A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Government aircraft in Libya attack anti-Gadhafi strongholds in the east. The Taliban assassinates Pakistan’s sole Christian cabinet member. And a gunman opens fire on a busload of U.S. airmen in Germany. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- James Kitfield Senior correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Courtney Kube National security producer for NBC News.
- Tom Gjelten Correspondent, NPR, and author of "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama used his strongest language yet to call for Colonel Moammar Gadhafi to immediately resign. New protests broke out in Tripoli as rebels held onto control of the oil ports at Brega. In Pakistan, the country's only Christian cabinet member was assassinated. And two U.S. airmen were killed in a shooting at the Frankfort airport. Joining me in the studio to talk about the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield at the National Journal, Courtney Kube of NBC, Tom Gjelten of NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd we will open the phones shortly and take your calls, 800-433-8850, send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or twitter. Good morning and happy Friday.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning, Diane.
REHMTom Gjelten, you're just back from Tunisia and the Libyan border. We learned this morning that a ship carrying about $160 million worth of Libyan currency has been impounded after turning back from a planned trip to Libya and that's said by a British government official. The ship whose nationality and ownership she refused to identify returned to Britain after its Captain decided not to dock at Tripoli harbor because of the unrest there. What do you make of this?
MR. TOM GJELTENThat's a very interesting story and you wonder whether someone in the -- whether Gadhafi himself or someone in his government is looking to get a supply of currency. Does it mean that they are beginning to have trouble accessing their own cash in their own country? Libya is an extremely cash rich country. This is a country that, of course, produces a lot of wealth. There is a -- from oil, there's a sovereign wealth fund there and most of that wealth -- most of the money in that sovereign wealth fund has been in cash, in Libyan banks.
MR. TOM GJELTENSo you have to wonder whether, perhaps, the sanctions regime is beginning to really bite and whether the government there is having trouble accessing that cash. But, you know, it's an intriguing story. We really don't know yet what it means, do we?
REHMWhat do you make of it, James?
KITFIELDThat would be my best guess, too. I mean, what's interesting is it was coming back into Libya so maybe he has this money stashed someplace else and he needs it to spread around to buy friends right now because he doesn't have enough friends.
REHMAll right. Courtney Kube, yesterday, President Obama made his first public statement on Libya since the outbreak of the armed conflict. What did you make of his statement?
MS. COURTNEY KUBEWell, his comments were very strong and he warned that Libya could ultimately turn into a bloody stalemate. He was echoing some strong language from Secretary Clinton in the most recent days, including saying that it could be a protracted civil war in Libya in the coming days. What you really have to look at, though, from President Obama's speech is, he's moving along the bar of what the international community is going to be willing to tolerate here.
MS. COURTNEY KUBENow, there's been a lot of debate this week about what exactly -- what's the next step? Obviously, the U.N. security council has imposed sanctions. The U.S. has frozen $30 billion in assets which goes back to the money problems that Gadhafi is facing. But what's next? Well, the international community imposed a no-fly zone over Libya, possibly. It doesn't look as likely right now, but it's possible still.
REHMI thought it was interesting that Secretary of State Clinton, early in the week, talked about a no-fly zone. Then you had Defense Secretary Gates say any talk of a no-fly zone is premature.
GJELTENWell, you know, Diane. I think that one of the things that military officers like to do is to emphasize to their civilian counterparts or superiors that nothing is easy. And I think that they are often worried that civilians make these statements and decisions and commitments without realizing the practical implications of what they're talking about. And Secretary Gates was so blunt. He said -- right off the bat, he said, let's call a spade a spade and a no-fly zone is not a passive operation. It begins with air strikes.
GJELTENAnd he wanted people to be sure that they understand that what you're talking about is opening yet another military front, war front in the Middle East.
KITFIELDLet me reinforce that statement. And I'll go on the record and say -- and I think a no-fly zone is extremely unlikely. That we want to get in the middle of what's looking less like a genocide against people protests and more like a rebel movement and civil war. We don't typically like to get ourselves in the middle of foreign civil wars. We -- NATO has said that basically it wants a U.N. security council resolution before it would contemplate this.
KITFIELDThis -- that resolution is not going to come from the U.N. security council. Russia and China object to the idea of intervening in these kinds of situations. NATO itself, seems to me, very unlikely. It's stretched thin by Afghanistan. It's not likely and that leaves the Obama administration which would -- to sort of do it, you know, laterally. I don't see this administration, at this time, wanting to open another front in a Muslim country in the Middle East.
