News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How the war between Israel and Hamas widened into a regional conflict

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The regional war in the Middle East, the war that no one wanted, is already here. And it may be difficult to contain, warns my guest, David Sanger. He's a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. He writes that Iran and its proxies are posing a new challenge to the West. Now Russia and China are on Iran's side. This week the U.N. secretary-general warned that all the countries and militias involved in escalating tension in the Middle East should step back from the brink and consider the horrendous human cost of a regional conflict. David Sanger has been reporting on how and why the war has been widening. He's the author of the forthcoming book, "New Cold Wars: China's Rise, Russia's Invasion, And The Struggle To Defend The West." We recorded our interview yesterday.

David Sanger, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

DAVID SANGER: Great to be with you, Terry.

GROSS: The war between Israel and Hamas has already widened into a regional war. Can you just connect the dots and run through who's attacking who?

SANGER: Sure. Well, this started, of course, with the attack by Hamas on Israel that cost 1,200 lives and was, I think, clearly one of the most horrific attacks on Israel and on Jews in decades. Then, of course, Israel, after a few weeks, began its very relentless bombing campaign, one that President Biden once - but only once - referred to as indiscriminate bombing against the Palestinians in Gaza. And it quickly has morphed into something larger.

It is not yet an all-out war, but certainly we have seen shelling of Israel from Hezbollah in Lebanon. We've seen the Houthis, who essentially run Yemen, attack shipping in the Red Sea. They say it is Israeli shipping, but, in fact, they are attacking all kinds of ships. We have seen another Hezbollah offshoot from Iraq that has been attacking American forces in Iraq and, of course, in Syria. And recently, we've seen Iran launch sort of one day of attacks on some of their adversaries - they called them terror groups - in response to a large bombing in Iran. And they attacked both in Pakistan and in Iraq. So we're seeing sort of outbreaks of low level but highly damaging conflict all over the region, and that's something no one really saw coming before October 7.

GROSS: And the U.S. has become directly involved. What has the U.S. been doing, and what has been done to the U.S.?

SANGER: Well, certainly, the U.S. has been helping Israel with arms and intelligence but has been engaged in - the Biden administration has been engaged in very tense conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu about his tactics in Gaza. The biggest U.S. operation has been to gather allies to go deal with the Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. This gets to a question of freedom of navigation, but it also gets to a question of major commerce for the United States and Europe. The Red Sea is the key passage point down from the Suez Canal for oil and cargo.

And as these attacks have stepped up, you have seen many shipping lines, Maersk included, one of the largest, announcing that they will avoid the Red Sea, which means taking weeks with each ship to go around the Horn of Africa and come up. It's thousands of miles, big delays. I've been spending a lot of time in Berlin at our New York Times bureau there. And all over Germany, you're seeing car companies, including Tesla, announce delays or shutdowns in their factories because they simply can't get their parts on time.

GROSS: The U.S. has also attacked extremist militias in Iraq in retaliation for attacks on the U.S. military.

SANGER: We have seen this happen repeatedly. So there have been attacks on the U.S. military that so far, thankfully, have not taken lives but have caused some significant injuries, including traumatic brain injuries that come from the concussion of missiles into American bases. And so as recently as Tuesday, we saw attacks in Iraq run by U.S. Central Command to go after the militant groups that have been firing on the U.S.

Now, one of the big mysteries here, Terry - and we can get to this later - is this has been the tactic as long as no one is killed. But if there are significant American dead at some point, I suspect the pressure on the U.S. and on President Biden to take much larger action and a much more forceful action could well be overwhelming. And I would have to say that's the largest fear I hear from people in the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department.

GROSS: So Iran - we know Iran backs Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen. What about the attacks in Baghdad? Are they connected to Iran? Is Iran, like, connecting all these attacks?

SANGER: Iran is the connective tissue, Terry, for all of these attacks. These are all Iranian proxies, which is to say that they get their arms from Iran. Some of them get intelligence and targeting information from Iran. What they don't get, as far as we can tell, is specific instructions on when to attack, who to attack. They're doing a lot of that on their own. And that, in an odd way, is the greatest danger here because American intelligence officials, British, French, German intelligence officials all tell me the same thing. They don't believe that Iran wants to get into a direct conflict with the United States or Israel. They have a pretty good idea how that would turn out. But they're perfectly happy to have their proxies cause a lot of trouble for the United States and Israel and others.

