War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
The United States investigates a Tunisian suspect in the Benghazi, Libya, consulate attack. Israel and Hamas escalate fighting on the Gaza border. And a child sex abuse scandal roils the BBC. Diane and guests discuss the week’s top international stories: what happened and why.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Reports of scattered clashes in Syria but for the most part government and rebel forces appear to be honoring a holiday cease fire. Concerns are growing of a widening regional conflict after a key assassination in Lebanon a week ago. And the teenage girl shot by the Taliban in Pakistan is recovering at a London hospital.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup," Yochi Dreazen of National Journal, Kim Ghattas of the BBC and Moises Naim of El Pais. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody, welcome.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning.
MR. MOISES NAIMGood morning.
MS. KIM GHATTASGood morning.
REHMYochi Dreazen, remind us about how the cease fire in Syria came about.
DREAZENSo this was the first vaguely tangible thing that the UN has been able to vaguely accomplish. This was Lakhdar Brahimi shuttling back and forth, the sort of successor in many ways to the Kofi Anon mission, which obviously had failed in sort of an ignoble failure.
DREAZENWhat he arranged, again vaguely, was a cease fire for the next four days of a Muslim holiday. It celebrates the end of the Adha and the idea was that both sides would lay down their weapons. They laid them down for a couple of hours and have since picked them up. Nowhere on the scale of what happened over the last month, six months, a year but there's already scattered shooting in Damascus, in Aleppo, in other parts of the country.
DREAZENI mean it, it brings to mind the images from World War I of the Christmas Eve soccer games between the British and the Germans in the no man's land between their bunkers, both in terms of the sense of the slaughter happening before and after and also in a sense of the, even if it continues, the fragility and the short-term nature of it.
REHMKim, does anyone expect the cease fire to hold?
GHATTASI don't think so. I think that people inside Syria are hoping that it will hold because they have certainly had to almost two years of rather dire living conditions as the fighting intensifies and destroys more and more parts of big cities like Aleppo and Homs. I am subscribed to the mailing list of the local coordinating committees from within Syria, those civil committees that send out information about what is happening on the ground and I can certainly tell you that since this morning, there have been quite a few emails from them, pointing out the different breaches of the cease fire that have happened.
GHATTASObviously of course, they mainly report breaches by the government forces but local rebel groups in different parts of town have also breached the cease fire. I think that one of the dangers that the rebels are worried about is that this actually gives an opportunity to the government forces to recuperate and come back stronger.
REHMWhat about food and supplies, Moises, are they getting in?
NAIMThey continue to be a problem. There are some occasional provisions coming into the cities but the point here is how this, as Yochi said, these very vague cease fires that no one thinks will hold is the only thing we have really going. And at the same time that the UN envoy was briefing the Security Council the death toll of rebels crossed the 35,000 people that have been killed. And the tragedy here is that there is no end in sight. No one knows how this is going to end and when or how.
NAIMAnd so that's the larger story and so we are holding to this three day cease fire because of the religious holiday, but no one believes that this is an important fundamental change.
REHMThese extraordinary photographs we're seeing of the total destruction of cities, they're just devastating.
GHATTASThey are devastating. You know Diane, I have covered Syria extensively and it is devastating to see the streets of Aleppo, the souks of Aleppo, the streets of Homs, villages across Syria being apparently completely obliterated. Now, it is also important to remember that obviously what we are seeing are those scenes of destruction and that in other parts of Damascus, other cities in the country life does continue and that's the very difficult thing about these conflicts.
GHATTASI grew up in Lebanon during the civil war and I've seen those scenes in Beirut, in other parts of the country. Life went on despite the violence and it's very difficult to reconcile these two different trends in the same country. But it's heartbreaking for everybody.
REHMAs we look at what's happening in Syria, what about the situation in Lebanon since the car bomb killed Lebanon's Intelligence chief a week ago, Kim.
GHATTASWell, it's very shaky. I do think that the country has stepped back from the brink but only for now. Clearly the battle for Damascus is being fought in Beirut now as well. Syria was Lebanon's master with ground troops in the country for many decades, they withdrew in 2005 after the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
GHATTASAnd between 2005 and 2007 we had a spate of assassination very similar to the one that killed Wissam al-Hassan. And it is very much targeted to very specific people who either have a role in intelligence gathering -- and could be an obstacle to Syria's influence or Hezbollah's influence or in the past it's also targeted people who would present potential leadership for the country.
