War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
Guest Host: Susan Page
Ireland may receive billions of euros to rescue its banks. A NATO summit begins in Portugal to discuss an exit strategy in Afghanistan. And Myanmar releases a pro-democracy campaigner after years of house arrest. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back on Monday. NATO leaders are meeting in Portugal to discuss the U.S. timetable in Afghanistan. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is released after years under house arrest. She calls for reconciliation and political change. And why the engagement of a prince to his long time girlfriend became a top international story of the week.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining us for the international hour of the Friday news roundup are David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Courtney Kube of NBC News and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy newspapers. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSThanks, Susan.
MS. COURTNEY KUBEThank you.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an e-mail to email@example.com. Or you can always find us on Facebook or Twitter.
PAGEWell, the NATO meeting is under way in Lisbon. David Ignatius the NATO Secretary General calls this one of the most crucial meetings in the alliance's history. Do you think that's true?
IGNATIUSWell, it's a long history. It is certainly important to get everybody on the same page about Afghanistan and that's the U.S. effort. President Obama arrived there this morning. He would like to get NATO to sign onto a timetable that calls for the withdrawal of NATO forces by the end of 2014, as has been requested by Afghan President Amid Karzai. The model for this is Iraq, where the U.S. and Iraq agreed on a timetable for withdrawal and the feeling is that ended up working out acceptably to all sides. Obvious goal for the U.S. is to take the spotlight off of President Obama's announced plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July, 2011 – July of next year, even though that plan is still operative and get people, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to focus instead on the 2014 date.
IGNATIUSThere's a feeling that this very early day convinced everybody that the U.S. was on the way out, that they were already heading for the exits and there's an attempt – really it's as much PR as anything to say no, no, it's gonna take longer than everybody thinks.
PAGEBut, you know, that earlier date, the idea that we would start withdrawing troops by July, 2011, that was very reassuring to a lot of Americans who think this war has gone on for an awful long time and they'd like to see it end. So this idea, Courtney, of the withdrawal process not being completed until the end of 2014, I wonder if that seems like a really long time to some people who found the earlier date reassuring.
KUBEWell, and we've even seen a softening of the 2014 date. Just this week, we've had two officials, one at the Pentagon, one a senior civilian in Afghanistan, who really softened that deadline of 2014, saying that it's very possible 2015 will still see coalition forces there, whether it's special operations forces that are operating with the Afghan security forces, if they're operating in more of a training capacity, we don't know. No one seems to know. It's the billion dollar question that remains out there.
KUBEBut Ambassador Mark Sidwell, who is essentially General Petraeus' civilian counterpart in Afghanistan, has said start looking towards even 2015 for a continued presence there. And by the end of 2014, you know, a goal that President Karzai set this summer for a transition to Afghan security, there still may be provinces, districts at least, that are not under Afghan security.
PAGESo, Jonathan, is the 2014 date not really that meaningful?
LANDAYI think it's all being driven by domestic politics, both here in the United States and particularly in Europe among the NATO allies, who -- where popular sentiment against for getting out of Afghanistan is much more pressing. If you look at the issues that drove voters in our Congressional elections earlier this month, Afghanistan was pretty far down the list. And I think that may be why you're seeing -- one of the reasons why you're seeing the administration shifting off this 2011 date. But I think what's really driving a lot of this, this sort of pushing this out now to 2014 and then perhaps even beyond, is the fact that there's a great deal of nervousness about whether or not Afghan security forces are going to be ready to assume total security for Afghanistan as President Karzai wants. That's where his 2014 date comes.
LANDAYI think there's also great deal of -- you've got to be very cynical about this. The fact is that you'll -- I don't think you'll be seeing a lot troop withdrawals. You'll be seeing what the Canadians are doing, which is they're saying they're taking their troops out of combat mode and shifting them into training mode. So you're going to see a lot of that going on, but I don't think there's very much of a chance that you're going to see any kind of major withdrawals of, at least, American forces between now and 2014, 2015.
PAGEWell, David, does this mean we're just going to have a continuing commitment in Afghanistan as far as the eye can see?
IGNATIUSWell, that's the worry, obviously, for American voters and I think increasingly for Afghans. President Karzai has been quite emphatic in his comments, certainly in the last week and in an interview in the Washington Post, but in other comments about his desire to see a return of genuine Afghan sovereignty. I think there's a danger for the U.S. in really wearing out its welcome in Afghanistan and you see that from Karzai's comments.
