America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
A panel of journalists joins Diane to talk about the week’s top international stories: Rupert Murdoch testifies before the British Parliament, telling lawmakers that he had “no evidence” his employees hacked the phones of 9/11 victims or their families; the Syrian government warned U.S. and French envoys not to leave Damascus as unrest continued there; and East Africa suffered from the worst drought in 60 years.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Europe backs a debt rescue package for Greece to former Murdoch executive's dispute testimony in Britain's phone hacking scandal. Syria threatens to expel the U.S. ambassador, millions are at risk from drought and famine in East Africa and news comes in of an explosion in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio with me for the international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times and Tom Gjelten of NPR. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Maury -- Mo -- can't even talk, I'm so upset about this Oslo explosion. What do we know, Moises?
MR. MOISES NAIMWe know very little, Diane. We know that there was an explosion at government headquarters in Oslo. That one person is dead and eight have been injured, that no one has taken responsibility for it, that at the time the prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, was having lunch elsewhere and that he's safe and we are just waiting for more information.
MR. TOM GJELTENWell, one thing to keep in mind, Diane, is that after Osama bin Laden was killed the new number two in al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is said by U.S. officials to have argued in favor of attacking targets outside the United States, but linked to U.S. allies.
MR. TOM GJELTENAnd there has been, ever since, a very high level of anxiety and threat concern about targets in Europe. Now, we don't know, as Moises said, we don't know who is responsible for this or rather al-Qaida would even claim to any responsibility, but that connection is one that we need to keep in mind.
MS. ELISABETH BUMILLERWe also know from the Abbottabad raid on bin Laden's complex in May that there was a big divide in al-Qaida between bin Laden, who was obsessed with the United States and attacks here and his -- some of his lieutenants who felt that it was just easier to attack other countries because there was less security issues. And again, we don't know who this is, but this would be in -- this would be interesting if that were the case. Also, there was a lot of talk that Zawahiri was interested in attacking in Egypt, but Norway, you don't always think of as a country that...
REHMYou really don't. Do you think we will know eventually who did this?
GJELTENWell, no, I think that, you know, the forensics on a big explosion like this are such that, you know, I think that -- you know, we certainly will know more than we do today. I mean, it's -- certainly we're going to find out, you know, how this happened, whether we can trace it back to some individual organization is another question.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Greece. Tom Gjelten, what is the plan that's been agreed to?
GJELTENDiane, there will be -- the short answer to that is that the Europeans are basically creating kind of their own version of the IMF, which will be a fund that will have a lot of the functions and powers that the IMF has now around the world to come to the aid of beleaguered governments.
GJELTENThis will be for governments in Europe that face this kind of monetary fiscal crisis. There is a big bailout of Greece in the short-term and more importantly what some bankers would call a default because some of the bonds -- Greek bonds are being extended. Short-term bonds are being converted into long-term bonds.
GJELTENThat means that creditors that expected to be paid in the short-term will now have to wait for the long-term. That is technically a type of default. So for the first time, private banks that hold Greek bonds are going to, you know, pay a little bit of a price for having bought those bonds from a country that clearly was not a good fiscal bet.
REHMBut does this solve the long-range problem for Greece and for the euro, Moises?
NAIMIt depends how the market react and we still don't know that. But what's very interesting is to answer the question, why now? Why is that yesterday they decided on a plan that was already being discussed and debated months ago and that was constantly rejected by Angela Merkel and others.
NAIMSo the ideas that were eventually approved had been around and they were patterned the Brady plan that was applied in Latin America, that situation and that default of the 1990s. The why now is Italy. The why now is that last week there was a huge run against Italy and there was a scare that it was -- it could escalate and take also Spain.
NAIMThose are two huge economies that could be not bailed out. If there was a strong run and therefore in a crash on Italy and Spain, there was no bailing out. And that is what made those that were rejecting the ideas in the past to accept it. And those include Angela Merkel and includes some powerful banking lobbies and others that now have to accept the reality.
REHMLet me ask you something. Has the world gone mad in terms of spending? Is that why we're seeing all these crises all over the world, Tom?
