Wednesday February 24, 2016

Feb. 24, 2016 episode transcript

Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2016

The Current Transcript for February 24, 2016

Host: Anna Maria Tremonti

STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE

Prologue

SOUNDCLIP

I remember just screaming and I think everyone was just shocked because I had like 50 pairs of hands to cover my mouth, my nose and I was fighting, fighting, fighting. I can hear it, the sound, just the cutting.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: She was fourteen when that happened, a deliberate cutting known as FGM female genital mutilation…her memories documented in a BBC film. It is a ritual forced upon girls in countries and cultures abroad and even here, though it is illegal here, and despite years of aggressive activist efforts to stop the practice, it continues. Now two US doctors are arguing for the legitimacy of minor cutting, saying that banning the procedure is a form of cultural prejudice. We’ll hear that explanation in a moment, and a warning it may get graphic. Also today, deja vu…

SOUNDCLIP

I’ve said that I intend to close Guantanamo and I will follow through on that, to regain America's moral stature in the world.

[/sc]

AMT: Barack Obama began his presidency with a promise to close Gitmo and he's ending it with the same promise. It means bringing a small group of detainees onto US soil. Communities with empty prisons do not want them, congressional leaders vow to block them, and constitutional experts say the whole idea is on shaky legal ground…the ongoing grief of Guantanamo in half an hour. And then the war next door…

SOUNDCLIP

From Turkey's perspective, everything that's happening in Syria along its border is threatening to Turkey and that's why it has to be an actor in this complicated picture.

AMT: Just across Turkey's porous border the Syrian civil war rages. Turkey is one of a list of countries with a vested interest in what happens in Syria, so as talk of cease fires and peace plans fill the airwaves and diplomatic hallways, we've invited four proxy political thinkers to weigh in on what four key countries are angling to influence in Syria's ongoing war. You can hear that in an hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

Back To Top »

Female genital mutilation should be legalized in some forms, doctor says

Guests: Dr. Allan Jacobs, Maryum Saifee, Ruth Macklin

SOUNDCLIP

It’s horrible. It’s painful, mentally, emotionally and physically.

AMT: Well that is Ifrah Amed describing her experience with female genital mutilation.

SOUNDCLIP

I wish that it didn't happen to me, because for me, whatever happened to me can never turn it back. My Grandmother, even if I ask 1000 questions, she cannot help me anymore. It cannot disappear. The pain will remain forever. The truth will be staying with me, always when I get a problem or when I have my period, I think about it.

AMT: Ifrah Amed left Somalia and now works in Ireland as an activist against female genital mutilation. The World Health Organization says female genital mutilation or FGM includes procedures that alter or injure female genitalia for non-medical reasons. The practice is recognized internationally as a human rights violation. It is illegal in Canada. Despite strong international condemnation Ifrah Amed’s story is not unique. Every year thousands of refugees arrive in countries such as Canada. They've suffered from FGM, and the harmful practice continues to persist abroad and at home. A new paper published in The Journal of Medical Ethics proposes a controversial solution, asking if less invasive versions of this procedure should be tolerated. It even suggests the ban is a form of cultural prejudice. Dr. Allan Jacobs is the co-author of this paper called Female genital alteration: a compromise solution. He is also the director of Gynecological Oncology department at Coney Island Hospital. And Dr. Allan Jacobs joins us from New York City. Good morning.

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: Good morning.

AMT: What are you proposing?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: What we're proposing is that forms of general female rituals that do not cause harm, be permitted under the law, and that people who engage in genital mutilation be encouraged to do these minor procedures instead of mutilation, so that the sort of thing that happened to Ms. Amed does not happen to anybody else.

AMT: And so what kind of procedure are you talking about?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: We're talking principally about a procedure in which the outside of the vagina, the vulva, is nicked with a lancet or a needle quickly drawing blood sterilely with anaesthetic cream. This is something that has been proposed in the past that was, it was advocated as an alternative to mutilation by the American Academy of Pediatrics which withdrew that statement under political pressure.

AMT: That was in 2010, I guess again.

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: Yes it was. That was five years ago.

AMT: When you say nicked, what do you mean by that? Are you cutting anything away?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: No. Nothing is cut away and you are talking about a cut that's maybe a millimeter in length. It is something that is expected to heal completely and rapidly, leaving no scarring, no sexual problems, no reproductive problems and no residual pain.

AMT: And what would be the purpose of that?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: The purpose of that would be that for those people who believe that there should be some sort of ritual procedure that is gender specific such as, for instance, some cultures or religions have with circumcision for boys, this would provide a safe alternative if they were willing to accept this.

AMT: And when we talk about female genital mutilation, there's a name for it, infibulation, the more extreme. Can you tell us what that is?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: What that is, is removal of the labia and clitoris, the lips of the vulva and closing the vagina so that there is just a small, or the outside of the vagina so there's just a small port to allow menstrual flow to escape.

AMT: And that practice, how do you see it?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: I see that is a totally unacceptable practice under any circumstances.

AMT: And the one you are proposing it would replace that practice?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: Hopefully so. In 1990, health officials in Seattle had reached an accommodation with a group of Somali refugees where they were going to replace infibulation with a vulvar nick and again when this became public, this agreement was abandoned under pressure from activists.

AMT: But do you believe that people who believe that the very invasive infibulation should be done, would actually go for what you're talking about?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: In some cases yes and some cases probably not but if anybody is helped, it's better than nothing. It’s like with anti-smoking efforts, some people will stop smoking and some people won't. Some children who are exposed to second hand smoke will benefit from anti-smoking efforts and some won't. But if anybody does then it's worth it.

AMT: You compare this to male circumcision?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: I didn't compare it, but I used it as an analogy, yes.

AMT: Okay, why?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: Because it's another genital procedure that is a religious or cultural ritual that has been prevalent in Western nations for a long time and is legal in Western nations.

AMT: And yet of course, male circumcision, the reason for it is not the same as female genital mutilation. One is done to female to inhibit the sexual practice and any sexual pleasure.

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: Well that's true of infibulation. It may not be true of more minor forms of genital alteration that are practiced in places in West Africa which involve perhaps labial reduction, but it certainly is true of infibulation and possibly for clitoral, well not possibly, for clitoral removal. So there are various reasons. There are various reasons why it's done and some are to inhibit sexual pleasure for some procedures and some, as I understand it, are aesthetic in that it's women who do it and and in some cases it's just a ritual acknowledging femininity. There are a variety of reasons and I'm not going to judge reasons. My concern is with the effects and if it's going to harm people, if it is going to inhibit sexual pleasure, if it is going to make having a child more dangerous then it shouldn't be allowed, and in countries such as the United States and Canada where you and I have influence, we should try to curtail it.

