Diane talks with James Hohmann, national political correspondent for the Washington Post and author of the "Daily 202" newsletter.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Four U.S. soldiers were killed by Afghan police, the third such “inside” attack in as many days. A French newspaper printed several caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed. And Russia demanded that the U.S. halt the work of pro-democracy groups. Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Yochi Dreazen of National Journal join guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
- Indira Lakshmanan Senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News.
- Yochi Dreazen Senior national security correspondent for National Journal magazine.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. A suicide bombing in Afghanistan and demonstrations in Pakistan are said to be reactions to anti-Islamic video made in the U.S. France says it will close embassies and schools today in 20 countries as a precaution after a French weekly published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad.
MS. SUSAN PAGEAnd in China, protestors expressed anger over Japan's claim to disputed islands located between the two nations. Joining me to discuss these and other the week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Yochi Dreazen of National Journal magazine. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAGood to be on here.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENThanks, Susan.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call us on our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com or find us on facebook or Twitter. Well, Yochi, let's start with you. Tell us, what is going on in Afghanistan? It just seems like a resurgence of a lot of violence.
DREAZENSo you've had basically three things all happening kind of simultaneously. Some are linked directly in theory to the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo, a magazine in France, some not. You've had a wave of assassinations, successful assassination of high ranking Afghan security political officials. You've had, what are known as green on blue attacks. Dozens now of American troops killed by the Afghans they're training and now you've had violent protests because of these cartoons.
DREAZENTo my mind, the most significant of them is not the violent protests because these come and these go, but are these green on blue attacks. Because what you've had now is, as of yesterday, all the surge troops left Afghanistan, the last of the 33,000 left. The exit strategy going forward had been the U.S. training Afghan security forces to replace them. This past week the top generals in Afghanistan suspended those operations.
DREAZENSo you have questions now about not only the current state of the war, but what happens in the future. That, to me, is at least as significant, probably much more so, than these protests and attacks caused by these cartoons.
PAGEAnd Indira, these green on blue attacks, I mean, I think they're so shocking to Americans who feel like we have really invested our lives and treasure in trying to help Afghanistan.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThat's right. It's very difficult to understand when these attacks are coming at the hands of one's partners. The very people who the United States is training and mentoring to take over security for their own country. But let's break it down a little bit. On the one hand, I mean, what the United States generals have said and Defense Secretary Panetta has said is they credit a lot of this to the Taliban, to infiltrations.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANSo it's not as if these are, all of these people are any old Afghan soldier or police officer who's furious at Americans but there is a belief in the U.S. brass that a lot of these are infiltrations. There's also the question about cultural, you know, disconnects and that has happened all along where there are misunderstandings. It's sad that it's still happening more than 10 years after the United States has been in Afghanistan but there are misunderstandings and personal grievances.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThis issue is that the number of green on blue attacks has gone up dramatically. In 2008, there were two green on blue attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan resulting in two deaths of coalition soldiers. And now we're up to more than 50 deaths and more than 40 attacks. So that is, you know, a dramatic increase in the last few years and while some people have said this is a result of rising anti-Americanism, people are fed up with the U.S. soldiers being there, you know, I talked to Ryan Crocker, the recently retired U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANHe said, That's not right. We have tens of thousands of interactions with Afghans everyday and this is specific people. This is insurgence, the enemy who are trying to get us while we're busy trying to rebuild, you know, build up the forces. Which again has been dramatic, we're up to over more 300,000 Afghans soldiers who've been trained, which is more than 100,000 more than there were last year.
PAGEAbderrahim, do these green on blue attacks raise, have repercussions on the course ahead in Afghanistan?
FOUKARAWell, obviously, they come at a very difficult time for the United States, going through an election, for example, doesn't make it any easier. And talking of how Americans see what's going on in Afghanistan and as to the point that Indira made about cultural disconnects. I mean, as you said a lot of Americans scratching their heads and saying we've invested treasure and lives in Afghanistan. Why is this happening?
FOUKARAI mean, in a way, it's a throwback to what Clinton said about the Benghazi attack. We helped these people, we have been trying to help them and this the payback that we get. But on the other side of the equation there are a lot of Afghans who see the U.S. presence not as an effort to help Afghanistan. They see it as an occupation and it's just part of that disconnect and since you're talking about cultural differences, you are obviously culturally, you are operating on or in the domain of the Taliban who are against, militarily against the presence of the United States.
FOUKARAIt's very difficult for the United States to culturally explain the nuances of its presence in Afghanistan in that context where the Taliban, they have the language, they have the traditions, they have all those tools to actually try and convince the population at large in Afghanistan that the U.S. is out there to get them. It's out there to occupy their country. But I think at the end of the day the situation in Afghanistan is as much a challenge to the United States as it is to Afghanistan, to Hamid Karzai, to people in Afghanistan who are maybe tired of the conflict in that part of the world and they want to go back to some sort of normalcy. It doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.