GJELTENYou know, there's this interesting concept, Diane, called moral hazard, which has really come to the forefront, first in 2008 and right on down to now. And that is that lenders have been loaning money without taking into consideration risk and the -- there has been, up until now, really no punishment for lenders who make bad loans and that creates the situation called moral hazard, where there's really no downside to making bad loans.
GJELTENNow, the world is paying the price for that over a number of years and it is -- it's not clear whether the world has really learned a lesson. Because right now, for example, in the case of Greece, what we're going to see in the next few months is whether private banks continue to buy bonds of the Italian government bonds, Spanish government bonds, Portuguese government bonds or will they now be far more cautious about financing those government debts.
GJELTENIf they are too cautious then those governments are going to have trouble financing their budgets and that could set in motion another whole chain of crises. It's a -- really a very nervous time.
NAIMIt's important to -- in terms of your question, has the world gone mad concerning borrowing and spending and all that, let's remember that we are still recovering from a very deep financial catastrophe that took place several years ago and that we are still cleaning that mess, both here in the United States and in Europe. And so it's important not to forget that we are just dealing with mistakes that were made almost a decade ago.
BUMILLERLet me -- I have a question for these -- my esteemed colleagues here. At the Pentagon we don't spend too much time on Greece crisis, but I have a question. Who is going to pay for this in the long run? Is it the French taxpayers, the German taxpayers? I mean, who is going to help shore up these banks in Europe?
NAIMAt this point the Greek, you know, the Greek population is already suffering and throughout the world you are seeing government services being cut. In England, you have seen some draconian cuts that are affecting everyone. You can see the same happening in Spain and so there is a tension between the need for government spending to create employment and growth and they need to cut government spending in order to deal with the deficit. That is a thorny dilemma that has no easy solution.
REHMAnd one we face even in this country at the same time. All right. Let's move onto a subject about which you, Elisabeth, know a great deal. We have a new commander in Afghanistan. General Petraeus handed over command of U.S. and NATO led troops on Monday to U.S. Marine Corp General John Allen. What kind of difference could that make?
BUMILLERWell, the difference is on the ground and in the White House plan for withdrawal. General Allen is going to be presiding over the drawdown of 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan. The difference is that Petraeus presided over the surge. He presided over the buildup of forces and he also presided over what most people agree as a military success in southern Afghanistan.
BUMILLERThere's no question that the U.S. forces did, you know, tamp down violence in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south. The question is, what happens when those forces leave? And nobody knows. Right now, there was -- in the past week there was a -- the beginning of a handover, somewhat symbolic to the Afghan forces in seven places in Afghanistan that are largely stable.
BUMILLERMazar-i-Sharif in the north, Herat, parts of Kabul, Lashker Gah, the capital of Helmand province and that's expected to not make a huge difference because those places were largely doing okay, relatively speaking. And so -- but in the next year General Allen faces a big task, which is -- by the end of 2012 there's going to be 30,000 less American troops in Afghanistan. That's a third of what's there now and the Afghan security forces are going to have to step in. And they're doing better, but no one thinks that they're ready.
GJELTENYou know, Diane, no American general wants to preside over the loss of a war or see previously achieved gains eroded. And so, I think, in line with what Elisabeth said, I think that one of the tasks that General Allen faces is how does he preserve these gains with fewer troops.
GJELTENAnd I think one of the things that we likely to see -- we know that General Petraeus and other American commanders argued against this particular schedule of withdrawing troops. So I think we may see efforts to kind of finesse this withdrawal a little bit. So you may see, for example, non-combat personnel being replaced by combat personnel so that the number of trigger-pullers, as they say, stays the same.
REHMTom Gjelten, correspondent for NPR and author of "Bacardi and The Long Fight For Cuba: The Biography of a Cause." Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Guests here in the studio, Elisabeth Bumiller, the New York Times, Moises Naim of El Pais and Tom Gjelten of NPR. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Moises, what have we heard about Pakistan's military trying to influence U.S. policy?
