The Atlantic's James Fallows on how the fight over SCOTUS highlights the media's struggles to cover this political moment.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today the United States now recognizes Libya’s main rebel group as the nation’s legitimate government. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed concern over the rise in U.S. troop deaths there. Afghans mourned President Karzai’s half-brother, who was assassinated by a bodyguard. Syria condemned a comment by Secretary of State Clinton that President Assad had lost legitimacy to rule. Terrorist bombings in India claimed at least 18 lives. South Sudan became the U.N.’s newest member. Rebekah Brooks of the
Murdoch media empire resigned. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- David Ignatius Columnist, The Washington Post; contributor to “Post Partisan” blog on washingtonpost.com. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage."
- Nadia Bilbassy Senior U.S. correspondent, MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Centre.
- Yochi Dreazen Senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Secretary of State Clinton said today, the U.S. is giving full diplomatic recognition to Libya's main opposition group. Here in the studio with me, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Nadia Bilbassy of MS -- what is...
MS. NADIA BILBASSYMBC, Middle East Broadcasting Center.
REHM...Middle East Broadcasting center. And Yochi Dreazen of National Journal. Throughout the hour, we do invite your calls 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. DAVID IGNATIUSGood morning, Diane.
BILBASSYGood morning, Diane.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
REHMDavid Ignatius, how significant is it that that U.S. is now joining with some 30 of the nations to acknowledge the opposition to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi?
IGNATIUSIt's important in two ways. First, as a piece of diplomatic symbolism, the fact that we're recognizing the transitional national council as the legitimate authority in Libya signals that we do not believe that some reconciliation with Gadhafi and his regime is possible. And so that, it's a symbolic turning of the page, recognizing this new authority and saying the other authority is gone.
IGNATIUSOn a more practical level, what this means is that the transitional national council, the rebels based in the East in Benghazi, are likely -- it's a little bit more complicated than saying, we'll definitely, but are likely to have access to the funds that have been frozen from Gadhafi's, from the governments accounts that estimated to total as much as $30 billion. And that's important because, in part, this Libya stalemate, which is what it is, is now a test of financial strength.
IGNATIUSDo the rebels have enough money to last the course or will they be outdone by Gadhafi who has money stashed away in cash, quite apart from this $30 billion in assets, held outside the country.
REHMAnd why now, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, I think they were hoping that something will happen from within -- inside the Gadhafi regime. Could be a defection from the army, it could be Gadhafi himself reaching out to leave the country. But these things have not materialized so far. The military power on the ground has not altered the reality. Although, a long time ago, they said that Gadhafi lost legitimacy, but now they realize that they have to do something.
BILBASSYAnd this something is basically recognizing the TNC as a legitimate power to deal with and therefore it will give them the problematic portion and it give them, as David said, the release of the $30 billion that Gadhafi has in this country. And I think they just realized, basically, they have to change, they have to do something on the ground. And now they realize it is the time to do it.
DREAZENWell, it's actually, I think, a little bit more than that. I mean, what it is, in my opinion, is a recognition that events on the ground have changed. This past week, beginning about eight days ago, there have been a flood of stories coming out of both the U.S. press and the British press about Gadhafi having a cash crunch, relying more and more and more on African mercenaries, but lacking the money to pay them.
DREAZENThat the price of gasoline in Tripoli has, depending on the estimate, tripled, quadrupled, quintupled, but that there are gas shortages, food shortages that -- you know, David eluded to a question of financial resources, but it wasn't a question recently that the two were roughly equal. The feeling, everyone I've spoken to at the Pentagon who monitors this, was things against Gadhafi have turned decisively in the past week. Not on the ground, militarily, but in terms of his access to money.
DREAZENAnd I think what this was is not simply a recognition, as I agree with David, that it was sort of a symbolic recognition that a page is turned. But it was also the administration has been very careful to not overstep on this. And it's lead to a lot of criticism. It's lead to accusations the U.S. was leading from behind, deferring too much to NATO, et cetera, et cetera. What's happened now is the administration has calculated that Gadhafi is not just losing legitimacy, but actually on the way out. And they are trying to accelerate and give it that last little push.
REHMOn the way out, David.
IGNATIUSWell, that's certainly the hope. From the beginning of this crisis, if you've asked the White House what's the strategy here, fellows, the answer is that we're going to squeeze Gadhafi. And his cash resources are limited. And at some point, during this summer, he's going to run out of money. The only caution I'd say to what Yochi rightly says is a growing feeling that Gadhafi is weak, is that I interviewed an emissary from the Gadhafi circle several weeks ago who came to Washington trying to, you know, make contacts, make businesses, as it were.