GHATTASNow, it's important to point out that the investigation is, of course, ongoing and that, no, there's been no claim of responsibility and no actual culprits. No one has been charged, but in Lebanon everybody's pointing the finger at Syria.
DREAZENHezbollah, the role is interesting in two respects. One, that they are in some ways the key ally for the current Lebanese government, which is very fragile and may fall almost any day. The U.S. now backs for the first time the idea of that government being replaced. They obviously are also both a conduit of weaponry to Assad as well as potentially a proxy for Iran, depending on how this all spends out.
DREAZENI think if we could take a step back briefly beyond the bombing in Damascus it's always very dangerous, sorry in Beirut, excuse me, it's always very dangerous to look in the region and say this country this happened and now in this other country the same pattern will happen. That said here and in Israel there is tremendous fear that what may happen in Syria will come to look a lot like what happened in Iraq.
DREAZENIn the years I lived there, the savagery and the scope of the sectarian bloodshed was just staggering. So it wasn't that cities were being demolished as Kim was making so vividly in terms of Aleppo and Homs, it was people.
DREAZENWere being demolished by the hundreds of thousands. Syria has not happened yet, but the fear is that will happen at some point in the not distant future. It's also worth remembering that, and this is a parallel, in Iraq you had tremendous amounts of weaponry flowing in from Saudi Arabia, from Iran, each trying to support their proxies within the country.
DREAZENFrom Turkey, the violence is mostly contained in Iraq. The only bombing that happened outside the borders of any significance was in Jordan, carried out by Zarqawi before he was later killed. But you had weapons coming in from other countries. You see that now in Syria but you're also seeing the violence now, unlike in Iraq, go outside the borders of Syria.
NAIMIn the case of Lebanon, and the support that the United States and others are giving to the government, trying to strengthen the government, it points to the big dilemma between having a country that sanction ends up as a failed state with a vacuum of power or a country that gets engulfed by the war in Syria. and that tension trying to avoid the failed state situation and at the same time not having a government in Beirut that is too close to the Syrian situation is a huge, very difficult thorn, weakened opponent.
GHATTASObviously, I'm Lebanese and I speak not just as a reporter, but as a Lebanese woman. I think that Lebanon isn't going to be a failed state. In some ways, the Lebanese have learned to live without the state because it has been so weak for so long and they've shown incredible resilience over the last few decades.
GHATTASI mean, you have to remember that the civil war in Lebanon ended in 1990 and there have been many predications of Lebanon being engulfed in a civil war and it hasn't happened. That's not to say that it isn't a difficult situation, that it isn't a very sensitive moment for the country. And I agree with Moises, this is a potential way to go for Lebanon.
GHATTASI mean, it could possibly be engulfed by the war in Syria but it's also important to remember that the Assad's, whether it's Bashar al-Assad or his father, Hafez Assad, have a way of exporting their problems, whether it's to Iraq or to Lebanon.
REHMInteresting that an FBI team was invited to Lebanon to help the investigation behind the assassination of the intelligence chief. How unusual is that, Yochi?
DREAZENVery. Typically, when an FBI team is sent overseas, it's to investigate the deaths of Americans overseas. You have FBI liaison offices in places like Israel. Typically, they're at the higher level, they're not meant to actually then go out to the field and help pick or analyze evidence, to bring forensic capabilities. So to have liaisons is very common, to have FBI teams sent in any number right after a bombing to help with an investigation of a specific bombing, is unusual. It's also worth remembering that in Libya you had an FBI team that was sent to the capital but wasn't able to make it out to Benghazi. I mean, they were basically, because safety there where you desperately needed FBI, intelligence assets, forensic assets, desperately given the controversy that's still going, they couldn't get there.
REHMAnd I do want to get more into Libya. Moises, you wanted to add something?
NAIMYes, this tragedy is just a function of the larger chess game in which different players are trying to gain (unintelligible) in the region. What we are seeing is a proxy war with Iran over control. Iran has Syria as its main ally and otherwise without that support, without the link and the alliance with Syria, Iran would be very, very lonely in a region that is very complicated.