AMT: Your paper says that banning most minor forms is culturally insensitive supremacist and discriminatory toward women, how so?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: It's culturally insensitive in that if these things are important to people then we're telling them that they're wrong, that they’re a criminal. And in some cases, not with infibulation, but with something like a vulvar nick, we allow procedures of that magnitude if the culture is a mainstream culture. If it's something that we're used to we will allow male circumcision, if an adolescent wants to alter the shape of her breasts we’ll allow her to have that operation. If we're going to compare something with a vulvar nick, we allow parents to pierce the ears of their young daughters, but if the culture is strange, if the culture is more exotic, if the culture is perhaps one that a lot of people don't like, than even the most minor procedures such as the vulvar nick, are criminal and that sounds discriminatory.

AMT: But we're talking about little girls. Do you really think it's in the same line as piercing ears?

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: Basically it's…we're talking about an infant perhaps an infant who has no developed feelings about her genitals, we're talking about a one second nick that is completely healed within a couple of days and the objective affects are not going to be different from piercing the ears. The difference of course is that it's the genitalia and we all feel very, very strongly about anything that happens to the genitalia.

AMT: Allan Jacobs, thank you for your time today.

DR. ALLAN JACOBS: Certainly.

AMT: Dr. Allan Jacobs, co-author of an article Female genital alteration: a compromise solution published this month by the Journal of Medical Ethics. He was speaking to us from New York. Whether you call it cutting, nicks or mutilation, it is all traumatic for many women who have experienced this type of procedure. Maryum Saifee has written about her experience with female genital mutilation and cutting at the age of seven. She joins us from Washington DC. Hello.

MARYUM SAIFEE: Hi.

AMT: What do you think of what you just heard?

MARYUM SAIFEE: Well I mean I my gut reaction is that it all forms of excision are harmful. I mean there’s physical harm, there’s psychological harm. Dr. Jacobs didn't mention the sort of the psychological impact of what happens. And so, you know, there's no medical utility. The WHO in particular and many other international organizations have stated that genital mutilation or cutting FGMC only causes harm. So in some cultural practices he talks about cultural insensitivity. Some cultural practices are harmful. You know up until a century ago as FGMC actually occurred in the United States and in Europe as a cure for hysteria, and then we've evolved out of it. So he's making these assumptions that culture is something that static, that can never change and it's discriminatory. I would argue quite the opposite. A lot of survivors have been speaking and I think are really galvanized in particular by social media, transnational kind of solidarity linkages are happening organically, especially within the last decade, and as you sort of break the culture of silence on the issue. Because that's been the main reason I think one of the huge reasons why it perpetuates you know it predates Islam, it predates Christianity, it's a global practice. It has taken place for thousands of years. But now that there's sort of more discussion at the grassroots level, you're starting to see more people speaking out. And even survivors that have gone through it maybe themselves, unwillingly in all cases, because it happens to the child without consent. They're making the decision to not do it to their own daughters and I think that's a promising step.

AMT: Tell me about your own experience. What can you tell me about what happened?

MARYUM SAIFEE: For me, I'm originally from India, so that's my country of origin. My parents migrated in the late 1960’s, early 70’s and they actually sent my brother and I to stay in India for a summer. Every vacation, summer vacation, they’re immigrants to the US, they couldn't pay for daycare so they would send us to different relatives, to Pittsburgh, to New Jersey to wherever. This particular summer I went to India to stay with my dad’s sister. In my case, my dad's sister, who's a physician like Dr. Jacobs, I mean she's a trusted individual...I was seven years old, she basically decided to throw a party because we were leaving India and, for that summer, and so she…I'm seven years old, so she said oh you know if you behave today I'll give you this piece of chocolate. It was like a Toblerone bar and as a seven year old I got excited, I was like wow, okay! And she said you don't even have to share this with your brother this is all for you. And so she just led me down to her dispensary, she's a physician, so I had this done the way Dr. Jacobs is describing, in a medical sort of setting, sterilized blade presumably. And so she took me down to her dispensary which is located downstairs from her, this sort of family house in India, which is where her clinic was and she performed the procedure without really any warning. It was it was traumatic. And for me I actually didn't even quite understand what had happened.

AMT: You didn’t understand what happened for years.

MARYUM SAIFEE: For years, exactly. As a product of immigrant parents you know we do things that are different right?

AMT: So you didn’t understand what had happened until you were actually in university, am I right?

MARYUM SAIFEE: Right. I mean as a seven year old sort of travelling to another country, I had no idea that it had a term. Until as you said, and I wrote about this piece in The Guardian, until I was sitting in you know an anthropology course in an undergrad...

AMT: Maryum, I don’t want to run out of time here and I want to bring someone else into the conversation. The bottom line is you had what he is saying is like the minor procedure. Correct?

MARYUM SAIFEE: So I had type one which is the least invasive, which is what he's advocating for and the bottom line is it is harmful. I blocked out the memory because it was so traumatic and it has an impact and we should be advocating for all forms of excision, zero tolerance. It's illegal. His proposal is illegal in the United States and in many countries, so I think his proposal is ridiculous.

AMT: Stay with us Maryum Saifee because we've got one other guest waiting, Ruth Macklin professor of Bioethics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Hello Ruth Macklin.

RUTH MACKLIN: Hello.

AMT: Well. You hear what Maryum is saying. What happened to her as a child it's the same procedure that is being pushed in this paper. What do you think?

RUTH MACKLIN: Well first of all I think Maryum is very courageous to come out and say these things and I agree with everything she said, she said it better than I could. But, let me add a couple of brief points: first of all, let us remember what the purpose of this ritual is for in any form, it's to control women. Not every cultural tradition or every ritual deserves respect. Dr. Jacobs was talking about respecting culture and that it's culturally insensitive to criticize other people’s culture. Well, some cultural practices like this particular ritual are originated in an unacceptable practice, which is the control of women. And whether it's sewing them up so they can’t have sex or removing their clitoris so they don't enjoy sex, or having this little nick to prove to the world that they are a member of this culture, there is no good justification for it. There is another point however, that's worth stating and that is whether or not this ritual nick would be acceptable in all of those cultures, certainly the ones that can perform the extreme form of female genital, what they call alteration, and what most of us call mutilation. And if in fact they will not accept it, then this is just a gesture I would say.

AMT: And I want to pick up on what you're saying. Maryum, the proposal suggests that it this has no implications for the girl to whom this happens and the woman she becomes. Is that true?