KUBEAnd you're looking at, at this point, there will not be a U.N. security council resolution that approves a no-fly zone. So that would mean, it would have to be some sort of a coalition of the willing -- of the international community, who would be willing to dedicate, you know, a 100 jets. That would be willing to go in offensively in the beginning and take out air defenses in Libya and then potentially face the reality that Libyan could -- the Libyan military could attack coalition air forces that are going over the country that are enforcing the no-fly zone.
KUBEAnd then they would have to respond. It's just going to be continuing to escalate if the no-fly zone is actually implemented and Libyans respond.
GJELTENAnd, you know, Diane, actually there's been some talk from the Arab league that maybe there could be an Arab enforcement of a no-fly zone with the African union. But the truth is, because of the capabilities that are required for this, as Courtney just mentioned, there's no way that anybody other than the United States can do this.
REHMNow, you've got forces loyal to Gadhafi, standing up against the rebels. You've got these oil rich areas trying to -- the rebels are trying to hold them. Where is this going, James?
KITFIELDIt's not going to a very good place and that's why Obama's rhetoric was so strong yesterday, I think, because they can see this, sort of, getting into a stalemate and very bloody stalemate. I mean, it seems like that Gadhafi has support enough to hold Tripoli. The rebels in the east are saying they might move on Tripoli. That would be the bloody conflict, if it happened. His forces have tried to retake, you know, the oil port you mentioned were repelled.
KITFIELDSo this is looking very bad. We really would prefer to find a way for him to step aside. You know, I would imagine, right now, there are people who are saying, you know, we can probably put together some sort of an exile deal for you, but you have got to step aside. But, you know, he is a total wildcard. And we're not even sure of his mental grasp of the situation. He seems, at times, not to understand -- he's always been a little bit delusional. He seems even more so under the pressure of this situation.
REHMAnd when he made his statement on Monday, he said, nothing's happening, everything's fine.
GJELTENNo. And almost comical was the attempts to shepherd a foreign journalist around Tripoli and even into Western Libya last weekend, you know, promising to show them that Libyans support him and then he takes the journalist -- they take the journalist into these areas where they find the people up in arms against the Gadhafi regime. It really wonders -- makes you wonder about his grasp of reality.
KUBEAnd another thing that's still confusing and up in the air is these air strikes that there are -- there is now evidence that Gadhafi's military have -- they have done some air strikes in the Benghazi area. The question is, what's the motivation behind this? Because they're not hitting, they're going after the strategic area with this oil point but they're not hitting actual buildings. They're not going after civilians. So Gadhafi's son, Saif said, oh well, we're just trying to scare the opposition away. We're trying to get them away from this strategic area.
KUBEBut then, there's also some speculation, it's possible, that this is a sign of defections on the part of the Libyan air force, that they intentionally are not hitting those locations because they no longer support Gadhafi.
REHMAnd what about the international criminal courts warnings to Gadhafi, James?
KITFIELDWell, you know, that's kind of why we -- what the international criminal court was established. We not -- we are not a sort of cooperating member of the criminal court, but we have issues in, like, Rwanda and genocides like that have sort of cooperated with it, even though we're not a, sort of, member of it. I don't think it'll have a lot of impact. He's got bigger fish to fry right now than worrying about an eventual criminal court warrant for him. I think that he has to worry about his neck right now.
REHMTom, you were there, what did you see? What did you perceive?
GJELTENThat's right, Diane. I was just camped out on the border between Tunisia and Libya for about a week. My intention was to try to -- my expectation was that -- I think a lot of us were assuming that this government was going to fall, might have actually fallen by now. And a lot of us were there camped out on the border waiting for the government to fall so that we could go into Libya. And, of course, nothing happened. That border never opened, but what we did find was a dramatic humanitarian situation on the border.
GJELTENWhen I first got there at the beginning of last week, there were a couple thousand people coming across the border each day. Mostly Tunisians and they came across and went home. By the end of the -- by last weekend, that number was up to 5 to 10 thousand a day and they were largely non-Tunisian. They were largely Egyptian and they had nowhere to go and they were piling up at the border. And what had begun as a very orderly and impressive operation by the Tunisian military to handle this inflow of refugees, by last weekend and even more this week, had really degenerated into a chaotic situation and now the UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, is calling it a humanitarian nightmare.
REHMWell, don't you have Libyan police now at the border, Tunisian police stopping the flow?
