War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of escalating the conflict in Syria by supplying the Assad regime with attack helicopters. An audit of Spain’s banks showed they need between a 60 and 70 billion euro bailout. And thousands of anti-government protesters marched in Moscow to demand fresh elections and a new president. Tom Gjelten of NPR, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Nathan Guttman of Israel’s Channel 1 News join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In what many are calling a backdoor coup, Egypt's Supreme Court dissolved parliament and kept a former Mubarak aide on the ballot. The British government announced plans to supply its banks with billions of pounds on fears of a Greek euro exit and thousands of anti-government protestors marched in Moscow to demand fresh elections and a new president.
MS. DIANE REHMWith me in the studio for the international hour of the Friday News Roundup, Tom Gjelten of NPR, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine and Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News. You're welcome to be part of the program. Join us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. TOM GJELTENGood morning, Diane.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERGood morning.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMANGood morning.
REHMAnd, Tom (sic) Guttman, welcome to the program. We're happy to have you.
GUTTMANThanks for having me.
REHMTom Gjelten, what is happening in Egypt? Some people are calling this a soft coup. What does that mean?
GJELTENWell, remember the real power in Egypt has been the supreme council of the armed forces, what we call the SCAF. And they set up the rules for this election and what they had in mind is that a third of the seats were going to go to independents and not be assigned to candidates from the predominant political parties. Well, as it turned out, that's the way it actually happened.
GJELTENAnd so the supreme court in Egypt, which is really subservient to the military and is packed by supports of the military, decided that this parliament is illegitimate, dissolved it and that parliament had prohibited Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last prime minister from running in the election. So basically, everything that the parliament did is now considered null and void, which means Shafik is back in the race and the future of democracy in Egypt is totally up in the air.
REHMWhat happened to revolution, Susan Glasser?
GLASSERWell, I think it's been a long time in reality, being clear for the last several months that the revolution didn't turn out quite as planned. If anything I think there's increasing talk that we're hearing of what's the next revolution to come, because I think this last revolution hasn't worked out. Nathan Brown, a well-known Egypt expert, was writing yesterday on our site saying, you know, it's been for several months really considered a slow motion coup in progress.
GLASSERThe big news yesterday was that it's not slow motion anymore. But it's not like the revolution took a sudden detour in the last week or two and I think that's something that maybe only slowly sinking in here in Washington. What's going to be striking, in fact, is to see -- I could not tell you what is the U.S. policy, at this point, toward Egypt. You know, you haven't heard almost anything from Obama, from the U.S. State Department. I think they're just as befuddled about what to do as anyone, frankly.
REHMSo, Nathan, the whole thing came as a surprise. What does this mean for democracy in Egypt?
GUTTMANWell, it means that everything is up in the air and it's really not clear where it will go. It can go either way. People can go back out to the streets, to Tahrir Square and demand their democracy and try to win back the revolution. On the other hand, it could also mean that the military is still in power in Egypt and we might be facing another Mubarak era, but without Mubarak, with someone else instead of him.
GLASSERWell, that's right. Somebody said yesterday, and I think this is, you know, sort of potentially perceptive observation, what if we go, in effect, from a military dictatorship, which has been the case for the last year and a half in Egypt, to another presidential dictatorship very soon, by the end of this month.
GJELTENDiane, what these events have shown us is that are really two forces in Egypt, two political forces. One is the military and the other is the Islamist parties and those have been, those forces have been opposed to each other for many years. And what this court action this week reminds us all of is Algeria in 1991 where you had a very same polarization between the military and the Islamist parities. It appeared the Islamist parties were going to triumph in elections in 1991. The military intervened, declared that election process null and void and what you got was civil war that, for years in Algeria, and this is the big fear that now we may be seeing a replay of similar events in Egypt.
REHMWhat does this mean for the Muslim Brotherhood, Nathan?
GUTTMANWell, right now, it seems that temporarily, temporarily at least, is a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood because they're facing a formidable opposition on behalf of the remnants of the Mubarak regime backed by the military. However, in the long run, it can probably help the Muslim Brotherhood because people might go back out to the streets and might ask for a real democracy and they already proved in the polls that they have the ability to get the votes out.