MARYUM SAIFEE: No, it's absolutely not true. My story is actually pretty ubiquitous, when I started to read other people's…the level of either physical pain that endures or psychological harm that stays with you, it manifests in different people in different ways. It's like saying, for example, with rape culture like have this type one versus type four…it's all wrong, it’s the same thing. As the professor noted it's like any form of structured gender-based violence, it's used to control the sexuality of women. It's just wrong. This idea that it's you're trying to be culturally sensitive etcetera is just ridiculous. As she mentioned, cultural practices can be harmful. I mean we have plenty of examples in human history of that.

AMT: And one of the arguments of these doctors is that the activism against it hasn't changed, this would be a compromise. Maryum, you're making the point that more women are now breaking their silence on this.

MARYUM SAIFEE: Absolutely, more women are talking…speaking out, and having these conversations, it's difficult. In my case my parents didn't know what happened to me. Actually when I was in university I confronted my mother, who's also a physician, and she was shocked. She had no idea. My father, actually in a lot of these cases, men are completely…even though it’s based in patriarchy, men are completely unaware of what's happening. It's carried out by women typically…

AMT: I want to pick up on that with Ruth Mackin, because that's one of the arguments too, we’ll women do this to other women. Should that be part of the argument, Ruth Macklin?

RUTH MACKLIN: Well first of all, let's ask who the women are who are doing this on a regular basis. This truly was not the case with Maryum’s aunt who did it to her own niece. But these women are paid, it’s a job. And of course they do buy into these cultural practices as do many of the women who when they’re adult women say yes this is part of our culture and I should have been circumcised or cut. There is one other important point here though. And that is the authors of the article Dr. Jacobs and his co-author make the point that this kind of ritual is necessary in order to be marriageable. Well, in order to be marriageable, someone has to ascertain or determine that this actually took place. And if, as Dr. Jacobs mentions, this is a very minor thing that heals completely and that's not visible, how is anyone going to determine whether or not a woman is marriageable, if this procedure was done say at the age of seven or at puberty or in other cultures it's done in infancy. There is in fact the practice whereby the mother of the groom of the engaged marriage actually inspect the genitals of women to see if they have been circumcised.

AMT: Ruth we have to leave it there we are out of time, but it's really important here both your voices. Thank you both. We've been speaking with Maryum Saifee, she's written about her own experience with cutting. She was in Washington DC. Ruth Macklin professor of Bioethics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. This is The Current.

Back To Top »

Obama's plan to close Guantanamo raises concern over prisoner transfers

Guests: Chris Anders, Lisa Hyams, Robert Spitzer

SOUNDCLIP

BARACK OBAMA: Today, the department is submitting to Congress our plan for finally closing the facility at Guantanamo once and for all. This is about closing a chapter in our history. It reflects the lessons that we've learned since 9/11. And given the stakes involved for our security, this plan deserves a fair hearing.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Well, that's US President Barack Obama yesterday announcing a final push to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. If his speech sounds familiar that's because it is. One of the President’s first acts in office was signing an executive order to shut it down, that was more than seven years ago. The task is not any easier today and they are no further along. After President Obama sent Congress his plan for closing the prison, the Republican front runners for the presidential nomination, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio were quick to respond.

SOUNDCLIP

DONALD TRUMP: This morning I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way, we are keeping open.

[cheers] Which we are keeping open and we're going to load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re going to load it up.

TED CRUZ: Don't shut down Gitmo, expand it, and let's have some new

terrorists there.

MARCO RUBIO: If we capture terrorists alive, they're not getting a court hearing in Manhattan, they’re not going to be sent to Nevada, they’re going to Guantanamo. And we're going to find out everything they know.

AMT: Behind a political battle are 91 detainees still being held in Guantanamo Bay after more than a dozen years. Most have never been charged with any crime. Mohamed Ould Slahi kept a diary of his years in detention. It was eventually smuggled out and published. This is an excerpt read by the British novelist, Hari Kunzru.

SOUNDCLIP

Reading:

Detainees were not allowed to talk to each other but we enjoyed looking at each other. The punishment for talking was hanging the detainee by the hands with his feet barely touching the ground. I saw an Afghani detainee who passed out a couple of times while hanging from his hands. The medic fixed him and hung him back up. Most of the detainees tried to talk while they were hanging which made the guards double their punishment. There was a very old Afghani fellow who reportedly was arrested to turn over his son. The guy was mentally sick. He couldn't stop talking because he didn't know where he was, nor why. I don't think he understood his environment but the guards kept dutifully hanging him. It was so pitiful. One day one of the guards threw him on his face and he was crying like a baby.

AMT: That is a reading from a work by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. He is still detained in Guantanamo Bay. While human rights activists are celebrating President Obama's plan, some advocates argue that it does not resolve the toughest detainee cases. For more on that I'm joined by Chris Anders. He's a Senior Legislative Counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. Since 2006, he's been leading a group of Americans opposing Guantanamo and he joins us from Washington, DC.

Hello.

CHRIS ANDERS: Hi, good morning.

AMT: What is your reaction to this announcement?

CHRIS ANDERS: So, there's a lot of good and then there's a lot of reason for concern in the President's plan. I think the really big deal of it is that the President, by giving this announcement, this big speech in the White House yesterday, is putting the full force of himself in his office behind closing Guantanamo in the remaining 11 months of his of his presidency. I think the concern though is that the plan still holds on to the worst policies left at Guantanamo which are indefinite detention without charge or trial, and the military commissions. Although he is limiting those to this legacy group of people that he inherited from President Bush, and says that he doesn't think that the military commissions or indefinite detention should be used for people captured in the future, he's not letting go of those policies for some of the detainees who are left there.

AMT: Okay, so who are the detainees who are left there? What are the different groups?

CHRIS ANDERS: So, to his credit, the number is much smaller than when he took office. It went from 242 when President Obama took office on the first day, we're now down to 91. Of the 91 that are there, only ten have ever been charged with a crime and so they are either charged and waiting for trial or have been convicted in front of the military commissions down there. 35 of the 91 have been cleared for transfer overseas. These are people that every National Security Agency in the United States has said that the United States has no reason to be holding them and they can be safely transferred if they can find a country that will be willing to take them where they can safely hold

them.

AMT: So, some of the countries won't take them or they would be returned to places like Yemen, right?

CHRIS ANDERS: Of that group of 35, almost all of them are from Yemen and the United States won't transfer people at this point to Yemen given the volatile situation there. So, this is about finding third countries, other allies of the United States, to send these people to. Then there's a group of 46 and this is a group that some of the people in that group originally were supposed to be put on trial, but for various reasons that hasn't taken place. Some of these people were put into the category by President Obama of indefinite detention without charge or trial. The President has said that each of these people are going to have a new look, a new review and so there's something called the periodic review board that started about a year and a half ago that has been working its way through these detainees that haven't been charged and haven’t been cleared yet.