GHATTASI agree with Moises and I would add also that the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan, if you believe that the Syrians and Hezbollah are behind it, and as I said the investigation is still ongoing, is a way of preparing for the potential post Assad period. Should he fall, Iran and Hezbollah want to make sure that they are and they remain in control of Lebanon.
REHMKim Ghattas, she's State Department correspondent for the BBC. She's author of a forthcoming book titled, "The Secretary: A Journey with Hilary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power."
REHMAnd here with me for the International Hour of the Friday News Roundup, Moises Naim of El Pais, Kim Ghattas of the BBC, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal magazine. Moises, there's been escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel this week. Tell us what happened.
NAIMYes, Diane. Palestinian militants from Hamas sent more than 80 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel on Wednesday. Then Israel retaliated with their strikes and killed four Hamas militants. Israel officials say that since -- this year 600 rockets have struck Israel. And this attack on Wednesday happens at the very interesting time in which first -- for the first time the emir of Qatar sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani was visiting Gaza. And this is the first head of state visiting Gaza since Hamas took full control in 2007. So it was a very significant visit.
NAIMBut at the same time there was a major American Israeli exercise taking place. The first very, very large operation in a long time that in fact President Obama mentioned it as an example of the close collaboration between the U.S. and Israel in the debate with Governor Romney. So that's the context for this attack. You know, it is continuing and it's part of the larger story also.
REHMIt's interesting that Hamas had largely adhered to a cease fire so why the escalation now, Kim?
GHATTASWell, there are several theories about what is driving this, what are the dynamics behind it. And you have to look at this also in the context of domestic Palestinian politics. And Hamas is perhaps trying to reassert itself, burnish its credentials as a leader, again, for the Palestinians, also trying to assert itself in the face of other smaller Islamic factions in Gaza. And of course there's also theory about why the Israelis might be interested in escalation. Some people blame the Israelis for starting this. It's always a blame game in the Middle East.
GHATTASAnd there is one of the theories that says that the Israelis are interested in having an escalation just before the Israel elections, which will happen at the beginning of next year. It's another way of flexing for the government for Prime Minister Netanyahu to flex his muscles and show the people of Israel what he brings in terms of security.
DREAZENWell, two things. One, that the Israeli retaliation actually went significantly further than Gaza. It wasn't why they discussed here but it was why they reported in the Israel press, the European press and certainly the African and Middle Eastern press. There were, a couple months ago, a series of Israeli airstrikes in Khartoum on a weapons convoy. This past week there was an airstrike on an openly -- it wasn't a secret as to what the facility was. It was a weapons munitions facility. Israel claimed that those weapons were being directly shipped to Hamas. There wasn't a denial of that actually by the Sudanese government.
DREAZENAnd, in fact, right after the bombing they said publically we will continue to send weaponry to Hamas. So it isn't simply that this is narrowly Israel Gaza. This is now Israel Sudan. There are other groups, other Gulf Arab countries, sending in either money or weaponry, Iran clearly, into Gaza.
DREAZENIt is interesting, though, that in the context, as Kim mentioned, of Israeli politics, for so long the politics there were dominated solely by the Palestinian issue. I mean, that was the issue. That was the difference between (word?) labor, the thing that motivated elections for prime minister. It's largely irrelevant. I mean, the debate in Israel right now is exclusively about Iran. This has come up -- it filters here and there but it's 99.99 percent about whether Israel should hit Iran.
DREAZENAnd the polling is interesting. You're not seeing -- as you might expect, you're not seeing majority in favor of unilateral strike. You're actually seeking the majority there like frankly if there was polling here, who are very deeply concerned about it.
REHMAnd of course that whole question of Israel Iran both came up in the presidential debate on Monday night.
DREAZENAs did Syria and it was one of the two areas in which there was basically no different whatsoever. In the Syrian case Romney said he would support sending some heavy weaponry but was very vague. Made clear, as did President Obama repeatedly, no American troops on the ground, no American airstrikes on Iran. they both talked about security lines. But when they were asked directly would they consider an attack on Israel to be an attack on the U.S., as is the case in parts of Europe, some of our agreements with Taiwan, both of them went nowhere near the direct answer.
REHMAnd who does that change, represent or -- it looks or sounded as though there was a change there.