IGNATIUSAnd he said -- and I can't verify the credibility of this, that Gadhafi has, within the country, a lot more money than the U.S. realizes, that he has been hoarding cash, so as to be able to pay bribes to the tribal leaders, so as to be able to pay his mercenaries in anticipation, precisely this sort of moment. I, you know, Yochi and Yochi's sources may be right, but that cash is dwindling much faster than the emissary said. But I just, -- I note that the other side, as it were, says no, we've still got money.
REHMBut let's assume that Gadhafi is dwindling in resources and stature as well. How soon -- based on Secretary of State Clinton's comments, how soon would the rebels likely have access...
BILBASSYTo the money?
REHM...to the money?
BILBASSYI think soon because if you remember, the head of the TNC was in Washington a few weeks back and they already have the support of the Senate. And Kerry was here and he said he was supporting the release of the money and I think it's a matter of just getting congressional green line to release the money. So I think they realize that they need -- they need it urgently. But I think I also wanted to add a point, in terms of the TNC recognize it as the legitimate power in Libya. It also encourages -- don't forget that these rebels only control the East part of the country.
BILBASSYAnd there is other parts that is being disputed. They hold it for and they lose it for the other day. So in a way, to come for the United States and say they are the legitimate power in this country, it means a lot of things. Also encouraging people, maybe, in Tripoli to defect and to say, maybe, you can join this government because now this is the government that you wanted to...
REHMWill they be getting that news?
BILBASSYYes. But I mean, I'm not quite sure if the -- how this is going to play out in Tripoli as well.
DREAZENI mean, it is such a great question you ask about -- in terms of, can this be in some way blocked by the Libyan government? My feeling is, probably not. I mean, there's -- there are enough uprising in cities, even in the West, closer and closer to Tripoli where not only is there communication coming in but there's actual fighting more and more in the West of the country, not simply in the East. Two points I'd make. One, the logistics of actually giving the money to the rebels, David eluded to this earlier, it's tricky.
DREAZENI spent some time talking to treasury, even with this recognition, actually taking that money from the treasury freeze and giving it to this quasi-government. It's not as simple as just signing a piece of paper. It could take days, possibly weeks until that happens. The other thing that I think is worth eluding to is that we don't know what Gadhafi -- let's assume that the reports are correct, that Gadhafi is running out of money for the moment.
DREAZENThere have been some very alarming stories that haven't gotten much attention here because we're distracted by the debt ceiling, Casey Anthony, whatever. But there is a Russian envoy who went to see Gadhafi, went back to Moscow and yesterday was interviewed by the Russian press about, what is Gadhafi's state of mind? And again, easily mock-able. We often think of him as a little bit crazy. It's also easy to see him as kind of irrational dictator. He's held power for decades.
DREAZENBut this Russian envoy said something that was kind of chilling. He said that Gadhafi's mindset right now is if the rebels move into Tripoli, that he will burn the city down around them. Those were the words the Russian used. And what he was specifically talking about was, he said Gadhafi was willing to use the anti-aircraft batteries around Tripoli, basically to aim them straight up, fire a missile up, wait for it to crash down into Tripoli. That he would rather burn the city down around him then let the rebels take it.
DREAZENSome of that, very likely, is bravado, some of that is very likely just chest pounding. But even now and what may be the end game, it's very likely the end game will be messy and very bloody.
IGNATIUSWell, I think we have to stand back and see the dimensions of this. We have a stalemate and the United States is trying to create a sense of momentum, psychological as much as anything, so as to pull people away from Gadhafi, pull military units away, get people who are still contesting areas around Tripoli along the kind of what amount to cease fire lines, to come over. My own judgment, the crazier Gadhafi sounds, the more he sounds like a suicidal dictator determined to destroy his city around him, the more likely it is that we'll be able to get some of the generals who've stayed loyal to him to come away.
IGNATIUSI mean, who wants to be there when Gadhafi decides it's time for the suicide bunker? You know, so long Moammar. You can send your missiles up and crash down on your head, but we're leaving. And that's -- so that's precisely what we've been hoping. And I think I'd look over the next several weeks for more efforts to get that momentum going, units coming over, big announcements, that's the kind of thing we should look for.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the visit of our new Secretary of Defense, Leon, pardon me, Panetta to Iraq. Tell us about it, Nadia.
BILBASSYWell, basically this is the first visit. He's going there to nudge the Iraqi government to come up with a yes or no answer as whether they wanted the U.S. forces to stay in Iraq. As you know, this agreement that signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki will expire in December 31st. And it's called the status of forces agreement, known as SOFA. So basically, he's saying, in a very blunt language, like, you have to tell us. Damn it, as he said. He used very colorful language, in complete opposite of the soft spoken former secretary of defense Robert Gates.