GJELTENThere are a lot of refugees piling up at the Tunisian side of the border, but we also understand now there are refugees piling up on the Libyan side of the border that aren't able to get across. So we don't know about that side as much. But there's a humanitarian problem on both sides.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR and short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd here's our first e-mail from Jonathan. He says, "Libya's violence commands most of the media's attention, but recently Egypt's leadership seems to be playing musical chairs in setting up a non-Mubarak government that repeals the state of emergency. That said, it's amazing to see oppressive governments across Africa, the Middle East and Asia scrambling and running scared about the spark of democracy catching on in their own countries." James.
KITFIELDYeah, you know, I was writing in about this this week talking to a lot of people, former national security advisors and others who basically use words like this is an earthquake and probably the most fundamental change we've seen in the region since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. So we're watching something develop here that is historic, unprecedented and hugely important, but no one understands what's going to come out at the other end. And that, as I wrote and as many people think, what that means for us is that in the short term all our core interests in the Middle East have gotten harder to protect and defend.
KITFIELDThe flow of oil, number one. We've seen oil spike dramatically at a time we're trying to get out of this recession and the recovery is fragile. Containing Iran, we saw two Iranian warships pass through the Suez Canal, something Mubarak never allowed in 30 years, suggesting that maybe the containment of Iran is going to become more difficult so basically our counterterrorism operations. We're very worried that these Islamist groups -- on one hand, whether Al-Qaeda groups and Libya and Yemen might take advantage of the chaos. On the other hand, whether some of these democrat transitions might get hijacked by Islamist groups that would make counterterrorism very hard.
KITFIELDAnd finally, Israel's security. Israel's very, very disturbed by all this unrest around it. It's a status quo power and there's no status quo to be maintained anymore in the Middle East. So in the short term this is going to be very, very complicated and difficult for America to deal with. Again, we can't look at what's happening and not be hopeful and proud of what these people are trying to do for themselves...
KITFIELD...and to get a voice in their own governments. But...
REHM...you don't know...
GJELTENYou know, there's one country that we have not mentioned and that is not getting mentioned, and that is Algeria. And Algeria, I think, represents kind of a cautionary note because there were elections planned in Algeria about 20 years ago in 1991 and Islamist parties won the first round of those elections and they were poised to win the second round. And the government got so unnerved by the prospect of Islamist parties coming to power peacefully, politically through the election process, that they cancelled that second round of elections. And we had ten years of bloody insurgency in Algeria. And for that reason, the Algerian people know that these kinds of movements, democratic movements don't always end peacefully. And they've actually been much slower to take to the streets now then other countries. And I think that's an example we do have to keep in mind.
KUBEYeah, I agree. I agree with James that this is an earthquake, but it's an earthquake where the International Community should've seen some of the tectonic plates moving ahead of time. Because there was a foundation of change that was brewing in that region for years and chief amongst that being this bulging youth population, which we've heard more and more about, the youth bulge. But there's also been an increase in a more politically conscious middle class in that region.
KUBEAnd when you look at the two together and then this new social media and more traditional media, Al Jazeera and whatnot, there's a tremendous gap in those two communities in the frustrated, unemployed youth and this politically conscious middle class. There's a gap between the expectations of what they should have, which is a government that represents them in some sort of a voice in politics and this frustration. And then when you get the two of them together, it created a spark.
REHMTalk about why Egypt's prime minister resigned, James.
KITFIELDBasically 'cause he was a close ally of Mubarak and Mubarak, just days before he left himself, named this gentleman to prime minister. The protestors never bought into that idea. They've kind of bought into the idea that this supreme military council will lead the transition to elections and democratic transition, but they didn't like the old hangers-on of Mubarak hanging around. So they put a guy, the former transportation minister in his place who was pretty vetted by the protestors, if you will, and the activists and said that this guy would be -- he's seen as a technocrat, he's seen as non-corrupt, two things that are very much at the top of the demands of the activists.
REHMBut is there a danger that a reform movement could fall apart, Tom?
GJELTENWell, of course, because, you know, what you need in particularly a country with as complex a political environment has Egypt has, what you need are institutions. I mean, that's the key to democracy. It's not elections. It's not political party. It's institutions. It's a strong judiciary. It's rule of law. It's all these things. And those are -- you know, the military may have, you know, the best of intentions, but the military's no expertise in that. And as long as that infrastructure for democracy is as undeveloped as it is in Egypt, this is going to be a very rocky road.