GUTTMANIt seems in a certain sense that a lot of this is happening because of the West and the United States were so fearful of our Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt that they just gave an open hat to the military there and in a sense what we're seeing the repercussions of this now.
REHMSo, you're saying, Susan, we haven't heard a word from the U.S. yet on this.
GLASSERWell, I think Nathan pointed out some of the reasons why, which is to say that on the one hand, we've seen the political prospects, which appear quite bright for the Muslim Brotherhood even after their main leader, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified from the ballot. They put another, much less well-known Muslim Brotherhood figure on the ballot and he was doing very well in the polls and so, in effect, this judicial decision was aimed very directly at blocking the Muslim Brotherhood from winning the presidential election.
GLASSEROf course, they also ruled to dissolve the parliament in which the Islamist parties, of which the Muslim Brotherhood has won, were having a dominant political position. The U.S. has engaged politically with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. There was a delegation that was here in Washington not too long ago.
GLASSERHowever, in a very uncomfortable, very sort of awkward dance sort of a way. and so, you know, at the same time, it was just a month ago and this did not get very much attention here but it was just a month that we did resume military aid to Egypt, which of course the United States has been the single largest benefactor shoring up this military-led regime under Mubarak for the last several decades and despite the qualms in Congress about what was going, we opened back up the spigot. So we've kind of played both sides, but not very successfully.
GJELTENWell, that last point that Susan made is really important and that is that the United States has been on the side of the Mubarak regime for years and years and years. And the reason for that is that the United States saw its strategic interest in that region served by the Mubarak government. And now, with the United States facing the choice between the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties in power versus sort of the rebirth of the Mubarak regime, I think there's a certain amount of ambivalence here in Washington about which one is actually in U.S. interests. And I don't think, as Susan suggests, I don't think the United States was particularly eager to have the Muslim Brotherhood in power.
REHMAnd Nathan, what could this mean for relations between Egypt and Israel?
GUTTMANWell, Israel is watching with great concern what's going on in Egypt. On the one hand, Israelis were very comfortable with a Mubarak regime, regardless of what it did or did not to its own people in Egypt, it was very good in maintaining peaceful relations with Israel. Egypt used to be Israel's greatest enemy and this problem was solved during the Mubarak years and there was good economic cooperation. Gas was flowing from Egypt to Israel and now all this is in danger.
GUTTMANSo in narrow Israeli terms, Israelis would like something close to the Mubarak regime, some kind of secular leadership in Egypt that could maintain the peace process. But I think Israelis are coming around to understand that they need a more nuanced approach and they will need to find ways to face a new Egypt, which does have a Muslim Brotherhood component in its leadership.
REHMSo, what do you mean by Israel's more nuanced approach?
GUTTMANMaybe understanding that you need to talk with elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, maybe accepting the fact that a relationship will chill to a certain extent but still trying to find the strategic points where you can agree on like maintaining the peace process and in curbing Hamas on the Gaza Strip to a certain extent.
REHMNathan Guttman, he's Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward. Susan Glasser, editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine. Tom Gjelten, NPR National Security correspondent and he's got a book that's been out for a long time. Are we still talking about that book, Tom?
GJELTENYou don't have to talk about it anymore. You're off the hook.
REHMAnd we're going to move now to the Greek elections over the weekend. Susan, what are the possible outcomes here?
GLASSERWell, you know, this is -- there's been a big buildup to this. Basically, June 17th, Sunday, is when Greeks will once again go to the polls and it's being set up as a sort of day of decision, whether Greece is going to stick with its place in the euro zone or not. There is the increasing rise of both Far Right parties in Greece, as across Europe and also Far Left parties and what's happened as a result is that the conservative, kind of ruling class has really found themselves much, much weaker in parliamentary elections than you would expect.
GLASSERAnd I think that one thing for American listeners to watch out for is too decisive of outcome. In reality, if you look at what some of the more insightful commentators are saying about the Greece election, what they're really saying, actually don't expect that, you know, we're going to have a thumbs up or thumbs down on the euro. That Greece's politics have been muddled after three years of disaster and debacle.
