A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Greece’s creditors agreed to an historic restructuring of the government’s debt, setting the stage for another bailout. The leader of Syria’s main opposition group rejected calls by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan for dialogue with President Assad’s government. Six world powers demanded Iran let international inspectors visit an army site where atomic bomb tests may have taken place. Russian opposition activists pledged more protests until Vladmir Putin’s inauguration. And a social media campaign shines a light on Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Yochi Dreazen of National Journal, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Yochi Dreazen Senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Susan Glasser Editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy.
- Hisham Melhem Washington bureau chief, Al-Arabiya News Channel.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Syria's main opposition group rejects calls by a former UN chief for talks with the Assad regime. Six world powers are drawn to open its nuclear facilities to UN inspectors and Greece adverts default as creditors agree to a debt swap. Joining me for this week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup," Yochi Dreazen of National Journal, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy Magazine, and Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send your email to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
MR. HISHAM MELHEMGood morning.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
REHMYochi Dreazen, you've got UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warning against any kind of intervention in Syria. Tell us why.
DREAZENIt's something we heard this week as well from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and from the chairmen of the joints chiefs. They were not saying it shouldn't happen, they were saying actually that planning has already begun in case there is a U.S. led or U.S. taking part in a collation to do military strikes in Syria. There are two main fears. One, Syria is such broken country with so many sectarian divisions that there's a real fear of a bloodbath if Assad falls. I mean, this is a despised minority. You've got multiple other groups all arming themselves.
DREAZENSo there's real fear that if he goes what could follow after. There also a real belief certainly in the American military and with other allied militaries that any kind of strike, this wouldn't be Libya, this wouldn't be a cakewalk. This would be very hard and so in the hearing, what was striking to me wasn't the admission from Panetta and Dempsey that planning's under way. It was them detailing, again and again, how hard this would be hard.
DREAZENI mean, two statistics quickly that really jumped out at me, they said that the air defense of Libya were five times as sophisticated as in Syria, sorry, in Syria were five times as extensive as in Libya. That the chemical stockpiles were 100 times as big and that all these radar systems within Syria were in populated areas. In the words of Panetta, air strikes would cause severe collateral damage, Which even in the sort of bureaucratic language of collateral damage, we know what that would mean. It would mean a lot of dead civilians.
GLASSEROf course, the terrible tragedy is there are a lot of dead civilians and there already is a bloodbath underway.
REHMSixty-two just yesterday.
GLASSERWell, that's right. I mean, the UN's estimate, which is likely to be conservative at this point, is that over 7,500 people have been killed so far in the year since the revolution and its backlash have been underway. So we're already looking at a situation with severe civilian causalities, number one. If you at look at what's happening right now militarily, the regime is moving towards the province of Syria closest to Turkey, which has, so far, been providing a way out for the increasing number of refugees who found their way over the border into Turkey.
GLASSERThey also have targeted the bridge that was the bridge to safety to Lebanon. There were reports the other day that this bridge had been shelled and was no longer operative. That's the bridge, in fact, that the journalists who were trapped trying to get the word out, that eventually they were able to use as their exit back to safety. So you know, the situation is escalating without any sense whatsoever. That's real planning. And Kofi Annan, you mentioned, you know, his statement. He has been appointed to be the mediator in this situation, but so far, I have to say, you have to give the international community absolutely failing marks.
GLASSERAfter one year, we decide to appoint Kofi Annan as a mediator, he hasn't even been into Syria yet. He's just been, you know, said, okay, we're going to let you in. They let UN officials into the destroyed area of Homs just the other day. What she said she saw was haunting to her. She wants to know what happened to all the people who disappeared from this destroyed neighborhood. But you know, that's the bottom line. It's been over a year and, you know, we're talking about having talks with an international mediator. It's pretty much of an embarrassment, I would say, to the world community.
MELHEMI fully agree with Susan. Look, these concerns that have been expressed by secretary of defense and the president and other people are serious and we should take them seriously. But most of the killing today is taking place from one side, which is the government, and some are defending themselves, people who left the army and are supporting -- still mostly peaceful uprising. What we know for sure is that if there is no international intervention, the killing will continue and it will take more and more a sectarian coloration. And those who are saying the international community should not intervene or saying that the defenses of Syria are much better than Libya, are using as this as an excuse.
MELHEMI was dumbfounded and I was angry, to be honest with you, when senior American administration, including Secretary of State, including General Dempsey and others, are raising the specter of al-Qaida to justify no intervention. You talk to other officials in the government, they tell you the Syrians are not sacrificing their lives so that they would replace a dictator like Assad so that they can live under dictatorships of al-Qaida. This is nonsense. It's an insult to the aspirations of the Syrian people.