AMT: So, some of them could be released?

CHRIS ANDERS: Yeah.

AMT: And some of them could be charged?

CHRIS ANDERS: There might be some that could still be charged, although they would have to be charged most likely in federal court in the United States and not in front of the military commission.

AMT: Okay, that's what I want to get to. So how many of these would have to go to the US?

CHRIS ANDERS: So, in order for them to actually be tried in the United States, they would have to be brought here and there's a restriction the Congress passed that runs through the end of this year that prohibits a president from bringing detainees here for any purpose.

AMT: Okay, just talk to me in numbers, though. There are people that have to actually stay incarcerated. Where would they go?

CHRIS ANDERS: Yes, so if were bringing people from the United States and brought them here to put them on trial in federal court, it's the United States venue and jurisdictions is pretty broad of different courts. But it really requires people to be present in the United States.

AMT: And how many people are we talking about?

CHRIS ANDERS: So, it's probably the ten who are in the military commission system. And then the President gave a number that could range up to 60, although that seems a lot on the high end. Most people think that it's probably a dozen or two additional people. But that number has been going down and the number of people that have been cleared has been going up as periodic review boards have taken place. When they’ve done their reviews, there have been 21 of these reviews over the past year, 18 of the 21 who have had a decision by a periodic review board has been cleared. We’re pretty confident when the President steps up the effort by the Defense Department to do this clearance process, that most of the people, most of those 46 who have not been cleared and have not been charged, will end up in the cleared category and the President's plan says that all those periodic review boards have to finish by fall of this year.

AMT: Even if they're cleared, there are countries that just won't take them. So, what happens to them?

CHRIS ANDERS: Well, what we've been hearing from people in the executive branch is that there are countries, it's a process that the State Department and the Defense Department engage in negotiations with foreign countries, and apparently they've identified countries willing to take literally all of the clear detainees. The process though is a very long and cumbersome process because it involves multiple agencies and then the Secretary of Defense personally signing off on each transfer. So, each transfer involves a negotiation between the United States and the receiving country on what is going to happen with that particular detainee if he's transferred to that country.

AMT: What sort of precedent would it set if any of these prisoners are held in the US without trial?

CHRIS ANDERS: This is something that we've been very concerned about. The United States right now has zero people held in indefinite detention within the United States on any kind of claim of war authority. During the Bush administration, there were two people. One was a citizen, one was here on an immigrant status, who are held on claims that without charge or trial for years on end, based on the claim that the United States had war authority to hold them. They were eventually charged in court but for years they were held without charge or trial. Going from zero to a dozen, two dozen or more people, is a big problem. It means that it's a lot harder, we think, to go from zero to one than it is to go from 12 or 20 to 50 or 100, and at the top of your hour you'd played some clips from Donald Trump and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz who are the leading candidates for the Republican nomination, all talking about how they want to expand Guantanamo. If they had the power and a precedent for holding people with indefinite detention in the United States itself, we have a lot of concern that that number would quickly expand from a very small number that President Obama is contemplating to a much larger number that someone like Donald Trump would have in mind.

AMT: So, that means within US law, the ability to hold someone indefinitely is there.

CHRIS ANDERS: Well, it's something that we at the ACLU challenge. We represent the last person that was held like this during the Bush administration. The ACLU represented, my organization represented, a case that was about to go to the United States Supreme Court where we were confident that we're going to win. When President Obama actually suspended the government's position on that case and then transferred that person into the federal court system and then he was

charged with the crime.

AMT: Right. We'll have to leave it there, Chris Anders but thank you for your thoughts.

CHRIS ANDERS: Okay, great thank you.

AMT: Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. He joined us from Washington, DC. Well, since the plan involves sending Guantanamo detainees to the US, American officials are now looking at several prisons in the States that could be possible places to house them including two in Colorado. One of those prisons is in Canon City, the other is in nearby Florence, Colorado. Lisa Hyams is the Executive Director of the Canon City Chamber of Commerce. She is not pleased with that possibility and Lisa Hyams joins us from Canon City, Colorado. Hello.

LISA HYAMS: Hello, how are you this morning?

AMT: Well, I'm fine. I'm wondering what you're thinking. Why don't you want Guantanamo inmates placed in prisons in or near your community?

LISA HYAMS: Well, we have several concerns. One of which is we have

no idea what the President has planned. We have tried to contact our officials and I have tried to contact the President's office. He's made no communication with our community whatsoever, even when he sent his group here from Pentagon to check out the facilities. Not once did they contact our local authorities or our government officials. So, our biggest concern is what is that going to entail. First of all, if they do come to our community, it changes all the rights that they have had when they are no longer on US soil. Being on foreign soil, they fall under different guidelines. Now this is what I understand, I'm not an attorney—

AMT: Well it is true that once they're on foreign soil, they have to follow US law in how they treat prisoners. That's true. But I'm curious, why would they need to talk, do they talk to you now about which inmates go into the prisons near you?

LISA HYAMS: Not at all.

AMT: So why would this be different?

LISA HYAMS: Oh, you mean about the inmates that are coming here now?

AMT: Yeah.

LISA HYAMS: Well, they are people that are tried and convicted, not sitting here, not convicted of any crime, not tried of any crime. Our prisons are designed to house people that have been tried and convicted and sentenced. They're not designed to hold detainees.

AMT: Okay, so you don't have a problem with the ones who have been convicted showing up in your prison like Mohamedou.

There are people convicted. Zacharias—

[crosstalk]

LISA HYAMS: Ten convicted.

AMT: You don't have a problem with them?

LISA HYAMS: Well, it isn't something I don't think that we would like as far as the elements, but as far as the federal prison is concerned, they have a right. We had Noriega in our prison, so it isn't that we haven't had political prisoners that have been convicted in our prison because we have. But, if they were to send all of the detainees to one prison, it would bring with it the potential for riots, well not riots, I don’t want to say, that’s not the right word, but we would have political statements. We would have people here gathering in the streets, we would have uprisings, and who's going to pay for all of that, to take care of that situation?

AMT: Like protests, you mean.

LISA HYAMS: Exactly.

AMT: Tell me a little bit about your community. What's Canon City like?

LISA HYAMS: Well, Canon is approximately 16,000 people. Florence, which is only about five miles away, is quite a bit smaller than we are. We're two very small communities. The county on the whole has approximately 37,000 people so we're talking about a small, rural community that does house several, quite a few prisons within it in the county itself. It does provide a good labour force. So it is a bedroom community. It's about an hour forty-five minutes south of Colorado Springs and it is a lovely place to live, and for a long time we have bought the stigma of being necessarily a prison community and we're not. We were largely an agricultural community that has developed into a better community for Colorado Springs. We have a lot of tourism within our community and it's a beautiful place to come and visit. We don't want to be known as the location where riots or protests would happen because of the detainees within our community.

