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 for analysis of the week’s top international news stories: The trial of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak began in Cairo; the U.N. Security Council condemned the Syrian government’s crackdown on protestors; and the European Central Bank tried to prevent the debt crisis from engulfing Italy and Spain.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. The Syrian military deployed tanks into Hama, hundreds have been killed. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak's trial began and new financial fears spread to Spain and Italy. Joining me in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal, Elise Labott of CNN and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAGood morning.
MS. ELISE LABOTTGood morning.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
REHMThe situation in Syria looks as though it's getting worse and worse. James?
KITFIELDYeah, I think, Bashar Assad has taken a page out of his father's playbook. He's surrounded Hama earlier in the week, shelled it, then his tanks moved in a couple of days ago and apparently just slaughtering people. Some executions on the streets are being reported.
KITFIELDNow, there aren't a lot of -- there are no really Western reporters in there, but we're getting a lot of -- sort of, you know, personal telephone, video out of there. I think that he is -- he's looking around him and thinking that he's got to do something decisive to stop this rebellion because he sees -- he doesn't want to be Mubarak. He doesn't want to be, you know, facing a trial some point.
KITFIELDSo I think he's digging his heels in and you do sense -- I mean, it's hard, actually, for me to imagine that he stays in any kind of a normal sort of ruling position after this because he's -- you know, this week, the UN Security Council, which has avoided this step, really condemned the violence, you know, initiated by the government.
KITFIELDHe hasn't got many friends left. Turkey is -- which was his close friend, is now really roundly outraged and condemning him. Russia went along with the UN Security Council resolution. So he's very isolated, but he's not going to go down without a fight.
REHMAnd he is literally mowing people down, Elise, even as Secretary of State Clinton says over and over again, "It's time for him to step down."
LABOTTWell, they haven't said those magic words, Diane...
LABOTT...and I think that that's what everybody's waiting...
REHMEven if they do...
LABOTTThey're kind of dancing around it because what the United States says is, you know, when you talk to officials they say, you can only say this once. And we want to say it. We're going to say it. And no one really -- it's obvious that we don't want him to stay. We're saying everything but.
LABOTTBut they want to say it when it's going to have the most maximum effect and as James said, even though the UN Security Council did pass a Presidential statement condemning the violence, the United States and the Europeans were pushing for a much more robust resolution, which would have some measures.
LABOTTAnd right now, as you say, not only is he mowing people down, tanks are in the city, they're surrounding mosques now so that people can't get out and protest. Cutting telephone lines, electricity, water, the situation is very dire in Hama. And the only thing that President Assad seems to be doing is deepening his isolation and really rallying the United States.
LABOTTSecretary Clinton did say yesterday that, yes, we've had a hard time with the international community, but they seem to be coming around. You saw that for Russia and China, who are typically the ones that don't agree with these type of measures. Russia now is taking a pretty line.
REHMIs anybody, Abderrahim, likely to send troops in to defend those people who are being slaughtered?
FOUKARAI don't think so. I mean, until recently I would've thought that the only people who would've really had an interest, possibly, in that direction would've the Turks. But -- and this goes back to the issue of isolation. Actually, he's not all completely 100 percent isolated because -- although the Russians warned him of this sad fate that he may ultimately face, eluding to Mubarak's trial. And the people -- there are some people who really matter, in terms of practical help.
FOUKARAIraq, for example, and Maliki is either willing to actually give him money -- we're talking about $10 billion of cash or at least sign a cooperation agreement with him. In terms of Turkey, the Turks are the -- sort of in a very difficult position because the argument now, the sketch of the argument between him and the Turks, is that he's seems -- that Assad seems to be telling the Turks, we know you have a problem with the Kurds.
FOUKARAIf you meddle too much, we can stoke the fire of the Kurds in Turkey. And not only that the Alawite sect, which is the ruling family in Syria, it also has an extension in Turkey so it's a very, very tricky situation. But I just want to go back to the issue that James mentioned, the trial. It's very interesting that Assad decided to have a recall of what he -- his father did in 1982 in Hama, killing about 10,000 people, on the same day that Mubarak was put on trial. I mean, to me, the message is loud and clear, that ain't going to happen to me.
REHMSpeaking of the trial going on Egypt, and Mubarak facing many people from behind a cage, Elise.
LABOTTBehind a cage on a hospital gurney. The symbolism, not just in Egypt, but in the Arab world of this, the Lion of the Middle East so weakened and defeated. I think the Arab world was really riveted by this. And when you look at the rest of the region, as Abderrahim said, it doesn't really send a message to other leaders that if I back down, if I compromise that it's going to come out okay for me.
