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tv   After Words Joby Warrick Red Line  CSPAN  October 25, 2022 8:01am-8:56am EDT

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>> if you're enjoying booktv then sign up for our newsletter using the qr code on the screen to receive a schedule of upcoming programs, author discussions, book festivals and more. booktv every sunday on c-span2 or anytime online at television for serious readers. >> host: welcome everyone to what will be a fascinating and probably a disturbing conversation. the national correspondents, two-time pulitzer prize winner, one for journalism and one for general nonfiction. he covers the middle east, e-commerce terrorism, intelligence and other national security issues. and his book "red line" tells the powerful, gripping story about how the united states worked to destroy president
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bashar al-assad to destroy his arsenal of chemical weapons. and it really does read like a thriller in many places. it's a very compelling book, and ensure you will really get a lot out of reading it. i published a book a couple of years ago where i accepted the conventional wisdom that russia and the united states worked together to disarm syria of its chemical weapons but, of course, if you read this book you will see that, one, i was technically true. in fact, the russians did a lot to instruct us and that in itself is another story. i'm going to begin with the first question to joby warrick. and he tells wages i'd write the book? >> guest: first of all thank you so much for doing this. i am honored to be one of the premier russian experts in this country and even with licensing -- her last book, it's terrific and i could not possibly recommend highly enough. so thank you again so much for
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doing this. so why did i do this book? several reasons but really as a storyteller, story is the currency of our trade and this is an amazing story, as tragic at it is at the chemical weapon soccer come all that happened, the drama of trying to get the stuff out and then having syria policy collapse around it come just an amazing story. that was part of it. the more i get into this subject, the more complicated and fascinating the storylines became heading off in so many directions from inspectors on the ground to activists trying to prod the united states into doing something, to the pure cruelty and barbarity some of the combatants, the ice is coming into the picture, engineers and scientists and if you get what to do with these weapons. so there's all these wonderful fascinating story frames. that was a big part of it and the other part is as an author, this is my third book, in each
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one i try to let in there to tell a bigger story. my last book was called black flag, the rise of isis and did end up focusing on mostly one individual who was the godfather of isis back in iraq in the early 2000s creating a new terrorist movement that was like al-qaeda but more vicious. and in telling this story, his biography that allows readers to understand where this group came from, why there's a different, why there's a vicious. in the sense i tried to do the same here. they're so may confusing comp wicked things about the syrian conflict. why was the red line threat issued and why didn't we enforce with military strikes? why is this conflict still so horrific and so tragic ten s later? why hasn't assad been brought to justice? i tried to explain some of those complexities in the book and i do it through human stories, to try to make it more powerful, more real, or relatable to
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ordinary people. >> host: those human stories really are compelling. the removing some of them. i guess the next question then, what were your sources, how did you go about collecting the material for this book? it's a very complicated and actually dangerous project. >> guest: one of the great privileges of my job and i know yours is that we have this license to ask questions, including to officials, government officials. we can go up and said i work for the "washington post" i'm an author, i would like some answers to questions and you can get responses. that allows us to travel different places, to find people who may have the answers that we are seeking. that was somewhat begin the search in way. there's always a starting point and for me in this case the question of how do you deal with this phenomenally complicated challenge of removing hundreds of tons of chemical weapons from a country in middle of a war? had to do that? who does it? and how do you make sure you
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have it all? because my job history i've done a lot of work on weapons of mass destruction in my realm of sources are a lot of people who know about this field and are personally involved in this. so they became first interviews, speaking to people who are on the ground try to figure out how to get weapons out in dealing with the frustrations and complications, at leads to a million other sources along the way, everyone from white house officials at the time to russians come to syrians come to activists to housewives, people are tortured in prison and all this becomes part of this tapestry i start to read, and each little story connects in its own way to another. >> host: so how did the united states first find out about the syrian chemical weapons? >> guest: so we had an inkling they were doing something way back in the '70s and this was a time when a number of arab
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countries were experiment with weapons of various kinds. the iraqis were getting into all kinds of wmd capability. the egyptians were looking at chemical weapons and the use them in yemen. the syrians were starting to nibble at the edges as well, getting some precursor stock from other countries. we knew the entrance was there but what became fascinating to me was how this program was different from the others. for syria this is a chemical, such as a chemical weapons program but a strategic arsenal. it was their deterrent against israel, next-door neighbor, arch enemy which is nuclear armed. syria puts a lot of expert and expertise into the building a very robust chemical weapons program, not just mustard gas and the old stuff but the most sophisticated bioweapons they could build. we knew, , the israelis knew thy were working on this but we had an asset, we had an amazing spy
