A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Syrian rebels get anti-aircraft weapons. Libya singles out an Islamist leader in the Benghazi raid. And Iranian hackers renew attacks on U.S. banks. James Kitfield of National Journal, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News and Matt Frei of the UK’s Channel 4 News join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- James Kitfield Senior correspondent for National Journal.
- Indira Lakshmanan Senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News.
- Matt Frei Washington correspondent of the U.K.'s Channel 4 News.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Iran joined Turkey in calling for a temporary cease fire plan for Syria as scores die every day in the conflict. In a debate against Governor Romney, President Obama took responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, and China's economic growth slowed again in the third quarter. Joining me for the week's top international stories on this week's Friday News Roundup, James Kitfield of National Journal, Indira Lakshmanan on Bloomberg News, and Matt Frei of the U.K.'s Channel 4 News.
MS. DIANE REHMI invite you to join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.
MR. INDIRA LAKSHMANANGood morning.
MR. MATT FREIMorning.
REHMJames Kitfield, tell us about the cease fire plan for Syria.
KITFIELDWell, the U.N. Special Envoy, Mr. Brahimi has been going around the region trying to put together a cease fire for an Islamic holiday that starts next week, a three-day holiday hoping just for some respite from the violence that might allow for a political dialogue to begin. What's unusual this time is that he seems to have buy-in from almost all the keys players. Turkey is on board with this, Iran is on board. They're the two regional powers that are most obviously on opposite sides of the conflict.
KITFIELDThe Syrian government says that as long as it includes an agreement by the rebels to honor the cease fire, their game. The rebels have said the same thing. I mean, we've had the last two months a thousand people dying each week, so, I mean, the fervent hope of everyone is that this would be a moment for respite, and to actually begin some sort of a dialogue. Now, personally, I'm not very optimistic. If you'll remember Kofi Annan, who is Brahimi's predecessor, also had a cease fire arranged, and it broke down within days.
KITFIELDThe fundamentals are really poor because nothing suggests that a side is willing to give up power, and nothing suggests the rebels are willing to, you know, talk about any kind of political transition that he stays in power. So in that case, the fundamentals don't look good to me, but everyone can cross their fingers and pray that this is actually a moment where they'll all step back because as Brahimi said, which I think was the most interesting thing, is this conflict has every indication of spilling over the borders and engaging the whole region in regional conflict.
KITFIELDWe've seen that time and again. This last week Turkey's forcing down an airplane that was traveling from Moscow to Damascus. They said it had munitions on it, but it brought a NATO ally directly in confrontation with Russia, something you really don't want, and so I take the point that this could spill over the borders.
REHMMatt Frei, Brahimi called the change of his plan from that of Kofi Annan, microscopic, but he believes his plan has some merit.
FREII think that was perhaps understating it, microscopic, and, of course, the great fear is that the progress that is planned will also be microscopic. I think the difference might be just in his own CV, in his own background he was a former Algerian independence fighter against the French, he's dealt extensively with Afghanistan and Iraq. He knows perhaps better than Kofi Annan how to negotiate the shoals the tribal sectarian political shoals that this sort of crisis offers.
FREIBut I think as James said, the key point here is that all players, even Iran, are waking up to the fact that it might not be such a good thing if this thing becomes a regional spillover. And just this morning we had possibly more evidence of that. There was the biggest car bomb in Beirut in the last four years in the Christian Ashrafiyeh district. Two people killed, I gather, 46 injured. This is not good. When it starts spilling over into Lebanon, there were signs...
FREI...that this was happening in the past, but when it does more of this, you know that this thing explodes, it doesn't implode.
REHMAnd Indira, what about reports that the rebels have anti-aircraft weapons?
LAKSHMANANRight. I mean, this was the worst fear, not only of the United States, but of many countries, that this situation would spiral out of control, not only into the regional -- into the other countries, but also within Syria. The conflict has just gotten worse and worse, and deadlier. Matt refers to the car bomb. Today also in Syria itself there were 44 people killed in air strikes in a rebel-held town in the north. On Thursday, the reports you were referring to, there's YouTube footage out that shows rebels in Aleppo using MANPADS which means Man Portable Air Defense Systems.
LAKSHMANANAnd what is so interesting about this, is the reports indicate that these MANPADS have been smuggled in without the knowledge or the agreement of those countries who are helping arm the Syrian rebels, that is primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but Turkey has also been coordinating with them, and there are reports that the United States actually stopped a shipment from coming through just this summer, but obviously they haven't been able to stop everything.
