Foreign Correspondent, NBC News
New York correspondent, Los Angeles Times
Member, Editorial Board, Bloomberg View
This event is part of the 2018 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. Other videos from the conference and more information can be found here.
THOMAS: Fantastic. Well, welcome to the sixth annual Conference on Diversity in International Affairs. This is the Council on Foreign Relations, and we’re thrilled to host this conference in collaboration with the Global Access Pipeline—GAP—and also the International Career Advancement Program, ICAP.
My name’s Jessica Thomas, and I’m deputy director of membership here at CFR. I’m also a proud alum of the 2017 ICAP program, and I’m seeing several—
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Woo-hoo!
THOMAS: Yes, I’m seeing several of my cohort here. It’s really exciting to be back together with each of you.
So my parents recently retired from jobs in the international arena. My mother is a nurse—was a nurse, is a nurse. She worked in health units at the U.S. embassy both in Ghana and also in Mali. My father’s an agricultural economist, and he worked in different agencies across East and West Africa advancing agricultural development. So their experiences have really colored the way that I look at my work and my life really in general.
I really admire my parents for the work that they did and that they continue to do today. They worked very hard to get to where they are. And I’m especially proud of them for staying the course, because as they progressed in their careers, they were often the only one in the room. And many of us here know what that feels like. They stayed the course, and I’m really glad that they did. Along the way, they did what they could to pull others up and to really encourage others to really pursue their desires and pursue their dreams.
For us here, we have that same opportunity, and many of us have already been doing that, and that’s really exciting. But that’s why we’re here today. We’re here today because we also want to make a difference in our workplaces. We want to see change happen today that’s going to last for a lifetime, that’s going to really make a difference for the future generations ahead of us.
This whole vision is the same vision of ICAP and Tom Rowe—who you’ll probably meet later on today. It’s the same vision that CFR has, and other GAP consortium organizations, and it’s exciting to be a part of that today.
This effort will take a lot of time, energy, and commitment, but, again, that’s why we’re here today. Today we’re excited to have several sessions, sessions that are going to go over the global hotspots. They’re going to go over the U.S. image abroad, several other sessions we’re going to be able to participate in today. Later on tonight, we’ll be joined by college and university students as we hear from former—from the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Jeh Johnson.
The goal of this conference is to connect professionals and students to—from underrepresented backgrounds to career opportunities in international affairs. We hope that you’ll take advantage of this opportunity today to meet each other, to network and also to see your future grow. We hope that you’ll also be able to connect with our speakers and your fellow participants. One way that you can do that is also through our LinkedIn group which we’ve created for this event. You’ll find the links for that LinkedIn group throughout the building, just right outside this hall, and we encourage you to share your experiences with each other through that and also in person.
For anyone who might be interested in other opportunities in networking and seeing what kinds of career opportunities there are here at the Council and otherwise, we’ll have some representatives outside at the tables in the lobby, and you can learn about our fellowships, our internships, membership and other types of opportunities here and at other organizations.
As a reminder, today’s sessions are all on the record. And we encourage you to post about your experience on social media. We actually have a hashtag. It’s #CDIA2018. Also, which is new this year, we have a Snapchat filter, for those who are in to Snapchat. I actually had to look up how to use this. But anyway, for those of you who are in to Snapchat, please go ahead and use it. You can access this within the building and share your experiences, share any highlights that you might have of today.
As you move throughout the building throughout this conference, if you have any questions about where you’re supposed to go, if you get lost and you don’t know where your sessions are, feel free to ask any of the CFR staff. We can help you, especially those who are based in this building. But we’d be happy to help you get to where you need to be.
Again, we’re super glad to have you here with us to join in this really exciting conference, to learn together and to really grow together, and to network together. I’ll now turn it over to our presider for the first plenary. Thank you so much and enjoy yourselves. (Applause.)
RATNESAR: Well, good afternoon. I hope all you can all hear me. This earpiece is a little squirrely.
Thanks, Jessica, and thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for convening this meeting. My name’s Romesh Ratnesar from Bloomberg View, and I’m very pleased to be here sharing the stage with these two distinguished journalists for a discussion of global hot spots. And we will have a brief conversation and then, I hope, have plenty of time to hear from all of you and talk about some of the things you’re interested in.
So a little bit of housekeeping. We will, as I said, discuss for a few minutes between the three of us. We’ll then have a question and answer session. And just as a reminder, this meeting is on the record.
I’m going to briefly introduce the two panelists, but you should have their bios in front of you. But just so we’re all on the same page, Ayman Mohyeldin is a foreign correspondent for NBC News, done a great deal of work in the Middle East. For all of the overachievers in this room, he’s best known of the host of “First Look,” which airs every morning at 5:00 a.m. on MSNBC. He graciously decided to sleep in today so he could be here, but we’re very pleased to have him here.
And Barbara Demick is the New York Correspondent for the L.A. Times. She was formerly the bureau chief in Seoul and Beijing for the L.A. Times, and she was also an Edward R. Murrow press fellow right here at the Council on Foreign Relations. So we’re especially fortunate to have Barbara here on this momentous day given the historic meeting that took place today between the leaders of the two Koreas, as I’m sure many of you saw on television, on MSNBC while Ayman was asleep.
Barbara, I just wanted to ask you before we sort of get into some of the nitty-gritty of the outlook going forward, as someone who’s spent as much time as you have on the Korean Peninsula and studying North Korea, what was your reaction as you watched history unfold today?
DEMICK: Well, unlike the rest of you, I don’t get up that early. So I didn’t see it happening—I didn’t see it happening live. But I’m kind of a weeper, and I get very emotional about Korea, although I’m not Korean myself. And when I see these kind of, you know, cross-Korean events and people hugging and I’m just, like, oh. You know, this is very Korean.
I’ve also seen it a lot before. I started covering the Koreas in 2001, which was before you guys were born—before you were watching television about North Korea, and it was a period that there was—you know, what was called the Sunshine Policy between North and South Korea, and there were always joint concerts and a lot of gatherings between North and South Korea. So this is going back to, you know, what I started with: a lot of these events, family reunions, mothers and sons who hadn’t seen each other in 50 years, you know, on their canes—I mean, just unbelievably emotional stuff. So I’m a little bit cynical about it. I mean, it looks great and I’m sure if I got up early enough to watch it, I would have been crying, too.
But, you know, this bonhomie doesn’t necessarily translate into concrete steps. I mean, Korea is a huge tragedy. The North and South Koreans want to be reunited. They don’t want to be—they want to be a normal country. But there’s a really long way to go before, you know, any of these pledges happen. It’s a much more complicated problem than it looks.