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who happened to be working in the best possible place for us which is inside the chemical weapons complex. he was a scientist. he happened to study and the united states. he loved america and is open to the idea of helping us out. we recruit this guy, his name is amen. we're trying to protect his identity, his family, and he agreed to help us by giving us secrets inside the program. what were the syrians making? how much did they have, where did you have it? and even at one point passed a sample to us, a small sample in the file which he handed to the cia so we could take iveco and tested themselves. amen inns of getting in trouble. i won't give away the ending but he is betrayed. he ends up being discovered and meets a brutal in, shall we say. but because of that spy and because of the work that he did over all those years when things do start to go bad in syria when country starts to fall apart we
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know as the united states very well what's at stake and where these weapons are they could potentially be plundered or any number of bad guys and maybe kerry outside the country in terrorist attacks. >> host: so he's a very compelling character. you write about them in the book. there are number of other interesting and compelling characters in the book come some from the region, some from your come some from the united states. would you like to give the viewer some sense of some of the other kind of larger-than-life characters that appear in this book? >> guest: for so many great ones and a few of them i can probably write a whole book about because are so interesting. it's everything from this dutch woman who is a leader of the inspection force on the ground who helped take the weapons out. a woman had been a diplomat and had no real military or no chemical weapons experience but had to go head-to-head with the russians and the syrians and
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eventually forced them to hold to the promises to get the weapons out. her hotel comes under artillery attack, a mortar round goes through several floors of her hotel and lands in the bedroom above her. she become certain target of a plot inside the country, people are following her around. her life becomes favorite entering. but she sticks to it and makes a promise that we're going to do this job, get out the weapons that you declared and then go home. but her story is compelling. there are others like disco one other i i will mention because a personal favorite of mine is a syrian individual. he's just this young medical intern. he's finished his degree but he does have his license yet so in time the war the the war brt he wants to live a normal life as a physician. the war drags into the conflict and when he never anticipates. he's working at hospital when the regime forces bring in some
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of the figures have arrested and taken out of the hospital and taken to prison. they take a few of his friends who are rested when that because they because that medical supplies in the car and they torture and kill them and set the bodies on fire and dump them in from hospital with id tags on top of them. moments like this take this young man and essentially force him to take a site income fixed secret activist, trying to help out the cause and the rebels and he does is at great risk to himself. one what is arrested and taken to prison and beaten. he gets up because his father pays someone to bribe him out of jail. there's this part where he goes the comey's trouble about what to do and one days deciding i had to go back to the front, i have to help my friend. his mother grabbed a knife and give it to them and says take this type and kill me because i would rather be killed by you and to have the horror of sunday knowing the summit will knock at my door and tell me that my son
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is dead. that's the background of this young man who then goes on to commit himself to becoming a kind of one man clearinghouse for information on chemical weapons. people call him and -- his nickname because he is obsessed with the idea if the chemical attack happens, people have to know what to do. he begins to collect evidence and bring to the outside world, sometimes crossing into enemy territory going to the front lines to gather those precious bits of evidence, piece of of artillery shells, , soil sampleo get into the cia and others who didn't be able to respond to them. he's one of the many fascinating people you meet as you go through this journey. >> host: he is indeed and is a very sympathetic character as you describing. let's move on to the other personal story in the book. if you could describe for us the 2013 saturn attack in syria and
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how the u.s. and its partners were able to identify the exact nature of the chemical weapon. >> guest: there's the big attack that we all remember. happen in 2013 but before that there was kind of interesting run up. there were little imprints just an artillery cheryl here, a bomb there, a tear gas canister filled with sarin, as if to kind of test the obama administration's red line but also really to test the three witches which is whether they could use the strategic weapon as a tactical tool, if they could use it to break the resistance, to demoralize them, to drive up the besieged areas that they occupied. so these things are going on and there's great interest around the world and trying to understand what these attacks are and what the amount you. the human put together a team of inspectors, send them into serious to try to investigate.