DREAZENAnd to your question about the sort of direct impact of this, there are two things happening, both of which are direct results. One, Britain, France, New Zealand have all said just in the past couple of days that they will accelerate their withdrawals. In the case of Britain, that they're seriously considering it as a direct response to these green on blue attacks.
DREAZENThe U.S. has suspended all joint operations involving U.S. and Afghan personnel going out together, which has been the single cornerstone of the exit strategy. The other thing, Indira made the point about infiltration. General John Allen, at the high levels of military, they've actually not said that. They have tried to say that these are individual attacks motivated by Ramadan. John Allen said it was the weather, which struck me as kind of laughable. They said its personal grievances these people had.
PAGEWell, why are they saying that and then disputing the idea that it's an infiltration?
DREAZENBecause if they start acknowledging that the Taliban have had success infiltrating on a wide scale, it raises enormous questions about the Afghan security forces ability to vet their own personnel and to control their own personnel.
PAGEDo you think common sense says infiltration is the more likely explanation?
DREAZEN100 percent and you've had internal military reports leak out which have said not only that it's infiltration but which have specifically said that the military high command is being dishonest about this. You've had a real reluctance at every level of the training command, at every level of ISAF, General Allen most recently about two weeks ago denying specifically that this was infiltration because it's so much easier politically to say that it's just grievance, it's just these individual guys snapped.
PAGEIt's the weather.
LAKSHMANANBut interestingly, I mean, the civilian leadership has not been cagey about that. I mean, Defense Secretary Panetta outright this week called the green on blue attacks a last gasp effort by the Taliban to sow chaos and create problems for the United States. So he has outright blamed it on the Taliban. I mean, again, interestingly, former ambassador Ryan Crocker said, I'll believe it's the last gasp of the Taliban when I have my boot on the neck of the last one of them.
LAKSHMANANSo I'm not sure that it really is their last gasp, but certainly on the civilian side the Pentagon is saying, yes, we think there's infiltration and they're also trying to put out the message that this isn't going to stop us with the joint training, it isn't going to change our withdrawal plan. We're still training them up, you know, they're still going to replace us. That's what the civilian side message of the Pentagon is trying to say, it's not going to change our withdrawal plans.
PAGEWill it change our withdrawal plans?
LAKSHMANANI think that with the suspension of some joint operations there's certainly a consideration but at the same time even as NATO announced that suspension the U.S. side did try to say, hey, look, this doesn't mean we're not still doing training. We are going to do we just need to, you know, reconsider. So, you know, I think maybe they're taking a breath at this moment but I've not heard anything out of the White House about any change in their plans to train, use the Afghans to beef up security and for the U.S. to pull out its combat forces by the end of 2014. I think that's still very much the plan.
PAGEWe had a suicide bomber in Kabul on Tuesday that set off a bomb that killed 14 people. And the group, Abderrahim, that took credit for this said it was a woman suicide bomber, a 22 year-old woman named Fatima who carried out the attack. Is that unusual to have a woman suicide bomber in Afghanistan?
FOUKARAIf you're talking about the majority of cases as opposed to a tiny majority of these cases, yes, it is unusual. But whether in Afghanistan or in Iraq or other countries where there are similar situations there have been women carrying out suicide bombings. Obviously they are few and far between but as Yochi said earlier in the specific context of Afghanistan there's, unfortunately, there's nothing new about these attacks. They've been happening for such a long time.
FOUKARAThe fact that they're happening in the specific context of the U.S. discussing should we stay or should we go, the surge is over but we still 68,000 troops in Afghanistan and then you have this fire in the haystack of protests engulfing not just Afghanistan, Pakistan, throughout North Africa and the Middle East. It obviously makes it, it makes it a little more significant, it makes it a little more difficult not just for the Afghan government, but also for the Obama Administration or for that matter for the Romney Administration if Romney wins in the November election.
PAGETurning just for a moment to Libya, we also saw for the assassination of the U.S. Ambassador there, Christopher Stevens. Reports this week, Yochi that he might have been on an al Qaida hit list. Do we think that's true?
DREAZENWell, these reports where that he hit himself expressed to colleagues concerns about Benghazi, concerns that he was on an al-Qaida hit list. To be frank, every ambassador we have is on an al-Qaida hit list. If al-Qaida could carry an attack in France to kill the ambassador there they would. If they could carry out an attack in London, they would. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton specifically denied that that was the case with Ambassador Stevens, but according to CNN, that was a concern he expressed.