And what the U.S. is demanding now—complete denuclearization of North Korea—I don’t think it’s going to happen and I don’t know any Korea expert who thinks it’s going to happen. And I mean, this may transition us into the Middle East, but the North Koreans believe that without their nuclear deterrent, as they call it, Kim Jong-un would go the way of Moammar Gadhafi or Saddam Hussein.
Libya especially is the cautionary tale for the North Koreans. I don’t know if Libya’s something we can talk about, but they saw another regime play ball with the U.S. and then get overturned and the leader deposed in a very violent and humiliating way.
So it’s going to be very interesting where Donald Trump comes into this because, you know, if he—we go in demanding no nuclear weapons at all, everything has to be given up by the end of his term, 2021—or I think he would like to see a deal before the midterm elections—I think it’s not going to happen. And sometimes pushing for a deal too quickly can blow things up. I don’t want to rain on the parade, but I’m not really optimistic about it.
And, you know, sometimes diplomacy doesn’t work on the U.S. political schedule. And, you know, that will also bring us back to the Middle East. Before I went to Korea, I was based in Jerusalem, you know, and I remember, you know, the big push to get an Israeli-Palestinian deal in 2000. And that was, you know, sort of going to be Clinton’s, you know, signature achievement. And in a way, that push I think helped to lead to the Second Intifada. I mean, you can chime in on this one, but, you know, these are very complicated problems. And we have American politics on the one side and, you know, these long-running—you know, I wouldn’t say intractable because nothing is intractable, but these—you know, these long-running foreign policy disputes.
RATNESAR: Let me just ask, though. I mean, you know, clearly there has been a change in calculus, it seems, by Kim Jong-un, and a willingness maybe to go further than most people would have predicted he would go. Now whether that ultimately leads to, you know, a lasting agreement, obviously, is something that remains to be seen. And maybe we can talk some more about that. But what do you think is motivating him? What’s driving him? How did—how is it that we are at this place despite, you know, the work that lays ahead? How did Kim get here?
DEMICK: When Kim became the North Korean leader, he announced this policy that he called “byungjin,” meaning simultaneous. He wanted the economic growth at the same time as the creation of these nuclear weapons—nuclear weapons and missiles. And I think he feels that they’ve come a long way with the missiles and the nuclear weapons and that it’s time to concentrate on the economy. And I think he’s sincere in that. You know, I think he wants to open up his economy and he realizes he needs foreign investment. I don’t think he’s, you know, completely bluffing. You know, I just don’t think he’s going to go as far as the U.S. wants him to go.
And he’s not his father. He’s another—you know, he’s a young generation. But, you know, people keep on acting like this has never happened before. You know, in 1994, under Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, there was a really pretty good deal. It was called the Agreed Framework, and the U.S. was supposed to give—did give North Korea energy assistance in return for shutting down their nuclear reactor. That was a very good deal. In ’92, there was a joint North-South Korea denuclearization agreement. And, I mean, I just read it to somebody, and it was like, oh, wow, is this the new deal? No, that was 1992, you know, where they pledged to denuclearize. So, you know, we’ve had these breakthroughs before. And now it’s especially difficult because then they were building a nuclear weapon. Now they have one. I mean, it may not be sufficiently advanced to mount it on an ICBM—I mean, they have a nuclear weapon. They have the ICBM. Getting them to work together is another degree of difficulty. But they have the weapon now. So, you know, we’re asking for a lot more than we did before.
RATNESAR: So President Trump will be—barring the unforeseen, which obviously we can never rule out in this administration, will be meeting Kim Jong-un sometime, we believe, in June. Now we’re hearing it could be in Singapore. This seems like the most likely location. It’s interesting that a lot of the—and, Ayman, maybe you can chime in here, too. I mean, a lot of the conversation about this summit is now focused on the possibility that President Trump and the United States may be too eager to make a deal with North Korea and that we may jump into something that maybe will not ultimately serve our long-term interests and those of our allies in the region.
What is your view of that? Are you concerned about the possibility that we might be so eager now to make a deal, that we make a bad deal?
DEMICK: Look, you know, I think we’re so far ahead of where we were a few months ago. We were on this, you know, really dangerous collision course. You know, people were talking about, you know, 50-60 percent chance of war, 10-20 percent chance of nuclear war. That was like, whoa. People I knew who were starting to leave South Korea. We’re in a much better place.
You know, Trump has John Bolton, who’s, you know, the hardliner who actually killed the Agreed Framework back when. I mean, he has a lot of North Korea skeptics with him. I don’t think we’re going to make a bad deal. You know, if they come out from this summit saying—you know, just pledging we’re going to work to do better and, you know, towards denuclearization, I think that could bring us, you know, ahead of where we are. I just think it could take a very long time. I think it’s hard to do a deal within this administration.
I know there’s some fear that the U.S. would accept a deal where they freeze the development of ICBMS, maybe even dismantle them, which is just like sayonara Japan, you know?
RATNESAR: So in other words—so explain what that would mean.
DEMICK: Well, that would mean essentially selling out some of our allies, because if we push for a deal that, you know, just removes the ICBMs, you still have—
RATNESAR: These are the missiles that could potentially reach the United States, right.
DEMICK: The United States, then you still have the short-term and midrange missiles that can hit South Korea and Japan. And Japan is really the most vulnerable because there’s, you know, years of enmity between Korea and Japan. South Korea’s a little bit less vulnerable. But what some people are afraid of is a deal that removes the—or reduces the threat to the United States but not to our allies.
DEMICK: And so that is one of the fears.
RATNESAR: So last question on this before we move on to other places. You know, President Trump, as you may have read in The New Yorker and other places, he’s someone who does not like to consume a great deal of information. He likes to have his intelligence briefings delivered in visual format. He likes to get—you know, be told what he needs to say and, you know, limit those instructions to what would fit on essentially a notecard. If you were advising President Trump before he goes into this summit, based on your knowledge of North Korea, what’s the one thing that he needs to be aware or, or the one thing—when I was in government, we’d say the “watch out for” that—
DEMICK: The do not congratulate?
RATNESAR: Exactly. You know, the equivalent of the “do not congratulate.”
DEMICK: Yeah, yeah. (Laughs.) They know what that’s about—
RATNESAR: Right. So this is—if you remember, not so long ago President Trump was planning to call President Putin after the Russian election, and his advisers wrote on a notecard, you know, before his call in capital letters “do not congratulate.” They did not want him to offer congratulations to President Putin because we had good reason to believe that the election was less than free and fair in Russia, and President Trump ignored that advice and congratulated Putin. But what would you—what would you say if you had, you know, to give him some pithy advice? What would it be?