DREAZENCertainly for Governor Romney. I mean, he has tried for so long to batter the Obama Administration on Iran. More recently it's about Benghazi and the Arab Spring. For the past year it was about Iran, that the U.S. under Obama was not standing with Israel, that it wasn't close enough to Israel, that it was throttling Israel back and not supporting it in preparation for a strike. When push comes to shove in the debate, asked directly he then walked off in that position.
REHMWhy do you think that change came, Kim?
GHATTASI think that Mitt Romney was very careful to stake a very centrist position in that debate because he had come under criticism for sounding like a war monger. And this is certainly not a country that sounds to me as an outsider that really wants to go to war again. So the rhetoric about Iran at some point isn't useful anymore because people were starting to wonder, well what does this mean if Mitt Romney keeps talking about being tough? Does that mean that the United States is going to go to war?
REHMIs going to war.
GHATTASAnd so he struck a very centrist position both on Iran and Syria in essence, as Yochi said, agreeing with President Obama. I found that quite striking too to listen to that.
NAIMAs interesting as what was discussed in that debate is what was not touched in the debate about foreign policy. One important -- very important issue is Europe and the European crisis that can have direct consequences on the pockets and the livelihoods of people watching the debate. That wasn't mentioned. Climate change, which is a huge issue, wasn't mentioned. And Mexico. There is a country that is a neighbor of the United States where there has been a war going on where 50,000 people have been killed, wasn't mentioned.
NAIMSo this is just a short list of very fundamental issues that were ignored in that debate. That was more about each of them presenting himself as a competent commander in chief and protector of American interests in the world.
REHMMoises, I was interested that yesterday Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke out about why the military had not gone in when there was a ship offshore, had not gone in after the attack on Benghazi.
NAIMRight. One tends to forget in this debate about Benghazi that Libya now is a sovereign country. And so it's not the backyard or the property of the United States in which, you know, the Secretary of Defense can just instruct troops to invade or to operate in the country. So that's one important issue. A second important issue is that it's not clear that -- what was going on there and it's not clear what could have been done. Even today, which is several weeks and with a lot of effort...
REHMWhy is that? Why are things so unclear?
NAIMWell, if this -- if this would have happened in April it would not have gotten as much attention. What I'm saying is that elections in the United States and posturing about the different issues concerning foreign policy and who's a strong leader and who -- it has a lot to do with that.
GHATTASI do agree that politics, electioneering, partisanship are blurring the picture of what really happened and who's responsible for what. No one can deny the fact that something went terribly wrong. An American ambassador died along with three other Americans in Benghazi.
GHATTASBut why it happened, what could have been done to prevent it, all of that is still very unclear. And people on both sides of the aisle are using the same facts to spun a very different kind of story. Of course, President Obama and the administration will say we're not spinning any story. We're giving you the facts. We're giving you what we know when we know it at the time.
REHMAt the time we knew it.
GHATTASAnd it is possible that in the immediate aftermath they did think it is perhaps best not to scream, this is Al-Qaida too quickly because we don't know. And also because for the political narrative it is a little bit inconvenient for this administration to say, you know, Al-Qaida just killed an American ambassador. But the facts are difficult to gather in the fog of war.
GHATTASAnd just a last point about these emails that have surfaced which were sent by the State Department's Operation Center showing the sequence of events, these emails get sent widely, not only to State Department officials but across the administration including to the White House. They show events as they happened. They gather information both from the ground, from the internet, from Facebook and they put out these nuggets of information that are not necessarily analyzed or assessed as intelligence.
GHATTASSo I must say that the fact that the White House got an email saying Ansar al-Sharia have posted a claim of responsibility cannot necessarily be used as a smoking gun or the White House knew, especially because just a few hours later Ansar al-Sharia denied they were actually behind this attack. So it's still very unclear.
REHMYochi, how do you see it?
DREAZENYou know, kind of the blunt answer I think to your original question of how do we still not know, frankly is that most of the people who do know are dead. You know, it was a very, very small American presence at Benghazi. It's clear to me -- I mean, I've spent time in American consulates in places like Benghazi. Security was woeful. I mean, it's almost criminally negligent to have had a U.S. Ambassador protected by a small, very poorly trained Libyan guard force.
