Alex Witt   |  April 28, 2013

Reimagining America's foreign policy

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of "Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East," David Rhode talks with MSNBC’s Alex Witt. He offers his unique insights on the U.S. improving its relationships with Muslims, international diplomacy in the Middle East, and militant, religious ideology.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> there are reports off syria today of heavy fighting between rebels and regime forces. in washington, debate over american intervention rages, as evidence emerges of chemical weapons in use over the two-year civil war . a new book by my next guest calls for a major change of u.s. policy for the post- arab spring middle east . joining me now is two-time pulitzer prizewinner and reuters columnist, david rohde . david , welcome, glad to have you here.

>> thank you for having me.

>>> you where i about the need for the u.s. to strengthen muslim moderates and moderates are a far better weapon against jihadists than american soldiers . how does the u.s. without making moderates like lie puppets of the u.s.?

>> i think there's a way to help with economic aid , training, other efforts like that. we've been talking about syria today. i was talking to a member of the administration this morning who's been trying to push for the u.s. to provide more non-lethal aids for more moderate group. he's talking about ambulances, generators, search-and-rescue equipment, and we've talked about doing that, but we are absolutely terrible at implementation, actually delivering this kind of aid. if they handle the non-lethal aid well, maybe you move into providing weapons. we're so cautious now, we're leaving the field wide open to the jihadists, and are now really dominant there.

>> so you think that the time for diplomacy is still present with syria , political solutions aren't in the past?

>> i think you need to strengthen the opposition on the ground. you saw this week that the regime that president assad thinks we're so afraid of the jihadists that switch sides and back him. we have to act in syria , you know, and early guest was talking about the long, complicated conflicts, a big theme of my book is that we don't have to respond to every foreign policy chalgening with american boots on the ground . senator mccain is talking about an international force going in. you can work through local proxies, local allies, start with more civilian aid. before they can provide any training or humanitarian aid to steering opposition member, they're asked 11 questions, name of their father, national i.d. number, vetted through a terrorism list. our people are terrified of mistakenly training one jihadist, because they know they'll be pounced on in washington. on our division at home is leading us to be too cautious, and we have no power abroad, because we're so divided at home.

>> well, you know what, david ? for those of us watching from home, i arab spring started out looking so hopeful. you look at egypt -- are we in the beginning of a long process, or has the arab spring sort of been a net failure?

>> i think we don't know yet. i look at it through a different lens. to me there's a historic struggle going on across the middle east right now. eye jept is the best example, between conservative muslims, and more extremists who have weapons, and more liberals, secular opposition members. that's who's fighting basically in egypt. across the region, there's a struggle for who will control the middle east politics, the culture, even the interpretation of islam, and again, i think we need to kind of step back, stop thinking military tools are our only options, and see if there are people we can work with on the ground in these places. libya is a mess, no question, but i'm asking people to not forget after the ambassador was killed, thousands marched in the streets protesting his killing. they don't -- just the last thing. i found from people in the region they're proud of being muslims, but they also want to be modern and looking sort of for a third way where they're not dictated to by american troops and not dictated by the crazy, sort of armed jihadists.

>> stateside, your latest column says the city of boston may have set a new standard in the wake of the marathon bombing. what do you mean by that?

>> i think it's tremendous. you were talking about it earlier in the show. you have up there thursday and friday. people have taken the city back, boylston affair is wide open again, the city is encouraging people to go to local businesses and restaurants. that's exactly what people should do. i talked to one volunteer from the marathon who vowed to come back next year. i even heard from one taxi driver , he's moroccan, and he's been talking to his passengers how he, as a muslim, completely absolutely opposes they bombings. it's not about his faith. so you've got average people trying to kind of overcome the division and fear that these guys tried to with these bombs.

>> and members of the mosque, leaders from the mosque where the two brothers attended and they came out and said we don't condone anything they did. david , good to talk with you. thank you so much.

>> thank you.