LAKSHMANANAnd what's interesting about this is, remember when Gadhafi fell last year, there were reports about all these loose MANPADS which are the heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles being on the loose, and the U.S. was very concerned and sent some teams into Libya to try to help, let's do something so that these don't spread all over the region. It's seem that some of them have indeed spread, and that becomes -- it has so many spillover effects. Because if the rebels have these shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles, if they're able to bring down government planes, you can say well, this is good for the rebels, but it's also bad for the civilians because the government planes are going to be flying at a much, you know, higher level to avoid those missiles which means that they're not going to be able to aim as well at rebel camps, which means that more danger for civilian casualties.
KITFIELDYou know, this thing starts to look a lot unnervingly like Afghanistan in the 1980s were we supported, you know, the people who were trying to kick the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. We know for a fact that there are Islamic extremist groups and Jihadi groups inside Syria. We know they're getting these weapons now just like the Mujahideen got these weapons in Afghanistan. We know that those, you know, once the dust settles, these groups will not be necessarily friends of the west and our allies in the region.
KITFIELDSo, you know, again, the spillover impact of this is affecting us as well. We're very frightened that this is a sort of repeat of Afghanistan circa 1980.
FREIWhich is exactly why this government, European governments, even the Saudis and Qataris have been reluctant to send heavy weapons in. They've been reluctant to ship in RPGs, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, stinger missiles, the kind of things that completely change the dynamics of the soviet occupation of Afghanistan because they're afraid of creating the next Osama bin Laden.
FREIBut what you have in the process is not just spillover in the region, but complete Balkanization of fragmentation within. There are reports this week of different rebel groups fighting each other around Aleppo. There are reports of fighting within the Alawite community which is what some people are pinning hopes onto, saying that if that community that sustains the Assad regime fragments, they might finally come to their senses and have some sort of deal.
FREIBut what you really don't have, and this is getting back to your earlier where Brahimi might make a difference, and I say might with a capital M, is that he tries to get some sort of coherence, internal coherence, out of the situation that has arisen, because if you don't have that coherence, if you don't know who you're talking to to even forge a deal, it's a nonstarter.
REHMWhat about the U.S. sending advisors there?
KITFIELDWell, we've said that we've been -- we have advisors who are advising the rebels. We're giving them some non-lethal assistance and communications, but...
REHMBut doesn't that sound an awful lot like Vietnam name to you, James?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, that's how these things start. So, I mean...
REHMThat's how they start.
KITFIELDThat's right. I mean, it also sounds like Libya as well. Not all as cautionary tale as Vietnam, but clearly we are involved. We've picked a side in this. I mean, that -- as soon as President Obama said Assad must go, we basically picked a side. He's not going, that's the problem. And so now we are left with, you know, we don't want to give them too heavy of weapons, but we don't want them to be defeated either, and you're on one side of civil war that is dragging out and dragging in its neighbors, and, you know, let's be quite honest.
KITFIELDThe trajectory of this thing is very negative, and I said all along in this show and in my writing that, you know, at some point the negatives of doing nothing become greater than the risk of actually doing something, and that's when you get dragged in.
LAKSHMANANWell, this brings us back to the campaign because on foreign policy we've seen that on some issues it's quite hard to distinguish a real policy difference between Obama and Romney, and one of these areas is Syria because Romney has said -- he suggested that it would be really good if we gave more weaponry and even heavy weaponry to the Syrians, but he hasn't come right out and said that the U.S. should do it itself.
LAKSHMANANSo, you know, he's been a bit unclear. What the U.S. has done so far, the Obama administration has limited support to communications equipment, to logistics, to intelligence. At the same time, the U.S. is coordinating with this trio of countries who are all our allies as well, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, who are helping the rebels, and the Defense Department and the CIA are present on Turkey's Syrian border where weapons shipments are flowing in two to three times a week for the rebels.
REHMSo at what point is Turkey, Matt Frei, going to say we can't take any more of these refugees from Syria. Where else are they going to go, and where are they going now?
FREII'm sure they're saying it already, but what they want is some sort of unified response within NATO. They want the Americans to come much more on board than they've been so far, and they also themselves are aware that they don't want some sort of regional conflagration with Iran. I mean, this thing has all the potential to get really nasty within the neighborhood, and the Turks, despite having been quite robust in their response to the Syrians in the last two weeks, don't want that at the end of the day.
KITFIELDBut I think Turkey might be one way out of this crisis. If you can, you know, if you can make them more robust, if you can talk through Turkey at the Syrian regime, get the Russians on board, if that's a possibility, there might be some sort of deal in the offing, but it's...
LAKSHMANANWell, I think this is -- the key is, if we're going to still keep trying to negotiate some sort of a settlement, we need to have the Russians and the Chinese on board, because we all know that Russia and China have blocked tougher action at the United Nations Security Council. And what is interesting is Brahimi, who was supposed to be arriving in Damascus today, not to meet with Assad, but with the foreign minister, is also on his way to Russia and Moscow where -- to Moscow and Beijing where he said, I'm going to look them in the eye -- that was his quote -- and tell them that this is not going to work.