MELHEMWe've seen that this uprising has spread throughout the country. It was mostly peaceful and it's still essentially peaceful. And those who don't want to see Syria going from what it is today, a low-intensity civil strife to full-fledged civil war, should intervene because unless you accelerate the fall of this regime, the bloodbath that Yochi and others are talking about is inevitable. It's going to happen. That's why time is not on our side. By that, I mean, those who want to stop the killing, as soon as possible.
GLASSERWell, unfortunately, that's the dilemma, I think, that the world has faced and not only is it an election year in the United States, not only are we just coming off an intervention in Libya, we have partners in the world, Russia and China, on the Security Council which have refused to go along with any -- even what we would consider to be modest, you know, sort of slap on the wrists in a political sense. There's no process whatsoever, whether it's political or military, for the world community to get behind something that they think will work. And, you know, I think that that's the trap we find ourselves in, not that there aren't well-intentioned people who want to do something, but there's no consensus whatsoever on what might be done.
REHMYochi, what about the significance of the oil minister's defection?
DREAZENI think, frankly, more significant is that you're beginning finally to see senior members as opposed to just individual parts of the Syrian military defect. I mean, the whole role of Turkey is fascinating. Turkey has given this Free Syrian Army, which is still kind of nascent, not well organized and not well-armed, but it's given them a safe haven in Turkey to try plan and coalesce. This notion yesterday of creating a safe haven, it would be along the Turkish border, in part, to allow this Free Syrian Army to begin work.
DREAZENI mean, there are two cautionary notes that, I think, are worth raising and do have some validity. One, this is not Kosovo. This is not a sort of isolated country in Europe where there's not a huge risk of massive countries falling or violence spreading to other countries. This is Syria. This is an important Arab country allied to Iran, centrally located, long history. I mean, we're bad as a country at predicting outcomes. We don't really know what would happen if we intervened.
REHMWhat can we make of the money transfers that are going from Syrians with ties to Assad?
MELHEMWell, there's money leaving Syria from people who are -- I mean, the merchants, business community. They are hedging their bets. They are afraid because already the Syrian pound has plummeted. Now, 100 Syrian pounds equal $1. So money is leaving Syria. Maybe part of that money also belongs to those close to Assad. But those who are close to Assad have been targeted with sanctions and they cannot move that money easily the way they used to do before.
REHMBut are they hedging their bets?
MELHEMAbsolutely. They are hedging their bets and in Aleppo, which is the commercial center of Syria, Aleppo is seething with anger. And we hear all sorts of stories about the merchants and the business community which have been either sitting on the fence or tacitly supporting Assad or essentially afraid, are beginning to rethink their posture. But let me go back and say something about the American leadership.
MELHEMUnless the United States does something and unless the United States leads, don't expect Turkey. Turkey cannot inherit the mess of Syria alone. It has the longest border with Syria. It has a lot of investment in Syria. And now that the fighting is moving up north, the Turks are concerned about the wave of refugees similar to what happened to them from Iraq a generation ago. And Yochi is right in the sense that Syria is in a sensitive area.
MELHEMI mean, I can turn it around and tell you the five countries around Syria are extremely important for the United States. Three of them are very close allies, Turkey, Iraq and Israel, not mention to Jordan. And if this fighting continues, it will spill over. Already we've seen that in Lebanon, the Saudis are very concerned that it would spill to Jordan, which is on their own border. The Iraqis now involved in arming them. I mean, something has to be done quickly.
REHMYou had an interview, Yochi, I gather, with Panetta. What is he saying?
DREAZENThe interview focused much more heavily on Iran than it did on Syria. I mean, he had talked about Syria extensively the day before. I had wanted to talk to him more about Iran because that striked me as both a bigger and a more pressing issue. To go back from one of the points that Hisham and Susan made, one complication here politically is that we're simultaneously saying to the Israelis, you see Iran as existential threat, you see it as potentially it'll wipe you off the map, do not intervene, hold off on striking, hold off on doing anything militarily, give sanctions time to work.
DREAZENThat's a tough message to deliver in the best of circumstances. Now simultaneously, the U.S. is considering actively striking in Syria on what would be almost purely humanitarian grounds. So if you're saying we'll strike for humanitarian, you don't strike for existential, it's a hard argument to make.
REHMAnd you got...
MELHEMBut there are people dying in Syria. They're not dying in Iran or in Israel.
REHMAnd you got McCain pushing the administration, pushing, pushing, pushing. Is this as much political as it humanitarian?
GLASSERWell, there's no question there's a political context to this. Earlier this week, John McCain was the first major figure in the Senate to come out in favor of -- he said there should air strikes in Syria. What I was struck by, actually, was how he did not have a huge clamor of Republican politicians following him. And, you know, you would have expected that, but you know, in fact, many of the senior other Republicans concerned with foreign policy and national security on the hill did not join in McCain. They said they appreciated his reasoning, but they weren't yet prepared to call for air strikes in the way he had.