DEMICK: I think he can—he has to avoid saying words that imply U.S. recognition of the North Korean regime and system of government. You know, I think he can praise Kim Jong-un’s, you know, bold gesture and courage for coming to meet with him, but this is—apart from the nuclear weapons, I mean, this is a regime with a terrible human rights record. And he doesn’t want Kim Jong-un to go home able to spin this encounter into we are recognized and approved of by the United States. And the North Koreans will take, you know, very little and spin it into the equivalent of diplomatic recognition, and I think he has to be very careful of that.
RATNESAR: So, Ayman, I think that can lead us into a discussion of the region that you’re most familiar with. And obviously we have—while we’re moving slowly but moving, it seems, in the direction of a possible agreement of some kind with North Korea, the Trump administration looks increasingly likely or willing to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran. So maybe you could just give us an overview of what the principal objections are expressed by the Trump administration to the Iran nuclear deal, and what the potential consequences would be in the region if the United States were to pull out of it.
MOHYELDIN: Yeah, I mean, I think there are two—for those that are not familiar with the JCPOA as it’s technically referred, there are a lot of technical aspects and limitations and restrictions that were put on the Iran nuclear program. And it seems that the two biggest grievances that have emerged from there from the United States right now under this Trump administration have to do with what they call the Sunset Clause, which has the 10-year limitation on which this deal is in place after which Iran would be able to resume some of its activity, with the hopes, under the Obama administration, that by then a more permanent solution would have been put in place, and that’s certainly something the Trump administration does not feel comfortable about, and that’s why they want to renegotiate it—or I don’t even want to say renegotiate it. They just want to tear it up and try to get a better deal, as they say.
The other aspect of it has to do with the—specifically within the deal has to do with the issue of Iran’s enrichment capabilities and to which capacity it can enrich and what it cannot, in terms of centrifuges and what have you. But what the Trump administration also feels left out of this deal is that it’s too narrowly defined just about the Iran nuclear program, that it did not include Iran’s ballistic capabilities—which is something that we were talking about relevant to North Korea—and Iran’s other activities in the region. And that was something that a lot of people were watching the deal get worked out over the course of the years with the diplomacy were always aware of, and it was certainly something that the Obama administration as well articulated, that we are narrowly defining this to reach an agreement just on the nuclear program. It does not, you know, address all the other issues that Iran is doing in the region, and that is one of the criticisms that the Trump administration has had against the Iran nuclear deal.
So it seems all indications are, as you mentioned, that the deal is probably going to get ripped up, and in doing so the United States and Iran are going to be, it seems, on a collision course of sorts. It does not necessarily mean it’s going to boil out into a full-on confrontation. But as we’ve seen in the Middle East, all of the conflicts in the Middle East have essentially become proxy wars. So I could see that it would ratchet up the tension across the board.
You know, the French president was recently in town. And I think that one of the more interesting points that we’ve learned is that within the Trump administration there is a real division of sorts about whether the Iran nuclear deal is working, given what its specific stated purpose was. And you had Jim Mattis yesterday say that, you know, he’s read the nuclear deal three times. He’s been somewhat surprised by how intrusive and robust the verification mechanism is of the Iran nuclear deal. But, again, you have—as you were talking about, the Arab—or North Korea’s and South Korea and Japanese allies, Gulf countries, who are among the U.S.’s closest allies, obviously felt the deal was not sufficient, and so they are doing more and putting more pressure on the United States to try to toughen up this deal, while our European allies are saying, no, the deal is actually working and we should keep it in place and see how we can build on it with good relations, as opposed to trying to tear it up. So we’re at a real crossroads, and it’s all going to come to a head on May 12th, when the president has to make a decision as to whether or not to certify—not certify, I think the exact term is to—whether to renew the sanctions or let the sanctions snap back into place, or what have you.
Is there any—I mean, the kind of calculation that and maybe the example that the Trump administration and President Trump is using here is that by basically applying maximum pressure on North Korea, he succeeded in getting Kim Jong-un to make some concessions and—or at least show a willingness to make concessions and come back to the negotiating table. Is there any—reasonably that that would work, the same strategy can work with Iran?
MOHYELDIN: You know, that’s a tough question for me to answer because there are so many variables and Iran is a very different country than North Korea. It’s not an isolated country. It’s not, you know, singularly dependent on any country as a lifeline. Iran has engaged in a lot of what some would say nefarious activities in the region, so it could really upend the balance of power in the region, and it can create a lot of havoc for the United States, as we’ve seen in Iraq, Syria, and other places. So there’s a different balance of power that I’m not sure this kind of rhetoric that the United States is taking against Iran would necessarily produce a lot of different results.
I think I would tend to try to divide the optics of foreign policy and the substance of foreign policy. And the optics of foreign policy right now, in the case of Iran and the Middle East in general, is very heated. There’s a lot of rhetoric coming out from both sides and threats, and that’s something we kind of expected. It was toned down. In the—certainly in the last couple years of the Obama administration there was an attempt to, with the exchange of letters, just the tone was different, and I think that’s why we saw that deal emerge.
But in terms of the substance, I think that’s much harder, and I think that North Korea’s probably watching what is happening with the Iran deal and say, why would we embark on an Iran deal—sorry, on a nuclear deal with the United States if the incoming president, let’s say after President Trump has four or however many other years, decides to say this is not a good deal, we don’t like it, we’re not beholden to it, you know? The Iran nuclear deal is not a bilateral deal between Iran and the United States. It involves European allies and others. And so as a result, North Korea’s probably watching this and say, what guarantees do we now have that America is committed to its word.
RATNESAR: Right. I mean, that’s an argument that some members of the Trump administration, I heard just the other day, have said that the Iran nuclear deal was a political agreement by the previous administration.
RATNESAR: That is has no binding power, that the United States did not agree to this; the Obama administration agreed to it. But that—if you take that to its extreme, it’s very hard to see how any negotiation or any agreement we make in the international arena can ever have any sort of binding—
MOHYELDIN: Yeah, unless it’s like an official treaty that is ratified by Congress, then I think the case would be made that a lot of our international agreements that we are—made, that are made from one administration to the other, but carried over and respected would suddenly go out the window and every administration—and I think it goes back to you point, which is sometimes America’s internal political discussion and schedule doesn’t align up with our interests in terms of what is happening internationally with conflicts in the Middle East or tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
RATNESAR: So let’s just move on quickly to a couple hot conflicts. Syria obviously is the most conspicuous one, and really in a lot of ways the biggest example, I’d say, of failure by the international community over the last decade. Where do you see this conflict going? It’s gone from a civil war to basically a regional war with Turkey, Iran, Russia, the United States, Israel all, in some form or another, are now involved. How much should we be concerned about this escalating into something truly regional or even global?
MOHYELDIN: Well, I’ll answer that, but I also want to go back to say that before it was a civil war, it was actually a civil protest against a regime.