LAKSHMANANThe cease fire and an ultimate peace is not going to work unless the support it. So maybe Brahimi is going to be able to talk some sense into them that the diplomats from other countries on the Security Council have not succeeded.
REHMIndira Lakshmanan. She's senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, Libya is on our agenda, Iran as well, and your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Matt Frei, Washington correspondent of the UK's Channel 4 News, James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal and Indira Lakshmanan, senior correspondent covering foreign policy for Bloomberg News. Let's talk about Libya. Matt Frei, Secretary of State Clinton said she took responsibility for the raid on the U.S. Consulate there in Benghazi. And then in Tuesday night's debate President Obama took responsibility. How did that play out?
FREIWell, it was just sort of mea culpa one-upmanship and it was great politics because she, of course, made the statement. In fact, she was in Peru on a visit at the time the night before the second debate in which Barack Obama had to perform, as indeed he did. And so this took some of the heat off him. The president went one better and said, actually, she's done a great job. The buck always stops with me.
FREIWhat really surprised me was that the Republicans, especially on that night, Mitt Romney was particularly bad at hammering home the main point in terms of his barrage against the administration, which was not so much whether they called it an act of terror but whether -- what did the State Department know about security and when did they know it? And we knew from the hearings on The Hill on Tuesday that they knew actually quite a lot, that Ambassador Stevens, the late ambassador who was killed in the attacks and indeed people who were running his security, these had been writing to the State Department for several months saying, we need more help here. We need more security present.
REHMIn Tripoli. In Tripoli.
FREIIn Tripoli. But still -- but there is people in Tripoli would've traveled with the ambassador, is one theory, to Benghazi on this particular visit.
REHMDidn't I read that he liked to travel on his own without letting anybody know he was moving between Tripoli and Benghazi?
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThat's true. Ambassador Stevens did like to have a light footprint and keep a low profile. And in that he's like many American diplomats who increasingly have felt frustrated ever since 9/11/2001 when they've had to have, you know, huge security details, go around in armored cars with big, you know, armed guards around them. And...
REHMAnd inform everybody he's coming.
LAKSHMANANYes, yes. And it creates problems where there are other embassies and other officials who will say to them in some of these countries, you know what? Don't come to my house for dinner because you bring that huge retina with you. Or I'm not going to go to the embassy because I am humiliated by the kind of security that you put me through at the U.S. Embassy. And this applies to Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.
KITFIELDYou know, I think that we should step back a second and inform your readers that there is a political dynamic here...
KITFIELD..listeners, I'm sorry. As a print journalist, one of the last of the few. Inform your listeners that there is a political dynamic here and there is a -- there's actually a subsequent dynamic. And they are not the same thing. I mean, they're -- my colleague's exactly right. there is a substantive issue of why when the security people at the consulate asked for increased security they didn't get it. Let's get to the bottom of that. That's a very valid, you know, place to go.
KITFIELDThis argument that the Republicans are trying to make -- because it attacks President Obama on his claim that he's defeated or, you know, put al-Qaida on the path of defeat. And it attacks -- it feeds this narrative that -- because he has such an advantage on foreign policy unlike most Democrats, feeds a narrative that he's weak and feckless which -- on foreign policy which Governor Romney's been trying to, you know, advance that narrative.
KITFIELDThey are saying that, you know, basically Susan Rice our UN Ambassador knew that this was a terrorist attack and lied through her teeth days afterwards to hide the fact that it might have been an al-Qaida attach. This is substantively ridiculous. I have talked to the intelligence people. They admit that what she said on the morning shows on Sunday after the attack was exactly what -- the intelligence points they were giving her.
KITFIELDI mean, if you expect the U.N. Ambassador to know more than your own intelligence department you don't understand how this system works. And the fact of the matter is the intelligence community is still saying that their understanding of the situation is still evolving, which is not unusual at all. If you cover these things at all you realize the first reports are always wrong. And we didn't even have the FBI get into the consulate for over a week to sort of review, you know, the evidence on the ground.
KITFIELDSo the idea that the administration -- you have to really believe there's a conspiracy theory here to lie through their teeth knowing that they'd be caught out at some point to make this narrative that, you know, it was all about this video. I just don't buy it.
FREINow I couldn't agree more. And I think, you know, the situation is still fluid. There's still information coming out.
FREIThey haven't had the people on the ground to find out exactly what was going on. But here's the point I'd like to get back to that we heard earlier. If you have American diplomats, especially American diplomats living in embassies around the world that have become green zones, this is not good for the understanding of the various host countries where these people are serving. This is not good for America. This is not good for kind of global understanding.