KUBEAnd then a sign of the times, one of my favorite parts about this entire story is that the supreme council of the armed forces, which is essentially ruling Egypt right now until the elections are held in several months, made the announcement that they were accepting his resignation on Facebook -- on their Facebook page.
KITFIELDAnd I would just add to that that, you know, to those four core interests that we have, key interests in the Middle East, we've just added a fifth. And that is to make sure that Egypt's transition is not hijacked by extremists. Because if that happens then the whole shakeup we're seeing in the Middle East could turn very, very anti-American and against our interests. So we now have a -- we have a stake in how Egypt transforms. Egypt will be the bellwether for the Arab world again.
REHMAnd think about Yemen and the president's comments, how he had to apologize to the White House.
KITFIELDExactly. When he basically said this is all a conspiracy from Israel and the United States and we're causing all this problem, clearly playing to the domestic audience, but it didn't play very well, as you can imagine, in Washington. And he was -- you know, because we are supporting him dramatically in his fight against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb, we basically said, hey what's going on here. And he apologized, called our counterterrorism -- top counterterrorism official John Brennan and said, yeah, sorry, I overstepped.
GJELTENBut that shows what a knife's edge he's trying to stay on.
GJELTENI mean, he is very concerned about his political position there. And you take those two sets of comments together, you can see that.
KUBEAnd he actually tried to form a unity government this week and the opposition said, no, we want you out of here. So, I mean, when you look at those comments President Saleh was clearly trying to play to the fears of foreign involvement in the country to build up and garner domestic support. But it clearly didn't work.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Bahrain because opposition groups did give their demands to the ruling family. What could happen there?
KUBEWell, I mean, that's another one that the U.S. has to watch carefully largely because it's home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is one of the most strategic and most critical Navy installations in the world. It maintains access to Persian Gulf oil, also leads in the counter piracy operations in the region off the coast of Somalia. So the question remains, the opposition group has submitted their demands. They want to create a constitutional monarchy, which is essentially the king rules -- or the king reigns, but the people are ruling.
KUBEAnd so far the protests in Bahrain fortunately have been largely peaceful. The Khalifa family has a little bit more credibility than some of the other monarchies that we've seen in the region. And the question remains, you know, is King Hamad going to continue along this track of reform that he has implemented in the past 11 or so years since he's been in power.
REHMSo how likely do you think the people are to realize their demands?
GJELTENWell, there's another dimension to the troubles in Bahrain that we haven't seen in other countries and that's the Sunni Shiite split. That is a Sunni monarchy and as such it's closely tied to other Sunni monarchies, particularly the Saudis. And the protestors -- the majority population in Bahrain is Shiite. So there is another source of danger and tension. I mean, we do not want to see violence between Sunni and Shiite. That's what has inflamed Iraq so much. That's kind of what -- the one thing you have to really be careful about in the Middle East.
KITFIELDThat's exactly right. And the reason Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff was quickly in Bahrain trying to basically calm the nerves of the ruling family, we will put a lot more effort in making sure that Bahrain does not slip into a full out revolt. And the main reason is it's Saudi Arabia. It's right across the causeway from Saudi Arabia. The Saudi royal family is not going to let the fellow Sunni royal family in Bahrain 15 miles away fall to Shiites when their whole region around there, which is oil-rich and some of their biggest fields are in areas where there's a Shiite majority in Saudi Arabia. So Bahrain is closely tied to Saudi Arabia. Really don't feel like, I think, that we can allow that to sort of crumble into, like Tom said, a potential to civil war (unintelligible) .
REHMSo the royal family is in effect doling out money to the population?
KITFIELDAnd reforms. I mean -- and we've been pushing behind the scenes to reform quicker, reform more. We're trying to help them get ahead of the mob, if you will. But they were seen as sort of reformists. You know, as Tom said, benevolent monarchs compared to many in the region. So I think that you will see much more U.S. support to try to see the Bahrainian royal family through this crisis.
REHMI want to ask you all about the reports on Raymond Davis and his connection to the CIA. Why did the Obama administration ask U.S. news organizations to withhold that information?
KUBEWell, it was for his safety and it's one of those tough lines that you walk as a journalist when you find out the piece of information but you know that it could potentially harm -- put someone in danger. By the time that it was evident that he was a contractor for the CIA there was already tremendous outcry in Pakistan calling for blood, calling for him to be killed for his alleged shooting of two Pakistani civilians. And then the ensuing not even diplomatic headache, but diplomatic massive migraine of, you know, another civilian was mowed down by a U.S. Embassy vehicle en route. One of the widows of one of the men who was killed took rat poison and killed herself.