MOHYELDIN: And let’s not lose sight of that, because the evolution of the conflict is very important. What started out as peaceful demonstrations as part of the Arab Spring then obviously got manipulated into a much broader conflict. I think what the Syrian conflict has done is really—first of all, has exposed the fault lines of the region, but then it has hardened them. And now we are at the brink of these very divisive fault lines, which one mistake could trigger a broader conflict with some of the regional changes with what is happening inside Saudi Arabia, with the politics inside Israel, with the—you know, the delicacy of the government inside Lebanon that is about to go towards elections. And with obviously the dynamics internally within Iran—keep in mind, there are hardliners in Iran who also want to rip up the Iran nuclear deal, and they want to have a stronger hand in the region. And so a miscalculation I believe could lead to—I don’t know if we’re at the—I don’t know if countries in the region want to engage in a full-blown direct conflict, but I definitely see that we can see increased violence through this proxy system. When you look at which countries in the region are vulnerable to this proxy war, you have obviously Syria, Lebanon, you have Yemen, certainly Iraq. So all of those, in addition to now the rift that has taken place among the Gulf Arab countries—the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar—and definitely not’s let forget some of the other failed states in the region like Libya and Somalia, and even if you go further out west. So I think we’re at a very dangerous point given all of the dynamics that are happening.
I don’t see the Syria conflict being resolved any time soon precisely because it’s no longer a Syrian conflict. It’s become so externalized. And the decisions about the Syrian conflict are being made in Moscow, to some extent Ankara, Tehran and Washington, D.C. And you don’t even have all those sides sitting around a table negotiating, so you’re ultimately not going to be able to translate any kind of agreement onto the ground.
RATNESAR: Maybe we can—I can ask both of you since you both have experience covering what in some ways is the kind of foundational conflict in international—in the Middle East, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has largely moved off of the front page because of—or the homepage, I should say—because of the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, because of what’s happening in North Korea.
But what prospects do you see for progress, if any? The Trump administration has vowed to solve this problem, as every previous administration has. Is there any reason to believe, partly because of the changes in Saudi Arabia and the activity of the crown prince—is there any reason to believe that this might be a moment when you could see some progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
MOHYELDIN: Do you want to take that one first?
DEMICK: I’m really pessimistic about it. So, I mean, you know, if you have something brighter to say—you know, I don’t see things getting better there, and I think it could explode at any time. I mean, I think the Palestinians have ended up, you know, victims of the same proxy war. I think, you know, certain elements in Saudi Arabia may be willing to sell them out, and I think the Trump administration by, you know, removing the pressure on the Israeli government to, you know, rein in the growth of settlements, it has done a great disservice to peace in the Middle East. I mean, I think, you know, at one point, you know, when I was there—it was right before going to Korea, around 2000—I mean, I think one could see the outlines of how a deal could be made, you know, with Israeli compromises on settlements. At the time I was there, it was right before Hafez al-Assad died in 2000. They were talking about, you know, a deal on the Golan Heights and—
MOHYELDIN: Wow, that was a long time ago.
DEMICK: It was long—OK, I’m old. (Laughter.)
MOHYELDIN: No, no, I mean—
DEMICK: But, you know, it’s—but—
MOHYELDIN: I just meant like in terms of the politics of what they were discussing back then and where we’re—
DEMICK: Where we are now. So I just see, you know, everything really, you know, going backwards.
It is—I was on the Golan Heights in April. I went to actually bring my son because he had spent the first year of his life in Jerusalem. And, you know, at the time, before the Second Intifada started—that was in 2001—you know, people really believed the Golan Heights was going to go back to Syria and there was going to be a deal, and I was—I was there with some Israeli friends and they were—they had been very left-wing before, in an Israeli, you know, context. They were, you know, members of Peace Now and had a lot of Palestinian friends and, you know, were really into making a deal.
And, you know, I stood up on the Golan Heights with them and said—you know, and you could see where we were. You could see almost all the way to Haifa. And they said could you imagine if we gave this land back to the Syrians? You know, where would we be now? You know, would you want this to be Syria? And, you know, I could understand what they were saying, but I just—I see everything going backwards.
I hope you feel otherwise. You know more about it because I don’t follow the Middle East that closely.
MOHYELDIN: I was going to say, how much time do I have to answer that question? (Laughter.)
So this is one of the more interesting points, because I think you raised on a really—you raised a really important subject, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not on the homepage or it’s not in the headlines, but look what’s happening in Gaza the last couple of weeks and how quickly the situation can escalate there. I think it’s very naïve to think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not at the heart of some of the problems of the Arab world. And just look at how many references to countries we’ve made just in the exchange that we’ve had: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its implications for Syria in the Golan Heights, the changes in Saudi Arabia, Gaza in Egypt, stability of Jordan. So it is at the very core a regional conflict that sits in concentric circles of so many broader issues.
I’ve been covering that conflict for—you know, since the Second Intifada in 2001. And to be honest with you, I see that there is a paradigm shift in terms of how that conflict has evolved. You know, in some ways, Saudi Arabia and Israel are closer. Overflights from India into Israel have happened. It seems like there’s some intelligence sharing cooperation against Iran. There’s the concern of extremism with so many of these, you know, pan regional groups like ISIS and what have you.
But interestingly enough, the internal conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians have devolved, and a result we are at a paradigm shift, a true paradigm shift in terms of how this conflict is going to be solved. There’s obviously a lot of argument to be made that the United States is no longer, and perhaps never was, a genuine broker because of its close relationship with the Israelis. You certainly had leverage on both sides, but did note exercise that leverage equally on both sides—as you mentioned, unable to rein in the settlements, unable to kind of force the Israeli hand a little bit to make some concessions; at the same time, you know, with the Palestinians and not moving forward.
I think the Palestinian conflict has not addressed or the attempts to solve it have not addressed the fundamental issues of what this conflict really boils down to, and that still remains questions of legitimacy, questions of rights, less so much the kind of what they call the four core principles of Jerusalem, and borders, and water, and the right of refugees. I think there is still a fundamental question about what does the state of Israel want; how does it see itself; what do the Palestinians want? And I think in the absence of any movement on that peace process, as we call it, from Oslo, which I think is, you know, somewhat defunct if not completely outright dead, there are now serious questions as to whether or not the two-state solution is relevant anymore, and whether negotiations are the way. And I say negotiations as in how we understand them to be those American-sponsored type of Oslo-style talks. You know, there’s a rise
now given to BDS, international pressure. There’s, you know, talk of one state or one confederation, two homelands. That’s a movement that’s getting traction. So the talk of, like, what we’re—because the reality on the ground is not changing, you know? We still are in a very divided situation and that’s—you know, I don’t want to—again, I could talk about this all day, but I feel like that’s a general overview of where we are. So, in short, I am pessimistic that we’re going to be reaching a solution any time soon.