IGNATIUSI also think that a lot of -- I have to agree with a lot of what Jonathan said, but I think that President Obama remains more ambivalent about this commitment than would be implied by a 2014 timetable at the end of his presidency, assuming that he's re-elected. I think that they are still considering the beginning of some withdrawals of the surge forces. I think it is possible that they could shift somewhat after July 2011. Focus more on training, a somewhat different configuration. What we're seeing is that the very hardnosed special operations activities by the Joint Special Operations Command, known as JSOC, had been pretty effective in taking out mid-level Taliban leaders.
IGNATIUSThe protect the population side of the counter insurgency strategy, the other side of this coin, has been much less effective by the account of everybody I talk to. So I think it's conceivable you could see next year changes in parts of this mission to reflect what's happening on the ground.
PAGEAnd just to follow up, you said you believe that President Obama is more ambivalent than maybe we understand. What do you mean by ambivalent?
IGNATIUSWell, I think, Susan, that on the very day that he announced this policy, to have announced the beginning of the end of it really was a sign that he was going two ways at once. He was adding 30,000 more troops, but he was going to start withdrawing them in July, 2011, very, very soon. And I think that reflected a president who genuinely is conflicted about this. I've written that he's halfway in and halfway out. I think it's tough, but it's a real reflection of his anxieties about his own policy.
LANDAYI think that what you're seeing is the president being batted back and forth by a desire to start putting the focus on domestic problems, but what he's being told by U.S. intelligence community -- the military is promoting this idea that they're taking out these mid-level Taliban leaders and they're dealing serious blows to the Taliban. But the intelligence community is actually telling the president that actually the Taliban is self generating. All of these night raids and the drone attacks inside Pakistan are actually not doing that huge amount of damage to the Taliban.
LANDAYAnd, in fact, one of the things that I was seeing -- and I just got back about three weeks ago and I spent a bunch of time in northern Afghanistan where the Taliban and other insurgent groups are expanding their activities. What you're actually seeing, as the Americans step up all their aggressive tactics in the south, literally Taliban fighters are getting on buses and they're driving north. And they're driving to Pashtun pockets in the north, that's the largest ethnic group that dominates the Taliban. They're going to north. Their commanders are going into Pakistan and they're doing what guerillas do, which is taking the path of least resistance so they can come back and fight another day.
KUBEAnd one more point on the Lisbon summit as well. It's remarkable to me how the expectations for the summit have changed in the last several months. Back in August, I was in Kabul and we got a briefing from this high level civilian who was saying, in Lisbon, that's where we're going to see transitions announced. We're going to see not just districts, but provinces that are going to be turned over to Afghan security forces first of January. Now they're saying, well, we may talk about a few districts, but we probably won't talk about provinces. And it's even been scaled back even further just this week to people saying -- to NATO officials saying, well, we don't want to make those provinces, those districts, a target of the insurgents. We don’t want governors to be assassinated to set back the progress.
KUBESo, it's remarkable how the expectations from the Summit have already been scaled back. And the other thing that really strikes me about it is having covered NATO Summits like my colleagues have, you know, we've been -- they're generally marked, when they're talking about Afghanistan, by the U.S. and some of the coalition talking about allies adding additional support, sending in trainers. Now, this one is really about telling the allies to just hang in there. Don't announce a withdrawal or a draw down. Hang in there for a little bit longer.
LANDAYThere are three provinces, basically, that they are looking at to try and begin this so called transition. My colleague, Lawrence Strobel, just got back from one of those provinces and I can tell you that the people there are not very enthusiastic about the idea that they're going to be transitioned back to full Afghan security control next year because they're saying -- they're basically saying, if that happens, you will see ethnic violence skyrocket here.
PAGEI wonder isn't this discussion exactly what most Americans fear most. That we've got a war that's lasted almost a decade, that the end date keeps getting pushed back, that the goal posts keep getting moved. David, this seems very alarming.
IGNATIUSWell, it is alarming, although it was not a big feature at mid-term elections. I think it's going to be a political live wire next year. One thing you don't hear, at least I don't hear, is the military suggesting that it may ask for more troops. That would really be the Vietnam analogy. The General saying, Mr. President, you know, it's not going all that well, you know, but another 30,000 troops and we can get this thing licked. You're not hearing that. And I think that the military's committed to making use of the resources its got. It is -- I find some growing skepticism in the military about the basics of what we're doing. You know, the military, they are people who are risking their lives and they're not going to keep doing that if they don't think it's gonna work out.