And so the question is, can they continue to fund and help these proxies and yet keep them from going too far, from triggering that larger war that would bring the United States and Iran into direct conflict or the other Western allies and Iran and Israel into direct conflict? And that's the great unknown here because the problem with running a war through proxies is you don't really have full control. You have some deniability. The Iranians can say, well, we didn't tell them to go do this.

But the fact of the matter is they are enabling these groups to be able to conduct these attacks. They're providing the missiles. They're providing the artillery. Sometimes they're providing specific intelligence about where ships are located. We believe there's an Iranian ship out in the Red Sea that may well be helping the Houthis. But the big question is, can the Iranians keep this fine balance going of harassing the United States and its allies without provoking a far larger conflict?

GROSS: In keeping with what you're saying, I think these militia groups, these extremist groups that Iran backs, are really feeling their power. Look at the Houthis in Yemen, for instance. They've, like, shut down shipping in the Red Sea. And, sure, they're being attacked for it, but they're taking it. It's not stopping them. So they're feeling their power and they might want to keep exerting it no matter what Iran says. Is that what you're suggesting?

SANGER: It is, Terry. And the Houthis are a really fascinating example. I mean, here is a movement that started as sort of a tribal group, moved on. The Houthis now control much of Yemen. The United States has tried to give the Houthis a wide berth the past couple of years because they reached a truce of sorts in the long war that had been so devastating for Yemen. The Saudis have backed off from attacks, and the U.S. did not want to provoke some kind of larger war. But what's happening with the Houthis now? They're not great at administering Yemen. You know, governing is not their thing. They need the United States and Israel to be their great competitor here, their adversary. And they, too, want to be able to shout death to America.

The Israeli attacks on Gaza have given them an excuse, and they are benefiting in many ways from the American strikes back in Yemen, because it gives them a sense of purpose here. And they believe, rightly so, that the United States is not about to go attack Yemen with a ground invasion. They're not about to oust the Houthis. The last thing Joe Biden wants is another ground war in the Middle East. He just got us out of Afghanistan, not terribly smoothly, but got us out in his first year in office. So they believe that they can take the losses of these American strikes in Yemen, secure in the thought that the U.S. is not going to come and upend or displace the Houthi forces.

GROSS: So you've said that Iran doesn't want this war to widen. They don't want to become directly involved in a war with the U.S., but they can't necessarily control the militias that they back, and those militias can lead us into a wider war. Why doesn't Iran want to get involved in a larger war?

SANGER: It's a really interesting question. So the first is, they don't have the military force to take us on. They've got effective missiles and drones. We've seen that as they have provided the drones to the Russians for Ukraine. They don't have much of an air force. They don't have much of an ability to fight beyond their borders other than individual missile strikes. And they're preoccupied by two big issues, one of them is succession at home. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in his mid-80s. He's not in the greatest of health.

I remember when the 2015 nuclear deal was signed - or agreed to; it was never actually a signed document - between the Obama administration and Iran, almost no one in the Obama administration believed that Khamenei would be alive in 2024. They thought that they were doing a holding action until they saw new Iranian leadership. Well, he's still here, but there's a lot of jockeying in Iran for who will succeed him. The second big project in Iran is, of course, the nuclear program. And here, they have also been quite careful. They could have long ago produced bomb-grade uranium and begun to race for a nuclear weapon.

They're right up near the edge. They're enriching uranium to a level of 60%, that's just shy of the 90% you need to make a bomb. They haven't taken the next step - and why is that? - because they know that the moment that they go to bomb-grade uranium, it starts a conflict with Israel that the United States will probably get into. So what they want to have is the power of being a nuclear threshold state - in other words, the threat that they could go nuclear at almost any moment - but they don't want the direct conflict because, frankly, they know they're going to lose.

GROSS: Well, let's take a break here and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is David Sanger, a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWBERN'S "WHEN WAR WAS KING")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with David Sanger about how and why the war between Israel and Hamas has widened into a regional conflict that threatens to become even more of a threat to Israel, the U.S., and its Western allies.

