The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter discusses why President Biden's popular policies haven't translated to popularity among voters.
The U.S. and its allies ramp up the campaign against Libyan forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Political unrest intensifies in Yemen and Syria. And Japanese officials seek to reassure Tokyo residents about radiation in the city’s water supply. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Moises Naim Chief international columnist, El Pais.
- Elise Labott Senior State Department producer for CNN.
- Daniel Dombey U.S. diplomatic correspondent, Financial Times.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of U.S.A. Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on a station visit with WJCT in Jacksonville, Fla. NATO agrees to take over enforcement of the no-fly zone in Libya. Rebels make gains, but the outcome remains far from clear. Yemen's President is in talks that could lead to his resignation within days. In Syria, a crackdown on protesters by the army and police leaves more than a dozen people dead.
MS. SUSAN PAGEAnd Portugal's Prime Minister resigns after Parliament rejects an austerity plan. Joining me in the studio to discuss the week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Elise Labott of CNN and Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. MOISES NAIMWelcome.
MS. ELISE LABOTTThank you.
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 at email@example.com. Or you can find us on twitter or Facebook. Well, Moises, let's talk first about what's happening in Libya. Finally, an agreement reached yesterday for NATO to take over command of the no-fly zone, but this does not extricate the United States entirely from a leadership role there.
NAIMNot at all. And the United States has been trying to create a coalition that it can rely upon to continue the operations and there has been this struggle within NATO. Remember, that includes Germany that abstained in the security council so Germany's not supporting the operation in Libya. And Germany's a very important player in NATO. Then there is France that took initial action and France was the first country to recognize their rebels. It was the first country that started the bombing operations.
NAIMAnd now, finally, they agreed to have NATO in charge of enforcing the no-fly zone. But the action has moved to the no-drive zone. That is, the action is no longer in the air. The action was never really much in the air. The action is on the ground as Gadhafi forces continue to try root out the rebels in different cities.
PAGEWas there reluctance, at least, by the United States or a desire, at least, to not have the U.S. be in such the lead in terms of pushing back against these ground forces?
LABOTTI mean, I think you've seen President Obama saying, days not weeks, where the U.S. will hand over to NATO and will become some kind of support and assist role. And that's really what the U.S. has been trying to do. Now, what's holding everything up is that NATO really is in agreement on what this mission is. Most of the NATO allies -- and most of the members of this coalition, such as some Arab states that we'll talk about, the UAN (sp?) Cutter. And they're really clear that, you know, this U.N. Security Council resolution that was authorized is to, by all means necessary, to protect the civilians.
LABOTTAnd countries like the U.S., the U.K., France, many others understand that that might entail some kind of air strikes against Gadhafi's forces. But countries like Turkey want NATO to assume command and control of the no-fly zone. They don't want NATO taking air strikes against Gadhafi's forces.
PAGESo Daniel, if by all means necessary to protect civilians, what about the goal of ousting Moammar Gadhafi? Is that part of the agenda as well?
MR. DANIEL DOMBEYThis is why it is so messed up, to be honest. Because the U.S. policy -- U.S. administration policies regime change, to be honest, you couldn't have it clear. You've had both President Obama and Secretary Clinton saying, "Gadhafi must go." And yet the irony is, this is one of the joys of multilateralism, is that the U.S. lead military action does not have as a goal to get rid of Gadhafi because they're constrained. First of all, by not wanting to appear unilateral and secondly, by the terms of U.N. Security Council resolution, which is to protect civilians.
MR. DANIEL DOMBEYSo what's the strategy? The strategy is to hope to get lucky. But the problem is, is that hoping to get lucky is not enough. Gadhafi has sensed that there's a lack of resolve, to be honest, in the international coalition. He's stepped up. He's actually within cities. The U.S. is worried about carrying out air strikes in cities because of collateral damage, i.e., killing civilians, but it's already carrying out quite a lot of air strikes.
MR. DANIEL DOMBEYIn the last 24 hours, we know about, there were 130 salties (ph) and 49 of those were strikes on Gadhafi's forces. If this came within NATO, Turkey could veto those. And the really important discuss is actually going to be over the next few days because NATO is going to have to work out the operation rules, what the rules of the road are, what kind of war they want to wage and they haven't decided yet. The possibility is that actually there isn't going to be as many air strikes in the future as there are right now.
MR. DANIEL DOMBEYAnd that could well mean that Gadhafi stays in power or it could mean a fragmented Libya. It certainly might mean, no easy exit.