PAGEDavid Ignatius, he's a columnist with the Washington Post. He's also co-moderator of "Post Global" on WashingtonPost.com. And we're also joined this hour by Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News. And Jonathan Landay, he's senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy newspapers. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our discussion. We'll talk about what's going on in Ireland. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And it's the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Jonathan Landay, David Ignatius, Courtney Kube. Big headline in the New York Times front page this morning and a picture that shows President Obama with some allies he's not usually sitting with, James Baker, Secretary of State in the first Bush Administration, and Henry Kissinger on his other side. Why is he sitting with all these Republicans, Courtney?
KUBESTART treaty. It's been the word of the week and actually the past two weeks. It's the new strategic arms reduction treaty, which in essence shrinks the U.S. and the Russian arsenals of strategic warheads and will restart inspections on the ground both in the United States and in Russia. And it has become a political back and forth, political drama to the nth degree this week in the U.S.
KUBEThe biggest roadblock right now is Senator John Kyle, Republic, who is saying that -- he initially was saying that he had problems with the missile defense language that he thought that it would constrain the United States in their missile defense capabilities if this treaty is ratified. He sort of moderated his position a little bit towards the end of the week and is now saying that, in fact, this is such an important treaty that the United States should not be pushing it through the Senate in a lame duck, as the administration is putting all the guns out to do. I mean, President Obama, Secretary Gates, Vice-President Biden, Secretary Clinton, they've all been out there this week really pushing hard using extremely strong language to get this through.
PAGEAnd lining up a lot of big-name Republicans to support him. So why does the administration think it's so important to ratify it now and not after the New Year?
LANDAYWell, they're looking at relations with Russia for the most part. They're looking at, in particular, the need to continue having Russian cooperation, especially where it comes to Iran, when it comes to the shipment of U.S. supplies to Afghanistan, a lot of which -- about 20 percent to 30 percent are now going through Russia. But I also think they're looking down the pike to the new Senate where the Republicans will have six more seats, which will make it much harder for the administration to get the 67 seats it needs in order to get approval, not ratification.
LANDAYThe president signing this treaty is actually ratification. They need the Senate approval on this treaty. They need Republicans to come over to join the Democrats in giving it the 67 votes. They're concerned that they're not gonna have that in -- it'll be harder to get in the next Senate.
PAGEThat's interesting. I thought ratification was when the Senate acted. Well, I've learned something new today. That's a good sign. We can just stop now.
PAGEDavid, what's the reaction in Russia to the problems with getting Senate approval for this treaty?
IGNATIUSWell, Russians are concerned. They made a pet that President Obama was strong enough to be able to deliver. We have had what the Obama Administration calls a strategic reset of our relations with Russia. They've had a reset of their relations with us, expecting that their counterpart was politically strong enough. I think that's really what's at the heart of this push, that Obama wants to show the Russians, wants to show the people around the world that despite the mid-term election shellacking, in his phrase, he is still strong enough to conduct the foreign policy in the United States.
IGNATIUSWhat's disturbing about this issue to me is that if I was going to cite one area where the Obama Administration's done a pretty good job in foreign policy, it would be its relations with Russia. They made a decision early on, they needed Russia's help on Iran. You couldn't have a strong Iranian coalition without Russia. They knew they had to make some changes in policy to get that, so they changed their position on missile defense and some other issues. And they've gotten what they set out to get. And I think the fear is that that will now begin to unravel with major consequences. We're heading into a year in which the big issue will be the confrontation with Iran. Are we gonna go into that without strong Russian support? That's what they think is at stake right now on START.
PAGEYou mentioned the president wanting to show he still has a lot of authority despite the fact that there were big setbacks for Democrats in the midterm elections. Do you see, Courtney, impact from the midterm election on the Hill? Do you think that's one reason this has become so difficult to get through?
KUBEWell, I spoke with a couple of Western European officials about this yesterday, and one of them said that this is clearly a huge setback if it doesn't pass the Senate, and that its intent on nothing more than denying President Obama of foreign policy success. So, I mean, if we have our ally saying that, you know, it's what the politicians on the Hill can't necessarily say, you knows, to us on the record. But, you know, this comes right on the heels of a trip where President Obama had a big foreign policy embarrassment in South Korea. So the fact that...
PAGEHis failure to get a trade deal that they'd expected to be able to conclude.