NAIMWe have -- there has been a report that there is an entity called the Kashmiri American Council that has been spending up to $4 million in contributions to members of Congress and other political campaigns. It turns out that the Kashmiri American Council is being allegedly -- is accused actually of being a front for the ISII...
NAIM...the Pakistani spy agency. As we know, Kashmir is a Muslim region divided between India and Pakistan and is claimed as territory by both countries. And the two nations have fought three wars over that region since 1947. So this entity, the executive director is Syed Ghulam Nabi and Zaheer Ahmad is another member of that organization. They're both U.S. citizens and they have been actively trying to induce members of the U.S. Congress to support the Kashmiri side of (unintelligible) ...
NAIM...the Pakistani side.
REHM...if in fact they are acting in coordination, let's say, with the ISI, isn't there a law against foreign governments playing any role, making any contributions to U.S. elections?
BUMILLERYes. That's why the FBI announced an investigation this week, a 43-page affidavit on charges that they did this. I would just like to say that as a former -- I used to live in India and used to go to Kashmir many times back when you could go to Kashmir. I think this was perhaps $4 million that was not well spent by the ISI, the director of Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan's powerful spy agency and the Pakistani military. Because I don't think -- through two admin -- they were doing this over 20 years, they're alleged have done this, and through a number of administrations, Republican and Democratic. Nobody -- the administration did not budge on this issue, which is that this was up to the Indians and the Pakistanis and the Kashmiris to decide for themselves. And U.S. policy has shown no noticeable change.
BUMILLERNow, they were -- this doesn't stop us from saying this shouldn't have been happening, but -- as the FBI alleges, but that -- to me, that's the upshot of this. And India has a powerful lobby here as well, but presumably everyone's registered.
REHMCertainly puts another little strain on U.S./Pakistani relations, Tom.
GJELTENWell, you know, from Pakistan's point of view, there can't be any coincidence that these incidents just pile up one right after another, although it does appear to be a coincidence. I mean, you had the Abbottabad raid where the Pakistani military was not informed in advance that this was going to happen and was caught flatfooted. You've had, even since then, a -- even a higher number of drone strikes in Pakistani territory than we had seen before. That also outraged a lot of Pakistanis.
GJELTENAnd now we have this accusation against the Pakistani intelligence agency. And, in fact, what the FBI is saying is that these contributions were made and that the ISI actually reimbursed the individuals who were making the contributions so the money came from the intelligence service. And the Pakistani government, the Pakistani authorities, are outraged by this and they do see it as part of this campaign against Pakistan right now.
REHMAgainst Pakistan. And yet, what's happened to this postponement of the $800 million in aid that the U.S. had promised to Pakistan?
NAIMAs you said, Diane, this is just part -- one more item in a long list of frictions and these agreements between Pakistan and the United States in recent months. It started, as Tom said, with the raid that took Osama bin Laden out, continued with all sorts of accusations, with the drones and with the United States deciding to postpone $800 million of military aid to Pakistan and Pakistan than kicking out 100 military advisors -- U.S. military advisors.
NAIMSo the situation cannot be worse. There are misunderstandings. There are clearly contrasting interests and clashing visions of what needs to be done. And this is a very important relationship. Let's not forget what Pakistan means in terms of Afghanistan. Let's not forget that it's a nuclear power. And it's a very, very unstable -- politically unstable country divided by many different factions.
BUMILLERI would just add on -- I agree with all of this. But on the drone strikes which have stepped up markedly in Pakistan since the summer of 2008 and have by many estimates killed close to 2000 people -- high-value targets as the CIA calls them -- this is an allegedly covert program. I think that the Pakistanis, you're absolutely right, complain quite bitterly about these strikes. But behind closed doors, there is more acquiescence among the leadership about these drone strikes because they are, after all, going after insurgents in Pakistan.
BUMILLERBut it's a mixed message you get and it's -- but there's no indication that the U.S. is going to stop those drone strikes any time soon.
REHMAnd meanwhile, you've got this video released by the Taliban insurgents of killing 16 Pakistani men, Tom.