KUBEI mean, it just continues to snowball out of control and it's become a tremendous domestic problem for the government in Pakistan. So right now it's a diplomatic stalemate basically.
GJELTENAnd, you know, you have to have some appreciation for the position that the very weak government in Pakistan finds itself in right now. Because the truth is, if they just bow to U.S. demands and let this guy go they're going to be faced with tremendous demonstrations. And they're also going to expose themselves to violent retribution on the part of Taliban and Al-Qaeda groups in Pakistan. So the Pakistani authorities are themselves in a very delicate situation.
REHMBut back to U.S. news organizations, do you agree with Courtney that it was for safety reasons and it was a good thing to do, James?
KITFIELDI absolutely do agree with that. I mean, there is some history here and it's not very pretty. We had the station chief from the CIA who was kidnapped in the 1980s by groups and he was tortured to death in captivity 'cause we couldn't get him out. And it was revealed that he was a CIA station chief. So if you've got your CIA guy there, you know that he's in danger and your first priority is to get him out of there. And I think the news organizations were just being, you know, correct in saying, let's see if that works. What happened was it didn't work, it did eventually leak. So now we've got a real problem on our hands 'cause we can't afford to have this guy tried and certainly not hung. And the same time, our cooperation with the Pakistani intelligence services is critical to the war in Afghanistan. So this needs to get resolved.
KITFIELDI suspect this -- you know, a lot of talk now about compensation we might be able to offer the families of the people who were killed. They call it blood money but there's a tradition for it in that culture. I would imagine that we're trying very hard to accelerate those talks and get it done because the religious parties are trying to nix that deal.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Are you suggesting, James, that paying that blood money could get Raymond Davis out?
KITFIELDI think that will have to be the deal that is cut 'cause Tom's right. The government there is in a very precarious position. But if they can turn around and say, hey we have this tradition. We keep it operative 'cause we want our own tribal society not to have all these revenge killings. So it is part of our culture and the U.S. is stepping up I would imagine with significant money. And hopefully they'll find some sort of a deal.
REHMAnd what about the assassination of the only Christian member of Parliament, Tom?
GJELTENThat is an extremely alarming development because it's the second assassination, of course, in the last few weeks. Two major political figures in Pakistan, probably the two leading figures who opposed the so called blasphemy law, one provision of which -- or aspect of which calls for the death penalty for people that blasphemy Islam. These two political figures opposed that law and both have now been assassinated. What I think one of the things that was particularly disturbing about this last case is that Mr. Bhatti knew that his life was in danger, appealed for security. And it appears that the Pakistani authorities fearing to incur the wrath of the radical groups basically refused to provide him the security that he was asking for and left him vulnerable, left him exposed to these groups.
REHMAnd it was the Pakistani Taliban who claimed responsibility, Courtney.
KUBEIt was. And officials at the scene found pamphlets that were talking about how the blasphemy laws should not be repealed. And it had -- Pakistani Taliban came out and acknowledged that they had killed -- they had assassinated him. But I think this also begs one other bigger question. And that's that after the assassination of the governor of Punjab that Tom mentioned back in January, Prime Minister Gilani came out and told Parliament he was not going to change the blasphemy law. So despite the fact that Mr. Bhatti had come out against it, it didn't look like it was going to change. So it sort of begs this larger question, does that mean that there are -- that these insurgents, the Pakistani Taliban are just going to continue to target with assassination campaigns these more liberal forward reform-leaning candidates in Pakistan until they're all gone?
REHMAnd let's talk about the shooting of U.S. troops in Germany. What a tragedy, and how could that security have been so lax, James?
KITFIELDWell, you know, this reminds me of Fort Hood. It is a tragedy 'cause we asked these people to put themselves in danger's way for us. And when they're in what we think is a safe area suddenly there's no safety for people in uniform.
REHMSomebody gets on the bus...
REHM...and starts shooting.
KITFIELDRight. And they're looking whether there was a security lapse. But, believe me, I've gone through Frankfort -- I lived in Germany for a long time -- but I've gone through Frankfort Airport with uniformed personnel many, many times and nothing has ever happened. I mean, Germany was not a place you thought there was any real danger. So this 21-year-old Albanian of Kosovar ethnicity obviously was radicalized recently. He was not on any counterterrorist watch list. Just walked up to a bus that was unloading people. It's one of those things -- it's kind of like a bolt of lightning. I'm not sure it's easy to protect against something like that.