LABOTTAnd that's why over the last couple of days, you've seen this U.S. put out several messages. First of all, yesterday, U.S. officials were saying that the U.S. and NATO are in agreement in principle, that NATO will take over all of these aspects, as Daniel was talking about. But when we hear from the NATO Secretary General, he says, no, NATO has only agreed to enforce the no-fly zone. And so what do you do about these air strikes? I mean, there has been a lot of talk yesterday about possibly two commands.
LABOTTNATO commanding the no-fly zone and the U.S. or possibly the U.K. or somebody else commanding some of these other air strikes. Nobody wants anything like that and the U.S. has also, you know, as Daniel said, hoping to get lucky, putting out messages to Gadhafi that possibly his inner circle is reaching out. Possibly trying to get an exit strategy for themselves, kind of psych ops if you will, mind games. From what we can tell, Gadhafi is hunkering down.
LABOTTIf intelligence officials have said he has no intention of going and although some of his officials in his inner circle are reaching out, the foreign minister, Moussa Koussa and his brother-in-law Abdullah Senoussi have been reaching out to officials. I think, it's more about keeping their options open, but nobody has signaled that they're ready to abandon Gadhafi. And nobody has signaled that Gadhafi is ready to go, as Daniel said, I could go on for a very long time.
NAIMOne of the problems is that Gadhafi no longer has anywhere to go. He's becoming increasingly isolated and where would he go? Just today, there was a meeting between Gadhafi's representatives and the leaders of the African union. Gadhafi has always had a very strong influence there. And even there he was rebuffed. Also to add, too, I think it's a very interesting example of how complicated things are. The scrambling for who enters and operates the airport in Benghazi.
NAIMBenghazi is the city that is now largely controlled by the rebels. And there is a fierce competition between Turkey and France as to who will be the first to enter and operate the airport. The country that enters and operates is going to be seen as the liberator and can reap very interesting post-war benefits from having been the first in controlling -- operating the Benghazi airport.
DOMBEYWell, just following up what Moises said, and it reinforces his point, one of the other problems with this world that we live in now is that the U.N., which wanted to act swiftly and decisively, subject -- referred Gadhafi and his family to the international criminal court. Well, that makes an out all the more difficult. Because where can Gadhafi go? The only answer really say many state department officials is to, hey, to face trial. That's not a very appetizing prospect and perhaps doesn't make the end much closer.
PAGEYou know, these seem like such fundamental questions. How did we get into a military operation, now a week old, without some of these basic questions being agreed upon?
LABOTTWell, the French really wanted to act very quickly because there was a lot of intelligence that said that Gadhafi was going to go against Benghazi, that he was going slaughter thousands of people. And the French really acted without haste to make sure that this happened and in some ways, kind of got the international community kind of kicking and screaming a little bit to go along with them.
LABOTTThe problem is that this resolution, it's not just about -- we're talking about the no-fly zone and who's going to implement it and who's going to have command and control. There are a lot of other things in this resolution about, all means necessary. And that answers the question, what happens after you have the no-fly zone? Are they going to arm the opposition? Are they going to train the opposition? Is there going to be political support for this opposition? And what happens in terms of provisional government?
LABOTTThese are the questions that nobody knows -- they're going to start talking about this on Tuesday in London at a meeting of foreign ministers, Secretary Clinton will be going, all other members of NATO and the coalition will be there. But these -- once you set up this no-fly zone -- and we've said, I mean, everybody pretty much expects that unless someone in, maybe, in Gadhafi's inner circle kills Gadhafi, this is going to go on for a long time. You could have a division between east and west.
LABOTTAnd then they have to discuss what -- how do you achieve that ultimate goal of getting Gadhafi out? And it's going to mean, you know, helping to support this opposition in what could be a long run civil war in the country.
DOMBEYYeah, I just wanted to add one thing. Which is, there is a direct link and a rather worrying link between the traveling circus of negotiations, whether it's in Paris at the weekend or Brussels just now or London next week, and actions on the ground, Gadhafi's forces against -- Gadhafi's moves against civilians. I don't want to sound like George W. Bush, but it does come a little down to resolve. The Kosovo war only really ended after Clinton signaled that he would be ready to send ground forces.
DOMBEYAnd in the end, he didn't have to send those ground forces, but that was enough to get Milosevic to sue for peace. Right now, is there anything like that? No, there's just a discussion about how constrained this is going to be. How unpopular it's going to be and who's going to be responsible? One of the problems, I think, is that this is a little bit of a behind covering. Everyone talks about the Pottery Barn rule for Iraq as Colin Powell said. If you break it, you own it.
DOMBEYWell, I think, lots of people are looking at Libyans thinking -- Libya and thinking, this is probably going to be broken at the end. So Obama saying to Sarko and Cameron, why don't you own it? That's not the kind of impression of resolve that I think will make Gadhafi think that he needs to give up.