GJELTENYeah, there's a video of 16 Pakistanis who are believed to have been -- or, I don't know, I can't recall what exactly the Taliban had against them. They were, like, enemies of the Taliban for one reason or another. And the video showed them lined up and then they went and executed them and then went back and sort of finished anyone off that was showing signs of life. Obviously, an extremely horrific brutal video, but the Taliban seems to sort of use this tactic to intimidate people. I mean, they -- you know, this is not the first time that they have released video showing really horrific things. And I think the point of it is to really intimidate people and to frighten them into submission.
REHMAnd even more shootings today in Karachi. Another eight people killed, wounded 18, more than 100 people dead in the last month.
NAIMAnd as Elisabeth was saying, there are -- this is a complex relationship that's full of mixed messages, contradictions and misinformation and so on. That is a function of the fact that the country itself is highly fragmented. So when you have, at the same time, the notion that your -- you know, some in Pakistan denouncing -- bitterly denouncing the attacks by the drones, and at the same time under the table asking for more, that just shows that they are internally divided, that there are factions inside the Pakistani state that include the government and the intelligence agencies and all their (sounds like) authorities that have just different interests and different views. And that is reflected in a variety of ways in which they relate to the United States.
REHMYou know, one story we have not focused enough attention on is this drought in East Africa. This horrible drought, which it's apparently the worst drought in 60 years, has left 11 million people seeking food and assistance, Tom.
GJELTENYeah, in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Four million in Somalia alone. And the great tragedy of this is that it comes on top of the civil war in Somalia, which makes -- not only aggravates the suffering, but it makes it much more difficult for relief agencies to get in there and provide food to these people.
GJELTENYou know, relief agencies are very careful in using the word famine to describe a condition. They're actually -- I learned just in reading about this that there's actually a formal definition for what constitutes a famine. It requires two adults or four children to die -- out of 10,000 to die each day. And that standard has been met now in this area.
GJELTENBut, again, the problem is that much of Somalia, particularly South Somalia, is controlled by this Al-Qaida affiliated militant Islamist group, al-Shabaab. And if there weren't -- if you didn't have enough reason to not like al-Shabaab, just take a look at the way that they have been dealing with this. Not only are they -- have they been obstructing relief supplies from getting into that area, they have actually come out and said that the world is exaggerating the severity of the suffering. And if you've seen any of the pictures of children, of people...
GJELTEN...and, as you say, the number of refugees on the run, you know, to think that anyone is exaggerating the severity of this is just outrageous.
BUMILLERWell, as Jeffery Gettleman has reported in my paper, you know, he -- the same militants who forced the western aid organizations out of Somalia last year right as the drought was looming, are now urging them to come back. But obviously these aid officials are wary of this because of the dozens of workers who have been killed in Somalia in recent years. And also there are American government rules that prohibit material support to the militants, you know, who demand taxes, as they say, for allowing the deliveries to pass through.
NAIMThis is indeed a tragedy. Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. General Secretary (sic) , is asking for a strong effective immediate action. He's asking for about $1.6 billion of aid and it's a -- you know, it's a horrible tragedy and looking at the images is really heart wrenching. However, to provide a little bit of context, it's very interesting to see how the Somalia famine illustrates or is a function of very interesting dangers, new global trends. This is a function also of rising food prices. This famine has to do with the fact that all sorts of food staples are more expensive, which, in turn, is due to the fact that there's more demand, especially in Asia and India and China.
REHMAnd there's no rain.
NAIMAnd then there is -- this is also related to climate change, which is another global trend. It is related, as Elisabeth and Tom were saying about -- with the fact that there is -- Somalia's a failed state, that al-Qaida is there, which is another large trend. And then it is also related to the fact that Somalia is a failed state. It has been for a long time. This has happened before. Now is happening with far more intensity and gravity. But it's a snapshot of -- it concentrates and illuminates very important global trends that are beyond what's going on.
REHMSo to what extent can the U.N. get in there and really offer some assistance, Tom?