BILBASSYAnd they understand the complexity of the situation. The Iraqi government, lead by Maliki has a coalition, shaky coalition, of the Dawa party, of the Sadrist groups, of the Kurdish nationalists. So it's a group together that they have to decide whether they want to keep U.S. forces or not. Now, on the street, I think, the concept is very unpopular. They, basically, were reinforced what they believed, that the invasion of Iraq was to get hold of Iraq's vast oil revenues and to establish a military base in the heart of the Middle East in Iraq.
BILBASSYI will -- my guess will be that they will come up with some kind of agreement by the end of the year. But probably, regardless of how many troops will be left, whether it's 10,000 or 15,000, they still need to protect one of the biggest embassy -- U.S. Embassy's in the world, which is in Baghdad. It has 5,000 personnel, intelligence, civil servants, et cetera. So they will have some kind of forces, but also it's a message to Iran that we're not going to abandon the country. It's not going to be your playing field, it's actually -- the U.S. was going to be -- have some kind of presence in Iran.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. One of the biggest stories this week, aside from all the debt stories and arguments going on in this city, has been that regarding Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. And, in fact, this morning, we learn that Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World, has now resigned from News International. Up until now, Rupert Murdoch had staunchly defended her. What changed?
DREAZENWhat's changed is that this scandal is something that he cannot contain. I mean, he has dealt with scandals his whole life. He sort of reveled in it. When there's an FCC ban barring him from buying newspapers and TV stations in New York, he beat it. When there have been other movements against him in America, in Britain, in Italy, he's beaten all of them. He's someone who loves to fight and has had success at it. This one may be a fight he loses.
DREAZENWhat's fascinating about this one is Rebekah Brooks was as close to him -- actually probably closer than his actual daughter. He and his daughter had a falling out. His daughter's husband routinely criticizes him, bashes FOX News publicly and by name. So she was not just a surrogate daughter, but someone he had a closer professional relationship with than his own daughter. But what's very interesting to me is here the focus is entirely on just the moral depravity of the phone hacking, hacking into a murdered girl's phone so her parents have hope because messages disappear. Hacking into the phones of the spouses of dead soldiers -- dead British soldiers from Iraq or Afghanistan. You sort of just shake your head and your stomach turns on it.
DREAZENBut what's very interesting is that slightly lost in the hacking piece is there is a very, very real legal risk to the Murdoch's personally. And that risk isn't the hacking. That risk is a law in the books here called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FCPA, which makes it illegal to bribe -- knowingly bribe, or if you're an executive, oversee the bribery of public officials in another country. Rebekah Brooks has publicly admitted back in 2003 and since, that it was common for reporters at her paper to bribe police officers...
DREAZENMetropolitan Police, Scotland Yard, bodyguards of the royal family. The two investigations going on now in Britain, one of them is focused almost entirely on the bribery of police officers. If it is established -- and it is almost certain that it will be -- that that was common practice within News International bribing public servants, and that was known at senior levels of the company, that can and probably will lead to actual criminal indictments. The Obama Administration has been more aggressive than any of its predecessors in indicting executives for bribery in other countries.
DREAZENSo the phone hacking rightly gets a lot of attention because it's a huge story, It's vivid. It's kind of nauseating, but the bribery could be what is actually the key to the criminal side of this.
BILBASSYAnd also now we heard that (sounds like) Eddie Coulter is opening an investigation the same way the FBI -- and precisely that, to find out if money has been paid to anybody within the police force of New York or even -- they talking from the top to the janitor, as he said, to find out if they have been given this money to discover whether the -- wanted to know information that will lead to voicemails or lead to some kind of information of 911 victims that obviously newspapers like the News of the World or the Sun will kind of revel in and think that they have some kind of exclusive information about a private life of people who has been suffered as victims of one of the most horrific crimes committed.
BILBASSYSo I think it is -- it's going to be very serious. I mean, Rebekah Brooks now is going to testify in the British Parliament on July 19.
REHMHasn't she already been subpoenaed here in Washington?
BILBASSYShe has. And now, of course, because the story has broken in Britain more than here. But now the implication is coming to this part of the Atlantic, that basically they wanted to find out that -- so many investigations been opened, demanded by four Senators. Basically, they wanted to know what were the implication of the News of the World in the United States, especially on 911 victims.
IGNATIUSWell, like Yochi, I think that part of what makes this story so compelling is that Rupert Murdoch, as I wrote this week -- this is -- he runs a company with a chip on its shoulder. He is a man who is so convinced that he speaks for the common man or woman, that his enemies are elitist snobs who stand for the establishment, for the traditional way of doing things, that he has increasingly over the years justified almost any behavior because he's doing it on behalf of the people, that sort of feistiness that you see on FOX and all the Murdoch properties.