GLASSERYou know, what this really means is it's a country that is almost crippled by the successive waves, unsuccessful of austerity measures imposed as a condition of each new set of bailout money and in the end I think the smart money is probably on Greece moving towards an exit from the euro zone regardless of the exact outcome of Sunday's elections.
REHMSusan Glasser, she's editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Tom Gjelten of NPR. Just before the break, we had begun discussing the Greek elections on Sunday and the importance of those elections. Though, Tom, Susan just said for us not to expect a definitive resolution. What's your thought?
GJELTENWell, the previous election, which was only about a month ago, produced allegedly parties in -- would've put parties in power that actually opposed the bailout mechanism that had – was set up for Greece to follow. And now I think in the last month there probably has been some realization – what you had in Greece was this impossible feeling where people did not want to abide by the bailout requirements but they also did not want to leave the euro.
GJELTENAnd I think what's happened in the last month is that Greeks have realized that it's not one or the other. They're going to have to either accept the bailout if they want to stay in the Euro or if they don't like the bailout they're going to have to leave the euro zone. And I think that now Greeks understand that and there probably has been a slight shift more back towards staying in the euro zone even at the price of accepting these bailout mechanisms.
GJELTENBut the problem is that, as Susan said, it won't be decisive enough to assure anyone. And meanwhile you've got this situation that we were talking about during the break of $500 million being pulled out of Greek banks every single day. And that is the fear across Europe that what happens in Greece could spread to Spain and Italy. Once people start pulling their money out of banks then you've got a financial panic.
GUTTMANWell, of course, the main immediate concern is a run on the banks in Greece and subsequently probably in Spain and Italy. And what we saw this week with the Spanish bank bailout was kind of an attempt to reassure the – and to regain confidence. But the outcome of it was actually pretty negative because the bottom line was that even after reaching this agreement of 100 million euros to bail out Spanish banks, confidence wasn't regained. And the Spanish economy is as bad as it was before.
GUTTMANAnd this sends a negative message to the Greek voters because they look to Spain and say, well, there is no great option out there. And maybe we should think twice or think again about this bailout plan. Maybe it won't be so great.
GLASSERWell, I'm reminded, last week a lot of Europe observers really were startled and they took notice when Martin Wolf, the usually unflappable columnist for The Financial Times wrote this really chilling sentence. And he said "I never understood before, but now I understand how the 1930s happened." And I think that, you know, just listening to this conversation gives you a sense of how the depression actually was triggered.
GLASSERThat doesn't necessarily mean that's what's going to happen here but we now are walking through events that have enough similarity that you can understand the panic across Europe, the contagion from one country to the next, what happens when people start pulling their money out of banks and confidence is lost in the system, when a transnational currency obviously is also involved, which wasn't the case in Europe in the 1930s. And then you have the rise of political extremism, right-wing parties getting results in elections. It would've been unthinkable just a few years ago in Europe.
GLASSERAnd it's a chilling time. You look at the crisis of competence, of course, here in the United States as a result also of years of unsuccessful attempts at a full throttled recovery.
REHMSo what happens if the Greeks fail to form a new government, Tom?
GJELTENThere could be another set of elections, you know, a few weeks or a couple of months from now. I think that one of the things that has been achieved over the last year is that all of Europe, European banks, European governments have had the time to prepare for Greece leaving the euro zone. And so it would be less calamites now then it would've been six months or a year ago. And I think that -- and that's an important consideration. And with each delay, I think there is a greater likelihood that Greece will leave the euro zone, but also more time to prepare for that prospect.
GUTTMANYeah, definitely we saw this week the British banks are already getting a cash supply from the government. We're seeing it with other European countries and the United States, of course, trying to prepare themselves to the day after Greece. And of course, that can soften the fall to a certain extent and probably put off any kind of financial or global financial meltdown. But we have to see if that will be enough.
REHMBut what about the idea of a euro bond? Is Germany at last onboard with that?
GUTTMANIt doesn't seem so even now. It seems that Chancellor Merkel is still opposed to this, although we do have a new set of global powers here and the new government in France is definitely for this. So we may see further down the road maybe if we actually face a Greek withdrawal from the euro zone maybe Germany will have to rethink its position on that.
