Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Greece named former European Central Bank V.P. Lucas Papademos as its next prime minister; Italy moved closer to a national unity government as outgoing Prime Minister Berlusconi signaled he would support it; and the alleged mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 was arraigned after more than nine years in U.S. custody. Diane will discuss the week’s top international news stories with Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, Kim Ghattas of the BBC and David Sanger of The New York Times.
- Jonathan Landay Senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
- Kim Ghattas State Department correspondent for the BBC.
- David Sanger Chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Europe's debt crisis rattled markets globally, the Italian senate approved an austerity program. Italy's Premier Silvio Berlusconi could resign within days. Greece named a new prime minister and elsewhere the alleged mastermind of the U.S.S. Cole bombing was arraigned in Guantanamo.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the Friday News Roundup of international stories, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers, Kim Ghattas of the BBC, David Sanger of The New York Times. Do join us, 800-433-8850. send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And to all of you, thank you for being here on Veterans' Day.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
MS. KIM GHATTASGood morning. Thank you for having us.
REHMAnd, Kim Ghattas, if I could start with you. The Eurozone nations were focused this week on Italy. What's happening?
GHATTASWell, indeed they've been focused on , but also on Greece, keeping a close eye on what's going on there as well. As you just mentioned, the Italian senate approved a new set of austerity measures. It will have to be approved in the Lower House this weekend as well and that may see the exit of Silvio Berlusconi from politics after three terms in power.
GHATTASThis is a man who survived so many other scandals, but the Eurozone crisis looks like it is going to indeed bring him down in favor of a technocrat, most likely Mario Monti, who used to be EU commissioner.
REHMWhat do we know about Monti?
GHATTASWell, he has cross-party appeal, which is very important. He's 68, quiet, well respected. He is -- he has the name of Super Mario, apparently for his tenacity and so he looks he's the right man for this job. It's not a done deal yet, but an interesting personality that has come to the forefront over the last few days is a man that we don't hear very often when it comes to Italian politics and that's the president. And you'll notice that President Obama made a call to him, I believe, yesterday.
GHATTASPresident Giorgio Napolitano, again, very respected, cross-party appeal, doesn't speak out very often but he made an interesting comment over the last few days. He said, "We have to ask ourselves whether we are all personally responsible for the crisis that we are facing." And what he was trying to say to people in Italy but perhaps beyond the borders of his own country, is we have to ask ourselves whether we have been electing the wrong leaders and I think that's a very strong message at the moment.
LANDAYHe's very interesting, Mr. Monti, in that he was the EU Competition Commissioner. He was in charge of enhancing, making sure that the economic competition was fostered in Europe and he actually oversaw the anti-monopoly case that was brought against Microsoft by the EU and has talked about, in years past, the need for reform, particularly enhancing competition in Italy, where, you know, the professions are closely regulated. it's the -- it's almost the ultimate patronage system.
LANDAYAnd he talked about the need to loosen up the system, to enhance competition or, and this was five years ago, saying, we're going to be heading for a really serious crisis.
REHMDavid Sanger, you're going to miss Berlusconi.
SANGERI think every journalist will miss Berlusconi but probably his time had come and passed some time ago. But, you know, reporters will tell you, you don't come across stories like Silvio Berlusconi very often. I think the interesting point that Jonathan makes about competition here, gets to the core of two big questions about Italy right now. The first one is, can in the time they have left to solve this crisis, can they get at the core issue, which is that their productivity growth has been miserable through the decade, about one and a half percent, if that, in some years.
SANGERAnd without that productivity growth it's very hard to see how the economy grows fast enough to service the huge amount of debt that they have -- debt to G.D.B is, at this point, you know, twice what the United States has racked up, obviously on a percentage basis. The second big question that this week has raised between Greece and Italy is, can the Eurozone survive if these two countries ultimately have to leave the zone?