GJELTENWell, we're going to see that in the next few days. As Moises said, the U.N. is -- or Ban Ki-moon has called for, you know, special urgent meetings to figure out a strategy. I think it largely depends on, you know, what the leadership of al-Shabaab decides is in their interest, you know. And if they wanna obstruct this, they can obstruct it. If they see it in their interest to allow this aid to come in, you know, it'll happen. But it's a very risky operation, as Elisabeth said. I think something like 14 aid workers have been killed there in recent years, who were doing nothing other than trying to provide relief to the people. But they are seen as Westerners, you know, in a region where anyone who's a Westerner is considered an enemy.
REHMAnd NBC did show pictures of these poor children, their parents walking miles, walking for a month at a time without food, without any sort of help or assistance and asking the American people, once again, to help out. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHMLet's talk about Rupert Murdoch and his son who testified before a committee of the British Parliament about phone hacking charges against News Corp. Rupert Murdoch apologized. James Murdoch said the hacking was limited to a lone rogue reporter. That doesn't quite seem to be that way, Elisabeth.
BUMILLERWell, it just -- in the last day, two former News International executives have publicly contradicted James Murdoch and his testimony to the Parliament and said that, in fact, they told him of evidence in 2008 that suggested that the phone hacking at the company was -- one of the company's tabloids was far more widespread. So you've got a he-said, he-said situation.
REHMSomebody else said, yeah.
BUMILLERAnd, you know, James Murdoch has stuck to his testimony saying, I was truthful. They have said he was, quote, "mistaken." So we'll see where this plays out. Interestingly, this morning, there are reports in the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch on this side of the Atlantic, that the Justice Department is pressing for subpoenas as part of a preliminary investigation into News Corp relating to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which would be an interesting way of applying that law because usually that law is used when -- against companies that try to bribe foreign officials by giving them business contracts.
BUMILLERBut since -- but they are nonetheless proceeding forward. There is also an FBI investigation, very preliminary, into whether -- I'm sure this has been discussed earlier on this show about whether or not the cell phones of the 9/11 victims here in this country were hacked into. There's no evidence.
BUMILLERVery -- yeah, only...
REHM...as yet, Tom.
GJELTENRight. You know, the other -- we're dealing with international politics in this hour, Diane. And the other interesting aspect of this case is what does it mean for British Prime Minister David Cameron…
GJELTEN...who cut short a trip to Africa to come back to speak before Parliament on this issue because he's been very closely linked, not only socially to a number of these characters, but Andy Coulson, who's one of the former editors who is now under arrest, was a top communications aid to David Cameron. And there was even some concern on the part of Cameron's people that his government could be jeopardized as a result of this crisis. And that was the context for his appearance before Parliament.
GJELTENAnd I think the key question was how the liberals who are the junior partner in his coalition were going to react to this. And it appears, for now, that they are turning their anger on the -- kind of the tabloid powers and culture in Britain rather than on Cameron himself. So he apparently has come through, at least this week, intact in terms of his government. But he has been seriously tainted by these allegations.
NAIMTom is right. That's a good summary of what went on. The only thing that can be add is that Cameron on his defense said that all these abuses by the News of the World and the tabloids took place when the Labour government was in power. It was during a time when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were prime ministers. And they also had close links with the Murdochs and News International. And therefore this seems to -- you know, his argument that this transcends just his own party and his own personal links with Rebekah Brooks and others in News International.
REHMWe've now had word that there are two dead in what is described as the Oslo bombing. Also, an e-mail from a listener. "Murdoch controls 70 percent of Australian news outlets. When this type of consolidation takes place, it puts politicians into vulnerable positions and promotes the owner's personal beliefs. We're headed the same way in the U.S.A." Short break and when we come back, we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Adam in Austin, Texas, you're on the air.
ADAMAll right. Thank you. I have two questions. My first question is in regards to the debt crisis in Greece. What effect will the Greek debt crisis have on the United States, if any, positive or negative? And the second question is if Pakistan was found to be harboring bin Laden, what exactly are U.S.'s options of dealing with Pakistan? And I'll take my answers off the air, thank you.