AMT: Okay, so I just want to understand because you've got the Unabomber nearby too, Ted Kaczynski in jail, convicted. It's not the actual convicted prisoners you're worried about, it's the ones who would be coming with this questionable legal status and the political protests or the frenzy that you anticipate that would follow. Am I right?

LISA HYAMS: That is our greater concern, yes. And if though, we do have or if we are put in a situation of all of the ten detainees that have been convicted coming to our prison, we do want the federal government to provide necessary police protection or police assistance should we get into any protests or difficult situations because of that.

AMT: Okay, well thank you for sharing your concerns with me.

LISA HYAMS: Well, thank you so much.

AMT: Lisa Hyams, Executive Director of the Canon City Chamber of Commerce in Colorado. Well, on top of those local concerns our next guest says President Obama may face constitutional obstacles to closing Guantanamo. Robert Spitzer is a Political Science professor at State University New York at Cortland. He's the author of The Presidency and the Constitution. Robert Spitzer joins us from Cortland, New York. Hello.

ROBERT SPITZER: It’s good to be with you.

AMT: Well, you heard my last guest’s concerns about the sort of political fallout that can occur by having detainees who are being held without trial or charge. Is that a realistic concern?

ROBERT SPITZER: Frankly, I'm mystified by those concerns. I don't understand them. The idea that a handful of, admittedly people being detained under circumstances that are somewhat controversial, I mean the idea that a handful of them would be transferred to a secure federal facility in Colorado or South Carolina or Kansas would somehow provoke protests or uprisings or riots, I have no idea why that would occur or how. I think that is an indication of the political frenzy that has come to surround the idea of transferring the detainees to facilities here in the US. There are lots of really bad people that are behind bars in federal facilities. The idea that adding a sprinkling of people from Guantanamo there-- I think the idea that would change anything is something that I do not understand.

AMT: Okay, so let's talk about the President's ability to get this by Congress. Does he have to go through Congress, can he issue an executive order?

ROBERT SPITZER: It seems most likely that he does have to go through Congress. President Bush argued essentially, the previous president, that he would have unilateral authority to do as he pleases in such matters. President Obama has implied that he might have such authority. However, if you look at the Commander-in-Chief power which is what the basis for such a claim, it's pretty clear by law, by constitution, by history, that if Congress intervenes, if Congress acts legislatively to direct the President to do something or not do something that laws passed by Congress trump the ability of the President to do something unilaterally. And, Congress has acted quite decisively. I mean, you can certainly question on policy grounds whether it's good or bad that Congress says in law, no, the President may not bring detainees from Gitmo to the United States to US facilities, but Congress has that final authority and I don't think it is likely that the President will act unilaterally and just empty Guantanamo and send them to the US.

AMT: Okay, they have that authority and yesterday a Republican bill was introduced that would force the administration to publicize any plans to move those detainees. What's that about, how does that affect things?

ROBERT SPITZER: Well, publicized. I guess the notion would be that somehow they would want Congress in the country and would want to see some kind of very public warning or public statement that all the President plans on is actually transferring detainees. That seems sort of like window dressing to me because the existing legislative strictures in place are the ones that Congress has imposed that says that the President can't do this anyway. So, I don't know what more that could do except to try and add some fuel to the political fires in this election year in opposition to what Obama does want to do and what the Republicans say they do not want him to do.

AMT: And of course we know that Guantanamo Bay was set up as a prison specifically to keep it off US soil, specifically so that they could put prisoners there without the due process that would be relied on if you had to put them on US soil. So, if you bring them over, what has to change?

ROBERT SPITZER: It could be done [coughs] and the Supreme Court ruled back in 2004 that federal courts do have jurisdiction over that facility even though it is outside the physical borders of the United States. It is certainly possible to bring those detainees into the United States whether to run them through what are called Article Three Courts, that is the civilian court system, or to put them into prison or to dispose of them in various legal ways. So, that certainly can be done. Again, the roadblock though is this law, the existing law which the President signed into law last fall despite his reservations as he signed that bill into law which you know, bars or restricts that from occurring.

AMT: Okay, you did hear the clip of the men who are seeking the Republican presidential nomination. How much of this is even about the law anymore, and how much of this is just straight up politics?

ROBERT SPITZER: Well, a lot of it is politics. This was a bi-partisan issue in 2008 and 2009. President Bush announced and said that as President Obama noted, Bush said that he wanted to close Guantanamo and get the inmates out of there in various ways and at the start of his term, President Obama issued an executive order on the second day in office saying he wanted to get this done. The Republicans I think, have taken some glee in preventing him from doing this and this is now become kind of an issue to demonstrate the toughness of the Republican candidates for president. Now whether they will follow through with this and actually expand the population there should one of them be elected president, I think is a separate question. And there is also one other possibility, slim though it is, which is that Obama may be able to negotiate quietly with Republican leaders, people like Senator John McCain, and perhaps resolve this in some manner, some manner before the new president takes office next year.

AMT: I was just going to ask. So, if he can get this through, it would happen right at the end of his presidency, would it?

ROBERT SPITZER: That would seem likely, partly for political reasons. Once you get past election day, which is this upcoming November, and the other thing he may be working to do is to simply whittle down the number. Chris Anders talked about the particular numbers and how various people could be transferred to various places and if Obama can continue to whittle down the total number of detainees still there to an ever smaller number that by itself may be the further incentive to stop spending hundreds of millions dollars down there and to finally find a way to transfer the remaining detainees to other facilities or to send them to various nations

AMT: Because then the conversation becomes financial and not security and then it changes the whole flavour. Fascinating. Okay, well Robert Spitzer, we have to leave it there. Thank you for your insights.

ROBERT SPITZER: It's good to be with you.

AMT: Robert Spitzer, Political Science professor at State University New York at Cortland, author of The Presidency and the Constitution. Well, stay with us.