FREIAnd Chris Stevens was very aware in the sense that he was not just a fluent Arab speaker. He was, you know, in Libya under Gadhafi and then came back to Libya at the time of the civil war. And he had a genuine liking for the country and an understanding for it. This man could not have operated the way he did as effectively as he did and as popularly as he did had he not -- had he been confined to a sort of green zone prison.
FREISo I think you need to get the balance right between securing your diplomats, securing your compounds and perhaps having bodyguards in the background. But not in a way that is so in your face that you can never go out and talk to ordinary people, while at the same time maintaining this understanding.
REHMThere's also the question of exactly who or what or how the request for additional security would've been turned down. Would that have stopped at the State Department level? Would it have stopped at the -- or gone to the White House?
KITFIELDNo. They've answered that question basically. And if you know, again, how this works, there's no way that a request for a local -- from a local consulate for more security is going to go to the White House. It goes to the State Department security -- they have a whole security wing responsible for securing all the embassies and consulates around the world. And it's -- as I said, that's a very good question. Why was that denied? I think we need to get to the bottom of that but I think, you know, Vice-President Biden's probably on pretty sound footing when he said that the White House didn't know about this request. It's not something that would normally be elevated.
REHMRight. And there's certainly questions about the security firm hired for Libya. The State Department hired Blue Mountain Group to guard the Benghazi compound. That's a little known British firm instead of the large firms it usually uses overseas. Security practices at the compound have now come under U.S. government scrutiny. Blue Mountain guards patrolled with flashlight and batons instead of guns, Indira.
LAKSHMANANRight. As you say, this is not one of the companies that is known for securing U.S. embassies and other embassies around the world. Not one of the big contractors. Part of the reason they were chosen was because they were already doing other security work in Libya. They were already in the country.
LAKSHMANANAnd let's also keep all of this in perspective. The Libyan transitional government in the post-Gadhafi era did not want American boots on the ground. They did not want a big heavy U.S. security presence. They felt that the way it worked nicely with the -- you know, with the no-fly zone and the NATO intervention allowed them to still be the ones running the show. So they actually resisted U.S. requests for bringing in, you know, a more high-profile security presence.
LAKSHMANANSo the U.S., essentially the State Department went with a firm that was already there and as you say, 20 Libyans, local Libyans who they hired who had minimal training, batons and flashlights. You know, you can raise all sorts of questions about that. But I did want to make a point to the other thing you had said which was about not working out of fortresses. And this is a point that Secretary Clinton has tried to make again and again in her speeches, which is, you know, we are diplomats, she says. We can't be in armed camps. We can't be hiding ourselves behind battlements.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, a lot of the people who -- there were, you know, many, many embassies that were built in the post 9/11 era, scores of them and many of them were built by companies that normally build prisons and, you know, those kinds of institutions. And so again there's this question of trying to get away from the fortress-like footprint.
FREIYou know, I couldn't agree more with Indira in the sense that the response to each situation has to be nuanced and it has to be detailed. So there's no point in having, you know, heavy American armor or armed body guards everywhere in a place that is seen to be benign. But you have to be ready for eventual threats. And clearly the situation in Benghazi was much more benign than it had been in indeed other Arab cities like for instance in Cairo.
REHMLibya said earlier this week they had identified a ringleader in the attack. Who is he, James?
KITFIELDA guy named Ahmed Abu Khattala who runs this sort of Islamic extremist group that is at least allegiance-wise is sympathetic towards al-Qaida. He fought alongside the other rebels to get rid of Gadhafi but really, you know, has a vision of a strict, sort of Sharia law Islamic state. And that's what he wants. And apparently again, we don't know a lot about exactly what, you know, brought him and his fighters to the scene but he was apparently at the scene, apparently directing fighters. You know, he's...
REHMHow can he be hiding in plain sight?
KITFIELDBecause we don't have any presence in Libya. We don't have any security presence in Libya. I mean, that is the -- this is a witch's brew where, again, we can't even get to our own burned out consulate to do an investigation or FBI. It took special forces, you know, weeks to work out an operation just to get them on the scene. We don't have much security presence in Libya.
KITFIELDNow having said that, if this guys wants to sit out and, you know, drink coffee in the open for the next month or two I would suggest against it. If you're a friend of his I might give him a wide berth.
LAKSHMANANI was really struck by a marvelous piece in the New York Times out of Benghazi by David Kirkpatrick that was him basically having tea it seemed for two hours in a hotel -- this was a piece that was just published -- with this Ahmed Abu Khattala. And basically the guy was denying involvement in the killing but said, yes, I was there. Kirkpatrick, like other reporters who have been on the scene in Benghazi brings us back to the importance of foreign corresponding and having people actually on the scene, have said that, you know, that some of these (word?) Sharia people have said that they did attack in retaliation for the video.