DREAZENTo my mind, the lingering question about the Benghazi attack, one is why was his security so apparently minimal. Generally speaking, U.S. embassies have Western security contractors manning the outside perimeter, Marines on the inside, both at consulates and at embassies. That doesn't appear to be the case here in a city as dangerous as Benghazi. The other is how was his body lost? You had a situation where according the live report coming out of Libya, good Samaritans brought him to a Libyan hospital but the body was basically lost.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the controversy in Russia and expelling some pro-democracy groups and we'll take your calls and emails. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page with USA Today and with me in the studio Yochi Dreazen, Senior National Security Correspondent for National Journal magazine. He is also writer in residence at the Center for a New American Security. And Indira Lakshmanan, senior correspondent. She covers foreign policy for Bloomberg News. And Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic.
PAGEWell, we saw anti-Japan protest in China this week. What's behind these demonstrations, Indira?
LAKSHMANANA very long standing territorial dispute between China and Japan in this case, but China has similar disputes with most of its other neighbors over islands, most of them unoccupied throughout, in this case the East China Sea, but also the South China Sea. So in the case with Japan, this has been a long simmering dispute and basically since the 1970s, the Chinese and the Japanese have disagreed about this.
LAKSHMANANThe Chinese call the islands the Diaoyu and the Japanese call them the Senkaku Islands. And the Japanese have had administrative control of these. And what recently happened was the Japanese government went ahead and bought the islands formally from a Japanese individual. And China was infuriated by this and there were all sorts of anti-Japanese protests in China, Some of which people believe were probably encouraged by the Chinese government.
LAKSHMANANPeople were bused in from the provinces and it reminded me very much of -- and I lived in China for seven years and in 1999 when NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, there were these incredible protests in Beijing. And, you know, we could see the Chinese bussing people in, bussing people in from universities, from the countryside to encourage the protests. Now at this point I think China's been trying to tamp them down but that's what's going on, is anger over this island dispute.
PAGEWell, Abderrahim, do these islands have some strategic importance? Why does China care so much about them?
FOUKARAThey probably do have some strategic importance. I mean, just remember that this is happening not too far away from the context of U.S./Chin relations. And as good as they are and as promising as they are described to be by people like Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, who obviously sees room for further improvement, in that context the Chinese see that any connection that the U.S. has to the region with Japan being such a close ally of the United States, that obviously makes it a little touchy.
FOUKARABut I just want to add that to me the overriding reason behind this is not geopolitics. It's the weight of history. Japan and China, for a long, long time there's been no love lost between those two countries going back to, for example, what the Japanese did to the Chinese, if you ask the Chinese, early in the 20th century. Remember, every time there's talk, for example, at the United Nations of the reforming the Security Council so that Japan gets a permanent seat in the council, there are protests. And these protests have been very violent on at least two different occasions.
FOUKARABut it's amazing, over the last couple of weeks you look at the world and it's almost as if it's made of protests.
PAGEYochi, what is the -- is there a U.S. role in this dispute?
DREAZENThere is but to go back to an earlier point, this is a proxy fight. I mean, the fight is not over these islands which are themselves small and kind of irrelevant. It's about the South China Sea. It's about who controls access to that sea, which country can claim it as its own. You have tensions now between China and Japan. Vietnam has pulled their own to this. Countries further afield like the Philippines. It's a fight over the South China Sea.
DREAZENMy colleague Bob Kaplan has a new book out about geography where it focuses fairly heavily on the South China Sea. He makes a point that not only is it a natural sort of geographic battleground, but that you now have countries which are wealthier than they've been in quite some time, Vietnam being one of them which is modernizing its military. So you have a real natural friction point with multiple countries facing this waterway plus multiple countries which have the means and incentive to try to push back on China.
DREAZENJapan has large well funded military which is modernizing. Vietnam is doing the same. So this is not just something that will go away if this island dispute is resolved. This will be here for quite some time.
LAKSHMANANIn this particular case between the -- the argument between China and Japan is over the East China Sea where the Senkaku and the Diaoyu Islands are. And I just wanted to make the point that there is a lot of oil and gas wealth in that part of the sea. So it's not just geopolitics and strategic and history. It's also money, big money in oil and gas. But beyond that the larger point about the disputes that we're seeing over China and its neighbors in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and also between Japan and South Korea in the Sea of Japan is about all of those issues.
LAKSHMANANAnd the United States has tried to go in there. Secretary Hillary Clinton was in the region just recently two weeks ago. Leon Panetta's in the region now and both of them are pushing very hard on those governments to adopt a code of conduct. And that would be a way to diplomatically, you know, have a format for agreeing on resolving these disputes. And China has really resisted adopting such a code of conduct.
PAGEYou know, when we're talking about China maybe we should mention the complaint that the Obama Administration filed against China with the World Trade Organization this week complaining that China unfairly subsidized its auto parts industry. Now, I actually had this on the list of things to talk about in our first hour, the Domestic Hour of the Friday News Roundup, because this one is one that has some real domestic political implications, Yochi.