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while they are there this horrific attack takes place in the suburbs of damascus to the south and to the east this region. these attacks are really not large in terms of number of missiles or rocket shells. they are maybe a couple dozen at the most but this one attack on a single morning and august in the killing by yes estimates 1400 people, nearly all of them women and children sleeping in underground basement shelters, because sarin is heavier than gas, heavier than air rather seats that into the lower structure of the building so you you have this massive casualty count right away. the images of this attack are beamed around the world because everyone in syria has a cell phone camera and those pictures quickly come out. so this becomes, this begins this great diplomatic struggle between the united states, the u.n. and russian and all these other players on how to respond to this. these inspectors for in syria to
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witness it, who happen to be close enough to the scene of the crime to go and investigate they become pawns as well because the u.s. wants them out because they want to launch an airstrike and you have this fact-finding mission on the ground and was the optics a kind of pull them out there trying to find out what happened. you've got even the u.n. wishing to kind of be low key about this but as inspectors in that going to the crime scene, on their own, they get shot out, get held up at gunpoint, all kinds of amazing things happen but they managed to get precious evidence, blood and tissue samples, soil samples, pieces of rockets. what the rest of the world has concluded this is a nerve gas attack, there is no clarity about who was responsible. this team finds compelling evidence that points to the assad regime that over time and eliminates all doubt that this could in some false flag operation. but this really is a core story of the book, and some amazing
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acts of bravery on the part of those who went to these dangerous places to try to understand the truth. >> host: and could you just say something about what help them? >> guest: it's one my favorite stories is heartbreaking as it is but one of those early investigations where they were trying to figure out who's behind these scattered attack threat syria involves a single woman. there is an attack on the town in a northern part of syria close to the turkish border, and it was a couple of tear gas canisters filled with sarin. one of them falls in the courtyard of the woman, and she becomes the only fatality. she died because she walks outside to see what it happened and she gets a pretty good dose of sarin. her family panics and decide to take her out of the country to get medical help a cake or cross to turkey. she dies in turkey and that in a way is miraculous for her story because it means the turks have
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abadi and eventually the u.n. has abadi because united nations investors, july 2013 trying to find physical evidence of these chemical tax and they have a woman they can autopsy. they do this autopsy at the not only find the sarin but they find enough of it so they can do pretty good friends at profile which becomes crucial later on when they try to prove that yes, this sarin came from the syrians weapon factory and not some other source. >> host: as you said in your introduction, you also look at isis and their acquisition or attempts to acquire chemical weapons. so we know that obviously the syrian government as you say develop sarin. it had chlorine which is used as a chemical weapon before hand, but isis of course was trying to acquire them. how difficult did that make it much more difficult to attribute the source of some of these
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attacks? how was isis able to acquire these weapons? >> guest: there's an interesting back story to this because the two groups, terrorist groups we are familiar with, qaeda and isis, old have a history of interest in chemical weapons. way back when osama bin laden was running the organization he once said whether mass distraction was a religious duty, as when afghanistan experiment with various chemical weapons trying to make things to make it use to attack the west. isis or its predecessor had the same idea and begin using chlorine as a chemical weapon. in syria there's an opportunity they can potentially steal the stuff from assad and they came very close. there were not able to do that so isis decides next best thing we're going to try to make our own. they can see a spectacularly successful assad was in drawing the attention of the world with just a few rocket shells full of sarin so embark on a pretty
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ambitious program to manufacture chemical weapons. this is never happen in the history of terrorist movement except for perhaps the death cold in the '90s. but here you have a terrorist group with the country with laboratories come with university facilities and the good work to try to make them look weapons. they didn't get very far because obviously when they find out we as americans and our partners that this activity is going on, we devote a lot of activity and a lot of effort fairly quietly to try to find the locations, to try to identify, capture or kill the individuals. so we stop them very quickly. they did manage to make, use a lot of chlorine against kurdish targets but the did end up making mustard gas. mustard is not all that technically challenging. the kind they made was fairly crude in the sense intended to do, deteriorate fairly quickly after using so it wasn't a very good weapon.