LABOTTAnd I think, in Yemen, for instance, you've seen President Saleh the same way. But I think what President Mubarak's attorney is trying to do now is say, hey, I wasn't alone here. You know, your field marshal, General Tantawi, who is ruling the military right now, he was in charge of the military forces at that time. The former interior minister who's also on trial -- and we reported at the time that he was the one that was ordering the crackdown.
LABOTTSo what he's trying to do is defuse responsibility. But I think what happens to President Mubarak -- I mean, largely this is important for the Egyptian people and in some ways, it's a show. But I think the symbolism of it in the Arab world is very important.
REHMMubarak's lawyer says he wants to call more than 1,600 witnesses. Who are these witnesses, James?
KITFIELDWell, you can imagine, the 19 generals who run the ruling council are going to be at the top of that list because they were all appointed by Mubarak. And he -- basically they're saying, look, you want to drag this into the open, let's talk about what your role has been, you know, in corruption in the past.
KITFIELDBecause that society and that ruling authority was rife with corruption and patronage and, you know, buddy-buddy kind of deals. You know, I've said this before on this show, but I mean, there's something -- I understand the symbolism is very powerful of this, you know, longest serving leader of one of the most important countries in the Middle East, you know, facing justice. But there's something very unsettling about how quickly they're moving to a trial here. It's sending a terrible message to the other tyrants who are digging their heels in, but beyond that, for the Egyptian people...
KITFIELD...you are -- I mean, you can't put a case like this together this quickly. It sort of reeks of them sort of offering up a sacrificial lamb and hoping the mob then says, okay, that's enough. But that's not typically how mobs react and...
REHMAnd the mobs right now are not reacting happily.
KITFIELD...and this revolution is very much at a fragile point. We had a rather unsettling demonstration a week ago where the Islamist and the Salafi came out in huge force, basically, marginalizing the liberal reformers, who really caused Mubarak to step down and, you know, this question of are they reaching some sort of deal with the military?
KITFIELDBut there is every chance that this revolution gets hijacked by the Islamist or -- the Islamist or the military then uses the Islamist as an excuse to cramp down to another military dictatorship. So it's coming at a really fragile time for this revolution and I find it unsettling.
FOUKARAI mean, I would tend to agree with Elise on this one. I think the symbolism -- obviously, there are risks. But I think that the symbolism of it far outweighs the importance of the symbolism, far outweighs the symbolism -- the risk. But look, death -- we're all afraid of death. But in this particular case, death could be a good thing if he dies before the end of the trial because that would be a relief to the...
REHMHow sick is he?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, regardless of how sick -- I mean, he seems to be very sick, as we saw him yesterday on a gurney. But he's 83 years old and he doesn't -- he seems quite fragile. And the shock that, you know, he seems to have -- to be displaying, the shock that -- his sons, who are obviously much younger than he is, seem to be displaying the shock of having lost power, I think, is a factor. But if he dies, it's going to be a relief to the supreme council of the armed forces because Tantawi, now, there are questions about his role and others.
FOUKARAIt's going to be a relief to the Egyptian justice system because, as James says, this whole thing smacks a politicking, if you will. The politics do seep into the judicial system, although the presiding judge has said, I'm not going to let that happen.
LABOTTThe presiding judge, yes. But a lot of these judges were appointed by Mubarak. And now, as we've been discussing, there are questions of a deal of, you know, trying to get this through to satisfy some of the people that won't go after the military. Military are very powerful in Egypt, has a lot of economic -- lucrative economic interests in the country that they need to maintain. And so there's every interest, as Abderrahim said, to just kind of ram this through.
REHMRam this through. How long might it last?
LABOTTWell, with 1600 witnesses, we really don't know. But there is a possibility, maybe, of some kind of deal of something, you know, as Abderrahim said, possibly he can die. I mean, we really don't know, but I don't think that this trial is going to last -- you know, if you look at U.S. cases, 1600 witnesses could take years.
KITFIELDYou know, it's putting pressure on, as we've said, that the justice -- in the independence of the justice system, it's put -- you know, these are fragile institutions in Egypt because it's been an authoritarian regime for so long. To me, it's putting undo pressure on it too quickly before these institutions really get on both -- stand on both their feet.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal, Elise Labott of CNN, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. Do join us, 800-433-8850. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd here's our first e-mail from Jason in Johnson City, Tenn. He says, "Is there a simple explanation as to why the West is not stepping in militarily in all of these civilian massacres? We're often accused of being the police of the world, but we're letting a proverbial murder happen right in front of the police station. Do we have any moral standing for not acting?" James Kitfield.