Back To Top »

Peace in Syria elusive as major foreign players complicate civil war

Guests: Stephanie Carvin, Rex Brynen, Anna Arutunyan, Merve Tahiroglu

AMT: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and this is The Current. This coming Saturday, a Syrian ceasefire proposed by Russia and the US is due to take effect. The Syrian government, the Syrian opposition, and some rebel groups have all announced conditional acceptance of the terms. ISIS and other militant groups have not. And just today Turkey's president is in the news saying that the US, Russia, Iran, and the EU, and the UN are all acting dishonourably in the ceasefire talks. The ceasefire is the latest diplomatic foray into a Syrian civil war that has ravaged the country and its citizens for years now. Few believe that it will hold. More than 250,000 Syrians are dead, millions more been forced to flee their homes. One of the biggest challenges is the number of foreign players who are influencing the fighting inside the country. Russia, Turkey, Iran, the US, all have competing interests in the conflict. So today we want to examine why each of these players is involved and how each wants it to end. Stephanie Carvin will focus on the role of the US. She teaches International Relations at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. Stephanie Carvin is in Ottawa. Merve Tahiroglu is a specialist in Turkey and holds the position of research associate at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Merve Tahiroglu is in Washington. Rex Brynen is a Professor of Political Science at McGill University with a specialty in the Middle East. Rex Brynen will speak about Iran today; he’s in Montreal. And Anna Arutunyan is a Russian-American journalist and author of the Putin Mystique. She is in Moscow. Hello to you all.

REX BRYNEN: Hello.

STEPHANIE CARVIN: Hello.

MERVE TAHIROGLU: Hello.

ANNA ARUTUNYAN: Hello.

AMT: I want to begin by asking each of you briefly to lay out the interests of the player that you are following. And Stephanie Carvin let's begin with you, what is driving the United States involvement in Syria?

STEPHANIE CARVIN: At first I think that does actually seem to be a fairly complicated question, but when you drill down I think we can actually identify four concrete interests. And that is firstly defeating ISIS and making sure that it doesn't spread. Secondly, containing regional stability, in particular Libya, refugees, things like that. Thirdly is establishing some kind of political settlement. And fourthly removing Assad and to kind of put the bow on that present, they want to do it without using any ground troops whatsoever.

AMT: Okay. Well let's hold that thought and go to Russia. Anna Arutunyan, what is motivating Russia?

ANNA ARUTUNYAN: Looks like four is the magic number. I would also say Russia's got mainly four motivations here. First of all, this is a reactive, opportunistic situation where the Kremlin calculated that military involvement in Syria would increase Russia's international leverage and thus rectify the isolation Russia faced as a result of its involvement in the Ukraine crisis. Secondly this was a chance to frankly show off its military capabilities after years of spending and reform. Putin after all has overseen what's been called the most rapid military modernization since the 1930’s. So it was a good chance to kind of show that off. Thirdly, the Kremlin has always opposed support for a popular revolt on ideological grounds and given that in the face of ISIL Washington's position of opposing Assad at any cost was becoming increasingly untenable. It was a good chance for Russia to come in and say I told you so which is essentially what Putin did at the UN in September when he basically came out and said, do you realize what you have done? And we can agree or disagree with this, but that was a major point that Russia wanted to say, hey, here we are, we think we’re right and what's happening on the ground is backing that up. And finally last but not least there is of course ISIL itself. This is important for Russia and Russia sincerely believes here that in order to battle them you have to prop up the government first. Hence it’s bombing campaign of both the US backed opposition and of ISIL.

AMT: And remind us what Russia has on the ground.

ANNA ARUTUNYAN: Russia has got two military bases in Syria that it has sent ground troops to support its operations there.

REX BRYNEN: Rex Brynen, what are Iran's interests in this conflict?

REX BRYNEN: Well Syria is Iran's most important regional ally and it's not surprising therefore that it's come to its assistance. It provides weapons, it provides military advisors, and it recruits Shiite militias from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from elsewhere as a regular infantry force to support the Syrian army which has significant manpower shortages. It provides money, foreign aid, oil, and goods. And of course Iran green lights Hezbollah’s involvement in the civil war and Hezbollah has been an important ally of the Syrian regime too in providing some of its best ground combat forces although the numbers are too large. So part of this is sort of classic geostrategic supporting an ally. It should be said, different to Tehran’s point of view, they're the stabilizing force. They're the one who are supporting an established government against outside efforts at subversion. And there's some parallel with the Russian position, they see the West they see the Gulf countries as destabilizing the region and they're supporting existing allies. For the Iranians there's also a significant element of rivalry with the Saudis in particular with the Arab Gulf states. So we always have that regional rivalry affecting events in Syria and elsewhere in the region; in Iraq and in Yemen and so forth. And thirdly, from the Iranian point of view they’re supporting a Syrian regime which they are critical of in some respects, but they see the civil war and they see the conflict in Iraq as well as a fight against Sunni extremist jihadism. They would see the so-called Islamic State, they would see Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the al Qaeda affiliate that's active in Syria; they would see them as genocidal movements. Very little difference compared to the Nazis who are bent on in slaving or killing large numbers of Shiites. And certainly thousands of religious minorities have been executed by ISIS as a policy of enslaving minorities. So for the Iranians this isn't just a sort of classic Riel politics of supporting an ally; this is a battle against an anti-Shiite evil that must be eradicated from the Middle East in which they see the civil war as having spread, those groups have become more and more powerful in Syria having spread to Iraq and destabilize, having spread to Libya.

AMT: Okay. Merve Tahiroglu, what is at stake for Turkey in Syria?

MERVE TAHIROGLU: A lot is at stake for Turkey in Syria because from Turkey's perspective, Turkey shares its largest, longest, and most porous border with Syria. And so everything that's happening in Syria, from Turkey's perspective, is some sort of national security issue or a threat. Now the top of these threats is the Kurdish rebels fighting in northern Syria just across Turkey's border. And they're one of the many actors that are along the border right now, but Turkey sees that as the top national security threat because those particular Syrian rebels are allied with a Kurdish insurgency group that has been fighting for decades inside Turkey for separatism. So the fact that those Kurdish rebels in Syria that are allied with these insurgents inside Turkey are getting more ground along Turkey's border is threatening to Turkey's territorial integrity. The second one is of course, ISIS, which also has territory bordering Turkey. But unlike Russia and Iran, Turkey views ISIS as a symptom of the ongoing Syrian civil war. From Turkey's perspective, to defeat ISIS we need to defeat Assad as well and that has been a major point of contention with the US and the anti-ISIL coalition and Turkey. And the third one is of course the influx of refugees. In terms of absolute numbers, Turkey hosts the most number of refugees and is a party to Europe's migrant problem. And the more the Syrian civil war continues and the more these refugees come into Turkey, it's getting more and more difficult for Turkey to deal with them at home and deal with the borders with Europe and with Syria. And so from Turkey's perspective everything that's happening in Syria along its border is threatening to Turkey and that's why it has to be an actor in this in this complicated picture.