REHMAnd we have one email that says, "I understand the impatience with the world response. However, my impatience is with the Arab League and Syria's neighbors. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the international hour of our "Friday News Roundup" this week with Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya News Channel and Yochi Dreazen. He's senior national security correspondent for National Journal. We'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Here's a question from Jonathan who says, "Can't the world simply kick Syria off the UN and its councils as a resounding demonstration of condemnation?" Susan.
GLASSERWell, you know, the UN, back when it was built in the ashes of World War II, it wasn't so much concerned with violations by individual countries. It was concerned with not repeating a World War II-like scenario where you had individual countries, such as Germany, invading other countries. So it really -- the principle of national sovereignty and not interfering with that was really at the core of the UN since its founding. And of course, these have been the terrible problems that it's encountered as we've seen those as the security threats in the last few years.
GLASSERThe reason I mention this is because Syria is a good example. In recent years it was even on the Human Rights Council. Now the U.S. organized...
MELHEMExactly. Libya was on it, too.
GLASSERThat's exactly right. The United States under Obama actually changed its policy under Bush. They just sort of argued with the whole concept and wouldn't participate. Under Obama, they decided, exactly as the writer pointed out, let's get in there and let's knock the bad guys, like Syria, out of these ridiculous things 'cause if these institutions are a farce, they can't work.
GLASSERBut look at the Security Council. Russia and China have blocked all action, even of a minor slap on the wrist against Syria, in part because they say, well, what happened in Libya, we went along with it, but we didn't mean to topple Gadhafi and we feel we were played there.
MELHEMThe Russians knew that all along. It's a lousy excuse.
GLASSERNo. Of course they did. I totally agree that it's an excuse.
REHMAnd his second question is, "How were China's recent negotiations with Syria?" Yochi.
DREAZENFrankly, kind of half-hearted. What was interesting to me was after Russia and China blocked this really minimal, as Susan said, Security Council measure, they both, I think,, were slightly surprised by just how deeply unpopular those moves were and how much criticism they faced, even in friendly countries throughout the Arab world.
DREAZENSo you saw, almost the following day, the Russian foreign minister went to Syria, met with Assad and afterwards said to reporters, we know this is bad. We know this is unacceptable. We hope there can be negotiations. We're pushing them for negotiations. And now you're hearing a similar message from China. It's a reminder that as powerful as those countries are, as much as...
DREAZEN...we see them as sort of these huge forces, they are also susceptible somewhat to public pressure.
MELHEMThey're also concerned about their economic interest with the rest of the Arab world.
GLASSERWell, that's right. And not only that, but I think actually it's easy for us to just sort of say Russia, China, Russia, China, that they're, you know, painted as a sort of good guys, bad guys situation. Let's remember that India and Brazil and the other democratic emerging powers have not been beacons of accountability and humanitarianism. When they pursued policies they don't like the principle of interfering with their national affairs to be pursued. And they have not been leaders on this humanitarian issue...
GLASSER...or on other humanitarian issues.
GLASSERAnd so the world order just isn't wired to deal with this, except to turn to the United States and say, oh, we know we criticize you all the time, but you're, in fact, still the indispensable power. And if the U.S. can't do something here, we don't know what to do.
REHMI want to go back to Iran and your conversation with Secretary of Defense Panetta, Yochi. Returning home from Washington, Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not attack Iran in the coming days or weeks. Yet Republicans are criticizing President Obama's policy toward Iran. Talk about what's going on.
DREAZENSure. This week you had AIPAC. I mean, you had 15 or 16,000 people that went to it, jammed into the Washington Convention Center, which was filled. I mean, it's a huge building and it was filled completely, to hear speeches by Obama, Panetta, the leadership of Congress. And then, late one night -- it started at 10:15, Netanyahu, who what everyone thinks of his policies, is an incredible speaker. I mean, his English is fluent. He knows how to keep a crowd. He kept this crowd. There were multiple standing ovations.
DREAZENThe back story is, as we all know, the White House is desperate to prevent a military strike. They fear that it'll spiral out of control. The oil prices will skyrocket, that the retaliation could hit American forces as well. So there has been this very delicate dance, publicly and privately, where they've been pushing the Israelis to hold off on a strike.
DREAZENYou had word last week that Israel has said somewhat that they wouldn't tell the U.S. in advance if they were carrying out a strike, which is kind of an amazing thing. What Panetta said to me when we spoke was that he thinks Israel is still debating whether to carry out a strike, that they are more aware of the ramifications than they might have been in the past.
DREAZENBut then he said something really interesting. I asked him, you know, could Israel carry this out? Could they set back Iran's program? He said, an Israeli strike would have an impact, sort of paused and then he said, in his kind of inimitable style, an American strike would have a hell of a bigger impact. So there is planning, despite all the push for diplomacy for sanctions, to have more time. There's planning in the Pentagon that's been going on for some months, but is there and accelerating for a possible U.S. strike as well.
