GWEN IFILL: Crises on every front from Ukraine to Israel, from Gaza to the American border -- multiple dilemmas, no solutions in sight. We tackle them all tonight on “Washington Week.”
Tonight, a new Israel-Gaza cease-fire plan, but can it stop this? (Plays clip of the injured in Gaza.)
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (From clip.) We have to try -- and we are doing our best to minimize civilian casualties, but we cannot give our attackers immunity or impunity.
PALESTINIAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: (From clip.) What happened in Gaza during the last 10 days is nothing but a massacre.
MS. IFILL: While in the aftermath of the Malaysian plane shootdown in Ukraine, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From clip.) If Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists, then Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: (From clip.) If I have a fear about this, it’s that Putin may actually light a fire that he loses control of.
MS. IFILL: But not claim of responsibility. While at home, the migrant crisis at the border continues to build. What is Congress or the White House prepared to do? Covering the week, Peter Baker of The New York Times, Doyle McManus of The Los Angeles Times, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers and Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. If it were only just one problem -- think about it: war in the Middle East, blood in the sunflower fields of Ukraine as conflict there escalates, political uncertainty in Iraq and Afghanistan and another violent week in Syria with no resolutions in sight. The cycle of blame is endless, especially as casualties are measured in hearse motorcades in the Netherlands and street riots on the West Bank. The hoped-for solution tonight in the Middle East? Taking a deep breath.
AMBASSADOR SAMANTHA POWERS: (From clip.) The only solution is an immediate cease-fire. This could not be more urgent or more important given the devastating consequences of the violence for civilian populations.
MS. IFILL: This week’s developments have consumed leaders on at least four continents, but perhaps nowhere as intensely as right here in Washington. National security adviser Susan Rice tonight on the “NewsHour.”
SUSAN RICE: (From clip.) If there were a magic wand that anybody could wave in the world, I’d like to see it. But the United States has been and remains the critical player in all of this.
MS. IFILL: There being no magic wand, where does a cease-fire plan, as it -- whatever there is of it, stand tonight, Nancy?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, after a very violent week in Gaza, after an offensive -- a ground offensive by Israel that led and contributed to a mounting death toll -- we’re now at 800 Palestinians, 38 Israelis -- there was an announcement late today of a cease-fire, a 12-hour one, by Hamas and by Israel. And this is the first glimmer of any hope that potentially a longer-term cease-fire can be born out of this. But it came after an exhaustive effort by John Kerry in Cairo, which began on Monday and began with hopes of a broader, bigger cease-fire. And by the end of the week, it seems all parties are relieved to just be able to get to one that will last for a few hours beginning at 7:00 a.m. local time, or just a few hours from now.
MS. IFILL: Peter, it’s -- there’s a certain amount of intransigence involved in all of these disputes, people who have just dug their heels in and are no digging their way back out. In the case of Israel and Gaza, it is about the existence of these tunnels. They’re considered an existential threat by Israel and they’re considered a way to get around a punishing blockade by the Palestinians in Gaza. Is there a way through that?
PETER BAKER: Well, that’s the thing about the cease-fire that’s so discouraging, I think, for anybody who would like to see a longer peace in the Middle East. It’s 12 hours. And even, frankly, if it were one week, it is not dealing with any of the fundamental issues that are really at the heart of this. This is just simply put down your arms for a little bit and we’ll see then if we can sit down and talk about the bigger issues. And it’s hard to imagine what you could accomplish in 12 hours toward that goal.
They see the world through very fundamentally different eyes, the Israelis and the Palestinians. And each one of them is absolutely convinced of their -- of their rightness, of their victimhood, and of the need to continue on the course that they’re going. But in the process, a lot of -- a lot of innocent people get hurt.
MS. IFILL: So, Doyle, where is the U.S. in all of this? And not only in Israel and Gaza, but also in Ukraine and with Russia and all the other places I named? The U.S. is always central to these efforts for a breakthrough, but often on the losing end of any effort.
DOYLE MCMANUS: Well, that certainly is how it looks right now. Look, I think Susan Rice in that clip you showed was right when she said that the United States is still the indispensable power. But what is striking as you look at all these bits of chaos around the world is the difficulty the United States has in making any headway. So, yes, John Kerry was out there trying to put together a one-week cease-fire. Remarkably enough, both Israel and Hamas told him no dice.