You wrote that Iran has built Hezbollah, the militia based in Lebanon that has been attacking Israel - that Iran built Hezbollah as protection for itself, not for the Palestinians. How does Hezbollah protect Iran?

SANGER: By keeping the Israelis worried about ways that their own country could get attacked if there was a direct war with Iran. In other words, Hezbollah has missile emplacements, artillery so close to the Israeli border that they could do huge damage to Jerusalem, maybe even Tel Aviv, but certainly northern Israel if a war broke out. So it gives the Iranians a proxy right on Israel's border. And there's a little bit of interesting post-October 7 history here because the Netanyahu government, in their rage after the Hamas horrific attack in southern Israel, wanted to do two things, invade Gaza and go after Hezbollah in the north - in other words, divide Israeli forces and go do this.

And the U.S. and others stepped in and said this is a really bad idea. First of all, it will start a regional war immediately. And secondly, it will keep you from concentrating your resources where you need to concentrate them. This is a war on Hamas. There was no evidence that Hezbollah or Iran knew in advance about the attack on Israel. That doesn't mean they didn't applaud it - they did. But they weren't involved in planning it, probably because Hamas was afraid that word of it would leak out. The Israelis and the United States have huge surveillance on Hezbollah and certainly on Iran. We've seen the Iranian system penetrated many times, in many ways.

And so we don't believe that Iran knew in advance where Hezbollah knew in advance. The U.S. talked the Israelis down from that attack. But we could well see that the war goes there next, particularly if Prime Minister Netanyahu comes to the conclusion that it's the best way politically for him to save himself, which has been the great tension here since he was sitting in office at the moment that Hamas took Israel by surprise and at the moment that the Israeli Defense Forces were so slow to respond.

GROSS: And meanwhile, there really is a little war on the border between Israel and Hezbollah that - they have been attacking each other.

SANGER: They have but at a very low level, right? Pretty contained. And the U.S. effort is to keep it that way. You know, when you talk to people in the Biden administration about this, they kind of feel like they've got their fingers in the dike here. They are seeing small outbreaks that they are trying to keep from turning into a larger conflagration.

GROSS: You quoted somebody in one of your articles as saying that Iran wants to keep Hezbollah out of the war in Gaza, and it doesn't want Israel to go after Hezbollah directly. Why does Iran want to keep Hezbollah out of the war?

SANGER: Hezbollah is an important asset for Iran. They are an important insurance policy for Iran. Keeping a proxy force within easy shooting distance of Israel is enormously valuable to them. And if the Israelis really opened up and really did significant damage or destroyed Hezbollah there, they would be losing a major proxy and ally. That is in some ways their greatest insurance policy against the Israelis. Now, at various moments, we have seen, of course, individual Israeli attacks into Iran. They've killed nuclear scientists. They killed the chief nuclear scientist a few years ago with a remote control submachine gun. They've blown up facilities at the Natanz nuclear enrichment site. They participated famously in the U.S.-Israeli cyberattack on Natanz, which was codenamed Olympic Games. But in each of those cases, it didn't rise to the level of Hezbollah doing a major attack on Israel. They want the Israelis to know that Hezbollah is ready to go do that.

GROSS: Do you have any insights about whether there are red lines that could be crossed, that would lead to the U.S. striking directly at Iran?

SANGER: So - great question, and it's one that's debated constantly in the Pentagon at Central Command, which is based in Florida but responsible for the whole Mideast region. And I could think of a couple of red lines. First of all, direct attacks on U.S. forces coming out of Iran, right? So right now, the rules in Yemen are - the U.S. rules are if Central Command, if the intelligence agencies see a missile getting ready to be launched, goes on what's called a rail, they can attack it preemptively. And you've seen that happen several times in the past few weeks. If the United States sees a group of plotters who have been putting together these attacks in Iraq or again in Yemen, they can go after them. You saw a U.S. attack that killed the militant right in Baghdad, to the outrage of the Iraqi government. So I think that if you saw attacks coming right out of Iran, that would probably force the U.S. hand. The second thing would be if you had evidence that Iranians were directly responsible for the deaths of Americans.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is David Sanger, a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. We'll talk more about the widening war in the Middle East after a break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MYRA MELFORD'S "PARK MECHANICS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with David Sanger, who's been reporting on how the war between Israel and Hamas has widened into a regional conflict, and why it may escalate even more. Iran has become a growing threat. Its proxy groups include the extremist militias Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. And now Iran is aligned with two superpowers, Russia and China. Sanger is a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times and author of the forthcoming book "New Cold Wars: China's Rise, Russia's Invasion, And The Struggle To Defend The West." We recorded our interview yesterday.