REHMAnd of course, the pressure is on Obama now before the election.
GLASSERWell, unfortunately, it does have an election year ring to it, the whole thing. We've seen many previous cycles, in fact, of concerns about Israeli strikes in Iran. Go back and you can find numerous magazine articles saying, just you wait. In a few weeks, there's going to be a strike on Iran in the Bush Administration. That didn't happen. So is there something different or not to this? One context of this is American election year politics. I think you just have to recognize that.
GLASSERAnother context is that the Israelis have been very aggressive in making the public argument and presumably the private one as well, that the Iranians, if they have not begun their breakout to a bomb, are close to the point at which that will be the case. So they are making this argument about the timetable being different there.
MELHEMYou know, Diane, it's useful to put it into context. Back in the 1990s Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders were saying Iran is two, three years away from a bomb. We've been hearing this -- we've seen this movie many times. I'm not saying that the Iranian nuclear program's not serious. I'm not saying that this regime is odious and it's awful, but this regime is not crazy. This regime is rational. It is cunning, it is devious. And they want to remain in power. And they know that there are limits to what they can do.
MELHEMI think Netanyahu knows that the American president is very vulnerable in an election year. And we know from the past that Israeli leaders are very good at exploiting American elections. I can remind you only what happened in 2008 when (word?) Umar launched his attack on Gaza, at a time when the sitting American President George Bush was supporting Israel without question. Didn't do anything, he was not going to do anything. And that the elected president could not do anything until January of that, you know, the following year.
MELHEMSo Netanyahu knows American politics, knows -- and his friends here are whipping up this frenzy. And he'll have American candidates and leaders in the Congress of both parties telling the Israelis, as far as we're concerned you have a free hand. You have a carte blanche. Do whatever you want. They have no access to intelligence. And then the American intelligence community and the senior military officers in this country agreeing with some -- probably an important number of the Israeli counterparts, especially those who left government, who will tell you Iran is not on the verge of developing a nuclear device militarizing its nuclear program.
MELHEMAnd yet here you have this -- and the president was absolutely correct when he said, these people are reckless because they have no idea what an Israeli attack on Iran -- which is not going to obliterate the Iranian nuclear program and it will probably drag the United States into conflict. No self respecting great power like the United States should allow any ally, any ally, including the Israelis, to drag this great country into a conflict at their own timing.
DREAZENIt's the end of a long week.
DREAZENYeah, I think that, listen, a lot of what Hisham is saying is certainly true. It is a scary thought in an election year, and any year frankly, for the U.S. to be dragged into a war where the outcome is totally unpredictable and almost certain to be horrific. That said, we were largely dragged into an intervention in Libya, which we did not want to do. We will probably be dragged into some sort of assistance in Syria, which we don't want to do. So it's not as if this is a new dynamic.
DREAZENIt's also worth pointing out that the difference here is that in the past this has been kind of Israel saying again and again it's a threat to us to wipe us off the map. A really important pivot in all the speeches of this past week -- and I sat through all of them and they were exhausting -- was Obama, Panetta all saying again and again, this is not just a threat to Israel. It's a direct threat to the national security of the United States. Some of that is politics, some of that is just talk. But that pivot really matters and is really significant not just to the Israelis but to the whole Middle East.
GLASSERYeah, I think Yochi has put his finger on something that was in fact a major political concession by Obama and his team to the Israelis. That's a change in rhetoric that was meant to be recognized as such. And it's meant to reassure the Israelis in a key way I think. But, Diane, your point is very well taken about the election year war frenzy. We just launched yesterday on our site the Iran War Watch. And we're going to keep track from now on of the degrees of frenzy associated with this conversation in Washington because it's pretty enormous.
REHMAnd going to Hisham's part, Netanyahu realizes he's got the upper hand between now and the election and loses it after the election, Yochi.
DREAZENHe also frankly feels that Obama is weak. Early on in this administration Obama picked a fight with Israel. He tried to force a settlement freeze, not just in the West Bank but also in Jerusalem, which no Israeli government had ever accepted before. What everyone thinks in the merits of the argument, he lost. Obama didn't get what he wanted and Netanyahu did not give in.
DREAZENSince then, the Israeli press has been full of not just people speaking in the background and off the record, but Israeli officials sing fairly openly that they think Obama is weak. That was before an election year. Their feeling now is that should they strike Iran with Republicans and the campaign trail every day saying, we would strike it, no, we would strike it harder, I mean, sort of competing, as Susan said, to sound ever tougher, that he would sort of be forced because it's an election year, to help out even if he desperately doesn't want to.
DREAZENI think the point is, as raised earlier, he has his finger on the pulse of the politics here as well as anyone who lives here possibly could do.