LAKSHMANANSo that brings us full circle back to what was the motivation. You know, yes it was an armed attack. It may not have grown out of a spontaneous peaceful protest but it may have been actually intended as revenge for the insulting video.
REHMIndira, let's move on to Iran and the recent increase in cyber attacks at U.S. banks. Who's claiming responsibility there?
LAKSHMANANSome -- a group called the Qassam Cyber Fighters are one of the groups who, you know, nobody has heard of. They're -- you know, the intelligence community here seems to believe that these are attacks by Iranian proxies, basically Iranian groups supported by the Iranian government. And some folks who do have access to classified information like Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut have come right out -- he's the head of the Homeland Security Committee -- and just outright blamed these attacks on Iran.
FREIYeah, well, exactly. And it's interesting. I was trying to get my bank statement this morning online -- I shall not name the bank -- and I couldn't get into the website.
FREIAnd so my bank is one of the eight U.S. banks that have been basically targeted by these people for the last few weeks. And the system has frozen up. Now if you're trying to transfer money -- not that I have any money to transfer to -- but if I wanted to that would be a major problem. And it's interesting that, you know, these people too have mentioned the video -- that video as the reason for why they're doing this. Of course there are other things that play here but at least they're using that as the excuse.
REHMMatt Frei, Washington correspondent, the UK's challenge 4 News and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." James Kitfield, at what point would these attacks on individual banks be considered an assault on the overall financial system? And thinking back to what our Secretary of Defense had to say, at what point do we consider this a cyber warfare?
KITFIELDIt's a really interesting question and the short answer is we don't know 'cause this is such a new area of warfare that we've not really established the red lines. It's not like you can say okay, if you, you know, present a naval blockade that's an act of war. You know, we basically have sabotaged Iran's own centrifuge -- you know, uranium centrifuges. We sent the Stuxnet virus into Iran. We're engaged in a shadow war along with Israel that includes assassinations and attempted assassinations.
KITFIELDThis week an Iranian American, you know, pleaded guilty to try and arrange a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the United States by bombing a restaurant we all know here named Cafe Milano. So we're engaged in a shadow war here and it has a very strong cyber component. But, you know, I always go back to like I said with, you know, who's behind the assassinations of Iranian scientists? Who has the motive? And you quickly point towards Israel.
KITFIELDWell, who has the motive to attack Saudi Aramco Oil Company, destroy 30,000 computers with a message that shows a burning American flag? Who has the, you know, motive to go after our banks after we have put sanctions on their banks? It's Iran.
REHMAll right. Let's go to the phones and to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Katherine.
KATHERINEOh hi. I was just wondering if the panel would be able to discuss how our debt affects our world perception. How the world perceives us and our own strengths in the world and our ability to objectively and fairly address foreign issues knowing that some of the countries that we're dealing with, like say China, hold most of our debt? I mean, are we able to give an objective foreign policy knowing that?
LAKSHMANANWell, an interesting point about China -- and this has really very much come up in the campaign -- remember the same candidate who's focusing so much on the debt and how important that is, Governor Romney -- is also continually pledging that on day one he's going to name China a currency manipulator. And what's really interesting about this is this is pressure that both President Obama and President George W. Bush before him resisted intense pressure from congress to name China a currency manipulator.
LAKSHMANANAnd one of the arguments against doing so is that it's just annoying our biggest creditor. China holds 1.3, you know...
REHMBut that doesn't really answer Katherine's question, which is...
LAKSHMANANWell, the debt that they hold.
REHM...which is how does the world perceive the United States considering that debt?
FREIWell, it depends who you ask. Now, there's no one in Europe who could possibly stand up and say, we don't like the United States because of their indebtedness, because we're drowning in debt ourselves. If you are China, then yes I think it has had an impact in the sense that the Chinese after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, after economic problems here. After all, China's a country that emulated America's economic, if not it's political system. The Chinese have had a slightly dimmer view of American economic exceptionalism.
FREIOn the other hand, as Indira pointed out, you don't want to pick a fight with your banker, which is kind of what Mitt Romney is suggesting. On the other hand, as they say in the banking industry, if you owe the bank one dollar it's your problem. If you owe them a million dollars it's the bank's problem.
REHMAre we seen as weaker because of our financial problems, James?
KITFIELDAbsolutely. And not only are we perceived as being weaker, we are weaker. Let's -- I mean, we have a globe-spanning military that basically polices the global commons. And it costs us more than almost the rest of the world combined spending on defense. And as long as we keep going further and further in debt everyone knows we can't maintain that. It's impossible. You can't be a super power and in a debtor's prison. You know, it's just not compatible. So there's not only a perception of weakness created by our huge indebtedness but there's a reality of weakness.