SANGERAnd I think the answer to that is if a small country like Greece left it, if a small country like Portugal had to leave it, yes, it would be damaged but it would survive. If Italy had to leave it, I think that would probably be the end of the Eurozone. And that is why you have seen so much scrambling among the larger powers on the question of whether they ultimately are willing to do a bailout of Italy and if they could, could they sustain it over a long period of time?
REHMAnd of course, President Obama has said that the U.S. will not be involved. He leaves that to the International organizations, the World Bank, the IMF.
SANGERAnd that's a very big difference from say, 11 or 12 years ago when the U.S. took the lead in the Asian financial crisis, including with some economies that you could argue were less closely linked to the United States than the European economies. Remember the U.S. led the bailout in Indonesia, led the bailout in South Korea, helped put together IMF packages as well. At the most recent summit, the question was sort of, are the Chinese willing to play that part?
REHMAnd Kim Ghattas, tell us something about Greece's new Prime Minister, Lucas Papademos?
GHATTASYes, he's an interesting character as well. And what the two have in common, Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos is that they're technocrats, they're not really politicians and there's a sense that perhaps this is what Europe needs at the moment, fewer politics, less politics, more hands-on experience. Now, Lucas Papademos is 64, he's just been sworn in this morning. He's, again, very different from Mr. Papandreou, the former prime minister.
GHATTASHe has a national unity cabinet, which is something that Greece isn't used to. he's a banker, which could work to his advantage but could also work to his disadvantage. Because he over -- because he's a former European Central Bank vice president he has the experienced, he understands how the European institutions work. he oversaw the transition in Greece from the Greek currency, the drachma to the euro.
GHATTASSo he has appeal beyond his borders, he can help stabilize and reassure markets but within his own country, that may work against him because he's a banker. People don't trust that and they worry within Greece that they are being forced into something they don't want to. They are talking about the dictatorship of Brussels, so that's why his background could work for him or against him.
REHMBut, David, with two technocrats leading Greece and Italy, is there a better chance for resolving these debt crises?
SANGERWell, this has been the competition between whether or not there's a solution for these countries, for Greece and Italy, a mix of austerity and the growth policies we discussed and whether there is the democratic will to endure that kind of pain. And when you saw this brief moment just a week ago where it was suggested that in Greece the whole issue would go to a referendum, the markets started a huge sell off because there was no confidence that the democratic process would indeed in the end, come up with an economic system that was a real solution and that that would ultimately lead to default and/or exit from the euro.
LANDAYThey're both dealing, the two technocrats also are dealing with two very different problems. Interesting note about Mr. Papademos is that he was at one time an advisor to the U.S. Federal Reserve in Boston. He was a U.S. educated economist. But there are two problems, one is that Italy's economy, for all of its problems, a lot of people believe it is able to deal with the current crisis and that has, what's known as a primary account surplus. If you take its debt service away it has a budget surplus. It is the third largest economy in Europe.
LANDAYSwitch over to Greece. Greece has very little prospect, so there's prospect for Italy being able to deal with its crisis.
REHMBut very little for Greece?
LANDAYThat's the problem for Mr. Papademos.
GHATTASAnd I think that the test is coming very quickly, I mean, Mr. Papademos has to ratify a new -- a second rescue package and implement those austerity measures that are attached to that austerity package from the troika of lenders. And he has to move fairly quickly as well, because Greece wants to receive the sixth (word?) of money from the previous bailout package.
GHATTASHe will face a vote of confidence in parliament during the week and the test, I think, is going to be, you know, will he be able to sell those austerity measures to a public, which is really unhappy about the way their leaders have handled this. As I said, they look at Brussels and they see the dictatorship of Brussels. Will he be able to deal with violence that could erupt on the ground, but also finally, all these austerity measures and all these different packages that people are trying to come up with to solve these economic problems? There's no guarantee that's it's going to work.