What's the worst-case scenario you see coming out of what is now a regional conflict involving the U.S.? What's the worst-case scenario that you see coming out of that?

SANGER: The worst-case scenario, Terry, I think, is that these all come together, these disparate groups that are conducting their attacks, not in coordination with each other, but certainly in common cause with each other. What the U.S. and its allies are hoping is that these groups have enough internal divisions, enough absence of coordination - they certainly don't train together very much - that they couldn't pull off a joint attack. And we do know that the proxies often do meet or converse with each other, either virtually or in person. But we don't have any evidence that they know how to conduct coordinated military activity. The worst-case scenario is that they try.

GROSS: And then what?

SANGER: Well, then the United States could be drawn into a much larger conflict. And I can give you two or three examples of how that could happen. First of all, a broad attack on Israel. Obviously, the United States has a long commitment to defending Israel. It goes back to Harry Truman's decision to recognize Israel the first hours after its existence was declared. And while there is huge tension right now - and I can't overstate for you how much President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu have been at odds with each other in this series of very tense phone calls - I also have no doubt that President Biden is deeply committed to Israel's survival. So if there was an attack on Israel, that would be one condition.

The second is if there were broad attacks on American forces in the region. We've already seen a steady pattern of more than a hundred missile and artillery attacks, drone attacks on Americans and American bases. Fortunately, the missile defense for the U.S. has held up. The ability to detect drones has been impressive. And so far there have been no deaths. But, boy, we're really skating on the edge with that. And I think if there was a mass casualty event involving Americans, particularly in an election year, I think the pressure on President Biden to take very significant action would be huge.

The third condition here would be if you saw Iran race for a bomb. Now, I have not seen any evidence of that. They could step up quickly from the level of enrichment they are conducting now to bomb grade. They could do it in a matter of days. It would take a year or probably more to assemble a nuclear weapon. But if they were on that path, I think the U.S. would probably need to work with Israel first in a last-ditch effort at diplomacy, and then in covert or military action to take out the Iranian facilities.

GROSS: Iran is now aligned with Russia and China, two superpowers. What are the implications of that?

SANGER: Huge. And I think in some ways, this is probably the most important development for the United States to come out of this whole disparate series of events. So, again, to take you back to 2015, when the United States and the Europeans were negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, you may recall that the Russians and the Chinese were on the American and European side of the table. They showed up at the negotiations. They were interested in containing the Iranian nuclear program. They worked with the Americans and the Europeans on strategy to do that. If you were holding those negotiations today - and there's no chance of that - there's no way the Chinese and the Russians would be on the U.S. side of the table. If they were on any side, they'd be on the Iranian side. They'd probably just sit the entire thing out.

So why is this? First is China's been pretty clear about its intent to develop what the Iranians call the axis of resistance to American and Western power. And as you have seen the revival of superpower competition here, the Chinese believe it is important to develop a series of regional allies or at least partners. Second, the Russians have grown very dependent on the Iranians for drones for Ukraine. The Iranians are making a lot of money providing these drones. We've seen them in action almost every day on the battlefield in Ukraine. The Iranians have not so far provided the Russians with missiles, but the U.S. has warned that that could be next. And, of course, the other player in all of this is North Korea, the other great nuclear rogue state - right? - which is providing both artillery and missiles to the Russians. So suddenly we're in a world in which China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have a significant common cause against the United States and its allies.

GROSS: And China and Russia have nuclear weapons. North Korea, I think, is not far from having one. Am I right in that?