KITFIELDWe have got a lot on our plate. We have -- we tried that with Libya. It's -- if anyone's following that, it's not working out so wonderfully. And in that case, you had the Arab League Support in it, you had a U.N. resolution, you had NATO with you. That -- none of those things are going to happen with -- in the case of Syria. There is this concept of sort of right to intervene to prevent genocide.
KITFIELDBut really unless countries have an interest that overrides the risk involved in these things -- and the risk is, as we've seen in Iraq, as we've seen in Afghanistan and we're learning again if we needed to learn it in Libya -- the risks are huge. So you get stuck in these things and they become very ugly. It turns into civil war. You've got to pick a side. So the short answer is no, we are not going to intervene on moral grounds on this.
LABOTTAnd I think, Diane, it's important to look at the people in individual countries and what they are looking for. In the case of Syria, the opposition has said, we are not looking for military intervention. We're looking for tougher measures. We're looking for President Obama to come out and call for President Assad to step down. We're looking for tougher sanctions. We're looking for international condemnation, but we're not looking for -- and in the case of Iran, with those brave protestors of the green movement, no one was looking. They're saying, listen, we do need to do this ourselves. We need your visible support, but really you have to look at each individual case.
LABOTTAnd in the case of Syria, for instance, which I think everybody is so seized with right now, the opposition is not looking for military intervention.
FOUKARAI absolutely agree. I think it would be a gift on a golden platter. At least that's how a lot of Syrians inside Syria feel. It would be a gift on a golden platter to Bashar Assad. You finally say, I've told you all along that this whole situation was created by the West and Israel inside Syria. And this is my absolute vindication. I don't think there are a lot of Syrians who feel that international foreign intervention would help them.
REHMAll right. There's another report out today that NATO airstrikes killed Gadhafi's fourth son. What have you heard, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAWhat I've heard is that the spokesperson for Gadhafi in Tripoli has come out and refuted the report saying it's not true. We've been through this before with another one of his sons with a similar report a few months ago. It turned out not to be true.
FOUKARABut it's interesting now there's this -- it seems that there's some sort of a war between Tripoli and Benghazi. Because after the killing of General Yunis who used to work for Gadhafi, but, you know, switched sides, the opposition -- or at least some members of the opposition have accused Gadhafi of killing him and of using that as propaganda to undermine the regime. It seems it could be possible that the rebels in Benghazi are now launching an offensive in the opposite direction saying that his son has been killed. We just don't know.
LABOTTThere are reports that the rebels -- some are actually posing as rebels but are Gadhafi loyalists -- there are reports that the TNC is incomplete disarray. I mean, despite their, you know, impressive papers and, you know, good suits when they go to meet with international leaders in these capitols, there have never been any institutions in Libya. That's how Muammar Gadhafi, in many ways, held onto power, by one man, you know, ruling the country. And the rebels are still finding their way and so there's a lot of fueling different factions.
LABOTTAnd this is what's leading -- some people think that a ruling faction perhaps killed Yunis. And so no one really knows. The United States and the Europeans are saying to the TNC, get your act together. You know, the International Community just recognized the TNC last month in Istanbul putting all their eggs in this basket. We reported that the U.S. just handed the embassy over in Washington to the TNC. So there's a lot riding on these rebels really getting their act together. And they're saying that the investigation of Yunis is going to be a real do-or-die moment for them.
KITFIELDYou know, this is the problem of getting into a conflict when you only know one side. We knew Gadhafi, a very bad guy, and anything that happens to him, you know, good riddance. But we didn't know the side we were getting in on the side of and that was the rebel group.
KITFIELDAnd, I mean, one thing about this Yunis situation that worries me is he was summoned to -- by the Council itself. The Transitional Council apparently thought some -- he had done something wrong. And somewhere between being summoned and getting to the Transitional Council, he was murdered. So -- and his tribe is now up in arms saying they may break off from the rebellion. You know, this is a very tribal society. Elise is right that this is how Gadhafi ruled, pitting one tribe against the other, showing favoritism to one against the other. So, you know, this is going to be a very, very messy -- it augers poorly for what happens even if Gadhafi goes or how this -- keep this country together in any kind of coherent way.