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for that reason investigators examined the scenes of these attacks they can quickly say this is not from syria stockpile, this is something that was made by professionals made any laboratory but is not high great stuff. eventually they are able to pay conclusively say that this was isis manufactured. the moral of the story is even though isis did not get as far as it might have liked, it's clear its ambition did not go away. some of its scientists managed to flee the country. we don't know if they've been killed or captured somewhere. we assume they're still around. isis continues to say occasionally that it wants to do this again, that it has an aspiration to carry out a chemical weapons attack. and that knowledge essential know-how about how to do it that still exists somewhere within the memories of this group. >> host: mustard gas was used in world war i, right? >> guest: that's an important,
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yeah, about chemical weapons. it's the only con is the only sort of weapons system that we as a world as an international community decided to do something about them decided to outlaw. the very first banning of a weapon was banning of chemical weapons. the people who died in the first world war and the second world war i didn't horrific ways often but there was something that was viscerally terrible about the specter of seeing a human being suffocate like a cockroach on chemicals. it's something that just motivated us to say no more, this will never happen again. there's an international taboo against it. that's why when this happened in syria we were alarmed by all the suffering that we saw. this one attack really galvanized the attention of the world. >> host: very importantly, too. let's look at the obama
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administration's policy toward syria. the red line, president obama used the word red line, if chemical weapons would use the u.s. would intervene militarily. if you talk about the evolution of u.s. policy on syria under the obama administration, what happens to the red line, why there was a more of a response after the use of chemical weapons attacks happen, who was supporting and who wasn't and white was happening again? >> guest: there's a lot to unpack there but that really gets to some of the big issues raised in the book. to start with one has to put oneself back in time in 2011, this is the obama administration heading into its third year when arab spring breaks out. i was covering the middle east as reported at the time and i also happen to have been back in
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the late '80s a reporter covering the fall of communism in eastern europe, so the parallels were amazing to all of us who witnessed both events. it was the sense of history turning. so it was very exciting in a way. these fledgling democracies on the horizon in the middle east of all places, and the obama administration had to quickly scramble what to do about this movement, how to respond to it, which would identify with these protesters that are inspiring to be free of dictatorship, and so our initial response was essentially expressions of support, condemning violence come condemning dictators think that egypt's leader must go, gadhafi must go. and then assad, the president of syria must go. the problem was in syria in particular was it is ruled by an extremely brutal family that was prepared to sacrifice anything,
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prepared to destroy the country in order to stay in power and was backed by two powerful leaders in the way of the countries were not, russian number one and iran. both saw the survival of the regime as vital national interest for them and they were actually committed from the beginning and even more so as the war continued to keep the guy in power. their commitment to making him stay into the ultimate being much greater than our ambition to get assad to leave and that becomes kind of the court international conflict in trying to resolve this. the obama administration i think you would talk to most folks speaking honestly and, frankly, about this, and they would acknowledge that we gave the syrians more hope in some of our messaging than we were prepared to back up by saying assad must go, the implicit meaning is that assad must go and we're going to make him go where in reality is the united states was not about
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to get involved in the military conflict in syria, if they could all helped. it's reluctance gets greater when we see how much the russians are willing to be involved militarily with boots on the ground. so that is not going to happen but because of statements like assad must go, because of red line warnings which kind of grew out of intelligence that we had in 2012 that these chemical weapons that were so problematic and so worrisome were about to be handed over to hezbollah, terrorist group that came in 2012 so were putting out messages all over the world to the syrians don't do this. we send emissaries out to russia, iran, talk to the syrians make top public statements and if you do this there will be big trouble. in one case obama actually uses the phrase red line, which was an implicit meaning. but again an instance where we appeared to promise help that we
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were not truly prepared to deliver. we did provide a lot of help. it didn't upcoming later on in the form of covert aid. we had $1 billion train and equip program that trained tens of thousands of syrian fighters that delivered weapons to them as well as equipment and uniforms, and because the syrian opposition was so fragmented, has a unified front office but the really underground is there are hundreds of these small groups that don't miss his old work well together, some of them are people we don't want to associate with because of their allegiance to various islamist groups. and so any effort, any aid we gave, any training we provided much of it ended up going to people that we didn't want to help. the more we try to help, the worse the situation seemed to become, almost like throwing fuel on a fire. i think a person the folks who