LABOTTAnd there's also the idea that a lot of critics are saying that Libya does not meet the test of the, kind of, interest for the United States. That the U.S. should be going in with ground forces to get rid of Colonel Gadhafi. Some say, as Libya goes, so does Libya. What -- will this really affect what this tumultuous change -- what's going on in the region, the U.S. is looking ahead towards Yemen and Syria, which we're going to talk about.
LABOTTSome of these other states have much more fundamental U.S. interest, that they're going to have to consider. And these -- and the resources are going to be taken away in Libya and the attention and the focus right now, is really detracting from some of these other larger problems.
NAIMLibya is very, very close to Europe, is very close to Italy. Italy has a very long held interest. It was a former Italian colony. It has strong economic interests. And the same goes for other European countries. So there will be a reality on the ground which is a broken country that is going to be highly fragmented and is going to be very important for Europe to get it right.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll turn to talk about Syria and Yemen and we'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850, our lines are open, stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. With me in the study, Daniel Dombey, U.S. diplomatic correspondent for the Financial Times, Elise Labott, senior State Department producer for CNN and Moises Naim, chief international columnist for El Pais. We're going to go to the phones shortly. You can call as 1-800-433-8850. Well, we see unrest in Syria continuing to escalate. Daniel, is it clear what's happening there?
DOMBEYWell, it's certainly not clear what's happening because it's a repressive regime. But certainly what's happened is that after the killings in recent days in the southern city of Dara, there have been a series of protests. You've seen thousands of people in the streets in that city, you've seen people in demonstrations in Damascus. You've even seen people protest in the city of Hama, which is a city where thousands of people were killed by Assad's father in the 1980s and where people really know the price of protest.
DOMBEYSo that's a very striking change and you've seen a rattle regime, you've seen President Assad announce salary rises. You've seen him making some gestures about releasing prisoners. It's a very unsteady situation. It's not a situation where he's under the same kind of imminent threat as President Saleh is in Yemen, but it's a sort of unrest that that state has not seen before. And it just shows, again, how this Arab spring is just continuing to make its affect felt throughout the region.
PAGEEven places like Syria where we might not to expect to see it, we see it reflected there. The Associated Press has just moved an urgent that says a resident of the southern city of Dara has reported that Syrian troops have opened fire on protesters there. Witnesses have reported several casualties. We don't have any more details about that. We've certainly heard mixed messages from the Syrian government in terms of what they say, openness to reform and what they're doing in cases like this.
NAIMAnd the reference -- the historical reference is the one that Daniel mentioned is the city of Hama. In 1982 the president's -- this president's father repressed a rebellion there by the Muslim Brotherhood in which there were, like Daniel said, thousands of people killed, between 17,000 and 40,000, depending on who you believe. And the city was -- large chunks of the city were bulldozed. And so that sends a very strong signal about the nature of the regime. And concerning the Arab spring what we are now discovering is that that spring has two kinds of variance. One in which the military turn against the ruler and therefore support the forces for change. And those that are willing to kill the people in the streets. And we have seen that in Libya with both the troops and mercenaries. And we are now -- another test is going to be Syria. It all looks...
NAIM...like the Syrian military are going to be supporting this president, and they look, at least today, like they are more than willing to kill and repress the population.
PAGEAnd this is in contrast to what we saw in Egypt, for example..
PAGE...when the military was much more willing to get on the side of the protestors. Elise.
LABOTTWell, I mean, what you've -- Syria's one of the most kind of thuggish regimes and really it's interesting. Because President Basher al-Assad came to power promising to be this big reformer, and he's instituted some reforms, but not enough obviously to satisfy the rule of the people. And the wall of fear in Syria has broken. They're looking at all these countries that rose up against a president like Mubarak who really ruled with an iron fist for decades. And now President Basher is at a crossroads.
LABOTTHe has to decide if he's going to be the thug that his father was and crack down on the people, or if he's going to institute some of these reforms that he's promising, lifting the emergency law, opening up free press, new law for political parties. Or if he's going to -- and it could even mean giving up his presidency. But he's really at a crossroads in terms of what he's going to do.
LABOTTAnd for the United States that really took a gamble on him, and you've seen in the last year has really been reaching out to Syria trying to engage, sent an ambassador there after six years since the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the administration has really -- if he cracks down on his people in a major way is really going to be kicked in the teeth in terms of this whole policy of U.S. engagement.
PAGEWe did see the White House come out with a very strong statement denouncing the Syrian forces for the violence against the protesters. Daniel, what is it that the protesters in Syria want specifically? Is there a specific agenda there?