GLASSERI would say yes, but being that it's such a transparently political calculation that they seem to be engaged with, that, of course, Obama and his team have read that and have pushed back pretty hard against it. So they may have overreached in that sense. We'll see as this plays out.
REHMAll right. I want to get to Greece pushing through the largest sovereign debt overhaul in history. Susan, what does it mean for investors?
GLASSERWell, once again, you know, I think investors are, you know, trying, hoping to see that there's a -- you know, a solution longer than a month or two that's been put in place to put the Greek crisis behind it. I think the real issue going forward -- and I'm far from really understanding the dynamics of this -- is has there been a template created for the kind of unsustainable debt that exists not only in Greece but in other parts of EU. Have they managed to find a way forward that will allow the EU and this economic union to keep going while dealing with the debt?
GLASSERThere's calls now for this kind of a haircut, this kind of an agreement on the bondholders in other countries that are drowning under debt, whether it's Spain or Portugal. There're real concerns that that's not yet the case. And of course in Greece itself there may have been this deal gone through this week, but the country is undergoing a political, social and economic crisis really unprecedented for them since the end of World War II in their own political crisis...
REHMYou don't think it's over.
MELHEMNo, no, it's not over. I think...
GLASSERNo. No, I don't think so.
MELHEM...the Greeks got a grace period again. You know, they got another break, a window, if you will, of opportunity to do the right thing. But it's going to take a tremendous transformation of Greek attitude and Greek society. And by the way, the ratio of the debt is still 120 percent ratio to the GDP, which is the highest thing as far the IMF is concerned.
REHMHisham Melhem. He's Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya News Channel. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." CNN is now reporting that more than 50 million views of that Kony YouTube have been taken. Susan, explain what that video is and why so many people are watching it.
GLASSERYou know, this is in many ways the most extraordinary story, you know, I think we've seen of the week. Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army have been, you know, a terrible horrific story about a part of Africa that's been traumatized literally for decades by this charismatic and killer-like warlord who has recruited child soldiers into his band of killers.
GLASSERAbsolutely. And they literally terrorized a part of Northern Uganda for years and largely, by the way, unheralded. There were not 50 million people, unfortunately, in the United States or other Western countries who cared about this. In fact, just six months ago President Obama sent in a team of 100 U.S. Special Forces to help advice the Ugandan army on the hunt for Joseph Kony. And you know what? Unfortunately nobody in the United States really cared at all.
GLASSERSo this movie is made and it's now being downloaded over and over again on YouTube. It seems to be that children in America, you know, teenagers...
GLASSER...students in high school and college are incredibly moved by the story of this plight. That being said, we ran a very powerful critique of the film on our website, which has also gone viral. And, you know, it suggested, as always, the story is more complicated and more nuanced.
GLASSERYou know, are you really being an activist if you're asked to watch a movie on YouTube and to give $30 to the NGO that produced it? That's really the call to action there. For example, Kony and his killers have been actually gone and pushed out of Uganda, which is never mentioned except in passing in the film.
REHMWell, we don't know where he is.
GLASSERThat's right. That's exactly right. And it's still a terrible story, but it's a somewhat misrepresentative film.
DREAZENYou know, it strikes me that it's fascinating not just in and of itself, although that would be extraordinary, the sheer number of people downloading it. But we were talking about Syria earlier in the show where these images beginning to come out of Homs, beginning to come out of other parts of Syria that are so horrific that they're building pressure here for an intervention. I mean, Hisham captured kind of the outrage of this ongoing slaughter.
DREAZENSo now you have Uganda, a country that is so far off the American radar screen it might as well not exist. But 50 million people are watching it so the pressure here for something in Uganda is going to build. So we have, as Susan mentioned, we had these Special Forces sent in about a year ago when it happened. I think the reaction certainly, even in my circles, where we cover the military was, huh? We're sending Special Forces where to do what? Fifty-million views later, the question won't be, why are we sending 100. It will be, why aren't we sending 1,000. Why aren't we sending satellites and war planes?
REHMSo who created this video? Why is it now getting criticized?
MELHEMI mean, we have an NGO in California that produced this movie that is now -- you know, put this issue...
REHMFront and center.
MELHEM...front and center. And then you have the power -- this is -- look, this is the function of the power of the social media. And, you know, all of us who are on Twitter or whatever, I mean, have seen this interest. Now, I fully agree with the reservations that Susan and Yochi raised about the efficacy of this group, or whether the money that you are contributing are going to be...
REHMYeah, where is it going?
MELHEMYes, exactly. So these are very legitimate questions we should ask them. But at least in terms of cognitive knowledge, we know now -- or many people should have known what -- I mean, know now what they should have known before about the criminality of this group. And what the United States, by the way, is trying to do. And, I mean, I think all of us here will tell you that very few Americans realize that the United States sent 100 now, may be just symbolic, whatever. But it's an important commitment on the part of this country that we cannot ignore or we shouldn't ignore something like that.