DREAZENI mean, you've had Mitt Romney as part of his campaign this past week begin to argue that the Obama Administration is too weak and pushing back on China, that its policy means that U.S. manufacturing is dying. He's had an ad where you had a Chinese symbol and an American symbol and the Chinese one begin to grow and the American one begin to decline. His argument which is basically a protectionist argument is that the Obama Administration has not pushed back hard enough on Chinese dumping cheap goods -- artificial cheap goods into the U.S., tires, other auto parts designed to destroy American manufacturing.
DREAZENThe Obama Administration, which has filed multiple WTO complaints against China, of course says, we're doing all we can. But it's basically a protectionist argument that you haven't really seen flare quite to this degree, especially pushed by a Republican in a very long time.
PAGEPresident Obama announces action making an appearance in Ohio, of course one of the big swing states in the presidential election. Indira, you've lived and worked in China. Do the Chinese understand that some of this is international trade and some of this is U.S. domestic politics?
LAKSHMANANI think now they do. I think there was a time when it was not so well understood and there was a lot of anger and frustration. I'm not saying they wouldn't be angry and frustrated because they in fact filed a counterclaim against the U.S. with this U.S. WTO case, which is in fact the third case that the Obama Administration has filed against China just this year. But I think there is an understanding certainly among the Chinese think tankers and leaders that this is also about politics and being the last days before the election. And, boy, it plays well in Detroit and in Ohio and in other places where auto parts are made.
FOUKARAI mean, it plays well, but obviously in terms of actually getting results, this is a lawsuit that's going to take a long, long time. And so it's going to take us way past the next presidential election. And in that context, it's obviously in large part a ploy to, you know, make the electorate happy here in the United States.
PAGEWe're going to go to the phones and take some calls. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. We're going to start with Sheila. She is calling us from Ohio from Cincinnati. Hi, Sheila.
SHEILAHi, how are you?
SHEILAThank you so much for taking my call. Look, we should be leaving Afghanistan now and not in 2014. Can anybody there on the panel tell me what of value is going to happen between now and 2014 that is worth one more life? More to the point, why has the congress, the campaign trail, the White House, Romney -- this is the third rail. They don't even mention this war, which is so costly economically. My only grandson just left on Wednesday. That's heightened my interest but, believe me, I have been interested for six years.
SHEILAI have written Boehner, I have written Schmidt, I have written -- very, very rarely -- I have written Sherrod Brown -- I'm from Ohio -- very rarely do I even get a form letter back. This is not a subject that people want to discuss. And you and I know that the military puts out a few lines about how well it's going. I did get a letter back from Obama telling me it was just fabulous. So what I'm asking is how can we galvanize American attention and get these people to quit talking about whether or not Mitt Romney drove with a dog on his car and let's get on to something that might affect real lives.
PAGEAnd Sheila, let me ask you, did you say your grandson is being deployed to Afghanistan?
SHEILAHe is there, yes. He left last Wednesday.
PAGEWell, thank you for his service and we hope he stays safe. Indira?
SHEILAOh, God love you. I do too. But, as I say, this has been my cause celeb for six years. So I want to know why I can't even get anybody to...
PAGEAll right, Sheila. Thanks so much for your call.
LAKSHMANANWell, I think that it was striking that Mitt Romney didn't even mention the war in Afghanistan in his convention speech. That was, I think, shocking to a lot of people. But I think at this point the United States has invested billions of dollars in -- you know, they wouldn't call it just the war but the rebuilding effort. It's not just about the military component. It's also about the civilian component and the effort to do some nation building there, even though people shutter at the term.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, there has been a commitment with our NATO partners that was agree upon in Lisbon that there is going to be a specific drawdown schedule and that the troops are going to gradually train these Afghan troops, as we talked about, to take over their role and to be out of there by the end of 2014.
LAKSHMANANSo accelerating that, you know, would be a big problem. It would depend on NATO agreeing on that and I'm not -- you know, I'm not sure that people are wanting to precipitously move forward the schedule 'cause they're worried about everything collapsing in Afghanistan.
FOUKARATwo points on the issue of foreign policy in Afghanistan and why it's not being discussed. I find it absolutely amazing that maybe up to two or three weeks ago obviously the focus here in the United States was on the economy. And then Benghazi, the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya happened sparking the protests and then it all injected foreign policy back into the presidential debate.
FOUKARAThe withdrawal of 2014, my sense is that the United States is going to be in Afghanistan for a lot longer and far beyond 2014. And I say that based on for example the experience of Iraq. United States was in Iraq for a long, long time. Forces were said to have been withdrawn from Iraq. Remember that the United States embassy in Baghdad is the biggest in the world. So there's still a lot of United States personnel.