REHMSo if -- let's take the worst case scenario in some people's mind, what if Greece does withdraw from the euro zone what does that mean for Spain? What does it mean for Italy? Susan.
GLASSERYou know, the thing that's so striking, Diane, is that in a way this is no longer the worst case scenario, the Greek exit in part because of the conversation we're just having. There has been so much delay it has actually given them time to prepare for that. In many ways I think the system is already accounting for that. The worst case scenario is a contagion that takes down and tanks the economies of Spain and Italy in such a way that it now begins to affect France, Great Britain. And it threatens the very foundations of Europe.
GLASSERBecause, of course, Greece is not the foundations of Europe. It's the margins of Europe. And the question is already has it become so contained that it's no longer the worst case scenario for the breakup of Europe. And I'm struck by that that at each turn we think it can't get worse, we think this is unthinkable, right. Remember, go back. We ran a great list the other day on our site of all the times that all of the leaders of Europe's economies, Europe's politics, they said this is unthinkable. Greece will never leave the euro zone. We are not prepared to even contemplate that.
GLASSERWell, of course, crisis plays out for a long time. The unthinkable becomes possible. The real question I think is one, do you see this as a real splintering of a part of a much more significant basis, i.e. once Greece goes lots of other countries now question their place in the -- the countries that are on the vulnerable margins of Europe. So do you see a smaller euro zone that perhaps is built upon the more solid foundations of northern and central Europe? That's one possibility.
GLASSEROf course, the other possibility that the pan-European dreamers still cling onto is the idea that this is sort of an articles-of-a-confederation-meets-constitutional-convention moment, that this is the time when we finally say in Europe ala the United States 200 years ago our relationship is not close enough. And we actually need to make a political union to go along with our fiscal union. We'll see. I think the times do not suggest that optimistic scenario but that certainly is out there.
GJELTENYou know, the thing is, Diane, there is a solution here. And you mentioned Germany and it really involves some kind of collectivization of the debts. And it can happen. But Germany has been so resistant to taking that move it sort of sees its fortunes as somehow separate from the rest of Europe. And this foreign minister of Spain this week said something that was very easy to understand. It was a perfect analogy. He said, you know if the Titanic sinks it takes all the passengers down with it including those in first class.
GJELTENAnd that's, I think, what Germany has not realized is that its fate, no matter how wealthy it is right now, no matter that its own fiscal house is in order, if Europe sinks, it goes down with it.
GUTTMANOf course, we should probably think of what it means for the United States as well because repercussions will be felt overseas if Europe does face a financial calamity. Which does raise a question, can the Obama Administration do more in terms of reaching out to Germany in trying to work with the Germans to show a more open approach to helping out -- or the idea of euro bond? That's definitely out there until now as we saw even as recently with the G20 meeting that administration was reluctant to do that. But maybe we are reaching a point where they have to.
REHMWe have a Tweet from Matt. "Does a Greek exit from the euro strengthen or weaken Spain's bargaining position?" Tom.
GJELTENThat's an interesting question. Spain is not in a very strong bargaining position under any circumstance right now. It's kind of on the -- you know, it's seeking handouts is what it's doing. Clearly if it appears that Greece leaving the euro zone would have disastrous effects for the rest of the European economy maybe that'll be the shock that's needed in order to get Germany and other countries to really work together, whether it's on a euro bond or something else. That would, I think, be the most optimistic scenario.
REHMAnd last question on this, what kind of shape is Italy in, Nathan?
GUTTMANWell, Italy is, to a great extent, the next in line after Greece and Spain. And a lot will have to do with what comes out of the Greek elections and the Spanish bailout. If they turn out positive or workable in a certain way that could help Italy survive in a certain sense. But if bad news comes out of Athens and Madrid than definitely Rome would be the next in line.
REHMAll right. Let's turn our attention to Syria where UN monitors entered a battered Sunni-populated village days after heavy combat. Susan, it was said that the stench of dead bodies was in the air, though, there were no bodies found.