DOMBEYI think you could ask that question really of anywhere in the Arab spring and I think you'd be hard put to come up with an answer. I mean, I think that fundamentally as many people say, and I see no reason to dispute this, in most of the countries what you have is this youth bulge. You have a number of young men coming onto the labor force who really have no other options in terms of getting jobs. They see a corrupt system, a repressive system where spoils are shared out to the few. And there's no way to vent their feelings and they rise up against it.
DOMBEYI would add -- and that was the analysis also made yesterday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates who pointedly said there was an example in Egypt where the military stood aside and "empowered a revolution." As Moises said, there's no sign of that in Syria. But I would add, for one country which isn't really like that is Libya where you have a small population, you have a lot of oil, you have big tribal differences. And actually Libya is very different from other parts of the Arab spring because you don't have this really kind of rush of water, this real kind of momentum of these dispossessed youth who have kind of really pushed the revolts throughout the Arab world.
LABOTTNo one thinks that President Basher will go right away, but they do think that the end is near in terms of if these protests continue to spread. And he continues to give some of these concessions. We saw with President Ben Ali. We saw with President Mubarak. The more concessions that they give the more the opposition smells weakness. And so eventually if he were to fall this would be a huge blow for Iran in the region, but at the same time Israel is very upset. You notice in 2006 when they were bombing Hezbollah and Lebanon, they didn't touch Syria at all, which is the transit point for a lot of arms and people going into Lebanon to attack Israel. So this could really throw a lot of things in the region into flux right now.
PAGEIs there much of an international world role here, Moises? Is there anything that countries outside Libya can do really to significantly affect the turn of...
PAGE...Syria to significantly affect the turn of events there?
NAIMWell, one country that is deeply involved and actually watching it very closely, as Elise mentioned, is Iran. There is a very close alliance between Syria and the Iranian governments. There between Syria and Hezbollah and Hamas there are two Iranian proxies. So there is a power that is trying to shape the factors there, is Iran. And certainly, of course, Israelis is also looking at it very carefully.
LABOTTAnd it kind of raises the question, Susan, what is the tipping point for the International Community to get involved? How many people have to be killed before they set up a no-fly zone in all of these countries? I mean, some of these leaders are very repressive. They're not hesitating to kill thousands of people. And so where is the role for the International Community in each of these countries?
DOMBEYI would say the tipping point is sky high in most of these countries, but you're going to see an awful lot of -- it's almost inconceivable that you'd see intervention in Syria. In fact, let me just draw an example. In Yemen, we saw more than 50 people being shot from rooftops and killed last Friday, a real act of cold blooded repression that compares with any of the others that we've seen in the Middle East this year. Have we had calls from the White House for President Saleh to step down? No, we haven't.
PAGEAnd why have we not?
DOMBEYBecause Yemen is an ally. Yemen is a government rather than a regime. It is at the end of the day you come back to these real political calculations. Now, of course you have the U.S. scrambling to adjust to the imminent reality that Saleh's going to be pushed out of power.
DOMBEYBut they don't want to lead from the front and they certainly don't want to...
NAIMNo. I just wanted to say that when you say Yemen you say Al-Qaeda and that is a central -- Yemen has been, as Daniel said, a central ally, a very quiet but very effective ally to the United States and others in the fight against international terrorism and Al-Qaeda. And President Saleh himself has been a very effective ally. And that is why the United States is now in this bind between supporting the forces for change and freedom, democracy and so on. And also perfecting an alliance that has been giving great dividends in terms of the fight against (word?) .
PAGEAnd if he is forced out of power in Yemen, which could come within days, even today, does that undermine these counterterrorism efforts, these cooperative efforts by Yemen and the United States?
NAIMThe common denominator in all of these countries is that when we say the government is out we don't know who is in. When we talk about their position in Libya, in Yemen, in Syria we don't know who they are. They -- probably they themselves don't know who they are. This is a population that is fragmented, not organized. And in Yemen it's not clear at all who is going to be the political force that replaces a vacuum created by the exit of President Saleh.
LABOTTThe problem in some of these countries is that there's no institutions. They ran by, like, one man-rule with a small coterie of aids. And so the problem is there's no successor government, there's no number two. They really don't know what to do. There's this -- the top general, General AliMohsen is in very intense negotiations with President Saleh about a transition plan. The opposition is very fragmented, as Moises said. Doesn't -- you know, some of them want him to go tomorrow. Some of them want him to go in a week. But I think he's made pretty clear he doesn't really feel comfortable stepping down until there's a transition in place and he can hand over to number two. And I would say that the U.S. feels most comfortable with that idea.
PAGEBut is there any doubt that he will step down?
LABOTTNo. He said that's he's willing to go at the end of the year. It's just a question of how soon.