FOUKARAIn Afghanistan, as far as the footprint, may be able to reduce the footprint by 2014 but there are reasons that have to do with Afghanistan and security in Afghanistan that may not necessarily privilege the option of completely withdrawing from Afghanistan. There are also regional factors. There's the conflict between India and Pakistan and, you know, they're vying for influence in Afghanistan. It's so complicated that I do not see a complete withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
PAGEWe've gotten a Tweet that says, "I don't think the U.S. has properly explained the occupation of Afghanistan to Americans, let alone to Afghanis." And a comment from Facebook. "Why has there been so little mention of the Taliban attack on the U.S. airbase that resulted in the death of two marines and the destruction of six Harrier jets. The inability to defend a perimeter of such a base is frightening." Yochi.
DREAZENWell, I mean, that actually was a fascinating attack. It was Marine Harrier jets destroyed in numbers not seen since Vietnam. Frankly, I think the caller a moment ago was right, not that this is a third rail but it's a forgotten rail. No one talks about it, not because they're afraid that there'll be massive political repercussions but because there is no political upside 'cause no one notices or cares. It's something that's been forgotten -- if you look at the polling data -- by both parties when -- it's something that just no one remembers. That's more troubling than the idea that it would be politically untouchable.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
LAKSHMANANI just wanted to make one point on the other side which is the reason that administration officials who do support having some sort of sustained commitment to Afghanistan, their argument is that when the U.S. last time abandoned Afghanistan, and Pakistan for that matter after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the end of 1989 that, you know, everything went to hell in a hand basket basically. That that was when you saw the rise of militant groups in Afghanistan. That's when you saw the civil war in Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban that came out after that.
LAKSHMANANSo there is an argument also to be made that if the U.S. were to just, you know, get out and bail out and ignore Afghanistan and disengage that it's very much leaving the opportunity for the Taliban to come back, for Al Qaida to come back. And remember, they did use Afghanistan as a launching point for the 9/11 attacks.
PAGERussia announced this week that they were expelling the U.S. Agency for International Development from the country. What happened, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAWell, I think it has to do with the fact that Putin is now in charge in Russia. And as strong as he wants the world to think that his position in Russia is, his position remains in some ways tenuous. Remember there's been a wave of protests against Putin. And the accusation to the United States is that by supporting some of the NGOs, by promoting the democracy effort in Russia, the United States is, according to Putin, meddling in Russian politics.
FOUKARAI think for me the problem that the Obama Administration faces is epitomized by this move by Putin. Putin has -- seems to have succeeded in putting the United States or the Obama Administration in a position where it's merely reacting. The official reaction of the Obama Administration, okay if you want us to get the USAID out of Russia we will, but we'll continue to promote democracy.
FOUKARABut I think the essence of the reaction is that it is a reaction. The Obama Administration, because it's election time or perhaps there are other reasons, but it is reacting in Russia and it is reacting, not just to this particular move by Putin, it's reacting to Russian positions right across the board. For example over the issue of Syria, the Obama Administration can only deal very carefully with Putin -- with the Russians because ultimately he needs Russia. He needs the cooperation of Russia over so many different issues such as Iran's nuclear issues. So he cannot behave in a way that antagonizes the Russians too much.
FOUKARAThe Obama Administration is also in a reactive mood as to what's going on in the Middle East. It's reacting to the protests. There's a challenge in Libya, there's a challenge in Egypt, there's a challenge in Yemen. And right now at this particular point it doesn't seem that there's a clear cut strategy for actually moving U.S. relations with that part of the world clearly and in a way that sets it on solid footing for the future.
PAGEYochi, of course President Obama's been criticized in particular by Mitt Romney on Russia. And Mitt Romney has described relations with Russia as crucial, I guess our biggest geostrategic challenge, I think, were the exact words that he used. Does this feed into that criticism?
DREAZENIt does, although, you know, frankly a prodemocracy group USAID pales in comparison to, as Abderrahim mentioned, the fact that Russia continues to veto any serious effort by the UN Security Council to authorize humanitarian intervention in Syria. So this is the news of the day but as Abderrahim points out, the much bigger news is now things like Iran and Syria where there is no Russian cooperation. And it comes down almost to a zero sum game. Moscow thinks if the U.S. wants it they will say no. If U.S. doesn't want it they will say yes. That's the dynamic that's playing out again and again.
PAGEYochi Dreazen with National Journal magazine. We're also talking this hour with Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic. We'll be back and talk some more. Stay with us.
PAGEIndira, Bloomberg News had an interview with Hillary Clinton the Secretary of State that caused some controversy in U.S./Israeli relations. What happened?
LAKSHMANANYeah, that's right. Two Sundays ago, I interviewed Secretary Clinton and asked her about the Iran nuclear program and whether the U.S. was ready to do as Israel wanted the U.S. to do, to set red lines and deadlines specifically about the nuclear program and she said, we're not setting deadlines.