SANGERYou know, I think Kim hits on a very important point. I think you get the publics of Greece and Italy, the United States, if the issue comes to it, and obviously we're headed into an age of austerity ourselves, to vote for these packages, if they see a way out, if they think that it's endless, then it's very hard to get them to agree.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times, Kim Ghattas of the BBC, Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. Do join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd after our discussion on Europe, here's the first message posted on Facebook by Maryann who says, "The quote good news of Europe is that the citizens of Greece and Italy will have their economies and their livelihoods gutted by austerity measures so that the executives at the banks who encourage their leaders to invest in junk will get their billions in bonuses. Austerity will just continue the downward economic spiral of their economies. Many people have said the same thing about our economy, that austerity ain't the way to go." David Sanger.
SANGERYou know, the ugly truth of downturns like this is that frequently the overspending that got you into them is the only way that you get out of them. And that's a very, very difficult message for politicians and frequently for the public to absorb. And obviously you can't overspend forever. And the problem that Greece and Italy face is that they did overspend forever. And so they're now in a hole deeper than where the United States and where some other economies that face similar problems are.
GHATTASI think there's an interesting anecdote that I would like to share with our listeners about the spending habits in Europe and this idea or this trend, as David points out, to spend more than you have. If you look at the Summit of the G20 in Cannes last week when all the leaders of the G20 gathered, it's very interesting to look at how much they spent on their hotel suites. President Sarkozy of France, President Obama and Prime Minister Berlusconi spent around 35 to $29,000 on their hotel suite. The Chinese spent 11,000. The British spent 1900.
GHATTASI think it says a lot about the approach to spending. And it's true that austerity measures aren't necessarily the answer to everything, but spending beyond your means is certainly not the answer either.
SANGERDid that include room service or...
LANDAYI'm sure that the congressional super committee is also watching. In fact, I know they're watching this very closely because it's not just austerity measures that are being implemented in Italy and Greece. There are also tax increases, very large tax increases. Tax increases on energy, tax increases on basically what they call the value add tax in both places. So they're looking, in Europe, at that kind of approach, revenues and cuts whereas here that doesn't appear to have yet been agreed on yet.
REHMExcept that there was a glimmer of hope this week that Republicans may in fact begin to consider tax hikes. Let's turn to the International Atomic Energy Agency and what it had to say in its report this week, Jonathan Landay.
LANDAYThe IAEA came out with a report, which is essentially a huge elaboration, on information that has already been putting in basing previous reports, regular reports on their monitoring program, their inspections of Iran's nuclear program. And essentially what they said, if you took all the embellishments and all of the sort of wishy-washy words away from it, was that Iran for five years until late 2003 was basically developing a nuclear warhead to be placed atop an intermediate range missile, the Shahab III, capable of hitting parts of southern Europe and Israel.
LANDAYAnd it laid out in very concise terms for the first time the information that it has been working with and essentially said, yes Iran was working on a nuclear device. And there were other details that came out to the degree to which they were doing things like modeling nuclear explosions, looking at the firing mechanisms -- the conventional explosive firing mechanisms, very sophisticated firing mechanisms that they'd actually developed. And the conclusion being, at least the way U.S. officials who briefed reporters was that, yes for five years they were working on this warhead and may indeed have continued some aspects of that program.
REHMAnd Iran's response, Kim.
GHATTASWell, the Iranian response is usually to be expected along the lines of, you know, this is a way to talk up the possibility of a strike against Iran. There is a pattern in the dynamic between the United States and Iran, and Israel of course, the third party in this interesting ballet where any talk of Iran's nuclear program brings about talk about the possibility of a strike.
GHATTASBut going back to what Jonathan was saying, what struck me in the way White House officials were briefing reporters about this report was that they were keen to emphasize that the report did not conclude that Iran had mastered that technology. They are trying to develop. They do, of course, point out that Iran's intentions are unclear and that it is up to Iran to reassure the world that its nuclear program is a civilian program, that it's a peaceful program. But they do -- they did seem keen to emphasize that nobody should run around trying to figure out how to strike Iran because Iran was just about to develop that weapon.