DREAZENThere was no marine contingent. There was no blackwater-esque contingent. Blackwater has a terrible name, but in the years I spent in Iraq they were very good. They're a Western company's triple canopy, the armor group companies that do it professionally who weren't there. So you had this tiny outpost criminally badly protected, understaffed. You had the staff who really knew what was happening killed. You had the FBI team that went -- was unable to go to Benghazi -- has still barely been able to go to Benghazi weeks later.
DREAZENSo you have a terrible situation of violence happening in real time. No American or Western personnel near. No American or Western personnel able to get there. The other last point, you know, the point earlier about Libya is a sovereign country, I found, to be frank, the Panetta comments completely totally unpersuasive, unconvincing.
DREAZENThe U.S. carries out attacks on sovereign countries daily, particularly in Africa, Jabuti, Yemen, Somalia. There are U.S. personnel firing from the air in Africa, on ground in all those countries literally every day. So the question of why didn't the U.S. do more militarily is a fair question. And a Panetta answer of, well we had guys but they weren't close, they weren't -- it's a sovereign nation, it just doesn't hold water.
REHMAnd now Tunisia has arrested someone allegedly linked to the Benghazi attack. What do we know about this suspect Ali Harzi?
GHATTASWell, he was detained and I'm not sure how much access the United States is going to get immediately to him and how much he will be able to shed light or be willing to shed light on what happened. But again, as Yochi was saying, in the aftermath of such an attack a lot of very conflicting reports come out about what was happening. And I do remember that evening actually hearing the reports coming in from Benghazi about a mob outside the embassy, which turned out to be untrue.
GHATTASAnd, as Yochi said as well, what is really key to find out now is what the administration was doing in the hours while the attack was unfolding. What really happened? What were the options on the table and was it an option to actually send, you know, a team to do something on the ground?
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You wanted to add something, Moises.
NAIMYes. In our mindsets, we have very definitively defined actors. We have Al-Qaida as an organization and we have the militias. And we talk about them as if they were unified players that were easily, you know, identified and dealt with. In fact, in Libya there are -- everyone is armed. You know, there's a bunch of -- there's a lot of weapons going around. There's a lot of groups. Every young person is armed. Everyone -- young person is member of some group. These groups, you know, join with others, divide. Some have Islamic leanings. Some have connections with loosely defined franchises of Al-Qaida.
NAIMSo the notion that there is a very concrete enemy that, you know, Secretary Panetta or all this, should have gone after and brought -- it's very hard. You know, I think one needs to respect the notion that there's not a wide conspiracy here to deny the American people and understanding of what's going on, or that there's a very precise diagnosis of what happened.
REHMAnd this sad note just in. The Syrian capital of Damascus has been hit by a car bomb attack shattering that four-day cease fire that had begun. And according to the BBC, Syrian State television reported five people killed, more than 30 wounded with children among the casualties, Yochi.
DREAZENI mean, part of what has been a fear from the beginning was that because these groups are so badly organized, because they're so disparate in who they are fighting, how they fight, who their membership are, what kind of weapons and tactics they're willing to use, that you would see a gradual shift towards attacks on civilians. They might have Islamic groups filling the void. I mean, Moises' point before about Al-Qaida being the rubric name is a fair one. That's always the short hand but it's not necessarily the only group that could be involved.
DREAZENAnd the groups that are beginning to carry out suicide bombings, car bombings, this is not the sort of Free Syrian army that we'd like to believe is a secular force. This is almost certainly Islamist of some flavor. And these are the groups that are willing to carry out and able to carry out fairly sophisticated attacks deep into the heart of the most protected city in the entire Syrian government.
GHATTASI know it sounds Machiavellian, but it is also important to remember that the Syrian government itself has often been pointed at as being behind some of those bombings to feed the narrative that it is either the Assad government or chaos. So it is important to keep all of this in context, especially if you look at the bombing in Beirut.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Chicago. "Could you please help clarify of the 30,000 plus deaths in Syria, how many of those have been non-armed civilians as opposed to armed rebel fighters? As much as we may dislike Assad, a sitting government will defend itself against an insurgency. So are we really all that surprised by the death toll to date?" Moises.
NAIMI don't have the number. I don't know that anyone has that number. I don't know that that number is possible to obtain in an objective way. And yes, any government has the right to defend itself and establish law and order in the cities and in the streets, but that's one thing. And the other is bombing indiscriminately neighborhoods where civilians are. And there's enough evidence to be able -- that allows us to say that this is actually happening and continues to happen.