LABOTTAnd now we've seen his son Saif al-Islam who was the face of the new Libya all around the world, Western educated, Western dress, really so worldly and sophisticated now saying that the family is willing to make a deal with the Islamists within the movement. Now we know there is -- there are some Islamists in the movement, but the rest of the rebels felt that they all shared the same common goal of getting rid of Gadhafi.
LABOTTNow, the Gadhafis are trying to make a deal with these Islamists. Saif al-Islam gave a one-hour interview the New York Times where he's in Western dress and with his prayer beads and with his beard trying to appeal to a more extremist element saying, listen, we can make Libya like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. Let's set up a Mecca here in Libya. We're willing to cut a deal to get rid of these secularists, these people that were on their fancy jets flying in from Paris, of which he was one.
FOUKARAI think what Saif al-Islam has been saying about this unholy alliance with the Islamists as some have described it, I think it's just a sign of -- another sign of the criminal nonsense that somebody like Saif al-Islam has been peddling, at least in the eyes of many people in the opposition and many people outside of Libya. Because the notion that somehow Gadhafi could, with any alliance, regain control of Libya is sheer madness. But I think what they could be gunning for is some sort of deal whereby Libya is eventually partitioned and part of it that remains under the control of Gadhafi. But even that, I mean, that would be taking Libya really down the trammels of hell.
KITFIELDAnd one further complicating factor of this, which people aren't really talking about, but I believe it's in September, but the U.N. resolution that really okayed this runs out. And given that NATO has gone way beyond what it initially said it was going to do, which is just protect people from massacres from the air, to bombing, you know, command centers and taking out tanks, it's very hard for me to imagine that they get an extension of that through the Security Council. So that means that there might be a do-by date on NATO airstrikes and air power for this. And that further complicates it.
LABOTTThis is why, Diane, the United -- U.N. Security Council's having a hard time agreeing on something for Syria. Because there are many countries within the Security Council that feel that the West took this resolution as a pretext not just to protect civilians, but to go after Gadhafi. And so not only is the new mandate for NATO in jeopardy, but I think it's affecting some of the other things that the U.S. wants to do according to Syria and other countries.
REHMTalk about the interrelationship of this world. Yesterday, we saw the U.S. stock market fall more than 500 points after European Central Banks were prepared to take action for Spain, Italy, other countries. That connection is really something. Talk about that European debt crisis.
KITFIELDWell, if anyone needs to relearn a tough lesson after the fall of 2008, global economy is totally interlinked now and Europe is probably the biggest center of wealth in the world when you put it all together. It's been a headwind against this recovery from the very beginning, but certainly all of this year these concerns, first Italy -- I mean, first Ireland and Portugal...
KITFIELD...we've had Greece. And now you're starting to talk about countries like Italy and Spain that have much bigger economies. Italy's the seventh largest economy in the world. You know, the markets are skittish. They have seen the Europeans be hesitant in bailing out Greece. They have to keep coming back with new deals. And the deals aren't putting the concerns to rest.
KITFIELDNow, they're looking -- they've ratcheted up the cost of Italy and Spain borrowing to service its debt to 6 percent. Seven percent was the sort of threshold which caused the run on Greece. So everyone's very skittish. And anyone who thinks -- and which is why this spectacle that we saw in this town last week was really -- should be a pox on all our houses because that really -- when the situation is so volatile around the world, confidence is so skittish around the world in the market, for us to see that kind of spectacle, the one place in the world was always the gold standard to look like it was going to default was really embarrassment.
REHMFor us to see it and for the rest of the world to see it, Abderrahim.
FOUKARAAbsolutely. Well, I mean, for the rest of the world, at least for the part of the world where my particular audience is, I think it's a mixed bag. Because it's totally baffling that a country like the United States -- or politicians in a country like the United States could continue bickering over something so crucial. Not just to the future of the United States, but to the future of the world, the United States being the largest economy in the world.
FOUKARABut the silver lining in that is actually a lesson at a time when people in North Africa and the Middle East are talking about democracy. Well, democracy is not always about being good. Democracy is sometimes about being messy. And I know that the compromise -- a lot of Americans feel uneasy about the compromise eventually reached between democrats and republicans in Congress, but it is a compromise and it is a way for people in the region, at least, to see that they -- democracy being as messy as it is, it is ultimately about reaching a compromise.
LABOTTBut you look at countries like China. Even though we -- the U.S. held onto its triple A rating. The Chinese down...
REHMBy the skin of our teeth.