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work the issue in the obama administration look back and say this was just a train wreck. this was something that we had good intentions but despite our efforts we were not able to do anything about. critics would say we didn't do nearly enough, we didn't intervene early enough. there's more we could've done diplomatically but hillary clinton called serious the problem from hell and i think she's absolutely right about that. as much as we tried or thought we had good solutions, we attempted seemed to blow up in our faces, , and as you say the russians wanted assad to stay in power more than the u.s. wanted assad to go. so could you say a little bit more about what the stakes were, and still are, in this situation in syria? and also maybe going back to what happened under obama, , the issue of congress' role. >> guest: i'll start with the congress part first because this
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becomes the out for obama, when he's contemplating using military force or not. as readers will see when they read the book it's quite complicated because obama is horrified initially either chemical weapons attack. he's given this red line warning and he intends to back it up. he is a military operation plan. the ships are in the mediterranean. the missiles are in the tubes ready to go but there are number of factors that get in the way and one is this a problem of wmd in the middle east, we have about history of misinterpreting wmd and starting wars. so want to make sure the intelligence was right. that the time. inspectors on the ground to deal with so that was a delaying the thing. other countries started to back with an idea, the british were going to join us initially change their mind. obama decided the only real recourse was to go to congress if a going to do this we should do this at its genetic country so let's get congress to support
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us. within the cabinet people i spoke to felt very strongly that congress would back the president. democrats would get behind their leader, the republicans would support a military strike if it was limited and it turned out that nobody, nobody supported this idea. so obama is sitting there kind of having promised a military strike him having promised he would get support of congress to do it, and that support wasn't there. so until this deal came together in which the russians out of nowhere decided well, we will get assad to disarm and this will be the way forward and kind of the way out, he really looked stuck. fast for jewelry are now and the importance of what i see is important about this conflict going forward is that it has become ever more clear that the united states needs to remain engaged. i think the biden administration realizes this but without at
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least an assertive diplomatic presence in the region, without some military component of that, of our response, it becomes very easy for other countries to completely dominate the solution in syria, whatever that is, and it could be quite unfavorable to the united states and our allies if, for example, if iran is allowed to create a land bridge from lebanon that goes to iraq in syria and then is, kind populated along the way with pro-iranian militia groups. that something you're trying to produce and it's really, it will take an active presence by the united states to make sure it doesn't come to fruition. >> host: so let's now turn to the russian american angle of this now. the so-called russian cooperation dismantling the chemical weapons program. russia was supposed to work with the u.s. in terms of identifying the weapons and then destroying
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them. but as you tell it, apart from signing a piece of paper with the united states saying russia and the u.s. were going to cooperate, this extraordinary op-ed piece in the "new york times" in september of that year saying we should do this, aside from signing that piece of paper and apparently telling us they basically told the syrians that go along with this, even if they didn't want to, it seems not only did russia not do anything to resolve either identifying or dismantle them, but in some cases obstructed it. so tell us more about what the russians did and why you think they didn't do more. with a interested in having the syrians really get rid of their chemical weapons stock trip to the was an interesting moment where countries of the world including the united states and russia came together over the syrian chemical weapons talk. the motivations for doing this were quite different but there
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was a common cause in trying to disarm syria of its declared stockpile. the russians point if you there's an opportunity for putin to appear statesmanlike. he could help resolve a difficult problem. he could come in and say to the west here, i'll fix this for you. a certainly have the ability to do it because they had assad in a steely grip and it is i think you've alluded to there's this moment when they're having an argument at one point in the book and john kerry is rating lavrov for not forcing the syrians to cooperate on the net and he says to him in exasperation, when you wanted syria to get rid of chemical weapons you cut get them ton in 24 hours. lavrov looks back and says -- that shows you the great power and influence the russians have over their allies. they were completely dependent
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on them, the russians for survival. russia has its card to play. it played very well. it was perhaps i think arguably in russia's interest to see syria eliminate a stockpile that was becoming an embarrassment because every time there was an in dash report on chemical weapons being used, assad was being bashed for that and russia by implication is helping assad, so better to get rid of those weapons. so that was a good thing to do from russia's point of view. in terms of helping us do it, a did remarkably little we had these meetings in 2013 at the initially was broken when we try to get the russians to contribute various things they could of done. they could've taken the weapons themselves and brought them across the black sea and destroyed them in their own facilities. they have dedicated factories getting rid of chemical weapons. there are things they could've done. even had this dated but real bird grade of vehicles that would design that brigade of vehicles. why not use those? in in the russians refuse to