FREIAn interesting point as well on China. So you have Mitt Romney and Barack Obama competing with each other about who's going to be tougher on China. We want China to be strong. We want its economy to be strong at a time when it's looking a little bit weaker. Because if the Chinese economy is weak, we suffer here and in Europe.
REHMMatt Frei, Washington correspondent of the UK's Channel 4 News. Short break here. More of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd on Libya, the questions keep coming. The conversation continues. Here's an email from John in St. Louis, Mo. He says, "Your guest apologist for the administration is flat-out wrong when he says the intelligence community gave Susan Rice the latest information and that's what she took to the public five days after the attack. They knew within 24 hours. The streets were empty at the consulate and that this was a terrorist attack."
REHM"Also it is the case that the administration", and these next words are in caps, "SENT HER OUT WITH THIS FALSE NARRATIVE TO ALL THE SUNDAY SHOWS. It wasn't just a coincidence she showed up on them." James?
KITFIELDWell, it certainly wasn't a coincidence she showed up on them, but I absolutely dispute what he's saying because if you read in The Wall Street Journal, which I don't think is a huge apologist for the Obama administration...
KITFIELD….today. They had a very good article that traces out and it quotes the intelligence points that she was actually given and it was very much what she said on the air. I, myself, followed up and called intelligence sources in the Director of National Intelligence Office.
KITFIELDAnd if you read or listen to what Director Clapper, General Clapper has said, he said himself that we, this has been an evolving picture and that those comments reflected what we were thinking at the time. Now that doesn't mean the CIA didn't at some point, a day or two after the attack, have information there was no crowd there.
KITFIELDIt means that that information was not synthesized and given to the political appointees like Susan Rice in time to amend her story on the morning shows. But again, I mean, it gets to how politicized this issue has become to have to really believe that she out on a conspiracy of deception on something like this to believe that, and you have to believe that the head of our director of national intelligence is lying through his teeth to protect the administration which is something you almost never see.
REHMAll right, to Johns Creek, Ga. Good morning, John, you're on the air.
JOHNYeah, hi, I have a simple question. If the security was so bad at Benghazi, why did the ambassador go there?
FREIWell, as ambassador, he is tasked with travelling around the country and Benghazi is an incredibly, it's the second-most important city in Libya. He'd spent much time there during the, during the civil war. This was a natural place for any ambassador to go.
FREII'm sure the French, Dutch, German, Spanish ambassadors would go to Benghazi all the time. I'm not sure about the particular reason for that visit on that particular day, but it is not a surprising location for any ambassador to hang out in.
REHMAll right, to Richmond, Va. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEYeah, good morning, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
MIKEListen, I just wanted to add this. I mean, I worked in the Pentagon for over 35 years and on the issue of why would some security chief in the State Department have said no to a request for more security. Look, I mean, people just don't know how this system works.
MIKEIt's like this. The State Department security forces were never over-funded to begin with. Paul Ryan and his Republican cronies over there in the House cut the State Department security by $349 million. Now if I was the head of security for the State Department and I had a remote global embassy that called in and said, hey we've got to have more security.
MIKEI very well might have said to them, no, you can't have it because we don't have it. We're trying to keep what we've got together. And so absent someone coming and saying, hey, we see an impending, major problem and we've got to have security right away. We have an emergency. There's no way that they would have gotten it.
LAKSHMANANYeah, the caller is right that the budget of the diplomatic security services it's called had been substantially cut. And that was a point that I think the administration was trying to make at the hearings in Congress a couple of weeks ago.
LAKSHMANANAnd remember some of these people are not political appointees. These are life-long, career, foreign-service officers like the under-secretary for management.
REHMAll right, let's hear another view on this from Robert in Tallahassee, Fla. Good morning to you.
REHMHi, go right ahead, sir.
ROBERTI'm a registered Independent, always have been and I can just tell you on the attack on the embassy, all Ms. Rice had to do was say, we just don't know yet, give us 24 hours and we will have all the details and there never would have been a stink about it, but she didn't. That's the most important point.
ROBERTAnd if you guys think all the spinning, the cut in the budget and all that, real people out here, the Independents and others know. You can't spin it.
KITFIELDI actually think that's a pretty good point. As I said, these reports are never correct and they're especially not correct until you can get on the ground and verify exactly what happened. Clearly, they were not armed with, you know, ironclad evidence with exactly what happened.
REHMAre you saying she shouldn't have gone on that program?
KITFIELDI'm, you know, it's a tough call because the people want to know, you know. You've lost an ambassador...
KITFIELD...that's a huge deal so you've got to have a. But, you know, could she have been more equivocal? Maybe so, you know, again it's a tough call.