RATNESAR: OK. (Laughs.)
MOHYELDIN: But I do also—on the optimistic side, I do see a grassroots movement that is changing.
MOHYELDIN: And I think will in the long term have more of a positive consequence than what we’ve seen over the past 25 years.
RATNESAR: That’s good to hear.
I wanted to just—before we turn it open to you, switch gears a little bit and just ask both of you to talk a little bit about your own careers and the experience of being a foreign correspondent. And I’d love for you guys to share with the people here who may be thinking about themselves, perhaps a career in international journalism, or simply interested in working overseas as their careers progress, what advice do you have if someone listening to use is perhaps interested in pursuing a line of work similar to yours.
DEMICK: Oh, gosh, other than don’t do it? (Laughter.) Go to law school. Listen to your mom.
MOHYELDIN: So true, so true.
DEMICK: I mean, there’s—you know, there’s more journalism school graduates every year than there are employed journalists. But, you know, I’ll say it’s—I mean, it’s great fun. It’s really—there’s nothing more fun than being a foreign correspondent. And so, you know, I can’t tell you to give up on it. If you want to go for it, I mean, learn a foreign language. And tough as it is, I’d say, you know, go out and freelance. I mean, I became a foreign correspondent through a very traditional route. I—you know, I started working as a local reporter out of college. I covered school board meetings and all that. Then I became a business reporter. I had no interest in business but I—and the only thing I knew about business was that it was good to have a paycheck, and there were jobs in financial reporting, so I thought, OK, this is—I’ll do it.
MOHYELDIN: Do it.
DEMICK: Yeah. And I was—I mean, it’s kind of—I really was not a very brave or adventurous person, but I was covering, you know, finance and real estate and banking. And in 1992, I was at the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. They asked me to go cover Eastern Europe because it was going to be the—you know, an economic story about the reintegration of Europe after the Berlin Wall fell. And so, you know, I went as an economics reporter, but there was, you know, this nasty little war in a country that you may have heard of, that was then called Yugoslavia and, you know, I ended up never writing a business story, you know, not a single business story, and, you know, basically being a war reporter, putting on my flak jacket and, you know, I’ve been doing it pretty much since then.
I saw—though I’ve seen in recent years—and back then a lot of young reporters come in as freelancers, just, you know, move to a country, you know, move to Cairo, or Beijing, you know, my generation, started Sarajevo, you know, some trouble spot and start writing. And, you know, a lot of journalism is personality. You know, people who like to ask questions and are able to explain complicated things easily. And, you know, a fair amount of courage—although, I’m telling you, I was really not a brave person. I don’t know how—when I think about the things I did, I don’t know how I got—so, you know, I think there are opportunities but, you know, you need—you know, if you’re, you know, getting a job at the AP or The Washington Post and sort of waiting to be sent, it can be an awfully long wait, you know? I think if you’re really going to do it, just go out and do it. And, you know, I hope, you know, your parents have some money or there’s a trust fund there. (Laughter.)
MOHYELDIN: You know, I’m split on this. A part of me wants to say, you guys, don’t do it, but that’s not what I’m going to say. Actually, I think it’s beautiful to see such a room of diversity, in terms of, you know, the looks and, I hope, you know, the thoughts of the people in this room, because we need diversity in our newsrooms. I think that having diversity in our newsrooms that accurately reflects America is going to help us as news organizations better cover the United States, better cover the world. I think one of the most powerful things about America is that it draws so many people from around the world.
And having grown up—you know, being born in the Middle East, growing up in the United States, spending half of my life there, half of my life here, ever since I was, like, a little kid, I guess I would say I was a little bit of a reporter. I would go back to the Middle East and, like, explain to my family things that are happening in the United States, which, you know, I still can’t explain to them the Electoral College—(laughter)—and why we don’t have, like, a single-vote system for the president, but—and then when you come to the United States explaining to people in the United States the complexities of the Middle East with its rich history.
So we’re only going to be able to understand the world better when we have a more diverse foreign policy establishment, a national security establishment and certainly media. So I actually do encourage you guys to go out there and do that. The road is hard; it’s not an easy road, I think. But it’s such a competitive field because so many people are drawn to journalism, especially now, and I think that the way journalism has changed, the way media has changed with social media, with online platforms, with, you know, the digital cable—there are so many platforms out there to go out there and tell the stories of the world. I think you just have to be determined in doing it and finding the right stories, the right places that you like to cover. Not everybody has to be a conflict reporter or a war reporter, and I certainly encourage you to think about it carefully before you do, but if you find a hunger to kind of explain the world and try to expose injustices and talk about that, I think those are important principles, you know, to have in the back of your mind as you set out on that because it’s not an easy road. And I think if you’re committed to those principles, you will probably last longer in the game than somebody who’s just going out there for the thrills of travel and adventure and that.
RATNESAR: Great. Well let’s open it up to your questions. Just wait for the microphone and really this is an opportunity for you to ask just about anything. You know, the nice thing about having a title like “Global Hotspots” is that—
RATNESAR: —there’s sort of an infinite number of topics we can discuss. So feel free to ask anything that’s on your mind. Just raise your hand and wait for the microphone.
Yes? And state your name.
Q: Hi. I’m James.
And I have a question for Barbara—I didn’t realize you had spent so much time in Seoul—regarding the upcoming summit between Kim and President Trump. Mike Pompeo, who has now been, I think, yesterday or this morning—is now the secretary of state—he went over there at Easter and didn’t come back with anything, which is kind of odd given, like, past trips by people of that level. So do you think the speculation that he’s sort of—there’s sort of like a setup so that the summit won’t be an entire failure, like there’s prisoners maybe that are on deck to come home—
DEMICK: Exactly. Yeah.
Q: —and that’s sort of like in the event that there’s no deal and that Trump says the wrong thing, doesn’t read the index card, et cetera, do you think they’re sort of hoping that that will like save some face and that that was like a setup thing?
DEMICK: Yup. Yeah. Yes. Yes. I mean, there are three U.S. citizens who are being held in North Korea now, and I think, yes, normally, under normal situations somebody of Pompeo’s status would go to North Korea and come back with a prisoner or two or all three. I think they’re waiting—reserving that honor for the president. You know, I mean, so much of diplomacy is about face-saving, so, you know, I would be shocked if President Trump comes back from a summit with Kim Jong-un without an agreement or the actual release of these three U.S. citizens, who are actually Korean-Americans, which unfortunately gives them a little bit lower profile of people like Otto Warmbier, some of the others, but—and then, I think it’s very possible—and this is not a bad thing—that, you know, they come up with some really bland communique out of the summit like, you know, like peace is good and war is bad and nuclear war is especially bad, I mean—I’m joking, but, you know, sort of a general pledge to, you know, work towards warmer relations and I mean, you know, it’s better than nothing.