IGNATIUSAnd increasingly, it seems as if in this hacking scandal, in the behavior of News of the World, the most extreme Murdoch property, you could argue, people really did go over the lines. And the question now is what did the higher-ups know about it? It's a classic cover-up investigation, in terms of what Yochi was talking about a moment ago, whether there's exposure to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges in the United States.
IGNATIUSThe first question is, did higher-ups know about the payments that were being made to the British police? Just note in terms of the issue that Yochi raised, while it's clear that payments were made to cops for information for tips, that is a fairly widespread practice in British journalism, unfortunately. It was used a lot by the Murdoch publications, but they're not alone.
IGNATIUSThe deeper question with the British police, the deeper corruption, I think, is whether senior officials who were in a position to oversee the investigations that were basically closed down -- they just got this two sacrificial lambs and sent them off to prison and it isn't any wider. Were the senior officials who allowed that very narrow investigation intimidated, not by the receipt of money, but by the fear that Murdoch's publications would expose their personal lives? And that's, I think, the issue for top level British police.
REHMWhat about the connection between what's happened in England and the Wall Street Journal and top officials there, Yochi?
DREAZENIf I could just add a quick point to...
DREAZEN...David's. He's right that this is part -- it's common part of the tabloid culture. What's different is that News Corp. is an American-based company. James Murdoch is an American citizen. So there is a legal liability here that there would not be for British citizens of British listed companies.
DREAZENIt's also worth pointing out, I think, that with -- he made the various (word?) points about what did the leadership of Scotland Yard -- why were they intimidated? One of the interesting and kind of disgusting aspects of this is, the head of Scotland Yard who had led what is widely derided now as a completely covered up, watered down investigation, as soon as he retired, went to work as a paid columnist for Murdoch. So one question is, was he intimidated? One question is, did he leave because he got a very lucrative job as a columnist for a Murdoch paper immediately after quashing this investigation?
DREAZENSo it is just kind of layer upon layer of things that just make you -- either your stomach turn or your head burst with the absurdity of all of it. The question about the Wall Street Journal is an interesting one. I mean, as of now, there are no allegations that anyone in the journal did this kind of practice. I worked there 11 years. I never saw anything even remotely similar to this, even after the Murdoch takeover.
REHMWhen did he take it over?
DREAZENIt's close to three years ago at this point.
DREAZENAnd for the most part, I think he's done a lot of good. I mean, a lot of us who have left, we still like the paper. We still care about it. He poured resources into it. The paper's bigger than it was before. But I think the question about the journal is a financial question. Murdoch's children, the shareholders of News Corp, they hated the purchase of the journal. They felt that he had overpaid considerably. He later wrote the purchase down by several billion dollars so they were right. They feel as if the papers, which were Rupert Murdoch's obsession, account for about 3 percent of News Corp's revenues and aren't worth the headaches. And that's what they felt before there were criminal investigations by the FBI, criminal investigations in England, bad press day after day after day after day.
DREAZENSo the question, I think, about the journal is, will there be pressure to sell? Not by Rupert Murdoch, but by his children, by other News Corp shareholders. Will they just say, this whole mess is not worth the bother.
REHMWhat about FOX News, David?
IGNATIUSWell, FOX News is under attack for all sorts of issues, but it's separate...
REHMBut it's also owned by Rupert Murdoch.
IGNATIUSIt is owned by Rupert Murdoch. I think the fate of Les Hinton, the CEO of the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones is important because he's been such a close print lieutenant for Murdoch through his career. It is said that Les Hinton and Murdoch talk every day about issues that are important. I just would like to note one small example that illustrates the defiant attempt by News Corp, by Rupert Murdoch, to contain this scandal before it became uncontrollable.
IGNATIUSLast year, the New York Times wrote an excellent magazine article detailing everything that was known about this scandal and showing that it was completely implausible, that it was just two people who had done this hacking, and that the claims that no senior editors or other higher-ups knew about it just were not to be taken at face value. Prior to the publication of that article, a News Corp employee named Bill Akass, who was the managing editor of News of the World, sent a series of letters to the New York Times, essentially trying to stop them from publishing the article, the sort of letters that we journalists all know that you get which are attempts at intimidation. Times went ahead. Its article was solid.
IGNATIUSAfter the publication, he wrote an indignant letter, how dare you. This just shows this is the elitist New York Times trying to attack its competitor. This is all about the Times versus the Wall Street Journal. Now, there was total denial that there was anything wrong in the story, in the culture of these publications. If your listeners want to go back and trace the history, it's all on the New York Times website and I would urge people to do it 'cause you can see how this developed. You can see the attitude of mind.