GHATTASLike Moises, I don't have the very latest on the numbers. I don't know that anyone does have them very down to the last number. But I do remember very specifically that the U.N. repertoire for human rights had said that the number of casualties were overwhelmingly civilians, at least until recently.
REHMKim Ghattas, State Department correspondent for the BBC. Moises Naim, chief international columnist for El Pais. Yochi Dreazen, senior national security correspondent for National Journal magazine. Short break and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back, it's time to open the phones 800-433-8850 to Indianapolis first of all and to Alexander, good morning to you.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
ALEXANDERYes ma'am, all right. So I'd like to ask, Diane, you and Moises. I had a question so I want to know if you noticed any similarities between U.S. involvement in this Arab Spring and the role we played in the overthrow of Dr. Mosaddegh in 1953 to install the shah, the shah rather, and then if you noticed any similarities between the treatment of Muslims in Islamic countries and the treatment of African-Americans under the Jim Crow law a few decades ago.
NAIMOne of the conclusions most experts have about the Arab Spring was that it was a very domestic event, a set of events based in the dynamics inside of societies and that for the first time in a long, long time in the Middle East political events were driven by the people and not by foreign powers or local elites.
NAIMAnd so that, there is a big difference between the recent eruption of political change in the Middle East and what happened with the overthrow of Mosaddegh in Iran, that was, that had the active participation of the United States and the CIA.
GHATTASYes, I couldn't agree more with Moises but it is interesting to see how we remain so attached to the idea of conspiracy theories and of America as an omnipotent power. I write about it a little bit in my book. I'm in Beirut over the summer and I get asked by friends, you know, why did the United States provoke all these revolutions in the Arab world? What was the goal? What are they trying to achieve?
GHATTASAnd I must say that having traveled with the secretary of state and watched her and her staff try to scramble as they respond to these home-grown uprisings that are an expression of frustration and anger at the leadership I find it hard to see how this could have been an American plan. But it is very difficult sometimes to convince people of that, people who aren't in Washington or people who have been on the receiving end of American foreign policy.
REHMHere's an interesting email from Phyllis Bennis. She's with the Institute for Policy Studies. She says: "Understanding history starts with when you start the clock. Wednesday, rockets went into Israel from Hamas or another organization but that attack was at least partly in retaliation for the Israel-targeted attacks that had killed several Gaza militants before Wednesday."
REHM"And unfortunately the Israeli policy of targeted assassination of Palestinian militants last week including a ground incursion gets virtually no coverage in the U.S. press." Yochi?
DREAZENI think on the latter point, it's because, again, to the degree that we're looking at the Middle East at all, it's Iran, Iran, Iran, to a lesser degree because of the election, Benghazi, and the Arab Spring. But what's happening in Israel is so low-scale compared to what's happened in the past if you think about when Israel re-invaded the West Bank, re-invaded Gaza under Ariel Sharon you had hundreds, upon hundreds, upon hundreds of deaths.
DREAZENThese are simply a much smaller scale. If, frankly ,whatever we think of the merit, it doesn't surprise me that in an election season, when it's relatively small-scale, that no one pays much attention to it.
REHMAll right to Orlando, Fla. Hi there, Joseph.
JOSEPHGood morning, thank you so much for your program.
JOSEPHI'm a retired educator. I'm working here in Florida now as an adjunct professor. I'm been following the campaign very closely, listening carefully to all of the debates and I was, I have to admit, you know, Mr. Romney has done a brilliant job of trying to recreate himself as a moderate, especially in this last debate.
JOSEPHI was almost ready to say maybe he wouldn't be too bad till I heard Colin Powell yesterday endorse Barack Obama and I think he made some points that are critical and that have not received enough attention on the media. Basically General Powell said he's endorsing Barack Obama in part because he's concerned about Mr. Romney coming into office, a relatively inexperienced person who would be under the control of the neocons like Chaney et al.
JOSEPHAnd it would be a similar scenario to what happened with George W. Bush. I think that is a tremendous point that really should get some attention. Maybe you could invite Mr. Powell or one of his associates on your program to amplify that and develop it and I would hope that that would change the minds of some undecided voters. I think that's a very critical point, thank you Diane.
