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Examining the Ongoing Syrian Warfare; Discussion of How Mayors Get Things Done
Aired July 31, 2013 - 15:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour today.
One day, two countries, two tragedies.
First Syria, where scenes of violence and devastation have become all too familiar. On Monday, the Assad regime recaptured a key neighborhood, Caldeira, in Homs, an area that has been a linchpin of the opposition-held territory, controlling vital routes from Damascus to Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast.
The opposition controlled the region for most of the past year. Now in a major setback for them, it is back in government hands.
Also on Monday, in the neighboring country of Iraq, a wave of car bombs ripped through Baghdad and other cities. More than 15 incidents, killing at least 60 people. Part of that spasm of violence that has gripped Iraq this year. Listen to this number, almost 1,000 civilians have been killed in July alone.
And there was that troubling jailbreak last weekend, hundreds of prisoners released in a coordinated assault on Iraqi prisons, showing the resurgent strength of Al Qaeda in the region.
Now let's be honest. For outsiders, the Middle East is starting to blur into one big Arab Spring mess. And it's starting to take a lot to get their attention at this point. But we are paying attention, because what's happening in Syria and Iraq may be evidence of a troubling new development.
Iraqi arms and fighters are crossing into Syria. Syrian fighters are crossing back into Iraq, hardened and battle-tested, Sunni-on-Shiite violence, and all of that has metastasizing across the region.
As one Western diplomat put it last week, the battlefields are merging, and civilians are paying the price. We'll have more on the troubling developments in Iraq in a moment.
But first, I spoke with Abu Rami, an activist on the ground in Homs, about the developments, the recent developments. I spoke to him earlier by phone.
GORANI: Abu Rami, thank you for being with us here on CNN to tell us more about what's going on in Homs today.
ABU RAMI, HOMS ACTIVIST: Thank you for me -- for this opportunity. Of course, this step that the regime has taken, it's judged as a victory for him. And after a whole month under shelling, bombardment, all of the heavy weapons that anyone can imagine, he use it, use it. He used the anti-aircraft weapons; he used surface (ph) missiles. (Inaudible) the mortars and airstrikes also.
GORANI: Abu Rami, we're -- while we're speaking to you, we're showing our viewers photos of what is left of some of the buildings in Homs, some of those neighborhoods, where there have been clashes, clearly some strikes, also rocket attacks. We can see the pockmarks from mortars as well. It looks absolutely devastated.
And you took a picture of a six-story building that was also severely damaged, and we're going to show that to our viewers as well, basically now only a mountain of rubble. Tell us about what you saw there.
RAMI: About seven days ago, in the middle of this campaign of the shelling and bombardment, I we went out in the street from far away, and I saw by my own eyes a very large missile (inaudible) fall on the ground in Juxia (ph). And I hid it inside a basement and the explosion was so dense, big, big.
When we went out after about half a hour, and the column of smoke were everywhere and the picture you view now, this was a big building, (inaudible) of six floors. Entirely, entirely destroyed. And we heard some voices under the rubble, saying help us, help us. But the rubble was so big, so we were unable to take every damaged things, every damaged blocks on the ground.
We succeeded and at the end to pull one survivor. And the other one was dead, body, and we asked the one survivor, who was left there with you? He said about four civilians are left. Please help them. But unfortunately, we were unable to pull them from there and they were now still under the rubble for the seventh day in a row.
GORANI: It's just such a terrible situation and regarding Kazia (ph), this neighborhood, our regime forces now fully in control of it?
And what about you and your family and your friends?
Where do you go next? What do you do?
RAMI: Well, I would like to talk about the civilians who are trapped here, who are -- those civilians who are still inside besieged districts of Homs. After the regime has took control on -- of Hadiya, it's split the besieged area into two sides.
One side called Old Homs District; the other side are its (inaudible) of three neighborhoods, Unkutur (ph), Jortashiya (ph) and Hekarabi (ph). In these three neighborhoods, the families are staying there, about 2,000 members, 2,000 civilians are staying there.
And those families are a normal, very normal families. But for the situation, they are here. They are trapped here. But they (inaudible) children, elderly, women, infants. They need milk (ph). They need some specific medicines for the elderly, for the heart, for the blood (ph), for all of these (inaudible), they are needed. (Inaudible) food.
So we frankly reached to a very critical stage nowadays. And there is no reinforcement come to break the siege on us. And there is no, any kind of high pressure on the regime to end this siege. I think the upcoming days will be the worst.
GORANI: Well, Abu Rami, thank you for taking the time to speak to us from Homs. And we really wish you (inaudible). But we wish you good luck. We wish you well. We hope that you'll be able to overcome and get through this extremely tragic and difficult situation.
RAMI: Thank you.