DOMBEYYeah, I think that's right. I mean, he's really giving them the scent -- the opposition the scent of blood by saying he's ready to go by the end of the year. So it will be well before we get to the end of the year and certainly -- and very likely, as you say, within days. But we are seeing these -- essentially what we're seeing Yemen now is an attempt by elements of the regime to maintain that regime in place without Saleh. That's the purpose of these discussions with the top Army General Mohsen who's just defected. They want to maintain the structure in place, the very repressive structure that Saleh put in office without Saleh himself.
DOMBEYThe question is, the problem is is that if you're going to make a very profound point Yemen has a lot of problems. It's a country but at a civil war. It's the poorest country in the Arab world, they don't have enough water, their oil is running out, they're involved in putting down a (word?) revolt in the north. And say a lot of things about Saleh and he clearly is a very cold blooded guy. He's a very whiny operator and he's remained in office over 32 years. And it's far from clear that any kind of replacement regime, any kind of Saleh-like will be able to hold that fractured country together.
NAIMThat's exactly right. And then the sanctioned forces in the -- as Elise was saying, there are no institutions in these countries except the military. And in the case of Yemen the military are divided. General -- the very important reason why we're talking about the potential quick exit now of President Saleh is that General AliMohsen took his army -- took his division and left, more or less saying I no longer support the president. The problem is that other generals are with the president. So what you have is the armed forces divided and we don't know in how many parts. And we don't know how the negotiations among these groups of military people are going to proceed.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls and comments. You can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Moises, I know that you've been looking at diplomacy for decades, and I wonder what is the comparable time when we have seen an entire region -- entire critical region in such fundamental flux? Can you think of a comparison?
NAIMWell, of course the one that surely comes to mind is the early 1990s, late 1980s in Eastern Europe with the collapse of the -- the fall of the Berlin Wall. And then you have the spread of democracies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But that was different. That had many different elements. The nature of their peoples was different except that they all had in common with this one, populations fed up with repression and lack of prosperity, and the sense of having no future, of having a very limited kind of life, even though a lot of these countries are very wealthy countries.
NAIMWe're talking about countries like Poland and the Czech Republic and Hungary that are, of course, far more developed industrialized countries than these Middle Eastern countries that have huge unemployment problems, that do not have an economy capable of generating the jobs that this youth bulge that Daniel mentioned before, of young people, mostly men. Educated but not educated with skills that allow them to work in a provocative competitive -- internationally competitive economy. And that is a very important fundamental difference between what happened in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 1990s and today in the Middle East.
DOMBEYYes. I think Moises is exactly right. That probably makes it less conflictive than it could be. But the real thing that strikes me is not the similarity with '89 but the difference, because 1989 worked. 1989 was a miracle. You saw countries being set on a path to democracy. They, of course, many of them had democratic traditions. And although it was a very difficult time with economical austerity, you look back 20 odd years later and you say, that really was a triumph.
DOMBEYNow, here the problem is, is that even if the revolutions succeed in one key category things may get worse. And the long shot, the long term outcome may be a prolonged period of instability in one of the world's most important strategic regions. The economy is not going to be solved by these revolutions. In fact, the response to these revolutions is economic populism, increasing the pay of government workers. I can't see where the jobs are. That's the big question. Where are the jobs? Until the jobs come, you're not going to have contented populations.
PAGEAnd credit, I think, due to the elder President Bush in that period in the early 1990s for some skillful diplomacy on the part of the United States in handling the failed Soviet Union and some of those cases. I wonder, Elise, you're at the State Department every day, if there is this sense of such a momentous challenge for this foreign policy team with the Obama Administration?
LABOTTI think there is, and I think Secretary Clinton feels the overwhelming weight of it all. Because on one hand she and the Obama Administration -- I think her and President Obama share this real mix of pragmatism and idealism -- and so on one hand you want to stay true to American values of democracy and freedom and adjusting these yearnings of the population on the street. But then you also have to think of U.S. national security interests and, you know, whether supporting some of these movements that they don't always know that much about. How far do you go?
LABOTTAnd I think one of the problems is, you know, it's very euphoric on the streets for this first phase of the transition and in Tahrir Square and Twitter and Facebook. It's all very inspiring but then there's this next phase of the actual transition where there are a lot of vacuums in a lot of these countries. A lot of the opposition is not organized. You really don't know what comes next and I think one of the big fears is that during this period in a lot of these countries there is an opportunity for extremists to exploit the vacuum. And even if ultimately you think that there'll be a better day in Egypt or Tunisia or Syria or Yemen, they're really worried about the immediate and near term.
