AND LOOK BACK THAT WAS A GOOD DECISION. WE HAVE STOOD BY IN THE CASE IN SYRIA AND SAID WE DON'T WANT TO MAKE THE SITUATION WORSE. THE QUESTION IS HOW MUCH WORSE COULD IT GET. THE POLICY OF DOING NO HARM HAS MEANT WE HAVE STOOD BY AND WATCHED A LOT OF HARM OCCUR. IT SEEMS TO ME IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN BETTER TO FAIL TRYING THAN NO TO TRY AT ALL.

TED SIMONS: ALL RIGHT. GOOD DISCUSSION AND GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. WE APPRECIATE IT.

Prize-winning journalist and sociologist Anand Gopal has joined the Arizona State University Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict as a research professor. Gopal, who is also an author, will discuss US foreign policy, ISIS, the moral and political costs of war, and the new administration along with the associate director of the center, John Carlson.

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In this segment:

Anand Gopal: Prize-winning journalist and sociologist
John Carlson: Arizona State University Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict

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