GORANI: Abu Rami there, an activist speaking to me from Homs, just a few hours ago.
The chaos in Syria, as we've said, is not confined to its own borders. Neighboring Iraq is being torn apart by violence once again. And like Syria, ethnic and religious conflict could lead to a civil war. And what about Lebanon?
Peter Galbraith is a former U.S. diplomat who knows Iraq well. He's traveled there over 30 times, and he's the author of "The End of Iraq."
He joins me now live from Massachusetts.
Thanks for being with us. So when you hear about these cross-border sort of fighting brigades, going -- Hezbollah fighters going into Syria, Syrian fighters going into Iraq, Iraq torn apart with almost 1,000 civilians killed this month alone, what do you think is going to happen regionally to those countries?
Will they survive as nation states?
PETER GALBRAITH, U.S. DIPLOMAT AND AUTHOR: Well, the first point I'd make is Abu Rami's report indicated when these countries fall apart and they are both falling apart, it is the civilians, ordinary people, who bear the price. They are the ones who are at the bus stops, for example, in Baghdad, when the bombs go off.
But yes, the boundaries are blurring and both Iraq and Syria are disintegrating.
In Iraq, you have the war that took place in 2006-2007; it's reignited between the Sunni minority, now backed by the Sunni majority from Syria and all the fighters there, taking on the Shiite majority in Iraq.
And in Syria, you have the Shiite minority with support from other groups and some Sunnis batting and now making some headway against the Sunni majority, who are the rebels.
And in the north of both countries, you have the Kurds, who have relatively peaceful regions; in Syria, they've done something radical. They've declared their own region, they're governing it. They're issuing their own license plates.
And in this Kurdistan region of Iraq, which has been established as a de facto autonomous area for a long time, they're moving toward a full separation from Iraq.
GORANI: So if these countries disintegrate, then, with of course, as you mentioned and we always remind our viewers of that, civilians bearing really the brunt of sort of the suffering there, how do they recompose themselves?
What happens in the future to that region?
GALBRAITH: It's hard -- it's hard to say. I think, though, they're going to be different trajectories in Iraq than from Syria. In Iraq, the Kurds are looking to separate; they don't feel that the constitutional order in Iraq has worked for them, that the Shiite government's honored its commitments. And so they've asked for a new, very loose arrangement, if any at all.
It's likely there will be an ongoing battle between the Sunni radicals and the Shiites; Al Qaeda's taking over some of the cities there in Iraq, not Baghdad, but some of the other cities in the Sunni areas. It's become very much more powerful. We don't know how that will play out.
Syria's likely -- looks like it's going to be a stalemate, where the coast and Damascus and Aleppo may be under the control of the government. Most of the territory of the country, but not the people, under the control of the rebels, fighting continuing. And then fighting between the Sunni extremists and the Kurds, who are much more moderate, in the north.
So (inaudible) no side able to prevail.
GORANI: And what about the United States? You're a former diplomat. I mean, you've been in on some sensitive discussions. This is a very hands-off approach that the U.S. is basically applying to the region.
Should they be doing more?
Or should they just be allowing the region to disintegrate the way it is?
GALBRAITH: There's an assumption out there that the United States can somehow, if it applies itself, solve these problems. And in fact, that's really not the case.
GORANI: But it can protect civilians along with NATO and humanitarian corridors and stop the bloodshed in Syria, can it not?
GALBRAITH: Well, I -- that's far from clear. I mean, yes, that you could create an enclave some place. But in fact, the area along the Turkish border, which would be the most likely place, the Kurdish areas are relatively safe.
Are we going to have a deep penetration into the country? Are we going to urban areas, be in conflict with the regime? I don't see that happening; it would be very costly and it's not clear that it would actually serve to reduce or end the violence.
And the same thing in Iraq. Unless we were prepared to send back a very large numbers of troops, are we really going to be the ones policing Baghdad, where there's now a battle between the Shiite government and the Sunni rebels for control of the city?
You know, we can decry it; we can urge the parties that will talk to us -- which, obviously, includes the Iraqi government -- but probably not the radical Sunni rebels -- to be -- to talk to each other, to move for dialogue. Doesn't mean that they're going to listen.
GORANI: And after this decade-long war the U.S. was involved in in Iraq, we're seeing jailbreaks around the country, a string of bombings, with a resurgent Al Qaeda in that country.
GALBRAITH: Well, frankly, there's not a lot to show for the $1 trillion that the United States expended in Iraq since 2003 and for all the sacrifice in lives. The only part of the country that is secure, prospering, democratic, is the Kurdistan region in the north. It increasingly is being supported by Turkey and some of the Arab Gulf states.
Oddly, the United States is the one country that's not really backing them, that's not being supportive and try to sort of force them back into a much more chaotic country.