REHMHas this story become so big in part because News Corp is so big, it controls so much in this country certainly, as we've said, the Wall Street Journal, FOX News? Is it a matter of competitiveness or is it a matter of really worrying about the state of journalism?
BILBASSYI think worrying about the state of journalism. If you look at the News of the World -- and I remember the years I lived in England, and the Sun, these are considered yellow journalism. It's not serious. I mean, the headline is basically all scandals, digging into the private lives of people. Nobody seriously that considers themselves a kind of a good journalist would read this kind of publication.
REHMBut it's very popular.
BILBASSYIt was number one rate.
BILBASSYI mean, the News of the World is this number one.
BILBASSYIt says so much about the British public I guess. But I think it is what kind of method that journalists use to obtain information. And considering, I mean, Rebekah Brooks that we talked about, this is -- she comes from a very excellent background in terms of somebody who was very well educated. She went to the Sorbonne. She studied in France. She came back as the youngest editor. But they know how to entice the public with this kind of saucy stories. And this is the success of the News of the World and of the Sun as opposed to the Guardian and others.
BILBASSYBut I think the problem here is not just these yellow -- as we label them, the yellow journalism, but also newspapers like the Sunday Times, which is very well known for its investigative values. Also now, there's some investigation that maybe they have also been hacking into some lines. And that will also affect the deal that Murdoch is trying to get with Sky News. And he was trying to claim 60 percent of Sky and now the deal is dead in the water. Obviously, he is not going to be able to do it.
BILBASSYSo I think his reputation has been tarnished. And to have one man in charge of all these publications from Australia to Britain to the U.S., I think is a bit dangerous for journalism.
DREAZENIt's also -- I mean, to get to your question, I think it's a question of reach. This is a man who controls not just newspapers, not just FOX News, 20th Century Fox the movie studio, Harper Collins, the book publisher, all the FOX offshoots, multiple FOX sports, dozens and dozens of media properties. And there's been a question about him for decades about what has he been willing to sacrifice to get there?
DREAZENHe cancelled a memoir written by the last governor of Hong Kong -- the last British governor of Hong Kong...
DREAZEN...because he didn't want to upset the Chinese. When he was trying to get his satellite network into China he agreed specifically to tone down what the network would cover. So there's been an intermingling of his business interests and his extraordinary journalistic holdings for decades.
REHMYochi Dreazen. He's with National Journal Magazine. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, David, you wanted to add one comment.
IGNATIUSWell, I just wanted to note that the political implications of this, one of the shocking aspects of this scandal frankly has been how long it took British politicians to stand up to Murdoch. Murdoch's power in Britain and British politics was so enormous that politicians from all the major parties, but especially Labour and the Tories, chased after him. Even though, there was a cloud over Andy Coulson, an editor who'd been in charge of Murdoch publications at the time of part of this supposed scandal, was hired as a...
IGNATIUS...key Downing Street spokesman. So I think, as we look at American politics, we're more resilient. You know, FOX News is very aggressive, but you can see the danger in concentration of media power in the hands of someone like Murdoch just by looking at Britain and how politicians behaved.
REHMI'm going to take one telephone call before we move on. Let's go to Mark who's in Lillian, Ala. Good morning to you.
MARKYes, good morning. I see this as a media war that parallels the political wars. And this is a story -- it's an important story, but it's not -- it's being blown out of proportion because it's a chance to knock down their competitor.
REHMWhat do you think, Yochi?
DREAZENRespectfully, I could not disagree more strongly. I mean, you're talking about the biggest and most powerful media company on the planet. Not just in the U.S., but in England, in Asia, in Australia. You're talking about criminality that potentially reaches to the highest ranks of a multibillion dollar company. That'd be a big story anywhere.
DREAZENOne point that I wanted to make earlier, I got a very funny e-mail yesterday from a friend of mine who said that Murdoch is the end of the Arab Spring. That there have been aging autocrats who people fear challenging them who fell one after the other, Mubarak in Egypt, Saleh in Yemen. And that Murdoch is the last autocrat. He was feared. Nobody wanted to challenge him. And now as David said, there's sort of this a bit of a frenzy to try to -- now that he's finally appearing wobbly, people who had been in fear of him for decades coming out of the woodworks to challenge him.
REHMAnd now, we have a report from the AP in London that Rupert Murdoch will take out a full page ad in all of Britain's main national newspapers to apologize for the hurt caused by serious wrongdoing by journalists at his now defunct News of the World tabloid. It's going to be signed by him, Murdoch. And it says, "News International is deeply sorry for the hurt." It adds, "We regret not acting faster to sort things out."