LAKSHMANANAnd that comment set off a real firestorm in Israel. It was a Bloomberg radio interview that I did and it got picked up by Israel TV and really set off a firestorm. And Netanyahu himself, the prime minister reacted and said, well, if you're not going to set red lines, then you can't give us a red light for any kind of a preemptive attack against Iran over its nuclear program.
LAKSHMANANAnd so that set off, you know, a situation where Obama then had to have a one-hour conversation with Netanyahu last week and, you know, it was sort of described by some as trying to talk him off the ledge. And by the end of the week, Netanyahu was on ''Meet the Press'' and I think he was much more conciliatory. I think he was walking it back and trying to make the point in a way that he wasn't really trying to, that, you know, when he was asked, has Obama thrown you under the bus?
LAKSHMANANHe said, no, no, no, he hasn't and, you know, we work very well with this administration. So perhaps there's some feeling among the Israelis that they don't want to be perceived as trying to influence the U.S. election.
FOUKARAI just wanted to add that the current wave of protests that we've seen now across the Muslim world make this difference in the two clocks, the clock of the Israelis and the clock of the Obama administration even more substantially different. Because for the United States, even if the Obama administration were to afford to go into another war -- and my understanding is that on the U.S. side there's a lot of opposition to the U.S. going into another war in the Middle East.
FOUKARABut even if it were to actually cover that hurdle and launch an attack together with the Israelis on Iran, the current climate does not help that for the simple reason that if there's military action by the Israelis alone or by the Israelis and the United States together against Iran, there are others who would have to get involved, some of the other U.S. allies, such as the Saudis, for example, the Qataris.
FOUKARAThere is absolutely no way that any Arab government, at this particular point in time, could sanction an attack on Israel without suffering repercussions with its own public opinion. We have seen, as in the case of, you know some of these Arab Spring countries, countries where the United States was seen by at least some of the population to have played a positive role, Egypt and Libya.
FOUKARAWe have seen, I mean, attack -- attack on Iran. I'm sorry. We have seen in these two Arab Spring countries, so-called Arab Spring countries, the extent of the opposition, of anti-American sentiment. I do not see how these protests could help the Obama administration make the case that it needs to go to war, even if the Israelis see the Iranian threat as much more imminent than the Obama administration does.
DREAZENThere is something which has changed fairly dramatically just in the last couple of months. For a long time, there has been a lot of Israeli talk about a strike that the U.S. sort of thought it was a serious threat, but kind of wasn't so concerned about.
DREAZENThe level of concern within the Central Command, within the White House and the Pentagon just in the past couple of weeks has skyrocketed with the belief that an Israeli strike might actually, after all this time, might actually be imminent as early, potentially, as October, partially because of the American elections scheduled, partially because Netanyahu's standing is wobbly.
DREAZENBut when you have conversations with Central Command, with the White House, with the Pentagon, it's no longer at the point of, oh, maybe it'll be in a year, maybe it'll be in 18 months. It's, this could be around the corner. You've had war games, one that was written about in The Washington Post and others, taking place in places like Central Command, other parts of the military, other parts of the State Department.
DREAZENThis is now seen as a very, very real possibility in the very near future in the way that it wasn't even a short time ago.
PAGEAnd Indira talked about Benjamin Netanyahu trying to walk back the idea that President Obama had behaved in ways hostile to Israel. On the other hand, Netanyahu and Mitt Romney are friends. They've worked together in Boston. Does, in fact, the Israeli government have a preferred candidate in this election?
DREAZENYou know, if you're asking about Netanyahu, it's unquestionably Mitt Romney and in return, I mean, you have Mitt Romney in this audio tape that David Corn had gotten, excuse me, the video tape David Corn got, part of it that didn't get as much attention was Mitt Romney saying, there can never be peace because Palestinians are bent on the eradication of Israel.
DREAZENThat could come not just from Benjamin Netanyahu, but from his father, from others within the Likud. So you have not just the embrace by Netanyahu of Romney, but the embrace by Romney of Netanyahu, which is to my mind kind of staggering the degree to which the positions line up and not just on Iran, but as something fundamental as can Israel and the Palestinians ever make peace? And the Romney answer right now is no.
LAKSHMANANWhich has not been the U.S. policy for 40 years. I mean, every administration in the United States, Republican or Democrat, has supported a two-state solution in peace between Israel and the Palestinians. So to come right out and say, it's not possible to have a two-state solution.
LAKSHMANANTo say the Palestinians don't want peace is staggering in that video tape and it didn't get as much attention because of all the attention to him talking about the 47 percent. But it is shocking and, you know, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington commented to me after that, you know, he said, I think that this shows a staggering ignorance on the part of Romney who doesn't realize that we, you know, the Palestinians want peace and we have recognized Israel's right to exist and we want the two-state solution.