The United States has been trying to get Vladimir Putin to back off in Ukraine. Start with a very basic issue of reducing the number of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, instead Putin is going in the opposite direction, escalating his -- escalating his involvement. Reports at the end of the week of Russian artillery fire across the border. That’s not a proxy war anymore, incidentally. That’s a direct military intervention. So the sobering side of that picture is that in a world with less to hold it together than was the case before the -- you know, the leverage the United States has seems to have been weakened as well.
ED O’KEEFE: Kind of -- you say it’s remarkable that the Israelis and Hamas didn’t take Kerry’s cease-fire agreement. I mean, he’s been traveling the world now for the past year and hasn’t been able to resolve anything. I’m curious to all three of you -- based on whoever you talk to here in Washington or overseas -- I mean, do people think he’s been effective?
MR. BAKER: That’s a great question. I think, look, you have to give him credit for energy and indefatigable optimism that he can go there. It was interesting, he did the Sunday Shows last Sunday. Overheard on a mic he thought was off saying we’ve got to get over there. It’s still that we’re not here. It was interesting to hear his own concept of his responsibility as the American secretary of state to get there. And it fell to him to make that.
He has accomplished some things. Afghanistan right now, he brokered a deal between two candidates who both believed the won the election there. That could easily devolve into a much more fractious and violent situation. He brokered a deal to have an audit and a unity government right now. That’s holding. He can claim credit for the deal that got Syria to give up its chemical weapons, along with Russia. But you’re right, he’s been frustrated again and again and again, and yet he still is out there trying.
MR. O’KEEFE: Do the Arabs and the Israelis -- how do they feel about it?
MS. YOUSSEF: Well, I -- you know, I would say broadly one of the biggest challenges the United States is facing is that it’s a world where -- in the case of Libya, in Nigeria, in Syria, in Iraq -- extremist groups are in some cases better armed an better funded than the -- than the government forces that they are confronting. And so how you negotiate in this rapidly changing environment where it’s not state-to-state actor but armed powerful extremist groups, I think, is the challenge that Secretary Kerry faces that past secretaries of state have not faced to this degree on this scale in this many countries before.
MR. MCMANUS: The other point that’s worth making about the way Washington works is that a secretary of state is only as influential as the amount of backup he’s getting from the White House. As the -- you know, if he’s got a president who’s willing to get on the phone and willing to put something on the table, then people will bend.
Well, that -- well, you know, there’s an inconsistent pattern there. There have been some issues on which the White House has sent John Kerry out. His long round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks earlier this year with, what you might call, a moderate amount of support. On other issues -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine -- the White House has been fully engaged.
MS. IFILL: Well, let’s talk about the other thing that’s driving a lot of this in Ukraine as well as in Israel and all these other places we’ve named, which is there is political instability. There are domestic concerns driving some of the intransigence. So you hope that maybe somebody else will give you a hand, let’s say, the Europeans. And that’s not happening exactly either. You were in Germany not too long ago.
MR. MCMANUS: Yeah, and if you -- if you want to take a look at what is going in Ukraine, the key issue there -- if you want economic sanctions against Russia to have any effect at all, well, everybody knows that means it has to be European sanctions. Our trade with Russia is just too small. Here’s the problem -- a whole set of problems. Europe is 28 countries. They want to move in lock-step. They need a consensus to do that. That means any big European country or a few small European countries can raise their hand and say, no, we’re not happy with this.
We do want to go this -- the Europeans have kind of a triple Catch-22 in that, OK, which sanctions? The French are selling navy ships, defense technology to Russia. They don’t want to give that up. The British has all kinds of Russian money coming into London, both in the financial markets and even in the real estate markets. Lots of Russians buying fancy real estate. And boy, you want to think of something that’s politically sensitive at home, talking about depressing the high-end real estate market, OK?
The Germans get 40 percent of their energy from Russia and are exquisitely sensitive to what’s going on there. So getting all of that to move forward actually has taken some phone calls by the president of the United States. It is moving forward. The Europeans at the end of this week actually did take a step toward ratcheting their sanctions up to the level that the United States has established. But boy, it’s like pulling teeth.
MS. IFILL: Well, it’s like pulling teeth, and the president took the step of sending his chief of staff and his counterterrorism adviser to meet with Angela Merkel or with her people, once again to smooth ruffled feathers. Did that work?