GLASSERWell, that's right. It's, you know, another tragedy. This is in the province, I believe, of Latakia, which is, you know, one of the major cities in Syria. And what we're seeing now it appears is a pattern of ethnic cleansing and massacres in the villages and of the sort of the Sunni belt of Syria. And I think, you know, it's been striking to see how undeterred the Assad regime has been. If anything they have stepped up this process of ethnic cleansing.
GLASSERAnd I think if you go back and you look at the history of the Balkan Wars and you see this sort of escalation and you think wow, you know, can you believe that this is happening all over again in plain sight of the International Community, they're bold enough they don't care. And remember that it was only less than a week before this massacre there was a previous one. Dozens of children and families killed again without apparent (word?) if anything the Assad regime seems to want to get the message out in some really horrific way that, you know, this is what happens if you shake the foundations of our government.
REHMSusan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tom, Hillary Clinton Secretary of State is accusing Russia of sending attack helicopters into Syria this week, yet there were other reports saying that Syria had actually sent those helicopters to Russia for repair and upgrading. And these were the same helicopters coming back.
REHMWhat's the story?
GJELTENWell, I think the story is actually bigger than that, which is that the opposition forces, the rebel forces in Syria have had greater and greater success going after the tanks and ground weapons of the Syrian military. And this has forced Syrian military to use aircraft against the rebel forces, something they had not done before. Now, that's not even getting into the question of where these attack helicopters are coming from.
GJELTENBut we already have seen -- there's been pictures that the Syrian military is using attack helicopters against the civilians now. And that could open the door in a way that it has not been opened before to outside intervention because then you talk about creating a no-fly zone. You know, this is something that really does bother outside powers when you see aircraft being used against civilians.
GJELTENNow, as far as the question, these are Russian helicopters -- Russian-made helicopters. The question is whether they were made 20 years ago, 30 years ago or whether they're brand new helicopters. And I think the -- you know, the Pentagon basically called Hillary Clinton out on that and said, it's not so clear that these are new helicopters. They might just be refurbished ones. She probably was just trying to finesse it a little bit in order to produce more pressure on Russia. And maybe it's a distinction without a difference.
GJELTENIt does now appear that they're not new helicopters. They are refurbished helicopters but they were sent back to Russia for repairs and refurbishing and then brought back again.
GUTTMANI think, as Tom as was saying, the use of aircraft against civilians does seem to be a new escalation in the conflict in Syria. And what we're seeing in the recent weeks is just that President Bashar Assad took the foot off the brakes. And he's willing to do anything now to either quash this uprising or maybe he's really facing a reality in which he knows that he's going nowhere and he's just willing to take down the country with him.
GUTTMANBut definitely this escalation can bring forward some kind of international intervention of the kind that we haven't seen before despite the fact that sanctions are stuck and the United States really can't move any international effort. If things reach a certain point and they get too bad the question of whether you intervene or not is no longer relevant. You have to intervene. I mean, people here lived through Kosovo and Ruanda. So there is a point in which you actually have to take action.
REHMAnd to what extent is the U.S. trying to get Russia to change its mind, Susan?
GLASSERWell, Diane, it's been Russia and China who have exercised their defective veto power in the security council to so far stop any action by the international community with any (word?) whatsoever to it. You know, we scrutinize Russia the most but it's true that China as well has been resisting this. Clearly Vladimir Putin is not interested, it seems, in facilitating any sort of outside intervention.
GLASSERAnd I think that, you know, for months frankly you've heard U.S. Diplomats playing a game of wishful thinking. And, you know, they've been working it, they've been trying, they've been working very hard to see little signs and glimmers of hope and changes of phrases and nuance from Sergei Lavrov the Russian foreign minister. But the bottom line is that Russia has not changed its position. As Tom said, regardless of when the helicopters were supplied or not originally Russia is the major supplier of arms to the Syrian regime.
GLASSERAnd the numbers I was just looking at before I came in here suggest that actually the military purchases from Russia by the Syrian regime have been stepped up dramatically over the last several years. So they are well supplied with a pretty full military arsenal by the Russians. And the Russians have been shameless about even continuing to do so in the midst of what is an escalating civil conflict. So they have been making regular arms deliveries even in the midst of massacres.