MELHEMBut Kony's brutality happened in the past. Now we're still dealing with him and people say that only a few hundred people are supporting him and maybe he's on his way out. And that's why it's kind of ironic that this interest now comes at this time.
REHMFinally. Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya News Channel. Short break. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back, here's our first email from Carrie in Cincinnati who says, "For all the criticism of Obama, I value his cool head and reasoning over the saber-rattling coming from various Republicans and their presidential candidates. Two unfunded wars went a long way to ballooning the U.S. debt, how short memories are." Yochi?
DREAZENI mean two of the points that Obama and Panetta have both mentioned, Panetta, you know, who has the responsibility not just for sending people into war, but often he's the one who goes to funerals, he's the one who writes the letters. He pointed out, this is not a game. I mean, these are American lives that could be at risk.
DREAZENObama had a pointed line twice that, you know, tough talk is very easy when you're not the person with your hand that would actually send these people off to fight and die. I agree with some of the comments earlier from, you know, Susan and from Hisham, it is amazing and you know, a little bit distasteful, frankly, that Republican candidates who have never held positions of direct authority over national security are trying, each day, to sound tougher and tougher and tougher.
DREAZENRick Santorum told AIPAC that if Iran doesn't tear down its facilities, we'll tear them down for him, for them, like he's Samson. So you have this sort of odd -- every day each one trying to sound tougher and tougher and I think the emailer is right that it's worth having the debate about, whether this is worth American lives.
REHMAll right, to Galesburg, Ill. Good morning, John, John?
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
JOHNYeah, I wonder if your guests might know how the U.S. government might respond if, say, the Chinese or the Russians decided to step into the Syrian conflict militarily and in support of the opposition, as opposed to supporting the government. I'll take your answer on the air.
REHMAh, now wait a minute, do you really mean in support of the opposition or do you mean in support of the government?
JOHNI mean, in support of the opposition, if the Russians or the Chinese decided to come in and, you know, support the protestors in this conflict in Syria and I wonder how the U.S. government might view that.
MELHEMAin't going to happen because the Chinese and the Russians...
MELHEM...are sympathetic and support the repressive regime and, in fact, the Russians are still providing the Syrian government with weapons and the means to continue the repression.
REHMAll right to Portsmouth, RI. Good morning, John.
JOHN 2Good morning. I'm calling basically to get your views on a statement by Leon Panetta for Congress a couple of days ago where he referenced for any kind of military action, it would take the president's direction and the UN or other world bodies' approval. And Congress, I think he said, was nothing but an elective. This sounded really pretty weird and outrageous to me and I just...
REHMWould like clarification...
2Well, I felt like it would seem that this is something that we would be getting a correction or some sort of adjustment.
REHMAll right, Yochi.
DREAZENYou know, I think John should be in the United States Senate where this was said because the senators on the Armed Services Committee were just as baffled. What Panetta, what he meant to say, was that in a coalition, the U.S. would have to act in concert with its allies and the coalition itself would have to approve what to do. I mean, in NATO, for instance, for decades, if it's a NATO operation, NATO has to approve. It didn't come out that way and Republicans -- it was John Cornyn who first got the answer in (word?) sessions and they tore into it, but so did Democrats.
DREAZENI mean Jim Webb also said, what do you mean, we need permission. The point Panetta was making isn't as weird and off-base as it sounds but it sounded a way that didn't just confuse our caller, it confused half the panel that oversees the military.
MELHEMI think he did not mean absolutely -- he did not mean that the United States is seeding its own sovereignty to an international organization like the Security Council or the UN or whatever. But absolutely when you work in a coalition building, the United States today is not the United States of 1945 or 1950. Even in Kosovo, even in Libya you had to do it in concert with your allies. I mean, you are a leader because people follow you, because you consult. It doesn’t mean that you seed your own authority or your sovereignty...
REHMYou're not a dictator.
MELHEMBut I mean, international actions to be effective they have to be international. They have to multilateral.
MELHEMAnd we've seen that in Kosovo. We've seen that in Libya and we've seen that in other places.
GLASSERWell, there is also the context here of the increasingly assertive by both Democrat and Republican of the president's authority to wage war without Congress' consent and I think this is a long-running fight with Congress and that is part of the context of any of this. Remember that last year when we intervened in Libya, President Obama, a Democratic president who was very critical of George W. Bush and his assertions of executive power, made basically the same case and he refused to go to Congress and to invoke the War Powers Act.
GLASSERAnd he basically said, like, we can launch this operation and because we didn't put American soldiers boots on the ground, therefore we didn't need Congress' permission for what, by any definition really, were acts of war. And I think, you know, increasingly that is part of the tension and the push/pull between a Congress that has understood that it's increasingly irrelevant to the presidential and executive decisions about national security.