PAGEHe did make these comments although I believe there was another point in this video tape that has so transfixed Washington for the past week, where he talked somewhat more positively about the prospects of a Middle East peace. Let's go to Ann Arbor, Mich. and talk to Charlie. Charlie, you're on the air. Thanks so much for holding on.
CHARLIEThis fast video that is -- or YouTube that has inflamed the Arab world, what about when some sophisticated Islamic terrorist produces a video where, you know, that attacks Muhammad with high production values and then has a blue curtain with a couple of American flags on each side and a podium with a fake seal with an American standing there saying, this is our policy. He calls himself an assistant to anything and is defending that video.
CHARLIEWhat on earth? I don't think all the Americans, the Marines in the world could defend our embassies and would make things worse by slaughtering mobs.
PAGESo you're saying, Charlie, suggesting that this could be used as a trick by terrorists to portray a video, to do a video that's offensive and credit it to the United States?
CHARLIEWell, that could be made in Pakistan with high production and then sent by DVD to every country in the world to be put on YouTube.
PAGEI see. Well, thank you so much for your call. Yochi, what do you think?
DREAZENI mean it's an interesting idea, although it's worth remembering that in these protests, the odds that any more than a half of 1 percent actually saw this YouTube video, these are not high odds. This was not something where you have countries where everyone has access to YouTube, is sitting around watching this and then goes to the streets.
DREAZENThese are countries where there is, as Abderrahim mentioned earlier, anti-American rage. You don't need to actually see the video. All you have to do is hear a rumor of a rumor of a rumor to head to the streets so the idea of a trick is interesting. I don't think it's necessary to set off this kind of conflagration.
LAKSHMANANThe U.S. State Department has actually taken the step of hiring -- I think they're spending about $70,000 in Pakistan, hiring a local company there to put out an ad showing that the U.S. government completely disavows the badly-made, you know, offensive video out of California, where they've taken cuts of both Secretary Clinton and President Obama denouncing the video and they've put subtitles in Urdu over it and sort of made a commercial to air on Pakistani television to try to show we don't support that video at all.
LAKSHMANANSo they're trying to sort of counter this well because there was something like 10,000 people protesting in just one Pakistani city. There were protests all over Pakistan today.
FOUKARAYou know, I just wanted to circle back to what we said at the outset, which is that in the specific case of Afghanistan, for example. I mean, in a way, it's a lot simpler to have an effective military strategy, although military strategies obviously result in loss of life as we have seen continuously in Afghanistan.
FOUKARAIt's a lot more difficult for the United States to actually have a cultural strategy for dealing with anti-American sentiment with these issues that people are protesting against throughout the Muslim world. You know, for a long time, not for a long time have I had such a difficult time trying to sift through a particular story because this issue of the protests, it goes in so many different directions and has so many different ramifications.
FOUKARAIt has ramifications for relations between the United States and the Arab Spring countries, the United States and the Muslim world. It has ramifications for the U.S. election. It goes in so many different ways. The sad thing is we do not know exactly for sure who is behind the trailer that's causing all this.
PAGEAnd we have an email from Brian. Actually, Brian posted this on our website. He says, "Regarding anti-Muslim films and cartoons, I feel that many people in Western-style democracies do not agree with the ideas, but feel as if our rights to free speech are being held hostage by the violence erupting from fundamentalists all over the Muslim world, one other aspect of this whole dispute."
LAKSHMANANThat's right. And I mean, you also have to think about the cost of lives here. This video has been linked to at least 33 deaths, if you include the deaths in the Benghazi consulate in Libya. I mean, we don't know still whether the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was specifically related to this because a lot of eye witnesses -- our correspondent in Benghazi has said that the witnesses he spoke to said there was no protest, that it was just an attack by something like 10 to 12 heavily-armed men who had rocket-propelled grenades and, you know, recoilless rifles so it may not have been linked to a protest in that case at all.
LAKSHMANANBut in any case, we're talking about 30 deaths out of protest, just three in Pakistan today and that's a tragedy.
PAGEIn Pakistan today, the government actually declared a national holiday to allow for peaceful protests of the video. But what you're saying, Indira, is that there are already deaths in Pakistan from these protests.
DREAZENYou've also had on the other end of the world, France and Turkey, ban any protests tied to this. In France, Charlie Hebdo, the magazine which published these, made what I think is actually a very cogent, although crudely-stated argument, that the government is trying previously to appease protesters who are trying to trample on free speech.
DREAZENI mean, obviously, it's a delicate balance between words that can cause violence, but free speech is a value inherent, not just to the U.S., but to France and to try to say these should not have been published is a little bit dicey.
PAGEHow did the French government respond, Indira, to the publication of these cartoons and the likely backlash?