REHMAll right, sir. Greek crisis effects on U.S., Tom?
GJELTENYou know, Diane, I was at a meeting yesterday at the Peterson Institute of International Economics here in Washington, which is the leading think tank on these international economic issues and the head of the institute asked his very distinguished panel this precise question. What is going to be the effect on the United States? And you know what? Nobody knew, they said we just don't know yet. It is, you know this could yet sort of take on many different directions. We just don't know yet what the effect is going to be on the United States.
REHMDo you agree with that?
NAIMI agree we don't know, but we do know that we're better off today than we were yesterday. We are better off because of this deal. It creates a modicum of stability that we didn't have in the past week. So this is good news. Let's see what happens.
REHMAll right. And what about Pakistan's, quote, "harboring" of bin Laden and relations between the U.S.?
BUMILLERWell, Pakistan, to some degree, was harboring bin Laden. I mean, the question is who knew and that's the question that U.S. policymakers and the Defense Secretary have asked repeatedly. Robert Gates, as he was leaving the Office of Defense Secretary said, you know, somebody knew in Pakistan. Whether it was retired military, low-level ISI, we don't know. The question is a good one, what happens if the U.S. finds out and has evidence? There's been none so far that someone fairly senior in the Pakistani military or in the Pakistani government knew.
BUMILLERWhat is the recourse then? I don't have an answer for that. Obviously, I suspect the U.S. would try to leverage that in some way. We're not going to go to war with Pakistan, but there'd be some -- try to leverage that and try to get Pakistan to do more what the U.S. wants. I don't see any great hope of that, but this is all speculation on my part.
REHMAll right, to Dayton, Ohio. Ibrahim, you're on the air.
IBRAHIMThank you so much, Diane, I appreciate the chance to talk.
IBRAHIMI'm a Syrian-American physician and I'm talking about the unrest in Syria. You know, I have been actually in Syria about three months ago and I've seen it with my own eyes. I don't need any official media or those who claim to be really unbiased media sources. I have seen how Syria, which was, until the unrest, second to none in peace, in hospitality and in tolerance, which I myself enjoyed -- I don't have brothers or sisters, but I have so many brothers from different Muslim sects, different Christian sects, Armenian and (word?) even Jewish. We lived all in harmony.
IBRAHIMAnd until this unrest -- which started okay, the majority of the people were really thrilled that we have peaceful protesters initially. However, I'm sorry, I'm so tense now. Until those extremists try to hijack this peaceful, democratic -- actually, you know, requiring democracy in Syria. Now we fall into, like, chaos. And what bothers me now is that our ambassador, who is really -- we were thrilled in Syria that we had Ambassador Ford there who is really going back to the old administration's (word?) in which -- you know as the saying says those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
IBRAHIMAnd unfortunately, Mr. Ford is going and supporting those areas which the extreme is extremist and really, I'm bothered that my tax money when we are $14 trillion in the hole, that goes to support such kind of people. We want democracy, we want freedom, but you know we don't want to support extremists. We don't want to turn Syria into, like, Somalia.
REHMNow, let me understand, Ibrahim. You're talking about the visit of U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford to the protesters in the flashpoint city of Hamah on July 7th and 8th. And that's what you're speaking in regard to and you feel that that was a mistake on the part of the U.S.
IBRAHIMYou're absolutely right.
REHMAll right, Tom.
GJELTENWell, you know, it's a little hard for us to know exactly who is behind this massive protest movement in Syria. Ibrahim thinks that extremists are behind it and there may very well be extremists. We know, for example, that some of the Sunni insurgents in Iraq are now supporting what they see as a Sunni insurgency in Syria. This is beginning to take on some sectarian elements, which I think could be very dangerous. And obviously, you know, some of the Sunni insurgents in Iraq in the past have been linked to -- certainly to extremist movements.
GJELTENBut I think there are a lot of the -- a lot of the protesters in Syria are simply advocating democracy and I think it's a little bit dangerous to sort of make sweeping generalizations about who these protesters are. As far as Ambassador Ford's visit, that -- he was clearly impressed by the people with whom he met there and, you know, that coincided with a much sharper turn on the part of the U.S. government. All of a sudden, after that visit, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. government, became much more critical of Assad so it seemed to have had some impact.