GORANI: Peter Galbraith, thank you very much for being on the program today.
GALBRAITH: Well, good to be with you.
GORANI: And while the Assad regime continues its relentless campaign to stay in power, it has apparently found a new battleground on social media by launching an Instagram account.
Now though Instagram has yet to verify that the site does indeed belong to Bashar al-Assad, many of the pictures look familiar, recycled images of the Syrian president and his wife, Asma, who's barely been seen in public since that bloody civil war began.
Looking at them smiling for the camera, you'd never know that 100,000 people have been killed, and entire neighborhoods and cities like Homs and Aleppo have been reduced to rubble.
And after a break, here in the United States, another city -- Detroit, Michigan -- has become emblematic of urban decline. But is that the whole story? Our next guest says that cities are where vital innovation and hope actually reside. That's when we come back.
GORANI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in tonight for Christiane Amanpour.
When Detroit filed for bankruptcy protection and joined a growing list of American cities that can no longer pay their bills, now what was once a symbol of the United States' industrial might, is now the country's largest ever public sector bankruptcy.
The city is underwater to the tune of $18 billion with a B. It may sound like city governments are on the decline here in America. But my next guest says cities and their mayors are actually a bright spot when it comes to good governance.
Political theorist Benjamin Barber says that while legislators are locked in stalemates in the halls of Congress, and are very unpopular, and prime ministers are stuck in gridlock in Europe over problems like the euro crisis, city mayors, he says, from New York to Lagos, are solving some of government's biggest problems.
Benjamin Barber, author of the upcoming book, "If Mayors Ruled the World," welcome to the program.
BENJAMIN BARBER, POLITICAL THEORIST: Thanks so much. Good to be here.
GORANI: Well, what would happen if mayors ruled the world?
BARBER: Well, here's the thing about mayors. They can't get away with what presidents and prime ministers get away with and what congressional legislators and parliamentarians get away with, which is doing nothing in the name of their ideological gridlock.
In Washington, we say, I'm on the Right, I'm on the Left; I won't do it, you won't do it.
Mayors like Mayor Nutter in Philadelphia says we can't get away with that stuff. We have to keep the schools open; we have to keep the buses running. We've got to pick up the garbage. That's a practical task. And mayors tend to be pragmatists and problem solvers. They share the problems that states have, but they actually try to fix things.
GORANI: OK, but you're saying this after Detroit declared that giant bankruptcy and it made worldwide headlines by the way. I live in a city, Atlanta, where public corruption and mayors have been, in fact, convicted of having committed crimes in court and served prison terms. So there is mismanagement and corruption there at the mayoral level.
BARBER: Well, yes, in part. But it is also the case that Detroit is a victim of the global economy, a victim of NAFTA -- 70,000 jobs left the area after NAFTA went into effect. The auto industry, we know, went to Japan, went to Europe and elsewhere. It's creeping back in.
But all of that created problems for Atlanta that were rather unique and special problems, in the old northeastern Rust Belt, we're seeing some of those problems. But in most of the country, cities remain vital, creative and innovative.
But even in Detroit -- and here's the thing -- we only hear one part of the picture because the other side of the picture is they have a new economy initiative. Michigan, believe it or not, is the number four in America in new economy jobs -- engineering jobs, high-tech jobs, math jobs, engineering jobs, a lot of that's associated with GM (inaudible).
GORANI: One of the things I find interesting about the U.S. is that quite often -- except for New York and other cities, maybe San Francisco, maybe Boston -- usually the money sort of high taxpaying residents are in the suburbs. The inner city is where the lower income residents are.
Is that -- should that change in America for the cities to be more lively, to have more life injected into the overall economy?
BARBER: Yes, but the interesting thing is in recent years we're seeing urbanization, not suburbanization; '70s and '80s, a lot of suburbanization, corporations moved out to corporate --
GORANI: It happened in Detroit.
BARBER: -- it happened also in Detroit; a lot of the big auto companies are outside of Detroit, in Macom (ph) and the 10 counties around Detroit, which still have 5 million people. Detroit's down to 700,000, but those counties have 5 million.
But now in recent years, because of high-tech, because of the excitement of living in cities and because young people choose to live there, we are seeing all over America, including Cleveland and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, we are seeing a reurbanization and a revitalization of the creative forces of the city.
GORANI: And what of the questions, of course, we all know Mike Bloomberg of New York City and then there's Boris Johnson, the first mayor of London, these men -- hopefully we'll have more women eventually, by the way, because once again, male dominated -- but these men have things in common.
What do they have in common?
BARBER: They do have things in common. Take Boris Johnson and Mayor Bloomberg. Both of them started, one as a Tory in London, the other as a Republican, then Democrat, then independent. But both of them have declared their independence from ideology.