REHMAnd the question becomes, does the world believe Iran is suicidal?
SANGERNow I think that is one question you could come out of this, which would be would Iran be suicidal which is to say if they got a weapon would they use it. But there are many other possibilities for why they may want to get a weapon and what they would do with it.
SANGERThe first possibility is that they've learned from North Korea's mistakes and they're not actually interested in doing the final assembly of a weapon. But rather staying within the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and just having all of the component elements, and creating the doubt in the minds of everybody else in the region that they could assemble the weapon fairly quickly. Some call this the Japan option. We have no doubt that the Japanese have the technology to put together a weapon and they certainly have the material. The question is how long would it take them to do final assembly.
SANGERThe second big question is even if they did not attack Israel, Saudi Arabia -- I think it's very unlikely that they would because, as you say, they're not suicidal and they don't want to deliver something with a return address -- the concern is that given the relationships with Hamas and Hezbollah could either a weapon or the materials be slipped to one of them.
SANGEROne last point on the IAEA report. I think that Jonathan gave a great summary of where it was. And for those of us who follow this for a living there weren't huge surprises in there with two exceptions. The first exception is that it did describe activities that took place as late as 2008 and 2009. Not as organized as the program part of 2003 but significant activities. Pardon me.
SANGERThe second surprise in it was that at the very end of the report the inspectors referred to a missing nearly 20 kilograms of uranium metal, which is what you would turn into a sphere, roughly enough to make one bomb. Not accounted for when they went to count the inventory versus what the Iranians said they had declared. And that's a big question.
GHATTASDavid raises an interesting point about, you know, what are Iran's intentions. And, as he says, it does look as though they want to be just within a few inches of being able to assemble that weapon. Because what it gives them if they reach that stage is a lot of clout in the region. This is how they maintain their power, their sphere of influence through groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. This is how they, you know, balance out the power of countries like Saudi Arabia. And when you take a step back and you look at what's happening in the region I think it's going to be very interesting to see how the United States and/or Israel and other countries in the region are going to deal with this IAEA report.
GHATTASThere has been a lot of talk about the possibility of a strike, a military strike. I think we're very far off from that but what it does do, this report, it puts the highlight on how Iran tries to maintain its power in the region. And one of its key allies is Syria and Syria is in trouble. And it sounds as though this is going to focus people's minds on how to handle President Assad who is continuing to repress his own people. President Obama has called for him to step down. If you manage to deal a real blow to President Assad you also deal a blow to Iran. And I assume that people here in Washington are looking at that very closely as well as in Europe.
REHMWhat about the White House thinking about selling arms to the United Arab Emirates to keep Iran in check, Jonathan?
LANDAYWell, the White House -- there's a report this morning that the White House plans to include hundreds of bunker busters munitions in this massive arm sale to the United Arab Emirates. Munitions that are capable of obviously burrowing into the ground and destroying deeply buried targets, which is what the fear is -- reflects the fear within the United States government that this is what Iran has been doing. And, in fact, we know of one case where Iran was caught developing -- building a facility very deeply underground near the holy city of Qom in which they plan to install or are installing -- in the process of installing centrifuges, which are the machines that are used to enrich uranium.
LANDAYAnd so this is, I guess, intended to emphasize the all options are on the table including the use of military force option. And this is coming at a very interesting time when the United States is trying at least to reduce its presence in that very part of the world. We're getting out of Iraq, or the administration's pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, although it intends to keep a whole bunch of U.S. military assets in that very part of the world.
REHMBut why the UAE, David?
SANGERYou know, the answer to this question you find in WikiLeaks. A year ago when we published the Wikileaks diplomatic cables, the part that jumped out to you the most -- or at least to me as a reader in the months I was going through those before we published them -- was that the leaders of Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, they were all unified on one issue, which is what happens if Iran gets the bomb.