GJELTENThe big question that we have, Diane, is whether there was anyone else behind him in the shooting. And the reason for that is there have been a number of intelligence warnings in the last few weeks specifically about Germany and specifically about Al-Qaeda members carrying out shooting attacks on individuals. I mean, so the incident itself conforms very closely to what was being warned. Now, on the other hand he appears to be -- have acted, at least in that instance, by himself. And so we certainly do not know that there was anyone behind him. But it does -- there is this unnerving connection to the intelligence warnings that preceded this.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR. When we come back, we'll open the phones, take your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup it's time to open the phones. Let's go first to Jay in Madison, Conn., you're on the air.
JAYHi. I can imagine it being a rather slippery slope with unintended consequences. But what possibility, if any, is there for perhaps arming the rebellion in Libya with ground air missiles, you know, the like of stinger missiles where they can essentially enforce their own no fly zone?
KITFIELDThey've armed themselves. They've raided some armories of the Libyan military. They have apparently we've seen -- intelligence photos apparently have seen they have shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. And this is a major concern 'cause we don't know these guys. We don't know what they stand for. But when this has happened in Iraq, for instance, after the invasion there where there were these depots that were unguarded and the weapons just sort of got stolen and went out and a lot of them ended up on the black market and a lot of them ended up killing Americans. Whenever you talk about shoulder fired anti-air missiles, you're worried about civilian aircraft. And so not a good idea, I don't think.
REHMAll right. To Nashville, Tenn., Ibrahim, you're on the air. Ibrahim, are you there? All right. Let's go to Sarah in Vienna, Va., good morning.
SARAHGood morning. My question is why has Bahrain taken -- why are they taking such a long time making these Democratic reforms and what type of government do you think will emerge there with their largely oppressed Shiite majority?
KUBEWell, King Hamad has in the past reached out in small ways to the Shiite minority population there. And so I think there's more of a potential for Bahrain to move in a reform path than some of the other neighboring countries. You know, he's already in talks with the Shiite opposition. He's reshuffled his cabinet. So I think there's a better chance there. I don't think it's anything that you're gonna see happen very quickly. But he also has the added motivation that we haven't spoken about, which is Iran backed some of the more extremist members of the Shiite opposite in Bahrain. And he wants to maintain a stable country and so he has the added incentive of trying to keep the opposition happy and keep the flow of information and talks going.
KITFIELDAnd I would just add to that that, you know, as we said, he is seen -- and especially his son to who's U.S. educated as I recall, is seen as a reformer. I think they are trying to -- I mean, why are they being so slow? Because when you have absolute power, it's kind of tough to give it up basically we're seeing. We've seen that in the Middle East for three decades. So it's tough for them to give up power, but I do think you'll see it sort of evolve more to like a Kuwait where there is a Parliament that does have some power, although the royal family retains sort of final say.
GJELTENAnd so is a relative turf.
GJELTEN...not that much time has actually passed given...
GJELTEN...given how complicated these reforms will be.
REHMAll right. Here's an e-mail from Larry, who says, "I continue to hear about the war in the Middle East, but hear very little about the war going in Mexico. President Calderon met with President Barack Obama yesterday. What was accomplished?" Tom.
GJELTENWell, I think the most important thing was that the somewhat tense relations of recent weeks between the United States and Mexico were really smoothed over. There has been, you know, a lot of harsh words directed against the Mexican government for what is perceived as its failure to kind of reign in the violence, to reign in the drug cartels that are producing -- that are responsible for so much of that violence. There were two customs' agents who were killed in Mexico. And this really rubbed relations raw. And what President Obama did is he went out of his way to praise the Mexican government for the courage that it has shown, perseverance that it has shown, and of course thousands and thousands of Mexican law enforcement personnel have been killed in this fight. So President Obama really wanted to underscore the U.S. respect for that effort.
GJELTENThen there was another issue that was resolved, which was actually very important in U.S. Mexican relations and it's been simmering a long time. And that has to do whether -- with whether Mexican truck drivers are able to operate in the United States. Under the NAFTA accord, they should've been able to as long as their trucks met safety requirements. But the teamsters and other groups were very opposed to the Mexicans being able to drive their trucks in the United States. That issue was finally resolved. And that's something that was very important to the Mexicans.