AMT: Okay. I want to explore a little more about the Russian position and how it kind of fits in with everyone else or not. We know that the Syrian bombing that is done with help, I guess is the word, or complicity or cooperation with Russia, has been hitting a lot of non ISIS rebels. What do we make of that because there are those who say ISIS and the Assad regime need each other? And they're actually not actually going after ISIS at all?

ANNA ARUTUNYAN: Russia is basically not making a distinction, for what it's worth, between ISIL and the opposition. The Kremlin, especially Putin’s Kremlin, is a true believer in the power of the state. It believes that to fight terrorism, you've got the state and you've got everybody else. You don't have a moderate opposition if that moderate opposition has got weapons. If they're fighting, that means they're terrorists. And that’s the way it sees it on the ground, that’s why if we look at a map we're going to see that despite Russia's stance that it is fighting ISIS, it is actually bombing more moderate opposition sites than ISIS itself. And that is because Russia simply sees backing the government as a good way to fight ISIS.

AMT: Okay. Rex Brynen, take us further into Iran's way of thinking in its role in this with what we know of the other two.

REX BRYNEN: Well it sees no alternative than the stability of the current regime. Therefore it really isn't going to support any kind of political outcome that doesn't leave something looking like the current Syrian regime, that is to say a friendly ally in power. It's interestingly somewhat constrained, and here's a parallel with the United States, that it does not want to get involved in a major way in a ground war. It does not want to put a lot of Iranian boots on the ground. So what we've seen the Iranians do is commit advisors, and commit auxiliaries; that is to say Shiite militias that have been raised in other countries in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Hezbollah combatants as infantry in the battle but not significant combat units of the Iranian army. I think they realize too that might be somewhat counterproductive in terms of sectarian and political dynamics within Syria itself. You spoke earlier about the conflict spilling over borders, well the most obvious case of that is Iraq where we’ve seen ISIS capture large amounts of territory and pose a profound security threat to Iran. To put that in Iranian terms, that’s as if al Qaeda took over half of Mexico or half of Canada or the parts closest to the United States. And Iran therefore has stepped up its assistance of the Syrian regime, much as it stepped up assistance of the Iraqi regime, because it sees that threat as a particularly grave one.

AMT: And of course people still talk about the United States in Vietnam; the Iran-Iraq war was brutal. But Iran's last big religious war, the Shia fighting the Sunni, that wasn't really that long ago in the memory of those in Iran now.

REX BRYNEN: No you'll still see the collection boxes and street corners in Teheran for the war wounded frankly from the Iran-Iraq War. So there's strong domestic support in Iran for supporting the Syrian and Iraqi governments against what are seen as Sunni extremist terrorists, there is not strong domestic support however for a lot of Iranian young men going off and dying on the battlefield which is why the Iranian model has been to sort of train and equip other militias to do that kind of fighting.

AMT: Stephanie Carven, the United States and its allies have said they want to see Assad gone. Why is regime change so important for them for their goals in Syria?

STEPHANIE CARVIN: I think a lot of it is just the sheer brutality of the regime and what is going on. Assad has just killed so many people, dropping bombs. The latest estimates I've seen is that there's 250,000 Syrians have been killed, 11 million displaced and I think we've just crossed the Rubicon in terms of coming to a political settlement with Assad in place. The one thing I would say though however, and this is interesting listening to my colleague in Moscow, is that I do believe that actually Russia and the United States have a lot of shared interests and certainly a shared interest in a political settlement. The problem is that they just so radically disagree on the terms of that settlement. And of course the big element to that is actually Syria with or without Assad. And let's be honest here, we don't even know if they can get a ceasefire. The plans for the ceasefire this Friday, we don't even know if that's going to hold let alone a political settlement. So I think we might actually still be looking at least six months to a year down the road. But I'm not convinced that the US is actually going to be successful in removing him from power in any future arrangements.

AMT: But you're talking an arrangement; if they wanted to overthrow him, they want him to step away. They don't want to pull a Saddam Hussein.

STEPHANIE CARVIN: I think that the US at this point would be amenable to either Assad kind of just bowing out, maybe getting a nice condo somewhere in Moscow or another country or having him actually forcibly removed either by his own people. I think they just actually want him gone and I'm not too sure that they are overly concerned with how that's done. But whether or not it's possible is another question.

AMT: Merve Tahiroglu, the US strategy that includes supporting Kurdish rebels in Syria and Canada as part of that; how is that sitting with Turkey?

MERVE TAHIROGLU: It's not sitting well because from Turkey's perspective, as I said, particularly the Kurdish rebels that are fighting in Syria who are immensely helpful to the anti-ISIS coalition and all efforts against ISIS in Syria as well as in Iraq but I'm talking about the particular Syrian Kurdish rebels here. From Turkey's perspective these are allied with the PKK, which is a Kurdish insurgency group that has been fighting a war in Turkey for decades. We talked a little bit about the historical experiences of Russia and Iran and how that might affect their calculations now; this is Turkey's main driving calculation right now. Looking at Syria out there, what they're seeing is an essentially autonomous Syrian Kurdistan and that is right across the border of Turkish territories that are predominantly Kurdish as well. And we're talking about rebel groups who are armed and who are fighting in conflict and who are cooperating with the US and Turkey's other NATO allies who are trying to do the same thing at home in Turkey. So the way they've been able to handle this conversation over the last year, while there has been public and private disagreement, and I'm sure private is actually much more contentious than it has been public until very recently of course. The United States for example differentiates between the Kurdish insurgents in Turkey and the Kurdish rebels in Syria. They're very adamant about saying that they're legally different organizations therefore the United States can call the factions fighting inside Turkey a terrorist organization but the factions fighting in Syria as not terrorist. Whereas from Turkey's perspective, they're one in the same, it's becoming more and more frustrating for Turkey and what we've been hearing over the last week since the Ankara attack is that Turkey is stepping up this rhetoric saying the United States and the West essentially needs to choose between its NATO partner Turkey versus these Kurdish rebels in Syria because Turkey is a NATO ally and this is a threat to Turkey's national integrity and the US needs to accept that. Now that is very difficult because the anti-ISIS coalition has been cooperating with Syrian Kurds who have been the most effective force on the ground fighting this jihadi group so that's where the major problem is. I don't really see the resolution that satisfies either side in this going forward.

AMT: And then there's the other wrinkle, Turkey shot down a Russian jet last November, raised new concerns. I've got a piece of tape here. First the Turkish President, Erdoğan, followed by the Russian President, Putin.

SOUNDCLIP

INTERPRETOR: We are feeling distressed for encountering such an incident. But the actions were fully aligned with Turkey’s rules of engagement that have been declared before. Turkey does not harbour enmity towards its neighbors.