KUBEExactly. And for him to be on the ground there and find out that it has not been approved is an enormous embarrassment, and it's one that you don’t really see in the White House very often.
PAGEWe always talk a lot about the politics of things. Jonathan, talk for just a moment about the substance of this START treaty. What is it that it would do?
LANDAYI mean, there's two major impacts. You would have the setting of a lower ceiling on the number of nuclear warheads and the delivery system, so called. Those are the submarines, the bombers and the intercontinental ballistic missiles on which they are placed. A lower limit, not that much lower than was worked out by the Bush Administration. Nevertheless, they see this as a foundation for continued lowering another treaty. But then you also have this problem of what's known as the verification and monitoring regime. That went out -- that is the system by which the Russians sent their inspectors here to make sure we're not cheating on our obligations under international treaties. And we sent ours to Russia. That system has not been in place now for almost a year because it basically expired with the expiration last December of the START One Treaty, which embodied this system.
LANDAYThe Democrats, the administration argue that the system under which -- that would go into place with the new treaty is actually more effective because you would get a far more accurate count on the number of warheads that the Russians have actually deployed. That, in turn, would make it more realistic when the United States came to deploy its warheads. Right now the two sides, or at least the United States is looking at this, and the only thing they can do is plan for a worst case scenario. In other words the Russians have the ultimate number of warheads they can possibly put on their missiles, meaning the United States has to do the same. That creates potential problems, potential circumstances for miscommunication and perhaps even mishap.
LANDAYBut it also makes it more expensive for the United States to maintain the force it has deployed now. If the Russians -- if this treaty goes through you bring down the levels, you reduce the amount of money that American taxpayers are paying to have their nuclear force deployed.
PAGEOur phone lines are open. You can give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. We'll be happy to take your calls and comments in just a few minutes. David, on this question of the treaty, you've covered a lot of arms control negotiations. Is this an important arms control treaty? Does it make beyond the politics of who wins and who loses?
IGNATIUSI think it's -- Jonathan's rundown was great. I learned something listening to him. But I think this treaty is less important for the substance -- although obviously that matters -- than for the atmospherics of the relationship. Moving forward with the U.S./Russia relations is a key strategic variable for the U.S. in all the things that matter for us. Supplying the war in Afghanistan is one element of that. And I think that there's a fear that this will be part of a series of falling dominoes in foreign policy. The Washington Post had a story this morning noting that the president is in danger of seeing a series of foreign policy setbacks.
IGNATIUSYou mentioned this trip to South Korea, the trade deal that was falling apart. We have renewed international debt problems, that the U.S. is very unpopular now in international financial markets because our efforts to get our economy going have upset people -- other countries. So it's a time when the U.S. needs to show that we have a president who can be in the driver's seat and get things done.
PAGELet's talk about this situation in Ireland. It's been a very interesting reluctance on the part of the Irish government to accept a bailout from the EU. They've got a big bank crisis there. What's the situation now, Courtney?
KUBEWell, I mean, essentially Ireland is facing a crisis in their banking center -- or in their banking sector. The government pumped billions of euros into their banks essentially nationalizing them. And it was largely because there was a problem in the real estate market. The real estate bubble burst there, they lost a lot of loans, they were stuck with bad loans. So now the question is who's going to bailout Ireland? Is it going to be the British tax payers, who themselves are facing a crisis in their economy and facing cuts? Or is it going to be the EU, the IMF who's going to step in and foot this bill?
PAGEJonathan, what do you think -- why has the Irish been so reluctant to take some help to kinda stabilize the situation?
LANDAYI think this has a lot to do with Ireland's history. They had to fight for independence. It was a long and brutal fight. There will be strings attached to any kind of bailout that they get from what appears to be increasingly the EU, with some IMF help, with some British help, but essentially with the EU. And those strings may well include a demand that Ireland raise its very, very low business tax rate of about 12.5 percent. Other EU countries that are essentially helping to -- or will help to keep this -- with the bailout, see that very low tax rate as essentially being a government subsidy and they want it raised. And the fact is that this banking crisis, where the Irish government has had to pump billions of euros in to keep essentially five banks afloat, has exacerbated the countries budget deficit.