MR. BAKER: Right, well, that’s the interesting thing, right? They’re mad at each other about a whole different set of issues, which is to say the NSA spying and now CIA spying. Of course, with -- Angela Merkel was very upset to learn from Edward Snowden’s revelations that her cellphone was being tapped. They had just begun to kind of patch that over when suddenly they arrested a German intelligence officer for spying for the CIA, kicked out the CIA station chief. So Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, not normally a position that does international missions like this, personally went over to Angela Merkel to try to smooth it over. At the same time, they need her to be with them in lockstep on Ukraine.
That’s what makes this whole thing so complicated, because each of these problems is interlocked in some ways with the other ones, and they’ve all come due. They’ve all come to a crescendo at this very moment, right? We’re upset with Egypt because they had a military coup, we took away some of their money, but we need Egypt to work with Hamas to get them to back off. We are, of course, pushing Iran to give up its nukes, but we are kind of on the same side in Iraq against the rebels there.
MS. IFILL: Well, and there’s another interconnectedness. There’s the Egypt one, but there’s also Turkey, where the president -- or prime minister just decided to say this week that, you know, I don’t really talk to Barack Obama anymore. He’s got his internal domestic reasons for that as well.
MS. YOUSSEF: That’s right. And so we saw this week in the effort to reach a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel not just Egypt, which was a traditional partner brought in, but Qatar and Turkey being asked to leverage some influence. The problem is, in the case of that particular conflict, Egypt controls the Rafah border crossing that Hamas has asked to be opened so that -- to help break the economic blockade. So other countries may be involved and can have some influence, but they can’t have the kind of leverage that Egypt has traditionally had. And that absence was really felt, arguably, this week because Egypt was not in the position to be a broker between the United States, which does not recognize or talk to Hamas, and Israel, and that gap was very, very noticeable.
Egypt has said that Hamas is like the Muslim Brotherhood, and as you know they’ve declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. So it’s been a complete 180 from where Egypt was just two-and-a-half years ago during the November 2012 negotiations.
MR. O’KEEFE: You were talking a little bit about the Europeans. Secretary Kerry’s in Paris tonight. He’s going to try to rally support among European diplomats this weekend, primarily for the Middle Eastern situation.
You were talking about the outrage after this plane crash. How long can that be sustained? And does the U.S. have to do something to keep them outraged for an extended period of time to put more pressure either on Russia or on other such nations?
MS. IFILL: I think everybody at this table at one moment or another has written or said that that Malaysian plane wreck was going to turn the corner on this discussion, and the corner still hasn’t been turned.
MR. : Game changer.
MR. MCMANUS: Well, it’s -- it may be happening, but it’s going to be -- it’s going to be very slow. Those economic interests are still there.
Let’s just take the case of the Netherlands, which is a small country that suffered a horrible, horrible loss. Almost 200 people from the Netherlands died in that plane crash. That’s more on a per capita basis than September 11th in this country. But the biggest company in the Netherlands is Royal Dutch Shell, which has an enormous amount of natural gas business in Russia. So everybody is going to feel the economic pressure to sort of give in, to let this thing die down.
But I’m going to suggest there may be one factor that we haven’t thought of that is going to keep it alive longer, specifically in the Netherlands. That funeral, the cortege we all saw this week, those bodies haven’t been buried yet. Those bodies haven’t been identified yet. And it’s going to be weeks of funerals in the Netherlands.
What this has done, it’s vaulted the war in Ukraine back onto the front pages after, you could argue, Putin had been making some headway as long as it wasn’t on the front pages. So it may still turn out to be something of a turning point, but nothing is ever as crisp as that.
MR. BAKER: And reinforcing that, I think, has been the reaction from Russia since then, right? The Americans, I think, and the Europeans thought, well, maybe he’ll pull back, he’ll see this as a grievous mistake and over -- miscalculation, he’ll want to calm things down. Instead, it seems he’s gone the opposite direction: more troops at the border, more firing across the border, more weaponry apparently heading for the rebels. He has escalated. He’s doubled down, not the other way around. And Americans are hoping that that tells the Europeans, see, don’t give him the benefit of the doubt, it’s time to act.
MS. IFILL: You know, in Israel and in Gaza, I -- tonight they’re talking about a 12-hour pause. Last week this time we were talking about a five-hour pause, which didn’t even hold. I wonder if this is -- there’s any optimism at all that this is -- that anyone is listening to anybody anymore, and that there’s room for this.