KITFIELDI think that was the big deliverable from this meeting and it sort of papered over the fact that there was two deliverables that were not met. One of which is -- and both have to do with, you know, the domestic position of these two leaders. President Calderon has been asked by United States to let our agents in Mexico carry guns. That's a very unpopular move in Mexico which has for historic reasons many sensitivities about U.S. involvement in Mexican affairs. And he wants from us that we on our border states have, you know, some sort of a law so when gun shops sell multiple rifles, big orders, that they are alerted and bedded and make sure they're not coming across the Mexican border, which they are. So -- and neither one of the presidents got those deliverables. Basically it's just too difficult to do domestically.
REHMAll right. To Jacksonville, Fla. and to David, good morning, you're on the air.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane. I'm just curious how much did Obama's speech in Egypt where the whole of the Middle East and the world was excited about the new president. And this was during his election phase talking about change and vitalization. And then he sort of sat down and disappeared and not unlike he's done in the local politics of the United States. He's really lost us it seems. All soft power and all rights to talk to others about change in the Middle East because he talked about it so greatly and then disappeared.
KUBEWell, I think this goes back to what we spoke about earlier, which is President Obama was sort of at the -- he gave that speech in Cairo sort of at the beginning of this moment of change. And there was, as we said before, a large youth population listened to him in the Arab World. And they said, wow, you know, this man is bringing change to the United States, we can bring change to our countries. And so I think it's fair to say he inspired some of this change. Now, whether -- obviously, there's the populations in each country that has to carry it out, but I think it's fair to say that President Obama did help drive the...
REHMSo it's either inspiration or it's blame, one or the other.
GJELTENWell, you know, I mean, I think the caller has a good point which is that he clearly did inspire that movement, but then he kinda dropped the ball. I mean, and the truth is that none of that rhetoric meant that the United States was moderating its support for Mubarak -- for the Mubarak regime. In fact, when this trouble started, you had Vice President Biden going way out on a limb saying that Mubarak was not a dictator, that he was a good guy. So I think that you can legitimately say as the caller is that, you know, it's one thing to call for change, but the United States -- President Obama did not back that up.
REHMWell, we've been making devil's bargains with a lot of these dictators.
KITFIELDYeah, I'm gonna play devil's advocate here a little bit 'cause I've recently reread that speech. And it was very dramatic about the change the autocrats and despots in that region needed to make to get in front of what we've seen here. They didn't do it. In many ways it's up to them to do it. There was two deliverables that Iraq -- that President Obama basically said that he would do to get back on the side of sort of the Islamic world. Pull out of Iraq, which we're in the process of doing, should have most, if not all our troops out this year. And also reenergize the Israeli Palestinian peace process, which they have tried very hard to do, albeit have failed miserably. And I think you could share the blame between the Netanyahu government in Israel as well as the Obama. But that was the two things he's trying to do to get back on the good side of the Islamic world and I think he's had sort of moderate success.
REHMAll right. To Winston-Salem, N.C., hi, Fernando.
FERNANDOWell, hi to all. My point is -- it's more a comment. And, you know, it's -- generally the program -- your programs are very even keeled one, but I'm surprised how little regard in the case of this contractor for the CIA that killed two civilians, how little comment has been there about the killing of two civilians who actually did not even attack this gentleman. He was not defending himself. He thought they were going to attack him. And, you know, and this brings the larger issue of the foreign policy of the United States that, you know, that tries to protect individuals like this or like black water for that matter. You know, and then -- and support dictator regimes like most in the Arab World and like Mubarak and then in Pakistan also, and then claim to -- in the, you know, in the public larger world claim to defend freedom and human rights.
KITFIELDTwo points, every report that I've seen was these gentlemen got off of a motorcycle while his car was stopped and approached him with guns. I have not seen any -- there's no claims I've heard that they weren't trying to rob him. I'll tell you what his big concern probably was, was not getting robbed, but was being captured like Daniel Pearl was and have his head cut off. So if he's a CIA contractor, we have people working in Pakistan, which we need to do. We have to have people to guard them. He's one of these people who guards them. And I having spent some time with them, they will not be captured. And we've seen with these assassinations, they are extremists, they are who will kill you if you're not protected. So, I mean, unless you wanna pull out of Pakistan altogether, I don't know what the alternative is but to have some security personnel protecting our intelligence people.
GJELTENWell, I think that this -- you know, James made the point earlier that we have to protect our covert operatives, which is certainly legitimate. I think that there are some in the U.S. government that are a little uncomfortable with this case and with the behavior of Raymond Davis. There's some question of whether he was -- should've been carrying a weapon. I think there might be some -- there is clearly some legal questions about the extent to which he actually has diplomatic immunity. Diplomatic immunity which ordinarily should protect someone from prosecution in a foreign country, turns out not to be a black and white case. There are different types of diplomatic immunity, different levels and it depends on what actually you did that you might be prosecuted for. It's not exactly a black and white case.