REHMAnd now, you've got a threat against the U.S. ambassador, the French ambassador, not to leave Syria. They're sort of being cordoned off, Moises.
NAIMIndeed, Ambassador Robert Ford and also the French ambassador to Syria, Eric Chevalier, have been ordered not to travel 25 kilometers outside Damascus, to stay there. The embassies were also attacked when it was known that they had visited these cities that are -- where there's a lot of violence. And there are two surprises about Syria is how such a closed country for information is leaking so much information and that is through all sorts of citizen journalists that are sending videos done with their cell phones.
NAIMSo there is a lot of information that shows that this is large, that it has been persistent. The other surprise is the resilience of the protesters. This has now been going on for months in which people take to the streets and they are shot at...
REHMAnd they know they're going to be shot at...
NAIM...and they know that and they still take to the streets. And every Friday and more there are people that are killed very often by the government. And so that's quite surprising. And so there's more going on there than what Ibrahim suggests that it's just simply a population captured by extremists.
BUMILLERThe other thing I would add is that it's, I don't think it's that surprising that the administration took this turn finally to criticize the leadership in Syria because it was under a lot of criticism itself for having a very confused policy where it was demanding that Gaddafi leave Libya, but was being very -- holding back on President Assad in Syria. And finally now, there's some consistency, although obviously Syria is not like Libya and there's no movement whatsoever for any kind of military action.
REHMLet's talk about Libya for a moment. What the latest on the rebels' march on Tripoli? Are they making any progress? What is Gaddafi saying, Moises?
NAIMWhat we know is that last weekend there was a four-hour meeting -- a three-hour meeting between three senior American diplomats with four senior representatives of Gaddafi to discuss what next steps. The meeting has been portrayed differently. The Americans said that the central and only message is Gaddafi has to leave and the Libyans, instead, reported the meeting as saying we exchanged views and explained how to repair a relationship that has been damaged by misinformation.
NAIMBut the story is that there is -- the rebels are making advances, that there are all sorts of rumors and actually hard information about shortages of supplies and weapons for the Gaddafi forces. And the biggest news of it all is that the United States and others have released the money and the funds to the transitional authorities, the rebel government who now has access to literally billions of dollars and that can be a game-changer.
GJELTENYeah, but, Diane, I think that we have to say that the rebels have not been all that impressive. I mean, they are -- they have plenty of money. They have plenty of weapons. They have not been able to -- and they're up against an enemy in the Gaddafi regime, which is disorganized, demoralized, opposed by basically the whole world and yet this is largely a stalemate. I mean, they're fighting over places like Brega, where they've been fighting from the beginning.
GJELTENYou know, they're not really making -- they keep saying they're moving on Tripoli. They haven't gotten anywhere close to Tripoli yet so, you know, this is -- I think this is unlikely to end with a clear-cut military triumph.
REHMCould Gaddafi remain in Libya if he stepped down?
GJELTENWell, the French are suggesting that he do precisely that. I think that the -- I think his personal security would be in great jeopardy if he remained in Libya. I mean, the rebels are out to make sure that he gets killed and the consequence of his security being in danger is he's going to want to surround himself with a security force to protect him, which means basically that he'll still be in power, albeit in perhaps a more isolated kind of way. But that does not sound like a very promising solution to this.
REHMAll right, to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Nick, you're on the air.
NICKOh, good morning, how are you all doing?
NICKMy question is in response to the comments you all made about Pakistan. Pakistan has a woeful history of responding to American policy, whether it's foreign aid, intelligence, military et cetera. On the same page, America has not always kept its promises to Pakistan. They've pulled out a number of times and we seem to have this reactive foreign policy to a really volatile area, you know, in the world. So I'm curious what do you think can happen down the street?