LANDAYIt's a very serious budget deficit. And so the European power just said, you need to raise your taxes. The government of Ireland has been resisting that furiously, and they said their business tax rate is not negotiable. But I think probably in the end you may see the move on that. Next week the Irish government is expected to publish an extremely fierce austerity plan to try and reduce the size of their budget deficit. But everything's in motion. And what the real fear is, is that if they don't bail out Ireland -- if Ireland is not bailed out, this contingent, so called, that began with Greece, has now gone to Ireland, will extend it to an economy that's much bigger.
LANDAYIreland's economy is fairly small compared to that of Spain. Spain is really what people are worried about. It has also has an explosion of this real estate bubble. It's in serious financial shape. Its unemployment is the highest in Europe at about 20 percent and that's what people are really worried about, that you could see an implosion in Spain. And that would affect the whole of the EU and indeed the EU being U.S.'s largest trading partner will absolutely have an impact here in the United States.
PAGEAnd of course we already saw those big problems in Greece. Do you think, David, there's a threat to the future of the Euro itself? Could this situation become that serious?
IGNATIUSYes. I think that the euro and the idea of European monetary integration is very much under threat. What we've seen is that having a common currency but no common fiscal policy, doesn’t work. You have countries like Greece and Portugal that were able to borrow in euros at very cheap rates. They were essentially able to borrow as if they were Germans, because they're sharing the same currency with the Germans, but they didn't have the same disciplined fiscal system. Indeed in Greece it's now clear that the fiscal government accounts were systematically false. That we keep discovering that the Greek problem was much worse than the government statistics implied.
IGNATIUSI think that one thing that motivates the Irish in dragging their feet a little bit is that they don't want to be classed with those southern European Greeks and Portuguese. And their problems are different. In Portugal, in Greece the real problem was government debt, huge deficits, way out of line with the EU guidelines. That wasn't really the problem in Ireland. The problem in Ireland was a classic asset bubble, you know, hugely over-inflated real estate, and then a banking collapse predicated on the loans they'd made.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to the phones and talk to some of our callers. We'll go first to Mark. He's calling us from New Britain, Conn. Mark, thanks so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MARKWell, thank you for taking my call. I want to point out that there was one fact missing from your analysis of the START treaty fracas. And that is that at the end of last year Senator Kyle was speaking passionately, passionately about the need to renew the START treaty and reinstate the inspection regime. This is hypocrisy that needs to be pointed out. The Republicans are being grossly hypocritical and compromising national security to do it. Now, in the Bush Administration the Republicans called that treason. Regardless of whether I agree with that or not, if they're calling it treason then they ought to call it treason now.
PAGEAll right, Mark. Thanks for your call. Courtney.
KUBEWell, Mark is right about that. Senator Kyle has been calling for attention to the START treaty for months now. And that's actually one of the things that he's complaining about or he's -- but he's saying that that Obama Administration was not listening to him. And that now it's several weeks left before a new Congress, there's only several weeks in this lame duck session and they're trying to push it through. And that's one of his frustrations really. You know, as Mark points out, he has been trying to get their attention on this and they've not been paying attention:
IGNATIUSA counter argument would be that Senator Kyle, in addition to stressing his concerns about verification said, we need to have modernization of our nuclear forces. The administration listened to that and put $80 billion for modernization over ten years. And he kept expressing concerns so they put another, I think, $4 billion in for modernization of the nuclear arsenal. So it's not as if they haven't been listening. Indeed, it's not as if they haven't been trying to meet what they thought were his demands. The concern is this has now become pure politics, trying to give Obama another defeat.
PAGEDo you think that Senator Kyle and the Republicans are surprised that rather than just let it go, President Obama has clearly decided to make a big stand on this treaty, marshal every force he can to fight back?
LANDAYI don't know. It's very hard to say because Senator Kyle and the other Republicans -- well, we don't know what the other Republicans really think because our interviews with other senior Republicans, they have said, well, we're following Senator Kyle. We're going to -- you know, he's our expert on this. The irony there is actually the veteran expert for the Republic Senators is the Senator from Indiana, Senator Richard Lugar. He of the Nunn-Lugar program, which has done so much to reduce the size of the Russia -- the former Soviet nuclear arsenal and to do other things in terms of find other nonproliferation programs, Senator Lugar is hanging out there on a loan, at least publicly, of all the Republicans, saying we need this treaty.
LANDAYAnd he was at the White House for this session with the other big named Republican foreign policy mavens yesterday, saying we need this treaty. So it's really difficult to -- you know, Senator Kyle has given all of these reason as to why this treaty should not go forward. But the administration can counter each one. And so it's gotten to the point where even Senator Lugar seems to be asking the question, why are they doing this?