SANGERYou'll remember the king of Saudi Arabia said cut off the head of the snake. The king in Bahrain suggested that the United States would be wise to go bomb the Iranian facilities. And while he might have to criticize the U.S. publicly, he'd really send a bottle of champagne privately. It wasn't terribly helpful to Washington.
SANGERBut throughout the region you see this fear. And if you look over the past two or three years in a program that began with the Bush Administration and has been accelerated by the Obama Administration you see a string of antimissile batteries that have been put in, sales like the ones that Jonathan was describing. And they are all part of an Iran containment policy. Now the question is does that tell you what the Washington's real approach to this is an acknowledgement that sooner or later the Iranians are either going to have a real bomb or a virtual bomb and you need the elements of containment in place.
REHMWould there be any resistance in the Congress to the sale of these weapons to the UAE?
LANDAYIt's a stimulus package to Congress, yes.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Is Israel truly preparing for a strike against Iran?
GHATTASIt's difficult to tell but historically there is an inverse correlation between Israeli saber rattling and the possibility of a strike. It is something that everybody wants to keep on the table. It keeps everybody on their toes. But the possibility of an Israeli strike is difficult to determine.
GHATTASNow one interesting point, I was reading in the Israeli Press and they were reporting about the visit to Israel of the U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who had trouble getting reassurances from Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak the defense minister about Israel not conducting any strikes without coordinating with the Americans.
GHATTASNow the question is, were the Israeli leaders evasive because they want the room to maneuver to carry out the strike if they decide to do it, knowing that if they get into trouble the U.S. will step in and assist them in their defense? Or was it a way to push the United States to again be vocal about the fact that all options are on the table? And make sure that they do everything they can to keep Iran in check. We simply don't know, but it's interesting to point out that Leon Panetta also yesterday said that a strike against Iran would have unintended consequences.
LANDAYLet's not forget that there are precedence -- we've got precedence here. The Israeli strike on the North Korean provided a reactor in Syria and then the attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor way back. And so I don't know that anybody should really doubt Israeli resolve when and if they believe they've been pushed into a corner.
REHMAll right. Tell us about the alleged off-mike exchange between President Obama, French President Sarkozy. I have the actual transcript here. For decades, Aaron David Miller writes -- he's a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He says, "For decades, American presidents and diplomats have been locked in uneasy relationships with Israeli prime ministers from the Likud party. It's a good thing for Obama that the open mike caught Sarkozy with the ad hominem attack on Netanyahu rather than the president." Apparently here is the quote, "I can't stand him. He's a liar," Sarkozy said. And Obama was heard to say, "You're tired of him -- what about me? I have to deal with him every day."
SANGERAny surprises here? I mean, shocked, shocked. The only surprise to my mind was that Sarkozy had made a fair number of efforts to get closer to Netanyahu over time. And I think we actually learned more about Sarkozy's view out of this than we did about Obama's.
REHMIs there any question that the exchange actually took place?
GHATTASIt seems fairly certain that it did take place. And it was interesting to see the debate that took place amongst French journalists about whether they should make this public or not. They had, in a way, sort of quote unquote cheated in the way that they found out about this. They had...
GHATTAS...plugged in their earphones into the translating mechanism or devices earlier than they were allowed to do so. And so they caught this exchange between President Obama and President Sarkozy, when they had clearly been told don't plug in yet.
GHATTASAnd there was a debate about whether they should use this or not, make it public or not. They didn't want to embarrass President Sarkozy but then it came out and it was difficult -- nobody really denied it. And as David says, there is really no surprise there. President Obama's had a very difficult relationship with Mr. Netanyahu. I also don't think that it changes very much. I mean, things are pretty dire already.
REHMKim Ghattas of the BBC, David Sanger of the New York Times, Jonathan Landay, McClatchy Newspapers. Short break. We'll open the phones when we come back.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. We'll go first to St. Louis, Mo. good morning Todd.