DREAZENThis is the sort of -- again, not trying to make light by over determining a comparison, but this is the too-little-too-late that we've seen in other context all year. Two days ago Murdoch said he still stood by Rebekah Brooks. He angrily dismissed cause for her to go. Today she leaves. Yesterday, he gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal where he said there were only minor mistakes. Those are his exact words, that he thought the company had handled it about as well as it could have, that, again, Rebekah Brooks had done nothing wrong. His son had done nothing wrong. He saw nothing, that he felt very little regret.
DREAZENIt was sort of typical Murdoch, as David talked about. There's now the chip on his shoulder, kind of figuratively flipping the bird off to the rest of the country. And now, drip by drip, Rebekah Brooks, the day after she has his full confidence, she's gone. One day after saying he has no mistakes, he'll buy a full page ad. But it's all too little too late.
REHMHow seriously do you feel this is a threat to his ownership of this total media empire, David?
IGNATIUSWell, I need to have a better grip on the financials of News Corp than I do. There is a big shareholder suit that is charging essentially that the shareholders have been misled consistently. That's a potent weapon. And if the company itself is charging the U.S., that's even more potent.
REHMDavid Ignatius of the Washington Post. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of the Friday News Roundup. This week with Nadia Bilbassy, she's senior U.S. correspondent for MBC TV. Yochi Dreazen is senior national security correspondent for National Journal magazine. David Ignatius is columnist for The Washington Post. His latest book is titled "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage." We're going to open the phones now. First to Ryan in Kensington, Md. Good morning, you're on the air.
RYANGood morning, Diane. I would just like to comment how I think how terrible it is to have allowed Rupert Murdoch to gain this type of power internationally. And this is just a prime example of what free markets do. He swallows up all of the other competition and becomes so powerful that he ends up buying legislatures in England and as well as this country, and what a catastrophe it is and how perilous it is to attempt to take him on.
DREAZENI think he -- you know, Ryan hits a lot of the core of this. I mean, one of the questions that's causing the most soul searching already in English and eventually it will start here as well is how much blame do British politicians deserve for this, for having not stood up to him sooner, for having not taken action sooner. A lot of this was not secret. I mean, the phone hacking has been known about for years. The bribing police was known about for years. It's new to the U.S. in sort of our understanding of it, but in England politicians knew about this for years, but they were too afraid to challenge him and that -- I think Ryan is exactly right about that.
REHMAll right. To Ted who's here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
TEDI just wanted to go back to Yochi's comment earlier about what the Russians had heard from Gadhafi's people and I think that's something that should be taken seriously because I think that if you corner a rat, a rat's gonna act like a rat. And if he does something really crazy like that, I have to really question whether or not it's worth it to have international intervention in there in the first place and what we have gained other than the blood of the people of that city, you know. And I'll take my question off the air.
REHMThanks for calling. David.
IGNATIUSWell, I've actually met Gadhafi in Tripoli briefly and I can say that he is the most bizarre looking leader I've ever met.
IGNATIUSHe came in with wild, bloodshot eyes. He was supposed to give me an interview, stormed into this room, walked right up to me about six inches away from my nose, looked at me and then stormed out of the room. And I wondered, you know, did I say something? But it was completely bizarre behavior.
REHMDid you ever get the interview?
IGNATIUSNo. He never came back.
DREAZENYou would've benefited if you were a female reporter to whom he was over friendly over the years.
IGNATIUSWell, he was famous for taking my female colleagues to his tent and closing the door and stroking their hair and saying they look like his first wife and just creepy stuff.
IGNATIUSSo anyways, that's just a little background on...
BILBASSYIt's like use of the word headline.
IGNATIUSThe notion that somebody can threaten suicide and threaten the suicide of his city and people and for that reason we should let him off because he's acting so crazy I think is completely wrong.
REHMAll right. Let me...
IGNATIUSAnd the more he makes these threats, the more seriously people say we must do something.
REHMLet's move on to Syria because earlier this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Syrian president had lost his legitimacy. How have those words affected the whole outlook towards Syria?
BILBASSYWell, first of all, this is a deja vu. It is -- we get used to the Secretary of State saying the regime is stable or they stay silent and they use the repeated word of basically people have the universal right to assemble and to demonstrate peacefully. And then they realize it's not much they can do so the regime lost legitimacy and now they're not even calling for him to step down because they don't know what they -- how can they pack these words with action? They cannot.
BILBASSYSo basically, she come in, which is the strongest language we heard so far. It provoked a reaction from the Syrian government saying, who are you to tell us who give us legitimacy and who's not? But obviously, it came in the wake of this attack on the U.S. embassy and the French embassy as well after Ambassador Ford went to Hama which is, as you know, in the context of Syrian as a very tricky city, bring us back to 1982 when the father, President Assad himself, trying to uproot a religious or Muslim insurgency, killing in the process according to human rights organization could be up to 20,000 people. But in the process they uprooted the uprising, but they probably took, as they said, one man from each family of Hama.