PAGEJonathan Landay. He's senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. And we're also joined this hour by David Ignatius of the Washington Post. He's co-moderator of "Post Global" on washingtonpost.com. And by Courtney Kube, national security producer for NBC News. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll talk about what's the economic situation in China, and why it's causing so much alarm. Stay with us.
PAGEDavid Ignatius, you were just back from China two weeks ago. We saw a big focus this week on inflation in China. What's happening?
IGNATIUSWell, the Chinese economic miracle is striking to any visitor, but it's accompanied by fears about rising inflation, about asset bubbles, about a real estate bubble as in the United States so the Chinese are very nervous. I think my take-away from all of my meetings was, on the one hand they're really feeling strong and -- but they're looking over their shoulder, worrying about the next set of problems. What happened this week was that the Chinese imposed additional reserve requirements for their banks, saying you have to hold more of your deposits in reserve against financial contingencies. That's a classic way through monetary policy of trying to slow down inflationary pressures.
IGNATIUSIt explains why the Chinese are so reluctant to be pushed to rebalance international economics in the ways that we and the Europeans and most countries would like. They just are really scared about the effects on their own economy and what that might mean for the hundreds of millions people in China who are looking at the new wealth and saying, I don't have my share. You know, China has -- while I was there, I was told, 90,000 political demonstrations last week. That's several, you know, hundred a day around the country. There are labor strikes. There are protests. So, you know, unseen by us, you have a lot of Chinese restlessness. It's seen by the leadership. They get nervous so they're trying to, you know, cool things down a little bit.
PAGEAnd when China takes steps on its enormous economy, what are the repercussions for us?
IGNATIUSWell, as China slows its inflation, that reduces Chinese economic activity. It reduces China's demand for the imports, the exports that we would sell to them. As the Chinese economy slows, its ability to act as an engine for the global economy is somewhat less. I think there is an understanding that the Chinese do need to make policy changes so that they have sustainable growth. Hu Jintao, the current president, has said often, our growth is not sustainable. We need to make changes so that we have more domestic demand. The Chinese now consume only -- I think it's 39 percent of their GDP, a smaller percentage than they consumed 10 years ago. By comparison, Japan, during the years of its boom, was consuming well over 60 percent, I think. We consume an enormously higher percentage. So they're just -- they're not -- they're spending what they make, you could say, and they've got to figure out how to do that without causing inflation.
PAGEWe have a question posted on Facebook by Mr. Jay, and he writes, "Like all civilized people, I am thrilled with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. But what, if any change, does this foretell for the oppressed people of Burma? Courtney, we saw these dramatic scenes on Saturday when, after all these years under house arrest, she was finally free to walk about.
KUBEThat's right. She was under house arrest this time for seven years and she spent 15 of the last 21 in detention. She's a noble peace laureate, dissident leader and she's now been free for about a week. And I guess the big question that we're all waiting to see is, what happens next? Is she going to take -- you know, continue her role as a leader -- a dissident leader? Is she gonna begin to compromise to try and work with the military, the ruling party who's pro military, pro junta there? It's sort of back and forth. There's also some talk that she may -- initially, she was against the U.S. dropping sanctions against Burma. Now she's back and forth over whether she's going to support that or not. So it really all remains to be seen what her release is gonna mean.
KUBEThere's also some speculation that she was released about a week after this election that was deeply flawed, if you could call it the least bit legitimate. Was that just an attempt by the Burmese officials to deflect against the election, to deflect international attention from their flawed election?
PAGEYou know, one thing that struck me was how she could still draw -- after years of not being able to speak to supporters, she could still draw an enormous crowd of supporters.
LANDAYAbsolutely. And she is the -- as the leader of the Democratic aspirations of the people of Burma, of Miramar as they now call -- as the country's been renamed. Her release is being seen in fairly cynical terms by a lot of people. A, as Courtney pointed out, it came six days after this very flawed election which elected a party backed by the military junta, keeping the military junta in control. And there is some consideration that perhaps this was done by the military junta as a means of trying to get western sanctions lifted. You know, Burma has been under fairly rigid western sanctions. They have not been observed. They're not sanctions -- they've been able to survive that simply because China has been investing in Burma and so has India, so has neighboring Thailand.