TODDHello thank you for taking my call.
TODDI had two quick points. One was with Berlusconi stepping down, I'm hoping that there's some way that the Italian parliament or what have you, could do something about his media consolidation and how much that played a role in keeping him in power for so long, you know. I don't know how they would go about it but it just seemed so obvious that it was wrong.
TODDAnd with all the economic downturns I just wonder why there isn't more of a push for the ultra wealthy to just, you know do more or do enough that they wouldn't even feel that that would really help the world basically, just a moral obligation.
GHATTASI think Todd raises an interesting point about Mr. Berlusconi. He may be exiting politics, but he's still a very powerful figure in Italy. He's from (word?) the richest man and he certainly has a good, strong hold on the media in the country so he will still be powerful.
GHATTASI don't know whether parliament, the Italian parliament will do anything about it, but we haven't seen the last of Mr. Berlusconi, I think.
LANDAYNo one of the things you're going to see is a whole bunch of criminal prosecutions and whatnot being processed against Mr. Berlusconi, including allegations that he had sexual relations with an underage girl. There are other cases against him so he's certainly not going to be out of the headlines.
REHMSo you're saying that these have been in the wings?
LANDAYOh, absolutely. And he's enjoyed parliamentary immunity and once he leaves office and this may be the reason why he has been so persistently clinging to power. Once he leaves office, that immunity I believe is lifted unless he gets named senator for life like Mr. Monti, the man who will become, who is touted to become his successor.
REHMAll right. To Malden, Massachusetts, good morning, Sam.
SAMYeah, hi, thanks for taking my call, great show.
SAMAnd I was wondering you know in the last couple of weeks there have been a lot of rumblings about Iran and it seemed very reminiscent of the rumblings before the fake war, you know the fake reasons for invading Iraq and I'm just wondering why now. And you know there was the silly story about the guy who's going to get the Mexican guy to kill the guy in the restaurant in Washington and now there's this new IAEA report which doesn't seem to have anything new in it.
SAMSo why now and my guess is, is it because as we're leaving Iraq there's a fear of some alliance between Iraq and Iran or why now?
SANGERVery good question. First, the main thing to recall about the difference between the charges concerning Iraq in 2003 and the charges concerning Iran now is that we're watching a complete role reversal for the players. In 2003 it was the IAEA that stepped up and said we think there are big holes in the evidence that Saddam Hussein has rekindled his nuclear program.
SANGERIt was the IAEA that found that some documents were forged. It was the IAEA that cast doubt about some aluminum tubes that the United States believed could be used for centrifuges and which appear to have been used for mostly conventional rockets.
SANGERIn this case, it's the IAEA that is stepping out, the normally very cautious U.N. agency. Based on intelligence that when you read the report they maintain came from ten different countries, their own interviews including with a Russian scientist who appears to have played some role, somewhat murky still in the Iranian program. And so it's almost the exact reversal yet from reading my emails, reading the comments on The New York Times website the reaction that Sam has had is one that many readers have and I think in part it comes from perhaps a misunderstanding about where the evidence, how the evidence has sort of come together.
REHMAll right. Let's move on now to the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS. Cole. He was arraigned at a military commission earlier this week. How did he appear, Kim?
GHATTASHe appeared in court wearing the white prisoner outfit that he was given. He was given the choice of appearing in civilian clothes but he refused that. He appeared thinner than he was when he disappeared. He seemed very calm and comfortable with his lawyers. Abdal Rahim al-Nashiri disappeared in the UAE in a CIA black site as they call it in 2002 and this was his way, his time, you know in Guantanamo Bay to come out and face those charges and the arraignment. He didn't enter a plea.