GLASSERThey don't show any signs, it seems to me, of stopping it and that may be why Hillary Clinton is escalating the public rhetoric because they have not had success behind the scenes.
REHMAnd of course, Russia's Vladimir Putin has his own problems. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about those demonstrations in Russia and take your calls.
REHMAnd before we talk about Russia, let's talk with Trevor who is in Troy, Mich. Good morning to you.
REHMHi there, go right ahead, sir.
TREVORYes, I have questions particularly about the European debt crisis. Are there any connections between the financial failures in Europe and proprietary banking including dividends which we've been hearing about on NPR? And then the second part of my question would be, in a financial system created by modern societies, how is there such a lack of control?
TREVORIt seems the responses are reactive, less proactive and it doesn't seem like anybody actually has any control over an economic system which was recently organized by, you know, a modern society.
REHMAll right, Nathan.
NATHAN GUTTMANMaybe if I take on the second part of it. I think what we're seeing especially with Greece is that all the failures of the Eurozone are becoming apparent now because it is a newly formed system, but as we see now, it's not a perfect system.
NATHAN GUTTMANAnd this tension between maintaining some kind of central control over the financial system and still allowing local governments to have their own control over the country, this definitely was not designed in a perfect way and Europe is now, while it's in a crisis, is now trying to redesign it and solve the problem but it might be too late for that.
REHMHere's mail from Paul on that issue: '"Is it true that the countries of Greece, Spain and Italy have difficulty collecting taxes? If these countries were able to collect the taxes due them then perhaps they would not be in their current financial difficulty."
REHMWe've certainly heard that about Greece but what about Italy and Spain Susan?
GLASSEROh, I think they invented the art of the tax dodge in Italy as far as I know so, you know, clearly it applies to all three countries. The problem is that we're not at the beginning of the financial crisis anymore and so now Europe has been in recession for the last several years and at this point part of the problem is a historic resistance to paying taxes and cultural issues and that sort of thing.
GLASSERBut another part of the problem is that these are shrinking economies and you know they're in this negative cycle in which there's less business happening, there's less tax revenue to be collected and that's part of the slow, sort of shutdown of these economies that's occurring.
GLASSERAnd I think that's what the tragedy of it is that sure it could have been avoidable if you'd been more proactive about changing the culture of the taxes when it could have made more of a difference.
REHMAll right, to Dallas, Tx. good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning, Diane, a thought-provoking show and so unfortunately, I have two questions that are somewhat unrelated. I apologize for that.
MARKI'm hoping to get the panel's thoughts. I have, unfortunately, arrived at the conclusion that the United States and I guess our government is what I mean by that, despite our proclamations to the contrary and sort of our national self-image really doesn't care a whit about democracy or other people having self-determination as long as, you know, what they are seen implying to vote for doesn't really go along with our perceived national interest.
MARKAnd a consequence of that is we'll prop up whatever dictator we feel is handy or potentially invade some country if, you know, we don’t think they're going to vote the way we want them to. And my other comment I think is directed toward Susan. I apologize for the familiarity, but I didn't catch her last name.
MARKShe alluded to an article by an economist who saw parallels between what is going on now and the 1930s and my grasp of history isn't that great but I believe that the economic conditions in the 30s are part of what led to the rise of national socialism in Germany and you know, she alluded to right-wing governments or right-wing parties getting more control. And I just hope that she would maybe game that out a little bit and see if there, you know, she sees anything else along those lines happening.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling.
GLASSERWell, you know, thanks very much to the caller. I was referring to Martin Wolf who is a well-known commentator in The Financial Times and you know, he wasn't saying it's an exact parallel with the 1930s. What he was saying was that he now understands how the 1930s happened in a way, that it was very hard for us to take as a realistic exercise before.
GLASSERWhy is that, because of the contagion across borders of a seemingly uncontainable economic crisis and the political instability that it produces? Nowhere in Europe has there been a real sign of the kind of Hitler-like rise that the caller is talking about. That being said, there have been none, only the rise of marginal far-right parties, but you look at -- I suppose Hungary is probably the most cited example where you've actually had the kind of far-right government come to power that would have been unthinkable before.