LAKSHMANANWell, I don't think the French government was thrilled about the cartoons because they know it's going to incite unrest. At the same time, they are protecting freedom of speech and by banning these protests and shutting down 20 embassies in 20 different countries today. They've shut down protectively embassies, French schools, and French cultural centers to prevent against any protests or backlash.
LAKSHMANANBut, you know, they are trying to defend free speech and, you know, let's keep in mind that in some of these countries, not only is there a lack of understanding that a film, for example, made in the United States is not necessarily endorsed or in any way related to the U.S. government.
LAKSHMANANThere's a misunderstanding on so many levels and, you know, I heard that one cleric was inciting people by saying, if it's illegal to say that the holocaust never happened, than it should be illegal to debase Islam. Well, of course, in the United States, it's not illegal to say what you want about the holocaust. It's only in Germany that it's illegal to say that. So there are a lot of misunderstandings.
PAGEOr even the idea that no one in the United States really was aware about this trailer or would have watched it except for these protests of it.
FOUKARAI mean, the reaction of the French government, in a way, it's similar to the reaction of the Obama administration in the early phase because the State Department spoke in one way, the White House spoke in another. Similarly in France, the president, the prime minister came out clearly.
FOUKARAThis is an issue of free speech. There's nothing we can do about it. The Foreign Minister Fabius was a little bit more nuanced because he talked about the abuse of free speech. He talked about trying not to offend people's sensitivities. But obviously at the end of the day, it's not the prime minister that has to deal with the Muslim world directly, it's the foreign ministry.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There's an interesting email we've gotten from Wayne. He writes: "I had the opportunity to lead a psychological operation team in Afghanistan in 2010-11. Our role was to work closely with the Afghan army and police and to help the population see the benefit of their own Islamic republic. I found that the biggest obstacle to partnering with Afghan forces was the immature attitudes of the U.S. conventional forces.
PAGEOften times conflicts arise from young American soldiers putting down and disrespecting Afghan forces. This is not an issue of misunderstanding. It is precisely that the Afghan forces get that they are being disparaged. A special operations mentality of integration and mentoring with a bit of cultural relevance is necessary. You can't disrespect a culture built on honor and hospitality and not experience blowback." Yochi?
DREAZENYou know, you, I've seen that personally on embeds, frankly. At the same time, I think that's somewhat of an over-simplification. Many (word?) have been with the Afghan troops were terrible. These were troops who were lazy. They were troops who didn't wear body armor, who didn't carry the proper weaponry, who were watching pornography on their cell phones rather than patrolling, who were most of the time high on drugs.
DREAZENThis is not in much of the country a very sophisticated fighting force. So you can understand the frustration of the average American enlisted soldier that says, why am I working harder for your country than you are for your own? That said, you have seen no question an ignorance, a lack of knowledge of the language, a hatred of Afghanistan that I frankly never saw while in Iraq.
DREAZENSo I think the point is right, but I think he's somewhat over-simplifies the fact that the Afghan army is not very good.
FOUKARAEarlier Yochi spoke about Robert Kaplan's new book "Revenge of Geography" and I think that the fact that the United States is so far removed geographically from many other parts of the world, the fact that it's a semi-island makes it very difficult for Americans to understand how other nations feel when you have foreign forces in their territory, on their ground.
FOUKARABut at the same time, it has to be said the presence of the United States in Afghanistan is a response to 9/11 and that is also an issue that people in that part of the world may not necessarily, fully understand or grasp, at least psychologically.
PAGEIndira, we've talked a little bit about a lot of conflict this hour and yet a wonderful moment this week in Washington when Aung San Suu Kyi visited the United States, got a wonderful reception, was able to accept the Congressional Gold Medal that she was awarded in 2008. Tell us about her visit.
LAKSHMANANWell, I have to say that what's been striking to me is how much of a role model and hero she is for so many people around the world in her struggle for freedom. I mean, she not only went through incredible personal sacrifice for her country. She was unable to see her husband, who was a British academic, for many of the last years of their marriage and was not even able to go back to Britain when he was dying of cancer because she was afraid they would not allow her back into her country.
LAKSHMANANAnd so to see her now in Washington getting, you know, awards, getting to meet with the president, which is not typical for a parliamentarian from a small country, it's recognition of her freedom struggle. And also seeing Secretary Clinton, who in many countries where she goes is held up as a role model by many women there, I have to say that Secretary Clinton holds up on Aung San Suu Kyi as her, as a role model, you know, as a hero of hers.
LAKSHMANANAnd so that was an interesting interaction as well and she's actually urging the U.S. to lift sanctions even more on Burma, on her country and, you know, try to integrate them with the rest of the world.
PAGEIndira Lakshmanan is senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News and we've been joined this hour also by Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic and Yochi Dreazen from National Journal magazine. Thanks so much for being with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1''The Diane Rehm Show'' is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Megan Merritt. The engineer is Aaron Stafford. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program is a production of WAMU 88.5 from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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