GHATTASIt is obviously everything relating to Guantanamo Bay and the trials that take place there do draw somewhat emotional responses from the victims of those various attacks that Mr. al-Nashiri and others there are responsible for but it also again casts the light on the facility, the detention facility and President Obama's inability so far to close it down and the politics behind that.
REHMIt also brings back into play the issue of torture.
LANDAYWater-boarding specifically Mr. al-Nashiri was whisked off in 2002 after his arrest in the UAE to a series of CIA-run black sites where he was subjected to what his defense lawyers are undoubtedly going to say, and a lot of people believe, was torture, water-boarding, the simulated drowning of someone being water-boarded. There were drills that were run next to his head, fake executions and there's no doubt that that will come up at his trial and in particular it could play a role when they get to, if they get to, the sentencing stage because this is a death penalty trial and this could be brought up as mitigating circumstances by his lawyers.
LANDAYThere was an indication yesterday that that in fact will happen when his defense lawyer was questioning the head of the military commission. Interesting aspect of this also is that this, the arraignment and the trial, which isn't expected to take place now for at least another year, were, yesterday's proceedings were video-broadcast to two sites in the United States, one near here in Washington, Fort Meade and another down at the naval base in Norfolk, Va. where families of the men who were killed in the bombing of the Cole sat and watched it.
LANDAYJournalists and others, including lawyers from the ACLU, human rights lawyers were allowed to watch it at Fort Meade. So it should be fairly interesting and as Kim said bring the whole issue, aside from al-Qaida and what it did, allegedly did and his alleged, al-Nashiri's alleged role in the bombing of the Cole, bring the entire question of Guantanamo, abuses in detention, CIA black sites right back into the public focus.
GHATTASAnd the military commissions of course.
REHMExactly. Will the military trial have the kind of legitimacy the president is looking for, David?
SANGERWell, the president, of course, wanted to move these prisoners to the United States and move many of them into the normal court system and that got shot down, as we've all discussed here at some length. I read the effort to televise this and bring it into these different sites as an effort by the Obama administration to try to split the difference and say that even if you have a military commission, you'll have at least some of the transparency around that that you would get from a normal civilian trial.
SANGERNow that doesn't completely solve the problem. The rules of evidence are different in a military commission and of course it's not a jury of their peers and so forth. But I thought this was at least an effort to innovate a bit and that probably is part of an effort by the administration to mitigate some of the criticism they know is coming.
REHMI want to for a moment just go back to what's happening with peace negotiations and the resignation of a key negotiator, Dennis Ross. He's resigned. What's the significance of that Kim?
GHATTASWell I'm in two minds about the resignation of Dennis Ross and the significance of it. I think that for people inside Washington who are policy wands looking at the details of who's up, who's down and who's in the White House and who's significant or not, I think you know we're all trying to figure out exactly what it means. But the impact on the wider peace process I'm not sure is going to be very big because there is no peace process to speak of at the moment.
REHMAnd could that be why he resigned because there's nothing happening?
GHATTASVery possibly, absolutely. But I think that for people, let's say, on the receiving end of American foreign policy or the people who are living in Israel and in the Palestinian territories and the countries that are -- whose future is at stake, I think that for them the real sign that things weren't going anywhere was when the key envoy on the Middle East, Senator George Mitchell, resigned earlier this year.
SANGERYou know, also there's a little bit here of the transference of what Dennis Ross did in his previous life versus what he's doing now. He has really spent the past year on Arab Spring issues. He had told the administration when he came in that he would stay for two years and he ended up staying for three.
SANGERAnd he just had a grandchild. I think that probably had something to do with it here as well. But he spent much of his time on Iran and on the question of putting together a policy for the United States on the Arab Spring. And that I suspect has probably occupied much more of his time than peace negotiations that as you say have not occurred in the Obama time.
REHMAll right, let's go to Wichita Falls, Tx. Ramos, you're on the air.
RAMOSA great show by the way.
RAMOSI listen to it all the time.