RATNESAR: Yeah, in the back.
Q: Hi. My name is Fedah (sp).
I have a question for Ayman. How do you explain the relative success and failure of democratization in Tunisia and Egypt?
MOHYELDIN: Wow. I think they are like—they are two very interesting examples because in Egypt, I think, after the 2011 revolution, one—I was speaking to a western diplomat in Cairo who said to me that Egypt was too big to fail so everybody had a stake in what Egypt does and everyone had an opinion about what happens in Egypt. And so everybody was trying to kind of shape the outcome—either putting pressure on the military or putting pressure on the private sector, trying to preserve some elements of the former regime; everyone had a favorite kind of, you know, horse in the race as to who they wanted to see emerge as the president of Egypt.
Whereas Tunisia, on the other hand, was almost too small and insignificant on the global stage that it was allowed to shape its own democratic process after the Arab Spring on its own with not a lot of outside influence. And so in doing so, if you watch what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, they were very similar early on, very similar developments, but they kind of went off in very different trajectories. You had—in Tunisia, they elected an Islamist Party—the Ennahdha—which is very similar to the Muslin Brotherhood—but because they stayed committed to the process of elections, the Ennahdha Party was ultimately voted out of government. The willingness of the Islamist Party there was willing to be more technocrat and compromise and because they don’t have necessarily a very strong national security force or like military that was a deep state trying to shape every step of the process.
In Egypt it was very different. You have a very powerful, a very strong military that sees itself as the guardian of the state. It certainly has its own economic interests, wants to protect those, and so it was very much keen on preserving the outcome. So although they did experiment with democracy and elected the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt also behaved very differently than the way the Islamist Party did in Tunisia. And so there was just a kind of cascading set of mistakes in Egypt that produced one result. The international community’s reaction to Egypt was also very different than what we saw happen and unfold in Tunisia, and I think the stakes are a little bit different as well between the two countries. Although, Tunisia now, given what’s happened in Libya, has become a—and certainly with ISIS and the fact that so many Tunisian foreign fighters went to ISIS—I think is now on the radar of a lot of international, you know—it’s on the radar of so many of the countries in the world that they want to try to address some of the critical issues of Tunisia economically and politically make sure it succeeds.
Q: Hi. I’m Maria Alzera (ph). Thank you so much for speaking with us today.
So my question is about as foreign correspondents are you feeling an impact from the vacancies in the State Department and particularly in some of the hot spots that are less frequently on the homepage, like Latin America and Africa, other Asian nations? Are you seeing that relations there are just sort of going by the wayside because there’s not as much of a dedicated effort to having personnel there?
DEMICK: Yeah, I think that is a big loss. I mean, I’m not based in Seoul now, but you know, we haven’t had an ambassador for—in South Korea for a long time, and it’s just really unprecedented when you have this much going on. You’ve had, you know, just recently, you know, the vice president was there for the Olympics; Ivanka Trump was there for the Olympics. You have this summit being organized, and not having an ambassador is a huge loss. And you know, certainly, you know, if—when I was—well, when I was in Seoul the—you know, we would go to the embassy, you know, every couple months. It depended on—ambassadors come and go and some are more press-friendly than others; in Beijing, you know, that was the case. And you know, you’d have somebody who would explain what U.S. interests are, who’s coming up, what the logistics are and it’s just a blank. And you know, in terms of this upcoming meeting with President Trump and Kim Jong-un, you know, most of the Korea staff from the State Department just—well they had a very good guy, Joe Huynh, who just left—but a lot of the experts have—you know, have left because it’s not an administration that respects expertise, and a lot of the people—I mean, I know several former U.S. diplomats, some of them are really actually quite enthusiastic about Trump’s initiative on North Korea, but they’re afraid to work for this administration so that is—it’s a problem.
MOHYELDIN: And to echo that point, we don’t have an ambassador, I believe, in Cairo; we don’t have an ambassador in Saudi Arabia. I think in Qatar either we don’t have an ambassador as well, so I think that’s also very significant.
But to your question, I think that, at least from a broadcast media perspective, we tend to cover events not necessarily issues, and we cover events as they kind of, you know, rise to the level of international coverage and then as they wane, we kind of pull back. So when North Korea becomes a big story, we’ll cover it. When Syria becomes a big story or when it becomes like a critical story, we’ll cover it. And a lot of that is driven by U.S. diplomacy, U.S. interaction in the region and that’s for good or for bad. I always kind of remind people that sometimes, you know, American broadcast channels, they’re not global broadcast channels. They report about America and the world to an American audience, so a lot of it is sometimes through the lens, again, for good or bad, of what America’s doing and its involvement in a region.
So when American diplomats are absent from places like Africa or they’re not engaged or there’s not high profile, you know, diplomacy taking place in Latin America or in Africa, that tends to not get covered, and so issues don’t get covered. Suddenly, we woke up one day last fall and there was a huge interest in what’s happening in Niger because four American soldiers were killed, and suddenly, we’re looking for every expert who can speak about Niger and try to help us understand what’s going on there. And that’s unfortunate, you know, but that’s the reality sometimes. So yes, in the absence of a strong State Department and strong American engagement and diplomacy, sometimes the coverage reflects that, and we also then have a sudden shortage of understanding what is happening in certain parts of the world, like Africa and South America, as well.
RATNESAR: Yeah, I mean, I would just say that, you know, it’s important to remember that American diplomacy doesn’t just shut down. I mean, the—it’s not the lights are off in the embassies all over the world. I mean, you still have career diplomats who are going to work every day, who are still doing a lot of the day-to-day engagement with the publics in those countries, but when you don’t have ambassadors, when you don’t have the assistant secretaries of State, who are appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, it’s very hard for those diplomats to know and be able to speak with confidence about the policies that they are trying to carry out. And so—and as a result, it’s—what you’re left with is governments in these countries that in lots of ways don’t feel that they can count on the United States; they can’t turn to the United States because they can’t necessarily get an answer as to what our policy is on a given issue. And as a result, they look elsewhere, and I think that’s what we are seeing as one of the consequences of this lack of personnel in key positions, is that other countries are stepping into that void in a lot of places.
Q: Thank you. My name is Kayeesha (sp). Thank you all for being here.