GLASSERNow it's hard to see how Hungary affects the fate of the European Union in a way that having some sort of extremist figure in a more central country like Germany itself or France, come to power, that would be a scenario of course that we're not looking at right now.
REHMTom, what do you think about his criticism of the U.S. saying it doesn't care about democracy developing in foreign countries as long as it's in our interest?
GJELTENWell, I think that's logical. I think that's the way all countries behave, all countries have behaved throughout the history of the world in that way. And that is that they have their own strategic interests and they put their own strategic interests. They allow their foreign policy. Their foreign policy is driven by their sense of what's in their interest. I don't think that's particularly surprising or even necessarily, you know, a terrible thing.
GJELTENI think that there has been a sense in the United States that the more countries democratize the more it actually serves U.S. strategic interests. So I think as a general rule, the United States does favor democracy around the world, but there certainly are going to be situations where other interests interfere.
REHMNathan, what do you make of what's happening in Russia with tens of thousands of Russians going into the streets of Moscow to protest the presidency of Vladimir Putin?
GUTTMANYes, well, it was supposed to be a Russian version of the -- maybe a march. It turned out to be many tens of thousands, maybe 100,000. I understand that the weather wasn't helpful. Maybe Putin had something to do with that as well but people were deterred from going out into the streets.
GUTTMANBut still it was the first attempt since the elections in a loose coalition of Russian opposition figures to actually speak out against the Putin regime. Putin true to form, acted as many Russians probably know from previous days, there were arrests and questioning of opposition leaders before the protest.
GUTTMANThere were attempts to block the protest before it took place. So definitely we're seeing just another round. It doesn't seem right now that this opposition power is gaining the momentum that can actually make a change facing the strength of the Putin regime and based on what we saw this week.
REHMSo who is supporting Putin right now?
GUTTMANPutin is, has built throughout the years a very vast system of support within the government security forces, business leaders, anyone else. And after years of taking care of the opposition and making sure it doesn't pass a certain level, I don't think he is challenged right now by anyone else.
GJELTENYou know one of the things that's interesting is the consequence of Putin returning to power is that U.S./Russia relations have become an issue in U.S. foreign policy in a way they haven't for many years. Of course Mitt Romney has been very hard on Obama's effort to sort of reset relations with Russia. This has been one of his main points of criticism.
GJELTENAnd now we have a bill moving through Congress that would block some Russian bank accounts and ban visas for certain Russian individuals. It's called the Magnitsky Bill. So Congress is getting involved in taking sort of anti-Russian actions and the Russians are furious about this.
GJELTENThey say if this bill passes Congress, and it right now seems likely it will, that they will retaliate so it's almost as if we're kind of drifting back into kind of the old Cold War tensions that we thought had disappeared, you know, 20 years ago.
REHMAll right, then to Dallas, Tx. good morning, Surapal (sp?) , you're on the air.
SURAPALGood morning, Diane, I love your show...
SURAPAL...and this question is to your panelists and my question is in regards to Syria. We were, the United States was rushing and the West, they were rushing to enter into Libya to stop, you know, the massacre while innocent children and women are being slaughtered every day by the Syrian regime. Is it that our interest is not, you know, in Syria or I just want to know what the problem is. Why are we not intervening as far as we did in Libya?
GLASSERWell, I think the caller makes an important point. There are a few thoughts on that. Number one, I think you do have to look at the calendar and this is an election year in the United States and it wasn't last year and the perceived risks of the Libyan intervention were perceived to be much lower, both politically and there was a European-led effort as well to intervene that the U.S. was able to jump on board within a way that we're not seeing.
GLASSERYou know the Europeans who are now consumed with their both political transitions and their financial catastrophe, they're not exactly leading the clamor for intervention in Syria right now.
GLASSERNumber two, in a way the stalemate in Syria is at least in part a result of what happened in Libya and by this I mean the United States along with those European partners actually managed to convince Russia and China to go along with the Libyan intervention, at least initially. Then the Russians and the Chinese claim to be very disillusioned with how that process went about and determined not to go along with anything similar in the Security Council this time around.