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really offer tangible help if they contributed a battleship to a time operation that was essentially providing protection off the coast. everything else had to come either from the united states or the u.n. or our allies, and after the initial removal, after the bulk of the stockpiles taken out of the country russia goes from just being a bit passive in the support of the operation to being completely in assad's camp in terms of backing out, remember new allegations came out, defendant in the u.n., blocking any kind of punitive measures from ever getting to a vote and not just united nations but others. from that point on it becomes more and more of an obstructionist. protecting his client at all costs, creating , creag with storylines that would suggest rebels were responsible for all the violence and use of chemical weapons, and just never
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allowing assad seek even a moment of accountability here that's been the role really since 2014. >> host: as far as you can identify the never put any pressure on him. he kept saying he had to allow these people to identify and take away the weapons. so now you have some fascinating details in the book about having weapons that are identified, how they were transported to the place to where there are going to be transported to somewhere where they could be destroyed. and the russian said they couldn't destroy them because -- normally is a problem in russia so there are sold in the in to the united states and a special crew to do that. you have gripping detail about that. if you could describe more how to get the weapons, how they got them from the port from which there supposed to go a be
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destroyed, how that really didn't happen really at the very, very last moment? >> guest: this is probably my favorite part of the story and its it's very little-known i must say that people just do not appreciate the difficulty of this challenge. it really breaks is one of the most remarkable feats of arms control in history because it happened in nine months, and entire program weapons program was completely mostly dismantle with a little cheating as we find out later, and it happened during the war. not just the cold war, it was a hot war and people were literally firing artillery rounds or the vehicles carrying these trucks with weapons down the road. if you can think back to the moment in 2013 when the deal comes together everybody is excited, syria will give up its weapons program, how do we do that? who does that? there's no organization in your in the world whose job it is to go into the country and remove a
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weapons program in middle of war. working with some the call the opcw organizations for probation of chemical weapons aced in hate. they've got inspectors go around and do like verification missions here are not armed. they don't have a logistical ability to do kind of take off and set up camp in another country. so in a very short time really a few weeks this program was cobbled together with you and people and opcw people and money from the u.s. and allies, equipment all come together in a very few weeks, and just three weeks after the deal was signed the first inspectors start to arrive in syria to do the job. one of them told me later it's great together so quickly but it was like they were operating on a patient and we don't have an operating room, we don't have the tools. they didn't have anything so that a start from scratch and then rely on syrian cooperation to allow them to go to one facility after another, first to
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inventory and then start smashing things up and hauling things out. so every piece of equipment that they can identify that syrians were using to make chemical weapons had to be literally trashed, some of it was broken up with hammers or welding torches or whatever they had to smash it to the extent they could never use it again. that's actually part of the benefit of this operation not just that it took a bunch of bad chemicals out but they destroyed assad's production equipment. he had some laboratories left overhese factory like facilities where they make chemical weapons, they were dismantled piece by piece and destroyed so they could never be used again. in some cases even the bunkers and they were in were blown up afterward. that was a job they did and it took place in an incredibly compressed amount of time, nine nthsm the beginning to end but once you get the weapons, that the weapons out of the country, times and tons and tons of mostly liquid stock, mostly
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precursors, there's no place for it to go. there was no country that is saying sure, bring all those chemicals to our poor, will take care. nobody was saying that, the united states, european allies, nobody wanted this stuff. so the solution comes down to this one small organization that works, as part of the army down in maryland that have like a special team where they find chemical weapons that are left over or abandon its place in the world. use of the guys the couldn't figure out how to get rid of it. they were tasked with building a machine and take this chemical weapons and destroy them. they will build this machine and put off the coast of syria or put in albania was an idea that was followed for a while, find a place to stick this machine and then we will gradually take these weapons and get rid of him. no country would do that and so
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they ended up with plan z which is let's put the machine on a ship and take it out in the middle of the sea, do it in the middle of the mediterranean. there are all kinds of reasons why that's not plan a because chemical weapons on board a ship is moving around and sloshing and is possibility of rogue waves and capsizing, all these dangers it's not ideal but because there's the what else to put them that was what they were left with. you get this group for marilyn. they put the machines on this ship, they got to see and pick up the material and then for 42 days they are spinning circles around the mediterranean and using this machine to try to destroy the weapons. there are problems, equipment breaks down, equipment starts to wear out more quickly than the thought he would. there's a stability problem because on a ship that is essentially a big cargo ship you a few on the bottom that keeps the ship stable, sort of the ballast and give all these liquids up top and as time