DOMBEYTwo very quick points. First of all, the administration insists, even as the headlines have been commandeered by Libya, that the single most important country is Egypt. And the story about -- in Egypt has barely begun. They want the transition in Egypt to go well, that's their focus. Number two, they've kept two big aircraft carriers in the North Arabian Sea. They have not sent them to Libya. They want to maintain forces of pressure in the Gulf.
PAGEDaniel Dombey, he's U.S. diplomatic correspondent for the Financial Times. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll go straight to the phones, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of U.S. Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with us this hour for the international hour of our Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Elise Labott of CNN and Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times. Let's go to the phones and take some of our callers. George has been very patient holding on from Hoover, Ala. George, hi.
PAGEGood morning. Go ahead.
GEORGEI'm just gonna make a couple of observations if I may. I had spent some time when I was on active duty in the Air Force back in the '60s at Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli. And before that when I was working my way through college, I was an intern one summer in the Bureau of Northwest African Affairs which was Libya, Tunisia and Morocco. I don't pretend to be a world expert today, but putting some very basic experience together I remember two things that might be helpful in terms of the lack of basis for democracy in the areas that y'all are covering very well at a unsophisticated level.
GEORGEThe first was I remember a gentleman coming in from Kentucky who had been a politically appointment country judge and this was during the second Eisenhower administration when I was a student intern in the state. And he told me, he said, I'm gonna be the chief of the new Supreme Court for Libya. And I was baffled. And I ask him a simple question, tell me what that means. He said, well, they don't have a real judicial system and I had been hired by U.S.A. to go over there and set up their court system starting with the Supreme Court. And since they don't have any trained judges with law degrees, I'm gonna be automatically their first Supreme Court Chief Justice on contract with the government of Libya. I just thought that was an interesting background.
PAGEYou know, that is so interesting. And I think Elise has some comment on that.
LABOTTI was actually in Libya in 2007 with Secretary of State of Condoleezza Rice when she – when the Bush administration was really trying to make entrees to Libya. And we spent a fair amount of time there with his son, Saif al-Islam, who was really seen as a reformer at the time and was talking about a constitution and elections and a Supreme Court, as the caller said. And all of these things that would make you think that Libya now that it kinda settled its Pan Am 103, gave up its weapons of mass destruction was really could've been on the right path and we thought that Saif al-Islam was the heir apparent to do that.
LABOTTIt was really surprising in the last few weeks to hear him on television talking about no mercy and to the death. And you kind of wonder whether those efforts they tried with the Colonel and his inner circle just brushed it off or whether it was just rouse because it was completely antithetical to what we thought was going to be happening in Libya.
NAIMI want to follow up on what Elise said concerning -- because it brings back the reason why Gadhafi and his government came back into favor in the international community, mostly because they gave up nuclear weapons. And that what opened the door for a lot of things. And I want to connect that to one comment that was made recently I think, yesterday or today, by North Korea about Libya. The only comment that North Korea made about Libya was, there you have it, they made a mistake. Had they not forsaken and given up their nuclear weapons, this would not be happening to Gadhafi. So there you have a very, very horrible conclusion to draw from all this.
PAGEYou mean it makes it harder to convince a state like North Korea...
NAIMIf you have -- if you have nuclear weapons...
PAGE...to give up its nuclear program.
NAIM...that shields you from -- you know, there will never be a no fly zone over a country that represses its people that has nuclear weapons.
PAGEAnd is that true if Libya still had nuclear weapons, a nuclear program, would we have not acted as we did, Daniel?
DOMBEYI wanted to agree with Moises' larger point which is that in many of these countries it is simply -- it's an awful fact to say, but in their self interest, to at least have the capability to get nuclear weapons because that is a deterrent. One Saddam...
PAGEA deterrent to action by people like the...
PAGE...United States against you.
DOMBEYYeah, I mean, Saddam Hussein was a very stupid as well as a very evil man. By invading Kuwait when he did in 1990 and not waiting a couple of a years when he may well have had nuclear weapons, he opened himself to invasion but would not have been possible if he had surprised the world and developed nuclear weapons by 1992, 1993 as was possible. On Libya, I just wanted to add one caveat to depress us even more, which is let's not put the U.S. and British interests. Let's not elevate them to the high morale plain where they don't really belong, because oil was a big interest and, to be honest, validating the war in Iraq was a big interest, so they wanted to get -- they wanted to show that Gadhafi was a result of that.
DOMBEYAnd the Libyan nuclear program, well, a lot of it was (word?) so it may have even been a sting operation to a certain extent because they knew about some of where these centrifuges were coming from. And to be honest, the people at the CIA said, we don't think the Libyans know how to do this. They're not the Iranians. So I'm not quite how much of a nuclear program it was. But equally I am sure of Moises' larger point that it is very, very hard to get countries to give up their nuclear weapons. And if anyone's expecting Kim Jong-il to do that in the near future...