Speaking to your point about, you know, when something kind of erupts and is a hot topic it gets a lot of coverage by the media, but then it kind of wanes down and then you kind of focus on the next thing. So one of the big things that came up was the whole slavery issue in Libya. So I guess my question to you all is, what is your take in terms of the international community’s approach to address it, and do you see that there is—I mean, it was a big thing in the media for a while and then I don’t hear a lot about it now. So I’m like curious, in terms of your perspective, do you see the international community engaging to really address that situation? Do you think more could be done? Curious.
MOHYELDIN: I agree with you that it’s hard to kind of track where the situation is right now. Certainly, if you’re not following it on a day-to-day basis—
RATNESAR: And so for the benefit of everyone, could you explain kind of what—
RATNESAR: —we’re talking about?
MOHYELDIN: So I’m not sure if I—correct me if I’m wrong, but it was maybe like almost over the summer, almost a year ago, a video and reports started emerging of—and as you guys know, Libya is a gateway that is being used by a lot of migrants into Europe—but suddenly, a video emerged of these African migrants essentially being traded and sold as slaves inside Libya. And so there was like this massive confusion as to, wait, how is this happening? What is the story behind it? Who’s organizing these slave trades? And they call it, like, a modern slave trade because I think a lot of them were migrants who get ultimately captured in Libya and then being sold and then—you know, being sold to Europe, I guess, ultimately, or—
Q: Or (even there ?).
MOHYELDIN: Or internally that’s I was going to say into like—into servitude. So it was a very disturbing story, and it caught everyone by surprise. And I think a lot of people began to try to investigate it, and it definitely drew some attention. I know CNN went in and did a report about it as well. It was hard for a lot of other people to verify and get into Libya and certainly into the areas where these were. So I think that’s the overview. And I think we saw at the time a lot of—particularly European countries promised to investigate, promised to look into it, but I don’t know if anything tangible came out of it, right?
MOHYELDIN: And I mean, I would say—unfortunately, I would say that’s probably a question for politicians and leaders in Europe or leaders around the world to see if they’ve done anything. I agree with you that the media probably failed in not keeping a spotlight on it, but I think the media fails in a lot of things that they don’t keep a spotlight on. So I’m not—I wouldn’t signal that one issue out, but you’re right, I think the media has failed to keep a spotlight on one of the more disturbing stories of the last year.
RATNESAR: Yes, in the back?
Q: Hi. I’m Madison, and I just want to thank you for coming here today.
And my question is about where you see the future of foreign correspondents going, given that there are many different platforms for reporting news now—between social media, online-only publication and YouTube and a growing mistrust of like mainstream and traditional news? Where do you see the future of correspondents going, in terms of who can be part of it, how that news is reported, and what format it’s digested in, and such?
DEMICK: I mean, you know, it—in some ways, the—you know, the downfall of the so-called legacy media, which is like me, you—
DEMICK: —networks, you know, mainstream newspapers has made for new opportunities because there’s so many new players out there—mostly the online media. And that’s—you know, that’s good for people in their 20s who are looking to get into the industry; you know, I mean, you got rid of some of the old dinosaurs. You know, the problem is foreign reporting is pretty expensive. You know, you’ve got to get places. If you don’t speak the language, you need a translator. In some places you work, you need security. So you know, without players willing to make an investment in it, it’s just hard to, you know—it’s like—it’s not like you can start some new website and go reporting in Syria or Beijing or, you know, looking for safer places, too, you know, even Latin America. I do see a lot more foundation nonprofit money going into reporting. There’s a lot of new ventures that are giving grants to young journalists, to start-ups for reporting, not just overseas but also in the U.S. I mean, there’s a group called Report for America; you know, kind of a take-off of Teach for America, but trying to get more coverage in small town America. So, I mean, in that way the business is changing a lot.
MOHYELDIN: Yeah, I think the business model is changing. I think there is no shortage of a desire to understand the world. So there is always going to be a demand for people to go out into the world and understand it. I think what is changing is—and it’s interesting that we still use the word “foreign correspondent” because in some ways some people consider that to be derogatory, that it’s like foreign to the United States, so we—as opposed to international news coverage or being an international correspondent. But I do think that what we’re seeing change is you can be here in this room right now and still have access to what is happening in Gaza, you know, through Palestinian reporters on the ground, through Israeli reporters on the ground, and you have more of a responsibility now than what you did 20-30 years ago because you have to now almost distill all of the information that’s out there and try to figure out what is reliable and what is dependable and what is accurate. And that’s harder because there are so many more things being bombarded at you, and so I see a lot of people always say to me, “I just can’t deal with the news. It’s too much. It’s too much, and I just turn it off,” and they want to watch something else, and that’s very valid. But I also feel—it’s very valid and fair to criticize a lot of media organizations in the world—you know, obviously, budget cuts, shrinking overseas representation in coverage. But at the same time, we live in a world where information is becoming more and more ubiquitous, and you can certainly find access to—you know, whether it’s NGOs—like as you said, there are so many groups on the ground in Syria who are reporting and documenting what is happening. And even international human rights organizations now have their own kind of reporting teams to kind of go out and show you what their fact-finding missions are reporting on the ground.
So you can actually find all that stuff. You can probably find more stuff about Libya. You may not find it on my network or others, but you’ll certainly find information out there online. So I think we need to also for the younger generation like yourselves is to think differently about how you can become a reporter. One of my closest friends, actually, I know was actually a reporter with me many years in the Middle East and now works for Amnesty International, and is a reporter in her own right because she’s out there investigating and reporting back what she sees in terms of human rights abuses and the situation on the ground. So I think it’s changing, and I encourage you to find out what ways you think you can contribute to that.
RATNESAR: Right there, yeah, in the green jacket.
Q: So when we talk about what, I guess, dominates the homepage or the frontpage now in terms of global hotspots—you know, the North Korean—you know, the Korean Peninsula, you know, finally reconciling or supposedly for a conflict that happened, you know, over 60 years ago, and you know, the conflict with Russia, the conflict in the Middle East—we’re talking about the same sort of intractable hotspots that we’ve been talking about for decades now. In this day of how you said the digital media age, where information is freely information, people’s opinions on various topics change all the time, how do you reconcile the fact that we still are facing some of the same issues, focusing from a media perspective on some of the same topics that we’ve been talking about for decades now? And do we see that tide ever changing, where we’re focusing on new regions, on new areas, on new—you know, basically on new things to talk about? Like does that ever change or are we going to be still 50 years from now still talking about conflict with Russia and all that stuff? (Laughter.)