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passes more fuel is being burned off, more heavy liquids are going to the upper floors and the ship becomes unstable and they have a program where they can chart the stability of the ship getting to the point where it's almost, you know, in peril because he could potentially collapse if a wave comes along. you got that going on. you got activist from it by middle groups coming out to try to find them, all this drama facing this small crew of marylanders trying to destroy his weapon smi they managed to get it done. 42 days. they eliminate the last of the barrels of these weapons and they are done. so the ultimate sort of statement at the end or the farewell message is can 42 days to destroy the stockpile, an unknown number is the number of syrians who might have been killed if this had not been done after member these weapons were threat to syrians more than to the rest of us because sarin
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artillery shell can kill a lot of people are one of the deadliest attacks and entire history of the work was attacked on august 21 when a few artillery shells filled with sarin landed in a single neighborhood. so the lethal power of this cannot be underestimated. >> host: really an amazing story. section couldn't be any better than that. >> guest: can't make it up. >> host: can you talk a little bit about the trump administration? because, in fact, one of the things president trump did was to react to a chemical weapons attack and, of course, this was after the syrians were supposed to have gotten rid of all of them and they clearly didn't. >> guest: right. so yeah, i saw cheated and he cheated during obama's time after these weapons are taken out even before they were all destroyed, he goes back to his old ways. he doesn't use 202-748-8903 were because that is barely gone but he start using a poor man's
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chemical weapon which is just ordinary chlorine. chlorine that we put in her swing pools. it's not illegal. so it just starts dropping there is full of chlorine on towns and apartment buildings. chlorine is not going to kill a lot of people. it's a chemical weapon in the sense it terrorizes, they can make you sick and can kill you if you get a lot of it in your system. so that becomes the substitution for chemical warfare. that goes on, this steady drumbeat of these low-grade low casualty attacks that are kind of a a finger in the eye of te west. so then obama leaves, trump comes in office and assad for whatever reason feels bold enough to use sarin again. uses it in an attack in april 2017 april 2017 and again we have these images of children and civilians suffering and dying, and trump says well, i'm going to enforce the red light sunk when you do what obama never did. did.
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i'm going to launch missiles. he got a lot of pressure that and cut credit for being tough and standing up to the syrians and punishing them. and actually this happened twice, to make instances and 2017 and 28 dean when trump used. if you look at what was achieved, gets more complicated. because the missile strike that obama was invasion in 2013 looked very much like the one that trump launched in 2017. ed called for non-decapitation, not the regime change strike, not setting up a no-fly zone but if punitive strike, you destroy a few commit a control centers and you're done, very limited. the result of the one that trump actually carried out in 2017 was an airport was disabled for a few hours, few airplanes were destroyed but assad had his place back in the era that same day. he carried out additional
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chemical tax within a few weeks after that. so if it was a deterrent it was a very short one. because his back to his old ways in almost no time. if you think about what obama did despite the flaws and incompleteness of the mission, if you want to punish, you know, the syrian dictator there's no bigger punishment than depriving him of his biggest strategic arsenal. so no matter what he kept behind, his strategic stockpile, the stuff he could've used as a deterrent against israel doesn't exist anymore. it's almost as if somebody came to the united states and said you did something bad, were going to take away your nuclear arsenal. the biggest, our main deterrent. assad had to agree to do that. so 1300 times of chemical weapons probably was about 90-95% of what he had, and have to give it up meant a huge loss for him but also meant he couldn't use it, it would be
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much harder to be stolen by others, terrorist groups and others who would want to get it. there was a national interest served by that deal even though it didn't come out politically to obama's advantage certainly even though it made obama look weak in some ways. in the long run he managed to copy something that was pretty significant. >> host: so of course which also show and talk about this is in some ways that this sort of taboo on chemical weapons has ended. we know the syrians still had them we had seen russia used nerve agents to try to kill opposition leader, a former agent in london. we've seen kim jong-un kill his half-brother using some kind of a nerve agent, so it's still about atticus the russian laboratory that used to manufacture these chemical weapons somehow some of the same facility still exist even though
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they were supposed to have all been dismantled. what can we do about this? what do you think that means going forward in terms of the future of chemical weapons? >> guest: this is really interesting. the erosion of that taboo against chemical weapons is really important part of this. last time that chemical weapons were used in a major way was back in the iran-iraq war and saddam hussein did it. this was the most the biggest violation that that is take since then. because assad got away with it in a sense he was not have forced to admit to anything, he was never personally held accountable for anything, he had russia taking his side and having his back and supporting him in protecting him, he didn't really have to pay a price. and that erosion of this norm, this prohibition against chemical weapons has been noticed by others here we