MS. YOUSSEF: You know, the challenge is that both sides have become further entrenched in their positions in the past week.
MS. IFILL: Right.
MS. YOUSSEF: If you talk to residents in Gaza, they’ll say we’ve suffered so much in the past week, we can’t walk away from this having gained nothing -- 800 of our fellow citizens have been lost, it’s impossible that we wouldn’t get some sort of economic relief at the end of this. And Israel is saying, we’ve lost 35 soldiers, more than they lost during the 2006 conflict; we cannot walk away from this not getting some sort of sustained peace or reward Hamas economically for launching attacks on our country. And so it’s hard to see where that dialogue can happen when, with every passing day, you feel people are more and more entrenched in their positions on what needs to happen.
MS. IFILL: Well, let me ask you all about the magic wand question, the one that Susan Rice brought up this evening, which is, how does a president not get trapped by all of these various issues, all of these demands that the U.S. intervene even when there’s no way to intervene? Or is that just the price of the office?
MR. BAKER: Well, it is a price of the office. And you know, I think his numbers have taken a hit as a result, not even specifically because of the things he’s done, but because they all weigh down on the public. They think this world is out of control and we’re looking for leadership and he’s not providing it, even though polls also show they don’t want him to get us more involved in Ukraine, get us more involved in Iraq, get us more involved in Syria. So it’s this disparity that’s really hard for a president to deal with.
His answer has been I’m not going to let this hijack my schedule. He’s taken some hits on that because he went on a three-week -- three-day, sorry, fundraising trip this week to the West Coast. A lot of people, especially on the Republican side, said what kind of president does that. You know, a president can be president on the road and he can do it anywhere --
MS. IFILL: I’m sorry, watch that drive. That’s the kind of president that does that, right? (Chuckles.)
MR. BAKER: Well, you got to be --
MS. IFILL: Other presidents have done this.
MR. BAKER: Other presidents have done it -- George Bush, Bill Clinton, certainly. But you do take a hit on the optics, and I think in the accelerated Twitter/social media world, it’s only -- it’s only more damaging.
MS. IFILL: What do you think?
MS. YOUSSEF: Well, one of the interesting questions that comes up from all this is what is in the U.S. national strategic interest, and that hasn’t been a discussion that’s been had. Is what’s happening in Libya, for example, in the U.S. strategic interest? Is what’s happening in the Ukraine? At what point does it become a concern, an immediate concern for the United States?
We talk about Ukraine, but frankly, it’s a bigger concern for Europe than it is for the United States. Libya, arguably the same thing. Iraq, at what point does that become an immediate threat to U.S. national security? If these countries aren’t posing an immediate threat --
MS. IFILL: Except that how -- when does it make so much noise that you cannot look away, especially if you are the leader of the -- of the free world?
MR. MCMANUS: Well, we’re already at that -- at that stage where you cannot -- you cannot look away. But we’re also in a period when the American public is still allergic to direct intervention anywhere. There is -- in all of this list of conflicts you’ve talked about, has anyone raised in a serious way military intervention? The United States isn’t even sending weaponry to the government of Ukraine at this point, although that may be -- that may be the next step.
MS. IFILL: You’re talking about nonlethal military aid, whatever that means.
MR. MCMANUS: We’re still talking about nonlethal aid. So at this point there’s an old and sort of grim principle in diplomacy which is called ripeness, that sometimes these things -- the two sides in a conflict, Gaza and Israel as an example, just have to exhaust each other and get to the point where neither side still thinks it has ground to gain. And I’m afraid we’re in that period.
MS. IFILL: Well, because as we know, as we’ve been discussing, Washington doesn’t have the luxury of focusing on one issue at a time, the debate over the surge of migrants crossing the nation’s southern border continues.
President Obama met today with the leaders of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. He offered refugee status. They asked for more than just beefed-up border security. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina.
PRESIDENT OTTO PEREZ MOLINA: (From clip, though interpreter.) If they want to attack the root of the problem, I think they need to think about making investments in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
MS. IFILL: That was part of Ed O’Keefe’s conversation with Molina and with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez. If the president can’t get a $4 billion ask out of Congress, what are the chances of him getting anything else, Ed?