LANDAYAt the same time, this is a military that would like access to modern technology, western technology, perhaps even western -- a lot more western investment. There is some. And that this was sort of a cynical ploy to try and persuade, particularly the United States, to lift its sanctions. Now, the State Department has said that it plans to start holding talks with the Burmese officials, with the representatives of the military regime there on the sanctions in light of Suu Kyi's release. But the fact is that it's not expected. The release is not expected to lead to any kind of real opening to a Democratic reform in that country right now.
PAGELet's go back to the phones. We're gonna take some of your calls. 1-800-433-8850, give us a call. We're gonna go to Jonestown -- Johnstown, Ark. and talk to Mar (ph). You're on the air.
MARThank you. Well, my best regards to Miss Rehm. I hope she gets well and back soon.
PAGEYes, she'll expects to be back on Monday, but thanks very much for your good wishes.
MARGood. Good. And congratulations for your program. We do need more people and more programs like you guys -- what you guys do. Congratulations on that.
PAGEAll right. So he's saying that he thinks President Obama has done a good job. Why is everyone throwing stones at him? David, is this just a standard? Is this just what happens to presidents or you think he's getting an especially hard time?
IGNATIUSWell, he's been pounded by his own account. He's been pounded by the voters. He's having trouble overseas getting his way with foreign leaders. So you'd have to say, right now, this is a weakened presidency. What do presidents do when they've been weakened? They try to show that they can be strong leaders. And he's working as hard as he can now.
IGNATIUSI think if you take Afghanistan, an issue we were talking about the beginning, it's hard to see how the president is gonna have success without being more directly involved as commander and chief without speaking to the country more clearly about what we're doing. I think there is growing skepticism and doubt in the country about the mission. If the president's gonna hold the public with him, he has to communicate more directly and emphatically. And I'd say that -- across the board, I think that -- I know this White House is really thinking, how do we learn lessons from our mistakes in the first two years, not just in the midterm elections, so that we communicate our policy ideas better to the country.
PAGEYou know, that's something we've heard about, as you say, not just in foreign policy issues like Afghanistan, but on issues like the economy and healthcare, that the communications operations have not worked as well as the White House would've hoped. But I guess you then face the question, is it the communication of the policy and I don't know what -- what do you think about that, John?
LANDAYMy concentration being foreign policy, I can tell you that when the president first got into office, I think, he made this policy speech on Afghanistan. I think it was in May and -- or March. And the international community, the governments that are involved with their troops in Afghanistan said, okay, thanks a lot. We understand you're gonna rejuvenate policy and you're gonna put together a strategy. And then they had to wait another nine months for him to make the next major speech. That was the December 1st speech last year on exactly what that strategy was gonna be. And in that intervening period, there was a lot of consternation about the fact that they hadn't heard anything more from the administration and that the administration appeared to be moving onto other things without any kind of follow through on Afghanistan.
PAGEYou know, we're getting several e-mails from people expressing a lot of concern about what's happening in Afghanistan. Here's one from John who writes us from Missouri. He writes, "2011, 2014, 2020 or beyond, Afghanistan will not turn out well. Like Iraq, there will be thousands of our troops remaining into the foreseeable future. There's been no victory in Iraq. There will be none in Afghanistan. We sacrifice our young men and women, plus trillions we do not have. To my government I say, how dare you."
KUBEWow. That's a tough argument to -- a tough statement to argue against. I think it's -- one reason that we don't really see the definition of victory in Afghanistan is because of the argument that John is making there. The question is, what is the end state in Afghanistan? And it's hard to say that at this point. It's hard for us to say it as journalists who've all been there and covered the war. It's hard for the administration to say that. The question remains, you know, is it gonna end up being, what we were talking about earlier during the break, Afghan good enough, which is a stable enough security situation, a stable enough government that the United States, the coalition can eventually continue pulling out and maybe operate in more of a training and civilian kind of role.
LANDAYI think the problem again goes back to this -- a part of the problem goes back to this administration's communications problem. The fact is that the further we get away from 9/11 without a terrorist strike here in the United States by al-Qaeda, the more Americans are saying, well, why are you talking about al-Qaeda being the reason we're in Afghanistan? And the fact is that if you talk to people who deal with this within the government, al-Qaeda really is down the list. What they're really worried about, what this is really all about and what they have failed to communicate is what's happening next door in Pakistan. Because Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Pakistan is dealing with an insurgency that is allied with the insurgency in Afghanistan.