SANGER: North Korea has nuclear weapons. They've tested them six times.

GROSS: Oh, OK.

SANGER: Yeah.

GROSS: And they're also on the verge of actually successfully launching an intercontinental ballistic missile.

SANGER: They have tested ICBMs many times. They've been doing these high-arc tests where it goes way up into the - beyond the atmosphere, into space and come down. If they ever flatten that out, it's pretty clear they could reach the United States. We don't know how good their aim is, fortunately.

GROSS: Right. So this is actually a really, like, game-changing scenario to have these powers aligned with each other. And they're all so unpredictable. And they're all so authoritarian. They're all about power. The leader of North Korea, we don't know what his mental health is. Putin's mental health has been questioned. So there are so many wild cards here.

SANGER: There are a lot of wild cards. But you have to remember that there are also some reasons for restraint on the part of those powers as well. China is deeply dependent on Mideast oil, so they can't be happy about anything that closes down the Red Sea - right? - or threatens future oil shipments. The Russians have a base in Syria that they - and a presence in Syria. They don't want to see a conflict that might threaten any of that. So while they have come together in this axis of resistance, I would say that in the Middle East conflict, they each have very specific individual interests that probably also lean against having a general war break out.

But the Chinese are perfectly happy, Terry, to see the United States wrapped up again in Middle East wars because, you know, the U.S. has been saying and President Biden has been saying we need to focus on Asia-Pacific. And now, once again, the president of the United States is spending a good deal of his day and almost, you know, more than half of his foreign policy time thinking about preventing war in the Middle East.

GROSS: Meanwhile, Iran has become an important arms supplier, and that's one of the sources of its income and power now. So how sophisticated are the weapons that it's been selling to Russia and also providing the militia groups that Iran backs?

SANGER: They have been strikingly sophisticated. I don't think, before the Ukraine war, we thought the Iranians were capable of mass-producing drones with the kind of accuracy and sophistication that we have seen in the Ukraine battlefield. And, of course, putting these into the battlefield for the Iranians is the greatest way to test them and improve them because all of a sudden, they're up against real, American-provided anti-drone technology and anti-aircraft air defenses and so forth. So this is how the Iranians learn how they would perform in actual battle. Those drones have also been used in the Middle East. We saw Iranian drones used in attacks on Saudi Arabia a few years ago. We've been seeing them being used to some degree in the Mideast theater in in recent times. We've seen them involved in attacks in the Red Sea run by the Houthis.

GROSS: One of Iran's missiles is a new - I don't understand exactly what this is, but it's a solid-propellant, precision-guided missile. But the important thing here is it has a range of 900 miles, so it can hit Israel. And it used this missile once. And you describe that as having been part-deterrent and part-sales pitch. Explain what you mean.

SANGER: Well, solid fuel is important because if you have a liquid fuel, you have to bring the missile out and fuel it out in the open, which can take an hour or two, and then launch it. And in that time period, the United States may well see it using satellites, using overhead flights and destroy it. With solid fuel, you can keep it in a cave somewhere, roll it out, launch it right away. The range is critical because they wanted to show that, as you said, they could reach Israel or other targets. And the sales pitch part is, hey; this thing works. You may want to buy it, right? There's nothing like taking your missile on a test drive. And so I'm sure it got the attention of all of the proxies and countries, Russia included, that may want to go purchase this missile in the future.

GROSS: So this means, like, more and more countries are going to have real, like, sophisticated weaponry.

SANGER: You know, one of the big changes of the technological revolution that we have been through in arms in the past 20 years is that they are no longer in the realm of just the superpowers because they are being built from Chinese made parts or locally made parts, because of GPS navigation, because of increasingly sophisticated ability to use materials that are available on the black market that are lightweight and strong. The Iranians are now able to greatly up their game. They've had missiles for a long time. But all of these new technologies and the technologies that they are using for drones give them much greater accuracy and enable them, of course, to build them on a much larger scale. I mean, a few years ago, the idea that Iran would be an arms supplier instead of an arms purchaser would have been pretty wild. And today, they're doing a pretty healthy business.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk to more. If you're just joining us, my guest is David Sanger, a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN AUERBACH SONG, "HEARTBROKEN, IN DISREPAIR")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with David Sanger about how and why the war between Israel and Hamas has widened into a regional conflict that threatens to become even more of a threat to Israel, the U.S. and its Western allies.