DREAZENI mean, the response to that very briefly on the domestic, we'll come back to substance was sort of amazing. You had among the responses, John Sununu who is one of the primary Romney surrogates, say that the endorsement was simply because both Powell and Obama are black.
DREAZENSo that was his first response. He sort of ignored to a large degree the substance. You had John McCain say that this furthered, these were his words, 'furthered, besmirched Powell's legacy'. So you had this kind of rage lash-back at Powell in the almost immediate aftermath.
DREAZENI do think, I agree with the caller that it was an impressive accomplishment by Romney to shift away from his past positions and sound. It's overused as a cliché but, sound presidential and look presidential and sound like he was very temperate.
DREAZENIf you look at his advisors, they are for the most part not the Cheney circle but some of them they are just as, sort of odd picks. John Lehman is one of his main advisors, was the Navy secretary many years ago. He's the one who said that the main threat to the U.S. is Russia which is, you know, Obama mentioned that during the debate in terms of saying the 1980s called, they want their foreign policy back.
DREAZENBut these are not so much neocons. They're sort of an odd mix of neocon, former Cold War, realist. It's an odd group. It isn't like George Bush where you had a pretty clear sense of coming in, of who his advisors would be. Here, frankly you really don't on defense and national security.
GHATTASI think that Mr. Romney did, was successful in trying to paint himself as a moderate staking the centrist policy but it also will make a lot of people look at him and say, well who exactly is the Mitt Romney that we will be electing if we do vote for him.
GHATTASSo I think that he will be criticized. Mr. Romney will be criticized for flip-flopping and the administration, the Obama administration will certainly use that to further their argument that you simply don't know who you're getting if you vote for Mr. Romney.
NAIMI agree with Kim. In 90 minutes that lasted the last debate it's very hard to imagine that. We got a different Governor Romney that had very different postures and could have debated Governor Romney in what he'd said during the campaign. It would have been interesting to see a debate between Romney in the last debate and Romney during the campaign.
NAIMIn the last debate, and they would have clashed. They would have had deep disagreements. The Romney that we saw on the debate is different. And it was very interesting how Governor Romney also, what he said and his posture in the debate was echoing a lot of the suggestions that Bill Kristol, the columnist, the editor of the...
REHMNational Review, no, it's not, the Weekly Standard.
NAIM...the Weekly Standard wrote an article explaining or just suggesting what should be the posture and what should be the positions that Governor Romney should take in the foreign policy debate. And frankly if you read that editorial and if you look again at the debate you will see incredible parallels.
REHMWell, there you are.
DREAZENYeah, and just one quick point. It's interesting to me that one of Romney's main advisors is Dan Senor. I got to know Dan when he was the head spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority...
REHMHe's been on this program many times.
DREAZENYeah, I know him. He's very smooth. He's a very smart man, but it's interesting to me that of everyone tied to the occupation of Iraq their careers ended. Paul Bremer is forgotten to the dust of history, Tommy Franks forgotten to history, Ricardo Sanchez, all of them forgotten and discredited, their legacies in shambles. Dan Senor has somehow managed to become even more powerful and influential in the years since.
REHMAll right, to Petersburg, Ky. Hi there, Gary.
GARYThank you for taking my call. My question is, has anyone like the State Department or someone like that, has anyone explained to, about why the ambassador that was killed in Benghazi, why he was there. And why was he, who was a knowledgeable person about the situation in Libya, why would he expose himself as well as his protection group to danger?
REHMAnd he traveled with a very thin group of police around him.
GHATTASHe was in Benghazi on the 10th of September. He'd arrived the day before of the attack of 9/11. He had some meetings during the day in Benghazi and on the 11th during the day because it was the anniversary of 9/11 he decided to have all his meetings inside, within the compound.
REHMThe so-called safe house.
GHATTASWell, he had his meetings during the day within the walls of the consulate so he didn't leave the American mission compound. Why he decided to go? I think that it's a, it's that tension between needing to be out there and connect with the people that you're trying to bring a message to, that you're trying to implement public diplomacy, not show that America's retrenching behind walls and into a fortress.