GLASSERSo in that sense, you're seeing sort of the backlash against the Libyan intervention and then I also think you just need to look at their perception that has been throughout this catastrophe in Syria that, A, at the beginning at least, Assad avoided any one dramatic confrontational moment so you had this moment with Gaddafi saying he was going to wipe out people, the Benghazi moment, if you will, which I think did crystallize the opposition.
GLASSERAnd then you also have analysts looking at all those weapons that Assad has purchased from the Russians over the last few years and saying, this is a much more capable military force right in the heart of the Middle East in a way that Libya was a much more marginal country with a less sophisticated military.
GUTTMANThe caller points to the comparison of Libya, but people here in Washington are looking at Iraq and the question is, who do you hand Syria over to after? Even if there is this decision to intervene militarily and it would be a massive intervention. It can't be done by the Libyan model.
GUTTMANWhat happens if you do that? Who do you hand the country over? What is the opposition? How do you manage a country that is so diverse and people here in Washington don't want to be the owners of a Syrian-failed country right now because the memory from Iraq is too fresh.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show," And of course, the recent violence in Iraq, Tom, reminds us that even once you do go in the violence continues.
GJELTENRight, Diane, and that violence is continuing to have a sectarian quality that has been so persistent in Iraq. The bombings this week that left some 90 people dead, basically yesterday from the beginning early hours of yesterday and continuing for several hours in several cities around the country.
GJELTENThey were all directed at, or the great majority of them were directed at the Sunni population and this, of course, revived these fears that we have continuing violence between the Sunni and Shiite populations in Iraq and that is precisely the character of the violence in Syria as well. It's got this ethnic element that Susan referred to at the beginning of the show.
GJELTENIt's largely directed against the Sunni population in Syria and the Alawite sect has been still very closely allied with the Assad regime so this specter of Sunni/Shia or sectarian conflict across the Middle East is something that has been very troubling for a long time and it's not getting any better.
REHMAnd what kind of influence is Iran playing in what's happening in Iraq, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, Diane, I'm so glad you mentioned that because in a way, it's interesting, that's the one thing we haven't talked about that is very relevant to Syria as well as relevant to Iraq. And that is certainly made the outside powers much more wary of intervening in Syria because they understand that one of the main backers up until now and arguably along with Russia, Assad's only remaining support has come from his neighbor next door in Iran.
GLASSERAnd certainly that has helped to fuel some of the conflict in Iraq and what you're seeing is an uncomfortable. You're seeing the violence that reflects a political stalemate in Iraq and an ongoing political discord over what's going to be the relative balance of power.
GLASSERRight now, of course, you have the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Maliki and what you're seeing from the remnants of the sort of Sunni-armed opposition is a reflection of the, what they view as the inadequacy of Sunni representation in this very Iran-friendly, Shiite-dominated government in Iraq today.
REHMSo now the U.S. is trying to promote this oil sanction against Iran and yet continues to expand the list of countries exempt from this list. How come?
GUTTMANWell, oil sanctions are supposed to kick in next month and from the beginning, the idea was that you might be able to reach the needed consequences without a full oil ban by actually only reducing the purchases of oil from Iraq in a way that would drop prices and will decrease the oil revenues of the Iranian regime. And that is why the United States has been working with its partners around the world to make sure that they buy less Iranian oil and in return, they'll be exempt from the sanctions.
GUTTMANHowever, China, so far at least, is not playing this game. There was a certain decrease and now they're buying Iranian oil again. The hope is that even if they continue to buy Iranian oil, the lack of demand will decrease prices and therefore will hurt the regime, but it won't be as effective without actually getting China on board.
REHMLast word, Tom.
GJELTENWell, the truth is, Diane, that this oil embargo has been very successful and in a sense, it's shown that you don't need 100 percent cooperation from China and other countries. Iranian oil exports are down sharply. Their oil revenue is down sharply. They're hurting. They're complaining about economic warfare being waged against them so, you know, it's working from the U.S. point of view.
REHMTom Gjelten of NPR, Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy magazine, Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward, thank you all so much. Happy Father's Day, have a great weekend and thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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