I don't know how much you know about what's happening behind the scenes in the Biden administration. The Biden administration has a lot of really difficult choices to make. It's already made some of those choices, and there's many more on the horizon. Obviously, the Biden administration doesn't want to get involved too deeply into this war. It doesn't want the war to widen, but a lot of it is out of its control. What do you know about what kind of debates have been going on behind the scenes in the administration about how to move forward?

SANGER: Well, so far, Terry, there have been two big debates going on inside the White House that have spilled out into our reporting. The first is how to go deal with Prime Minister Netanyahu. There's no love lost, as I said earlier, between President Biden and the prime minister. And those disputes have widened with the United States declaring some standards that the Israelis must meet. You know, the president's been clear he believes in the two-state solution. The president's been clear that Palestinians should not be evicted from Gaza and that Gaza's territory should not be reduced.

The prime minister repeated just last week that there could be no two-state solution because a separate state would be a threat to Israel, and he is going ahead with those reductions in territory. And you've heard some members of his cabinet talk about expelling Palestinians. So one big battle has been how public do you go with the pressure on Netanyahu? So far, the administration has not favored conditions on the aid. But I'm sure that in the background they are telling Netanyahu, look. You continue on the path that you're on, Congress will impose these conditions.

The second big debate, which is largely resolved, has been how much to allow the Pentagon to go strike inside Yemen and against many of these other targets for fear of widening the war. And when the Houthis began attacking shipping in the Red Sea, you saw that the U.S. Navy was largely conducting defensive operations. They were trying to shoot down incoming missiles, they were trying to protect the shipping, they were escorting ships.

But then the Houthis really went a little bit too far about two weeks ago, when the U.S. came to the aid of a ship that was under attack and the Houthis fired on a U.S. helicopter that was seeking to provide this help. The Navy immediately sank three Houthi fast boats, and we presumably killed the Houthi militants aboard. And that was the clearest case of Americans and Houthis in close combat. In the weeks that have followed, we have seen the administration approve a number of what they call strike packages against the Houthis much more aggressively than they did a few weeks ago. So it looks like at this point, President Biden has decided that the only thing he can do is try to take out the Houthi missiles before they are launched. But they're not out to eliminate all attacks, but they're out to make them a lot more costly.

GROSS: Now, we had talked a little bit about how the U.S. wants to restrain Israel, like, support it but restrain it at the same time. So this week it was reported that Israel has been trying to demolish part of a Palestinian neighborhood to create a buffer zone between Gaza and Israel for Israel's protection. What do you know about the Biden administration reaction to Israel's actions with that buffer zone?

SANGER: Well, you may remember that when Secretary of State Blinken arrived in Israel a number of weeks ago, one of his many trips there, he laid out a series of standards, of sort of red lines of what the Israelis could not do and how the Palestinians had to be treated. And one of them was not reduce the size of territory - of the territory in Gaza. Well, with this buffer zone, which the Israelis have been talking about since the first days of the war, that's exactly what they're doing. And the awful loss of life of Israeli soldiers the other day - more than 20 soldiers killed - came as they were demolishing a building in what the Israelis plan to become this buffer zone.

But to create the buffer zone, they're doing it inside Gaza, which means, you know, just inside its borders with Israel, which means that they are destroying the homes and businesses of hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians, Gazans, who live there. And that would become a patrolled buffer zone. It's very much based on the concept of, say, the DMZ in between North and South Korea, an area that the Israelis could monitor and see attacks mounting.

GROSS: David Sanger, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. I really appreciate you coming back to FRESH AIR.

SANGER: Terry, it's always a pleasure to be on with you.

GROSS: David Sanger is a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times and author of the forthcoming book "New Cold Wars: China's Rise, Russia's Invasion, And The Struggle To Defend The West." After we take a short break, John Powers will review a new film he says is about the tango between life and death. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRIAN ENO AND JOHN CALE SONG, "SPINNING AWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tags
Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.