Wildfires, SCHIP, Sanctions, War Spending

This week wildfires in southern California consume nearly half a million acres, forcing evacuations and destroying homes and businesses. The United States imposes tougher sanctions on Iran, and President Bush asks Congress for an additional $46 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week, wildfires in Southern California have consumed nearly half-a-million acres, forcing evacuations and destroying homes and businesses. The United States has imposed tougher sanctions on Iran, and President Bush asked Congress for an additional $46 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And, of course, we have to begin with these devastating fires…

SCHORR: I guess.

SIMON: …in Southern California. President Bush toured some of the affected areas. He met with relief workers and residents who were forced to evacuate. He promised more federal aid for rebuilding and recovery. At this point, would you venture any lessons that we've learned over the past few days?

SCHORR: Yeah. First, I mean, I talk about the consular in chief visiting yet one more further disaster area. But I've been interested in thinking about this all during the week because it is amazing that if Katrina was the model of how not to handle a disaster, then the California fires are a model of how disasters like this should be handled.

And you'll wonder why. Is it that the middle-class people with all the middle-class homes had better organizations for dealing with this? I don't know. What I do know is that after the end of this week, one looks at it and you see a lot of people who didn't care very much for bureaucrats and government before have certainly learned a new appreciation of bureaucrats.

SIMON: I want to ask about the war-spending bill because President Bush has asked for another $46 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president says this money will pay for basic needs for the troops in Iraq, like body armor and safer vehicles. Do you expect the Congress to give him what he wants? What about public opinion?

SCHORR: In the end, yes, so all the manuevers are trying to attach something on to it one way or another. But let's face the fact that as long as there are American troops in the field there, no politician is in the position to say, I don't want to give any money for the military. And that's it.

But however it works itself out, we know and the Democrats know that they're stuck. They've got to go along with this.

SIMON: In line with that, the House of Representatives passed a new version of the SCHIP, the children's health insurance bill.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: The president vetoed the last one, but lawmakers said they'd made some important changes to the bill which, as Senator McConnell often reminds interviewers, began as a program under a Republican president. Now, President Bush says that he'll veto this version in any case. He's concerned that extensive coverage of people who don't need it drives up the price. If Democrats along with Republican supporters of the bill and Mr. Bush are at an impasse, does this create a political problem for both parties?

SCHORR: Not in equal measure. I think the Republicans have more of a problem than the Democrats do. This is a wildly popular program of trying to take care of kids and now they want to add another 4 million kids say only because they are on the margin between poverty and not poverty, and it's generally supported everywhere so that the Republicans will have to maneuver between the White House and the Congress.

The Democrats are in a position to say, well, either you're going to veto this or we'll give you another one every two weeks. As long as the issue is alive and on the front pages, it really works for Democrats and not for Republicans.

SIMON: Did Democrats leave themselves open at some point to the charge that they're playing politics and not actually getting the bill done?

SCHORR: Anytime that someone seemed to have an advantage, the other side will always say he's playing politics.

SIMON: Turning now to Middle East, Turkey has been increasing pressure on the U.S. and the Iraqi government to stop cross-border attacks into Turkey by Kurdish PKK rebels. They have stationed about a hundred thousand troops along the border.

SCHORR: Well, that's right.

SIMON: It's often hard to tell where the border goes.

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: And that's (unintelligible). Do you think the chances of a peaceful resolution of this are diminishing?

SCHORR: I don't see the moment any peaceful resolution because the Turks would have to accept the assurances of the Iraqi government, the Maliki government. They're doing what they can to try to deal with the PKK. The Turks are poised to go in. It's probable that before they go in on the ground, there will be some air strikes of one kind or another.

But I do not see at this point that the Turks will have authorization by parliament and have the whole of the Turkish public behind them. I do not see them waiting very long in spite of all the imploring that you get from the U.S. and others. I think that they will go.

SIMON: The United States imposed tougher new sanctions this week on Iran uranium enrichment. Russia, China in disagreement. There have already been two rounds of international sanctions. Can a new round of sanctions have any effect?

SCHORR: Yeah. But you have to note the two rounds of sanctions are United Nations' sanctions, and the sanctions the United States has now imposed are unilateral sanctions, because it's going to be increasingly difficult to get another resolution from the Security Council. Putin has said he would veto one. China will probably, too, and even Germany doesn't seem to want one.

And so what really is happening is in trying to contain Iran, the United States may end up being itself contained.

SIMON: President Putin this week made a comparison between a proposed U.S. missile defense system located in Europe and the Soviets then putting Cuban missiles in Cuba in 1962, which occasion one of the great crises of the 20th century.

SCHORR: Yeah. Well, it's kind of cute. It's a rhetorical point you can make. I mean, the Russians are saying that you didn't like all the missiles in Cuba staring down your throat. Well, we don't like your missiles in Poland or the Czech Republic staring down our throat. It's argument.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure.

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