FREII think it's very important that all the facts are established when they can be established but I think we're missing the kind of wider point here which is that the Romney campaign and indeed this administration had not yet come up, in fact, probably no one has, with a coherent way of approaching the hot lava of events in the Middle East that started with the Arab Spring.
FREII mean, these are really big questions. How do you respond to these yearnings for self-determination? How do you balance that with your security? How do you intervene? When do you step back? I mean, this is a very confusing, very chaotic landscape and unless there's some sort of doctrine, if that's the right word, that can emerge from all this, from either side, I think we're going to be playing catch-up for the next few years.
REHMRobert, I appreciate your call. One more call from another Robert, this time in Dayton, Ohio. Good morning to you.
ROBERTThank you, a quick question. The talk about the attack on our embassy and the security forces and whether it was adequate or not, why was it contracted out to a private contractor? Why weren't there U.S. troops doing the security detail?
REHMDo we know the answer?
LAKSHMANANWell, we don't have U.S. troops doing security details for the State Department, for embassies around the world. That's not how it works, so, you know, I mean, you have military in places like Afghanistan and elsewhere, but diplomatic security is the main frontline of security for the U.S. Diplomatic Services.
REHMSo they're not U.S. troops?
LAKSHMANANThey're not troops, they're diplomatic security forces. I mean they are armed but they don't have. They're not. They have long said that they don't have the resources for operating in war zones. It's not the same as where you have military bases so diplomatic security is a whole different thing.
REHMAlright, do you want to add to that James?
KITFIELDMy personal experience is that most embassies have a Marine detachment. You've got...
LAKSHMANANBut a Marine detachment is more for protecting, you know, at the front end, when you come to the front desk of the embassy. They're protecting classified material. The Marine detachment is not there to protect the ambassador. That's not their job.
KITFIELDThat is correct. They're there to protect the embassy, not to protect the individuals. Individuals would normally have private security and the people, you know, shadow them.
REHMAll right. I want to turn to the question of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai who was flown to the U.K. on Monday.
LAKSHMANANShe is an amazing young woman who, starting from the age of 12, has been promoting girls' education in her home area of the Swat Valley which is an area in Pakistan that has really been seized by extremists and the Pakistani Taliban has been incredibly active there.
LAKSHMANANAnd she basically spoke out against the Taliban's pressure against women and girls and she actually started blogging about this through the BBC and you know, she really became a nationally known, or regionally known figure. For this the Taliban targeted her as she was leaving school.
LAKSHMANANThey shot her in the head and in the neck. They injured two of her other classmates and since then they've been not only taking credit for it and being happy about it but saying that they did the right thing. It's amazing that the Taliban thinks their biggest enemy is a young, adolescent girl and her ideas.
LAKSHMANANBut they're saying that she's basically a Western stooge. What I find most interesting in all of this is the discussion that it has triggered in Pakistani society. And you see some Pakistanis saying, this is appalling. This needs to light a fire under us. Our government and our military need to go in there and sweep out the Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, get rid of these people.
LAKSHMANANBut you see other people who are saying, well, you know what? The U.S. and its drone strikes, they're worse. And so, you know, you do see people who I don't want to say are defending the Taliban, but are saying we have bigger enemies than the Taliban who shot little Malala.
REHMMatt Frei, she was flown to England.
FREIShe was flown to England because maybe there was some sense of responsibility because she'd written this diary on the BBC Urdu Service when she was 12 years old. It was the right thing to do. She got the right...
REHMIt was closer.
FREIWell, exactly, and she got the right medical care in Birmingham, which is where she was flown to, she was Medevac-ed to.
REHMShe's moving fingers?
FREIShe actually stood up today for the first time.
FREIShe's apparently, according to the BBC website, she stood up today for the first time so…
REHMWell that's wonderful news.
FREI...although things are still a bit touch and go, she's on the road to recovery and I mean it is such an appalling thing to do. It's interesting how it's divided Pakistani society.
FREIIt's also fascinating that even the Taliban has now come out with a slightly more nuanced statement saying, we didn't want to kill her because of her stance on education. It was the fact that she had sided with the great Satan, America and Britain.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you want to add James?
KITFIELDWell, I just think that, you know, these kinds of things happen every day. You know, we capture Taliban people and they have on their cell phones beheading videos and stuff. I mean, it's a moment to step back and understand who we're fighting in Afghanistan and who we're opposed against, someone who, because this girl has the gall to want to get an education, to get a bullet in the head.
KITFIELDThat's the people we're fighting. That's the brutality and the sort of 7th century, medieval outlook they have and it clarifies it for us.
REHMAnd apparently several people have been arrested in connection with this?