MELHEMBut since 1973, the War Powers Act was never accepted seriously by any president, Democrat or Republican. Presidents are not going to give part of their authority to the Congress, although waging a war is not the prerogative of the president, but the Congress.
DREAZENYou know, we haven't talked about this yet, but to my mind, one of the most interesting things of the last week, week and a half was Eric Holder, the Attorney General, giving what he thought was a case for the president unilaterally ordering the death of American citizens overseas. I was amazed that this passed with as little attention as it did.
DREAZENYou know, I wrote about it and some of my other colleagues in other major papers wrote about it, but I mean, we're talking now about wars overseas, but think about this. I mean, we're talking about the president, on his own, based on intelligence that only he and his advisors see, ordering the death of American citizens without judicial review, without due process, without any chance of appeal.
REHMWhat was the context?
DREAZENThe context was the continuing questions about the U.S. killing of Anwar al-Awlaki who was a radical cleric...
DREAZEN...in Yemen with a predator drone strike. He was thought to have inspired Nidal Hasan. Awlaki lived in the U.S., spoke fluent English so the concern was this was somebody who...
MELHEMHe was an American citizen.
DREAZEN...who was -- right, meaning these are American citizens and the second drone strike killed his son. There was another American citizen named Samir Khan, also a propagandist, killed in the first strike so you had these three deaths of American citizens. And the question since then has been, is it legal? The ACLU sued to try to stop it before the killings took place. It failed.
DREAZENThe argument Eric Holder made, frankly, was very strange to me. He argued that only terrorists who we know to be actively planning a strike should be the kind of people who are killed. Awlaki and Samir Khan were propagandists. They were dangerous in their own way, but this was not al-Zawahiri. This was not somebody who was talking to people in the United States about what target to strike, sending them money, helping to train their fighters. It's a tenuous connection and it passed with no comment.
GLASSERWell, I think even the more important principle at stake here is that they said, well, we're making the legal -- we're going to outline for you for the first time our legal argument. But actually, their legal argument really boils down to, take our word for it. And those facts might have come out about whether they were propagandists or actively plotting terrorists if there had been some kind of process, any kind of process, and I think that's really at the heart of what's so unsettling to many people. And that seems to contravene Obama's own, you know, very publicly-stated preferences for a different kind of process...
GLASSER...you know. And basically, they're saying take our word for it and they're saying, well, the laws of war allow us to kill pretty much anybody we want, pretty much anywhere we want.
REHMTo Conrad who is in East Lansing, Mich. Good morning, you're on the air.
CONRADThanks, Diane. I'm among the millions who have watched the Kony video now and I have to say that one of the things that struck me about it was the verb that was used by the film's interpreter, what he wants done with Kony. He wants him arrested. That seems to me sort of a measure of how disassociated Americans generally, and perhaps the youngest of the generations, are about what the realities of military action would end up meaning. I can't imagine Kony submitting to any actual arrest and using social media or, for that matter, the international criminal court's most-wanted list, as respected as that ought to be, as a tasking list for a special operations force. It seems dubious.
DREAZENI think the caller nailed it on the head. I mean, this is not going to end with this man in The Hague facing trial. The situation in Syria will almost definitely not end with Assad facing The Hague. These things end with a bullet to the head. That's how in Peru, against The Shining Path, that's how in Sri Lanka, that's how the fight against the Tamil Tigers will end. I mean...
MELHEMWith Osama bin Laden.
DREAZEN...that's how these things end. He's exactly right. This will not end with an arrest.
REHMAll right. Here's a question for you, Hisham, and it's in the form of an email. "Does your panelist from Al-Arabiya, who is advocating that the U.S. intervene in Syria, have a conflict of interest in this? According to Wikipedia, Al-Arabiya is a Saudi-owned news company. Isn't the uprising in Syria mostly a Sunni uprising and supported by Saudi Arabia?"
MELHEMIt has nothing to do with -- I mean, my views have nothing to do with my company and the fact that my company is owned by a Saudi businessman has nothing to do with this. I was against the Saudi intervention in Bahrain. I was against the Saudi intervention in Yemen. It has nothing to do -- I'm a secularist and I don't view the issue in Syria through sectarian means.
MELHEMI'm not calling, by the way, for America to bomb Syria like John McCain. I'm saying that the United States should be in a leading position, should explore a variety of means to support the people there. You can support them with medical support, communication gear, intelligence information, maybe some training more closely with the Turks, but try to provide the leadership.
MELHEMThe United States whether -- you know, whether people like it or not, the United States, it is still the indispensable power. This is what Madeline Albright said many years ago. It is still a fact today. And we can talk about the rising bricks, as Susan said, or the Chinese or the Russians, but there are certain things only the Americans can do.