MR. O’KEEFE: Pretty slim, tonight at least. Already House Republicans have been talking about providing $1.5 billion in emergency relief, much less than what the president had requested. Today they came out of a closed-door meeting and said, actually, we’re probably only going to provide about a billion dollars. Most of that would go to beefing up the U.S. Border Patrol down along the Mexican border, possibly helping to pay for deploying National Guard, and then providing some assistance, but certainly not what the president asked for, in housing and in processing these immigrants and then finding ways to either get them to family members or send them home.
MS. IFILL: So what was the point in bringing in these three presidents to the White House?
MR. O’KEEFE: A few things. I think more than anything he’s trying to demonstrate to Congress that he is working with these guys and insisting that they take steps in their own countries not only to make improvements but also to prepare for the return of the immigrants. The two presidents told me in our conversations already there are flights returning home from Mexico. There are busloads coming because the Mexicans are detaining some of these people and then sending them back.
They’re told that most of the flights through August will be of families -- united families that came and are now being sent back, and that by September those planeloads of unaccompanied children will begin coming back. The governments -- both of them in Guatemala and Honduras said they are preparing facilities, they are preparing ways to figure out whether these kids have parents in the country, whether they were getting education, whether they need any other services. And if they can demonstrate that to the United States, the hope is that in return Congress and the White House will work together on some kind of new regional economic and security aid package similar to what has been put in place in years past in Mexico and Colombia.
MR. BAKER: And what about this 2008 law that people seem to be getting increasingly hung up on, right? The White House says we do need to fix it but let’s not wait for the money for that. The Republicans say, well, let’s not give money if we’re not going to actually fix it. How do the --
MR. O’KEEFE: This is the crux of the -- of the ongoing impasse on the Hill. This is a law that was put in place and signed by President Bush that dealt primarily with human trafficking. And the idea is that essentially immigrants from those three Central American countries get treated a little differently than Mexican children. And the argument that many Republicans have been making, and some Democrats, is, no, if you’re going to quickly send back Mexican children, why don’t you also quickly send back these other children? They don’t deserve to necessarily be treated any differently.
But the counterargument that the White House and the Democrats and even some Republicans have made is, well, wait a second, these guys -- these children probably have a parent, an uncle, maybe a brother or sister who is in the United States who may have sent for them by paying off a human smuggler -- as bad and illegal and improper as that may be -- and the deserve to be reunited. And that’s the point that the presidents were making this week.
The president of Honduras said to me, he said: Look, think of this like a parent. There could be a father in this country tonight who is eagerly trying to reunite with his son, or a mother who hasn’t seen her daughter in 12 years. Doesn’t that person deserve to see their child? If this is the only way they can do it, let them do it.
MS. YOUSSEF: You mentioned what President Obama wanted out of the meeting. I’m curious what the presidents of these three nations were hoping to get out of a meeting at the White House.
MR. O’KEEFE: Well, when I asked President Molina about the talks of increasing border security, he said: Look, your country spends about $20 billion securing the Mexican border. He said, take 10 percent of that and invest it in Central America in security and infrastructure and economic and educational -- and he said, that will be a more profitable investment for the United States long term than putting more troops on the border. And that is the same argument the other presidents made, that if you were to -- as United States -- invest all this money in these countries, it will eventually help us deter the flow of people going north.
Now, we can’t get a highway bill done, we can’t help the Department of Veterans Affairs, we probably aren’t going to sort this out before Congress goes home next week. So what are the chances for a big economic aid package? They say it in Spanish too, it’s zero.
MR. MCMANUS: So, Ed, what does that mean for the picture on just the flow of immigrants for the next week? I mean, for weeks the administration has been saying don’t come, don’t come, don’t come. Is the message getting through?
MS. IFILL: It’s got to be a quick answer.
MR. O’KEEFE: TO some extent they think it is, but also remember it’s hot right now down in Texas. Migrants know this. So the numbers have dropped. The question is, will they start picking up again after Labor Day as the weather cools down?
MS. IFILL: OK, and the debate will keep picking up maybe after Labor Day when Congress comes back to town. Thank you, everyone.
We have to go now, but as always the conversation continues online. The Washington Week Webcast Extra streams live at 8:30 p.m. eastern time. Among other things, we’ll talk about what Vladimir Putin is up to. You can find it all week long at pbs.org/washingtonweek. Keep up with developments with me and Judy Woodruff with the “PBS NewsHour” and join me at noon next Thursday for my monthly web chat -- your questions, my answers, perhaps movie reviews, who knows. And we’ll see you here next week on Washington Week. Good night.