KITFIELDThey have and you know, we'll see if they actually. I think the actual perpetrator, they said, might have, you know, escaped over the border to Afghanistan. I'm sure we're hunting for him if that's the case. But we know who the mastermind is, this Maulana Fazlullah who basically was behind the takeover of the Swat Valley in 2007-2009. He's basically taken credit for this I think. So we know who we're dealing with and like I said, it's a moment of clarity to understand the nature of them.
REHMAll right, to Hillsborough, N.C. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDGood morning, hello?
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
RICHARDI have just a comment about the Benghazi incident. It's a great tragedy for the people who were killed and their families. It's very sad for the State Department and for the country, but when it comes to indicting the Obama administration's entire foreign policy on the basis of what happened in Benghazi, I have one phrase and that is, grasping at straws.
REHMDo you agree with that, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, I'd put it this way which is that since the beginning of his re-election campaign the Obama administration, basically Obama aides have said, national security is his impenetrable flank. That's the part where they thought, you know, the Romney campaign couldn't get him on anything because he killed Osama bin Laden. He's drawing down forces in Afghanistan which has become an unpopular war.
LAKSHMANANHe pulled forces out of Iraq. He helped topple Muammar Gaddafi. So I think, you know, they were pretty confident that overall the American people supported his foreign policy and his anti-terrorism policy. I will tell you having looked at the polls closely on this that the Pew Research Center here in Washington showed that the huge lead that Obama had over Romney in foreign policy in September has now evaporated.
LAKSHMANANAnd it went from something like 30, these aren't the exact numbers but something like 53 percent to 38 percent in September Obama over Romney on foreign policy and national security and now it's 47 percent to 44 percent.
REHMAnd by the way, pardon me, on Monday, we're going to do an hour on polling. What in the world polling really means. There's so much divergence and we really don't understand them. James Kitfield, on this foreign policy issue, do you think that Governor Romney has a good point to make?
KITFIELDWell, there's a good point to be made that the post-Arab Spring, Middle East is a very messy, violent, volatile place and so -- and that's true and you can, you know, it's Obama's watch so it's certainly a valid criticism. What you have to be specific about, though, is what you would do differently because quite honestly, to imply that there are easy solutions to the civil war in Syria or Iran's nuclear weapons or extremist groups taking root in Libya.
KITFIELDWhat would you do different? That's, to me, that's the debate that's worth having because, you know, again, the idea that America can sort of wave its wand and talk real tough and all these things go away is really just does not comport with reality.
REHMHere's an email from Newport News, Va. which says:, "Give up the idea that Assad must go. Put out the fire now before it gets out of control. Assad is a dictator, but he runs a very efficient, though deadly state. Do we really want the Sunnis in charge? Remember Saddam Hussein was a Baathist, a branch of the Sunnis. Does the U.S.A. want militant Sunnis on the border with Israel?" Matt Frei?
FREII think we are so obsessed with the question of how we get rid of dictators that we rarely ask how they got there in the first place. And there is a reason why the Assad family took over the running of Syria as members of the Alawite community and I'm afraid like so many things, that goes back to colonial times.
FREIThe Alawites as an offshoot of the Shia religion were the oppressed minority. The French realized this. They didn't trust the Sunnis and the other Shia so they basically elevated the Alawites to a position where they would run the military. That is their power base and unless you come in and you reassure the Alawites despite all the brutality of the Assad regime that there will be a place for them in a new Syria, post-Assad, it's a non-starter.
FREIYou've got to deal with the minorities, make them feel reassured that whatever landscape you have in mind they will not be persecuted. They will not be slaughtered. That was the problem in Bosnia. We're repeating it all over again.
REHMAnd here's an email from Margaret in Ann Arbor, Mich. who says, "Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan has been in a power struggle with the military leadership. Do your guests think that struggle is affecting his response to the Syrian civil war?" James?
KITFIELDNo, I don't think so. He's won that. He basically won that struggle. You know, he's got 30-plus generals in jail right now on charges of different conspiracies. He basically cracked down. The entire joint chiefs resigned in protest over this.
KITFIELDThere was a confrontation. He won that confrontation. But he is in a very difficult spot because he, after watching Libya, basically and trying to get Assad to reform and Assad basically getting the back of his hand, you know, called for Assad to go as well. He's been very strong, probably the strongest, regional actor and he said this much like the United States, but he doesn't want to do any of the steps that would actually see that happen.
KITFIELDSo he's kind of got a -- and he doesn't have public support for, you know, putting Syria, or Turkish troops in northern Syria so he's kind of out on a limb right now and he's looking and will look pretty soon for American help to get back on the tree trunk.
REHMJames Kitfield, Indira Lakshmanan and Matt Frei, thank you all so much.
REHMHave a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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