LABOTT...by the skin of our teeth -- the Chinese downgraded. If you see what President Medvedev of Russia is saying about the United States, we are really the laughing stock around the world right now, that we're trying to -- you know, this administration has talked about leading from behind and showing leadership in the world. And countries are not just rolling their eyes at us behind their back but they're publicly saying, you know what, maybe the era of the U.S. kinda super power is really coming to a close.
KITFIELDWell, and more importantly, maybe the era of the U.S. model is coming to a close.
KITFIELDMaybe the Chinese model of an autocratic society married to a capitalist system is actually a better way to go. That's the competition that we're in all around the world. And when -- you know, I have to respectfully disagree. I think it was a very harmful spectacle. And I don't really think it was a compromise.
KITFIELDIt was basically you traded one hostage, which was our full faith in credit, for now we have a hostage which is the Pentagon. And they -- basically both sides are saying they're going to put people on this committee, this super committee that has to act, who are not going to compromise. So that means it's going to kick in some cuts that'll actually eviscerate the Pentagon at a time we're still engaged, you know, in two combat theatres. So we've just exchanged hostages here. I don't think we've solved the problem.
LABOTTAnd here a few months ago we were telling the Europeans, we were talking to them about...
REHMGet your house in order.
LABOTT...get your house together -- get your house together. And now, as you said, the global economy's so interdependent that the U.S. recovery is hampered by the European debt crisis. It's coming back to haunt us and it's this vicious cycle.
REHMElise Labott of CNN. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And the other interesting element about the European markets, the charges against Christine Lagarde. Where are they coming from, James?
KITFIELDWell, they're coming from a criminal court that had a complaint filed by the Socialist Party, so there's politics involved in this. But they're saying basically that while she was Finance Minister of France there was a naturalization of a bank. That -- the bank -- the owner of that bank, you know, went to the government and said, well, you've nationalized me and I've lost hundreds of millions of dollars that you owe me because you nationalized my bank. She set up an arbitration panel that decided he got 600 plus million dollars in compensation. The Socialist Party is saying now that there was something wrong with that decision.
KITFIELDSo it's -- you know, I'm not ready to say that -- you know, she's got a pretty sterling reputation, this woman. So this reeks to me a little bit of politics, but we'll see where it goes.
LABOTTPolitics. And if you remember what happened to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, we were talking earlier, this might be a little bit of payback for what happened to him.
LABOTTFrom the Socialists.
REHMDo you agree, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAI think my instinct tells me that the Socialists have an ax to grind in this because Strauss-Kahn was their best hope for the presidency. He got buried because of what happened to him, the accusation that he raped that woman here in New York. A lot of French people, especially on the left, felt that there was a conspiracy there by Sarkozy to actually bury that chance. And I think they -- some of them, at least, may have seen the opportunity now to pay him back by raising the specter of wrongdoing on the part of Lagarde.
FOUKARAIf I may just very quickly -- I can't resist this...
REHMI knew it, I knew it.
FOUKARA...talking about the U.S. and China.
FOUKARABecause James and Elise who are speaking as Americans, I'm speaking as a non-American. And I've seen the ravages of autocracy in the Middle East, the people looking at the compromise in Congress. I mean, if you look at the U.S. you may say the U.S. democratic system works or does not work. If you look at China, there's no model to even argue about for people in the Middle East. There's just no democratic credentials.
FOUKARASo in that respect, as bad as it was, the bickering and the compromise and everything, I don't think the people in the Middle East, there's really a choice when it comes to China.
REHMBut I'm going to repeat what I said in the first hour, Abderrahim. Sixteen percent of the U.S. population voted in 2010 brought in 87 freshmen, part of a minority who held tight and ruled against the majority. It's a funny view of democracy at work.
KITFIELDIt is and I don't -- you know, strap in because, you know, it worked for them. So, you know, I'm looking at foreign affairs. I had a piece in my magazine this week. I mean, getting very ideologically hard-edged bills come out of committees in the House about funding the State Department about our contribution to the United Nations, to the IMF, about putting all kinds of social issues like, you know, the Mexico gag rule so that no...
REHMThe judgeships. What's happening to judgeships?
KITFIELDYeah, so, you know, what we're seeing is that, you know, a bitter divide between the House and the Senate. But the House has shown that it is willing to -- with the FAA shutdown, with the almost default on our national debt, that they're willing to take hostages and see the whole thing burn rather than not get their way. And that becomes -- that kind of brinksmanship if it carries on, which I worry it might, is very dangerous.
LABOTTAnd also I think what you see is that the American people are frustrated. They want a change so they're voting for something that's not in government right now. They're voting for the anti-status quo. And what they're doing in some cases is electing people that offer some kind of change. They don't know necessarily what that change is.