PAGEOr the Iranians.
DOMBEY...I'd like to bet them.
PAGEGeorge, thank you very much for your call. You know, here's an e-mail we have from Nick writing us from Greensboro, N.C. He writes, "If China is slated to become the next world power, why is it that we don't see them stepping up to their role in world affairs, for instance, in Libya? Does this foreshadow a future where China is a dominant force on earth and maintains a lazy fair attitude towards the rest of the plant?" What is China doing in this case, Elise?
LABOTTThat's a great question and I think one that the U.S. has been wondering for some time and has trying to been getting China to become as the term is a responsible stakeholder. China abstained from the resolution. It didn't veto the resolution. It abstained. Doesn't think that military action is the way to go, doesn’t think that sanctions are the way to go, really talks about diplomacy here. But let's not also forget that China has significant oil interests in Libya. Not just in Libya, but in a lot of these other countries where they don't wanna take any military action. They've been very reluctant on Iran, for instance, because they have a lot of oil interests there.
LABOTTBut China has really wanted it both ways. It wants to be a big economic power. It wants to be considered a big player and be taken into consideration, have a seat at the table on these big issues. It has a veto at the U.N. Security Council resolution. But it really hasn't wanted to take the lead in a lot of ways. It has taken a lead in North Korea because they're the ones that are seen as having the most influence on North Korea. I don't know how much influence they actually have. But it is a question that U.S. officials have been pondering.
DOMBEYYeah, I just wanted to add to that because the rise of China is in many ways the story of our times, but it's a story of many twists and turns and backtracks. So in 2010, last year, we saw a more assertive China in many ways, which departed from the known script of a peaceful rise of China, but would concentrate really on getting its economy right until the 2020's or so, which was an explicit goal. Last year we saw them really throwing their weight around in the region in a way that actually alienated the South Koreans and brought them close to the Japanese and annoyed a lot of other countries in the region. This year we've I think seen a return to form, a meeker China, a China that's a little bit more passive.
DOMBEYAnd let's just underline, a China that is profoundly disconcerted by the unrest in the Middle East, people rising up against tyrannical leaders because they're not delivering economic growth is the nightmare scenario for China. China grows a lot, but it needs to keep on growing to provide jobs. And it knows that without the release valve of a growing economy, it too could face widespread protests.
NAIMThe world is beginning to learn to live with an assertive, powerful China. And China is learning to live with a powerful China in world affairs. And so there is not only the question about China's role in the world when this happens, but also what happens to the rest of the world and how the rest of the world reacts when China confronts situations like this. What happens if there is a political upheaval in China and the Chinese authorities start repressing very violently? And so how do we deal with that from a humanitarian point of view and given the standards that we now have concerning these kinds of situations?
PAGEMeanwhile, we see this story that has just moved on the Associated Press from Jordan reporting that scores of people have been injured as pro and anti government protestors pelt each other with stones and police seek to disperse them with water cannons. Friday's clash, as they say, are the worst yet in three months of demonstrations calling for political reform there. Let's go to a different part of the world, to Portugal where on Wednesday the prime minister resigned. Why, Elise? Why did the prime minister go?
LABOTTHe resigned because he wanted the country to face more austerity measures. It's another European government falling victim to the politics of austerity. And basically they're following the model of Greece and Ireland in terms of the people just don't want to put up with these austerity measures. On one hand they understand that the economy is very bad, but, you know, they're blaming the messenger in some ways. And so what they're hoping to do is put together some kind of -- the president is trying to negotiate between opposition parties to have some continuity of government, but the people really don't wanna put up with another year of austerity measures.
PAGEDaniel, it's a real reminder that that whole debt crisis in Europe, it's certainly not gone away.
DOMBEYNo. It's not gone away. I mean, it's important to say a couple of things. First of all, people are slightly less terrified than they were a couple of months ago. That's about as positive a gloss as I can put on it. There were real hopes that if Portugal went, so to speak, then Spain would follow. And it's perfectly possible that Portugal will have to go back to the Europeans cap in hand for some -- for a bailout. But at the moment people think that Spain, which is a much bigger economy, a much more important economy, has got its act together. And that's relaxed -- relieved a lot of people. They're also much less worried about Italy, another very big economy. They're much less concerned that Italy would need a bailout as well. There's enough money to deal with all of this. It's possible they may not have to go for a bailout. This may well all be delayed after an election likely in June.
DOMBEYBut nevertheless, that ticking time bomb is still there. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said today that we would be -- that Europe will be paying for years the sins of the past with Euro in terms of liabilities no one knew about, cooked books, outright lies and so on. And some of the fundamental problems are still there. Many people still think that Greece, the country that really first came into fallout -- into the limelight about this, will ultimately have to default. They're just hoping that when the crunch really comes, it will be in a less volatile time, they'll be less contagion and that we won't see another great depression.