NICKAre we going, you know, tow the rope and stay in for the long haul and really make integrated changes in the country? Because all we're doing now is reacting to, I think, a compartmentalized country. You know, you have some people making rules, some people responding to rules, you know, people -- you know, you made the comment about the donation to political parties, et cetera. I'm kind of curious what you think about this geometrical kind of view instead of just a compartmentalized view of foreign policy, which has kind of dominated American foreign policy, I think, in toto. So I'm kind of curious what you all think and I'll listen off the air.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Elisabeth?
BUMILLERWell, I don't have a good answer to that. I think if you -- we repeatedly ask, you know, military commanders and State Department officials, American policymakers, where is this going? What happens next? And you get answers that are, well, we're working on it. We're still talking. It's better to talk than not to talk. The Pakistani government is -- I'm sorry I can't do better than that. The Pakistani government, the civilian government, is extremely weak.
BUMILLERThe military runs the show there still. I think there have been questions about how long that government can survive. So I don't have a really good answer for you other than that Pakistan is far more critical right now even than Afghanistan. I mean, anybody at the military will tell you that the really serious problem is Pakistan, that al-Qaida is -- there's still important leaders there. And al-Qaida in Afghanistan is down to 50 to 100 low-level fighters, you know. And so that -- until that is resolved, if it ever is, but getting rid of al-Qaida in Pakistan, I don't see any -- the U.S. will have to engage with Pakistan.
REHMElisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Columbia, Mo., good morning, Ann.
ANNHi. I am so envious of the people that have protested, like, in Syria and in Egypt. And it's really -- they all got together and protested and I just wish I had a way to go to the capital and protest about what's going on the United States. And I wish, you know, like a million of us would go there and protest about what's going on. I sometimes feel like we're just so tired -- you know, the American people are just so tired and I'm wondering if it would work. What if we protested?
GJELTENWell, I'm not sure what Ann wants to protest against.
ANNJust about everything.
GJELTENEverything, okay. Well, we had a very energetic protest in 2010 that resulted in the election of 87 new members of Congress and a Tea Party movement that is -- in some ways, I think you'd have to acknowledge that this is sort of the U.S. version of some of these protest movements. I mean, very energetic, very angry, very determined. You know, the ideas -- you know, you can debate the ideas, but this, I think, you know, was a type of protest movement. And if that's what Ann has in mind, you know, boy, the Tea Parties don't seem tired to me. They seem quite energized.
REHMThey surely are. Any comment, Moises?
NAIMThere is widespread agreement that the Tea Party was energized by the support of Fox News. There is no doubt that the Tea Party captured a sentiment in the United States and among the people like Ann and others. But there is -- that's true. But it is also true that that sentiment was amplified and energized by the intensity of the coverage and even the promotion that it got from Rupert Murdoch's Fox News. So in many ways, we can connect the two big stories of this week, the debt ceiling negotiations that have been -- where the Tea Party caucus played a very important role in shaping those negotiations and what was happening in London with Rupert Murdoch hearings.
REHMAnd you're saying, if I understand you correctly, that primarily the conservative Tea Party members had great support from Fox News?
NAIMYeah. I think it is undoubted that there was a clear enthusiasm and active promotion and coverage and stimulating meetings and energizing what was a legitimate movement. And there was -- as I said, the Tea Party did capture a sentiment in the country that was amplified and energized by Fox News.
REHMDidn't the New York Times cover the Tea Party? Didn't NPR cover the Tea Party in exactly the same way?
BUMILLERWell, of course, the New York Times covered the Tea Party extensively. I can't really speak to the Fox News coverage. I didn't see a lot of it, but that's about all I can say.
REHMAll right, Tom?
GJELTENI think that Moises' point is that there are, you know, a lot of opinion leaders appearing on Fox News who were, in fact, promoting this point of view. I'd like to say that both the New York Times and NPR are less opinionated in their approach to news coverage than Fox, generally.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times and Moises Naim of El Pais, thank you all so much.
GJELTENGood to see you.
REHMI will be on vacation next week, my colleague Susan Page will be sitting in this chair. I'll be back with you, God willing, a week from Monday. Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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