BILBASSYSo people now remember that time 30 years later and they're coming back to say, we are protesting again. And we seen in these patterns, it's just unbelievable the character of the Syrian people. On a daily basis they lose 20 and 30 people and the regime comes and hit back. And now they coming to other option which is the national dialogue which is mainly government officials with few independence, but there is no way out really.
IGNATIUSWell, the U.S. is being gradual in its statements. I actually think that's appropriate. There have been calls for United States to withdraw to Ambassador Robert Ford from Damascus. I think that would be a mistake. I thought that the decision to send Ford along with the French ambassador to Hama where the terrible massacre occurred in 1982 in effect to say the world is watching. We're here to bear witness to what's going on. I thought was a terrific move and you can't do it if your ambassador isn't there. I thought the Syrian overreaction storming the American and French embassies just showed how desperate they are.
IGNATIUSI do think that the issue that the U.S. needs to be thinking about is can you create a process of transition away from this brutal autocratic corrupt regime towards democracy without thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people getting killed. People who know Syria say that the ethnic violence there could be as bad as or worse than Iraq if it gets out of control. And so it's something that you need to be very careful about. You need to be careful about rhetoric. You need to be careful about making statements that you can't back up or that you can't back down from. That's why I personally think that the administration's caution has been appropriate. But the real issue now, I think, is how do you build a process that leads to a new Syria.
DREAZENI think that part of the gradual -- and I agree with everything David said, but I think part of the reason why you've seen this kind of measured gradual response is we frankly don't have very many good options.
DREAZENThere's no interest. We don't have the military resources to use force. No one wants to be involved in a military action in...
DREAZEN...in Syria. Assad is very smart. His money was not in American banks like Gadhafi's was, so financial sanctions are having virtually no impact on his family. They are pressuring some of his supporters and sort of Syria's merchant elite, but they're not hitting him. So we just don't have that much we can do. The other thing that I just wanted to mention in reference to Nadia's point earlier, we talk so much on the show about very depressing topics, you know, venality, greed, corruption, bribery.
DREAZENThe bravery of Syrians, especially in Hama, where not only do they know in a kind of abstract sense what Assad -- that family is capable of and willing to do, but they lived through what that family's capable of and willing to do, is to my mind sitting in a distance safely in this studio, it's breathtaking. These are people going through the same streets where not that long ago he massacred much of the city. They know what that family's willing to do to them and they go out, as Nadia said, day after day after day. And it's -- at the risk of sounding kinda sappy, it's very uplifting to watch from a distance.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about South Sudan which became a country on Saturday, a U.N. member yesterday, the 193rd U.N. member. How significant is this, Nadia?
BILBASSYWell, it's significant because it's, as I said, the newest country, but it could be the poorest country in Africa, but it ends almost 50 years of war. The last civil war started in the '80s, two million people died. And I think there was no way out. It basically came out as a referendum, according to the 2005 peace agreement between the north and the south, sponsored or procured by the Americans in (unintelligible) which is give the south the right to secede if they wanted to. And of course, they did ,as we have seen.
BILBASSYThe problem for the south is it's gonna be huge immense challenges in every single front basically. It's a rich country in oil and in minerals and in forests and they have so many things to give. The problem, they have no infrastructures. They have no hospitals. They have no roads. And the main thing, which is the oil, is they have to be exported through a pipe to Port Sudan, which is in the north, so they have to have some kind of deal whereby the oil has to go through the north. Alongside that, you have conflict on the borders, you have inter-fighting between tribes (unintelligible)
REHMYou've got mass graves.
BILBASSYYou have mass graves. You have human rights abuse within the army that has to make that transition from a rebel movement to an army to protect the south. They have so many problems. But the fact that they have broke away and they were established by the bless of the international community was a vested interest in seeing South Sudan as a new young state with Juba as its capital. I think it gives some kind of legitimacy for the people who fought so long to break away from the south who discriminated greatly against them.
REHMAnd here's a comment on our website. We all know the troubled history of democratic governments in African nations. What can or should the international community do to support a successful and truly democratic government in the republic of South Sudan, David?
IGNATIUSWell, financial assistance obviously would be part of that story, helping them to make arrangements for export of oil. I just was with an international oil chief executive who was talking about Sudan and the ways in which the resources there can be developed. That would be the best thing is if the country had real sources of financial support.
IGNATIUSYou know, I look at countries that have been torn up that recover. And I'm thinking of Rwanda just to the south of South Sudan. And what seems to be necessary is a strong leader, sometimes a leader who's so strong that there are human rights questions that raised a strong army that keeps order in the country so that the country feels secure. And then international oversight and support is where people are -- if the government's going too far, people will criticize it. They'll support opposition movements, help them to get going. So you'd hope that all those things would come together in South Sudan as in my judgment they have in Rwanda.