RAMOSI would just like to say you know to the answer, why now involving in Iran. Because it's different people lobbying, there are different countries lobbying for us to do the dirty work for them. I make deliveries with an 18-wheeler to the military bases all the time in Oklahoma and Texas and let me tell you there is no recession over there. They are building $300 million barracks. There's so much money going to there. The military industrial complex is lobbying constantly for our tax money to be spent and then you've got other countries also lobbying our government to get involved in wars and now it's going to be Iran. And we will be at war with Iran very soon.
REHMI hope you're wrong Ramos. What do you think David Sanger?
SANGERThe Obama administration has tried pretty hard to get American troops out of Iraq and now have made announcements about a schedule for Afghanistan. I detected in my own reporting absolutely no enthusiasm with the Obama administration for an attack on Iran.
SANGERNow, what has the administration done? They've had three different approaches, two they'll talk about and one they won't. They've talked a lot about their engagement efforts. They've talked a lot about economic sanctions and they've said nothing about the sabotage that has been done to the Iranian program through Stuxsnet, the computer worm and so forth.
SANGERMy guess is that you're going to see a lot more on the sanctions front and that there will probably be continued sabotage efforts.
REHMCan we talk for a moment after I remind folks you are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show"? What happened to Wilson Ramos?
LANDAYHe's been kidnapped. He was back in his native Venezuela like a lot of Venezuelans who play ball here in the United States. They go back for a winter league. He was in his, outside his house in central Venezuela...
REHMOutside his parent's house...
LANDAY...his parent's house and a car that may have gone back and forth several times before it stopped, stopped three men got out with guns. They bundled him into the car and drove off. The car was found yesterday. This was Wednesday night I believe. The car was found yesterday in a nearby town but obviously he wasn't there.
LANDAYThis is the first time I believe that a Venezuelan who plays for an American team has himself been kidnapped. Now there have been kidnappings for profit of relatives, a mother I believe, a brother of other Venezuelans who play for American teams. But this is the first time an actual player has been taken.
REHM17,000 kidnappings in Venezuela from July 2008 to July 2009...
GHATTASI think that sadly the story of the 24-year-old Wilson Ramos is a reminder of what it is like for people in Venezuela on a daily basis. We don't think often about what is going on in Venezuela but sometimes a sad story, an unfortunate story like the one of Mr. Ramos brings that plight to the attention of the international media or at least the media in the U.S.
GHATTASKidnapping for ransom is rampant and it is not getting any better despite an anti-kidnapping law that the government of Hugo Chavez passed in 2008. It is only getting worse and the real irony about this is that Mr. Chavez himself is a very, you know avid baseball fanatic. He uses baseball analogies in his speeches but even when it comes to protecting you know baseball players he doesn't seem to be able to deliver. And it is different for American baseball players who go sometimes to Venezuela to play in the winter league because they get all the protection as a foreigner but for the Venezuelans who play here or achieve a certain amount of celebrity back home or for Venezuelans who simply stay at home, they don't have that kind of protection.
REHMHave they received a ransom note David?
SANGERNot that I have seen in the past few hours before we came on the air.
REHMBut do we know that he is still alive?
SANGERThat is the assumption. I guess that's the assumption. We're told that the Venezuelan authorities are hunting him. There's an intense manhunt going on. The State Department has called kidnapping in Venezuela a growth industry and I've seen numbers where, when Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998 there were something around about 50 kidnappings. Now, as you point out, it's out of control.
GHATTASAs far as we know from the latest reports out of Venezuela the police are saying that there's no ransom demand yet but they are moving fast on the investigation and that they are hoping to wrap this up as soon as possible although it's unclear why they seem so certain that they can wrap this up.
REHMKim Ghattas, David Sanger, Jonathan Landay, thank you all so much...
LANDAYThank you, Diane.
SANGERThank you, Diane.
REHM...and I hope we'll spend some time today giving thanks for those who have given their service and their lives, our own veterans. Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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