REHMSo his immunity hearing is actually what's coming up, is that right?
GJELTENThe United States is saying that he deserves diplomatic immunity, but, you know, from what I've read, there -- it is -- there is some question about really whether he qualifies for full fledged diplomatic immunity or not.
KUBEThis all started as a problem at the very beginning when the U.S. initially said that he was assigned to the Consulate in Lahore, when in fact he's actually attached to the embassy in Islamabad. So the U.S. maintains that on January 20 Raymond Davis entered the country. They informed the Pakistani government of his role as a "technical and administrative advisor to the embassy," whatever that means, and that the Pakistanis accepted him in, accepted his diplomatic immunity and issued him a diplomatic I.D. card. The Pakistanis are now saying, we never accepted him in the country and that he carries a non-diplomatic I.D. The difference there being, diplomatic I.D. card gives you full diplomatic immunity which is under the Vienna Convention an absolute right of no prosecution in the country's laws.
REHMCourtney Kube, she's national security producer for NBC News. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Amherst, Va., good morning, Ken, you're on the air.
KENGood morning. I would like to ask the panel what their thoughts on about Gadhafi, possibly the reason why he's acting the way he is is because the international community is coming down so hard on him. You had the Tunisian president who left his country, had a safe place to go. Mubarak has got a safe place to go. But Gadhafi is being treated a little bit differently and everybody's coming down on him and basically saying, look, if you continue doing this, we're gonna prosecute you and we're gonna throw you in jail, and that's the reason why he's fighting so hard to stay in power.
GJELTENWell, Gadhafi sort of is responsible for his own predicament. I mean, he -- Ben Ali, the president of Tunisia, was able to go to Saudi Arabia, but you got Gadhafi who's been implicated in attempts to assassinate Saudi prince -- some Saudi prince. So you could understand why maybe the Saudis aren't anxious to have him. He's created a lot of trouble in his part of the world and he's made a lot of enemies, unlike Ben Ali or even Mubarak in that regard. So he does have a little bit of a different situation. It's a little more challenging. You know, he's not likely to end up in a very comfy place.
REHMDo you think the U.S. will find a place for him, James?
KITFIELDI would think that that's part of the discussions right now. Although he has reacted in such a heinous fashion that he might close all the doors of that kind of assistance. I mean, there are still African countries that he has been helpful to that I would imagine would give him exile. But if he keeps, you know, mass slaughter, using his armed forces against people who are not armed, it's gonna be very difficult for any country to sort of step up and offer him exile. So he's being his own worst enemy now.
REHMAnd isn't Mubarak still in Sharm el-Sheikh?
KUBEThat's another one of the million dollar questions, along with some of the reports this week that he's very ill and suffering from cancer, which have been knocked down, but are still sort of floating in the rumor mill in Egypt. And the question remains, where is he gonna go next? Is he gonna stay in Sharm el-Sheikh or is going to leave the country?
KUBEHe says he's not.
REHMFinally, to Chapel Hill, N.C., John Paul, you're on the air.
PAULThe people that Raymond Davis killed were ISI intelligence service personnel. They were trailing him because they knew he was a spook. And these men were shot in the back. This is all over the press in the East. This is in Pakistani mainstream news media and you can find it on the internet news services like alternate.org, information clearing house, TVNewsLIES.org.
REHMAll right, sir. Courtney.
KUBEThat report that they were ISI and that they were trailing him and he just got angry and it became a confrontation has been out there for several weeks. U.S. officials have denied that, flat out, left and right. They're saying there's no indication they were ISI, that they were in fact trying to rob him. They had other cell phones. They had weapons of some sort on them. They were trying to -- this was not an intended hit and they were not targeting him. So we have heard those reports, but there's no confirmation from there.
KITFIELDAnyone who's spent time in that part of the region knows that there's conspiracy theories abound. And there are details about this we don't know. I'm not sure they were shot in the back. But if they are, it certainly raises some questions. I will say that if they are unarmed -- I mean, if they're not in uniform and they're trailing someone and they stop and get off their bikes and approach him with guns drawn, they're very stupid ISI agents.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal, Courtney Kube of NBC News, Tom Gjelten of NPR and author of the book "Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba." Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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