LABOTTBut it's different than what they have. And I think in some cases, maybe not all, that there is some buyer's remorse.
FOUKARAI think you're all American and I respect whatever Americans choose to believe. I'm just talking about the perception of people sitting in the Middle East looking at what happened.
REHMAbderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. Short break. When we come back, we'll open the phones.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. First to Orlando, Fl. Good morning, Steve. You're on the air.
STEVEGood morning, Diane.
STEVEI really enjoy your show very much.
STEVEI have a simple question, and it's about Syria. And I'd just like to know how monolithic and how united are the Alawites? We talk about the fact that they dominate the army in Syria and they could cause trouble in (word?) , but are there no dissenting voices among the Alawites?
FOUKARAWe haven't heard any significant dissent among the Alawites and there could be several reasons for that. That's not necessarily because they support what Bashar is doing. But the specter of revenge against them as a minority sect, not just for what Bashar has been doing over the last few months, but for what the dynasty that's ruled Syria has done over the last 30 to 35 years.
FOUKARASo basically, fear of revenge may be one of the factors. I'm not sure to what extent that fear is able to last if the opposition managed to sort of reconfigure their position in a way that mollifies those fears, we may yet begin to see, or at least hear some dissent within the Alawites.
KITFIELDIt's interesting because, you know, the next step the U.S. is kind of playing along with Europe, is an oil boycott, which would put -- Europe buys half of Syria's oils -- would put them in a big squeeze. As soon as the Alawites, which are really the merchant class of Syria, the sort of privileged class, sees that, you know, this guy it too much baggage, there is hope that the will abandon Assad and there -- I know that in our government's discussion with these opposition groups in Syria, they're trying to get them to give assurances to the Alawites that there will be no revenge killings, you know, if he falls. But how that plays out we haven't seen yet.
REHMAll right. Here is an e-mail from Jeff, who says, "Given what's happened to Mubarak, is there any way other dictators, Gadhafi, to get out of the box that he's been put into? I think it's important to realize that both Mubarak and Gadhafi were good friends of the U.S. until quite recently."
LABOTTThey're good friends of the United States until it's obvious that they're on their way out. And in which case, you know, the United States says, well, listen -- and this is why they're not saying anything about President Assad. Because when they took the moment to say President Mubarak you should go, this was when the military had turned against him, the tide was turning. There was some kind of momentum.
LABOTTI personally do not think that Moammar Gadhafi is going to leave Libya under any circumstances, that he's going to step down, whether it's for immunity or for his family. I think the only way he's going out is with a bullet in the head.
KITFIELDCan I just make a point that, yes, Hosni Mubarak was a good friend of the United States for a very long time. Moammar Gadhafi was no great friend of the United States. He has the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands with PanAm 103. He supported terror bombings in Germany, that's when Reagan in the early '80s sent bombs to Tripoli.
KITFIELDHe had recent an accommodation where he gave up his weapons of mass destruction only because we invaded his next door neighbor in 2003, and he was afraid he was next. So I just want to make that point that Gadhafi was no great friend of the United State.
FOUKARAI mean, look, there's enough blame to go around in the case of Gadhafi, because he was rehabilitated back into the international community by former President George Bush, by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, even by Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was the very first respected figure to actually fly into Libya and violate the embargo at that time.
FOUKARASo these people, I know that they did it sometimes for interest. In the case of Nelson Mandela, he did it with good intention. But the fact is, they rehabilitated somebody who now a lot of Libyans, a lot of Americans, a lot of Brits, a lot of South Africans know should not have been rehabilitated.
REHMLet's talk for a moment about what's going on between Israel and the Palestinians. Is there any reason to be hopeful now, Elise?
LABOTTWell, the short answer is no. What the United States is trying to do is head off a diplomatic showdown at the United Nations in September, where the Palestinians have said we are going to seek independence, declare independences of Palestinian state and try to get international support. Now, in practical terms, this really doesn't mean anything because they don't have borders. They don't have a state, and even if many countries will recognize them, it doesn't seem that it's gonna have much practical effect, but it has a lot of symbolic effect and diplomatic effect around the world.
LABOTTAnd so the United States is trying to convince the Palestinians not to do that. How are they trying to do that? They're trying to get some kind of formula to jump start peace talks, whereas you go with the President, President Obama's suggestion that they negotiate on the 1967 borders, and the Palestinian's accept the legitimate right of Israel as a Jewish state.