REHMAll right. To other things, and I don't know if there's any connection, the murder of President Karzai's half brother in Afghanistan and the bombing in Mumbai. Yochi.
DREAZENI mean, on the first one, the murder of Ahmed Wali Karzai, several of us have met him. He was charming, spoke fluent English, lived in my beloved hometown of Chicago, so we talked about the Cubs and his favorite restaurants which was kind of surreal in this palatial house in Kandahar. What's interesting to me about his death is he was derived as being the worst of Afghanistan and people said he's corrupt, he has ties to the drug trade. We need to build Afghan politics with the implication that Ahmed Wali Karzai and his mode of business was different than Afghan politics. That betrays our ignorance. Ahmed Wali Karzai's way of life was Afghan politics.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DREAZENThis was a man who knew how that country worked. We don't like it. It's corrupt and involves payoffs here, bribery there, flattery there, this kind of delicate balancing act between business executives, tribal leaders, guys with guns, but he knew how to work that system. His death is a much bigger story than, I think, we realize.
IGNATIUSWhat interests me about Ahmed Wali Karzai is that this is the devil that the U.S. learned how to live with. If you go back two years, you found a great consternation among U.S. officials in Afghanistan about him. He was so corrupt, links to this one and that one. I had just been -- was in Afghanistan two weeks ago and I talked to the senior civil coordinator in Kandahar, Ahmed Wali Karzai's home.
IGNATIUSAnd he was just raving about how effective Ahmed Wali Karzai had been in making -- establishing tribal contacts and helping us stabilize the province of Kandahar and is key to any success we were having there. He'd gone from being this kind of corrupt warlord, drug lord, to being our best interlocutor. So that's an illustration of how our strategy there has been. If it's true that the Taliban got to one of his closest aides, you know, someone with deep tribal connections...
REHMAnd a friend.
DREAZENRight. Someone he trusted.
IGNATIUSA friend, a protector, you know, who protected...
IGNATIUS...his lands, his family and turned him. We have a very interesting story this morning in The Washington Post about how he's been -- Mohammad -- Sardar seems to have made a trip to Quetta in Pakistan and come back very shaken up. Something happened. Did the Taliban turn him? How did they do it? How did they get -- how did whoever did it get an assassin in that room with one of the most powerful men in Afghanistan?
REHMAnd the bombings in Mumbai.
BILBASSYThis is -- it becomes -- a city become accustomed to this kind of bombing. It's been going on since the '90s. Some will say it's a failure in Indian intelligence to detect it. It led -- this current led to the death of about 21 people. It hit the financial capital, the commercial capital. And it basically targeted people in rush hour as they wanted to do maximum damage. And it looks like nobody claimed responsibility so far, but it looks like it's made of some kind -- the bombs were, according to forensic evidence collected from the scene, made of ammonium nitrate that anybody can buy I guess in the market with a local timer.
BILBASSYSome will say that it might be a local Indian Mujahedeen group or a (unintelligible) who active obviously there. If it's been linked to Pakistan, that will be a more serious issue. It remind us of what happened in Mumbai in 2008 when we saw the attacks in the hotels and cafes. It is a complicated picture of a relationship between India and Pakistan that always remind us of that tension between the two countries. But Mumbai sadly always seems to be the target of such attacks.
BILBASSYI don't know, you know, what more to say except that sometimes these incidents cannot be prevented, even if you know and you have information of certain groups that sometimes you cannot prevent them because, as I said, it can be done at a very local level of buying materials. And if you meant to cause maximum damage, you can actually do it easily.
REHMIs Afghanistan going to try to find out, try to look farther into the assassination of Karzai's brother?
DREAZENDefinitely. And attentions -- David hit it on the head in not only the question about the Taliban, but the question about what role Pakistan play in this, I mean, if he went to Quetta, if something happened to him in Quetta. The Karzai government has been firmer and firmer and firmer in saying to the U.S., you're fighting the right war in the wrong place, which we tend to, as a country now, to agree with, you have to fight it in Pakistan.
REHMYochi Dreazen of National Journal magazine, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Centre, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, his newest novel, "Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage." Have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Sarah Ashworth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Katy June-Friesen 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
Most Recent Shows
Diane talks with Kendra Pierre-Louis, senior reporter on the podcast "How To Save A Planet," and a former climate reporter for the New York Times.
Diane asks Mary McCord, legal director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center.
Diane talks with Norm Ornstein, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, about the revelations ain Bob Woodward's new book "Rage," and the other major news events of the week.