msnbc | January 26, 2013
>>> the obama white house is warning to get involved and the french conflict in mali is still uncertain. french troops have been on an aggressive push into the forth of mali . french officials claim their forces seized control of the airport and bridge from islamic fighters there. joining me in the studio is nbc's chief foreign correspondent richard engel . let's start in mali . how much has the white house gotten involved?
>> i don't think the u.s. will get very involved. i think the u.s. will help and will be providing a lot of support, but in the back. we'll help with some refuelling and we'll help with some airlift, satellite imagery, maybe some drones, but i think it would be almost impossible to think there will be american boots on the ground .
>> is it because there's no national interest in that country?
>> no, it's a national interest , but france is already doing it and if france wants to be out in front on that the united states is very happy to see france out if front on that. the operation, as far as i understand it is to push these islamic militant groups out of the populated areas in mali and get them into the desert and once they're in the desert they're not an urgent or imminent threat to anybody and then have some sort of african solution, an african force that can be trained probably with u.s. involvement and the african force will contain them and this isn't going to be a long problem and this isn't going to be over in a few weeks and the military push can push them out in the desert in a few weeks.
>> what is the national interest for folks who don't follow these stories as closely as you.
>> you have an al qaeda group that is active in north africa . it has killed seven americans just in the last few months in benghazi and then in the algeria hostage which turned into a massacre. that's the same group that is linked to the militants we're fighting in mali and it's a very large area. you have islamic militant groups in alliance with each other, operating in a space that's much bigger than france itself. so it's in france 's interest, it's in the united states ' interest that this isn't -- that they don't have free reign.
>> let's pivot to a country that you have become quite familiar with, syria .
>> john kerry in his confirmation hearings talked about syria and i want to play a clip and then talk to you on the other side. take a listen.
>> all right.
>> right now, president assad doesn't think he's losing, and the opposition thinks it's winning. that is not an equation that allows you to reach some accommodation for transition. the goal of the obama administration and the goal of the international community is to effect some sort of transition.
>> they called it quote, pragmatic. has he given any indication whether he would back more u.s. support of rebel fighters in that country?
>> i don't think he will, frankly. i think the rebels hope that he will, but i don't think the administration will do that. if this administration, kerry is basically at the end of the day carrying a foreign policy set by the president and if you were going do it, we would have done it already and now with the mess that has become syria where you have islamic militant groups, you have assad militias running around and we have kurdish groups running around, i think the u.s. is scared of getting involved.
>> i was struck by something that you said on inauguration day . you talked about the glaring absence of discussion in the foreign policy in the president's speech. how did you characterize this president's approach to foreign policy ?
>> i think he doesn't want to deal with it, frankly. a lot of people in this country would agree with him. i think this administration would much rather focus on guns and taxes and other social issues and not deal with the quagmire that is the middle east . the bush years were deep in iraq and afghanistan trying to get between the sunni and shia fight and i think this administration would rather not deal with it. sounds great, but i don't think that's an option because the foreign policy and the rest of the world comes knocking on your door and the way things are heading right now while we would like to ignore it or not i don't think we'll be able to.
>> nbc's chief foreign correspondent richard engel , always good to see you. the invitation is open. i know you're not stateside much, but when you are, come back.
>> i look forward to.