MELHEMIf the Americans did not intervene in the 1990s to save lives of Muslims, by the way, in Kosovo and Bosnia -- and by the way, what happened in Kosovo and Bosnia was the first time on European soil since the Holocaust where you had people being killed en masse because of their ethnic and religious background. And only the Americans stopped it, not the French, not the Europeans, not the Germans, nobody.
MELHEMI heard President Clinton three times, in my face, you know, saying how regretful he was, how sorry he was because he did not intervene to stop the killing in Rwanda.
GLASSERYou know, I think that's one of the great tragedies of this situation is that Americans tend to intervene when they think they can successfully get away with it. And that's the story of Shrivinedza (sp?) and Grozny and Rwanda, which is that we didn't do anything because we didn't see that there was something easy to do. Grozny in Russia was destroyed, as Yochi mentioned earlier. It was destroyed by the Russians in two civil wars...
GLASSER...exactly in the 1990s when we were close partners with Boris Yeltsin and again under Vladimir Putin. And what happened? Of course, the United States did nothing because, of course, we weren't in a position to intervene militarily successfully. Our principles haven't changed, these come down to whether we have the ability to do something or not.
REHMSusan Glasser, Foreign Policy magazine and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Oklahoma City, good morning, Sue, you're on the air.
SUEYes, a question I haven't heard addressed in the news, shouldn't it be obvious to Israel, as well as everyone else, that Iran is not going to attack them with a nuclear weapon when doing so would mean the deaths of so many Palestinians, not to mention the Muslim neighbors who live all around Israel? Does it not seem that Israel should understand that when Iran threatens to wipe them off the map, it's nothing but bluster, certainly nothing to start a war over?
DREAZENI agree that there's nothing in Iranian society to suggest that the country is looking for...
DREAZEN...mass destruction, but there are a couple of points I would make in response to the very good question. I spent some time in the Gulf not long ago where there is equal concern, frankly, to what's in Israel where the Gulf States openly overstates it, but they are willing to support Israel militarily. They're willing to give them over-flight rights, the ability to refuel. The Gulf States are just as worried. Their concern is not that Iran is going to nuke them, their concern is that Iran will now win the ability to dictate oil prices, for instance, the ability to bomb a refinery with impunity, the ability to provide support to terror groups with impunity knowing that the U.S. would not respond, Israel would not respond because the country had a nuke.
DREAZENThat's the case in North Korea. North Korea can provoke South Korea constantly knowing that the U.S., South Korea and Japan, they're not going to respond because North Korea has a nuke, same with Pakistan. So it's not that Iran is going to use it, it's that Iran is going to have it and that could itself be destabilizing.
REHMPaul Pillar of Georgetown University, former CIA officer argues fine, if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, we simply treat them as we would any other country that has a nuclear weapon, saying Iran is not self-destructive. How do you respond to that, Susan?
GLASSERYou know, Diane, I'm so glad you brought that up because I do think that there is not only Paul Pillar who is, you know, a very experienced analyst of these matters, but there is an increasingly pragmatic view among many people in the national security community here who -- they understand that in this day and age, because of the technology, almost any major industrial country that has the money and the resources can become a nuclear power if it wants to. That seems to be the sort of expert view of these things.
GLASSERI also think that there's a view that this kind of intervention does not work. It may work to delay a nuclear weapons program, but that a country that has the resources and the know-how can acquire this whether their program becomes delayed over time, goes underground. You know, I think there's a real pragmatic view to be said that if Iran is determined to get the bomb, it is very likely to do so.
MELHEMI mean, I agree. Look, there are two ways of dealing with this issue, either classic containment and it was done in the Soviet Union and China and others or try to convince the country in question to drop the nuclear program. And Susan and I were lucky this week. A few days ago, we heard the former president of South Africa, during the apartheid regime, F.W. de Klerk, who spoke eloquently about this whole issue and he explained how they got rid of the nuclear option when they realized that there was no major threat to South Africa, when the Cubans and Russians, you know, were defeated in Africa.
MELHEMBut so containment could work and there are a lot of people who are saying containment. The problem is when you get a country like Pakistan, who may be wrong later on, is that the social dynamic and political dynamics in those countries could get out of hand. I tell you today what makes the president, you know, spend sleepless nights at night, it's not necessarily the nuclear program in Iran only. It is the nuclear arsenal that exists in Pakistan and this is one of the problems that you have to deal with.
MELHEMSo yes, containment is correct. I would hate to see the day when the Iranians have a nuclear weapon because I don't want to see a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and I don't want Iran to think that it has immunity so that they can do whatever they want in the region.
REHMLast word, Yochi?
DREAZENWhen that last point is crucial, there is real concern that when Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia will go nuclear, Egypt will go nuclear, and Jordan will go nuclear. So the question isn't simply Iran, it's what other countries try and what does that mean for the Middle East?
REHMYochi Dreazen, of National Journal magazine, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Arabiya New Channel, thank you all so much.
REHMHave a great weekend, everybody, thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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