MOHYELDIN: That’s actually an excellent question. And I will answer it in the area of my expertise, which is the Middle East, which I think is—the media’s coverage of the Middle East has not advanced our understanding of the Middle East, and in some cases, the media’s coverage of critical moments of American policy in the Middle East, like the Iraq War, contributed to disastrous policies. So I think the media is very deserving of criticism when it comes to issues of covering the Middle East and certainly issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which fails to provide any context to American viewers in terms of what the reality is on the ground. I think most people who would tell you if they watched a broader coverage of American media across all platforms, they would probably think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a conflict between two equal sides. And so as a result, they think that like, oh, well, then we should negotiate between two equal sides and that’s not the case. So I think very few people have an understanding that—of that and that, in large part, is because the broader American media has failed to do a good job of explaining it and so we see the conflict perpetuate. But let’s not be naïve, that the policy itself as not changed. And so again, the media is primarily there to report on what’s happening on the ground, and if the policy is not changing and there’s no progress on the ground, you’re going to see the media constantly reflect that back home.
So it’s a two-fold thing. One is, it definitely does not provide enough context to the realities on the ground and doesn’t advance new ideas and try to highlight, maybe, new ideas that are being put out in terms of how to solve certain conflicts; but then the policies of the United States in so many ways are repeating themselves, whether it’s once again supporting autocratic rulers and strong-men regimes in the Middle East—like what we saw a couple years ago—to having this very stagnant approach in terms of how we want to see the Middle East and not try to expand that. I don’t know if it’s the same in Korea, but—
DEMICK: I see new—I mean, I see new areas coming into focus. I mean, I was a Middle East correspondent from ’96 to 2001; I think I wrote like one story about Syria.
MOHYELDIN: (Laughs.) Yeah.
DEMICK: You know, I mean, when Hafez al-Assad died that was a big deal, but you know, nothing was happening there. Libya was certainly not in the news a lot in those years. Myanmar, you know, now the Rohingya is a big story, so there are—
MOHYELDIN: But, I mean, China would be, you know, an area where you would say there’s been a huge increase in interest, coverage, I would say—I mean, you know, whether we understand China any better than we did, you know, 30 years ago is a good question.
DEMICK: Yeah. Yeah.
MOHYELDIN: But I mean, that’s one area I think, you know, where you’ve seen significant expansion and coverage over the last—
MOHYELDIN: —decade—decade and a half.
DEMICK: Yeah. I mean, things happen. And even—you know, when I was in the Middle East my bureau was technically based in Cairo, but I was really living in Jerusalem because there was like nothing happening in Cairo. And you know, I mean, I didn’t even bother to learn much Arabic because it was like the pace of change is so glacial, nothing’s ever going to happen; it’s like the same—you know, and then pow, you know. Things are very—things can be very unpredictable; you know, the—you know, these intifadas, you just never know what’s going to happen. So I mean, I think there is change in the world.
RATNESAR: I think there is time for maybe two more, so right here in the blue, ma’am. Thank you.
Q: Hi. I’m Samantha. I’m a student in health communications and communications in general, so I’m generally interested in this field.
I was curious in terms of, like, your abilities as foreign correspondents, like how much of an impact does changing U.S. policy have on your ability to correspond in different environments? And especially like the fact that you guys are in global hotspots where, you know, there are like—I guess tensions are really high right now, like how do you—how does changing U.S. policy affect your ability to correspond in those countries?
MOHYELDIN: I think in one negative aspect, I think, especially in the Middle East, too many times as we’ve seen with the rise of journalists being captured or killed in some of these conflicts is that journalists are being perceived as representatives of their government. So, you know—and I make this point because I used to work for Al Jazeera, and I remember when I used to work for Al Jazeera in the United States, people thought, oh—you know, people would associate Al Jazeera with al Qaeda. And then when you work for CNN—I worked for CNN in Iraq, and people thought CNN was cover for the CIA. (Laughter.)
So it’s really disheartening to see that more and more people are looking at journalists as an extension of their government, and so it justifies all kinds of, you know, activities of kidnapping them and killing them and using them as, you know, pawns in a broader game, and that’s very disturbing. That’s not a consequence of foreign policy, it’s just a consequence of how people are perceiving news organizations, where there used to be this kind of like sacred respect to journalists; that if you’re going to a conflict zone, I remember—you know, you watched the coverage of the Vietnam War and you see older-school reporters, they were kind of—regardless of what side they were on—you were still treated as a reporter. I don’t think we see that as much now. People say like, oh, if you are reporting for a news organization from a country, whether you’re a Russian that means you’re pro-Russian or if you’re American you’re pro-American or if you’re Iranian, you’re pro-Iranian, and I think that’s—it’s a very disturbing trend. You know, it’s a very alarming trend for the safety of journalists.
RATNESAR: Let’s go—
DEMICK: —sorry, can I just add to that—
RATNESAR: Yeah, sure.
DEMICK: —which is that, you know, I think it’s not helpful to have the president of the United States always talking about the dishonest media and the fake media. I mean, I worked the last seven years in China, and I felt as a U.S. correspondent that my government had my back and they wouldn’t mess with me too much, and I don’t really feel that way anymore.
MOHYELDIN: Very true.
RATNESAR: All right, let’s get one from the back. I think I saw a hand back there. Yes, sir.
Q: Hello. My name is David, David Zogo (ph).
This is just an open question for all the panelists. What would you say will be the future of American foreign policy, and how do you think the international world will start to respond when American diplomats say that they’re speaking on behalf of the United States? Would you say that, you know, this administration is a symbol of just how volatile American politics can be, and do you think that this means that for the future the international world won’t really be able to trust Americans when it comes to dealing with them?
MOHYELDIN: Can we just leave that for the next panel or—(laughter)—I mean, I think we only have about a minute and a half.
DEMICK: Yeah, I think you said it quite articulately.
DEMICK: You know, that’s—I think that’s true. I agree with you. (Laughter.)
MOHYELDIN: There you go.
DEMICK: We can’t improve on your assessment.
MOHYELDIN: Yeah. I think that might be a tough question to answer just—I think there’s too many hypotheticals about like the future and variables so—it’s a valid question. I think time will tell, and I hate to use that kind of like ambiguous thing, but I do think time will tell whether or not this administration has had a lasting impact in terms of how American diplomats and American foreign policy are either respected or no longer revered in a way that maybe it used to be.
RATNESAR: Yeah, I mean I guess I would say—and maybe this is something you guys can just think about maybe over the next day. I mean, the big question is what is the future of American leadership? I mean, obviously, that’s going to be impacted by the policies of this administration, but there are a whole range of factors and global forces that are creating a world in which American leadership is very much in question. And how we redefine American leadership in that world and what role the United States plays, I think, is one that, you know, your generation will be defining and so I hope that’s something you guys continue to discuss over the next day.
But I think that’s all we have, but I want to thank both Ayman and Barbara for joining us. Please join me in thanking them. (Applause.)
DEMICK: Thank you.
MOHYELDIN: Thank you.