LABOTTThey're trying to get this formula together. They think if they can get it together, the international community convinced the Palestinians not to, but it doesn't look as if we're going to make it before September.
KITFIELDI talked to a senior Palestinian official this week. They are going for the -- the only thing that would stop them from going for the statehood push in the UN in September would be if Israel would stop its settlement activity and agree to a freeze on settlements like it had done before it restarted them last year. That's not gonna happen. They've lost all faith that Netanyahu has any interest in reaching any kind of a peace deal that they could live with.
KITFIELDSo they -- and they see the Arab spring quite honestly as wind at their back saying, you know, if there's a freedom movement for all the peoples of the Middle East, it's gonna eventually wash up on Israel's shores where they are occupying and keeping down the Palestinian majority in the West Bank.
REHMBut what about Netanyahu's statement that he might be willing to accept those 67 borders?
FOUKARAI mean, you could see that in so many different ways. You could see him making that for so many different reasons except in the eyes of the Palestinians at least for the right reason. I mean, one reason is basically to get back into the good books of the Obama administration and give the impression, if things go awry with the Palestinians, that look, it's not my fault, it's the Palestinians who rejected it.
FOUKARABut you also have to bear in mind that domestically Netanyahu is now under tremendous pressure with the Israeli spring if you will. And I know that the Israeli spring is about concrete things like housing and like the cost of living and so on. But remember, that's how the Arab spring started. It started with social economic grievances, not the situation in the Arab world that the situation inside Israel compares.
FOUKARABut ultimately I think it could be compounding the pressure on Netanyahu, and he is thinking maybe I should do this just in case I need something to turn the attention of the Israelis -- to divert the attention of Israelis from the internal situation to something else.
LABOTTWell, and I think what you have from the Israeli people is saying listen, the Israeli government has spent too much time -- yes, security is important, yes, the Palestinians are important, and yes, the settlements are important, but you're spending way too much time, way too much attention on this. We need to look at these domestic issues. Netanyahu did make some comments before the Knesset. What Israeli officials are saying is you made way too much out of this.
LABOTTThe Prime Minister has said I'm open to creative ideas. I'm open to some kind of formula, and now they're trying to get it together. But it doesn't look really as if we're going to make it before September.
REHMAll right. To Sabri (sp?) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Good morning.
REHMYes. You're on the air, sir.
SABRIYes, ma'am. Good morning, Diane. It's a pleasure to be on your show.
SABRII just want to comment about Syria issue. As a Syrian-American, we do appreciate Mr. Robert Ford, the American Ambassador. His visit to Hama was very brave. We appreciate even (unintelligible) all Mr. Obama administration lying on Syrian issues. We definitely we don't need any military action. What we do appreciate everything. We are satisfied with every reaction, and hopefully we can all reach our goal as freedom. Thank you so much.
KITFIELDYou know, it was interesting. The Obama administration took a lot of heat for sending an Ambassador back to Syria. They are convinced that it's been helpful in this case, because you don't have a lot of independent opinions and eyes and ears on what's going on on the ground. He got blasted by the Syrian government for making that visit to Hama. And he was recently testifying here on the Senate, basically updating the Congress about the situation there. But I actually think they have a pretty compelling argument, but it's been good to have an independent American voice and eyes and ears on the ground in Syria.
LABOTTAnd I think that he has been a sufficient irritant in the side of Syria, you know. The United States doesn't have too many levers to push, but it does have Robert Ford. If you see kind of -- the U.S. has always been hoping it'll be met with hearts and flowers in the Middle East. He was met with hearts and flowers when he went over there and he did shine a light on some of the things that are going on in Syria.
LABOTTAnd to show that, you know, that yes, there's a limit to what the U.S. can do, but we do support the Syrian people. And I think that the United States thinks that he serves a good function there. But there is a lot of concern about his security, you know.
LABOTTYeah. The Syrians have in the past, they've been implicated if not found guilty of going after some other U.S. officials, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman, who was in Beirut. There was an assassination attempt on him. There was some implication that the Syrians were involved in some way. So I've spoken to a lot of people, both in the administration and in Congress, who are concerned about his safety.
FOUKARAYou know, while obviously a consensus, an international consensus has emerged that the violence being perpetrated against Syrians is perpetrated by the security forces of the regime. The regime itself has been saying no, the violence is sometimes perpetrated against the security forces by the protestors. And obviously there's no independent media that has access to Syria to actually verify that. And then you get the U.S. Ambassador being there as the voice of what may actually be happening in Syria on the ground. I think it was a galvanizing force.