LANDAYIf the United States was to pull out of Afghanistan right now, you would see an implosion -- an explosion of violence in Afghanistan. You would see that violence transmitted across the border in terms of a more aggressive, much more robust insurgency in Pakistan itself. Pakistan military says, we don't have -- you don't have to worry about the security of our nuclear weapons. That may be true, but there are dozens of nuclear facilities in Pakistan, nuclear waste. There are -- it is a country that is dealing with not just this insurgency, but also serious ethnic problems, an extremely serious economic crisis that's getting worse by the day.
LANDAYAnd that is really the essence of why we remain in Afghanistan, is because if we were to leave, you would see that crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan escalate. You would have the problem of perhaps loose nukes and you would see it also infect the former Soviet Republics across the border in northern Afghanistan where there are also Islamist tendencies rising as well.
PAGEBoth the other panelists by the way are nodding their heads hard for our listeners to see on the radio. But, David, you're agreeing with what Jonathan's saying?
IGNATIUSI think Jonathan put it well. The real strategic danger for the U.S. is Pakistan. I think Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, says, well, if Pakistan's the real problem, if the people who did 9/11 are now in Pakistan, why don't you bomb Pakistan? Why are fighting a war in our country? I think that's the growing feeling among Karzai people around him. I travel often to Pakistan. I think that there has been significant movement in the last year and a half by the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military to take this terrorist threat, this terrorist insurgency within their borders more seriously. The problem is that they're not acting quickly enough to contain it at a time that we're pinned down. And there's a growing demand from our government that Pakistan do more.
PAGEI'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've been taking your calls. Let's continue to do that, go to New Hampshire and talk to Chuck. He's calling us from Enfield. Hi, Chuck.
CHUCKI'd just like -- yeah, I would just like to say that communication is a two-way street. When President Obama is speaking, one needs to listen carefully also. I find that his information is fairly clear and most of the time I get the point that he's trying to make.
PAGESo do you think that's one of the problems that Americans just haven't been listening closely enough?
CHUCKThat people need to listen as well as -- the burden is totally on President Obama. When he speaks, one needs also to listen and try to understand what it is that he's saying.
PAGEAll right, Chuck. Thanks so much for your call. Courtney.
KUBEWell, Chuck makes an interesting point. I would just point out one issue that we've all been covering and that's the July, 2011 deadline and the July 14 -- I'm sorry, the end of 2014 in Afghanistan. And there's been a tremendous gulf between what the administration and President Obama has been saying about what July, 2011 means and what the U.S. military and the Pentagon have been saying. So it is really a communication problem.
KUBEYou would be hard pressed to find someone in the U.S. military -- after President Obama made his speech at West Point last year talking about July, 2011, you'd have been hard pressed to find some who would say, oh, yeah, we're withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011, even really beginning the withdrawal. But that was the message from this White House for months and it's just recently that they're beginning to soften that. They're beginning to talk more about 2014 and beyond. And that's what we're going to see at Lisbon. We're gonna see talk of a long-term renewed commitment in Afghanistan.
PAGEOkay. We can't finish the international news hour without talking about the royal engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton. David, I know you've been tracking this closely. (laugh)
IGNATIUSI'm rarely off of what gossip websites look at this key issue.
PAGENow, why does this so capture the imagination of, not everybody admittedly, but of a lot Britains, a lot of Americans. Why is that, Courtney, do you think?
KUBEWell, I mean, it's a feel good story. And at a time where there are so -- we've just spent the past hour talking about debt crisis and war and -- so who doesn't love a good love story with pomp and circumstance and what is she gonna wear. Now, to be the cynic in the room, if I was a British taxpayer, was looking at paying for the security of this wedding, I may be singing a different tune.
PAGEYou know, who pays for the wedding is an issue not only for royals, but for a lot of other people when they're planning weddings. Is it clear who's gonna pay for this wedding, Jonathan?
LANDAYOh, I think it's gonna be the British government, which means the British taxpayer. It's interesting. One of the headlines that really caught my eye when this was announced is a headline in The Daily Mail, which said divorce lawyers are already talking prenup, which kind of -- I guess that's typical for a British newspaper of the caliber of The Daily Mail. But I think Courtney's right. I think this has to do with a good news story. Here is a commoner. And I believe this is gonna be the first commoner to wed a member of the royal family who will be in line to become queen since 1660. And so, you know, it's got all of the elements that a good news story should have.
PAGEJonathan Landay with McClatchy, David Ignatius with The Washington Post and Courtney Kube with NBC News, thanks so much for joining us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
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