GHATTASAnd it's that tension between that and maintaining an acceptable level of security. And it is a very difficult tension to maintain. It's a very fine balance that diplomats in dangerous places have to maintain and unfortunately that day it ended very badly.
REHMMoises, I want to ask you about this front-page piece in The New York Times today about China's premier.
NAIMIt's one of the most extraordinary pieces of investigative journalism that I have read in a long time. David Barboza, a reporter, a bureau chief in Shanghai for The New York Times, evidently spent a long time documenting the incredible wealth accumulated by the relatives of Wen Jiabao, the Chinese leader.
NAIMHe estimates it to be $2.7 billion. He provides a very detailed, indeed some aspects of it are audited evidence of this wealth that engulfs all sorts of individuals. There is not a direct link to Wen Jiabao, but there are very significant links to his wife, to his children.
NAIMAnd this story, Diane, can have more consequences for our listeners and ourselves than a lot of what we have been discussing today.
NAIMIf this story gains traction and becomes a very important political event in China, China is undergoing a complex, very difficult political transition. The leadership is changing and we already have had a couple of instances. There has been the instance of Bo Xilai who was a leader that is now discredited, ousted and probably is going to spend the rest of his life in jail, is wife too.
NAIMSo there is a lot of turmoil associated with this transition, the political transition and the jockeying for power in this giant country. At the same time that the country's economy is puttering and is slowing down the combination of both things ends up being, fuelling social upheaval.
NAIMThen you have a European economy that is in shambles. You have a very weak international economy and then you can add a Chinese economy that has been the locomotive of the world economy and that can create very important problems for the U.S. economy.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What's so interesting here Yochi is that when Wen Jiabao has always said that he was from very humble beginnings so now to read about this accumulation of wealth is certainly a shock to us and must be so much more of a shock to the Chinese people? The government has already pulled the story from any access to the people.
DREAZENRight. And I mean which is a sign, you know, Moises' point, I think, is exactly right. There has been a basic trade in China for the past 12 years where the population was willing to trade continued communist leadership to a degree, a sort of soft oppression in exchange for two things, one economic growth and two, a belief that the country's infrastructure would improve if you had competent leadership.
DREAZENAnd you would even hear it here, you would see sort of envy that it takes us, you know, living in Washington, 15 years to build a new rail line out to Dulles Airport. China builds networks of high-speed trains overnight and if only we could be as competent and efficient as the Chinese setting aside how they're building it, setting it off to the side.
DREAZENWhat you're seeing now is a confluence not just of corruption at a staggering scale but also that the infrastructure may not be so good. You've had high-speed trains derail. You've had bridges collapse. You've had roads collapse.
DREAZENSo what you're seeing is this competent leadership may not be as competent as we thought. The economy may not be as strong as we thought, that the corruption is so endemic, that projects are not as good as they should have been. So you're now seeing both legs in some ways of this two-legged table or stool, that image that kept the Chinese government stable, both legs now being kicked away.
REHMAll right, and finally there's a BBC sex abuse scandal. Tell me what this is all about. Jimmy Saville is someone who was honored by the Queen. How are we now talking about him as having abused as many as 300 children? Moises.
NAIMYes, Mr. Saville who died last year. He was 84, was one of the most recognizable figures in the media in England, in the U.K. He was the host of different shows. He was beloved. He was recognized as a very important figure and now we have hundreds of individuals claiming that they were sexually abused by Mr. Saville.
NAIMApparently there are more of them coming on board...
REHMAnd the issue is how much the BBC knew about Saville's conduct. Yochi?
DREAZENIt's interesting the BBC is so powerful and such an enormous organization that in some ways you look at it like you look at a government. It's the same question, who knew what, when that we're asking about Benghazi. They were the questions in Watergate. You're asking them now about this enormous, hugely powerful media organization and it has spread here.
DREAZENThe former, the new incoming CEO of the New York Times is the former head of the BBC. And as he's coming into his office in The New York Times there's the question The Times is reporting, frankly very admirably, about what did he know? So you have their new boss coming in to his power. The reporters who he will soon oversee saying, what did our new boss know in his old job? It's a very interesting, somewhat awkward dynamic for them.
REHMAll these stories unraveling as we go deeper, thank you all, Yochi Dreazen, Kim Ghattas, Moises Naim. Thanks for listening, have a great weekend everybody. I'm Diane Rehm.
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