SOUNDCLIP

INTERPRETOR: This is a stab in the back, the pilot did not threaten anyone and the plane was shot down in Syrian airspace; that’s four kilometers from the borders of Turkey. This tragic event will have serious consequences for Russia and Turkey’s relations.

AMT: Okay. Merve Tahiroglu, how did this incident change Turkey's relationship with Russia?

MERVE TAHIROGLU: Well they've been a diplomatic crisis since and it looks like it’s only escalating. So the downing of the Russian jet, first of all the Turkish President was correct in that it was in line with Turkey's rules of engagement but I feel like we need to put it in context, which is that we talked about how Russia has been fighting the opposition in Syria as well. And in particular the week prior to this jet incident, Russian forces had been fighting against the Syrian Turkmen rebels, which are essentially a Turkish proxy in the Syrian civil war. So there had been that week of ongoing Turkey and Russia, I’m sure, private disagreements about what Russia's doing in essentially attacking Turkey's proxy in Syria. Turkey didn't publicly raise this as much during that week. So when the jet crossed into Turkish airspace, first of all it wasn't the first time a Russian jet crossed into Turkish airspace, and this incident was unfortunately rather predictable considering how long and complex this border is and how Russian jets had been involved in operations so close to the Turkish side anyway that it was a matter of time that such an incident would have happened. But the fact that Turkey took this very bold step and almost dragged NATO into this entire quagmire was a major step. And while it feels like Erdoğan was trying to send a message to Russia and to its NATO allies that it’s serious about these threats that are coming to its national security from Syria including from Russia. From the Russian perspective it seems like Putin really did not take this well and the diplomatic crisis has only been escalating. The economic sanctions that Russia wants to impose on Turkey are nothing compared to other actions that Syria has been taking. And by that I specifically mean supporting these very Syrian Kurdish rebels that are the top threat to Turkey from Syria.

AMT: Okay. I want to talk about the possible resolution of this conflict and when you put people around a table to negotiate there is compromise. So I'd like to go around the table again and ask each of you what you think the country you're talking about needs to bend on in order to come closer to a resolution. Let's start with Stephanie.

STEPHANIE CARVIN: That is a great question. We have seen John Kerry very much involved in diplomatic efforts and it's clear that they are actually looking for a comprehensive diplomatic solution to the crisis. But I would say internally in the United States the rhetoric has been more of a national security focus, so they're actually focused on ISIS. I think really for the short to medium term we're going to see more airstrikes, more pressure on ISIS. And it’s true; it does represent the greatest security threat to the United States. And then what I also think it really has to do is just keep up the diplomacy and it might have to compromise on the Assad issue despite everything that we said at the beginning of this conversation.

AMT: In other words, agree to let him come back?

STEPHANIE CARVIN: Either that or perhaps some kind of partition, some kind of political settlement, autonomous notes, it might have to be something like that. It might just have to be the US holding its nose at this point for the ability to kind of then just focus on the ISIL fight.

AMT: Okay. Let's go to Merve Tahiroglu. What would Turkey have to bend on?

MERVE TAHIROGLU: Well for any confidence of agreement, it looks like Turkey would have to bend on the Assad must go rhetoric. But I don't think that's possible because at this point it would be a terrible political calculation for the Turkish government at home. But what Turkey really needs to do to help ease any sort of solution in Syria, is it needs to: A. Take ISIS at it's peril, which it looks like it is still not really doing, it is still not actually involved in the anti-ISIS fight and it has not been actively combating ISIS as much as it should, there is a reason why ISIS grew along Turkey's border and I'm not sure to Turkish government or the military are taking ISIS at it's peril. And also Turkey needs to rethink its support to some of these jihadi groups that are fighting in Syria. Turkey has been a big supporter of the opposition but one problem is that Turkey hasn't really differentiated between the more moderate elements within the opposition or the jihadi elements within the opposition and that has just made the picture all that more complex for Turkey.

AMT: Rex Brynen, what would Iran have to bend on?

REX BRYNEN: I think the Iranians would be prepared to accept any political deal that the Assad regime would be prepared to accept. But there is the challenge, the Assad regime doesn't want to commit political suicide and I don't think the Iranians are going to force them to do so. In fact, I don't think it ran as necessarily attached to Bashar Assad always being the President of Syria, but does not see any possible transition that would work without the country falling apart completely given that there are sort of wedded to their current course. And I think that also highlights something else, we're talking about the external actors, frankly that domestic actors are more powerful than any single external actor. That is to say [interrupted]

AMT: Very good point.

REX BRYNEN: The Assad regime does not want to die. The opposition does not want to surrender. Regardless of what the outside actors will do, the insiders will continue their civil war until they think that there's absolutely no hope whatsoever. That means, unfortunately, that in many ways Iranian policy is, let's support the Assad regime until the opposition realizes it's hopeless and comes to the negotiating table on the regimes terms. And that means tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of more dead. Now that kind of partial humanitarian ceasefire policy we see being pursued right now by United States the Russians and others. Is possibly a way of reducing tensions or creating opportunities, but it also has to be said it's also a war fighting strategy where you try to stabilize some fronts to focus on others. So it doesn't necessarily lead us in the desired direction in the long term.

AMT: Right, okay. So Anna Arutunyan, what does Russia need to bend on?

ANNA ARUTUNYAN: It is very unreliable in terms of what it says and what it does. It says one thing, it does another. And it needs to really align what's coming out of Moscow diplomatically and officially. And what's actually happening on the ground because I outlined why Russia is focused on bombing the opposition and yet Russia is declaring that it is fighting ISIS. I think it needs to put its money where its mouth is and actually do that. The other thing is of course the Assad regime. Its pressure on Assad is limited but what it can do is I would say to use whatever bargaining power it has, to really push towards what it actually says, that it wants a more diplomatic political solution to this.

AMT: Okay. Well we have to leave it there but I think by giving us more insights into what each country is thinking strategically you have helped us understand why this war is in its fifth year. Thank you for your insights.

ANNA ARUTUNYAN: Thank you.

MERVE TAHIROGLU: Thank you for having us.

REX BRYNEN: Thank you.

AMT: That is Stephanie Carvin, an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. She’s in Ottawa. Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies specializing in Turkey. She joined us from Washington. Rex Brynen is a Professor of Political Science at McGill University, specializing in the Middle East, he’s in Montreal. And Anna Arutunyan is a Russian-American journalist and author of the Putin Mystique. She joined us from Moscow. Let us know what you think of what they had to say. You can find us on Twitter @thecurrentCBC. You can go to Facebook and like us and of course you’ll want to like us at Facebook. Or you can go online www.cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the link and tell us what you think in an e-mail.

Back To Top »

CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.