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certainly see isis decide to take up on the idea. use of the countries such as russia and north korea feeling emboldened to do it as well, and you have the two incidents you mentioned with the russians in 2018 and then an attempt over the summer. and then north korea, then jump on decides to carry out an attack in another country, in singapore, against a member of his own family using a chemical weapon that was sprayed on his face as if walking through an airport. so you do worry as countries see this as something they can get away with, something people might complain and yell about but not really force them to face very serious consequences other than sanctions. this behavior becomes in courage. you can imagine other actors wanting to do the same. you can write about the russians. russians. they developed what is probably
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the biggest chemical weapons stockpile ever created during world war ii, which had not just sarin but this new thing nova check the begin developing the 1980s and after the cold war ended those programs as we know enough didn't really go away. they didn't dismantle some of his military labs. they continue do the research, continue to maintain the stockpile so when they have a need for something like novichok or an attack against a political power they can use. they can just as easily use it in a military setting or two to stabilize the country are a number of ways it and it you have to imagine that if there is no reluctance to do that kind of research, what else is being investigated, chemical or biological weapons perhaps pics of this is an issue that gets to the biden administration that as we demand accountability from the russians for the attack and his other incidences, we need to demand transparency about the research they are doing,
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including getting inspections and access to opcw inspectors or whatever is needed to make sure that come clean about what they're doing and what their intentions are. >> host: let me ask you another question about the opcw. as usual in your book they do all this work but they are not allowed action attribute any attack to a particular country or individual which of course hamstrings them and then of course we know the united nations, the russians always have vetoed any kind of resolution in the security council that would lay the blame on the syrian government for what it did and the chinese usually back the russians up. so in the absence of being able to do this you don't have many tools will be can hold countries responsible what they do, am i wrong? >> guest: this is a great difficulty in the diplomatic sphere. you're right, the u.n. at the
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opcw are set up as consensus organizations and they can do great things if there's a consensus. but in this very polarized world it's often to the advantage of some of our adversaries just to get in the weight of our plans even if they don't necessary objective. they are simply being contrary in. in the case of syria you see again and again the organizations like opcw are so constricted about what they can say. they can go into syria and they can say yes, chemical weapons were used. yes, we know they were sarin. we have details about these forensic makeup of the sarin. we know where it came from, the artillery shells were used to fire it we or can't explicity that we think this was syria that did it. that's changing. there's been so much i guess frustration over what happened over the last decade that the opcw know something called the iit, separate investigative body, that is in the process now of doing attribution, that's
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what it does. it's come back and look at some of these instances and is using its scientific method to try to deduce responsibility, who actually did this. they've come back in the last few months to say that several attacks that they identified were clearly associated with syria. they were syrian aircraft, these were from the stockpile, no stockpile, the chemicals insider forensically traced to the weapons that we know that syria made. so they are naming names now in a way that hasn't been done before. this gives you hope that as frustrating as this has been, as elusive as justice has been, that there still a process and there's still hope that someday, it might be well into the future, there will be accountability, and that evidence exists. it's been collected, the evidence continues to be gathered and we have to hope
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someday there will be a hearing. in the meantime can sometimes it really does fall to coalitions of the willing to get things done. the french in particular have taken a lead in trying to establish rules of accountability for when chemical weapons are used. the germans have been very active in pursuing the nepali case and releasing evidence and really anchoring the russians to make these things public. sometimes countries have to act as coalitions or even unilaterally to call out people when you do things that are wrong, but hopefully eventually there will be some justice. >> host: right. i think alas were out of time and we will end on maybe a hopeful note that people come to realize that there has to be more accountability for this. again, "red line" by joby warrick, you should go out and read it, order it. it's a really good read, and i
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would like to thank you joby warrick for this conversation and good luck on your book to her. >> guest: thank you so much. i completely enjoyed this and hope we can do it again. >> c-span that is a free mobile app featuring your unfiltered view of what's happening in washington live and on-demand. keep up with today's biggest events with live streams of floor proceedings and hearing some u.s. congress, white house events, the courts, campaigns and more from the world of politics all at your fingertips if you can also stay current with the latest episodes of "washington journal" and find scheduling information for c-span's tv networks and c-span radio plus a variety of compelling podcast. c-span israel at the apple store in google play. download it for free today. c-span now, your front row seat to washington anytime anywhere.


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