NAIMJose Socrates has been the president and the prime minister of Portugal for six years. And this is the fourth time that in 12 months that he has tried a reform program that is not just austerity measures, but is a bigger package of initiatives to really revamp the Portuguese economy that is uncompetitive and badly hurt by its fiscal situation, its indebtedness and its bad economy. What will happen next is that in this vacuum of power, Portugal will have also -- will still have to deal with the economic situation. And as Minister Socrates said, the new adjustment is gonna be even harsher than the one he proposed to his parliament and that his parliament denied. So getting rid of him just opens the door for a more complicated situation in Portugal.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about the situation in Japan. Elise, have we seen some progress there in containing this nuclear crisis?
LABOTTNot really. Basically what they're fearing is that the actual tools that are holding these spent fuel rods are damaged. It's not just an issue of talking about these cooling systems and sending water to repair the cooling systems. Now we're talking about radiation within miles of the site. People that are leaving the country traveling to Europe are being tested for radiation. There are issues in Japan now talking about that the bottle -- that the water could be contaminated, not to drink tap water. It's causing a lot of fears in Japan on top of the devastating, devastating situation from the earthquake and tsunami. There are real fears about radiation for miles from the site.
PAGEThousands of Japanese still missing. We assume they're dead in the rubble from that terrible earthquake and tsunami. The prime minister today had a very pessimistic news briefing where he said there is a suspected breach in the reactor at that stricken nuclear plant. Daniel, what kind of grades do you give the Japanese government for how they have handled this crisis?
DOMBEYI think it's difficult for the Japanese government. This is a government that is not used to power and I think there's been a fair amount of flailing about. They've blamed the -- they've blamed TEPCO, the power company involved. And they've also blamed their predecessors, the LDP, that has governed for most of Japan's modern history. But I think there are two things that are worth highlighting. First of all, the real deaths have been because of a tsunami. Ten thousand people killed, seventeen thousand missing and so on.
DOMBEYBut what this has also revealed is not only the risks of nuclear power, but the way that there was this cozy understanding between nuclear power operators and regulators that's not just true for Japan, but true -- but true in the U.S. and elsewhere as well. It's true that we saw a really worst, worst, worst case scenario in Japan, with not just an earthquake, but a tsunami. And it's true also that we've seen a new kind of problem with not just the reactors themselves, but these pools with the spent fuel rods that have really been a source of radiation.
DOMBEYBut in Japan, as I suspect in many other parts of the world, the real problem is that people did not report on problems, that regulators promoted this industry as much as they regulated it. And I think that's one of the reasons why the Europeans, for example, are now talking about really having to look, stress testers for lingo, at how safe nuclear reactors are, and what Angela Merkel who's been a big champion of nuclear power has now declared a moratorium and faces a big defeat in a regional election coming up on Sunday on precisely this issue, but actually, again, could have very big consequences for the use of nuclear power, not just in Germany, not just in Europe, but in the world as a whole.
LABOTTI think that's exactly right. This has caused a lot of fears around the world of nuclear power. We've seen it in the United States, Congress talking about testing all these nuclear facilities. And this is just opening up a lot of questions as Daniel said.
PAGEMoises, I want you to talk to us briefly about President Obama's trip to Latin America this week. It didn't get -- it got overwhelmed by attention to other parts of the world.
NAIMIt was -- it could have been almost a trip to Libya because that was all the questions. Every time that he showed up at a press conference in Brazil, in Chile, in El Salvador, all the questions were about Libya, about -- and about -- even about Japan. So this was bad timing for Latin America that never gets attention. And when it gets attention, it has very strong competitors. The central message of that trip was that Latin America matters to the United States, and especially was an attempt to strengthen relationships with Brazil.
DOMBEYI just wanted to say it was bad timing for Latin America. In a weird kind of way it was good timing for Obama because he doesn't want to put himself at the forefront of his effort in Libya. He has deep doubts about it. And therefore being off a stage, clearly doing something else in Rio suited his purposes to a certain extent.
PAGEBut I wonder if it also reinforced these questions about whether his leadership was distracted or not quite hands on for a new military operation.
LABOTTWell, it did. And it totally took him away -- and this whole Libya thing is taking him away from the real message that he wants to talk about is the economy. This trip was supposed to be about creating partnerships in the region, creating jobs for Americans and this Libya caught him totally off message.
PAGEElise Labott from CNN, Moises Naim from El Pais and Daniel Dombey from the Financial Times, thanks so much for being here with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of U.S. Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is drshow.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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