ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MS. IFILL: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Week Webcast Extra. I’m Gwen Ifill, joined around the table by Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Kim Ghattas of the BBC, and Peter Baker of The New York Times.
The troubles around the world have led to an obvious, yet unanswerable question: How far is, or should, the U.S. be willing to go to help? There are as many answers as there are experts, presidential candidates, and presidents.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) We’re stepping up the pressure on ISIL where it lives. And we will not let up, adjusting our tactics where necessary, until they are beaten.
MS. IFILL: If you ask French President Francois Hollande, the demand is for action – military and diplomatic, accelerated and immediate. But what is the U.S. actually considering, Peter? And what does this 65-member international coalition the president keeps talking about – what does that look like?
MR. BAKER: Well, the 65-member coalition looks like this. There’s the United States, and then there’s everybody else. (Laughter.) Basically, if you look at what’s happening in Syria, 95 percent of the airstrikes have been conducted by the United States. In Iraq, it’s been about two-thirds. We put together these numbers in order to say the world is behind us. But it includes, like, Lithuania, which arrests somebody, or Slovenia.
MS. IFILL: I remember having this same conversation when George W. Bush talked about the “coalition of the willing.”
MR. BAKER: Exactly. The coalition of the willing – which had 45, I think, is the number he used to throw around, something in that range – it really just means other nations are – you know, they might provide us a little intelligence. They might arrest a bad guy they catch coming through their borders. They’re not really participants in what we would think of as a military coalition. That’s really still the United States and a handful of other countries that actually participate militarily – France now stepping up its part in that.
Now, what does France want? France wants, you know, more vigorous application of this. It didn’t bomb in Syria for the most part prior to the Paris attacks. Now it’s bombing in Syria. But it’s using targets that the United States has provided. It’s using midair refueling the United States provided. It’s using intelligence that the United States is providing. So it’s still really a United States coalition. But what President Obama wants to emphasize is it’s different than what Russia is up to, because Russia, he says, has a two-nation coalition, being Russia and Iran. And he’s trying to isolate them in the world.
MS. IFILL: Do Americans, Dan, have the stomach for this idea of heightened international intervention on our part?
MR. BALZ: In the wake of the Paris attacks, there is a greater appetite for this than there has been prior to that. Some of the polling shows significant support, not just for airstrikes but for ground forces, which is a change from what we had seen, you know, coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. This kind of ebbs and flows. I think that the closer you get to a substantial – the idea of a substantial number of ground forces, which really nobody is talking about except Linsey Graham, the more people would react against that. But at this point, because people are afraid, they want a robust response.
MS. IFILL: And, Kim, on the campaign trail, we see Hillary Clinton trying to find a tightrope to walk between her history with the president and his incredibly – one again increasing disapproval. How is she doing that?
MS. GHATTAS: So far Clinton’s team feels that there is no strategic advantage to putting distance between her and the president because her messaging has been mostly focused on the economy, and she praises his work on trying to get an economic recovery on the campaign trail; so does – so does her team.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, she’s going to have to watch very, very carefully what is the mood in the country and how much do the president’s disapproval ratings increase. At some point she has to walk that fine line between continuing to approve of his economic – of his work on the economy and distancing herself from him on being more – by being more assertive on foreign policy, without sounding too bellicose either, because she still needs to appeal to primary Democratic voters.
MS. IFILL: Which is why we call it a tightrope, exactly. (Laughter.)
MS. GHATTAS: Yes.
MS. IFILL: Before we go tonight, I want to ask you each a question for everybody who’s about to get up from their computer from watching this and go out Christmas shopping or holiday shopping. Books. You’re all reading. What are you reading?
MS. GHATTAS: I’m reading a nonfiction book, Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations, by Jules Evans. And it’s fascinating. And I was not a very good student when it came to philosophy when I was back in high school and at university, but it’s a great, lively way to see how philosophy actually applies to your modern life – you know, being resilient, being stoic, enjoying life as an epicurean. It’s quite – it’s quite nice.
My other – my other recommendation, if I may, is Orhan Pamuk, A Strangeness in My Mind. I think it’s great tale. I just bought it, and it’s – he’s one of my favorite authors. And it’s a great tale about memory and identity and –
MS. IFILL: Adding to the list.
MS. GHATTAS: Good, good. (Laughter.) I’m glad I could give a good recommendation.
MS. IFILL: Dan?
MR. BALZ: The book I most recently finished is not a new book. It came out a year ago. It’s called Thirteen Days, Lawrence Wright’s account of what happened at Camp David. It’s an incredibly well-done book, not only for what happened at Camp David but for the sweep of Middle East history and portraitures of – portraits of the characters who were involved in it.
I’m reading a fiction book called Finale by Thomas Mallon. I had read last year Watergate. He does historical fiction. This is about Ronald Reagan, and it’s – he’s a great writer.
MS. IFILL: Peter.
MR. BAKER: I love the Wright book, as a matter of fact. I thought that was a great book.
I’ve just finished Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H.W. Bush, Destiny and Power. It got a lot of news, as we all know, recently because of what Bush 41 had to say about some of Bush 43’s advisers, particularly Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. But what’s really the meat of the book is a portrait of a president we had come to not like at one point and now today history is treating much more kindly. And we look into his presidency through the venue of his diaries, which haven’t been exploited as well as Jon Meacham has done until now, and the interviews that he gave Jon Meacham over the course of the last few years in retirement, when he clearly decided to be a little bit more candid. So it’s a – it’s a really interesting book.
MS. IFILL: I’ve just finished reading a book that’s been out for a while called All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. And the best part about that book, reading it against the backdrop of us talking about going to war and fighting an amorphous enemy, is to read a novel about World War II where the lines were clear, where the enemy was clear, and how much different things are now. It was an amazing time.
Go ahead, finish.
MS. GHATTAS: Going back to World War II, I mean, I just read 1945, the Year Zero, by Ian Buruma. And you know, those were terrible times. It was clear – more clearly defined, but it does remind you that we have been through worse times and we got over it.
MS. IFILL: We have been. Hand to hand.
Thank you, everybody. That’s it for now. We’ll see you the next time on the Washington Week Webcast Extra.