REHMHere's a posting on Facebook from Roger who says, "Given the stalemate in Libya, the probable request from Iraq for continuing presence there, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, do you believe that during the upcoming Budget debate one of these wars will be ended?" James Kitfield.
KITFIELDWell, I mean, we are -- we're not -- I don't think we're gonna pull all of our troops out of Iraq. This last week there has been news in which he's referring to, which is the Iraqi political system, which always acts in the 11th hour, is once again in the 11th hour now, because we are due to have 50,000 troops out by the end of this year. To do that, you'd have to start moving them now.
KITFIELDSo they've said they basically are going to reach some sort of accommodation and ask for some residual American presence. It's gonna be small though. It's mainly trainers, some air power, to basically secure their borders and to keep training the Iraqi security forces so they can take on what insurgencies and militias remain. But I think it's gonna be small numbers. I don't think that's gonna be a huge budget problem. Afghanistan is the bigger issue. We're in there through at least 2014, and we, you know, that could go either way.
LABOTTI think that there is a plan to get the Obama administration is trying to hand over as quickly as possible, and Afghanistan trying to make deals on reconciliation so that we can continue to hand over security to the Afghans and get out. And I think that there are going to be some questions about what kind of money that we're spending in Libya. Given the debt crisis, given what's going on, how long can this crisis in Libya go on.
REHMElise Labott of CNN. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Cleveland, Oh. Good morning, Ahmed. You're on the air.
AHMEDYeah, good morning. I have two questions. The first one is this. Bashar Assad said that any foreign military intervention in Tunisia will backfire, and history has proven that. Is this the reason why NATO and U.S. has not been, you know, engaging militarily against Syria? And secondly, Bashar, when he first took over as the president, he didn't want the job because (unintelligible) . Why is he still hanging onto power?
REHMGood question. What do you think, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAGod only knows why he's still hanging onto power.
FOUKARAThis is obviously a song that we've heard from other leaders. There's that famous statement by Mubarak before he stepped down. He said -- he just kept saying, I have served my country for 30 years. This is not a job that I wanted in the first place. And yet, he was willing to fight tooth and nail to actually retain the job, and that didn't happen.
FOUKARABut on the issue of why NATO -- there's no prospect of NATO or any other international force intervening in Libya. I think that as James said at the outset, that would complicate the situation in Syria more than it would help anything. Because the configuration inside Syria is much, much more complicated with all the minorities and what have you than it is in Libya.
FOUKARAAnd again, Syrians -- a lot of Syrians, at least the ones that I've heard, are saying we do not want the international community to intervene militarily. We want pressure on the Syrian government from the international community in other ways.
KITFIELDI think he's hanging on because he's looking at Mubarak and said do I want to wind up...
KITFIELD...with a death penalty over my head and no power.
REHMTo Rochester, NY. Good morning, Joe.
JOEGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me, and I extend my respect to the panel. I have two quick comments, and I would like them to say something about it. I'm an African. There's a double standard when Europeans or the Western world intervene in Africa. First, one of your panelists talked about Mandela.
JOEWhen everybody -- the Western world was sponsoring the Apartheid, Gadhafi is one of the only ones who supported the people. So when Mandela goes to Libya, he doing rightfully so, and he must be acknowledged instead of comparing with other leaders. And secondly, in regard to Libya, if you talk to any African, common African, they will tell you that the Western world has no business in Libya.
JOEAnd the proof is people are losing (unintelligible) or international community. When Syria is (unintelligible) their own people, they can sit down and (word?) Libya, people were well treated. That was one of the (unintelligible) highest level of living in the entire world.
KITFIELDGadhafi had a lot of oil money and he spread it around Africa. So he has friends in Africa, and clearly he sided on the side of the angels in terms of Nelson Mandela and the resistance to the Apartheid. But the idea that everyone in Libya, you know, loved Gadhafi and lived well under his regime, I think is not true.
FOUKARAI mean, first of all, Nelson Mandela, I mean, there's no doubt in my mind that Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary tower of moral strength, always has been. But in hindsight, the role that he played in rehabilitating Gadhafi, and hindsight is always 20/20, I don't think you're gonna get a lot of agreement on that. But Gadhafi, it has to be remembered is that in addition to the good things that he's done in Africa, he also sided with people like Charles Taylor and Sanko in Liberia and Sierra Leone when they were committing, I mean, extraordinary atrocities against their own people.
REHMLast word from Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. James Kitfield of National Journal, Elise Labott, State Department producer for CNN. Have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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