They say there's no Right or Left way to pick up the garbage. There's no Right or Left way to keep hospitals running. There's no Right or Left way to deal with the (inaudible). You've got to run the city. You've got to be a democratic CEO, your stakeholders, your shareholders, are the populace who vote for you. But you've got to make things work. You've got to fix things.
Boris Johnson calls himself an anarcho-Tory, meaning sometimes very anarchic and liberal sometimes, very conservative. But you've got to deal with all of them. You can't say forget the unions. You can't say forget business. (Inaudible) both sides.
GORANI: What you're saying -- perhaps this is part of the reason that explains this next statistic -- only 18 percent of Americans have confidence in the U.S. Congress, the lowest in a long time. The president, he gets 44 percent, which is quite healthy for a second term. But Americans have 65 percent confidence in their mayors.
BARBER: Isn't that something? And you know why? Because mayors are homeys. They're homeboys. They're from the neighborhood. We know who they are.
Boris Johnson bikes to work over London Bridge every day. Even Mayor Bloomberg, despite his billions and his choppers, takes the subway to work. They're in the neighborhood. We've heard about Cory Booker over in Newark, going in, pulling some people out of a smoking building. (Inaudible).
GORANI: There were jokes made about this, but every time (inaudible) superhero there in New Jersey --
BARBER: -- because he's a neighbor. He's taking care of his neighbors.
GORANI: And when you look at the mayoral race here in New York City, we discussed Michael Bloomberg here with Anthony Weiner and the scandals and things like that, this is, of course, also something you have to deal with. I mean, it's still politics.
BARBER: Sure it is, and there's lots of corruption; there's as much as corruption, maybe more, in cities than elsewhere. It's not that all the problems go away -- there's a lot of inequality in cities; there's racism. Those problems are all there; the difference is politicians in the cities and council members deal with it. They have to. They have no choice.
One reason people have sort of forgiven Anthony Weiner until recently, when he really went off the deep end, is that they say we want a guy who can fix problems, you know --
BARBER: -- sexting and texting, that's another thing. If he can make New York work, we'll vote for him -- maybe.
GORANI: Maybe. But in this case, I think perhaps even --
BARBER: Probably (inaudible). Probably (inaudible).
GORANI: -- gotten too big, even in it for a mayoral race.
But globally, how -- what are cities -- what do mayors -- what do effective mayors have in common, from the U.S. to Africa to the Middle East or elsewhere?
BARBER: They're from the districts they govern. Homeys, in that sense. They are pragmatists. They try to fix things. They are innovative and creative and they are consensus builders. They deal with the Right and the Left. They deal with unions and business, with public and private.
If you look at Sheila Dikshit (ph), who is the governor mayor of Delhi, if you look at Mayor Park (ph), who is the mayor of Seoul, Korea, you find people deeply engaged in making things work.
Mayor Park in Seoul actually has a urban garden in his office to show people you can grow plants in the city. I mean, that's the difference. They are on the ground. They are neighbors. They are pragmatists and they are problem solvers. Cities have not beat the rap globally. They share all the problems with the global economy, global corruption, global warming. But in cities --
GORANI: Overpopulated (inaudible) --
BARBER: -- doing something about it.
GORANI: Benjamin Barber, author of the upcoming book, "If Mayors Ruled the World," thank you very much for being with us today.
And after a break, we'll leave the city and head for the beach. But imagine your summer retreat being threatened by a rising tide of this: black, oily sludge, a manmade disaster, another one, that means trouble in paradise when we come back.
GORANI: A final thought tonight in this summer of discontent and uncertainty, what could be more inviting than a tropical paradise like this gem off the coast of Thailand?
Now imagine a world where paradise has been spoiled by another manmade disaster, the all-too familiar sight of thick, black sludge washing over a pristine shore.
This animation shows a massive oil slick, over 50,000 liters of crude oil, that began leaking this past weekend from an underwater pipeline just off the island of Koh Samet. The popular tourist destination only a few hours from Bangkok.
As waves of oil rolled in and contaminated the shoreline, the once thriving resorts were evacuated and an army of volunteers in hazmat suits began the daunting task of clearing the oily ooze from what used to be white sandy beaches.
PTT Global Chemicals, Thailand's largest petrochemical producer, has issued an apology and insists the leak has been plugged. But this is not the first time it's happened, and there are fears that, along with tourism, the spill could threaten marine life and Thailand's fishing industry.
Paradise may not be lost, but like so many other parts of our planet, its fate in the hand of us humans remains uncertain.
That's it for tonight's program. From New York, thank you very much for watching. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, amanpour.com, and follow me on Twitter @halagorani.